Netanyahu thanks Mitchell, blames PA for failure of talks

PM expresses sorrow at resignation of US envoy to ME; says PA's setting of preconditions is behind torpedoing of Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Netanyahu and George Mitchell 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Netanyahu and George Mitchell 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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 Palestinian conflict.
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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The prime minister also expressed sorrow at the Palestinian refusal to come to the negotiating table, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office.
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.
In accepting 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 Friday.
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 presidency.
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.
“I have every confidence in David’s ability to continue to make progress in this important effort.”
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.
“I 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 20.
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.
“Senator George 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 Friday’s announcement.
White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted, however, that the US remained focused on seeking a deal.
“This 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 ultimately unsuccessful.
“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 region.”
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.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee also blamed the Palestinians for stymieing Mitchell’s overtures.
“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 involved.
“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 said.
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,” continued Hague.
“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.