By Daniella Peled
January 22, 2009
Earlier this week I heard a delicious rumour. The reason that the new US Middle East envoy had not been announced, my friend suggested, was that it was actually going to be Bill Clinton.
This suggestion had a fantastically pleasing symmetry. Bill got so, so near to an agreement on the core issues during his presidency, the last time a US leader took an active part in peacemaking. There would be no question over Bill’s closeness to the Secretary of State, and indeed his mobile phone is probably stuffed with the personal numbers of every significant world leader. Above all, he is a superstar – which was probably a good reason for Obama to reject him. After all, what President would want to be eclipsed by his own Middle East envoy?
Well, as captivating as that piece of gossip was – and I am sure it had some truth to it – the actual pick is a good one. George Mitchell is a widely respected former US senator who has experience in two of the most convoluted peace processes in the world. He actually helped resolve one of them, as Clinton’s envoy to Northern Ireland, by setting out the principles that would eventually lead to the Good Friday agreement.
After the start of the second intifada, he produced a report into the causes and possible solutions to the renewed violence. Now he is heading back to the region, to face both the same old intractable problems and a whole set of new ones.
Interesting, though, how Northern Ireland is being increasingly adopted as a model for Middle East peacemaking, as Mitchell’s appointment suggests. Gordon Brown, too, backs the economic model – as promoted by Ronnie Cohen’s Portland Trust – that supported peacemaking in Northern Ireland.
Not very glamorous, perhaps – but in the end it actually seemed to work.