Negotiating in Business Politics and Peace featuring former Sen. George Mitchell

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to our YouYube original channel UCTV Prime available only on YouTube. Here at the University of San Diego, we have
taken our designation as an Ashoka Changemaker Campus very seriously. Change is a creative
process that can be applied in business, politics and peacemaking. And our honored guest this
evening, Senator George J. Mitch… Mitchell, has worked for change in all of those arenas.
His bio is in your program. Years in service of many kinds you’ll see described there:
military service in the U.S. Army Counter-intelligence Corps, legal service in the Justice Department
as a U.S. attorney and a district judge in Maine, and political service in the Senate
and as a diplomat. Senator Mitchell alternated that service with business experience and
private law practice as chairman of the board of the Walt Disney Company, a member of the
board of his beloved Boston Red Sox, and as a director of several other companies. In
each of those positions, Senator Mitchell was not focused on the status quo, but on
changing laws, on changing organizations, on changing this world and on changing his
own country. Senator Mitchell knows that change takes time. It was 14 years ago that he brokered
an agreement between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday peace
accords were signed. Then, just this summer while visiting Belfast, Queen Elizabeth shook
hands with former IRA chief Martin McGuiness, now a top official in Northern Ireland. This
was a man who had been an avowed enemy of the British Empire, and in fact a representative
of a paramilitary group that in 1979 was responsible for the death of the Queen’s cousin. Yet
this moving reconciliation, a symbol of putting violence in the past to create a better future,
is the ultimate goal of every peace negotiation — more than just a ceasefire or a signed
peace agreement or even a power-sharing agreement. Change takes time and change takes vision,
like the vision that Senator Mitchell has for bringing people together in the most difficult
of circumstances. And now it is our honor to listen and hear and share with Senator
George J. Mitchell. Please join me in welcoming him. [Applause] Thank you very much uh… Julie, for that
generous introduction. And thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your warm reception, for
your presence here this evening. Uh… to the dean, the new dean, thank you for inviting
me and for being such a gracious host. It’s a real pleasure for me to be here at the University
of San Diego and in particular here at the Joan Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice. Uh…
I… I welcome the opportunity to visit the university because I know it was started by
the Sisters of Mercy. I started my education… my life in education at a parochial school
in a small town in Maine, and I was taught by the Ursuline Sisters. And I can remember
to this moment the discipline that they instilled in me. [Laughter] And I have had a high regard
for nuns of all kinds ever since then. And so it’s a special pleasure to be here in
that regard. I uh… want to repeat my thanks to Julie for that generous introduction. Now, I entered the Senate under unusual circumstances.
I was serving as a federal district judge in my home state of Maine when one of Maine’s
senators, Ed Muskey, was appointed secretary of state, creating a vacancy in the Senate.
Since it was the middle of the year, the Senate was in session. The governor, on the day the
vacancy was announced, said that he was gonna move quickly because he didn’t want Maine
to be underrepresented in the Senate, and he would hold a press conference the following
Monday at noon at the state capitol to announce his choice to succeed Senator Muskey and fill
out his term. So there was a lot of speculation in Maine. We had a former governor, a former
senator. My name was barely mentioned. I’d just been appointed a federal judge the year
before. It’s a lifetime appointment. So I went to bed early that Sunday night — we
go to bed early in Maine — [Laughter] Uh and uh… like everyone else, wondering what
the governor was going to do the next day. About 11 o’clock that night the phone rang.
It was the governor calling. He said, “I’d like you to come down to the state capitol
at noon tomorrow so I can announce that I’m going to appoint you to the Senate.” I said,
“Well gee, governor, this is a big surprise.” I said, “This is a big decision uh… I gotta
think about it. I’ve got to call my family, talk to some friends, think it over.” He
said, “I’ll give you one hour.” [Laughter] I protested that that was inadequate. He said,
“Well, look. You call me at midnight and say you’re not going to do it, I got 12
hours to find someone else, most of them in the middle of the night. So you can’t take
more than an hour.” I said, “OK, I’ll call you back in an hour.” I hung up. I
called my three older brothers. I grew up in a small town in Maine, and I had three
older brothers who were very famous athletes, not just in our little town, not even just
in our state; my brothers made all-New England in college basketball and they were very well-known.
