Can Regional Powers Make a Difference?
The Middle East Policy Council's 88th Capitol Hill Conference has concluded. The full video and unedited transcript are available below. The panel, held April 26, 2017, revealed how a two-state solution continues to recede into the distance as a feasible resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a trend fed by the actions and attitudes of the parties to the conflict along with the shift in the region from domination by state actors to non-state ones. To receive invitations to future events, click here, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook. To view our recent Capitol Hill Conferences, click here.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017; 1:00p.m. - 3:30p.m.
Russell Senate Office Building
2 Constitution Ave. NE
Washington, D.C. 20002
The following is a transcript of the eighty-eighth in a series of Capitol Hill conferences convened by the Middle East Policy Council. The meeting was held at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, on April 26, 2017, with Richard J. Schmierer, chairman of the board of directors of the Middle East Policy Council moderating, and Thomas R. Mattair, executive director of the Middle East Policy Council, serving as discussant. The video can be accessed at www.mepc.org.
RICHARD J. SCHMIERER, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Middle East Policy Council; Former Ambassador, Sultanate of Oman
First of all, let me welcome you all again to our 88th Capitol Hill conference. I’m Richard Schmierer. I’m the chairman of the board of the Middle East Policy Council. I’m certainly pleased to welcome you on behalf of the council and on behalf of our distinguished panel. We’re particularly pleased to have such a varied and distinguished group to discuss today’s issue, which is “New Approaches to Israel-Palestine Peace Efforts: Can Regional Powers Make a Difference?”
Before I introduce the panelists, I would like to say a few words about our council and its programs. Our organization was established in 1981, and its purpose is to promote dialogue and education concerning the U.S. and the countries of the Middle East. We have three flagship programs. One, this event, our quarterly Capitol Hill conferences, which we hold every three months here somewhere up on Capitol hill. Our quarterly journal, Middle East Policy, which you saw copies of on the registration table on your way in. We’re very proud of our journal. It has very wide circulation, both in the U.S. and in the region. It’s in 11,000 libraries. It’s published by a very reputable publisher, Wiley & Sons, so we’re very pleased. And that’s, again, a quarterly publication. And then our educational outreach program, which is both outreach by going to speak to student and teacher groups and by having online materials for teachers and students interested in the Middle East. So I would encourage to please visit our website, www.mepc.org, or our TeachMideast website, which is teachmideast.org.
Before I get to today’s event, I do want to mention that on May the 11th, we will be hosting an event at the National Press Club with a visiting delegation from the Gulf Cooperation Council. The topic of that discussion will be examining counterterrorism efforts. It takes place from 1:00 to 3:00. We will have the Saudi permanent representative at the U.N. as one of our speakers, His Excellency Abdullah al-Mouallimi, and the Saudi minister of interior, Lieutenant Colonel Khaled al-Zahrani (ph). We’ll have more information on that event on our website soon, and we will be inviting all of you to that as well.
Now to today’s conversation. This program is being recorded and live-streamed on our website, so I’m pleased to welcome both those present here and those who will be viewing it through our video connection. We also always publish an edited transcript of these Capitol Hill conferences in our journal, so you can look for that in the upcoming issue of our journal.
As I mentioned, we’re very pleased to have four distinguished panelists with us here today. And I’ll introduce each briefly in the order in which they will speak.
The first is a good friend and colleague. We worked together in the State Department before I retired and before Hady moved on. But Hady Amr – he’s a nonresident senior fellow on foreign policy at the Brookings Institute, and he formerly served as deputy special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian relations at the State Department.
Hady will be followed by Professor Ian Lustick, who’s a professor of comparative politics, international politics and Middle Eastern politics at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Lustick is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Following Professor Lustick will be Mr. Riad Khawaji, founder and CEO of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, a strategy and security consultancy. He’s also the Middle East bureau chief for Defense News and the Middle East correspondent for Jane’s Defense Weekly.
Our fourth speaker will be Ambassador Chas Freeman, chairman of Projects International Inc. He’s a former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense and a former president of our organization, the Middle East Policy Council.
The discussion following the presentations by our panelists will be moderated by my colleague, Dr. Tom Mattair, who’s the executive director of the Middle East Policy Council. Dr. Mattair has lived and published on – lived in and published on the region. He was previously the director of research at the council and has served as the council’s executive director since 2009.
Following the opening presentations by our four panelists, we will have a Q-and-A session. Please note that we have placed index cards on all of the seats. Please use these to write down any questions which you have as the speakers are speaking, and then hold up the card. Our staff will collect these during the presentations and give them to Dr. Mattair so he can consolidate the questions and tee them up for the discussion session.
With that, let me turn the podium over to Hady Amr.
HADY AMR, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution; Former Deputy Special Envoy, Israeli-Palestinian Relations, U.S. Department of State; Former Deputy Assistant Administrator, Middle East, USAID
I’ll just a pull it a little closer and even put on my glasses.
All right. So look, Rich, it’s an honor to be asked here to speak – to speak by you guys. As we were chatting earlier, we go back a decade and a half. And it’s also great to be back up here on the Hill. I was up here every month or two over the last several years on behalf of the Obama administration, but it’s good to be here in a personal capacity.
This event is new approaches to Israeli-Palestinian efforts. But before we get to “new,” let me take you back a little bit. And before I can do that, just a show of hands, just so I understand who’s out in the audience: How many of you folks have been to Israel just so I – OK. How many of you have been to the West Bank? How many have been to Gaza? All right, a little bit less. OK. Just wanted to make sure, see what the familiarity level was.
Look, 25 years ago, when I was 25, when I was working on a civil society project in the West Bank, little did I know it, but the Oslo Accords were being negotiated, and they were signed at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in 1993.
What did Oslo do? It created – number one, it created an interim self-government: Palestinian Authority executive branch, legislative council, Palestinian Legislative Council. Why was that a big deal? Because before that Palestinians could be arrested for flying their flag or membership in the PLO. So that was a big deal at that time. Oslo Accords also called for a conclusion of the remaining issues that needed to be negotiated within five years. That would be 1998. Now 19 years after that.
Third big thing that Oslo did was it called for the transfer of Palestinian – of power to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in different buckets of tranches and, you know – with part of the West Bank be under full Palestinian Authority administrative and security control. The second part was supposed to be – that was 20 percent. The second part, Area B, was supposed to be Palestinian administrative control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control. And this is really important, the third part, Area C, 60 percent of the bank – West Bank, a significant although unspecific portion of that was also supposed to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority in terms of administrative control. That never happened. So that’s just sort of – that’s 25 years ago.
That was – that was there – that was the ’90s. Let’s fast-forward to 2008. President Obama began his presidency with a passion on this issue, swearing in George Mitchell in his first few days of office. They pushed for and got a settlement freeze from Israel. They got it. But when that came apart, Mitchell decided to move on. There was a lull for a little while. And then in 2013, when – after John Kerry became secretary of state, he decided he wanted to put a lot of his energy into this, and I was asked to join the team.
So let me take you – let me fast-forward again – and we can get into negotiation stuff in the Q-and-A – to just a hundred days ago; it’s about the 100-day mark for Trump. So let me – let me rewind 120 days to the end of the Obama administration.
Kerry had worked tirelessly, and I mean it, tirelessly, supported by my two bosses, first Ambassador Martin Indyk and then Frank Lowenstein, to bring about a two-state solution. Dozens of trip(s), countless phone calls – and I mean countless, because we tried to count them and we lost count after the numbers got inordinately high – in an effort which was focused on bringing about a two-state solution that Kerry believes, president believed and my leadership believed was the only way to fulfill both the joint national aspirations of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples because Kerry believed and I believe that it’s either two states or one mess. And I can add to that – Rich has heard me say that before – two states or one mess – the operative choice on a day-to-day basis is settlements – Israel can choose between settlements and democracy in the long term. It just – it can’t have both. And so I’ll get into the why there – I’ll get into that in a bit.
