Mitchell gets earful from Mideast
The din of Gaza followed Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, as he conducted a listening tour. Arab leaders wonder why their peace plan remains untouched.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia
Winding up his week-long tour of the region, President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, met Saudi officials here over the weekend for an exchange of ideas on ending the volatile Israeli-Palestinian conflict.Skip to next paragraph
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Specifically, the talks were said to cover the Saudi-initiated Arab Peace Initiative – first offered to Israel in 2002 – as well as how to counter what many Arab states regard as an alarming development: The increased involvement of Iran in Palestinian affairs, through its partners, Syria and Hamas.
"Something needs to be done about Syria, Iran, and Hamas," said one Saudi source. "They believe that by doing what they're doing it's going ... to put them on top.… [We need] to counter it once and for all."
Arab officials and commentators have praised Obama's initial moves to improve US relations with the Muslim world. But Mitchell is no doubt discovering that there is also a deep well of skepticism that the new US president will succeed in breaking the deadly impasse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Consensus seems widespread among Arabs that Washington must, at a minimum, demand a halt to expansions of Jewish settlements on the West Bank if the US is to convince the world that it is serious about tacking the six-decade-old conflict.
"The vast majority remains skeptical about America's efforts to repair relations with the Arab and Muslim world," wrote columnist Samar Fatany in the Arab News, a Saudi daily.
After being "an accessory to the Israeli brutality against innocent Palestinian women and children for many years," she added, "we need to hear America apply its sense of justice."
Mitchell's visit comes at a time when feelings are running high in the wake of Israel's three-week military assault on Gaza that left about 1,300 Palestinians dead, including many women and children. Israel claims it was targeting Hamas militants, but its bombs also hit hospitals and United Nations-run schools.
In brief remarks during previous stops in the Middle East, which included Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Mitchell said that securing a sustained, workable cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was of "critical importance."
Egypt, supported by Saudi Arabia, is leading the Arab diplomatic charge to reach that cease-fire, but their leverage over Hamas is limited because of their contentious relations with the Islamist movement.