My Afternoon With Senator Mitchell

Dear Senator George J. Mitchell,

As soon as I heard you were speaking today at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzlia, where I am a third year Law and Government student, I was eager to come and hear you speak, strategically situating myself in the third row at the center of the class so as to raise my chances of being called on during the ensuing Q&A period.

Having negotiated the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland (1998) and having been appointed by President Obama to act as the United States Special Envoy for Middle East Peace (2009-2011), in charge of orchestrating a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, I was eager to hear what you had to say.

Senator George J. Mitchell at IDC Herzlia on 20/10/13
Senator George J. Mitchell at IDC Herzlia on 20/10/13

In your speech, you carefully spelled out what you felt were the three major problems facing Israel today. First, the demographic issue: With the number of Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea currently estimated at approximately 6.1 million and the current number of Arabs in the West Bank estimated at approximately 5 million, and based on the incredibly fast pace of natural growth among the Arab population, Israel is likely to be overwhelmingly Arab in a very short time. Second, while Israel may no longer face issues of probable suicide bombers thanks to its newly constructed “security fence”, it now faces a new issue – the constant bombardment of rockets coming from Gaza. It is assumed that Hamas’ arsenal holds at least 8,000 rockets at this time. Finally, while Syria has managed to shake things up a little, possibly to Israel’s advantage, we still face the ever-imminent threat of Hezbollah, possessing between 30,000-50,000 long-range rockets, and no shortage of motivation to use them.

Sure enough, when you finished your speech, I was called upon to ask the last question in the Q&A session. And this is what I asked:

“Mr. Senator, first of all thank you for coming. It is an honor to hear you speak. My question is two-fold: first, how will a peace agreement with President Abbas, representing the PA (Palestinian Authority), solve any of the problems you mentioned above? Both Hamas and Hezbollah are independent entities with no ties to the PA, thus Mr. Abbas has absolutely no sway over either of them. Second, you mentioned that both sides will have to make sacrifices in order to reach a common ground. Let us imagine that Israel decides to meet all of the PA’s demands, giving up huge chunks of land and exposing itself to numerous security issues. Suppose an agreement is reached and it is upheld for a number of years, but then Mr. Abbas retires, or dies, or is overthrown (probably the most likely). Who than is to guarantee that the “treaty” with the PA will be upheld? This is a concern especially in the Arab world, where leaders come and go like feathers in the wind.”

As soon as I finished my question, you began giving your answer.

Senator Mitchell, you are indeed a brilliant orator, not to mention a politician, but I could tell that I had put you in a difficult spot. The best indication to which was that after speaking for about six minutes, you hadn’t answered my question. And so I indicated with my eyes that I wanted to give a rebuttal and you politely nodded the floor back to me.

And I asked again: “Sir, you made it very clear that a peace agreement with the PA will indeed not solve either of the aforementioned problems, but what than will it achieve?”

This time you did answer me, however, regretfully, your answer did not suffice. While I could hardly continue this discussion with you this afternoon as I did not want to keep you or my fellow students (approximately 300 of them) waiting, I believe this is a good forum for discussion, so with your permission Senator Mitchell, I will continue…

Your response to me was the following: “All countries in the Middle East and many European countries as well, are deeply influenced by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many, if not all of them, use it as a ploy to ignore other key issues, refusing to do anything until the Palestinian issue is resolved. Reaching a peace agreement with the PA will ultimately invalidate this excuse and force those nations to cooperate legally, militarily and economically with Israel and its allies. This will be good for everyone: the United States, the countries in question and ultimately for Israelis as well.

I beg your pardon Senator Mitchell but even you can’t really believe this. Your answer is naïve at best, foolish at worst. Either this narrative is one you have told over so many times that you have actually come to believe it, or perhaps you yourself know it for what it is yet you still try and sell it to Israelis and to the World assuming we are the naïve ones.

Do you honestly believe sir that once we reach an “agreement”, people and states will just move on? Do you think left-wing liberals, terrorist-sympathizers and so-called human-rights activists will just get up and look for a new past-time? We both know the answer to these questions – of course not.

The answer is “no” for two reasons. First, the main reason that many countries choose not to cooperate with Israel, is not because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as they fondly assert. On the contrary, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a great convenience for them as it serves as the perfect excuse for anti-Semitic, Jew-hating individuals and nation-states to appear to be human rights activists and freedom fighters when really they are just the opposite.

I am a very religious man, and I believe with all my heart that the [whole] land of Israel was promised to me and my brethren. However, I am also a strong advocate for peace, and in that capacity, I would be willing to make large sacrifices of land even though such a sacrifice would be devastating for me. However, that would only be in a situation where peace is a guarantee – an unlikely reality when dealing with the likes of Abu-Mazen (President Abbas) who doesn’t legitimately represent anyone other than himself. No agreement can be reached with partners of his sort. Partners who repeatedly demand preemptive “shows of good faith” without offering anything in return, who continue to fund terrorist factions while publicly denouncing such organizations, are not seeking a real peace.

Furthermore, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is so much more than just a disagreement over land; it is a historic and religious conflict dating back thousands of years to our forefathers Isaac and Ishmael.

Just last week, we read in the weekly Torah portion (Genesis 15:21) “On that day, G-D made a covenant with Abram, saying ‘To your descendants have I given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River…'”,

This episode occurred more than 4,000 years ago. With all due respect sir, do you really think that after centuries upon centuries of war and bloodshed, you or Secretary Kerry or anyone else in the American Government is going to negotiate a “deal” that will “put an end to all this”.

In response to the second part of my question, you ascertained that just as the new regime in Egypt continues to uphold the peace agreement originally drafted between President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, so too future Palestinian leaders will surely uphold any agreement reached between Israel and the PA. Senator – how can you possibly compare Egypt, one of the oldest nations on the globe, so rich in history and culture, consisting as you yourself said, of “an extremely proud people”, to Palestine, a highly disputed figment of a people’s imagination?

For your information Senator, here is a brief background on the origins of the word “Palestine”, courtesy of the Jewish Virtual Library: “Though the definite origins of the word “Palestine” have been debated for years and are still not known for sure, the name is believed to be derived from the Egyptian and Hebrew word ‘peleshet’. Roughly translated to mean “rolling” or “migratory,” the term was used to describe the inhabitants of the land to the northeast of Egypt – the Philistines. The Philistines were an Aegean people – more closely related to the Greeks and with no connection ethnically, linguistically or historically with Arabia – who conquered in the 12th Century BCE the Mediterranean coastal plain that is now Israel and Gaza.” – Like I said sir – “a figment of a peoples imagination”.

Senator, it truly was a pleasure to meet you. It is not every day that I am granted the privilege of debating such emotional issues with a man of your stature, one who has dedicated much of his life attempting [and often succeeding – i.e. Northern Ireland] to actually resolve world conflicts. I wish you much luck in all your future endeavors as an advocate for peace – I just hope that they stay out the Middle East for a while.


Isaac J. Hammer

About the Author
Yitz Hammer lives with his wife and two children in Netanya; He made aliyah from the U.S. in 2000, studied in Otniel Hesder Yeshiva and served in the Combat Engineering Corps; Yitzy is currently studying towards an LL.B. in Law and a B.A. in Government at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliah, where he works as a research assistant in the subject of Jewish Law; Yitz's interests include photography, history, international law, music and writing. Most recently, Yitzy has joined the ranks of StandWithUs, the pro-Israel education and advocacy organization, as a participant in their Israel Fellowship.