But by “one mess” – what do I mean by “one mess?” Let’s rewind the last couple of years of news stories. There are hundreds of points of friction in the West Bank: terror attacks on Israelis; you know, violence against Palestinians, whether be by settlers or the Israeli army; a stifled Palestinian economy where the GDP is only $12 billion as compared to over 300 billion (dollars) in Israel, a few thousand dollars per capita versus $35,000 per capita. We have a situation where Gaza has been in collapse – not quite, but near to it – where unemployment is hovering about 40 percent, sometimes higher, higher than any country in the world. Ninety-six percent of the water is unfit for human consumption. In the summer there is only about six hours electricity per day. That’s not a formula for happiness, I can tell you.
But it could get worse than that. The Palestinian Authority could collapse in the political situation. Donors would likely then pull out the billions of dollars they spent supporting the PA, and Israel would be then responsible for security control. And, you know, again, who’s going to replace the 30,000 Palestinian, you know, security services keeping security in the West Bank? Probably triple the number of Israeli Defense Forces. So not a pretty scenario for the Palestinians or for Israel.
But again, we felt then, and I personally feel now that two states is in deep jeopardy. And there is perhaps only, I don’t know, some number of years, probably in the single digits, before a two-state solution is no longer possible. And so sort of why is that?
And what I’ll say is, you know, trends on the ground, whether it’s violence incitement, settlement expansion, or sort of increasingly, as John Kerry said, quote, increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people actually don’t want – and so what I want to say here is the status quo – settlement expansion, the situation on the ground for the Palestinians – is a decision. And so keeping the status quo is effectively a decision that in under a decade, in my estimation, the only possible outcome would be a one-state solution.
Today the Jewish population between the river and the sea is about half the population. And again, as I said at the outset, Israel has a choice. It can have settlements, which in my opinion lead us to one state and one mess, or it can have a Jewish-majority democracy. It can’t have both. It can’t have both.
And, you know, although Prime Minister Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he supports two states, he’s also said, quote, you know, his government and he personally is more committed to settlements than any government in Israel’s history. So that just doesn’t square with the reality as I saw it, and it doesn’t square with the reality as Secretary Kerry saw it.
And so let me turn a little bit again to Area C where 60 percent of the West Bank is basically defined for essentially exclusive Israeli economic development, military use and settlement expansion on most of that land. In all of 2014 and ’15, Palestinians were given one permission to do one construction effort in that 60 percent of the West Bank. Meanwhile hundreds of Israeli settlements were advanced. And in 2016 alone, the year that just ended, 1,300 Palestinians were displaced from their homes in Area C, 600 of them children, more than any previous year.
So let’s take a – let’s take a look at the settlement themselves. There are about 130 settlements in the West Bank. The number of settlers has increased since the Oslo Accords were signed by over a quarter of million, 270,000, 100,000 during the Obama administration alone to – and leaving aside East Jerusalem, 390,000; 600,000 including East Jerusalem.
Now, that’s a big number living among 2.7 million Palestinians. But 90,000 of these settlers live in the area on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier, that wall – we’re in an era of walls, it seems – that Israel itself built. So you’ve got 90,000 settlers living on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier, a number which increased by 20,000 since the end of the – since the beginning of the Obama administration.
So, with 90,000 settlers in the – on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier in over a hundred illegal settlement outposts and legal settlements, we’ve got a situation where as that number rises, the number of people that are going to have to be evacuated from settlements to make the possibility of a Palestinian state is rising to be so large that at some point, it’s going to be insurmountable. Let’s all remember back in 2005 when the Israeli leadership sought to evacuate settlers from Gaza. There were just a few thousand settlers there. Hundreds of them barricaded themselves in their homes with weapons. And it was – it was a – it was a significant effort and very traumatic to get those out. So that number, that few thousand number is 10, 20 times higher. We’re going to have to deal with numbers that are 20 times higher.
And so again, as Kerry said, quote, you may hear these remote settlements aren’t a problem because they only take up a small percentage of the land, but it’s really about whether the Palestinian areas can be connected or if any state would be broken up like Swiss cheese.
No one’s thinking seriously about peace can ignore the reality of what settlements pose to that peace.
Rich, how much time do I have? Two minutes. OK. I’m only halfway. Let me see if I can speed-talk my way through the end here.
Look, let me just say this. It took the Palestinians 25 years, from 1967 to 1993, to accept a two-state solution. As we approach the 25-year mark since the Oslo Accords, it may be that Palestinians give up on the two-state solution. As one prominent minister who heads a settler party recently declared, the era of the two-state solution is over.
Those folks on the Israeli right want the two-state solution to be over, but what they don’t want is an open and democratic state. They want the Palestinians confined to enclaves with no political rights; separate legal, education and transportation systems; vast disparities in income; a permanent military occupation that would deprive them of their basic freedoms. Would an American or an Israeli accept living that way? Again, today these enclaves make up just 10 percent of the – of the land between the river and the sea. Jammed into them are 35 percent of the total people, making the population density more than four times higher than the areas controlled by Israel, including East Jerusalem and Area C.
I’m going to skip over a bunch of stuff, but I just want to conclude with a couple of things.
You know, recently, before he died, Shimon Peres said, quote, the original mandate gave the Palestinians 48 percent of the land; now it’s 22 percent. I think 78 percent should be enough for us.
So that’s all a dreary picture. I want to put out there just on the way forward, if I could, on a couple of minutes: What can Trump do now? I think it’s – you know, it’s – I think it’s highly unlikely that Trump can pull a rabbit out of the hat and get a Nobel Prize-winning end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the actors that we currently have on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. But there are a couple of big ideas that instead of hitting of grand-slam home run could possibly get us a single to advance and make the situation a little better. And again, unfortunately, I had to skip over a bunch of my remarks. I wrote out too much.
So the first big idea is that the Quartet and others did a study examining the Palestinian economy and the land in the West Bank very closely and sort of came up with an estimate. With just 1 to 2 percent of Area C transferred from Israeli to Palestinian control, we could possibly unleash up to a billion dollars in annual economic activity through housing construction, solar fields, agriculture and other areas in addition to opening the Allenby Bridge 24/7.
A second bucket of ideas – and again, I’ll just breeze through these, and I can deal with them in the question and answer – during the course of the Obama administration we helped facilitate a number of agreements, sort of what I call new roommate agreements between the Israelis and Palestinians, on areas ranging from water, electricity and telecom. Palestinians currently are digitally subsisting on 2G technology rolled out in 1991, which is 1(00) or 200 times slower than what your – you know, your typical American or Israeli would use on their smartphones. So implementing a rollout of health, electricity, water and cellphone agreements would help advance the Palestinian economy.
And third would be to focus on the really heartbreaking situation in Gaza. Gaza has – as we’re entering the summer, Gaza has only about a third to a quarter of the electricity it needs. That means there’s blackouts for 12 to 18 hours a day. Gaza needs to triple its current power from the current 60 megawatts to 200, 250 megawatts. And so they could use a new power line, and that’s something potentially the Trump administration could work on. They could also use potentially a gas line into Gaza that would enable them to generate their own power.
And the other – again, any modern economy – and Gaza has so much potential. A highly educated urban population right on the shores of the beautiful Mediterranean, they have – they have tremendous potential there if they would only – could only be allowed to use it.
And the other thing that they need is water. Ninety-six percent of Gaza’s water is unfit for human consumption. They need massive water infrastructure projects there that will costs hundreds of millions of dollars. There is funding there for that in the Arab world and the Europeans. But there are just so many complications in the construction, dual-use items and what Israel will allow in. That’s been a problem.