And then I came along and I was not as good as my brothers. In fact, I was not as good
as anybody else’s brothers. [Laughter] And so very early in my lifebecame known around
our small town as Johnny Mitchell’s kid brother, the one who isn’t any good. [Laughter]
As you might expect, I developed a massive inferiority complex and a highly competitive
attitude toward my brothers. So when I called them that night ostensibly to seek their advice,
[Laughter] there was a note of triumphalism in my voice. [Laughter]Everybody here who’s
got a brother raise your hand. [Laughter] So you know what I’m talking about. So I said
to them, “Listen, guys. The governor just called me and he wants to appoint me to the
Senate. What do you guys think about that?” Well, the responses were predictably negative.
Very negative. My brother Johnny said, “Look,” he said, “Everybody knows you’re a born
loser.” [Laughter] He said, “You couldn’t possibly win a state-wide election. None of
us can understand how you got to be a federal judge, so you better stay where you are.”
My older brother, he… he thinks he’s somewhat of an intellectual and he likes to use the
Socratic method; he… he makes his points by asking questions. So he said, “Well,
now,” he said, “let’s look at this from the standpoint of the people of Maine. [Laughter]
Aren’t they entitled to have a qualified person representing them [Laughter] in the
Senate? And isn’t it obvious that you’re not one of them?” Well, after a few minutes
of this I’d had enough. I hung up. I called the governor. I said, “Governor, I don’t
need an hour. I’ve already received all the reassurance I need [Laughter] of my ability
to perform this job.” So I went down the next day to the state capitol. The governor
made the announcement. I flew to Washington that night and I arrived at National Airport
about 5 o’clock and I had nothing planned that evening. The swearing in was scheduled
for the next morning. Literally on a whim when… when I get into a taxi, on the spur
of the moment I decided I’ll go up to the Senate, I’ll find and introduce myself to
the Senate majority leader, then Senator Byrd (it could not possibly have entered my mind
that one day soon I would become the Senate majority leader), and… just kinda get the
lay of the land. So I went up, a clerk took me into the Senate
— the Senate was then in session debating a bill — and introduced me to Senator Byrd.
And he’s very busy — if any of you have ever seen the Senate in session when there
is debate and there’s a lot of senators milling around and Senator Byrd somehow got the impression
when the clerk introduced me that I was there to be sworn in. So he said, “OK,” he said,
“we’re kind of busy but we’ll swear you in.” I protested, I said, “No, no, no,”
I said, “This… this is set for tomorrow morning,” I said, “I had in my mind that
all three networks are probably reserving time [Laughter] for tomorrow morning.” I thought…
I thought for sure it would be on the front page of the New York Times. I said, “We can’t
upset those guys.” Byrd said, “Listen, young man. We’re very busy here. I said I’ll
swear you in and I will swear you in right now.” So he interrupted the debate, swore
me in and it took less than 10 seconds. Nobody but he and I and the guy who swore me in know
what’s going on. Even senators standing six feet away and in conversation were unaware
that they had been joined by me. Uh… and then and then the… so it was a huge disillusionment
for me. I was expecting something rather grand and uh… uh… and then they resume the proceedings
and almost immediately a vote occurred. I hold the all-time history, all-time record
in American history, for those of you interested in political trivia, for having cast a vote
the in shortest time after becoming a senator: [Laughter] two minutes. [Laughter] The first
of many informed judgments I made on your behalf, on behalf of the people of Maine.
[Laughter]Well then Byrd said to me, “You know, you’re kind of in luck. Filibusters
don’t happen too often around here.” That was then. Not the case now. He said uh..,
“There is one coming up in a little while. Why don’t you hang around, see how things
work around here.” So I said, “OK.” I went, took my seat in the back of the chambers,
number 100 — as far back in the corner as you can get. And uh… after a while everybody
else had left and one senator came in. He… he got the floor. He got up and said, “I
want to say a few words.” And he spoke for six hours. About halfway through I began to
realize that I wasn’t learning anything here. And the thought crossed my mind that
maybe I ought to leave, but of course, I had no place to go. I didn’t know what the protocol
was and he must have sensed it so he… after a while he came over and talked to me. He
stood right in front of me and he kinda pointed his finger. [Laughter] Six hours this went
on. And then – I don’t know how many of you have been in the capitol when a vote occurs
– the bells ring, the lights flash. It’s a way of telling House and Senate members
how much time they’ve got to get to a vote. They call the vote on a procedural matter;
that’s how you keep these filibusters going. The lights flashed and the bells rang. I didn’t
know what was going on. In pour the other 98 senators. They all voted on this procedural
matter, and then they all left. And I, not knowing any better, stayed there. Pretty soon
another guy came in and he talked to me for six hours. [Laughter] This went on all night.
