George Mitchell Will Resign as Obama's Mideast Envoy

He says it's for personal reasons, but analysts are searching for the larger meaning

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U.S. officials are telling several news outlets that President Obama's Middle East envoy, former senator and Northern Ireland peace mediator George Mitchell, will resign today, after more than two years of trying to get Israeli-Palestinian peace talks off the ground. Obama is expected to make an official announcement shortly.

Analysts have swiftly begun parsing the move. Some outlets are highlighting the pivotal moment at which Mitchell is departing. CNN points out that Mitchell's resignation comes as pro-democracy uprisings sweep the Middle East and North Africa, Obama prepares to deliver an address on the Arab Spring on Thursday, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets ready to visit Obama and speak to Congress shortly thereafter. The AP adds that the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah just signed a peace accord, as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process flounders over thorny issues such as Israeli settlement construction in occupied territories. And while early reports suggest Mitchell will resign for personal reasons, others think the stalled peace negotiations may have factored into his decision as well. A Middle East specialist tells Yahoo's Laura Rozen that Mitchell "basically resigned a few months ago; they just didn't tell anyone." Politico's Ben Smith explains why Mitchell's "job effectively ended months ago":

The collapse of a final attempt to keep the parties at the table, followed by the Arab Spring that re-ordered American priorities and pushed that conflict off the front burner, followed by a sudden, central Egyptian role in Palestinian reconciliation has ended any sense of an American hand on the reins.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney stated today that the White House is still committed to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. "The fact that this is an extraordinarily hard issue is not news to anyone in this room," he said.

Update: President Obama has officially announced that Mitchell is stepping down, with Mitchell's deputy, David Hale, taking his place for now. Obama said that Mitchell's "deep commitment to resolving conflict and advancing democracy has contributed immeasurably to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security," adding that "he took on the toughest job imaginable and worked grueling hours to advance the interests of the United States and the cause of peace." According to The Los Angeles Times, Obama did not give a reason for Mitchell's resignation but said Mitchell only planned to serve for "a couple of years" when he accepted the position. Obama also reiterated America's commitment to peace in the Middle East.

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