Anyway, in closing, let me just say, again, two states or one mess; settlements or democracy. It just – you know, maybe a hundred years from now, there’ll be a different possibility, but that’s how I see it today. So, sorry, prepared remarks that were too long and had to skip over so much, but hope that was useful. Thanks. (Applause.)
IAN LUSTICK, Professor, Bess W. Heyman chair, University of Pennsylvania; Former President, Politics and History Section of the American Political Science Association; Member, Council on Foreign Relations
Thank you. Delighted to be here.
My talk is going to be a little different. I started out in 1969 visiting Israel and the West Bank and Gaza for the first time, and I’ve been a – I was a two-stater from way back, so I’ve seen a lot of these movies before. And my talk, which is going to go a little longer, actually start – I want to you to realize that I’m starting from there. And I have come to a different conclusion now.
Protracted conflicts are seldom resolved by the timely achievement of wise compromises. Much more common is catastrophic defeat or a hurting stalemate that leaves the protagonists exhausted, desperate to do anything to end their suffering, or temporary arrangements that gradually are not.
Intellectuals and political architects can always devise arrangements to meet the minimum conditions of moderates on both sides. Certainly that was the case for Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least to those of us who from the late ’60s realized that for a few decades, a two-state solution was a framework for a long-term minimally satisfying and minimally just peace.
But in the foggy, brutal, bloody, emotional and ferociously self-interested terrain of nationalist politics and international conflict, such careful and elaborate designs can almost never find their way to timely implementation. More commonly, almost every wrong turn must be taken. Almost every opportunity that can be wasted must be wasted before whatever short of total loss to all concerned can be salvaged.
Early efforts in the late ’60s and early ’70s to move to the realization of the two-state institutional architecture went nowhere. Most Israelis were flying high, thinking they could have all the territory and ignore the Palestinians at the same time. Most Palestinians still do not accept the strategic necessity or possibility of compromise with the Zionist entity.
The War of Attrition and especially the 1973 war changed things for Israelis, for the Arabs and for the Palestinians. Indeed, we can mark disengagement talks between Egyptians and Israelis at Kilometer 101 in the Sinai in October – on October 27, 1973, as the real beginning of what we have for so long referred to as the “peace process.”
Since then we have had a world of process. The question now is just why – is not just why no peace, but why so much progress (sic)? Why all the diplomatic churning, all these calls, these countless calls when the result is so predictably unsuccessful and so deeply counterproductive, whether productivity is measured in terms of available hope, facts on the ground conducive to peace, political learning and development or security.
When it comes to progress on the Palestinian question, consider just how long is the list of failures. I’m going to start reading fast, so it’s going to be a little bit of a blur, but that’s partly the point.
In October 1973 disengagement talks led to short-lived U.S.-Soviet-convened Geneva conference followed by Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy between 1973 and 1975. Despite initial attempts by Nixon to include Jordan in disengagement negotiations, Kissinger determinedly skirted the West Bank issue, going so far as to give future Israeli governments a veto over U.S. contacts with the PLO.
From 1977 to 1981, the peace process, including Sadat’s visit to Israel, the Camp David summit, hosted by President Jimmy Carter, and the ill-fated autonomy negotiations was conducted within the framework of the Camp David Accords, revealing that the idea of full autonomy for the Palestinians was no more than a fig leaf to camouflage Israeli settlement and absorption of the West Bank and implementation of a separate peace between Israel and Egypt.
In the aftermath of the First Lebanon War, the Reagan initiative was launched pointed towards some arrangement entailing an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian areas. That fizzled, leading to frantic and complicated efforts during the Peres-Shamir national unity government in the 1980s to arrange a Jordan option-centered negotiating process.
After that effort’s collapse and the outbreak of the First Intifada, Secretary of State Schultz’s plan of 1988 took the stage, followed by the Shamir plan of 1989, neither of which went anywhere.
After the Gulf War of 1991, President H.W. Bush convened the Madrid Conference, which aimed at a comprehensive peace. Meanwhile, Israelis and Palestinians had begun what became known as the process – the Madrid process, staggered on to an inconclusive, ignominious end by 1994.
Meanwhile, Israelis and Palestinians had begun what became known as the Oslo process. From 1993 to 1999 that process achieved significant gains, including Israeli withdrawals from small portions of the West Bank and Gaza and the relocation of PLO officials to those territories. But Israeli governments’ timidity, ferocious opposition from rejectionists on both sides, Rabin’s assassination, constantly rising settlement activity, calculated sabotage by the first Netanyahu government, Ehud Barak’s hubristic errors and President Clinton’s ineptitude produced Oslo’s effective collapse following the second Camp David Summit in 2000 and the outbreak of the Second Intifada.
In 2002 President George W. Bush announced his own two-state solution, initiative known as the road map to peace. Desultory talks continued within this framework through the Sharm el-Sheikh summit of 2005, Israel’s unilateral disengagement and blockade of Gaza in 2006, the Second Lebanon War in that same year and the Annapolis peace conference of 2007, featuring talks between Prime Minister Olmert of Israel and PNA Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
In the wake of their failure, President Obama appointed George Mitchell as his special envoy for Middle East peace. Mitchell oversaw intensive but fruitless negotiations among Israelis, Palestinians and Americans from 2009 to 2011. Within two years after Mitchell resigned in 2011, Secretary of State Kerry launched his initiative with Martin Indyk acting as special envoy, a frenzied but failed diplomatic effort that lasted from 2013 to 2014.
Most recently we’ve seen efforts by the Trump administration via Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner to continue the process.
With this effort in mind, with this record in mind, we can be forgiven for doubting that “process” is the correct noun. A process by definition leads from one place or state of affairs in a sequence, however direct or indirect, to a desired or at least a different outcome. A process, in other words, indicates both movement and direction.
What we can see across the decades is a great deal of movement but no direction. What we have here, in other words, is not a process but a carousel, not a journey from war to peace but a merry-go-around of endless motion leading nowhere.
If the merry-go-round has a purpose, it is not to arrive at a destination. Its purpose is the motion itself. Cui bono – who benefits – is the question, the first question that political scientists are trained to ask. Where does such a question lead when asked about this peace process merry-go-round?
First, a story. In “The Gulag Archipelago,” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn tells the story of a party meeting in the 1930s. Stalin’s name was mentioned. Immediately every functionary on the dais and every person in the hall rose to his or her feet and started clapping and clapping and clapping and clapping. After all, who would stop clapping first? Who would reveal less enthusiasm for the great leader than everyone else? And so, as the story goes, the applause continued for more than 11 minutes. Finally, one factory director up on the stage stopped and sat down. Immediately everyone else stopped and the meeting resumed. That night the factory director was arrested. After his interrogation, he was given 10 years in the gulag and reminded, don’t ever be the first to stop clapping.
Political scientists have a name for the predicament of those tired but still clapping Communists. It’s called a Nash equilibrium, named for the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash, played by Russell Crowe in the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” The stability of this sustained pattern of collective behavior, this equilibrium, is produced by the inability of any of those players caught in this predicament to improve their situation by acting unilaterally. Unable to trust or coordinate a simultaneous change or behavior, each clapper prefers to keep clapping, even though weary and with sore hands, to the risks of doing first what each wants someone else to do, to be the first to stop clapping. And so the clapping continues until one clapper makes the fatal mistake of trying to improve the situation.
This is a very simple Nash equilibrium. Each player has the same desired goal, to stop clapping and get on with the meeting without being sent to the gulag. The Nash equilibria – but Nash equilibria also appear when there are considerable differences in the objectives of the players and a symmetry in their relative power.
