Senator George Mitchell: Two-State Solution the Only Option

DECEMBER 22, 2016
By: Justin Chapman, Pacific Council

There is still a chance for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, which is the only credible and viable option, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell told Pacific Council members during a discussion on the Israel-Palestine peace process. The discussion was moderated by Ms. Kim Murphy, assistant managing editor of the foreign and national desks at the Los Angeles Times.

Mitchell served as a U.S. Senator from Maine from 1980 to 1995 and as Senate Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995. In 1998, he brokered the Good Friday Agreement for peace in Northern Ireland. He also served as U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace from 2009 to 2011, where he worked to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His new book, A Path to Peace: A Brief History of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations and a Way Forward in the Middle East, looks at why past negotiations failed, and offers a roadmap for bringing peace to the region. 

Joining Senator Mitchell during the discussion was his co-author, Mr. Alon Sachar, an associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. Sachar served as an adviser to U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro in Tel Aviv from 2011 to 2012, and to President Obama’s Special Envoys for Middle East Peace, George J. Mitchell and David Hale, from 2009 to 2011.

"Our hope is that, difficult as it now seems, there is a chance for the two-state solution, which we think is the only credible and viable solution that can be accepted by both sides," said Mitchell. "Our book is essentially a defense of the two-state solution."

"If you want to have a peaceful resolution, there has to be a compromise that enables both sides to feel that they have achieved a fundamental objective."

- George Mitchell

Mitchell said he believes that there’s no such thing as a conflict that can’t be undone.

"Every conflict comes to an end," he said. "They are created, conducted, and sustained by human beings. The question is, do they come to an end through a total military victory and the consequences that flow from that, or do they come to an end through a negotiated agreement?"

"If you want to have a peaceful resolution, there has to be a compromise that enables both sides to feel that they have achieved a fundamental objective," he explained. "Humans and governments act out of self-interest, but people often are unable to perceive their true national or individual interest until they go through a period of trial and difficulty. While there are vast differences in religion, language, culture, and historical narrative, there are also common interests."

Mitchell thought the situation was persuasively and concisely defined by President George W. Bush when he traveled to Jerusalem in 2008.

"President Bush made the argument to Israeli and Palestinian leaders that they should be vested in each other’s success because that is the only way they can achieve success themselves," said Mitchell. "To the Israelis, he said, ‘You have a highly successful state, but you don’t have security for your people or normal relations with many of your neighbors. The only way you’re going to get that is if the Palestinians get an independent, sovereign, non-militarized state living side by side in peace with Israel.’ To the Palestinians, he said, ‘The only way you’re going to get a state is if the people of Israel have reasonable and sustainable security.’"

"Israeli and Palestinian leaders should be vested in each other’s success because that is the only way they can achieve success themselves."

- George Mitchell

Sachar pointed out that over the last decade, the approach of security cooperation with Israel is losing popularity with Palestinians.

"President Mahmoud Abbas is being seen much more like the implementer of Israel’s occupation than the leader that will bring Palestinian independence," said Sachar. "There are calls even from within his own party for the Palestinian Authority to stop the security cooperation with Israel."

Mitchell and Sachar made the case for an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians not just for their sake, but for the sake of the entire region.

"We think an agreement with the Palestinians would enable a regional coalition of Israel and Arab states in opposition to Iran’s continued drive for hegemony, which has gone on for a thousand years and is going to go on long into the future," said Mitchell. "It may not be the principal purpose of an agreement, which is to meet the needs of the two societies directly, but it’s a very important subsidiary."

As for getting Hamas to join peace talks and commit to non-violence, Mitchell compared the situation to the peace process between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which he helped broker.

"In preparation for the talks, I prepared what became known as the Mitchell Principles, a set of commitments to nonviolence that would be required of any party entering the talks," said Mitchell. "Sinn Féin did not enter the negotiations or agree to the principles until the talks got going, then they finally did agree. I believe there’s zero incentive for Hamas to get involved now, and they’ve stayed out. But if they see that a process is serious and may in fact result in a Palestinian state, I believe that will be the opportunity to get them to move on the conditions for their entry to the talks."

"[Ireland was] easy to deal with compared to the Middle East."

