Charlie Rose (Interview)
January 6, 2010 - 1:00am

CHARLIE ROSE: George Mitchell is here. He is President Obama’s
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 Obama’s 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 administration’s 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: What’s the mood over there about the possibilities in a
new year?

GEORGE MITCHELL: I think there’s more optimism there than here, but
you have to temper it with the reality of the difficulty, the complexity,
the length of the conflict. I’ll be going back in the next few days, and
my hope that we can make progress on three tracks, which is the effort that
we’ve 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. They’ve taken steps in the West Bank
to reduce the number of checkpoints and roadblocks to facilitate access,
movement, and commerce. There’s a long way to go, obviously. For the
Palestinians it’s not enough, for the Israelis it’s 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 that’s 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 Fayyad’s 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, it’s such a
recent argument."


Those are things, an issue that’s 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 instance.

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, you’ve 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, you’ve 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 it’s 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. There’ve 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 it’s 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. It’s important to everybody. We recognize
that and we try to deal with it.

But understand the different perspectives. Israel annexed Jerusalem
in 1980.

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 they’re building in is in part of Israel.
Now, the others don’t see it that way. So you have these widely divergent
perspectives on the subject.

Our view is let’s get into negotiations. Let’s 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 don’t regard that as a settlement because they think
it’s part of Israel.

CHARLIE ROSE: People recognize the annexation. How many countries?

GEORGE MITCHELL: To the best of my knowledge, there aren’t any.
Immediately after the annexation the United Nations...

CHARLIE ROSE: So you’re going to let them go ahead even though no one
recognizes the annexation?

GEORGE MITCHELL: You say "Let them go ahead." It’s what they regard
as their country. They don’t say they’re letting us go ahead when we build
in Manhattan.

CHARLIE ROSE: But don’t 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: That’s most important to them.

GEORGE MITCHELL: Most important to them. The Palestinians don’t 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, they’re 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 it’s possible?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Because it’s in the best interest of the people on
both sides. And also because...

CHARLIE ROSE: It’s 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
that’s the way to resolve the problem.

And you say it’s been that way for a long time. It has been. But I
believe with all, with everything I have, that there’s no such thing as a
conflict that can’t be ended. Conflicts are created, they’re conducted,
they’re 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 ‘67
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 ‘67 lines
with agreed swaps. Both sides understand it’s not going to be the ‘67...

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 that’s a fairly universal understanding of that. That’s just a
reality that’s 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

CHARLIE ROSE: How are you going to sell Abbas on the idea that even
though you’ve said you will never negotiate as long as there’s no free zone
settlements, I’m asking you to negotiate.

GEORGE MITCHELL: One thing I learned in Northern Ireland is you don’t
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
wouldn’t 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: You’ve said one of the lessons of Northern Ireland is
you never take away the party’s dreams. They’ve 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: That’s right. It’s 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 doesn’t produce
any progress at all.

CHARLIE ROSE: Now everything you’ve said we’ve 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. Somebody’s got to do something
that encourages the other person to do something. Who’s 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. They’ve reduced
roadblocks. They’ve reduced some checkpoints. They’re 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 Israelis’ angle. We don’t have a partner. They’re 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

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 that’s 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, didn’t begin until toward
the end of the president’s 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, I’ve got a wife and kids, I don’t have any
clothes with me, I have to go home and tell them I’m 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, they’re 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 didn’t even have
a government that we could talk to. We didn’t begin substantive
discussions with the current Israeli government until May.

CHARLIE ROSE: But what have we done that’s 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 we’ve now undertaken the initiative that we’ve started, the points
I made earlier which I won’t repeat in the interest of your time and the
viewers’ time about what we’re trying to get done. The president has been
over there several times, the secretary has been there many times. I’ve
been there every month just about since I took this position.

So we’re making an intense effort to demonstrate that we are committed
to this process. And let me make clear, when we get into a negotiation,
we’re 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 possible.

CHARLIE ROSE: Two questions come up. Number one, there is an
argument made that if you look at when there’s 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: That’s a huge issue, and we have to encourage them
take greater ownership of the process that they’re involved in.

But let’s 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 didn’t
quite succeed.

And what we’re going to have to have is continued and active American
involvement. And with this president and with this secretary of state I
think we’re going to have a combination that hasn’t been matched in modern

CHARLIE ROSE: The other side of that is they’re 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

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, there is, I believe, a strong feeling that the
time has come for negotiations to begin. We’re 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 don’t ask for full
normalization now.