With these ideas in mind – I’m giving you the theoretical apparatus, now to come back to the peace process – we can see that the continuous merry-go-round of American-orchestrated negotiations involving Israelis and Palestinians is similar to the endless clapping. The fundamental explanation for the stability of fruitless negotiations staggering on, failing, then restarting under a different name, failing, starting again under a slightly different name, failing and so on is that the four key but not equal main players in this game are caught in a Nash equilibrium. Each player – United States government, the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority and what may be called the peace process industry – has objectives in mind they would much prefer to pursue, but each player believes it will pay much higher costs trying to pursue those objectives than continuing to clap – I mean continuing to pretend that the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to which they all pay lip service is actually being advanced by their efforts.
Right-wing governments in Israel would prefer to be liberated from the Palestinian problem altogether, to see it removed from the agenda. It would prefer a free hand to expand settlements, eliminate autonomous Palestinian economic activity, squeeze Palestinians out of East Jerusalem and push as many as possible out of the West Bank by immiseration and harassment. For the Israeli government, continuing the negotiations to nowhere with a hollowed-out two-state slogan as their official framework is suboptimal but acceptable. Under the pretext that negotiations may be reaching a crucial stage, settlement construction or expansion can be encouraged as an urgent necessity and pursued as a brave battle cleverly fought to implement Jewish rights in the ancient land. Meanwhile the Israeli majority that vaguely supports a two-state solution in return for real peace can be held at arm’s length. Even the international community has a hard time blaming the Israeli governments since after all, it formally accepts the two-state solution and says, at least, that it is ready to negotiate with Palestinian representatives in internationally sanctioned peace negotiations.
American presidents as different as George W. Bush and Barack Obama genuinely wanted an end to the conflict based on two states. But no president has and almost certainly never will find it politically rational to exert the pressure on Israel required to compel concessions necessary for a sustainable peace on these lines. That being the case, serial pursuit of a mirage of a negotiated two-state solution has sufficient rewards to justify the humiliations associated with the repeated exposure of the weakness of American diplomacy on this issue. Most important in this regard is the protection against Israel lobby attacks that the White House gains by officially engaging with the Israeli governments in peace negotiations. U.S. administrations also find it convenient to respond to European, Third World and Muslim criticism for Washington’s unbalanced policies by using the ongoing peace process or efforts to resume the peace process to justify its restraint toward Israel.
Anyone who has read the Palestine Papers, the minutes of the negotiating sessions held between Israel, the U.S. and the Palestinians from 1999 and 2010, can only marvel that Palestinian negotiators could stand playing this maddening game without their arteries popping from the high blood pressure that must result from the repeated double binds, transparent delaying tactics and betrayals to which they were continuously subjected by both American and Israeli negotiators. Of course, the Palestinian Authority would prefer a two-state solution based on two real states. But facing the Israeli government whose highest priority is to prevent such an outcome and with Washington operating almost entirely as Israel’s lawyer, that objective via negotiations is obviously unattainable.
The barely acceptable alternative for Palestinians is to continue the charade of negotiations, moving from frameworks for negotiations that have failed to frameworks that will fail, but by doing so continue to collect hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. and Europe that pay the salaries of PA employees and preserve VIP treatment for the Palestinian leadership, and support a halfway-decent standard of living for most of those Palestinians living Area A. If some prisoners can be released and if Israel must constrain at least some of the ruthlessness it might otherwise unleash on Palestinians in B and C Areas, so much the better.
And then there is the peace process industry, the fourth player in this Nash equilibrium game. Legions of pundits, scholars, commentators, funders and conference organizers have built entire careers around both the hopes and fears that any iteration of this process might result in a peace-based-end two states. Their speculations, warnings, maps and advice fill the newspapers, blogging sites and airwaves. While they themselves do not enforce the cycle of failure of talks, the redesign of the framework of talks, restart of talks, distractions and delays during talks, failure of talks and so on, imminent implementation of the two-state solution as a goad to those terrified of it or its complete and final disappearance as a goad to those who cannot tolerate thinking about the future without it, does protect the entire merry-go-round. It discourages both protagonists and observers from thinking beyond the outworn categories of two states to imagine other possibilities.
Those working so tirelessly within this industry, whether to prevent a land-for-peace deal they see as a betrayal of Jewish or Arab rights or whether to achieve it would undoubtedly prefer an end to the process. Most relevant here is the perspective of two-state solution proponents. Given the choice between a vanishingly small chance of success and having to develop and adapt an entirely new framework for pursuing values of justice, peace and equality and democracy in this domain, they prefer continuing the fight. It is far easier to raise funds, preserve institutions and promote careers by describing a closing window of opportunity for two states than to ever admit that in fact a window is closed.
Search for Stalin and clapping on YouTube. Just do a search for it on Google and you will find that the Soviets found a solution to the Nash equilibrium problem. After a sufficiently sustained period of enthusiastic applause by an audience pretending to be giddy with delight at Stalin’s name or his appearance, a loud bell is rung, triggering immediate silence and allowing the assembled multitude to sit without fear of being sent to the gulag or shot.
No such easy solution is available in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Unless outworn, but still hegemonic conceptions are overturned, we can expect even with a Trump administration in Washington to hear lots more clapping for quite some time.
Each of the riders on the peace process merry-go-round may find something to enjoy. But although it doesn’t produce peace, it does have consequences. Specifically, what does this endless merry-go-round do?
A continuation of talks about talks about a two-state solution that cannot be achieved even if talks begin has several destructive effects. One, it entrenches and normalizes realities that are transforming Israel, the single state that rules all the territory from the river to the sea, into a regime of systematic separation oppression.
Two, it drains the oxygen out of any discussion among those who yearn from something better because such discussion of any ideas other than the doomed two-state solution are silenced by the threat they pose to the carefully cultivated image of hope that the point of no return has not yet been passed.
And three, it constrains the volatility of desperate desires, hatreds and fears that cannot be alleviated without real political change, the consequences of which can only be escalating spasms of political violence, bloody violence.
So we are obliged to consider how to escape from this Nash equilibrium that is not what’s called a pure coordination game where everyone really wants the same thing, we all want to stop clapping. Well, that’s not true. It’s a harder game and where a ringing bell cannot solve the problem.
One possibility is that the equilibrium can be broken by one player who decides that the suboptimal return is insufficient to justify continuing playing the game by prevailing rules. For example, the Palestinian Authority could decide to dissolve itself and suffer the consequences for the living standards of tens of thousands of people. Another theoretical possibility is that one of the players, most likely the Israeli government, could make the judgment that it can actually get all that it wants or much more that it wants than it has been getting by pursuing the suboptimal strategy of pretending that a viable two-state solution were its objective.
In fact, both of these developments may be in the office. And I would argue that the second has already begun. I do not mean that Israel is now in a position to stably absorb the West Bank while maintaining the long-term political subordination of the Palestinians, but its leadership has been increasingly attracted to the mistaken idea that it can. And those mistaken judgments have the potential to lead in new and even exciting directions.
Let’s take a closer look at the effect of this process on Israeli ruling elites. For all the running in place, there is one thing, and we’ve heard about it, that has changed, one measure of progress toward a destination that is unmistakable. That is, no matter what else stays the same, there’s one thing that changes the same way and that is a steep rise in the curve of settlements and settlers, a hundred thousand more, actually more than that, in the Obama administration, the upward slope of that line of Israeli Jews living across the Green Line.
In the 1980s, Meron Benvenisti along with planners within the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency’s land settlement department identified 100,000 settlers across the Green Line as the point of no return, beyond which Israel would permanently lose the option to withdraw, including the settlements in expanded east Jerusalem. More than six times that number of Jews now live in occupied territory, equal to 10 percent of the Israeli-Jewish population.
