Mitchell: Settlement Freeze ‘A Means To An End’

mitchell obamaMiddle East Progress has just posted an interview with Sen. George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, in which Mitchell discusses the current state of the peace process and the details of the Netanyahu government’s announcement of a partial settlement freeze.

Mitchell also responded to some criticisms of the administration’s approach to restarting Palestinian-Israeli negotiations:

Q: Critics have said that the administration’s singular focus on a settlement freeze harmed chances of negotiations and put President Abbas out on a limb from which he could not climb off. What was the rationale for this strategy and why has the administration continued to focus on a settlement freeze?

A: A freeze on settlement activity is an Israeli obligation under the Roadmap, and the United States — as well as the Quartet — has long called on all parties to uphold their obligations. We suggested all parties — Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states — take steps to improve the atmosphere for negotiations. These steps can be a valuable contribution to achieving our goal of successful negotiations that result in a two-state solution. They are, however, a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves. We have never viewed these steps as pre-conditions to the resumption of negotiations.

As to skepticism over President Obama’s ability to bring the parties to the table for productive negotiations, Mitchell said “There can be no absolute guarantee in advance of negotiations as to what will occur during the course of those negotiations. We must continue to urge, to encourage, and to persuade the leaders on both sides that compromises — difficult though they may be — are in the long-term interests of their people.”

The alternative is to accept endless conflict, never-ending disagreement, and the absence of opportunity for all the people of the region. Of course, not everyone gets everything they want in a negotiation, and there must be a willingness on everyone’s part to give more than they want to give and to accept less than they want to receive. With time, with patience, and with courageous leadership, however, such compromises can be reached for one overriding reason: It is in the best interest of the region’s people—Israelis, Palestinians, and other Arabs. The next generation should not have to live through what the present leadership has endured, and we are determined that peace can be achieved.

The President and the Secretary of State have been clear about our commitment both to Israel’s security and to the two-state solution based on the establishment of an independent and viable Palestinian state with contiguous territory. This commitment is unwavering and in the national security interests of the United States.

Read the whole interview here.