I thought, this being a senator is not all it’s cracked up to be. [Laughter] And after
a while I was tired, I was hungry. I went up to a clerk who was standing by the door
at the side of the chamber and I said, “Excuse me, I’m new here.”
He said, “Senator, that’s obvious to everyone.” [Laughter] I said, “I’m hungry, I’m
tired.” I said, “Where did all these guys go? Well I’m here. I thought I was doing
the nation’s business, working hard. I’m the only one here.” He said, “I… I… I
said, “Tell me where they go.” He said, “I will not only tell you, I will show you.”
And he took me around behind the Senate chamber into a room smaller than this, where there
were a whole bunch of narrow, canvas folding cots set up — of the type you see in emergency
shelters. And there, lying there in their clothes, were a bunch of old white guys [Laughter]
snoring away. Oh my God… talk about disillusionment! [Laughter] It was crowded, there were no aisles.
He said, “Senator, there’s an empty cot in the middle. You better grab that one.”
I looked and I had to climb over other senators to get there. The first guy I encountered
was Ted Kennedy. Ted is not, was not a slight fellow and at that moment he looked to me
like Mount Everest in a suit. And I worried that I might disturb him. So I used all the
athletic skills that my brothers say I don’t have. I got over him and then I looked on
the next cot. Lying on his back, snoring loudly, was Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina.
I’d only been in the Senate one day, but I was aware of Senator Helms’ role as a
stalwart defender of heterosexual rights. So I was really nervous. [Laughter] I thought,
what would be the consequence if I lost my balance and fell right on top of him,[Laughter]
my first day in the Senate? So I tiptoed over him and I got to this empty cot and I lay
down and I… I really was disappointed. I thought, what a mistake I’ve made. Just
a few hours ago I was a federal judge. [Laughter] I wore a robe. People got up when I entered
the room, they sat down. [Laughter] They got up when I left the room. Now I… I was lying
here with these guys. And I began to feel sorry for myself. And as I wallowed in self-pity,
I… I rolled over on this little cot and I look right next to me, literally inches
away, into the face of Senator John Warner of Virginia. At that time, he was married
to Elizabeth Taylor. [Laughter] And I looked at him and I thought, who am I to feel sorry
for myself? [Laughter] I said… [laughs] I said, I, really, I thought, here’s a guy
who could be home legally in bed with Elizabeth Taylor and he’s spending the night with
me. [Laughter] And I’m feeling sorry for myself? Well, I realized then what we all
know but we tend to forget, is that no matter how bad off you’ve got it, there’s always
someone who’s got it worse. And you can go through life complaining about things or
feeling sorry for yourself, or you can try to do something about them. And that was a
good lesson for me because I did try to do something and uh… enjoyed myself in the
Senate a great deal. Tonight, I’m not going to talk about the
Senate. I was asked to speak about my experiences in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. And
I’ll do that. Then I want to say a few words in conclusion about our own country uh…
and then I’ll be glad to take your questions uh… in conclusion. I spent five years in Northern Ireland, coming
and going and working there and I chaired three separate sets of discussions. The principal
negotiation lasted about two years. It was for the most part extremely difficult, very
discouraging, with little progress. There had been ceasefires established, but they
were routinely violated. There was regular and periodic assassinations, bombing. Two
of the men who were delegates to the talks were assassinated during the talks. Several
others had been involved in the conflict. Some had been wounded badly, some had served
lengthy prison terms for their activities and violence. We hit what I thought was rock
bottom in December of 1997, which was about 18 months after we started. Two days after
Christmas a prominent Protestant paramilitary leader was assassinated in prison by a group
of Catholic prisoners. That touched off a tit-for-tat series of assassinations on both
sides. Emotions rose dramatically, and the prospect of success declined. In an effort
to try to change the direction, the governments of Britain and Northern Ireland uh… and
Ireland moved the talks from Northern Ireland to London, and then from London to Dublin.
