George Mitchell, who stepped down as the Obama administration’s special envoy to the Middle East last week, said Sunday that President Obama’s call to base Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on pre-1967 borders is not a threat to Israel.
“I don't believe it is threatening Israel,” Mitchell said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week With Christiane Amanpour."
“A major objective of this initiative, among others, is to prevent a disaster for Israel from occurring at the United Nations General Assembly in September, when the Palestinians have said they will see a unilateral declaration of statehood," Mitchell said. "The president spoke out strongly against that. We oppose it. And the way to prevent that from occurring is to provide an alternative in direct negotiation that would foreclose or make not necessary that option."
Mitchell said Obama’s statements Thursday in a wide-ranging speech on the Middle East do not represent a major shift in policy on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“The president didn't say that Israel has to go back to the '67 lines. He said 'with agreed swaps.' Those are significant,” Mitchell said. “Swaps means an exchange of land intended to accommodate major Israeli population centers to be incorporated into Israel and Israel's security needs.”
"Agreed means, through negotiations, both parties must agree. There's not going be a border unless Israel agrees to it, and we know they won't agree unless their security needs are satisfied, as it should be.”
Mitchell’s comments, his first since resigning earlier this month, come as lawmakers are pushing back against Obama’s border comments.
“It would undermine Israel’s strategic depth, increasing its vulnerability to both military invasions and the sorts of rocket and missile attacks that Hamas carries out in Gaza," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Friday in a statement.
Asked about his decision to resign, Mitchell said he had always planned to only serve for two years as special envoy.
“When I met with the president initially, I said to him, Mr. President, I can't do a full, four-year term. I said two years. And he said that's fine,” he said.
But Mitchell acknowledged that that the Middle East peace process has not progressed as quickly as he had hoped.
“Well, it's indisputable that we have not made as much progress as we would have liked,” he said.