- George Mitchell

Mitchell said the way Israel has been negotiating is sending the wrong message.

"When Hamas kidnapped Corporal Gilad Shalit [in 2006], Israel negotiated through intermediaries over a long period of time to gain his release through the swap of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to Hamas," said Mitchell. "The message that is sent is that violence pays off. It works. It gets a response. Peaceful efforts to negotiate don’t get anywhere."

Mitchell remains optimistic about the prospect for an agreement between the two sides, though he acknowledges that it is an extremely difficult situation.

"During my five years in Northern Ireland, I thought the Irish were very tough to deal with," said Mitchell. "Then I spent six months with the Israelis and Palestinians, and realized the Irish are easy to deal with compared to the Middle East."

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Justin Chapman is the Communications Associate at the Pacific Council on International Policy.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.

Duterte's Turn to China is a Rebalance, Not a Pivot

DECEMBER 21, 2016
By: Justin Chapman, Pacific Council

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is not pivoting completely to China, but rather rebalancing relations with China and the United States, Ms. Shihoko Goto and Dr. Robert S. Ross told Pacific Council members in a Situation Briefing teleconference.

Goto is the senior Northeast Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia Program. Ross is a professor of political science at Boston College and an associate at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies.

After assuming the presidency in June 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has stirred significant controversy with his anti-U.S. rhetoric. Though a historically strong U.S. ally, Duterte declared his country’s "separation from the United States" and praised China during a recent visit there. He has called President Obama and other U.S. officials offensive names, cancelled joint U.S.-Philippine military exercises, and said he may annul a 2014 defense pact that allows U.S. soldiers to deploy to the Philippines. 

"It’s important to remember that bilateral relations between the Philippines and the United States really do remain strong."

- Shihoko Goto

"President Duterte signaled that the Philippines has become too close to the United States and too distant from China," said Ross. "Duterte is seeking to rebalance the Philippines’ foreign policy between the two great powers. His diplomacy can be rather erratic and flamboyant, but the underlying trend is one of a greater balance. This poses a challenge for the United States."

Goto agreed that it’s not a "turn towards China."

"It’s really about a repositioning of the Philippines and a diversification of their foreign policy stance," she said. "It’s important to remember that bilateral relations between the Philippines and the United States really do remain strong."

Goto also pointed out that Duterte was democratically elected and leads the country with a majority of public support.

From China’s perspective, U.S. support for the Philippines has been an area of concern, according to Ross. China sees that support as challenging their sovereignty claim in the South China Sea. Starting in 2013, the United States supported the Philippines’ case against China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration, a case the Philippines won.

"America’s effort to use the [UN Convention on the] Law of the Sea as a way to both express its determination to challenge China’s rise and to establish support for its allies was for the most part unsuccessful," said Ross. "After Duterte took office, he signaled very clearly that he would not stand by the court’s decision against China, despite the victory for the Philippines, and that he was going to improve relations with China."

"The U.S. need to keep South China Sea islands out of the hands of China is minimal."

- Dr. Robert S. Ross

He added that China is simply too important for the Philippines to risk taking sides between China and the United States. Ross criticized Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, for putting the Philippines in a difficult position by challenging China.

"With China as a rising power, that’s not a place you want to be," he said. "Duterte has said to the Chinese, ‘I’m going to fix this. Yes, we won this case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, but the legal decision in the ruling is irrelevant for how we negotiate with you. We’re going to negotiate these islands bilaterally.’ That’s what China had insisted all along, instead of internationalizing it by bringing in the United States or the court system."

Ross argued that since there’s no oil in the South China Sea, U.S. interests there are insignificant. 

"The U.S. need to keep South China Sea islands out of the hands of China is minimal," he said.

Goto agreed that the United States doesn’t have a stake in the islands, but added that "the situation of island ownership has not been resolved."

Goto and Ross also discussed the role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) going forward. 

"Is the golden age for ASEAN centrality over?" asked Goto. "President Obama ensured that the United States engaged directly with Southeast Asian nations. Will Trump want to continue that engagement in the region? One of the first ways he will be able to manifest his commitment to the region will be whether or not he shows up at the upcoming ASEAN summit in Manila. Part of the art of diplomacy is actually showing up. If he’s not there, that sends a strong signal about where U.S.-Philippine ties will be."

