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Saturday, January 9, 2010
Transcript: Charlie Rose interviews George Mitchell, U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East Wednesday, January 6, 2010

CHARLIE ROSE: Oh, I know, but nobodyís talking about the United States
troops going in. Theyíre not. I mean, give me an example. Iím serious
about this. You sit there and you say to Israel, look, if you donít do
this -- what?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Under American law, the United States can withhold
support on loan guarantees to Israel. President George W. Bush did so...
GEORGE MITCHELL: ... on one occasion.
CHARLIE ROSE: And his father.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, the law that the most recent President Bush acted
under wasnít in place at the time of the first President Bush. So there
were different mechanisms. Thatís one mechanism thatís been publicly
discussed. There are others, and you have to keep open whatever options.
But our view is that we think the way to approach this is to try to
persuade the parties what is in their self-interest. And we think that we
are making some progress in that regard and weíre going to continue in that
effort, and we think the way to do it is to get them into negotiations.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is there much of a perception that we -- do you have a hard
time with the perception on the one hand that we are not an innocent
GEORGE MITCHELL: Oh, I hear it a lot, but I donít believe it to be true.

Transcript: Charlie Rose interviews George Mitchell, U.S. Special Envoy to
the Middle East Wednesday, January 6, 2010

George Mitchell, U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is
here. He is President Obamaís special envoy to the Middle East. The
former Maine senator and majority leader has a proven record of brokering
agreements. He chaired the peace talks in Northern Ireland that lead to
the historic Good Friday agreement of 1998. In 2000, he led presidential
commission to end cycle of violence between Palestinians and Israelis.

His new mission is to advance President Obamaís commitment to comprehensive
peace in the Middle East. He has spent the past year trying to get
Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table. Many say the
administrationís early focus on a complete settlement freeze led to the
current stalemate.
Senator Mitchell is returning to the region this month and I am pleased to
have him at this table at this time. So, welcome.

GEORGE MITCHELL: Thanks, Charlie.
CHARLIE ROSE: Great to see you.
CHARLIE ROSE: Whatís the mood over there about the possibilities in a new
GEORGE MITCHELL: I think thereís more optimism there than here, but you
have to temper it with the reality of the difficulty, the complexity, the
length of the conflict. Iíll be going back in the next few days, and my
hope that we can make progress on three tracks, which is the effort that weíve
been making under the direction of the president and the secretary of
First, political negotiations, to get the parties into meaningful
negotiations that will produce a peace agreement. Secondly, security, to
make certain that any agreement ensures the security of the people of
Israel and the Palestinian people and the surrounding states.
And third, economic growth and what we call institutional efforts, to help
the Palestinians improve their economy and to encourage the current prime
minister -- an impressive person, Salaam Fayyad -- who is trying to build
from the ground up the institutions of governance that will be able to
govern effectively on day one of the Palestinian state.
CHARLIE ROSE: They also call that "bottom-up."
GEORGE MITCHELL: Bottom-up, top-down.
CHARLIE ROSE: Are the Israelis supportive of that?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Yes, they are. Theyíve taken steps in the West Bank to
reduce the number of checkpoints and roadblocks to facilitate access,
movement, and commerce. Thereís a long way to go, obviously. For the
Palestinians itís not enough, for the Israelis itís a lot, and we keep
working with both sides in an effort to improve it.
But the Palestinian economy will show significant growth this year,
obviously from a low base, but nonetheless improving. Their security
forces are outstanding by any measure. The Israelis are very, very open in
their praise of the effort thatís been made on Palestinian security.
What we want to do is to make certain that when the Palestinian state is
established as a result of meaningful political negotiations, there is from
the first day the capacity to govern effectively, and we support Prime
Minister Fayyadís efforts in that regard.
CHARLIE ROSE: There is this impression reflected in a "New York Times"
editorial that the past year has not been successful because the
administration stressed a settlement freeze.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Charlie, a little over a year ago -- before I knew him
and had any idea that I would be asked to take this job, I was in Israel
and I gave a speech at a university. And the question I was asked was
about Northern Ireland.
And in my answer I pointed out that the peace agreement in Northern
Ireland came 800 years after the British domination of Ireland began.
After the speech, a group of people gathered around. You know how it is,
when you speak, people want to shake your hand, ask you other questions,
make comments. An elderly gentleman came up to me, hard of
hearing. He said in a loud voice, he said "Senator Mitchell, did you say
800 years?" I said "Yes, 800 years." He repeated again in a very loud voice
"800 years? "I said "Yes." He waved his hand, he said "No wonder you
settled, itís such a recent argument."
Those are things, an issue thatís gone on longer than 800 years is
going to be resolved in a few months and if we only take this step or that
step, really I think our misperceiving the complexity and difficulty.
CHARLIE ROSE: But the argument goes more to this idea -- by focusing on a
settlement freeze -- which Israelis were unlikely to agree to -- you
created disappointment from the beginning because it was an unachievable
GEORGE MITCHELL: All you have to do is go back and read the papers over
the past five or six years to see that it was not the Obama administration
or the secretary of state or I who suggested a settlement freeze in this
Every Arab country, including the Palestinians, 13 of whom I visited
before we began substantive discussions with the Israelis, said that there
would not be any steps unless there was a freeze. Secondly, youíve been in
a lot of negotiations. If you want to get 60 percent, do you begin by
asking for 60 percent?
CHARLIE ROSE: No, you ask for 100 percent.