And I’ll 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 haven’t been
brought to full fruition.

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. That’s the comprehensive peace in the region
that is the objective set forth by the president and the secretary of

CHARLIE ROSE: That’s 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: We’ve tried very hard. I’ve met with the Turkish
leadership, including their current foreign minister many times, including
in just the last few weeks, and we’ve 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 we’ve 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 we’re 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 we’re persisting in that. And we believe that an Israel-Syria
track could operate in parallel with an Israeli-Palestinian track on

CHARLIE ROSE: The end result of an Israeli-Syrian track would be
Syria’s recognition of Israel?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Yes. Peace between the two of them. Dramatic
changes that we...

CHARLIE ROSE: And you think it’s 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 they’ve 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 don’t accept the idea of giving them up.
That’s part of the negotiation and, of course, what the Syrians don’t
accept is the idea that they’re going to stop providing assistance to
Hezbollah and Hamas and changing their relationship with Iran.

You’re getting into the subject of negotiations now. You can’t say to
one side you have to agree in advance to what the other side wants. You’ve
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
that’s possible?

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 there’s
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: That’s 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, aren’t 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. It’s 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 "They’re going
need to see action. They’re going to need to see some action following
that aspirational tone that the president set in Cairo."


CHARLIE ROSE: And we haven’t 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? There’s 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 hadn’t come
up with a new solution and hadn’t resolved the Middle East conflict.



GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, I mean, I wish we could. We’re all impatient
at the lack of progress. But keep in the some historical perspective.
This is a difficult, complex situation that’s 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 we’re 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

CHARLIE ROSE: Can’t you tell me what the method is, though? Is it
keeping it ambiguous? Getting them to talk is the great advancement we
need now. They’re not talking to each other.

GEORGE MITCHELL: That’s 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 can’t you tell me what they are? That’s my
question, really.

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 can’t 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 won’t agree, now. You’ll have 101 different
opinions, but they’ll 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 that’s 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. We’ve set these all out.

I want to be clear that in the steps that we’ve 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
won’t 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.

We’re 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 ‘67 borders, some
respect for East Jerusalem and Jerusalem being an international city.

I’m going to what Barak had on the table at Camp David.

GEORGE MITCHELL: But, remember, Barak lost the last election.

CHARLIE ROSE: But he’s now the defense minister, and he has a voice.

GEORGE MITCHELL: He has a very important voice, and he’s an
outstanding leader.

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, that’s another reason for getting into
negotiations right away, because the options aren’t getting any better.
But I don’t 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 public.

Under their system, they have a lot of parties. It isn’t 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 wouldn’t presume to speak for that. And we are not to be
critical of the fact that it’s 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. That’s certainly not a
unanimous view, but I believe that’s the majority.

CHARLIE ROSE: On the other hand, there’s 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, that’s 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 that’s 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. They’re still in
some disagreement.

Look, we think everyone should participate. But we think they should
participate based upon a commitment to democratic principles. We think
that that’s 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, that’s incompatible with some of the claims made by some of the
participants, who say "Our goal is the complete destruction of Israel and
we don’t 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 possible.

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, it’s 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: That’s 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: That’s right. But my point is they didn’t
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

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, I got started in the process over there on the
whole subject of weapons, and nobody’s 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 that’s 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

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
"I’m going create a militia, and if I don’t get my way in the Congress, I’m
going to feel free to use the militia," would you that’s democratic, even
though he got a elected or she got elected?


GEORGE MITCHELL: Of course not. So democracy, let’s 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. That’s what we’re asking. That’s 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. That’s 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 paramilitaries.

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. That’s 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 don’t 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. I’ve made
it several times.


CHARLIE ROSE: let me just talk about things that build confidence,
because what this conversation is about is what you’re going over there
with and what you hope to and how you, but also inside the head of somebody
who’s done it before. You’re not without experience in this arena.

There’s 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 Hamas’s tactics,
violent resistance. It’s 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 they’re all involved. But the point is it’s 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 that’s one of the toughest decisions that the prime minister has
to make, and we accept the reality that he’s 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 that’s the approach that ought to be rewarded.

CHARLIE ROSE: Is there an incentive to do something about this in
Israel today?

