Barack Obama has chosen his envoy to the Arab World: Senator George Mitchell. It is a strong signal that Obama is moving away from the Israel-first policy, towards more neutral ground.
Mitchell himself has Lebanese origins, but doesn’t identify himself that way, so let’s not get bogged down with that.
He is closely identified with the Northern Ireland peace process, and acted as an honest broker. He doesn’t have much history with the Israel-Palestine conflict. That’s a good thing because he has no baggage, unlike Hillary Clinton.
Mitchell wrote a report in the final days of the Bill Clinton presidency. He is widely considered to have been fairly even-handed. He demanded a halt on settlement building (including “natural growth” which seems to have been tolerated by successive American governments for too long), an end to economic blockades and the killing of civilians. He also told Palestinians to stop attacking Israelis.
Of course, there will be some who say he isn’t hard enough on Israel. Of course he isn’t – this is America. But we can say, he has taken five steps away from Israel and five steps towards Palestine.
Israel’s supporters already seem furious. They wanted someone much closer to Israel.