GEORGE MITCHELL: There you go, Charlie, youíve already figured out
So what we got was a moratorium, ten months, far less than what was
requested, but more significant than any action taken by any previous
government of Israel for the 40 years that settlement enterprise has
Ten months of no new starts in the West Bank -- less than what we asked,
much, much greater than any prior government has done. And we think over
time itís going to make a significant difference on the ground.
CHARLIE ROSE: And you and Secretary Clinton praised Prime Minister
Netanyahu for agreeing to that.
CHARLIE ROSE: It does not include East Jerusalem. Thereíve been
announcement in the last 48 hours of new settlement construction in East
Jerusalem where the Palestinians want to make their capital.
CHARLIE ROSE: And itís in the midst of Palestinians.
GEORGE MITCHELL: If you go back over time and look at Camp David and the
prior efforts, you will see that the single most difficult issue amidst an
array of extremely difficult issues is Jerusalem.
And it is very complicated, difficult, emotional on all sides. Jerusalem
is significant to the three monotheistic religions-- Christianity, Judaism,
Islam. Itís important to everybody. We recognize that and we try to deal
with it.
But understand the different perspectives. Israel annexed Jerusalem in
CHARLIE ROSE: "Annexed" is an important word.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Annexed is a very important word. No other country,
including the United States, recognizes that annexation. Neither do the
Palestinians, nor the Arabs, of course.
But for the Israelis, what theyíre building in is in part of Israel. Now,
the others donít see it that way. So you have these widely divergent
perspectives on the subject.
Our view is letís get into negotiations. Letís deal with the issues and
come up with the solution to all of them including Jerusalem which will be
exceedingly difficult but, in my judgment, possible.
The Israelis are not going to stop settlements in, or construction in East
Jerusalem. They donít regard that as a settlement because they think itís
part of Israel.
CHARLIE ROSE: People recognize the annexation. How many countries?
GEORGE MITCHELL: To the best of my knowledge, there arenít any.
Immediately after the annexation the United Nations...
CHARLIE ROSE: So youíre going to let them go ahead even though no one
recognizes the annexation?
GEORGE MITCHELL: You say "Let them go ahead." Itís what they regard as
their country. They donít say theyíre letting us go ahead when we build in
CHARLIE ROSE: But donít international rules have something to do with
what somebody can do to define as their country?
GEORGE MITCHELL: There are disputed legal issues. Of that there can be
no doubt. And we could spend the next 14 years arguing over disputed legal
issues or we can try to get a negotiation to resolve them in a manner that
meets the aspirations of both societies.
Keep this in mind -- the Israelis have a state, a very successful state.
They want security, which they ought to have.
CHARLIE ROSE: Thatís most important to them.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Most important to them. The Palestinians donít have a
state. They want one. And they ought to have one.
We believe that neither can attain its objective by denying to the other
side its objective. The Palestinians are not going to get a state until
the people of Israel have a reasonable sense of sustainable security.
The Israelis, on the other hand, are not going to get that reasonable
sense of sustainable security until there is a Palestinian state. And so
we think rather than being mutually exclusive, theyíre mutually
And we think both sides would be better off to get into a negotiation, to
try to achieve the peace agreement that in my heart and soul I believe is
possible, difficult and complex as it may be.
CHARLIE ROSE: Why do you believe itís possible?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Because itís in the best interest of the people on both
sides. And also because...
CHARLIE ROSE: Itís been in their best interest for a long time.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Despite the horrific events of the past half century,
all of the death, all of the destruction, all of the mistrust and all of
the hatred, a substantial majority on both sides still believes thatís the
way to resolve the problem.
And you say itís been that way for a long time. It has been. But I
believe with all, with everything I have, that thereís no such thing as a
conflict that canít be ended. Conflicts are created, theyíre conducted,
theyíre sustained by human beings, they can be ended by human beings, and I
believe this one can be ended and I think it will be ended.
CHARLIE ROSE: And do you have a timeframe for it? Two years?
GEORGE MITCHELL: We think that the negotiation should last no more than
two years. We think it can be done within that period of time. We hope
the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period
of time.
CHARLIE ROSE: The big question going into this is the Israelis say we
want no determined borders. Palestinians say no, no, we want the Ď67
borders as where we start from. How do you get past the problem of where
the negotiation about borders starts?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Secretary of State Clinton made a statement just
recently in which she set forth the positions of the two sides and
expressed the view, which I strongly hold, that through negotiations those
can be reconciled.
And the Palestinian view is that you should start with the Ď67 lines with
agreed swaps. Both sides understand itís not going to be the Ď67...
CHARLIE ROSE: So settlements will have made a difference in terms of the
way the final borders are determined.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Yes, they will. There is no doubt about that and I
think thatís a fairly universal understanding of that. Thatís just a
reality thatís going to have to be dealt with. You can ask wishfully that
things might be as you would like them to be or you deal with them as they
are, and I think we have to deal with them as they are.
But there will be adjustments with swaps, and what I believe is that we
can get an agreement on that once we get them into negotiations. I think
here, Charlie, the harder part is getting started than getting finished.
CHARLIE ROSE: How are you going to sell Abbas on the idea that even
though youíve said you will never negotiate as long as thereís no free zone
settlements, Iím asking you to negotiate.
GEORGE MITCHELL: One thing I learned in Northern Ireland is you donít
take the first no as a final answer.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Nor the second no, nor the hundredth no, nor the second
hundredth no. You have to keep at it.
Charlie, I was in Northern Ireland for five years. I chaired three
separate sets of discussions. The maybe negotiation lasted 22 months. For
700 days one side said "We will never agree to new institutions between
north and south Ireland." The other side said for 700 days "we will never
agree to a new Northern Ireland assembly."