But the change of venue did no good. The rancor increased. And on the flight back to New York
from Dublin after a week there, uh… I concluded that the process was spiraling toward failure
and the likelihood of a resumption of violence on a scale previously unimaginable would result.
And so in desperation I formed a plan to establish an early, firm and unbreakable deadline, after
which the process would be over one way or the other. And after some consultations, I
established midnight April 9th as the deadline, after which I told them I’m leaving and
we’ll either have an agreement or we’ll have failure and war. The last two weeks were
uh… round-the-clock negotiations. On the last night, uh… Prime Ministers Tony Blair
and Bertie Ahern came. President Clinton stayed up all night in the White House on the phone.
I was in constant communication with him and them. And we finally succeeded in getting
an agreement uh… on the afternoon of Good Friday uh… of 1998. I, with two colleagues
who assisted me, was responsible for drafting the document which became the peace agreement.
As I did so I had in mind many objectives, two principal ones. One was that it had to
be their agreement, not my agreement. On the very first day that the negotiations began,
I said to the delegates to the peace conference, “I do not come with an American plan. There
is no Clinton proposal. There is no Mitchell proposal. Any agreement that you reach will
be yours.” Over the two years of negotiations, collectively they spoke millions of words
to me and they buried me in documents: legal briefs and memoranda and petitions and papers
and statements. And so, when I drafted the agreement I made certain that every word,
literally every single word, had been spoken or written by one of them. And when I presented
it to them I said orally what I’ve just said, and I had a cover letter that said to them
the same thing. That was of critical importance. It is… No one is going to subscribe to a
document in which they must by definition make concessions if they feel it is imposed
on them, unless you have an all-out war and you have a total winner and a total loser.
But in conflict resolution, short of that there has to be ownership by the parties and
I was acutely aware that whatever happened, I was leaving and going back to America. They
were staying. Their lives were the ones at risk and at stake. It was critical therefore
that they decided their futures. The second objective I had was to make certain that in
that document was something for both sides. I tried to envision each of the political
leaders on both sides of that divide meeting with their strongest and most ardent supporters,
and include in that agreement something that they could hold up and say, “This is what
I got: A, B and C.” Now of course, I had to give them a little something to get an
agreement, but it has to be a win-win situation. Short, as I’ve said, of total conflict and
total victory and defeat, there has to be a prospect which enables political leaders,
and particularly political leaders in democratic societies, to justify their willingness to
enter into an agreement uh to prevail. And it did. They knew, as we all knew, that under
the terms established by the two governments for the negotiations, any agreement reached
would not take effect unless approvedin a referendum by the public in Northern Ireland
and in the Republic of Ireland. Both had to approve independently before it would take
effect so the politicians who were in there making the agreement were gonna have to defend
it and explain it to their publics. And they did, and it was approved by a wide margin
in the referendum in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. Now, what did it take to get there? A lot,
and I can’t describe every aspect of it, but let me make just a few points that I think
contributed to it. And they all come under the heading of common sense. Patience and
perseverance: you have to stick with it. In conflict resolution you can’t take the first
no for an answer, or the second no or the 10th no or the 50th no. I don’t intend or
mean to be critical of the press, but every day you see the reporters wanting to set up
failure. A negotiation begins – there’s one going on in Washington right now – but they
didn’t get an agreement the first meeting they had so it’s a failure. Almost every
day over the five-year period that I was there, I was asked by reporters, “When are you
gonna leave? When are you going home because you failed?” In a sense they were right. If
your objective is to get a peace agreement, until you actually get it you have failed
to do so. But there’s a difference between a final failure and working towards success
even as you experience setbacks. And there has to be perseverance. Secondly, this is
so simple, you have to treat everyone with respect — even, indeed I would argue especially,
those with whom you disagree. None of us have problems agreeing with people of like mind.
We’re all humans and one of the things we’ve learned now from the amazing scientific discoveries
that are being made, particularly about the human body and especially the brain, is that
our receptors for information that agrees with our preconceived notions are that big
and very acutely sensitive. Our sensors that receive information that disagrees with our
prior beliefs are that big and not very sensitive to things coming in. Every one of us suffers
from that. And politicians in life-or-death negotiations to end conflict, to end death
and destruction, have especially acute sensors to that with which they agree and very little
that they don’t agree with. And so you have to listen very hard. You have to try very
hard to open your receptors especially to people who disagree with you. And I think
that’s true not just in conflict resolutions between nations, but in political negotiations
within a country such as ours. And you always have to have the humility to recognize that
on occasion you may be wrong and the person who disagrees with you may be right. It takes
a person of self-confidence and self-knowledge to make that kind of approach to issues, and
to genuinely practice those, but that’s what’s needed in conflict resolution situations.
