George Mitchell
George Mitchell. Photo by Reuters
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke over the weekend to the departing U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, and expressed regret over the senator's departure. Netanyahu blamed the Palestinians, who, he said, "piled up endless preconditions that obstructed your work and at the end of the day got together with Hamas."

President Barack Obama released a statement, praising Mitchell as a "tireless advocate for peace as the U.S. Special Envoy for the Middle East. His deep commitment to resolving conflict and advancing democracy has contributed immeasurably to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security."

The envoy will be provisionally replaced by his deputy, David Hale. Mitchell handed his resignation to Obama on Friday, marking an end to two years of futile attempts to advance negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Senior sources in both the American administration and in Jerusalem told Haaretz the underlying reason for the resignation was his disappointment with Obama's decision not to launch an American peace initiative.

"When I accepted your request to serve as U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace my intention was to serve for two years. More than two years having passed I hereby resign, effective May 20, 2011" Mitchell wrote to Obama in the resignation letter.

Obama appointed Mitchell, famed for his success in mediating the Northern Ireland peace process under Clinton, on his second day in office, creating great expectations for a dramatic American move in the peace talks. However, Mitchell was soon mired in exhausting, fruitless negotiations over settlement freeze and conditions for sitting down at the negotiating table.

Mitchell arrived in the area frequently, quickly losing stature in the eyes of both Ramallah and Jerusalem. The talks he conducted often ended with no results, creating frustration among all parties. When the talks were finally launched in September 2010, they collapsed within less than three weeks, after Israel refused to renew the moratorium on settlement construction.

Another factor that added to Mitchell's growing frustration was his tense relationship with Dennis Ross, senior adviser to Obama, especially in recent months. As it became clear the peace process was at an impasse, meetings were held in Washington to devise a new strategy for an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Mitchell, along with several senior State Department officials, pushed for a new American peace initiative in which Obama would set out his principles for the resolution of the conflict, beginning with the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders with land swipes.

Ross, along with several senior White House officials, were opposed to be move, saying an American initiative would be rejected by both parties, which would embarrass Obama and cause him political damage ahead of the presidential elections in 2012. However, Mitchell's opponents are not known to have presented an alternative American strategy ahead of the Palestinian's request to the UN to recognize a Palestinian state in September.