Mideast Envoy George Mitchell made some interesting observations in an interview with Charlie Rose.
Obama's Demand for a Settlement Freeze
Charlie Rose: The New York Times editorial [says] that the past year has not been successful because the administration stressed a settlement freeze....By focusing on a settlement freeze, which Israelis were unlikely to agree to, you created disappointment from the beginning, because it was an unachievable objective.
George Mitchell: If you want to get 60 percent, do you begin by asking for 60 percent?
Charlie Rose: No. You ask for a hundred.
George Mitchell: Oh, there you go, Charlie. You've already figured out negotiations. So what we got was -- what we got was a moratorium, ten months, far less than what was requested, but more significant than any action taken by any previous government of Israel for the 40 years that the settlement enterprise has existed, ten months of no new starts in the West Bank, less than what we asked, much, much greater than any prior government has done. And we think over time it's going to make a significant difference on the ground.
Getting Talks Started
Charlie Rose: You hope to accomplish this in two years. The moratorium is for ten months....That gives you an incentive to say to the parties ...better get something done before the moratorium ends because I don't know if we can get it again.
George Mitchell: Charlie, will you come with me on my next visit and make that little spiel? Because it might sound better coming from you. I have made it several times....We have suggested to the Israelis .. a series of steps and actions that they could take that would encourage President Abbas to enter the—
Charlie Rose: So why can't you tell me what they are, that's my question.
George Mitchell: Well because I want to discuss it with them before I discuss it you.
George Mitchell: ...Israel annexed Jerusalem in 1980....for the Israelis, what they're building in, is in part of Israel. Now, the others don't see it that way. So you have these widely divergent perspectives on the subject. ...The Israelis are not going to stop settlements in or construction in East Jerusalem. They don't regard that as a settlement because they think it's part of Israel....
Charlie Rose: So you're going to let them go ahead even though no one recognized the annexation.
George Mitchell: When you say let them go ahead, it's what they regard as their country. They don't regard -- they don't say they're letting us go ahead when we build in Manhattan or in the Bronx or --
Charlie Rose: But don't the international rules have something to do with what somebody can do to define as their country?
George Mitchell: There are disputed legal issues. .. And we could spend the next 14 years arguing over disputed legal issues or we can try to get a negotiation to resolve them in a manner that meets the aspirations of both societies. .
Deadline or Target Date
George Mitchell: We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years, once begun we think it can be done within that period of time. We hope the parties agree.
George Mitchell...Until now, the Syrians want to complete the indirect talks through Turkey that began in 2008 ... The Israelis prefer immediate and direct negotiations with the Syrians, not completing the indirect process through the Turks. ..And I will be going to both Israel and Syria on my upcoming visit to try to further this process. And we are prepared to do it in any manner which is acceptable to the two sides. So far they have not found a formula that would enable them to get into it. ... And we believe that an Israel-Syria track could operate in parallel with an Israeli-Palestinian track on discussions.
Prisoner Exchange with Hamas
Charlie Rose: There is the talk of a prisoner exchange. Would that build confidence in the Israelis could get the Hamas prisoner back?
George Mitchell: Well, that will not build confidence with the Palestinian authority because it will, in fact, be seen as a validation of Hamas' tactics, which is violence resistance. ...It's an excruciatingly difficult decision because it does send the message that their violent resistance has paid off. And of course it will lead others around the world to seek more hostages. And that's one of the toughest things that -- decisions that the prime minister has to make. And we accept the reality that he's got to keep making this effort. But what we think is that there should also be actions taken with respect to the Palestinian authority, which believes in peaceful negotiation. And that's the approach that ought to be rewarded.
U.S. Pressure on Israel
George Mitchell: The reality is that, yes, of course the United States has both carrots and sticks, you have to be very careful about how and when you use them and apply [inaudible] -- ...Under American law, the United States can withhold support on loan guarantees to Israel. President George W. Bush did so...On one occasion... That's one mechanism that has been publicly discussed, there are others. And you have to keep open whatever options, but our view is that, we think the way to approach this is to try to persuade the parties what is in their self interests.
Obama's Popularity in Israel
Charlie Rose: Why is President Obama's popularity so low in Israel? It's four percent.
George Mitchell: No, that's completely false...Several polls that I've seen in the past month show that he is—I'll give you the numbers, 49 favorable, 45 unfavorable, 43 favorable, 37 unfavorable; it's a reasonable. A plurality support him in Israel and a small plurality oppose him.