Mitchell quitting; what took so long?

There’s only one question I have about today’s annoucement that U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell is calling it quits: what took so long?

With an administration that still can’t decide if it wants to seriously press both sides to return to the negotiating table or offer U.S. proposals to break the stalemate and with Israeli and Palestinian leaders not much intererested in calls for a resumption of negotiations, it’s not clear Mitchell had anything to do.

Mitchell’s action comes on the eve of visits by Jordan’s King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There’s talk President Obama will give another “Islam” speech next week to address the dramatic changes in the region during this Arab spring and repeat the U.S. commitment to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

There is some speculation Mitchell’s departure may reflect the administration’s desire for a new envoy to honcho a major new U.S. effort.

Although the signals are mixed, I don’t buy it. More likely is the idea the administration doesn’t want to throw good money after bad, especially when it has so many other pressing issues to deal with. Mitchell’s leaving because there simply isn’t much for him to do right now.

AIPAC, which holds its annual policy conference next week, praised the outgoing envoy.

"We appreciate his efforts to set up negotiations and deeply regret Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s continued unwillingness to negotiate directly with his Israeli counterpart without preconditions," the group’s leaders said.

Americans for Peace Now is worried.

“With peace efforts stalled, the entire world is wondering if Senator Mitchell’s departure discloses a decision by the Obama Administration to back off further from peace efforts, said APN CEO Debra DeLee. "It is vital that President Obama demonstrate – through his actions and words – that this is not the case. Now is the time for President Obama to take charge personally of his Israeli-Palestinian policy. Envoys and shuttle diplomacy have had their day; what is needed now is resolute personal engagement and dramatic action from the President himself."

Politico’s Ben Smith has a good take on the resignation headlined "George Mitchell’s exit marks low point in peace process."

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.