Mitchell says Mideast peace remains elusive but would benefit Israelis, Palestinians

Posted May 16, 2011, at 8:41 p.m.
Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell briefs reporters the State Department in Washington in Sept. 2010.
Charles Dharapak | AP FILE
Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell briefs reporters the State Department in Washington in Sept. 2010.

BANGOR, Maine — Former Maine Sen. George Mitchell, who is stepping down from his role as the Obama administration’s special Mideast envoy later this month, said Monday that he still firmly believes that peace would benefit both Israelis and Palestinians.

While Israel has a state, it lacks security, he said, and the Palestinians lack a state.

Whether that can be negotiated remains unclear, Mitchell, who played a key role in producing Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace accord in 1998, said Monday in a brief telephone interview from New York.

Mitchell’s departure at the end of the week comes after more than two years trying to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, whose conflict predates the creation of Israel in 1948.

According to The Associated Press, attempts to negotiate peace in the Middle East, which has been embroiled in turmoil for decades, have been stalled since September and have become more complicated by an agreement between Palestinian factions to share power.

“Obviously it’s a very difficult situation,” Mitchell said, adding that Mideast peace has eluded 10 presidents and 20 secretaries of state so far.

“Every one of them has tried to resolve it. It’s a difficult problem, however, I’m still hopeful,” he said.

On Monday, Mitchell said he was resigning because that was the time frame he had agreed to when he accepted the Mideast mission.

“In January of 2009, when President Obama and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton asked me to serve in this capacity, I told the president I would be willing to commit to two years,” he said.

Although he is leaving the envoy position, 77-year-old Mitchell has no plans to retire.

“It was a great honor for me to serve this country in the [U.S.] Army, the Department of Justice, the Senate and now as the president’s special Mideast envoy,” he said. “I regard myself as very lucky to have that opportunity to serve and indeed I will continue.”

Mitchell, who said the envoy post consumed seven days a week, said he now is looking forward to spending the summer on Mount Desert Island with his wife and their children, a 13-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, something his work schedule prevented last summer.

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