And on the 701st first day they both agreed to what they said they wouldnít
agree to.
Now, obviously, we have great respect for President Abbas. We think he
and Prime Minister Fayyad represent strong and effective leadership for the
Palestinian people and are the ones that we think are going to produce a
Palestinian state.
But our effort is to persuade them that the best way to achieve that
objective is to get into negotiations, and perhaps there are some other
things that can be done that they will regard as positive and as a
sufficient basis to get into the discussions.
CHARLIE ROSE: Youíve said one of the lessons of Northern Ireland is you
never take away the partyís dreams. Theyíve had a dream that will be what
they passionately have wanted. It will not be that way, but they have to
go into it believing that it might be possible.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Thatís right. Itís very important for every individual
human being and for societies to have dreams, what I call aspirations, to
have meaningful goals that you reach for.
And so the way to make progress is aim high, make a meaningful effort and
make steady progress towards your goal. And waiting around for the perfect
solution to come floating down from heaven usually doesnít produce any
progress at all.
CHARLIE ROSE: Now everything youíve said weíve known and wise people have
known for a long time. You have to believe in this, you have to negotiate,
you have to talk.
But you need to have concrete action. Somebodyís got to do something that
encourages the other person to do something. Whoís prepared to do
something to encourage the other to do something?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, you have several things. First, the Israelis have
taken steps.
CHARLIE ROSE: The moratorium.
GEORGE MITCHELL: The moratorium is significant. Theyíve reduced
roadblocks. Theyíve reduced some checkpoints. Theyíre encouraging
economic growth. Palestinians are taking very significant steps.
Until the last couple of years, the principle problem where from their
side was the absence of security and the absence, the complete absence of
any effort to restrain those who were engaged in violence against Israelis.
That was the Israelisí angle. We donít have a partner. Theyíre not doing
anything about the terrorists and the violence.
You now have a government that is doing something very actively,
aggressively, and successfully as even the Israelis acknowledged. So,
both sides have moved quite a way. Not enough to satisfy the other. Each
of them has got a long list of things they want the other side to do, and
our effort is to get them together to start moving in that direction.
You have one other thing, Charlie, which I want to comment on. You have a
president and a secretary of state who are completely and totally and
personally committed to this objective who are very deeply involved, and I
believe thatís going to make a difference.
CHARLIE ROSE: How that different from previous administrations?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Because at least the last two administrations, the
effort began late in the administration. The Annapolis process, for which
President Bush and Secretary Rice deserve credit, didnít begin until toward
the end of the presidentís term.
This president began 48 hours after taking office. He appointed me to
this position two days after he was sworn in as president, and you know
what he said to me? He said "I want you go over there tonight."
I said "Mr. President, Iíve got a wife and kids, I donít have any clothes
with me, I have to go home and tell them Iím going to leave." I had to go
home far day to get ready to go. He was anxious from the first to get into
it. Now, it took awhile to get started...
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, but tell me, since the moment he said that to you and
the moment that you prepared next week to be back there, things are better
or worse?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Oh, theyíre much better. Look, when he said that to me
in January of 2009, there had just come to an end the fierce conflict in
Gaza. There was no prospect of any discussion, no possibility of any
Israel had an election coming up in two weeks. They didnít even have a
government that we could talk to. We didnít begin substantive discussions
with the current Israeli government until May.
CHARLIE ROSE: But what have we done thatís made a difference?
GEORGE MITCHELL: I think a huge difference. The president went to Cairo
and delivered a speech that I think will go down in the history books and
transformed dramatically -- let me finish -- American views, views toward
America and Americans throughout the region.
And weíve now undertaken the initiative that weíve started, the points I
made earlier which I wonít repeat in the interest of your time and the
viewersí time about what weíre trying to get done. The president has been
over there several times, the secretary has been there many times. Iíve
been there every month just about since I took this position.
So weíre making an intense effort to demonstrate that we are committed to
this process. And let me make clear, when we get into a negotiation, weíre
going to be involved in an active, sustained, and determined way to try to
encourage the parties to reach what I believe is an agreement that is
CHARLIE ROSE: Two questions come up. Number one, there is an argument
made that if you look at when thereís been real progress, it was when the
United States was not involved, was not engaged. Does that argument have
merit with you?
GEORGE MITCHELL: There has been some progress when the United States was
not engaged.
CHARLIE ROSE: When the parties themselves had to see in their interest to
do something.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Thatís a huge issue, and we have to encourage them take
greater ownership of the process that theyíre involved in.
But letís be clear. While some progress has been made absent direct
American involvement, in the end what agreements have been reached were
directly the result of American participation at the highest level -- Camp
David involving President Carter, President Clinton and the Jordanian
agreement, President Clinton and the effort at Camp David which didnít
quite succeed.
And what weíre going to have to have is continued and active American
involvement. And with this president and with this secretary of state I
think weíre going to have a combination that hasnít been matched in modern
CHARLIE ROSE: The other side of that is theyíre saying we need more
American involvement and the United States should be doing something to
bring together Fatah and Hamas so that the Palestinians spoke with one
voice. The prime minister of Qatar said that very same thing in the last
three days.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Yes. Charlie, one of the things I get when I go over
there in one ear is "You Americans are too bossy," and in the other ear "We
need more American involvement."
CHARLIE ROSE: Right. And what are you getting from the Arab neighbors?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, there is, I believe, a strong feeling that the
time has come for negotiations to begin. Weíre getting a lot of
encouragement in that regard.
