Former Democratic Sen. George Mitchell says President Trump's strategy in the Middle East emboldens groups among Israelis and Palestinians that don't favor a two-state solution.
Mitchell, who was special envoy for Middle East peace under President Obama and helped negotiate peace in Northern Ireland during the Clinton administration, tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson the U.S. is essential to the Middle East peace process.
On President Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
"There's no doubt about the fact that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and will be the capital of Israel. The only issue is whether there will ever be a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state. I think the president's action in moving the embassy was premature and unwise, because it undermined the very policy which the president himself has been pursuing, consistent with American policy over many decades. That is to achieve a solution — the only solution I think possible is that of two independent states — but to achieve a solution through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, they themselves sit down, negotiate and decide their future. The decision by the president to move the embassy has made getting negotiations much more difficult, and if we ever do get into negotiations, made getting a satisfactory result even more difficult than that."
"I think the president's action in moving the embassy was premature and unwise, because it undermined the very policy which the president himself has been pursuing, consistent with American policy over many decades."Former Sen. George Mitchell
On Trump's threat to cut off aid to the Palestinians
"I don't think it'll work. In both my tours of duty in the Middle East, both sides offered that as the way to solve the problem. The Palestinians and all of the Arabs said, 'Oh, the Israelis are dependent upon you, if you just cut off their funding, they'll do whatever you want.' And the Israelis said, 'The Palestinians are dependent upon you, if you just cut off their funding, they'll do what you want.' I don't believe it will work in either case. Both are proud people. They have their own sense of identity and mission. And I think the way to get them to negotiation is to create incentives, not through threats and cutting off aid. And might I point out, the principal victims of a cut off of aid will of course be Palestinians. There'll be tremendous hunger, suffering among Palestinians over a long period of time.
"But a secondary effect will be tremendously adverse to Israel: A complete cut off of assistance to the Palestinians means that effectively that burden will fall on the Israelis, which they really don't need or want. So I think it's an unwise strategy. Maybe it'll work, the Palestinians are obviously in a very desperate condition. But I've never believed that this kind of threat or cut off — particularly to people who we have heretofore regarded as people that we support in their aspiration, that I think does remain American policy. I just don't think those kinds of tactics work. Maybe they will, we'll have to see down the road."
On who benefits from moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem
"The principal beneficiaries of the president's decision were those both among Palestinians and Israelis who don't favor a two-state solution. The right-wing in Israel — well represented in the current government — openly and aggressively advocates there never being a Palestinian state on the West Bank, and many of them advocate complete annexation of all of the West Bank by Israel. So they are very pleased and emboldened by the president's statement.
"On the Palestinian side, they're divided, too. Those who support the Palestinian Authority and President [Mahmoud] Abbas oppose violence, recognize Israel, want to reach an agreement. The others ... led by Hamas, are opposed to Israel's existence, want to use violence and they are very emboldened by this. So what it has done is emboldened the groups on both sides who are opposed to any two-state solution, and I think the only possible solution to end the conflict is through two states. So I think it's a setback, and a setback for American policy. This has been American policy for quite a long time."
"The principal beneficiaries of the president's decision were those both among Palestinians and Israelis who don't favor a two-state solution."Former Sen. George Mitchell
On whether the U.S. has lost credibility when it comes to negotiating peace in the Middle East
"Well that's certainly true among the Palestinians, the Arabs and the broader Muslim community. Keep in mind that now about one out of five persons on Earth is Muslim. And by the year 2050, it'll be one out of three — there will be about 3.5 billion Muslims in the world, and I think clearly we've lost ground there. But I don't think that's irretrievable. I think they all know and recognize that there cannot be an agreement without the active support and participation of the United States government, because there is no other entity — government or otherwise — that can create the conditions and do what's necessary to keep compliance with any agreement."
On debate over the Democratic Party's future
"I'm not a labels guy. I like to deal with issues. I think the Democratic Party has a very strong and bright future, if we concentrate on those principles, those policies and those actions which created such strong support for Democrats over the past century — that is concentrating on economic growth, job creation, working men and women, many of whom feel we have forgotten them, and that's gotta be the emphasis. I believe this to the bottom of my heart that the single most important agency in United States history in opening up doors of opportunity, reducing, breaking down barriers to people moving ahead, getting education and skills, has been the Democratic Party, and the policies that it has pursued, and we've got to get back to that kinda basic. And when we do that, we will prevail in elections and be doing the right thing for the American people."
This article was originally published on January 30, 2018.
This segment aired on January 30, 2018.