The settlements are only one factor, but a major factor in understanding why the two-state solution has been a dead solution walking for at least a decade. It is no longer feared that a viable Palestinian state will not be established in the West Bank via negotiations. It’s a reality that no longer can be plausibly denied. It is no longer feared by its opponents nor genuinely expected by its advocates. The idea of negotiations to establish one democratic state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean is just as farfetched.
The slow-boil death of the two-state solution is clearly manifested in the shifting terms of debate, even as diehard promoters long ago stopped advancing specific plans for moving toward trading territory for peace. For years, they have been on the defensive, desperately struggling to replace old maps of what could have been with new maps of what, despite settlement expansion and changing dimensions of Israel’s national consensus, still, perhaps, eventually could be.
Meanwhile, the right, freed of the need to decry the dangers of trading territory for peace, because the possibility of doing so seems so utterly remote, has shifted attention to paving the way for annexation in one form or another. Protected by distracting upheavals in so many parts of the Middle East and by a cocoon of virtually unlimited and unconditional American support for Israeli governments, it is no surprise that Israeli politicians have come to feel free to indulge the worst fears and most extravagant fantasies of their supporters. The result is a pattern of unofficial, but unmistakable movement toward the exercise of full Israeli rights to settle and control the entire West Bank and to rule over or otherwise dispose of the Palestinian inhabitants.
Despite Netanyahu’s hemming and hawing when it comes to what he means by a two-state solution and his commitment to it, his government and the country as a whole are pulled willy-nilly by activists and by dominant ideological inclinations to settle everywhere: Area C, Jerusalem, in the settlement blocs, in areas abutting the settlement blocs, et cetera.
The government’s panicky struggle against the BDS movement has led it, via a bizarre law of entry, to deny entry into the country to anyone, Jew or non-Jew, who actively supports boycotting Israeli settlements. This is the dream of the early settlers, to officially erase the legal separation of the state of Israel and those who live there from the territories it occupies and those who live within those territories. If you boycott Israel or if you boycott settlements in the West Bank, it doesn’t matter, you’re still barred by the law of entry officially. There’s no difference.
The shifted focus of the Israeli right on how to proceed with annexation rather than how to prevent withdrawal has resulted in extravagant propaganda efforts that have been largely successful in persuading most settlers and their supporters to believe that there are many fewer Palestinians living in the West Bank than there actually are, that the doves in Israel’s Central Bureau of Statics and their counterparts in the Palestinian National Authority have conspired to inflate Palestinian population figures to dissuade Israel from pursuing permanent rule of all of the land of Israel.
These same propaganda outlets seek to reassure Israelis about Israel’s capacity permanently to rule the West Bank by pushing images of rising Jewish birthrates and millions of Jewish immigrants.
A background theme among pundits and activists on the Israeli right has been to adumbrate, however vaguely, how Israel could incorporate the West Bank and Gaza without threatening Jewish control of the country. Most of these schemes are farfetched. For example, imagine that Egypt and Jordan will accept responsibility for Palestinians living in these areas or transfer them out of there. Others are disingenuous, offering equal citizenship to any Arabs who choose to remain in the expanded Jewish state and meets a long list of virtually impossible requirements.
Recently, however, the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, a lifelong Jabotinskian, a revisionist, veteran leader of the Likud and former speaker of the Israeli parliament, proposed real annexation with equal rights to be accorded to all inhabitants, whether Jews or not. Rivlin made his remarks to a meeting of settlers in Jerusalem. He was outraged at the regularization law that legalized thousands of settler housing units on privately owned Palestinian land and, at the signal sent by a government minister, Uri Regev, that this kind of legislation was the first step toward annexation, this is what Rivlin said, “Today it is impossible to avoid the question of whether Israel desires to annex Judea and Samaria. We are now at the moment of truth, the time at which we must determine and understand that international law applies to us also. As a result, we must decide exactly regarding the application of Israeli law. I believe all of Zion is ours and as a sovereignty of the state of Israel should be applied to every single piece of the land. The imposition of sovereignty over a territory begins with the grant of equal citizenship to all who inhabit the territory without exception. There cannot be one law for the Israeli and another for the non-Israeli. When I say that my faith is directed to all of Zion, that is exactly what I mean. The sovereignty of the state of Israel must be established over all of Zion and over all its inhabitants in one piece of land. There cannot be one law for the Israeli and another law for the non-Israeli. For all, the same law.” This is the president of the country.
An unequivocal act of annexation is not about to occur. It is most likely that the Nash equilibrium game will continue to be played for some time. But the judgments by increasing numbers of influential Israelis that the annexation can and should be accomplished is significant. They may think that it can occur without producing a transformation in the character of the state of Israel. They are wrong.
Yet that error may be father to the act and grandfather to the transformation of the country, for though it would not create warm and fuzzy feelings among Jews and Arabs, and though it is unlikely equal citizenship would be granted to all or even most Arab inhabitants, annexation would create a political arena of immense potential, transforming politics from a zero-sum struggle between Israeli Jews and Palestinians to a more complicated and potentially more productive competition among different Palestinian and Jewish groups searching within and across the boundaries of the national communities for political allies and power.
It would take decades for struggles to result in the expansion of citizenship and suffrage for all. But that would occur, not least because substantial numbers of Jews would eventually find it in their political interests to join with Arab citizens, to support suffrage extension to all those ruled by the state. The mixed governments that would arise from a citizenry comprised of millions of Jews, millions of Arabs and hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish non-Arabs all divided into religious, ideological, regional and economic factions would face enormous challenges, not least what to do about Gaza. But with the likely enthusiastic support of the international community, new ways forward will also become available, finally.
It is too soon to speak of such a move as a solution. But it is time to imagine trading the festering problems of occupation for a better set of problems associated with learning to live with one another as equals. Neither Jason Greenblatt or Jared Kushner will help Israelis and Palestinians move in this direction, even though President Trump’s off-the-cuff comment regarding the acceptability of either a one-state or a two-state solution, depending on what the two sides can agree on, may actually have been more helpful than all the travel and speeches of John Kerry combined.
In the end, it is only by thinking seriously about how to honor both democratic principles and the equal legitimacy of both Jewish and Palestinian aspirations that Israeli, Palestinian and American leaders can inject new life into a land too long stalked by death and bereft of hope.
Thank you. (Applause.)
RIAD KHAWAJI, Founder and CEO, INEGMA; Middle East Bureau Chief, Defense News; Middle East Correspondent, Jane's Defense Weekly
Thank you. I’m very honored to be here today. Thanks for the invitation and thanks for the Middle East Policy Council for this opportunity to discuss and address a very important topic.
I would like to say first that the presentation we just heard is the best and most honest I have ever heard on the issue. And I agree with you a hundred percent. I am one of the very few who dare to speak out in favor of the one-state solution.
I was there in Oslo as a journalist. I covered the whole thing. And I remember the environment that prevailed regionally and within each of the two players, you know, amongst the Palestinians and Israel. And it’s no longer there. Today, we have a whole different environment. The whole Middle East is going through a rebirth, and Israel will not be spared, it will be affected one way or another and so will the Palestinians.
I’m not going to repeat what was addressed before by my co-panelists here. I’m going to just talk about the environment, the regional environment and how it’s affecting and it’s going to be affecting the situation, the issue of the two state versus one state and how the two-state solution is also no longer feasible under the current regional environment as well as international environment.
I remember when we started when I was covering Oslo. The people I met were people who were from the very start of the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, from the birth of Israel. They were present, from Shamir to Rabin to others. They were all there. And for them, looking at the issue is totally different from what the politicians in Israel today address it.
At least it’s not only the Palestinians, it’s also about their relationship with the Arab world. It’s not addressed in the same priority, in the same way. Had people like Ben-Gurion or Rabin been living today and to hear the invitation by the Arab world for normalization of relations, they would not miss opportunity. I’m sure they would not miss this opportunity because these were leaders who were thinking about strategic interests of Israel for the long run, not for the near-term election to election, how to keep a seat in the Knesset, as we have today in Israel.
