The United States' former special envoy for Mideast peace warned recently that the continued impasse in diplomatic contacts between Israel and the Palestinians is liable to ignite violence on the West Bank. In a lecture delivered last week at London's Chatham House, George Mitchell stressed that the Shalit release deal strengthened Hamas, and weakened Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mitchell's statements during the October 17th forum were the most detailed and stringent comments he has made since leaving his envoy position in May. He declared that he is disappointed and pessimistic in view of the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"Order and personal security [in the West Bank] have been established in a way that never was previously," stated Mitchell. "The problem is that that effort cannot be sustained in the absence of progress, or at least the hope of progress on the political front. It will break down internally on the Palestinian side, and it will break down in relations with the Israelis. And it is to President Abbas' credit that, notwithstanding the fact that we haven't been able to get into meaningful negotiations, he has maintained co-ordination and co-operation on the security front and it continues. But even he will tell you that that cannot go on indefinitely. There has to be a political horizon."
Speaking on Gilad Shalit's release, Mitchell said that the subject is extremely sensitive for Israelis, and that the deal has positive aspects. Yet he insisted that the prisoner exchange had yielded negative results, such as strengthening Hamas vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority.
Changing demographic realities will compel Israel to make fateful choices, Mitchell suggested.
"Israel, if the two state solution is lost, will have to choose between being a Jewish state and a democratic state," he said. "And that's a choice they should not have to make."
Mitchell also criticized the Palestinian Authority's responses to American efforts to renew negotiations with Israel. He claimed that the Palestinians were unwilling to accept the 10-month settlement construction freeze declared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November 2009; the Palestinians contended that this freeze was "useless," and refused to engage in negotiations.
"They refused to enter into the negotiations until nine months of the 10 had elapsed," Mitchell said. "Once they entered, they then said [the freeze] was indispensable. What had been worse than useless a few months before then became indispensable and they said they would not remain in the talks unless that indispensable element were extended."
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