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 that’s a huge incentive for that and
other reasons. I think there are other reasons as well, but let’s 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 can’t
get a two-state solution and they’ve 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 Israel’s northern border,
Hamas having -- I don’t know the number, but a substantial number of
rockets. And while the technology of particularly the Hamas rockets is
crude, there’s obviously an ongoing campaign to upgrade.

CHARLIE ROSE: And there’s an arms market out there.

GEORGE MITCHELL: Oh, there’s 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 has...

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 there’s 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, that’s been said about almost every job
I’ve 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.
There’s 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 that’s really an overstatement of what we’re trying to
achieve. It isn’t so much you’re going to get to the point of trust and
confidence. It’s that you’re 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 they’re 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 I’m -- 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 they’re 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: That’s what makes it frustrating, Charlie. That’s
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,
we’re out of here."

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, both sides make the same argument to me in
reverse, that the real problem, they say, is you haven’t pressured the
other side.

CHARLIE ROSE: Yes, exactly.

GEORGE MITCHELL: Cut them off, tell them you won’t help them anymore,
you won’t do anything, you’ll 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 nobody’s talking about the United
States troops going in. They’re not. I mean, give me an example. I’m
serious about this. You sit there and you say to Israel, look, if you
don’t 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 wasn’t in place at the time of the first President Bush. So
there were different mechanisms. That’s one mechanism that’s 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 we’re 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 don’t believe it to be

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 Israel’s security, which we
are, and be totally committed to the creation of the Palestinian state,
which we are.

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 that’s a harder cell. You’ve 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 you’re not
going to get a state until the Israelis have a reasonable and sustainable
sense of security.

Now, Charlie, what I’ve 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 I’m very smart and they like me.

CHARLIE ROSE: And you’re non-biased.

GEORGE MITCHELL: And when I take positions that don’t happen to
coincide with their views, I’m 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 Obama’s popularity so low in Israel? It’s four

GEORGE MITCHELL: No, that’s completely false.

CHARLIE ROSE: Have you heard that before?

GEORGE MITCHELL: I’ve heard the figure, and you’re citing a commonly
cited public figure.

CHARLIE ROSE: Exactly. So tell me why that’s wrong.

GEORGE MITCHELL: Because it’s simply not true. Several polls that
I’ve seen in the past month show that he is -- I’ll give you the numbers --
49 percent favorable, 45 percent unfavorable, 43 percent favorable, 37
percent unfavorable. It’s a reasonable number. A plurality support him in
Israel and a smaller plurality oppose him.

CHARLIE ROSE: I don’t 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

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. That’s another way that it’s different.

CHARLIE ROSE: All right.

GEORGE MITCHELL: Thirdly, a full-time envoy working on it -- I don’t
want to say 24/7, because it’s not quite that, but it’s a figure of speech
-- working at it full time. Participating with...

CHARLIE ROSE: But all this has to do with involvement and engagement,
it doesn’t have to do with different ideas, does it, or different positions
or different anything?

GEORGE MITCHELL: Well, Charlie, it’s different in the sense that it
evolves over time. But if you’re saying that look, we’ve been drinking
water all this time and haven’t come up with a new liquid, just think how
long the world’s been drinking water. And why haven’t we come up with a
new liquid that does the job? That’s the stuff...

CHARLIE ROSE: Maybe what I’m saying is it’s not a question of new
ideas. It’s 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 don’t -- I don’t want to rule out new ideas in the
sense that we don’t suggest new approaches, approaches that at one time and
circumstance might not be appropriate but at another are.

Policies change with circumstances. We’re constantly updated our
thinking. When I meet the -- I’ll be meeting in the next week with the

CHARLIE ROSE: The quartet in Brussels?

GEORGE MITCHELL: The quartet, yes, in Brussels. I’ll be meeting with
Israelis, I’ll be meeting with Palestinians in the near future. I’ll be
meeting with all of them. We constantly make suggestions on how the do
this. Here’s 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 haven’t 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
that’s a very important factor.

And I’ll close with this. I mentioned earlier -- we haven’t even
talked about implementation. In Northern Ireland it took three sets of
discussions, five years that I was there, before we got an agreement. It’s
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, it’s 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.

That’s 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, it’s always a pleasure.

CHARLIE ROSE: Former senator George Mitchell, former judge George
Mitchell, lawyer George Mitchell, it’s 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 we’ll see you tomorrow


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