The Mitchell Process

The "Mitchell Process"
and the Failure to Address Root Causes
of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

While the collapse of the Oslo process in the latter half of 2000 and the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada focused international attention for the first time since the beginning of the Madrid/Oslo in the
early 1990s on the root causes of the Palestinian/ Arab-Israeli conflict - i.e., denial of the right of return for Palestinian refugees and denial of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination - the international community, in general, has yet to
address these fundamental issues. As in Kosovo in the 1990s, the escalation of armed conflict in the Middle East stems in large part from the continued failure of the international community to effectively and efficiently address political and legal repression
of the Palestinian people by Israel.

Efforts by Palestinian, Arab and Non-Aligned states' to intervene for Palestinian rights through the UN system have been successfully marginalized for the time being. The deployment of international forces under the auspices of the UN remains stymied by US veto in the Security Council. The absence of international will has also rendered ineffective the affirmation by the UN Commission on Human Rights at its 57th session in March/April of the need for international protection for the Palestinian people.

 In mid-My, the Chairperson of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in an unprecedented move, also addressed a letter to the President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) underlining the need for protection for Palestinians in the occupied territories. Outside of the UN system, delegates to special sessions of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference as well as delegates to The Second Conference to Support the Intifada and the Palestinian Nation affirmed the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties and the right to self-determination.

Delegates to these meetings also underlined the urgency of and called for the implementation of international protection of the Palestinian people. Arab and other diplomats have continued to lobby the UN and other states to support an international protection force. In the absence of political progress on international protection, the Arab world has continued to support Palestinians financially.

Despite these efforts, the US and the EU continue to focus on symptoms of the conflict rather than root causes. Substantial political capital has been invested towards "ending the violence": a term that has been used by the US and the EU to encompass legitimate Palestinian resistance to the long-term and illegal Israeli military occupation. Little or no effort has been expended to address the underlying causes of the conflict. American and European intervention has been framed largely by the terms of reference set forth in the Mitchell Committee report, submitted to the PLO, Israel, US President Bush and the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in mid-May 2000.

Like the Oslo process, the framework outlined by Mitchell and his team of "eminent personalities" is long on process and short on international legal principles. Despite the large volume of available legal analysis and data (including number of persons killed, types of injuries, weapons deployed against Palestinians, destruction of property), the report does not address issues of responsibility or root causes underlying the al-Aqsa intifada and the Palestinian- Israeli conflict.

As Mouin Rabbani points out in a critical analysis of the report(See, MERIP Press Information Note 59,, the Mitchell report conveys the impression that the Committee was investigating a confrontation between two equal forces, each equally responsible for the "violence." According to Rabbani's calculations, the report uses terms such as "violence" (36 times) and "terror(ism)" (20 times) only in reference to the Palestinian side.

"Occupation" is used four times (three times to describe a Palestinian point of view), while 4 March 2001 "security" refers to Israeli security only. "On the whole," notes Rabbani, "the report allows only for a relationship between Palestinian "violence" and the Israeli "response," ignoring the possibility of a connection between the conduct of the Israeli occupation and the intensity of the Palestinian uprising."

The Mitchell Committee and the report's various sponsors make no secret of their determination to revive the Oslo 'peace process' that has been shattered in its foundations by the events since 28th September 2000. The price Palestinians are once again being asked to pay for international support during this period is the delinkage of international law principles from any political process. This extends to Israel's 34 year illegal military occupation of West Bank (including eastern Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip.

It also extends to the right of the Palestinian people to resist occupation - a right recognized by the United Nations. Confidence building measures proposed by the Mitchell Committee, which include steps by the Palestinian Authority to round up and apprehend Palestinian activists and so-called terrorists (while turning a blind eye to the continued Israeli assassinations) and the linkage of the redeployment of Israeli forces to the end of the popular uprising can only be interpreted, as Rabbani notes, as a call for mass repression of popular and/or organized resistance to continued Israeli occupation.

The failure of the international community, in general, and the United States and Europe in particular, to uphold the rule of law also in the context of the current crisis has reaffirmed a situation where Israel is allowed to continue to operate above the law and beyond investigation. Based on the experience of the past, and given the unfavorable balance of power, it is not unlikely that concerted US and European pressure, welcome by the Israeli government, will put back on the track a process, whose legal framework and political assumptions cannot succeed to bring about a durable and just peace in the region.

So-called new ideas presented by the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon, such as the replacement  of a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the PLO by "long-term interim agreements," or "a cease-fire agreement with a territorial dimension", suggest that the Palestinian refugee question is likely to remain unresolved in the near future and that conflict and instability will continue to rule the lives of the people in the Middle East.

While it appears that models discussed during and after the political negotiations at Taba (January-February 2001) assume that Israel cannot avoid "symbolic" recognition of the Palestinian refugees' right of return, and that the principles guiding the implementation of the solution must be designed in way that they appear to reflect existing international standards and UN Resolution 194, these models also make it difficult for refugees to exercise their right of return to homes and properties in Israel.

Key-points of these models are the exclusion of Palestinian refugees' right to restitution of their properties, and so-called "incentives", e.g. generous offers of financial compensation for lost property and offers of absorption by attractive third countries. In this way, it is hoped, Palestinian refugees would - on their own free will - choose not to return to their places of origin in Israel. The primary objective of these models is to preserve a Jewish demographic majority in Israel and Jewish control of the land.

