Friday afternoon, the President announced George Mitchell’s resignation with (as Elliott Abrams notes) a written statement instead of a ceremony. The statement struck a strange note: “George told me when he took this job that he would put in a couple of years, and I’m so glad he did.”
In 2009, when Mitchell was appointed Middle East envoy on the second full day of the administration, in a ceremony at which both the president and secretary of state spoke, he recalled that enemies in Northern Ireland had overcome 800 years of history in negotiations that featured 700 days of failure and one day of success:
As an aside, just recently, I spoke in Jerusalem and I mentioned the 800 years. And afterward, an elderly gentleman came up to me and he said, “Did you say 800 years?” And I said, “Yes, 800.” . . . He said, “Uh, such a recent argument. No wonder you settled it.” (Laughter.) But—800 years may be recent—but from my experience there, I formed the conviction that there is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended. . . . [The President and the Secretary of State] believe, as I do, that the pursuit of peace is so important that it demands our maximum effort. . . . [T]he President himself has said that his Administration—and I quote—“Will make a sustained push, working with Israelis and Palestinians to achieve the goal of two states: a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security.”
In the following two years, the administration demanded a formal commitment to a Palestinian state from Benjamin Netanyahu, but not a commitment to a Jewish one from Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu proposed immediate negotiations without preconditions; the administration insisted on a settlement freeze and Abbas adopted it as an adamant precondition. Netanyahu provided an unprecedented 10-month moratorium, which Abbas ignored (and then used its expiration as a reason to quit the process). Last week Abbas signed an agreement (again) with the terrorist group he was obligated under the Roadmap to dismantle.
The President and his envoy apparently thought a peace agreement could be produced in about 700 days by sustained pressure applied to one side, but that strategy ended up driving the process into a ditch.