Worthy Christian News » Israel-Palestinian Conflict » Mitchell Committee Tries to Reassure Both Sides
As the international community scrambles to develop plans for inserting an observer force in the disputed territories, the US-led fact-finding committee came and went with little fanfare, leading many in Israel to wonder if the committee will really help reduce the Palestinian violence.
Both Israeli and Palestinian concerns about the agenda of the international committee, led by former US senator George Mitchell, seemed to be largely allayed following their initial meetings on Monday. Israeli fears that the committee would turn into an investigative body or international tribunal were largely eased after Prime Minister Ehud Barak's first meeting with the five-man committee, while Palestinian concerns about the ineffectiveness of the committee and its limited mandate were also addressed.
The committee made clear it does not view itself as a tribunal empowered to render and enforce a judgement. "Its mandate is not to apportion blame," an Israeli official said, "but rather to recommend ways of preventing this type of violence from happening again." Several committee members said their aim is to prevent clashes in the future rather than focus on the past.
Interestingly, during the meeting with Barak, committee members did not ask about Likud chairman Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, which Palestinians claim was the spark for the violence, nor about Israel's use of force in the clashes. They did, however, ask about the injuries to Palestinian children, to which Barak explained "Palestinians use children as an instruments of war. Our fundamental outlook is that children must be protected, not endangered. But their outlook is that children can be sent to the front lines, even if they will be injured, if this serves their public relations goals."
After the committee met in Gaza with PLO chief Yasser Arafat, PA officials said their impression was that the committee does intend to take a more activist approach than what Israeli officials had understood. Though disappointed by the current limited mandate of the commission and its decision to rely on reports from both sides rather than send experts into the field, Palestinian officials expressed their belief that the commission may change its current agenda and return to the region for field work.
PA officials were particularly pleased by the committee's pledge to investigate the "root causes" of the violence on the basis of a UN resolution passed on October 7 that called on Israel to honor its obligations "as an occupying power," and that the committee reportedly promised to station one staff member in Israel full time. This to allow the committee to fully investigate events, rather than conduct a superficial probe from afar, said Palestinian officials. "The violence is taking place here, not in some office in Washington," one Palestinian source complained.
The committee then met Egyptian and Jordanain officials befor edeparting the region. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak later expressed support for renewing the Arab economic boycott against Israel.
Palestinians said that more important than the Mitchell commission inquiry is a UN observer force to "protect the Palestinians." Officials recently submitted a new, "milder" proposal to the UN Security Council calling for the dispatch of a 2,000-strong UN observer force. The Security Council postponed debate on this revised proposal Tuesday until after French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine's visit to the region. Vedrine is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Thursday and is expected to raise the issue of an international force with Israeli officials. Representatives of the US, Argentina, Britain, Canada and France pushed to hold off debate until the results of Vedrine's and the Mitchell committee's visit can be assessed.
Israel has repeatedly said it would only be willing to consider third-party observers if they are negotiated directly with the Palestinians in the framework of a final status agreement. Palestinian officials say they believe that Israel will eventually agree to the observers, like it eventually agreed to the fact-finding commission.
Meanwhile, the European Union has rallied in support of international intervention and the injection of an observer force into the Palestinian uprising. In a statement issued at the closing of the EU summit in Nice on Monday, the EU called on Israel and the Palestinians to renew contacts immediately to bring an end to the violence and to take five steps the EU deemed "essential" to renew negotiations - including accepting an international observer force.
The statement also said the EU draws an implicit connection between Palestinian violence and Israel's settlement policy.
Responding to the declaration, Israeli officials noted the absence of any reference to Palestinian responsibility for the continuing violence and acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians and soldiers, and complained Palestinians will see the declaration as justifying more violence.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.