At the same time on the Palestinian Authority, this is an authority, as far as I am concerned, was stillborn from day one. There was a lot of corruption, rivalries and nobody hurt the Palestinians as much as the Authority itself. And today, the Authority exists just to try to delegitimize a non-state actor, Hamas, in the south. They give legitimacy to one another.
Today, at the time of the Oslo agreement, the Palestinian cause, so-called Palestinian cause, was the mentors, the sponsors were the Arab countries. We had, you know, between Egypt, the Saudis, the Syrians and so forth, although they didn’t have the same agendas; however, they were the fathers of the cause along with the PLO.
Today, the region is ruled by non-state actors, not by countries. On Israel’s northern borders, the one that controls the borders is Hezbollah. In the Golan Heights, Hezbollah shares it with the al-Qaida and the ISIS and the others. In the south in the Sinai, Egypt is struggling to keep control and to keep check of the Islamist groups. Jordan has received more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees. How can Jordan be the answer for, you know, a unified state with the West Bank when it is unable to absorb the refugees still flowing in from Syria?
Iran is the main player today in the region, no longer the Arabs. Iran today is the main party in control, along with the Russians, in Syria. They are the ones in control in Iraq. They are spreading their authority everywhere. And soon, if they get their way, we could see them through their militias opening a land corridor connecting Iran with the Mediterranean, going through Mosul, Deir ez-Zor, all the way to Homs and the coastal Syrian side along with Lebanon. And then Iran will ultimately be the force on Israel’s immediate northern borders. Maybe then the Israeli’s will have a different idea about the whole situation.
Also, the nature of the conflict in the region today is becoming very much ethno-sectarian, Sunni-Shiite, Arab-Persian, Arab-Kurds, and definitely this is not all in Israel’s favor. Because today when you have this growing rivalry between Sunni-Shias, it soon is going to be, who is going to be doing more for the liberation of the Holy Land, Jerusalem? So today, you might have parties, it might look very attractive to see countries, Syria, Iraq and so, like, go and self-destruct, but soon after you’re going to have a whole new environment of sectarian mini states and neighborhoods around. And this is a very unstable environment we see coming in place.
So where are we from all of this? Today, the Palestinian Authority is living under intensive care. It’s on the donations being allocated by various parties with the false hope of achieving a two-state solution. And nothing is happening, as we just heard from the very well-put presentation, and I agree with all of it. Hamas today, there is a competition between Iran and the Saudis, who will be the main patron for Hamas and what Hamas’ role will be. But Hamas will always be Hamas, it’s not going to change.
So what will be the best interests of the Israelis for the long run? And what’s the best interests of the Palestinians inside the West Bank and even (residents ?) who do not have a vote, do not have a voice in all of this? All what they need is to have some peace, prosperity and the basic rights of any citizen anywhere. And a single-state solution will provide that, even though I believe some Israeli right-wing parties now might get their way and by annexing these – the West Bank without giving rights to Palestinians. But eventually the international community, not even the Israel lobby in Washington will be able to prevent the imminent change of giving equal rights to Palestinians in Israel as well.
So the best option, the best way for the future is a single-state solution. And a single-state solution will compel every single country in the Middle East to accept the Palestinians, naturalize them or have them as immigrants for the single state of Israel.
We have to change the current status quo of a false hope that’s only being used by regimes in the region, you know. There has not been a single regime in the Arab world who has not abused the so-called Palestinian cause for their own interests. They prolong their authority, extend their authority, they prolong their mandates and practice dictatorships under the pretext of the Palestinian cause. It was practiced for a long time and still, in some places, still being done and abused in such a way.
So it’s time to stop the abuse for the Palestinian cause and create a situation where the Palestinians, the simple Palestinians, will have some real hope of being treated as respected citizens with equal rights inside the boundaries of their natural habitat.
Another very important issue that we need to address here is the changing demographics. We have today a demographic change happening as a result of the Iraq-Syria conflicts. We are witnessing sectarian cleansing of some towns and villages. Maybe as well we can see some ethnic cleansing of some areas. So if this continues – and we’ve seen the Security Council unable to check this because of the Russian vetoes – we soon could be seeing a region in Syria and Iraq of one-color communities, you know, all Shiites, all Alawites, all Sunnis. And that could sound nice for an all-Jewish state, but still this will continue to create a more dangerous environment for Israel and the future of Israel and the possibility of a long-term Arab-Israeli settlement.
Right now in the Arab world, the main threat perception is Iran. And we’ve heard in the last Arab League summit the call once again being made to Israel to come forward just in return for, you know, accepting the 1967. I think I believe that the Arab world today will even be ready to go into a real peace process with the Israelis just if Israel can restrain itself for a year without settlements. We can see a big progress even on the Arab-Israeli, not just the Palestinian-Israeli front, because they are two separate tracks today. They are no longer linked together.
But because today Iran has forced itself in as the main patron for the Palestinians, as the one who is vying for the liberation of Palestine and the liberation of the Holy Land, of Jerusalem, that’s putting the Arabs in an odd situation. How can they give up this old model that they know is no longer achievable today? And they need to continue and keep up the competition with the Iranians today and the ongoing sectarian rift in the region.
So there are opportunities, but unfortunately they are not being met because of the current culture in Israel where we have the inner political rivalry between the Israeli parties and each one of them thinking on tactical victories, you know, from one election to another. And for them, the issue of the settlements, being hardline, spreading fear, is the main tool to stay in place.
So I’m not going to say much longer. I mean, this is just my view of the regional environment right now and how it’s impacting the situation and will not be allowing, you know, every time there was any glimpse of hope, of any peace, we’ve always seen, you know, missiles being fired from Gaza by groups affiliated with Iran. So the address here, I mean, the message from Tehran is that the address for a possible peace with the Palestinians lies in Tehran today, not in any other Arab country.
So we have a serious dilemma at our hand of how to move ahead. And the best thing to save the Palestinians from all the abuse by all their neighbors is to go for a single-state solution where they will have equal rights, the Jews living in peace in one nation. And I think this will bring a quick end to all the rhetoric we hear from the region. And I think, as I mentioned, right now the – we have very unique environment where in the Arab world the number-one threat today, or the number-one enemy today is no longer Israel. It lies somewhere else.
Thank you. (Applause.)
CHAS W. FREEMAN, JR., Chairman, Projects International Inc.; Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense; Former President, Middle East Policy Council
It’s a real pleasure to be back at the Middle East Policy Council, and to follow three such brilliant presentations. The panel did not confer among ourselves before this event, as far as I know, but you’ve heard a perspective from a recently retired official who was heavily engaged in the effort to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis. You’ve heard one of our best political scientists actually persuade me that maybe there is some science in political science. And one of the most prominent intellectuals in the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf give a regional perspective. So I’m sure to bring the quality of the event down. And I apologize for that.
Israel has long sought to normalize its relations with the Arab states without having to address the status of its captive populations in the West Bank and Gaza. And I think the question that emerges from all of these presentations is whether the moment to accomplish that may not be upon us. That would be a cost-free, strategic gain for the Jewish state. And this is the apparent aim of this so-called outside-in approach that some in the Trump administration favor. So it’s something for nothing for Israel an idea whose time has finally come?
Normalization of relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors has always been in the American interest. But now, quite aside from its benefits to Israel, normalization might open the way to a regional coalition of Arab states and Israel that could, once again, balance Iran. The foolish American installation in Baghdad of a pro-Iranian regime removed Iraq from any balancing role. A recrafted balance of power built on Gulf Arab cooperation with Israel rather than Iraq could facilitate the lower American military profile in the region, that Americans, Arabs, Persians, and Turks all claim to want.