In the words of labor party politician Yossi Beilin who was at Taba, "A Jewish majority within the sovereign state of Israel is the main thing … For me it is the most important thing." (Ha'aretz, 14 June 2001) It should be mentioned in this context that these Israeli proposals for the solution of the Palestinian refugee question directly contradict the principles developed by Jewish and Zionist organizations and their supporters in the context of their worldwide campaign for the restitution and compensation of Jewish victims of the Nazi regime.

Of particular relevance, in this context, are the principles outlined by Stuart Eizenstadt, Secretary to the Deputy Treasury of the Clinton Administration, to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe: "The basic principle that wrongfully expropriated property should be restituted (or compensation paid) applies to them all [every country in eastern and central Europe], and their implementation of this principle is a measure of the extent to which they have successfully adopted democratic institutions, [and] the rule of law with respect to property rights.

" He concludes by adding a list of principles which entitle owners or their heirs to claim property restitution irrespective of citizenship or residence requirements, while governments are to provide alternative accommodation for present occupants of the res ituted property. (Quote in: The Palestinian Right of Return, ADC Issue Paper No. 30, 2001)


 "I can tell you that I definitely did not agree, and will not agree, to a permanent settlement that will ultimately worsen the demographic balance inside sovereign Israel. That is my sharpest red line. On that issue I am absolutely tough. I am generous geographically but tough demographically. A Jewish majority within the sovereign state of Israel is the main thing as far as I am concerned. For me it is the most important thing."

"The real question that I have asked myself every day for the past ten years is what will happen when an Arab majority exists west of the Jordan River; what will happen when the number of Arabs who are citizens of Israel and the number of Arabs who are under Israeli rule exceeds the number of Jews. Because that moment is not far off.

We are just a few years from it. Less than a decade, a lot less than a decade. That is what constantly preoccupies me: What we will do on the day when the nightly newscast informs us at the end of the program, just before the weather forecast, that the Central Bureau of Statistics announced that Jews have become a minority in the western part of the Land of Israel. Because if that day comes and we don't have a border, if on that day there is no Palestinian state on the other side of the border, all hell will break loose here. I hardly want to think about what will happen in that case. It will be the end of the Zionist idea."

"What we have to understand as a Zionist movement is that we are doing a very, very unnatural thing here. We are returning after 2000 years to a place where in the intervening years there were very few of us, and we are claiming our right to establish a state of our own here. And this is at a time when there are other people here, who say they do not accept that idea, that it is being done despite their views and against their will. So there is no symmetry here at all."

Source: Interview with Yossi Beilin, former Israeli Justice Minister (Labor), Ha'aretz, 14 June 2001

Israeli plans for a solution for Palestinians in the occupied 1967 territories also far fall short of principles of international law. These plans include renewed discussion of unilateral Israeli "separation" (a euphemism for segregation) from Palestiniancontrolled areas. Possible measures the redeployment of troops and police forces along the green line and the possible establishment of detention centres and a punitive system to deter "infiltrators."

According to proposals presented to the US in late June, Israel intends to hold on to large areas of the Jordan Valley and areas along the green line in order to maintain control of illegal settlements and natural resources in the West Bank. Visiting the West Bank in May, Raymond Louw, former editor of the Rand Daily Mail, a South African newspaper at the front of the struggle against apartheid, found the situation in general to be incomparibly worse than during the apartheid period in South Africa. Visiting Hebron, Louw noted that "There was never a situation like this with apartheid. The control in black areas was not so forceful.

Under apartheid, there was a recognition that the blacks would continue to live in their areas. Here the impression is that the objective is to push the Palestinians out." (Ha'aretz, 24 May 2001) In the meantime, the renewed international commitment to the doomed Oslo process means that nine months after the beginning of the al-Aqsa intifada - and with over 500 Palestinians and 44 Israeli civilians killed and tens of thousands (mostly Palestinian) injured, and millions of dollars of damage to private and public Palestinian property - the rule of law remains to be applied; the Palestinian people continue to suffer from Israel's ongoing occupation and brutal policies to repress Palestinian demands for their rights, including self-determination and the right of return; and a just, comprehensive and durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains elusive.

Nine months are the beginning of the intifada, the situation on the ground appears to confirm analysis by some Israeli commentators, including Ze'ev Schiff, who wrote in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz (3 January 2001) back in January that "If Israel must choose between making concessions on [the right of return] and going to war, it would be preferable to risk the possibility of a violent confrontation."

A current balance of the achievements, as reflected in the results of recent international committees of inquiry, of Palestinian diplomatic and lobby efforts based on the al-Aqsa intifada suggests that also the current popular uprising will fail to bring about the desired fundamental changes of international policy in the short term. A long-term effort aimed at affirming the legitimacy of Palestinian resistance and  rights is therefore the only alternative option.

Such concerted effort, sustained by the Palestinian leadership and the community, including its NGOs, must work to expose and delegitimize the unconditional US support (often accompanied by European compliance) of Israeli violations of international law and UN resolutions in international fora. Moreover, it must explore and take advantage of mechanisms, UN and other, which bypass US intransigence and address the root causes of the conflict rather than just treating its symptoms.