Just days before two key players from the region come to the White House to meet with President Obama, U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell is stepping down, sources tell ABC News. He be temporarily replaced by his deputy, David Hale, a former Ambassador to Jordan.
The White House is expected to announce Mitchell’s departure later today.
A source close to Mitchell says he had always told the president he would only serve for two years. But the context of the timing of this resignation is significant: most of the major players are in such a state of flux it’s not even clear who would sit at the table for any peace talks:
• Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is in prison, his replacement has yet to be named or elected and Egypt’s position on peace with Israel is as of now undetermined;
• Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad not apparently in any real mood to make peace even with his own people;
• In the Palestinian territories, Hamas and Fattah are still working out the conditions of their reconciliation, and Hamas is still calling for Israel’s destruction as a matter of policy.
“This president's commitment remains as firm as it was when he took office,” White House rpess secretary Jay Carney said today. “The fact that this is a hard issue, an extraordinarily hard issue, is not news to anyone in this room or anyone who's ever attempted to work on it over these many years."
The timing of Mitchell’s resignation is somewhat awkward. His resignation comes just days before a visit to the White House by Jordanian King Abdullah II and one week before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to the White House.
Netanyahu is expected to present new ideas on how to break the log-jammed negotiations with the Palestinians. That process, stalled before it even began, hit a new snag in recent weeks when the Palestinian Authority struck a deal with rival Hamas, which has called for Israel’s destruction.
After 18 months of shuttle diplomacy by Mitchell and others, the Obama administration finally launched talks between Netanyahu and the President of the Palestinian territories, Mahmoud Abbas, in early September and pledged to have a framework deal within a year. Just weeks later the talks fell apart over a dispute about settlements in the West Bank and months later the administration abandoned the effort, but maintained it could get some sort of agreement within that same year timeline.
-Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) and Kirit Radia