You have to give everyone their say. When I first went there, indeed on the first day,
I said to them, “I’m product of the U.S. Senate. We have the rule of unlimited debate.
I’ve actually listened to a 16-hour debate, to an 18-hour discussion, to a 12-hour speech.
Nothing you guys can say or do,” I said, “that will faze me.” Did I regret that [Laughter]
years later. Of course when I said that I had no idea how long this was gonna go on.
So there I sat day after day, month after month, year after year, listening for hours
and hours and hours. But what I learned is that first off, if you really do listen to
people sometimes they make sense when you really think about it from their perspective.
And secondly, it is a necessary condition to getting their agreement to something that
they don’t like that their view has been heard and genuinely considered. And every
one of us, everyone who’s a parent, everyone who’s married, everyone who has any kind of
a personal relationship knows the difference between someone who is genuinely listening
and someone who is going through the motions of listening. And genuinely listening is hard
work, but it has to be done. And finally I’ll say, you need political leaders with courage.
The political leaders of Northern Ireland were ordinary men and women. You had one of
them here last year, a terrific woman, Monica McWilliams, a very close friend of mine. And
she is not unique; an ordinary person like every one of us here, placed in a position
of responsibility and authority and they rose to the occasion. It’s very fashionable in
our society and others to denigrate, to ridicule, to demean and insult politicians, and Lord
knows they earn it and deserve it some of the time. But the fact of the matter is, people
can and do rise to the occasion with courage, with judgment, and do the right thing and
that’s what they did in Northern Ireland. A… a lot of people talk about Clinton, about
me, about Blair, about others. The people who really did this in Northern Ireland were
the political leaders and the public in Northern Ireland who… who understood the consequences
of failure would mean a new outbreak of violence, to the savagery and a destructive toll that
far exceeded anything that had occurred before. And that’s what we need in other crises
as well. Well, I thought it was tough in Northern Ireland, and it was – five years, five very
tough years. But a few months ago I spoke at a dinner of an Irish American group in
Queens, New York City. About 1,000 Irishmen there. And I said to them, “I’m about
to say something that I never dreamed that I would believe or say. And it is that after
three years in the Middle East dealing with the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Irish
were a bunch of patsies [Laughter] but uh… they were really easy.” Now the Middle East let me talk about that.
The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is historic, complex, very difficult. So I
cannot in a few moments or even in a few hours give it full justice. Uh… what I am about
to say is necessarily uh… a summary that won’t touch on every aspect of the conflict,
but describes some of my experience and my conclusions uh from the time I spent there.
The upheavals now occurring across the Arab world, especially in Egypt and Syria, have
create… created anxiety and uncertainty among both Israelis and Palestinians, making
progress in reserv… resolving that conflict more difficult than ever. But even before
the Arab Spring, the conflict has gone on for so long, has had such destructive effects,
the level of mistrust and hostility is so high, that many there and elsewhere regard
it as incapable of solution. But the pursuit of peace there is so important to them and
to us that I think it demands our maximum effort, whatever the difficulties or setbacks.
The key to resolution is very easy to state, but extraordinarily difficult to achieve.
It is the mutual commitment of both Israelis and Palestinians, and the active participation
of the United States government and the many other governments and entities that want to
help. Commitment to the task of reconciling the Palestinian goal of a viable, contiguous,
sovereign and independent state based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps of land, with
the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Security
is what the Israelis don’t have for their people, even though they have a highly successful
state. In early nine… in early 2009, President George W. Bush went to Jerusalem, where he
said in a speech, and I quote, “The point of departure for permanent status negotiations
is clear: There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish
Palestine as a home line… homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is the
homeland for the Jewish people. These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognized
and defensible borders. And they must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous,
sovereign and independent. It is vital,” Bush said, “that each side understands that
satisfying the other’s fundamental objectives is a key to a successful agreement. Security
for Israel, and viability for the Palestinian state are in the mutual interest of both parties.”
