PORTLAND, Maine — Former U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell said Sunday that the Palestinians’ bid to gain membership in the United Nations will worsen the prospects for peace with Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked the U.N. Security Council last month to recognize an independent Palestinian state. But Mitchell said granting full U.N. membership at this stage would not help in restarting stalled peace negotiations.
“In that case it seems inevitable hostility and mistrust will grow, not decrease, and the chance of them getting back to negotiations will decrease,” said Mitchell, speaking by telephone from New York. “Since both sides agree that the only way it can be resolved ultimately is through negotiations, it’s hard for me to see how this is going to advance toward that.”
Mitchell, a former U.S. senator from Maine, served as President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East from 2009 until his resignation in May. He is delivering a talk about the Middle East on Wednesday at the University of Southern Maine.
Abbas has asked the U.N. Security Council to recognize an independent Palestinian state within the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, which were captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.
Previous talks between Palestinian and Israeli leaders have failed to resolve their differences. Mitchell said he’s confident an accord can be reached in the future because it’s in the best interest of both sides.
“The Palestinians are going to get a state only when the people of Israel have a reasonable degree of security. Israel can only attain that security if the Palestinians have a state,” Mitchell said. “So they should be vested in accommodation as opposed to being vested in mistrust and hostility, which is now the case.”
The Security Council most likely won’t grant the Palestinians’ bid for full U.N. membership because the U.S. has pledged to use its veto power if necessary.
Mitchell said the U.N. could upgrade the Palestinians’ status from U.N. observer to nonmember observer state. This status, identical to that of the Vatican, requires only a simple majority of General Assembly’s 193 members, with no nation able to exercise veto power as in the Security Council.
The upgraded status could be used by the Palestinians to seek full membership in many U.N. agencies, such as the World Health Organization, UNESCO and the International Court of Justice and sign international conventions on climate change and other matters as a full state.
Mitchell previously served as a U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland, where he helped broker a peace deal that established a Protestant-Catholic power-sharing government. But attaining peace in the Middle East is a bigger challenge, he said.
“By comparison the Middle East is a much more complicated, difficult situation,” he said. “There are many more factors involved.”