Former Senator George Mitchell: Peace in the Middle East Is Possible


The Samuel Rudin Distinguished Visiting Scholar Lecture at The City College of New York was delivered by the Honorable George J. Mitchell, a distinguished politician, a statesman, and special envoy. Senator Mitchell represented the State of Maine for 15 years in the United States Senate, has received numerous distinctions and awards, and has served as a US Special Envoy for Northern Ireland (1995 – 2001) and for Middle East Peace (2009 – 2011). According to the press release, “He was a primary architect of the 1996 Mitchell Principles and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, and was the main investigator in two "Mitchell Reports", one on the Arab–Israeli conflict (2001) and one on the use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball (2007).”

The 12th president of the The City College of New York, Dr. Lisa S. Coico, introduced the honored guest lecturer. In her remarks, President Coico praised the speaker for his contribution to world peace and to drawing attention to the dangers of performance enhancing drugs in the world of sports. She concluded the introduction with a very appropriate quote of James Freeman Clarke: “A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.”

In his remarks to the audience, Senator Mitchell noted some of his accomplishments and shortcomings. Among those, the Good Friday accords bringing peace to Northern Ireland and his poor performance as an athlete.

Outside of the jokes and incredibly familiar anecdotes, Senator Mitchell described the peace process in Northern Ireland and related his general belief that peace is always possible as all people strive for freedom and democracy. He noted the methodology that brought to his understanding that poverty and unemployment led to violence in that troubled part of Europe. He drew a direct parallel between the growing global population in the areas where resources are scarce, which will lead to greater violence as competition for resources will only intensify.

The challenge, as he noted, is for the leadership of the United States to decide which conflicts to intervene in and which conflicts to stay out of.

“We have experience of getting into conflicts we know and understand little about and now know how difficult it is to get out of them,” Mitchell said.

With such a bleak picture of the world scene, the floor was opened to questions, leading to questions on the regulation of global financial markets, term limits, peaceful creation of nations from referenda, leading to the last question on the peace in the Middle East.

Senator Mitchell noted that he had failed and every administration has failed. He aired his fear and that of the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak where the demographic changes in the region, the Jewish population in Israel, West Bank, and Gaza will be a minority. As such, Israel will be forced to choose between being a Jewish state and a Democratic one. However, such considerations and problems should move the two sides closer to peace. While peace is not easy and cost all of the participants in the Northern Ireland deal their respective political jobs, the alternative of escalating violence is much worse. The prospect for a greater and all out conflict in the Middle East when coupled with demographic pressures should move the two sides to a place where a peaceful settlement is in sight. To achieve that, both sides must have a level of trust in each other.

Senator Mitchell noted that City College allows for every American to have a fighting chance at success; but he allows for every peace to have a fighting chance in every part of the globe. With all the problems we face as a nation and the challenges that we are asked to meet on the global scene, his commitment to peace on behalf of the American people is emblematic to the very highest values of our immigrant nation.