That’s the end of Bush’s statement.When he took office in 2009, President Obama publicly
reaffirmed that policy. And it seemed then, in early 2009, that the culture of peace so
carefully nurtured during the Oslo process had largely dissipated and had been replaced
by a sense of futility, of despair, of the inevitability of conflict. The first Gaza
military operation, as you will recall, had just ended four days before Obama took office.
Israelis had an election campaign on, the Palestinians were deeply divided, and as a
result very few people believed that there was any chance even to get negotiations started,
let alone conclude negotiations successfully. And unfortunately, that remains the case today
nearly four years later despite an intense effort. A solution cannot be imposed externally.
The parties themselves must negotiate directly, with the active and sustained support of the
United States. Both recognize that, both acknowledge it publicly and privately. Now, to succeed
they will both have to engage in compromise and be flexible. But most of all it will take
political leadership by all concerned, leaders who are willing to take some risks for peace.
I still believe that this conflict can and will be ended, in part because I believe that
the pain from negotiating an agreement — which will be substantial — will however be much
less than the pain that both will endure if there is no agreement. If the conflict continues,
both Israelis and Palestinians face a dangerous and uncertain future that includes of course
the possibility of renewed violence, which could expand in unexpected ways to enflame
the region. This is after all a region in which there are several intersecting conflicts
occurring at the same time, and any one could trigger a spread to others like a wildfire
out of control. There are many other dangers to both. I can’t go into them all but I’ll
briefly summarize the principal ones. For the Israelis I’ll mention just two. The
first challenge they face is demographics. There are now about 5-and-3/4 million Jews
living in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. In that same space
there are about 5-and-1/4 million Arabs, including Israeli Arabs, Palestinians in the West Bank
and Gaza. The Arab birthrate overall is much higher.
They don’t agree on much, but both agree that within just a few years — and I’m
talking about a very few years — the Arabs will be in a majority. And if there is not
by then a two-state solution, the people of Israel will have to choose between being a
Jewish state or a democratic state. It will not be possible for them to be both. It cannot
occur if there is not a two-state solution. This is not much discussed in this country
but widely discussed in Israel, most recently and forcefully by Ehud Barak, the former prime
minister and now the defense minister who has said repeatedly that this is a painful
choice that Israel should not have to make. Their second challenge is technology. To keep
out suicide bombers Israel built an enormous wall. But the real threat as we all know now
doesn’t come from suicide bombers. It comes from rockets. Hamas still has thousands of
them even after the recent operation. They’re crude, most of them homemade, lacking in guidance,
lacking in destructive power, but they still create fear and anxiety. And can anyone doubt
that over time they will achieve an increase in both numbers and quality of the arsenal?
They’ve stated it as an objective following the ceasefire. On Israel’s border, Hezbollah
has tens of thousands of rockets. The public estimates in Israel are between 30,000 and
50,000. They’re somewhat more effective, and although limited in range they’re engaged
in an effort to upgrade their arsenal. And finally and most threateningly, Iran now has
rockets that can reach Israel when launched from Iran itself. All of the discussion has
been about nuclear weapons. That’s a very serious problem. But aside from that, Iran
has made a huge technological advance in moving from liquid-fueled to solid-fueled rockets;
far easier to operate, far easier to conceal, farmore difficult for Israel or us to target.
The Iranian rockets don’t yet have the precision our… ours do — that is, to strike a specific
building or military target. But they can come close and if launched they could cause
enormous destruction and death in Israel’s cities. The United States is fully committed
to Israel’s security. And that commitment is firm, unshakeable and will be kept. To
honor it we’ve provided enormous financial and military support to Israel, most recently
in the development of the effective anti-missile system that protected them from many of the
lockets… rockets launched by Hamas. But it is unknown, because it’s never before
occurred in human history, what would happen if simultaneously thousands and thousands
of rockets were launched from all three locations. And so, Israel’s very existence then could
be threatened. The Palestinians also face serious problems, obviously and especially
the indefinite continuation of an occupation under which they do not have the right or
the dignity that comes with the right of self-governance. In 1947 the United Nations proposed a plan
to partition the area and create two states. Israel accepted it, the Arabs rejected it.
The first of several wars began, all of them won by an increasingly strong Israel.Every
sensible Arab leader today would gladly accept the 1947 plan if it were still on the table.