Listen to the full conversation below:

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Justin Chapman is the Communications Associate at the Pacific Council on International Policy.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.

Colombia’s Peace Deal Should Advance, But Challenges Remain

DECEMBER 14, 2016
By: Justin Chapman, Pacific Council

The peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will likely move forward, but there are challenges left to overcome, Ms. Katja Newman and Dr. Abbey Steele told Pacific Council members during a Situation Briefing teleconference on the prospect of peace between the government of Colombia and FARC.

Newman is the founder and president of KSN Consulting, Inc. Steele is a professor of social and behavioral sciences at the University of Amsterdam. The discussion was moderated by Dr. DJ Peterson, president of Longview Global Advisors.

After Colombian voters rejected the peace deal President Juan Manuel Santos struck with FARC rebels in October 2016, negotiators went back to the drawing board. An amended agreement was recently approved by Colombia’s Congress. The deal cleared a critical hurdle on December 13, 2016, when Colombia's Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the government's plan to fast track the accord. 

"This new peace deal is quite successful in comparison to previous attempts because there is a plan in place to demobilize the rebels, which is a clear distinction from previous peace attempts," said Steele. "FARC formed in 1964 and has been fighting the Colombian government since. This is the first time in all those years that the Marxist-Leninist organization has recognized Colombia's government and economic system."

"This is the first time in [since 1964] that the Marxist-Leninist organization [FARC] has recognized Colombia's government and economic system."

Dr. Abbey Steele

Steele added that there are still some existing risk factors involved with the new peace agreement.

"One is that the [National Liberation Army or ELN] has not begun peace talks yet with the government," she said. "In previous demobilizations, combatants simply join other armed groups. Some FARC fighters may join ELN."

Newman said that the rejection of the original peace deal by voters was surprising but small. The margin was less than one percent.

"There are several reasons it wasn’t approved, including low voter turnout and terrible weather that day," said Newman. "Also, although he’s popular internationally, President Santos’ popularity at home is quite low. And like we’ve seen in the UK and the United States, there are these latent feelings of frustration that just didn’t show up in the polls."

Peterson noted that one of the lessons learned this year is that referendums should not be used to decide very important issues.

"There is a lot of opposition from Republicans in the United States to the peace agreement with FARC rebels, so it’s something to keep an eye on."

Ms. Katja Newman

Newman also said that there is a lot of concern in Colombia right now about what will happen next under the Trump administration.

"The United States has been a long-time supporter of Colombia," she said. "However, there is a lot of opposition from Republicans in the United States to the peace agreement with FARC rebels, so it’s something to keep an eye on. It’s important for the United States to stay involved and informed."

Steele pointed out that the cocaine trade in Colombia will continue despite the peace agreement between the government and FARC.

"Some of the rebels have specialized knowledge of the trade, so we can expect some of them to continue with the cocaine trade," she said. "As part of the deal, FARC is supposed to help transition farmers from coca to other crops, but cocaine is quite lucrative. As long as it remains illegal, illegal organizations in Colombia will regulate it."

Newman agreed, adding, "If demand for cocaine stays the way it is, other illicit actors than FARC will pick up the trade."

Listen to the full conversation below:

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Justin Chapman is the Communications Associate at the Pacific Council on International Policy.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pacific Council.


In the spirit of fostering transatlantic dialogue, next week I will travel to Germany to represent the Pacific Council on International Policy during the German Federal Foreign Office’s "Think Transatlantic" Study Tour, an informational visit for young writers and researchers of U.S. think tanks.

I will visit Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Berlin to meet with officials from the Federal Chancellery, the Bundestag (Parliament), the Federal Ministry of Defense, the European Central Bank, the Bundesbank (German Federal Bank), the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, the Die Zeit newspaper, the German Council on Foreign Relations, the Körber Foundation, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, the Hertie School of Governance, and more.

In a letter to president and CEO Dr. Jerrold D. Green inviting the Pacific Council to participate in the study tour, German Ambassador to the United States Peter Wittig wrote, "In times of myriad crises and shifting global influence, we should deepen our alliance across the Atlantic and ensure its continuity. For this, we need the next generation of government and public policy leaders. To help build that next generation of transatlanticists, the German Embassy over the past years has invited young, promising experts from a select number of think tanks and other institutions to gain firsthand experience in Germany on foreign, political, business, security, media, and economic policy issues."