What we want from them is to build on the Arab peace initiative proposed
by the king of Saudi Arabia in 2002, supported by all of the Arab and
indeed, Muslim -- non-Arab Muslim countries, and to engage with Israel in a
way that moves toward the full normalization. We donít ask for full
normalization now.
And Iíll give you specific examples. What we want is a parallel process.
As the Israelis and the Palestinians talk in negotiations, Israel, the
Palestinians, and all of the surrounding countries would meet to deal with
regional issues -- energy, water, trade, communications, transport, all of
which have been discussed in the past but havenít been brought to full
And we think the way to move forward is an Israeli-Palestinian agreement,
Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon, and full implementation of the Arab
peace initiative. Thatís the comprehensive peace in the region that is the
objective set forth by the president and the secretary of state.
CHARLIE ROSE: Thatís the grand bargain.
CHARLIE ROSE: Speaking of the Syrians and Turkey, is that deal of some
Israelis going through Turkey or the United States going through Turkey to
deal with the Syrians, does it have legs?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Weíve tried very hard. Iíve met with the Turkish
leadership, including their current foreign minister many times, including
in just the last few weeks, and weíve tried very hard to get the Syrians
and the Israelis to reengage.
Until now, the Syrians want to complete the indirect talks through Turkey
that began in 2008 but ended when the Gaza conflict erupted. The Israelis
prefer immediate and direct negotiations with the Syrians, not completing
the indirect process through the Turks.
What weíve said to the two sides is we want to facilitate their coming
together, and I will be going to both Israel and Syria on my upcoming visit
to try to further this process. And weíre prepared to do in the many any
manner which is acceptable to the two sides.
So far they have not found a formula that would enable them get into it,
but weíre persisting in that. And we believe that an Israel-Syria track
could operate in parallel with an Israeli-Palestinian track on discussions.
CHARLIE ROSE: The end result of an Israeli-Syrian track would be Syriaís
recognition of Israel?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Yes. Peace between the two of them. Dramatic changes
that we...
CHARLIE ROSE: And you think itís possible they can agree on things like
borders and the Golan Heights and all of those issues?
CHARLIE ROSE: You believe that?
GEORGE MITCHELL: I believe that, yes, I do.
CHARLIE ROSE: From talking to both sides?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Talking to both sides, yes I do believe it. You know
theyíve come very close in the past, and I believe they can do so now.
CHARLIE ROSE: And Israelis accept that idea that we can give up the Golan
Heights and still be secure?
GEORGE MITCHELL: They donít accept the idea of giving them up. Thatís
part of the negotiation and, of course, what the Syrians donít accept is
the idea that theyíre going to stop providing assistance to Hezbollah and
Hamas and changing their relationship with Iran.
Youíre getting into the subject of negotiations now. You canít say to one
side you have to agree in advance to what the other side wants. Youíve got
to get them into a negotiation so they can then reach a mutually
advantageous compromise.
CHARLIE ROSE: What is it that President Abbas wants?
GEORGE MITCHELL: A viable, independent, geographically contiguous
Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps of
CHARLIE ROSE: And what do you say to him that makes him believe thatís
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, I say that it is very much in the interest of the
Palestinian people, that it is possible, because I believe that thereís a
widespread recognition in the region among Palestinians and Israelis alike
that this is in the mutual interest, and there are other greater threats in
the region.
The continued effort by Iran to extend its influence into the Gulf
region has raised concerns, indeed, alarm among many of the Arab states.
And the best way -- the mechanism by which Iran extends its influence in
the region, one mechanism, is through these conflicts, through support of
Hezbollah, through support of Hamas, through some efforts that were made
public during one of my visits over there, efforts now in Egypt.
And if the method by which they are seeking to extend that influence is
these conflicts, then the best way to close off that alternative, that
mechanism for extending influence, is to end the conflicts, to enable the
people of the region to recognize the common threat and to act together in
unison against that threat rather than disagreeing among themselves.
CHARLIE ROSE: How big a problem is the Gaza invasion that took place?
GEORGE MITCHELL: It was a very serious problem from the standpoint of the
reaction of the Arabs and the Palestinians.
CHARLIE ROSE: Thatís the reason the Turks dropped out of being the
mediator, is it not?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, the mediation ended the moment that the...
CHARLIE ROSE: The invasion took place.
GEORGE MITCHELL: ... the conflict began.
CHARLIE ROSE: But my point in asking that is, arenít the Israelis
continuing to engage in embargos and sanctions that prevent the
Palestinians in the Gaza to have some kind of improvement in their life?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Yes. They have not permitted full opening of the
CHARLIE ROSE: Do you agree with that?
GEORGE MITCHELL: I think they would be better off if they reopened the
crossings. From their view, they are trying to contain Hamas and they are
trying to maintain the maximum leverage to obtain the return of the
captured soldier.
Remember now, you have to keep this in mind, Charlie. Itís a very
difficult type of conflict in which people are engaged. When fighters
gather in populated areas, when medical and other facilities are used as
military staging areas, to fight these kinds of conflicts in modern times
is extremely difficult, particularly with the overwhelming imbalance in
fire power that exists.
And these are not easy questions to resolve of how do you respond when
rockets are sent into your country?
CHARLIE ROSE: At the time of the Cairo speech, while everybody applauded
the speech, everybody else said in the next breath "Theyíre going need to
see action. Theyíre going to need to see some action following that
aspirational tone that the president set in Cairo."
CHARLIE ROSE: And we havenít seen that action.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, we are trying, Charlie. The question is, do you
produce action...
CHARLIE ROSE: Fair enough.
GEORGE MITCHELL: ... within 24 hours, 24 days? Thereís no doubt that the
commitment is there.