Shared fears of Iranian power have already produced increasingly overt collusion between Israel and the Gulf Arabs in two areas – intelligence cooperation and collaborative intervention in American politics to block improvement in U.S.-Iran relations. Israeli intelligence agencies add capabilities that complement those of the Gulf Arabs. Israel’s information dominance over the American media and its decisive influence here on Capitol Hill impose a hammerlock on American pursuit of rapprochement with Iran.
From the Gulf Arab perspective, the Jewish state’s ability to bring U.S. politicians to heel is worth a lot more than sweet talk from the White House. Common concerns about Iran have brought Israel and the Gulf Arabs together, if only semi-covertly. Can these affinities now help achieve acceptance of the Jewish state’s legitimacy, normalization of relations with it, and an end to military tensions with it by the states and peoples of the region? For decades, this has been the principal goal of U.S. policy in the Middle East, and also its most prominent failure.
In 2002, all 22 Arab states unequivocally offered Israel peace and normal political and economic relations if it would strike a deal with Palestinians. The Arabs reaffirmed this offer in 2007, and again earlier this year. Another 35 predominantly Muslim nations have signed onto this initiative. The question has been what, if anything, Israel might be prepared to do to cash in on this offer by 57 states to make peace with it. And Israel’s answer to that, till now, has been bupkis, nothing.
Israel’s uncompromising refusal to accommodate Palestinian self-determination tests the willingness of Arab states, as well as the international community, to tolerate its subjugation of the Palestinians in the interests of pursuing wider strategic objectives. The Palestinians have done nothing to make themselves lovable in the eyes of other Arabs, and much to alienate them and the rest of the world. Arab contempt for the Palestinian leadership is second only to Israel’s. The Palestinians have no Arab champion.
Mahmoud Abbas is now in the 12th year of his four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority. The Americans imagine he represents his countrymen. Most Arabs have come to see him as the kapo for life of the vast checkpoint-checked prison camp that Palestine has become for its Arab inhabitants. In their view, Abbas holds office only because Israel has murdered or jailed many hundreds of Palestinians who might otherwise have emerged as more credible leaders or negotiating partners.
Still, Arabs are no strangers to public piety about the Palestinian plight as a cover for private cynicism. Egypt exemplified both traits 40 years ago when it signed the basis of transparently disingenuous undertakings to facilitate Palestinian self-determination. It cannot be ruled out that others might also now sellout the Palestinians to promote interests closer to home. But if there’s little Arab affection for the Palestinians, there is even greater Arab resentment of Israel’s well-publicized daily abuses of them. They are, after all, fellow Arabs who are, for the most part, members of the Muslim ummah.
Since the uprisings of 2011, Arab governments have become more sensitive and responsive to public opinion than before. Israel has become a brand associated with inhumanity, arrogance, casuistry and sadistic humiliation of non-Jews. The contemporary Jewish state is not easy to market to anyone who lacks a preexisting passionate attachment to it. This explains not only the Arab desire not to be seen in its company, but the declining willingness of governments in the West to protect Israel from its burgeoning critics.
In 1947, the international community supported the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine as part of a partition plan. But Israel’s ongoing expansion into Palestinian lands has, in my view, achieved its objective of making partition, any two-state solution, infeasible. Israel has repeatedly demonstrated that it wants land more than peace, and that it places more weight on terrorizing those who resist it than it does on reconciling them to its existence. Israel now rules a realm that is half-Jewish and half-Palestinian Arab.
Israel’s Jews enjoy full rights as the citizens of a democracy. Some Arabs, one-eighth of all the people governed by the Israel state, are officially Israeli citizens. They are nominally represented in the Knesset, but face intensifying racial discrimination and segregation by an assertively all-Jewish government and its electoral. The remaining three-eighths of the people governed by Israel are stateless Arab Muslims or Christians who live under the tyranny of martial law in the West Bank and Jerusalem, or relentless collective punishment in the Gaza ghetto.
The Afrikaans word apartheid is increasingly used both in Israel and internationally to describe this subdivision of Israel’s subjects into half-subjugated and half-free. Both the Afrikaners and the – both the Afrikaner and the Israeli version of European settler-colonialism rationalize racial dominance and disenfranchisement. Both facilitate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, for the upper and middle classes of the ruling caste, while denying these rights to the oppressed. Both shield the master race from close encounters with the injustices and miseries their rule imposes on non-citizens. Thus, protecting them from first-hand observation of human distress, and the crises of conscious it can fuel. Both legitimize tyranny by praising the democracy of the ruling caste that imposes it. But how tyranny is authorized does not make it any less despotic, arbitrary, or cruel.
So there are indeed similarities between South African apartheid and the system imposed in greater Israel by contemporary Zionism. But Israel does not imagine separate development, as apartheid did. It espouses Jewish ethno-religious supremacy in all of Palestine and rejects self-determination for Palestinian Arabs, even in the equivalent of Bantustans. The Israeli authorities not only obstruct economic and social development in non-Jewish areas of their domain, but harass their inhabitants to encourage them to leave, while threatening their eventual expulsion. It’s easy to understand why veterans of the struggle for racial equality and justice in South Africa universally proclaim Israel’s systematic violations of the rights of those it oppresses to be even worse than apartheid.
It would be very hard, if not impossible to persuade Arab states and peoples to normalize relations with Israel under these circumstances. Despite their recognition of the Jewish state, Egypt and Jordan have been unable to befriend it. The opprobrium that Israeli settlements and behavior evoke effectively precludes the sort of regional coalition to balance Iran that shared interests would otherwise propel. The region is become more, not less, fixated on religion, and perceived victimization by the West. The likelihood of Palestinian violence against Israel and is foreign supporters is increasing.
These trends raise the risk that the universal Muslim abhorrence of Israel’s cruelty to its Muslim population could unite the region against Israel on the basis of religion. The designation of Israel as the enemy of Islam would enable Arabs, Persians and Turks to suspend the sectarian wars and geopolitical rivalries that now divide them. As unprecedented as this would be, an eventual Sunni-Shia entente to end Jewish humiliation of Muslims is at least as likely as overt Arab cooperation with Israel against Iran.
This underscores that the cost to the United States of the ongoing strife between the inhabitants of the holy land cannot be measured solely in terms of dollars donated to sustain Israel’s qualitative edge, lives lost to anti-Zionist terrorists, or prestige diminished by the chronic failure of the transparently half-hearted and now abandoned peace process. They must also be gauged in terms of expanding opportunity costs and risks. A peace deal in the holy land would open many doors to a better future. The absence of an agreement on how the Jewish, Muslim and Christian inhabitants of the holy land can safely coexist skews the future in dangerous directions.
With partition now impossible, the only path to peace in greater Israel lies in recognition of the reality that there is, and will be, only one state in Palestine. That state cannot enjoy domestic tranquility or regional acceptance unless the injustices on which it is built are rectified. Criticism of Israeli racism is growing, as is international support for BDS, the movement to boycott, disinvest from, and sanction Israel, on the model of the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa.
The Palestinian cause, meanwhile, is beginning to ripen into a struggle for human – for civil rights, rather than self-determination. It has become a cliché to say, as several up here have, that Israel must choose between its democracy and its Jewishness. But the disenfranchisement of greater Israel’s Arabs vitiates its claim to be a democracy. And the enforcement of Jewish supremacy throughout the territories it rules is driving the progressive abandonment of the rule of law and other liberal norms once espoused by Zionism – central to Zionism, in fact. Most Israelis already appear to prefer a Jewish to a democratic identity.
