Mitchell says Palestinians must show flexibility 20Nov11 November 20, 2011

Ma’an News Agency  -  19 November 2011

ROCKLAND, Maine (Ma’an) — The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah showed inflexibility over Israel’s settlement program and will have to make compromises for the sake of peace, the Obama administration’s former Mideast envoy has said.

George Mitchell, who resigned in May as US President Barack Obama’s special envoy for the Middle East peace process, said Tuesday at the University of Maine that the Palestinian side placed too much emphasis on settlements.

“I personally went to 13 countries and in almost every single one I was told that Palestinians … should not enter into negotiations unless there was full freeze on Israeli settlement activity,” Mitchell said, according to US news reports.

“We negotiated that and the Israeli leaders agreed to halt new housing in the West Bank for 10 months. It was much less than what we asked for but more than anyone else had done,” the Freepress Online quoted him as saying.

“The Palestinians rejected it as worse than useless. They were strongly opposed to it.”

Nine months later, negotiations were “discontinued by the Palestinians on the grounds that Israel wouldn’t continue the settlement freeze. What had been less than worthless a few months earlier became indispensable to continue negotiations.”

Still, Mitchell praised the Palestinians’ preparations for statehood, saying they “have demonstrated the ability to build a state. They have begun to establish the institutions necessary to do that.”

‘Dangerous future’

Mitchell said the PLO’s refusal to negotiate was a gamble, adding that both the Palestinians and the Israelis face a “dangerous future” amid the deadlock in talks, which broke down in September 2010.

“The choices have become less and less over time. There is not a shred of evidence that they will get any better in the future. The pain of negotiating is less than if they don’t negotiate,” he said.

“If both sides go on they face an extremely dangerous future.”

He said Israel, too, should acknowledge the urgency of the situation it is in, as the state will eventually “face a demographic dilemma that will put a two-state solution out of reach.”

He said the “Arab birth rate is higher and the number of Arabs will exceed the number of Jews in the not-too-distant future. At that point Israel will face a choice between being a democratic state or a Jewish state. They cannot be both.”

Mitchell’s resigned in May after more than two years as envoy. Last week, his colleague Dennis Ross, another key Obama envoy for the Middle East, announced he would step down by December.

“When I came back from my several years in the Middle East my wife said, ‘The expectations for you were zero and you met them,’” Mitchell said, according to the report.

“The last time I was back and met with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, I said, ‘You have to do something so I can go back to my wife and say: you spoke too soon.’”

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