But, look, about a few weeks after I was appointed this position, I read
an article in the paper that said that the United States hadnít come up
with a new solution and hadnít resolved the Middle East conflict.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, I mean, I wish we could. Weíre all impatient at
the lack of progress. But keep in the some historical perspective. This
is a difficult, complex situation thatís gone on for a very long time, and
we are making what I believe to be significant progress.
CHARLIE ROSE: Are you carrying any new ideas to the Middle East next
GEORGE MITCHELL: What weíre going to tell them that we think the time has
come to enter negotiations and, that we think -- we will lay out what we
think is a proper basis for doing so, a timeframe for achieving agreement,
a method of negotiating that we think will achieve the desired result.
CHARLIE ROSE: Canít you tell me what the method is, though? Is it
keeping it ambiguous? Getting them to talk is the great advancement we
need now. Theyíre not talking to each other.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Thatís right.
CHARLIE ROSE: So the first step is to get them to talk.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, basically what we have suggested to the Israelis
is a series of steps and actions that they could take that would encourage
President Abbas to enter the discussions.
CHARLIE ROSE: Why canít you tell me what they are? Thatís my question,
GEORGE MITCHELL: Because I want to discuss it with them before I discuss
it with you.
CHARLIE ROSE: Fair enough. But it just seems like this canít be great
secrets, can they? Or not?
GEORGE MITCHELL: There are no magic bullets here, Charlie. If you asked
a hundred experts on the Middle East what are the steps that might be
CHARLIE ROSE: They would all agree on most?
GEORGE MITCHELL: They wonít agree, now. Youíll have 101 different
opinions, but theyíll all cover the same ground. They have to do with what
is occurring on the West Bank, dealing with checkpoints, movement of...
CHARLIE ROSE: And thatís getting better because of Prime Minister Fayyad,
of the Palestinians?
GEORGE MITCHELL: A very impressive leader.
CHARLIE ROSE: The more he does bottom-up stuff, the more the Israelis are
willing to lessen the tensions at the checkpoints?
GEORGE MITCHELL: That is part of it. To also expand the areas in which
Palestinians have both civil and security authority, to enable a better
movement of goods in those areas, to take other steps that will provide at
a direct economic benefit to the people, greater freedom, to take some
steps with respect to Gaza, to ask the Palestinians to take other steps, to
ask the Arabs to take other steps. Weíve set these all out.
I want to be clear that in the steps that weíve asked, we have not
presented them, nor do we regard them, as ends in themselves. They are
means to an end. The end is a peace agreement achieved through direct
negotiations by the parties.
I just described to you what we want to get the Arab states to do with
respect to regional conferences...
GEORGE MITCHELL: ... trade relations with Israel, communications,
transportation, all of cultural and political exchanges. All of those
things are among the actions that we are asking people to take.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is the Arab initiative helpful?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Yes, it is. I commend the king of Saudi Arabia for the
effort. It is a positive step in the right direction. By itself it wonít
be enough. It requires a negotiation and a discussion. By its very terms
it requires a negotiation. It says a negotiated end to the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict.
Weíre trying to, in effect, fill in the space that it creates by calling
for this type of agreement.
CHARLIE ROSE: If the Israelis thought that Israel could live in peace and
security, most of the Israeli leaders that you know would be prepared to
support a Palestinian state with some variation of the Ď67 borders, some
respect for East Jerusalem and Jerusalem being an international city.
Iím going to what Barak had on the table at Camp David.
GEORGE MITCHELL: But, remember, Barak lost the last election.
CHARLIE ROSE: But heís now the defense minister, and he has a voice.
GEORGE MITCHELL: He has a very important voice, and heís an outstanding
CHARLIE ROSE: And remember this -- the Palestinians turned it down. They
turned down more than they are likely to be offered today.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, thatís another reason for getting into
negotiations right away, because the options arenít getting any better.
But I donít want to speak for the Israeli leadership.
CHARLIE ROSE: I just want to make sure we understand the issue. The
issue is security. If they thought they had security, most of the Israeli
leadership would...
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, Charlie, Israel a vibrant democracy. There are a
wide range of views among the Israeli leadership and among the Israeli
Under their system, they have a lot of parties. It isnít like ours, a
two-party system. So they have coalitions and there are a lot of what we
call single-issue parties. So you could make almost any statement on the
CHARLIE ROSE: And somebody...
GEORGE MITCHELL: ... and there would be someone who will support the
views. So I wouldnít presume to speak for that. And we are not to be
critical of the fact that itís a vibrant democracy where people debate and
discuss and disagree on issues.
What I am saying is that I believe is that a majority of the people of
Israel favor a two-state solution, and with adequate security assurances,
would be prepared to move forward on that basis. Thatís certainly not a
unanimous view, but I believe thatís the majority.
CHARLIE ROSE: On the other hand, thereís not a unanimous view within the
Palestinian community...
CHARLIE ROSE: ... that they think they should recognize Israel or not
engage in some kind of action against them.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, thatís the principle difference between Fatah and
Hamas. The Palestinian Authority, which is basically the Fatah party,
believes in non-violence and negotiation. Hamas believes in violent
resistance and the destruction of Israel. And thatís the difference
between them.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is any progress being made on bringing Hamas and Fatah
GEORGE MITCHELL: There have been extensive discussions.
CHARLIE ROSE: With the Egyptians and everybody else.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Led by the Egyptians and others. Theyíre still in some
Look, we think everyone should participate. But we think they should
participate based upon a commitment to democratic principles. We think
that thatís the way to get people moving forward, to get a commitment that
we agree to peaceful negotiation, we will accept and honor past agreements,
and when we reach agreement, that will be the end of it.
