Colleagues ask: If the former Northern Ireland peacemaker can't do it, who can?
Few people can kick off a résumé like this: "1995-99: solved one of the world's most durable and intractable conflicts."
Who better to deploy than someone experienced in the tortuous dealmaking that defused a comparable crisis and steered Northern Ireland toward a (sometimes frosty) civility?
Mr. Mitchell, a former US senator, was renowned in Northern Ireland for his patience, doggedness, pragmatism, willingness to listen, determination to get things done, and knack of leaving his own ego at the door.
The envoy – who returned last week from his first trip to the Middle East as Mr. Obama's envoy – is only too aware that his experiences in the British province will only take him so far. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a lot further from reconciliation than Ulster was in the mid 1990s. Even at its worst, Belfast never looked like Gaza City. But those who know him or have worked with him say his personal qualities suit him for the role of honest broker.
"He comes across as somebody who is modest, unassuming, doesn't throw his weight around," says Adrian Guelke, a professor of politics at Queen's University, the Belfast institution where Mitchell also happens to be chancellor. "He's self-deprecating, makes jokes against himself. He comes across as somebody who doesn't have an exaggerated sense of his own self-importance.
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