George Mitchell and David Miliband on the Middle East
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th October, 2011
Chatham House this afternoon hosted a ‘conversation’ with former US Senator George Mitchell and former Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband on the theme ‘The Middle East in the 21st Century’. It was striking that the focus of the discussion was almost entirely about that most 20th Century of questions: the Arab-Israeli conflict and the related ongoing occupation of the Palestinian West Bank. George Mitchell — who was President Obama’s Envoy to the region for a period — believes there will be a two-state solution one day, but stuck to Washington’s line that this can only come about through negotiation. I made the point that so long as settlement expansion continues, in East Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank, there can be no negotiated settlement and indeed a Palestinian state is looking increasingly unviable. The US is the only country that can put sufficient pressure on the Israeli government to halt settlements, but it has shown its unwillingness to back calls for a halt with any action (such as cutting aid to Israel). Moreover, George Mitchell — charming and drily witty as he is — also endorsed the US line on voting against the Palestinian Authority’s current attempt to get statehood recognised at the United Nations. David Miliband, interestingly, said he thought that President Abbas had used brilliant tactics in making this move, in that it thrust the issue of Palestine into the limelight when it was running the risk of being overshadowed by the so-called Arab Spring. David Miliband also wished to see the peace efforts further internationalised, with Arab states having a more direct input and Europe making its voice heard more strongly.