WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu blamed the Palestinians for
thwarting the peace-making efforts of US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who
resigned Friday after two years of fruitless attempts to end the Israeli
In a telephone conversation between the two men on
Saturday evening, Netanyahu thanked Mitchell for his many efforts to advance the
peace process and said he was sorry to hear of his resignation.
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minister also expressed sorrow at the Palestinian refusal to come to the
negotiating table, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's
He blamed the Palestinian Authority’s setting of preconditions
for torpedoing the peace talks.
Netanyahu also expressed to Mitchell his
disappointment in the PA’s reconciliation with Hamas.
Mitchell’s resignation Friday, US President Barack Obama didn’t name a new envoy but said that Mitchell deputy David Hale
would serve as the acting envoy in the meantime.
The announcement comes
days before Obama is expected to give a major address on the Middle East this
coming Thursday, during a week that will also include a visit from Jordan’s King
Abdullah on Tuesday and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on
Those visits come on the backdrop of stalled negotiations between
Israel and the Palestinians, despite Obama’s early emphasis on a peace deal,
including the appointment of Mitchell just two days after assuming the
There were expectations that the coming week of diplomatic
activity would consist of an effort to revive Israeli-Palestinian engagement,
but the recently announced national unity deal between Fatah and Hamas have
dampened those efforts.
“As a nation, we remain committed to peace in the
Middle East and to building on George’s hard work and progress toward achieving
this goal,” Obama said in a statement put out on Friday afternoon.
have every confidence in David’s ability to continue to make progress in this
Both Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
in her own statement praised Mitchell for his legacy of public service. Obama
noted that Mitchell had originally agreed only to serve as envoy for two years,
something Mitchell himself pointed to in his letter of resignation.
strongly support your vision of comprehensive peace in the Middle East and thank
you for giving me the opportunity to be part of your administration,” Mitchell
wrote in a letter dated April 6, giving his final day on the job as May
Despite several references to the two-year commitment, which expired
in January, observers saw in the timing of Mitchell’s resignation indications
that he had failed in his task to bring the two sides closer together, and
perhaps that the Obama administration was seeking to downgrade the primacy it
places on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mitchell’s resignation as the Obama administration’s Middle East envoy makes
formal what was clear for some time - the president’s goal of an
Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement by September is unattainable and
negotiations are not about to resume any time soon,” former State Department
official Rob Danin, now with the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote after
White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted,
however, that the US remained focused on seeking a deal.
president’s commitment remains as firm as it was when he took office,” Carney
said during Friday’s press briefing. “The fact that this is a hard issue, an
extraordinarily hard issue, is not news to anyone in this room or anyone who has
ever attempted to work on it over these many years.”
He added, “The
president is committed to continue working on it, and the fact that he’s having
these meetings next week proves that.”
Israeli officials and pro-Israel
groups on Friday expressed appreciation for Mitchell’s efforts even if they were
“Israel remains committed to the vision so
tirelessly pursued by Senator Mitchell of direct negotiations leading to two
states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security,” Israeli
Ambassador Michael Oren said in a statement, in which he also blamed the
Palestinians for blocking progress.
“Unfortunately, the Palestinians
rejected his repeated invitations to resume direct negotiations and instead
decided to achieve statehood unilaterally, without direct talks and without
peace,” Oren said.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni also praised Mitchell,
saying that “even if the task was not completed, Mitchell... in his deep
obligation to peace, filled an important role in promoting Israel and the
She added, “A peace agreement is a national Israeli interest and
we must hope that neither side gives up fulfilling this interest and merely
contents themselves with mutual blame that leads nowhere.”
Israel Public Affairs Committee also blamed the Palestinians for stymieing
“We appreciate his efforts to set up negotiations,
and deeply regret Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s continued
unwillingness to negotiate directly with his Israeli counterpart without
preconditions,” the group said in statement.
Americans for Peace Now
urged Obama to continue efforts to forge peace even with Mitchell no longer
“With peace efforts stalled, the entire world is wondering if
Senator Mitchell’s departure discloses a decision by the Obama administration to
back off further from peace efforts,” APN President Debra DeLee said in a
statement. “It is vital that President Obama demonstrate – through his actions
and words – that this is not the case.
“Now is the time for President
Obama to take charge personally of his Israeli-Palestinian policy. Envoys and
shuttle diplomacy have had their day; what is needed now is resolute personal
engagement and dramatic action from the president himself,” DeLee
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, “Senator George
Mitchell pursued his role as US Middle East envoy with commitment and resolve in
very difficult circumstances.
His contribution to the search for peace in
the region is unquestionable. I am convinced that negotiations remain the best
way to secure a lasting peace in the region, and am grateful for Senator
Mitchell’s work towards this goal.”
“The recent developments in the
Middle East make ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more urgent, not less,”
“We look forward to working with acting US envoy David
Hale to build on Senator Mitchell’s efforts to secure a comprehensive and
lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”
“In Britain, we also
remember Senator Mitchell’s invaluable role in bringing peace to Northern
Ireland. He has had an illustrious career by any standards. I wish him
well for the future.”Tovah Lazaroff, Jonny Paul and Jerusalem Post staff
contributed to this report.