Haaretz (Editorial)
January 28, 2009 - 1:00am

U.S. President Barack Obama promised after his inauguration to pursue Middle East peace "actively and aggressively." Today, former U.S. senator George Mitchell arrives in Jerusalem for his first visit to the region as Obama's special envoy to the Middle East. His election-eve visit is intended to send Israeli voters and candidates the message that Obama means what he says and that the new administration will be judged by its contribution to bringing peace closer.

During his election campaign, Obama promised to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict immediately rather than waiting until the end of his term, as George W. Bush did. The time has come to make good on that promise. The president has not put forth a detailed peace plan. In an interview with Al Jazeera, he said Mitchell was coming here to listen, ahead of formulating a position, and that the United States would not issue orders to the Israelis and Palestinians or tell them what's best for them. But it is not hard to discern his intentions; Mitchell gained fame as a successful mediator in the peace process in Northern Ireland, and upon his new appointment he declared that there are no conflicts that cannot be solved.

On a previous visit to the region, as chairman of the Sharm el-Sheikh fact-finding committee on the second intifada, Mitchell took a determined stance against Palestinian terror as well as against the expansion of settlements and Israel's imposition of closures on the Palestinian population. He called for a total freeze on construction in the settlements and an end to the "natural growth" tactic under which Israel increased the number of settlers in the West Bank. His positions are unlikely to have changed since 2001, and they almost certainly express the approach of the new administration.

Israeli voters must know that the Obama government will be intolerant of construction in the settlements, as well as measures that hurt the Palestinians, such as closures and checkpoints. It will make every effort to bring about a two-state solution. Anyone for whom Israel's relations with the United States is important must vote for parties that support a peace agreement with the Palestinians, out of the recognition that the right-wing parties that support settlement expansion jeopardize Israel's international standing as well as its security, both of which are dependent on American support.

This message is also geared toward Israel's political leadership, particularly Benjamin Netanyahu, who is leading in the opinion polls. His platform, which rejects the creation of a Palestinian state, and his statements in favor of "natural growth" in the settlements, place him on a collision course with Washington - especially if the senior partner in his coalition is Avigdor Lieberman.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017