But it is not on the table and it will never again be on the table because the circumstances
have so dramatically changed. And since then, the plans offered to the Palestinians have
been less attractive than the ’47 plan, and they’ve rejected them all. But as I
told Chairman Arafat directly during my first tour of duty in the region, and as I told
President Abbas directly during my most recent tour of duty, there is no evidence, none whatsoever,
to suggest that the options available to the Palestinians are going to get better in the
future. So what they’ve got to do is to reach the common sense conclusion that they’ve
got to sit down, participate and stay in direct negotiations, and get the best deal they can:
less than what they want, no doubt from their perspective it will be imperfect and unfair,
but they’ve got to bring the occupation to an end and they’ve got to create their
own state. And they can then build on it as Israel has done, and as the Palestinians can
do as they’re demonstrating now under the outstanding leadership of their prime minister,
Salam Fayyad, who has laid the foundation by building the institutions needed for a
viable, independent state. Unfortunately, that state-building effort cannot be sustained
in the absence of progress on the political side. They’re inextricably linked, and so
there has to be progress on both in order to be progress on either. It’s a daunting
challenge especially to build trust where mistrust exists not only between political
leaders but between the public in both societies. But they must find a way to renew hope, and
we must do all we can to help them despite the difficulties, because it is not only in
their interest, it is in our interest as well. My last point this evening involves our country,
where I believe our power and our principles are mutually enhancing and must be firmly
bound together. The American Declaration of Independence was a powerful statement of the
right of free people to self-governance. The first 10 Amendments to the Constitution, what
we call the Bill of Rights, is a concise and eloquent statement of the right of the individual
to be free from oppression by government. Most concepts of democracy in our world today
rest heavily on these two principles, and in this dangerous world they can be maintained
and defended only if we are strong and prepared. The American Revolution was not initially
a rejection of British principles. It was triggered by what the colonists believed was
the failure of the British government to apply those principles equally to them. A perceived
gap between our ideals and our actions now is a factor in the hostility of others to
our country and to Western democracy. The triumph of democracy and the fall of communism
was the signal event of the 20th century. As we move into the 21st century, the power
and the ideals of the United States are influential, indeed ascendant, around the world. There’ve
been many dominant military and economic powers throughout history, and that role brings enormous
benefit and many problems. In this era of instant communication especially, every grievance
in the world — no matter how local, whether real or imagined — leads to both a request
for assistance from us and resentment to us, whether we grant the assistance or not. Obviously,
most people want to be on the side of the strong. But for too many people in our country
and outside of our country, power increasingly is perceived to be the primary or for some
the exclusive basis of American influence in the world. I think there’s much more
involved. Power’s clearly important, and we must be prepared to use it — including military
force — when necessary and appropriate. A strong economy and a strong military power
are essential to our security, our freedom, our prosperity. But power must be deployed
not as an alternative to our ideals, but in service to our ideals, for it is American
ideals that is and always has been the primary basis of American influence in the world.
They’re not easily summarized, but surely they include the sovereignty of the people,
the primacy of individual liberty, an independent judiciary, the rule of law applied equally
to all citizens and crucially to the government itself, and opportunity for every member of
society. Because of those ideals, I believe that the United States was a great nation
long before it was a great military or economic power. This was a great nation the day the
Constitution was ratified. Four million people clinging to the Atlantic seaboard became instantly
one of the most influential countries in the world because of our ideals. There were no
wars then. We had a very tiny army and a tiny navy. We didn’t have missiles. But we had
the power of our ideals. They guided us through the early turbulent years; through the greatest
crisis in our history, the Civil War; through the difficulties of the 20th century; and
they have to guide us now through the different but still difficult challenges of the 21st
century. I’ll close with one more personal story
uh… to make the important point of opportunity. When I was a federal judge I had great power,
and I have to confess I really loved that part of the job. [Laughter] The only job I
ever had where I had any power. When I was Senate majority leader all you can do is ask
people to do things that they should be doing without being asked. [Laughter] But when I
was a federal judge every order I ever gave was carried out to the letter, and that was
great. But what I really enjoyed was when I presided over what are called naturalization
ceremonies. They’re citizenship ceremonies. A group of people who’d gone through the required
procedures gathered before me in a federal courtroom in Maine. And there, by the power