Now, thatís incompatible with some of the claims made by some of the
participants, who say "Our goal is the complete destruction of Israel and
we donít recognize prior agreements." So how do you expect to sit down and
talk to someone committed to your destruction?
CHARLIE ROSE: But what you believe happens in a negotiating process - - if
you talk long enough, people will come around and find reason to change
their opinion.
GEORGE MITCHELL: That has happened in many cases in the past and there
are other cases where it did not happen. And what you have to do is to try
to make rational and discerning judgments about whether or not that is
CHARLIE ROSE: Here you go. George Mitchell in Northern Ireland had no
problem with talking to the IRA. On the other hand -- correct?
GEORGE MITCHELL: No, itís not correct.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, tell me why.
GEORGE MITCHELL: First, I never talked to the IRA.
CHARLIE ROSE: But I mean -- go ahead.
GEORGE MITCHELL: The second was the question was the political party
affiliated with the IRA, Sinn Fein, and the same on the unionist side.
CHARLIE ROSE: Thatís right.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Keep in mind, I mentioned earlier negotiations in
Northern Ireland lasted 22 months. For the first 16 months, Sinn Fein did
not participate, not until they agreed privately to me and publicly to what
became known as the Mitchell principles...
CHARLIE ROSE: Sinn Fein was the political arm of the IRA.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Thatís right. But my point is they didnít participate
in the talks until 16 months after they began and only when they accepted
the Mitchell principles which called for a renunciation of violence, a
willingness to participate through democratic means, and to accept the
result of the agreement and not to try to change it by force.
CHARLIE ROSE: But you did not demand that they give up all their weapons.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, I got started in the process over there on the
whole subject of weapons, and nobodyís demanding that the weapons be given
up in the Middle East. What I said was that they should be parallel
disarmament and it ended up disarmament came later.
But in the end, we got a peace agreement and the disarmament has occurred.
And thatís because we had patience, we had determination, and we had a
clear set of principles. And what we did was to say we want everybody in,
but you have to commit yourself to abide by democratic principles.
Charlie, let me use an absurd example to make the case. We all agree
elections are essential to democracy. But it is very important to
understand that elections by themselves do not make a democracy. Democracy
is an ongoing obligation.
If a political leader in the United States -- Republican or Democrat - -
got elected in a completely free and fair election and then announced "Iím
going create a militia, and if I donít get my way in the Congress, Iím
going to feel free to use the militia," would you thatís democratic, even
though he got a elected or she got elected?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Of course not. So democracy, letís be clear, is an
ongoing obligation to abide by democratic principles and to renounce the
use of violence as a means of achieving your political objectives and to
accept and honor prior agreements. Thatís what weíre asking. Thatís not a
lot to ask.
Now, I think the way to do it is to get the process going, create some
incentive for people to participate. Thatís what happened in Northern
Ireland. There was no incentive for Sinn Fein or the IRA or...
CHARLIE ROSE: Well, they were tired of the conflict.
GEORGE MITCHELL: They were very tired of the conflict. And on the other
side you had the same situation if not a parallel because you had several
smaller organizations, no one entity, but you had political parties and
And what we -- the hard part was getting started in a process which was
seen as fair and open and which began to be seen as having at least some
prospect for success, although that was very problematic. And then people
started coming in. Thatís what I think we need here.
CHARLIE ROSE: You hope to accomplish this in two years. The moratorium
is for ten months.
CHARLIE ROSE: That gives you an incentive to say to the parties what?
You better get this done -- we better get this done before they start --
because the moratorium only allows -- if settlements are important to you
or the absence of settlements are important to you, you better get
something done before the moratorium ends because I donít think we can get
it again.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Charlie, will you come with me on my next visit and make
that spiel, because it might sound better coming from you. Iíve made it
several times.
CHARLIE ROSE: let me just talk about things that build confidence,
because what this conversation is about is what youíre going over there
with and what you hope to and how you, but also inside the head of somebody
whoís done it before. Youíre not without experience in this arena.
Thereís the talk of a prisoner exchange. Would that build confidence if
the Israelis could get the Hamas prisoner back?
Well, that will not build confidence with the Palestinian Authority
because it will, in fact, be seen as a validation of Hamasís tactics,
violent resistance. Itís very important politically and emotionally in
Israel to obtain the release of the prison. We understand that and I think
the prime minister is trying very hard to do that.
CHARLIE ROSE: Well, the Egyptians have gotten involved in that, too.
GEORGE MITCHELL: They were involved initially, the German mediator got
involved, and theyíre all involved. But the point is itís an
excruciatingly difficult decision because it does send the message that
their violent resistance has paid off, and of course it will lead others
around the world to seek more hostages.
And thatís one of the toughest decisions that the prime minister has to
make, and we accept the reality that heís got to keep making this effort.
But what we think is that there should also be actions taken with respect
to the Palestinian Authority which believes in peaceful negotiation, and
thatís the approach that ought to be rewarded.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is there an incentive to do something about this in Israel
GEORGE MITCHELL: Oh, I believe the prime minister is definitely committed
on this. I believe that he wants to bring this to a conclusion.
CHARLIE ROSE: And how much incentive is there to do something now because
Israelis look at demographics and they look at a window that may be closing
on two-state solution?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Yes. I think thatís a huge incentive for that and other
reasons. I think there are other reasons as well, but letís take the
If you count the number of Arabs in Israel, in Gaza, and in the West Bank,
they are about equal to the number of Israelis, Jewish Israelis. And the
birthrates among the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are rising more
rapidly, so the demographic lines are crossing in about 2010/2011.
