A Return to Clinton

In an interview in Tel Aviv last month with U.S. President Barack Obama's designated Mideast envoy, George Mitchell said it was crucial for the American president and Israeli prime minister to have a secure and trusting relationship.

Sovereign states inevitably have difference of opinion over tactics and timing, and that shouldn't worry anyone, he said.

But, he added, when it comes to the key issues - like a comprehensive and stable peace between Israel and its neighbors and getting Iran to turn away from nuclear weapons - it's important for the American and Israeli leaders to cooperate and agree on objectives and strategy.

Mitchell spoke in Tel Aviv about the American perspective on the U.S.-Israel alliance in the new administration at a December conference sponsored by the Institute for National Security Studies.

The institute's director, Oded Eran, found out on the eve of the conference that Mitchell had been chosen as the next Mideast envoy, though the envoy-designate did not discuss his new position.

Comments Mitchell made about the negative effects of Hamas' electoral victory and takeover of Gaza, a week before Operation Cast Lead began, indicate that in the wake of the war and its weakening of Hamas, the Obama administration will be all the more energetic about renewing the peace process.

The administration's efforts, Mitchell said during the lecture, must be resolute, diligent and supported by political capital, financial resources and focused attention at the highest levels, although neither the process nor the agreement can be American.

After the Mitchell Report on the origins of the second intifada was shelved, on several occasions Mitchell publicly said any agreement ultimately reached between the parties in the region will be very similar to the plan proposed by Bill Clinton toward the end of his presidency.

Mitchell, a Democrat from Maine and former U.S. Senate majority leader, was appointed by Clinton to head the fact-finding commission that compiled the report.

Thanks to Mitchell's affiliation with Clinton and the Democratic party, the Bush administration gave the Mitchell Report a chilly reception.

In his speech at the Tel Aviv conference, Mitchell said the success of creating two independent democratic countries living in peace depends on the constant effort and mutual commitment of both sides, along with the active involvement of the United States.

According to Mitchell, Israel's top goal is security for a nation that lives in intolerable fear, while the Palestinians most want an independent state that has economic vitality and geographic unity, saying the path toward that goal must be free of violence.

Fred Hoff, Mitchell's personal assistant in the commission, said in an interview nine months ago that the combined experience of the Mitchell committee, the Road Map - the plan that the Quartet borrowed from the Mitchell committee, adding the political perspective on the establishment of a Palestinian state - and the Annapolis process all show that the American president needs to get the leaders of both sides away from the region, isolate them at a conference somewhere far away and present them with an American plan if they are unable to reach an agreement on their own.