George Mitchell Resigns

George Mitchell is resigning as the Obama administration's point man for Mideast peace talks, after failing to sustain direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The announcement comes just days before the president meets with two Mideast leaders in Washington.

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The man known for patiently negotiating peace in Northern Ireland has given up on his latest assignment. U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell is resigning after two years of trying to get Israelis and Palestinians into serious peace negotiations. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on this latest setback for the Obama administration.

MICHELE KELEMEN: George Mitchell was named special envoy on President Obama's second day in office, which the administration said was proof that it was serious about forging Arab-Israeli peace. But the talks Mitchell mediated collapsed soon after they began over the issue of Jewish settlement-building in the occupied West Bank.

Today, President Obama didn't appear before cameras to talk about Mitchell's departure. He simply issued a statement saying that Mitchell worked grueling hours to advance U.S. interests, and his deputy, David Hale, will now become acting envoy.

President Obama wrote that his administration remains committed to peace in the Middle East.

Just what the U.S. does next is an issue that is hotly debated within the administration, according to Jeremy Ben Ami, who runs a pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy group called J Street.

Mr. JEREMY BEN AMI (J Street): At the end of the day, this is question of, you know, what does the president of the United States want to do, and what are his calculations about the risks of action versus the risk of the status quo. And I don't think one advisor or another makes or breaks that decision. You know, the teams come, the teams go, but the president of the United States is the one that has to take these decisions.

KELEMEN: Ben Ami is among those urging President Obama to make public the outlines of a possible deal as a way to draw Israelis and Palestinians back to negotiations and head off Palestinian attempts to go to the United Nations in September to try to win statehood that way.

But Mitchell's departure raises doubts that President Obama is really preparing that sort of diplomatic initiative. The president is to speak about broader U.S. policy in the Middle East next Thursday at the State Department and host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House the next day.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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