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George Mitchell’s job in the Middle East

By Michael Singh While the U.S. focuses on the latest twists and turns in the financial crisis, the Middle East is focused on the upcoming visit of newly-appointed special envoy Sen. George Mitchell to the region. While best known internationally for his role in Northern Ireland peacemaking, Sen. Mitchell is most closely associated in the ...

By , a senior fellow and the managing director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

By Michael Singh

By Michael Singh

While the U.S. focuses on the latest twists and turns in the financial crisis, the Middle East is focused on the upcoming visit of newly-appointed special envoy Sen. George Mitchell to the region. While best known internationally for his role in Northern Ireland peacemaking, Sen. Mitchell is most closely associated in the Middle East with his 2001 Mitchell Report, which contained recommendations for ending the violence then consuming Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and resuming peace negotiations.

Sen. Mitchell’s immediate aim will be to shore up the shaky ceasefire in Gaza.  This will mean devising an effective approach to combating the smuggling of arms into Gaza, and establishing a regime under which the border crossings into Gaza can open to humanitarian and commercial traffic.  If done well, these measures can accomplish a threefold aim -– providing relief for the people of Gaza and southern Israel; weakening Hamas by preventing its rearmament and maintaining its isolation; and strengthening the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Perhaps as importantly, success in accomplishing these steps in Gaza can also serve as a model of practical, ad hoc, multilateral cooperation to advance peace based on shared interests. Because any future Palestinian state is likely to be relatively weak, anchoring that state and its peace commitments within a larger regional context is crucial. This will require an appeal to the same sort of shared interests at play in the Gaza conflict -– whether countering the potential threat of a hegemonic Iran, or preventing the growth of state-within-a-state groups that threaten governments across the region. Sen. Mitchell can cite these interests in extolling Arab leaders to support the PA diplomatically and financially, reach out to Israel, and begin a serious discussion about how a Palestinian state will be integrated into the economic and security architecture of the region.

While this sort of regional cooperation by itself will not bring peace, it can certainly speed that peace along and make it more sustainable once it is achieved.

Michael Singh is a senior fellow and the managing director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He was a senior director for Middle East affairs at the U.S. National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration. Twitter: @MichaelSinghDC

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