The Cable

Mitchell’s exit shows that Mideast peace process remains stalled

The White House is set to announce that Middle East Special Envoy George Mitchell will resign from his post, formally ending the strategy of incremental diplomacy that Mitchell hoped would produce progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"The fact that this is an extraordinarily hard issue is not news to anyone in this room," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday."The president's commitment remains as firm as it was when he took office."

Mitchell, who told insiders when he took the job that he was planning to stay for about two years, had long been expected to step down. But the timing of the move is significant, as it comes one week before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits to Washington and President Barack Obama makes a major speech on the uprisings that have occurred throughout the Arab world.

Mitchell was credited for leading the diplomatic effort that produced a peace agreement resolving the crisis in Northern Ireland, and he tried to apply the lessons learned from that conflict to the current Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

"I had 700 days of ‘no' in Northern Ireland, and one ‘yes,'" Mitchell said, when announcing the resumption of direct talks last year. "You have to be willing to go back, prodding, cajoling, listening .... You have to make clear you respect the people involved, and whatever the circumstance involved, to allow the parties to express their views."

But the push-and-pull diplomacy that was central to his strategy never led to a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian. And now, with the prospect of a Fatah-Hamas unity government, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority seem even less likely.

Some experts believed that Mitchell's strategy was at odds with other top administration officials, such as NSC senior director Dennis Ross, who serves as a key interlocutor with the Israeli government.

"Dennis Ross has finally taken over the portfolio. He's the one who has been doing the deal with Netanyahu," said Steve Clemons, foreign policy chief at the New America Foundation. "Mitchell was cast with trying to make [Palestinian Authority Prime Minister] Fayyad and [Palestinian Authority President] Abu Mazen overlook some of the hurdles they had to get back to negotiations while Ross was in direct communication with Netanyahu."

Clemons said that Israeli officials "studiously avoided dealing directly with Mitchell, so essentially the Obama team allowed Netanyahu to pick his interlocutors." This fact, Clemons said, hamstrung Mitchell considerably.

Mitchell had played a reduced role for the last few months. After traveling to the region frequently in 2010, he didn't travel there at all in 2011. His deputy David Hale was in the region often.

Mitchell was initially highly regarded by both the Israelis and the Palestinians. However,  when the direct talks broke down last September due to Israel's resumption of settlement activity, the path forward for his strategy become unclear and the administration has yet to come up with another way forward.

"The status quo between Palestinians and Israelis is no more sustainable than the political systems that have crumbled in recent months," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said April 12 at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum. "Neither Israel's future as a Jewish democratic state nor the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians can be secured without a negotiated two-state solution. And while it is a truism that only the parties themselves can make the hard choices necessary for peace, there is no substitute for continued active American leadership."

There's no word yet he will be replaced, but one possible replacement, according to experts, would be his senior advisor and former Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk.

AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Libyan opposition leader: Please recognize us, Obama!

Mahmoud Jibril, the prime minister of the Libyan opposition's Transitional National Council (TNC), called on the United States to formally recognize Libya's rebels as the country's legitimate representative body so that urgent financial assistance can begin to flow.

The Obama administration has repeatedly called for Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi to step down from power but the State Department has not abandoned its official recognition of the Qaddafi government and transferred recognition to the TNC, as did France, Italy, and Qatar. Without that recognition, the TNC can't begin to draw from the billions of dollars in assets that had belonged to the Qaddafi regime and were frozen by the international community shortly after the revolution began, Jibril said during his Thursday visit to Washington.

"I would like to call on the United States and this administration to help us," Jibril told an audience at the Brookings Institution. "We are facing a real crisis, running almost out of money... We have a real human tragedy in the making right now."

The frozen Libyan government assets are valued at about $34 billion. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said May 6, "We're looking at ways that we can take frozen assets from the Qaddafi regime and provide those to the Transitional National Council."

But Jibril said that, without official recognition, it was impossible to get access to the funds or even to draw a line of credit based on the frozen assets.

"We are not recognized by the United States, so they cannot release the money," he said.

He also noted the contradiction in the administration calling for Qaddafi to go but continuing to recognize his government.

"Ironically enough, the United States is declaring that the regime lost its legitimacy, so it's not recognizing the other regime by the very fact of this official statement," Jibril said. "We need political recognition by just recognizing this council as the sole legitimate representative interlocutor of the Libyan people."

Jibril said that Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) was working on legislation that would provide about $180 million to the TNC, but that the council needs about $3 billion to provide for Libyan citizens over the next six months.

Jibril also feared that the Congressional appropriations process might be too slow, and that delay in funding could lead to vast humanitarian suffering. "Four or five weeks might be too late. We need this money yesterday, not today."

According to Jibril, some countries have justified their failure to recognize the TNC by explaining that the Libyan opposition does not actually constitute a state. Legally, if the TNC were to form a government, that would facilitate recognition, but the TNC doesn't want to take that step because that could lead to a partition of the country, he explained.

Clearly frustrated, Jibril pleaded for the administration to look beyond the legalities and recognize the TNC as a political gesture.

"If you are convinced of the legitimacy of this revolution, of the legitimate demands of those people, then some political steps have to be taken," he said.

He said that the Libyan revolution was a peaceful movement that had been forced into armed revolt by the brutal actions of the Qaddafi regime. "The freedom fighters are marching toward Tripoli," he said, predicting that Qaddafi regime would ultimately collapse or be overrun, although he couldn't predict when.

"Either an internal crackdown will take place or a total collapse of the regime will materialize in the next few weeks, hopefully," said Jibril.

He also laid out what the TNC sees as a "roadmap" for Libya to reorganize politically if and when Qaddafi falls. First, the TNC would convene a national congress, which would draw representatives from all regions of Libya, to select the committee that would draft a constitution. The constitution would then be put to a referendum, supervised by the United Nations. If the constitution is approved, the new Libyan government would then hold parliamentary elections, followed shortly thereafter by a presidential election.

Jibril is meeting with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon at the White House tomorrow. He will also meet Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and some members of Congress before leaving Washington.

Part of his message to U.S. officials will be that the United States must continue to play a prominent and active role in dealing with the crisis in Libya.

"If I meet President Obama... I would strongly urge him to play a more active role, because there is a lot at stake strategically for the United States if that role is not played properly. There is a lot to be lost," Jibril said.