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Stressing the role of hope and persistence in peace negotiations, U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, former Senator George J. Mitchell, told a standing-room crowd in Colby College’s Lorimer Chapel Oct. 22, that chances for peace in the Mideast have changed. “For the first time in my adult lifetime we have a president who placed this high on the agenda right at the beginning of his term, not at the end,” he said. “That’s a huge factor.”

Following a speech that recapped his successful efforts to forge peace in Northern Ireland against enormous odds, as well as a broad overview of what needs to be achieved between Israelis and Palestinians, Mitchell answered questions from students and community members.

Asked “What is different this time?” in the familiar scenario where a president seeks peace in the Middle East only to have it fall through, Mitchell suggested his answer holds a life lesson for students: “If you take the position that you tried something that you believed in and it didn’t work once, twice, or three times — that you’re going to give up — you’re going to find that you will go through life without solving a lot of problems that you could have solved,” he said.

“In Northern Ireland I had seven-hundred days of failure and one day of success,” he said.

“I was asked not dozens, but hundreds of time by reporters, ‘Senator, you’ve failed. When are you going home?’ Politicians held press conferences demanding that I go home on a regular basis. I persevered because, although I was often discouraged, I always believed that it could be done.”

Mitchell’s speech was the fourth Senator George J. Mitchell Distinguished International Lecture, a series sponsored by the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement. The series brought Mary Robinson, head of the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights, and Madeleine Albright, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., to campus in previous years.