Stay tuned to the Pacific Council’s Newsroom, Twitter, and Facebook during the first two weeks of December 2016 for dispatches from Germany as I engage in a dialogue with high-ranking German decision-makers and government leaders, the scientific community, and members of the media and private sector. Also stay tuned to my personal travel blog, Junket Journal, for posts on my trip to Germany and Geneva, Switzerland.

'Come together'

Bernie Sanders talks about resisting Trump’s policies, reforming the Democratic Party and his new book at the Alex Theatre

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/1/2016

“Rethink your role in the political process,” Bernie Sanders told a packed house Tuesday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. “It’s great that you vote every two or four years, but we need more than that to be effective. We need to mobilize millions of people to get engaged in the political process and join this fight to move a progressive agenda forward.”

The Independent senator from Vermont and former Democratic presidential candidate first addressed the crowd solo at a podium on stage and then was interviewed by comedian Sarah Silverman to promote his new book, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. Sanders’ wife Jane was in attendance and received a standing ovation.

“It’s important for everyone to remember that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2 million votes,” said Sanders. “In his delusional manner, Mr. Trump has not recognized that, but nonetheless it is a fact. And what that means is Mr. Trump does not have a mandate.”

When Silverman came out on stage, a few audience members loudly booed. During the primaries, Silverman was a staunch supporter of Sanders, but after Hillary Clinton won the nomination, Silverman threw her support behind Clinton, much to the dismay of die-hard Sanders supporters. During the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia in July, Silverman told Sanders supporters who were protesting that they were “being ridiculous.” When she came on stage at the Alex on Tuesday, one audience member who booed also shouted, “You’re ridiculous, Sarah!” She didn’t respond, and Sanders thanked her for supporting his campaign before they moved on to the interview.

“The first question I should ask you, something that’s been on everyone’s minds since the election, which is, ‘What the fuck?’” Silverman said.

“Is that the entire question?” Sanders laughed. “As we try to figure out how best to deal with President Trump — and I am as reluctant as you are to say that phrase — people must not think members of Congress can do this alone. We need a mass movement of millions of people who are engaged in the political process.”

He added that people won’t agree on every issue, but there is one area progressives cannot compromise on: bigotry.

“In many ways bigotry was the cornerstone of Trump’s campaign,” Sanders said. “But when we look back at the history of this country, as the result of the millions of people who struggled against discrimination over 200 years, we have come a long way and made real progress. So our message to Mr. Trump is, ‘We are not going back.’”

However, he added that those who think all of Trump’s supporters are racists, sexists and homophobes are mistaken.

“Some of them certainly are, but I don’t think the vast majority of them are,” he said. “We live in a very silo-ized world, meaning we end up only associating with people who think like us. What Trump did was very clever. He, of all people, said, ‘I hear your pain, and I will take on the political, economic, and media establishment.’ What he tapped into in many parts of this country is a pain and level of despair which you never see on television, but is very real. People don’t feel like they have a sense of purpose.”

Another reason Trump won the election, Sanders added, is because of the weakness of the Democratic Party. If the Democratic Party had done nothing else but raise the minimum wage to a living wage during their eight years in power, he said, they would have reached those who voted for Trump.

US Sen. Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate Minority Leader, recently appointed Sanders to be part of the Senate Democrats’ leadership team. Sanders will handle outreach to key party constituencies.

“And I assure you, I will do outreach,” he said. “What we are going to try to do is completely restructure and reform the Democratic Party and make it into a grassroots party which welcomes working people and young people and people who are prepared to demand that we have a government and an economy that works for all of us and not just the one percent.”

Sanders mentioned that he got in trouble two weeks ago for saying, “It is not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me!’” In making the argument against identity politics for the sake of identity politics, many interpreted Sanders’ comments as criticism of Clinton’s campaign.