vested in me under our constitutional law, I administered to them the oath of allegiance
to the United States and I made them Americans. It was always highly emotional for me because
my mother was an immigrant, my father the orphaned son of immigrants. Neither had any
education. My mother could not read or write. She worked the nightshift in a textile mill
in Maine for 40 years. My father was a janitor at a local school. But because of their efforts,
and more importantly, because of the openness of American society, all of their children
got the education they were denied — and I, their son, became the majority leader of
the United States Senate. After every one of these ceremonies I met personally with
each of the new Americans, individually or in family groups. I asked them where they
came from, how they came, why they came. They talked about their hopes, their dreams, their
fears. Their answers and comments were as different as their countries of origin, but
through them there were some common themes andwere best summarized by a young Asian man,
who when I asked him, “Why did you come here?” and he replied in very slow and broken
English, “I came,” he said, “because in America, everybody has a chance.” Think
about that. A young man who had been an American for 10 minutes, who could barely speak English,
was able to sum up the meaning of our country in a single sentence. America is freedom and
opportunity. That’s what it is for all of us, and they are linked. There will not be
freedom for all if there is only opportunity for some. I believe that in this great country
in which we are so fortunate to be part of — the most free, the most open, the most
just society in all of human history, despite its many imperfections. And I believe that
here no one should be guaranteed success, but everyone should have a fair chance to
succeed, to go as high and as far as their talent, their willingness to work, their willingness
to take risks, will carry them. Our con… our challenge, each of us here, is to so conduct
ourselves that 50 years from now, 100 years from now, people all over the world will still
want to come here for the same reason that young Asian man wanted to come: because they
will believe in America there is a chance for everyone. I spoke in Europe recently and
there’s a certain amount of hostility, some envy, about the United States. And one guy
got up and read, pleased with himself, an article that said China’s gross domestic
product is going to equal that of the United States in 2048, and China’s into uh… China’s
on the rise and America’s in decline. “What do you think about that, Senator Mitchell?”
I said, “Well, first off, if in fact their gross domestic product equals ours in 2048,
that means on a per capita basis we’re four times as large as them. It’s the per capita
GDP that really matters, so I’m not too worried about that. But secondly,” I said,
“I might ask you a question in response to your question. Aside from a few North Koreans
struggling to… to… get out of the concentration camp they call a country, trying to get into
China, aside from that, have you ever heard or read of anyone risking their lives, crossing
the ocean or crossing the desert or climbing a fence or burrowing a tunnel, to get into
China?” [Laughter]Have any of you ever heard of that? Last year, 500,000 Chinese left their
country. Even with the restrictive out-migration rules they have there, a large number of them
want to come here. Now they don’t come here because they think we’ve got it… a good
Patriot missile. Not one person’s ever cited that as a reason to risk their life. They
come here because they know here they’ve got a chance. They’ve got a chance to get
what human beings want everywhere: a decent job, good care for their kids, a good education
to get their kids off to a good start in life. Isn’t that what we all want? No matter the
color of our skins, no matter what ethnic group we come from, no matter what religion
we practice, no matter where we are — that’s the basic universal desire. And what we’ve
gotta do is to make certain that a 100 years from now people around the world still want
that because it will be true. Now we do know this: It’s still an aspiration
here. We’re not perfect. And it is not true that every single American has equal opportunity.
Working at that is something that we’ve been doing for 225 years and we have to keep
at it. Don’t ever forget that great as were the men who wrote the Constitution, and they
were great in every sense, they were constrained by the society in which they lived and learned.
And so the Constitution, which we revere in its initial form, did not consider a black
person to be a whole person. And it restricted the right to vote to only adult white men
who owned property. It took 75 years and the bloodiest civil war in our history to extend
the right to vote to persons who were not white. It took another 60 years to extend
the vote to women. Look at all the women in the audience here. Can you imagine, 60 years
of ferocious political battle to extend the right to women? It’s unimaginable to us
now. That was the case. That was the case. And then it took another half-century until
we passed the American with Disabilities Act to extend to persons with disabilities the
right to live a full, free and independent life in our open society. And we’re going
through the same issue right now with respect to sexual orientation. And there’ll be other
issues in the future. But what our history tells us is a people optimistic, hopeful,
successful, willing to confront error, willing to change, willing to make things better for
everyone — that’s freedom and that’s opportunity, and that’s America. Thank you
all very much. It was a great pleasure to be here. [Applause]

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