That poses a very serious problem for Israel, because if they canít get a
two-state solution and theyíve got a one state solution, they want it to be
a Jewish state, a position we support, but that will be difficult if they
are in a minority.
The second reason is technology. If there is an iron law of human history
it is that weapons are rapidly disseminated and the invention of new
weapons quickly spread around the world.
Right now what you have are rockets being disseminated, an estimated
30,000 to 40,000 rockets held by Hezbollah on Israelís northern border,
Hamas having -- I donít know the number, but a substantial number of
rockets. And while the technology of particularly the Hamas rockets is
crude, thereís obviously an ongoing campaign to upgrade.
CHARLIE ROSE: And thereís an arms market out there.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Oh, thereís a huge arms market out there. The trade in
arms is very, very large. Not just to increase the number of rockets, but
to increase the guidance systems, the range, the destructive power.
Iran, of course, is very actively engaged in a missile program that now
CHARLIE ROSE: Supporting Hezbollah and Hamas.
GEORGE MITCHELL: And its own direct capacity with missile that could
reach Israel. So there is a long-range threat posed by technology.
And the final threat, which a political one, is isolation. The best thing
for Israel, not just for its own security, but for its dealings with other
nations besides the United States, is to enter into a negotiation, reach an
agreement, have a comprehensive peace of the type that I just described
earlier, which I think would go a long way toward ending the increasing
isolation that has occurred, in many respects unfairly my judgment, but
nonetheless something that has to be dealt with.
So I think leadership is fully aware of all of this. Now, on the other
hand, they have immediate security concerns that they have to deal with,
and so thereís a constant balancing.
CHARLIE ROSE: You have been a majority leader in the United States
Senate. You have been a district court judge, if I remember -- a majority
leader in the United States Senate. It is said that Bill Clinton was
prepared to put you on the Supreme Court.
GEORGE MITCHELL: He did. He offered the position to me.
And yet is this the most challenging, the most exciting, the most
interesting thing that you have done in your professional life?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Actually, thatís been said about almost every job Iíve
undertaken at the time I had the job.
CHARLIE ROSE: Harry Reid would say...
GEORGE MITCHELL: You left out steroids and major league baseball.
CHARLIE ROSE: Well, I did. But I was...
GEORGE MITCHELL: Actually, this is very difficult. It is complex. Thereís
a long history here. There is on both sides a sense of grievance, of
victimization. There is widespread mistrust, hatred, even.
And so you earlier used the phrase "confidence-building." I have to tell
you, I think thatís really an overstatement of what weíre trying to
achieve. It isnít so much youíre going to get to the point of trust and
confidence. Itís that youíre going to get to the minimum level of mistrust
that makes possible action by political leaders in very difficult and
hostile circumstances.
Let me tell you, Charlie, it takes a lot of courage for these political
leaders to operate in these circumstances. I saw that firsthand in
Northern Ireland. I see it firsthand now. There are direct threats
against them personally, their families.
CHARLIE ROSE: On both sides.
GEORGE MITCHELL: On all sides. These men and women who serve in these
leadership positions take enormous political risk. They take a lot of
abuse. We understand that in politics...
CHARLIE ROSE: And theyíre not in control of circumstances or they may
make an initiative and all of a sudden somebody decides to turn it against
them and they lose the support at home.
GEORGE MITCHELL: The slightest concession is seen as weakness, of caving
in, of the lack of conviction. These are not easy situations to deal with.
So I guess Iím -- it may sound naive and silly, but I admire the men and
women who take these leadership positions because of the courage they
display in what theyíre doing even as they often fail to do what I think
necessary in the circumstances.
CHARLIE ROSE: But even though the discussion, I would argue, has not
changed much -- most people think that the outlines of the settlement are
the same, and that most, the arguments have been essentially the same, have
they not?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Thatís what makes it frustrating, Charlie. Thatís what
makes it frustrating.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, does this make it frustrating? Do you have -- you have
lots of carrots. Do you have any sticks?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, both sides...
CHARLIE ROSE: Other than saying "Goodbye, take care of yourself, weíre
out of here."
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, both sides make the same argument to me in
reverse, that the real problem, they say, is you havenít pressured the
other side.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yes, exactly.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Cut them off, tell them you wonít help them anymore, you
wonít do anything, youíll walk away. I say, use, would you like us to do
that to you? Oh, no, not to us, but you should do it to the other side.
The reality is that, yes, of course the United States has both carrots and
sticks. You have to be very careful about how and when you use them and
apply them.
CHARLIE ROSE: When was the last time we used a stick?
CHARLIE ROSE: Oh, I know, but nobodyís talking about the United States
troops going in. Theyíre not. I mean, give me an example. Iím serious
about this. You sit there and you say to Israel, look, if you donít do
this -- what?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Under American law, the United States can withhold
support on loan guarantees to Israel. President George W. Bush did so...
GEORGE MITCHELL: ... on one occasion.
CHARLIE ROSE: And his father.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, the law that the most recent President Bush acted
under wasnít in place at the time of the first President Bush. So there
were different mechanisms. Thatís one mechanism thatís been publicly
discussed. There are others, and you have to keep open whatever options.
But our view is that we think the way to approach this is to try to
persuade the parties what is in their self-interest. And we think that we
are making some progress in that regard and weíre going to continue in that
effort, and we think the way to do it is to get them into negotiations.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is there much of a perception that we -- do you have a hard
time with the perception on the one hand that we are not an innocent
GEORGE MITCHELL: Oh, I hear it a lot, but I donít believe it to be true.
