Assessing diplomat George Mitchell’s plan for peace in the Middle East.

Posted on Apr 10, 2017

by Andrew J. Bacevich* | America, the Jesuit Review | January 11, 2017

Books by the bushel purport to offer insights that will advance the prospects of a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Few offer anything fresh or novel. A Path To Peace does not number among those few.

It is difficult to understand what prompted the authors to undertake their project. From January 2009 to May 2011, George J. Mitchell, former Democratic senator from Maine, served as President Obama’s special envoy for Middle East Peace. Alon Sachar was a member of Mitchell’s team. Their efforts to promote the cause of a two-state solution, no doubt well intended, yielded nothing of substance. Now, years after the fact, they weigh in with these belated reflections.

The book breaks into two parts. The first part consists of a potted narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict dating from the launch of Zionism, while summarizing the role played by the United States since the founding of the state of Israel. For anyone completely unfamiliar with that history, it presents a brief, balanced introduction. To anyone with knowledge of the basic facts, it offers nothing new.

The book’s second half focuses on Mitchell’s own efforts to untie this ultimate Gordian Knot of Middle East diplomacy. In assessing the results of his efforts at peacemaking, he offers a judgment that is severe but apt: Conditions conducive to peace simply do not exist. The opposing parties do not trust one another. Internal divisions on each side limit freedom of action. As for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it is not at all clear that he sees the status quo as objectionable.

Mitchell’s own best efforts having made no progress, he sees “no prospect of any in the near future.” Even so, A Path To Peace concludes with its own prescription for “a way forward.” You have heard it all before: borders “based on the 1967 lines with land swaps”; a blend of compensation, repatriation and resettlement for Palestinian refugees; secure borders for Israel; Jerusalem as “the capital of both states.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.

* Andrew J. Bacevich is the author, most recently, of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.