“Let me repeat it,” he told the Glendale crowd on Tuesday. “It is not good enough to support a candidate just because they are black or gay or a woman. They have to have the courage to stand up to big money interests. We need a party that has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, the drug companies, the insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry and all of the powers that be. This country in many respects is moving toward an oligarchic form of society. A handful of billionaires control our economic and political life. If you’re not willing to engage in that struggle, well then I don’t think you’re doing serious politics.”

Fortunately, Sanders said, the American people are on the side of a progressive agenda.

“Whether it’s raising the minimum wage to a living wage, ensuring pay equity for women, putting millions of people to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, demanding that Donald Trump and his billionaire friends start paying their fair share of taxes, making public colleges tuition-free and addressing the planetary crisis of climate change, there is overwhelming support for these ideas,” he said.

In order to make those ideas a reality, though, more people will need to get involved in the political process and vote.

“Just the other day — it’s hard to keep up with Trump’s tweets — he claimed millions of people voted illegally,” Sanders said. “That is total and absolute nonsense. When he said that, what he was really doing was sending a message to Republican leaders all over the country that they have got to increase their efforts toward voter suppression. That’s what that message was about. Republicans don’t want people to vote. We need to make voting as easy as possible. We want the highest voter turnout in the world, not the lowest.”

The event was sponsored by Vroman’s Bookstore and was originally slated to take place at All Saints Church in Pasadena, but was moved to the Alex due to overwhelming popular demand.

Sanders’ book has two parts: one is about his presidential campaign and the other is an outline for a progressive economic, environmental, racial and social justice agenda. Considered a fringe candidate in the beginning with no money, political organization, or name recognition, Sanders took on the Democratic establishment, received more than 13 million votes and won 22 states during the primaries.

“I left the campaign with a sense of optimism,” he said. “I know these are tough times, but there are extraordinary people across this country. I don’t have all the answers. Nobody I know does. We’re going to have to come together on this. If we put our minds to it, if we do not allow demagogues to divide us up by race or sexual orientation or whatever, if we stand together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.”

Fight the power

Battle lines are drawn in the struggle against Trump’s divisive policy plans

By Mercedes Blackehart and Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/1/2016

Thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Los Angeles and a dozen other major US cities for several days following the surprise election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States, even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes.

Incensed by Trump’s rhetoric about banning Muslims, building a wall along the border with Mexico to keep out the “rapists and drug dealers,” and grabbing women’s genitals and kissing them without consent, people of all ages and walks of life — including families with small children in strollers — expressed their outrage at the next president’s proposed policies.

Making it clear what he thinks of the First Amendment, and repeating a claim that has since been debunked, on Nov. 10 Trump tweeted, “Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”

This photo essay was taken during the Nov. 12 protest in downtown Los Angeles. The rally began with speeches at MacArthur Park, then marched east through the streets of downtown Los Angeles to the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building. Following more political speeches at the federal building, throngs of protesters marched off in different directions, with most heading back to MacArthur Park.

The LAPD said there were 8,000 protesters, but there were clearly tens of thousands more people in the streets than that. Countless officers blocked the entrances to the Harbor (110) and Hollywood (101) freeways after protesters in previous days shut down freeways across the country.

Despite media rhetoric about these being violent riots, this protest was entirely peaceful, with several protesters seen shaking hands with police officers and thanking them for their service. In return, some officers threw up peace signs to the passing crowd. Cars stuck in traffic because of the protest honked their horns in solidarity with the protesters.

One man attempted to argue with a group of young female protesters about the purpose of the protest. “None of us dispute the election result,” one protester responded. “That’s not the point. It’s about showing our resistance to this man and what he stands for.”

These were some of the chants heard during the demonstration:

“No Trump! No KKK! No racist USA!” a chant later used by Green Day during the American Music Awards on Nov. 20.

“My body, my choice!” female protesters yelled, followed by male protesters yelling, “Her body, her choice!”

“When immigrants are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back! When Muslims are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back! When women are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

And of course, the signature chant was “Not my president!” a refrain seldom heard in Los Angeles since the George W. Bush era.

Back at MacArthur Park, protesters filled the intersection at West Sixth and South Alvarado streets for hours. Dozens of police officers in riot gear lined up in the middle of the street, awaiting orders to disperse the crowd. After several tense moments on the cusp of potential violence, police decided to stand down and drove their vehicles away from the protest.