As internal conflicts monopolize the headlines of every major news outlet, American viewers become so absorbed in national issues that they fail to ponder the global effect of relations beyond their borders.
Issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict occur across the globe, but their outcomes hit close to home for many American citizens, whether people are aware of the intricacies or manage to ignore that reality.
Former United States Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, Senator George J. Mitchell, hopes to educate others about Israeli-Palestinian relations through his new book A Path to Peace: A Brief History of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations and a Way Forward in the Middle East.
“I set out to write a fairly precise and accurate description of the recent history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Mitchell said. “It’s meant to give some grounding for understanding Middle Eastern relations, no matter the extent of prior knowledge a reader might have.”
Mitchell provides readers with an abridged history of the conflict and a documentation of his own experiences negotiating for peace in the region. He hopes this “brief, readable account” of his experiences and perspectives will raise interest in the discussions between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
The author and diplomatic dignitary came from a humble upbringing as the son of working class Lebanese and Irish immigrants in Waterville, Maine. Mitchell and his four siblings were raised Catholic.
He began his journey into politics after graduating from Georgetown University Law Center and accepting a job as a trial attorney in Washington D.C.
At the start of his lengthy and diverse government career, Mitchell served as a lawyer, and federal judge for the state of Maine, before becoming a United States Senator. He mastered the art of personal persuasion in such positions as Senate Majority Leader for the Democratic Party and United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, under the Clinton Administration.
“As Senate Majority Leader, it was my responsibility to host foreign officials,” Mitchell said. “That was really when I became more aware of what was going on in Northern Ireland and the Middle East and developed a greater interest in matters of diplomacy.”
President Clinton’s decision to send Mitchell as a Special Envoy to Northern Ireland was an indication that he was serious about United States involvement in this long-avoided conflict. It was there that Mitchell developed his own set of principles for conducting peace negotiations that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 1998.
Although Mitchell does not enter peace negotiations with an exact formula in mind, he always operates with the utmost respect for individual viewpoints. “It’s important to let everybody have their say to create the right atmosphere for negotiating peace,” Mitchell explained. “You first need to get them to listen to the other side and show that you’re willing to listen as well. If you give everyone respect, you’ll usually get some in return and start to find some common ground.”
Mitchell is regarded by his colleagues as an international relations expert. However, the secret to his vast knowledge of global politics lies in something accessible to nearly every American with a library card or a smartphone.
“Any expertise I might have going into a negotiation is merely the product of my own self-education,” Mitchell said. “I typically read two or three dozen history books and speak with as many foreign authorities as I can to give myself the best knowledge of the past and present situations.”
Mitchell’s personal reliance on historical literature prompted him to become an author after retiring from his diplomatic responsibilities.
“It’s so easy to become self-educated now,” Mitchell said. “There’s no formula or secret. You just need to have the desire to learn and understand, and A Path to Peace makes it that easy to begin your own self-education in Middle Eastern politics.”
One of Mitchell’s primary arguments in A Path to Peace is that the only viable option for peace in the Middle East relies on keeping the two-state solution alive. In the book, he explains, “The premise of the two-state solution is that Israelis and Palestinians will be able to exercise their national aspirations separately, alongside one another.”
Because of the complex and deeply rooted conflict, Mitchell believes that a one-state solution would lead to continuing hostility and inevitable internal conflicts, “And for that reason,” Mitchell said, “the one-state solution is really no solution at all.”
The purpose of Mitchell’s book is not only to advocate for the two-state solution as international support for the plan continues to decline, but to convince readers to further their education on Middle Eastern relations.
“Most Americans don’t even have a view on the subject of a peaceful solution, and those that do often wrongfully view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in isolation,” Mitchell said. “In reality, everything that happens in this turbulent region has an interactive effect that’s more subject to external influences that most people realize. So, it doesn’t matter to me whether your opinion aligns with mine. I just think it’s important that you have one.”
Mitchell is scheduled to speak about his book, A Path to Peace: A Brief History of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations and a Way Forward in the Middle East in Orange County on October 29. He will headline the upcoming 2017 OC Jewish Arts Festival at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County.
2017 OC Jewish Arts Festival
Senator George Mitchell in conversation with Alon Sachar, co-author of “A Path To Peace: A Brief History of Israeli Palestinian Negotiations and a Way Forward in the Middle East”
WHEN: Sunday, October 29, 4:30 pm
WHERE: Merage JCC
Sponsored by The Roslyn & Joseph Baim Family Foundation and Barbara and Joseph Baim
In 2008, Time Magazine described Senator Mitchell as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He is the author of five books, most recently A Path To Peace: A Brief History of Israeli Palestinian Negotiations and a Way Forward in the Middle East, written with Alon Sachar and published in November 2016. Alon Sachar has served to advance peace under two U.S. administrations. He served as an advisor to U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Daniel B. Shapiro, in Tel Aviv from 2011-2012, and to President Obama’s Special Envoys for Middle East Peace, George Mitchell and David Hale, from 2009-2011. From 2006-2009, he served in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, focusing on the U.S. bilateral relationships with Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Arab-Israeli relations. He is currently an attorney.
Hannah Schoenbaum is a freshman journalism student at Boston University. She participated in several Merage JCC programs throughout high school, including the Maccabi Games, JCC Cares, and the Global Teen Fellows, through which she traveled to Israel last summer. Hannah developed an early interest in reporting on issues surrounding the Jewish community and began her first editorial internship with JLife in late 2012.