CHARLIE ROSE: Do you have to speak to it?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Oh, sure, yes, I do, regularly, here in the United
States, in Europe, and in the Middle East.
That assertion is based on the assumption that the United States cannot at
the same time be totally committed to Israelís security, which we are, and
be totally committed to the creation of the Palestinian state, which we
And I believe that those are not mutually exclusive. To the contrary, I
believe they are mutually reinforcing. It will help Israel get security
for its people if the Palestinians have a state and this issue is over.
CHARLIE ROSE: But thatís a harder cell. Youíve got to convince name
having a Palestinian state and making concessions and taking some risks for
that is the best way to achieve the security...
GEORGE MITCHELL: Long-term security.
And on the other hand, for the Palestinians it is that youíre not going to
get a state until the Israelis have a reasonable and sustainable sense of
Now, Charlie, what Iíve found -- not just in the Middle East, I found this
in Northern Ireland -- when I take positions that agree with their
preconceived motions they tend to think Iím very smart and they like me.
CHARLIE ROSE: And youíre non-biased.
GEORGE MITCHELL: And when I take positions that donít happen to coincide
with their views, Iím not so smart.
CHARLIE ROSE: Do you take positions in these negotiations?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Oh, of course I do. Of course I do. I participate
CHARLIE ROSE: In terms of taking positions.
Why is President Obamaís popularity so low in Israel? Itís four percent.
GEORGE MITCHELL: No, thatís completely false.
CHARLIE ROSE: Have you heard that before?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Iíve heard the figure, and youíre citing a commonly
cited public figure.
CHARLIE ROSE: Exactly. So tell me why thatís wrong.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Because itís simply not true. Several polls that Iíve
seen in the past month show that he is -- Iíll give you the numbers -- 49
percent favorable, 45 percent unfavorable, 43 percent favorable, 37 percent
unfavorable. Itís a reasonable number. A plurality support him in Israel
and a smaller plurality oppose him.
CHARLIE ROSE: I donít understand how his approach is different from the
previous president, the previous president, the previous president.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, I just cited one way, he started two days after...
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, I got that. Agreed. He got in early. I got that.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Secondly, he went to Cairo and gave a historic speech.
Thatís another way that itís different.
CHARLIE ROSE: All right.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Thirdly, a full-time envoy working on it -- I donít want
to say 24/7, because itís not quite that, but itís a figure of speech --
working at it full time. Participating with...
CHARLIE ROSE: But all this has to do with involvement and engagement, it
doesnít have to do with different ideas, does it, or different positions or
different anything?
GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, Charlie, itís different in the sense that it
evolves over time. But if youíre saying that look, weíve been drinking
water all this time and havenít come up with a new liquid, just think how
long the worldís been drinking water. And why havenít we come up with a
new liquid that does the job? Thatís the stuff...
CHARLIE ROSE: Maybe what Iím saying is itís not a question of new ideas.
Itís a question of some very skillful negotiations that have to take place
in order to get people to come in without preconditions and to take a
chance and take -- and risk for a longer term solution.
GEORGE MITCHELL: I donít -- I donít want to rule out new ideas in the
sense that we donít suggest new approaches, approaches that at one time and
circumstance might not be appropriate but at another are.
Policies change with circumstances. Weíre constantly updated our
thinking. When I meet the -- Iíll be meeting in the next week with the
CHARLIE ROSE: The quartet in Brussels?
GEORGE MITCHELL: The quartet, yes, in Brussels. Iíll be meeting with
Israelis, Iíll be meeting with Palestinians in the near future. Iíll be
meeting with all of them. We constantly make suggestions on how the do
this. Hereís the best way -- if you do a, b, c, and they do d, e, f, will
you be able to get together? So far we havenít found the right fit that
coincides on both sides.
One of the things I learned in Northern Ireland is the old saying, timing
is everything in life. What constantly happens is when one side is ready,
the other side is not. And by the time the other side gets ready, these
guys are not. And what we have to do is find the formula that gets them
both ready at the same time.
On all of these fronts, I want to emphasize political negotiations,
security for both people, and what you call the bottom-up -- correctly --
economic and institutional growth, so that when the Palestinian state is
created it is capable of functioning effectively from day one. I think
thatís a very important factor.
And Iíll close with this. I mentioned earlier -- we havenít even talked
about implementation. In Northern Ireland it took three sets of
discussions, five years that I was there, before we got an agreement. Itís
since then been 12 years and the agreement still has not been fully
Difficult as it is to get people to agree do the right thing, itís far
more difficult to get them to actually to do it after they agree do it.
And so the real key here is to reach an agreement that is solid, built on a
foundation that the extremely difficult process of implementation afterward
can work and will succeed.
Thatís why the United States involvement is so important. There is no
entity on the face of this earth other than the United States government,
public or private entity, that can create the context within which an
agreement is possible and, most importantly, can ensure to the extent
humanly possible that full implementation will occur.
And that requires a president and a secretary of state who are committed
and determined, and, believe me, we have them now.
CHARLIE ROSE: Thank you for coming. I know you have not done many
interviews, so I thank you for taking time here this evening.
GEORGE MITCHELL: Thanks, Charlie, itís always a pleasure.
CHARLIE ROSE: Former senator George Mitchell, former judge George
Mitchell, lawyer George Mitchell, itís a pleasure to have him in, now envoy
to one of the most crucial areas in the world.
Thank you for sharing this time with us, and weíll see you tomorrow night.

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