U.S. Senator George Mitchell Delivers Annual Slomoff Lecture at UMass Boston
May 04, 2012
On April 24, United States Senator George Mitchell visited UMass Boston as the featured speaker for the annual Sylvia and Benjamin Slomoff Lecture.
Mitchell, who has been a federal judge, a Senator representing his home state of Maine, Senate Majority Leader, and the U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, appointed by President Obama, was invited by the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance to present his talk, “Turmoil in the Middle East and its Effect on U.S. Policy.”
After glowing introductions from Chancellor J. Keith Motley, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Winston Langley, and Department Chairman Eben Weitzman, Mitchell chose to downplay his accomplishments with anecdotes of gaffes he made at the start of his career in public service. Among them: being accidentally sworn in the day before his official Senate swearing-in ceremony by then-Majority Leader Robert Byrd.
The meat of Mitchell’s talk contrasted the successes he saw as Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, where he played a significant role in brokering the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and the obstacles he faced in a similar position during the failed peace talks between Israeli and Palestine political leaders in 2009-2010.
In Northern Ireland, Mitchell said, the United States was able to mediate between loyalists and republicans, two groups that had been at war for nearly 30 years, because of the cooperation of the British and Irish governments, and because of the courage of the political leaders involved in the negotiations.
“Their compromises put at risk their careers and their lives – during the negotiations two of the delegates were assassinated,” Mitchell said, adding that many more of those involved were elected out of their political offices after the agreement had been signed.
However, Mitchell said, “they made principled compromises and in so doing they brought peace to a war-torn land. That was political leadership at its most courageous.”
That kind of courage, Mitchell said, is needed to achieve similar success in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He stressed the importance of the United States’ involvement, but also warned against the U.S. assuming too much responsibility in other struggles in the Middle East.
Of the countries that overthrew dictators in an attempt to democratically elect leadership during the Arab Spring of 2011, Mitchell warned that the results may not be exactly what we’d like, as quickly as we’d like.
“History tells us that revolutions are unpredictable, and often require years and even decades to play out,” he said, citing the eight years between our own American Revolution and the creation of the United States government. “Unfortunately, history also tells us that often very bad governments that were removed by revolutions were replaced by even worse governments,” he said. “So we have to be patient and realistic in our expectations.”
Ultimately, Mitchell said, “These are indigenous revolutions and the results will be decided by the people there themselves.”
After Mitchell’s lecture, he paused to take questions from the audience. The event’s sponsor, 98-year old class of 1993 and 1997 alumnus Benjamin Slomoff, who’d traveled across the country from California to attend the lecture, asked the first question, about whether Jewish settlements have complicated negotiations with Palestinian leaders. Mitchell explained at length why he believed this was so.
Although Mitchell did not succeed in reconciling Israeli and Palestinian leaders during his tenure as Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, he is optimistic that peace will be achieved.
“There is a risk to both sides if they reach an agreement, but the risk is greater if they don’t,” he said. “I still believe that this conflict can be ended.”
Posted by Nancy Gallen | Thursday, May 10 2012 at 1:12 pm
Is there no special U.S. envoy to Ireland? What has President Obama done to help further the Irish peace process?