But what does it mean to be a Jew in Israel? Asked by the Pew Charitable Trust in 2016, 59 percent of Jews in American cited, quote, “Leading an ethical and moral life,” unquote, as essential to Jewishness. Only 47 percent of Israeli Jews agreed. Fifty-six percent of American Jews saw working for justice and equality as part of their religion. Only 27 percent of Israelis did. Forty-nine percent of American Jews valued being intellectually curious as part of Judaism. Only 16 percent of Israeli Jews did.
American Jewish values resonate strongly with those of other Americans. A Pew poll in February of this year found that at 67 percent, Jews top the list of religious groups for which Americans have fond feelings – quite remarkable, given all the talk about anti-Semitism. As Israelis discard the universal values Jews elsewhere aspire to exemplify, there is growing concern that they are transforming Judaism from a highly sophisticated ethical tradition into a state ideology that rationalizes racism and lawlessness by dehumanizing non-Jews.
Israel may, in fact, be on the way to becoming neither democratic nor Jewish, as these terms are understood internationally. It divorced from the norms of the Judeo-Christian enlightenment bodes ill for continued Western identification with and support for the self-proclaimed Jewish state. Among American Jews 65 and older, 53 percent say caring about Israel is essential to what Judaism means to them. Among Jews under 30, by contrast, 32 percent express this view. Roughly nine in 10 say a person can be Jewish even if strongly critical of Israel. Meanwhile, support for Israel has become a partisan issue among the general public in the United States.
The basis is being laid, I submit, for an internationally based struggle for racial equality, dignity and democracy in greater Israel. As was the case with South Africa, this drive will not be led by governments but by civil society internationally. Jewish activists in America and Europe, as well as in Israel itself, are likely, once again, to be disproportionally represented, prominent in it. Efforts to suppress advocacy in the United States and Europe of political change in Israel will be well-organized and financed. They will test, but very likely fail, to overcome the norms of free speech and assembly that are basic to the democratic order on both sides of the Atlantic.
The struggle for a just constitutional dispensation in greater Israel will be protracted, confusing and painful for all concerned. But the achievement of a democracy in which all governed by Israel enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is essential to secure Israel’s future, to preserve and protect its Jewish heritage, and to enable it to participate fully in the affairs of its region and internationally. If the moral issues that prevent Israelis neighbors from embracing it, and that are stripping Israel of support in the West are not addressed, Israel’s prospects for long-term survival will be poor. Palestinian inclusion in the democracy Israel Jews have created would resolve this dilemma. And as many Palestinians have come to recognize, this is now the only way they can hope to enjoy the human and civil rights they demand.
The abandonment of Israel to its fate is not an option for the United States. Reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians is as much in the American interest as it is that of those two peoples. It’s also the key to restoring stability in the Middle East. Israel has effectively created a single state in Palestine in all by name. Its foreign supporters have every reason now to ask that Israel govern all the people in its charge with the justice and humanity that constitute the core values of both Judaism and Western civilization.
Thank you. (Applause.)
THOMAS R. MATTAIR, Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council
Thank you to all the panelists. I got some good questions from the floor, and I have one or two of my own, but a colleague asked me to say a few words. And actually, the reason we did this today – and we haven’t done a conference on Israeli-Palestinian issues in almost two years – is because it’s 2017.
And 120 years ago, the World Zionist Organization met in Switzerland to offer a Jewish home. One hundred years ago, the British government said it viewed with favor the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine – not in all of Palestine – it being clearly understood that nothing would be done to prejudice the right of non-Jewish inhabitants of the region. And then that was a surprise to Sharif Hussein of Mecca, who had been promised independence by Sir Henry McMahon.
And then in 1947, as Chas and I think Ian both referenced, the U.N. General Assembly partition plan to establish two states. And actually, the United States voted for that, which means the United States actually voted in the favor of the Palestinian state in 1947. And we have 1967, which was 50 years ago, it’s when Israel acquired to go along the Sinai, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, and when U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 was passed, which called on Israel to withdraw from territories occupied in the war.
And then one more that I don’t think anybody mentioned today – although Ian talked about the Camp David Accords – was in the – which is 1978. But in 1977, which was – how many years ago was that? It’s an anniversary – it’s an anniversary, 40 – Carter attempted to launch a comprehensive peace effort. First thing he did was to send Cyrus Vance to the Arab world. And he tried to organize a conference at which everyone would be present, and they would try to develop a comprehensive resolution of all the problems. Of course, there was domestic opposition to that. There was Israeli opposition to that. That is why we went to the Camp David process, which was second-best, from Carter’s point of view.
So, this year marks a lot of anniversaries, really, which is why we thought it was important to do this. Tide and time stayeth for no man. And I think some of our panelists are indicating that some of these legal documents are not so relevant anymore. So let’s explore that. I think the first question really should go to Hady. There’s a couple of things that were said here you might want to respond to. I think the effort to foster negotiations, the “peace process,” quote/unquote, has been called half-hearted, or – and it has been said that there has been movement at no direction. Frankly, I see a little direction. But how do you – how do you respond to those statements?
DR. AMR: How much time do we have? (Laughter.) Look, I’ll just say – well, look, the half-hearted thing, look, I had the opportunity to see Secretary Kerry working up close on this. There was a joke at one point in the State Department, which was: Have you met the new Israel-Palestine desk officer? No, no, who is he? John Kerry. Right? So he was spending so much time on this issue. I mean, I’m talking about particularly in 2013 and ’14, to double-digit percentage of his time on this, that I certainly – I would – I would – I don’t know how anyone can make the case it was half-hearted. But, I mean, it pervaded through the department.
Look, in terms of the Nash equilibrium, I’m an econometrician by training, although not by practice. OK, I think – I mean, that’s an understandable analysis. But I think what I’d like – what I – what I come back to is that – and having spent an enormous number of days on the ground with Israelis and Palestinian leadership with Israel and Palestinian civil society, what I come back to at the end of the day in – when I reflect on all this, going back and forth between Ramallah and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is the following.
Is that in Palestinian society in the West Bank, I see a – I see this frustration. I see youth who will tell you: You know what? I don’t think two states is possible. Just give me an iPhone and a passport and I’m good, right? I actually had that – that was part of the remarks I skipped over. So I see that. But then I also see this unique – this beautiful nationalism, this drive to create a state that represents them in their image. And it’s – and so I don’t know that that – you know, they say, you know what, let’s just – two states aren’t going to work. Let’s just do one state.
But then I really do see this beautiful desire for them to fly their flag and exercise – and live a national life with a national debate with a national culture and a national parliament. And that’s the desire that they have. And you know what? Until that desire completely vanishes, if there’s a will – I think for a while – not forever, if there’s a will that there’s a way. But that desire is there. I think it deserves the right to flourish. And I still do believe – I understand the frustration in two states that’s been expressed.
But what I believe – and I really believe this, again from days and days on the ground, and it’s not just a – it’s not an informal – it’s not a casual connection I have to this. It’s been – my first job out of college was, you know, working with civil society in the West Bank. My wife is an Israeli Arab. So I’m stuck with this conflict whether I like it or not for my life, and so are my children as Israeli Arab Americans. She’s an American from the Galilee. And so, you know, as long as there is desire of people to have a flourishing national life, just like we Americans have had a flourishing national life, the way that Israelis have had – you know, as long as that desire is there I think it deserves to be nurtured as long as it’s there.
Now, we may reach a point where it is no longer possible to get to two states. And that’s what I was saying in my remarks, that I think that the growth of settlements is a tremendous challenge to the two-state solution. I think when you look at maps, as you do – as we did for a year day after day in tremendous detail, there still remains a possibility to create a contiguous and viable Palestinian state today. It will require the dismantling of a very large number of Israeli settlements. So as long as the desire is there, as long as the map is still there, I believe it’s still possible. And I believe it’s still – in many ways, it’s still preferable.
Now, if Israelis and Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and Palestinian – you know, if everybody woke up tomorrow and said, ah, you know what, it’s no big deal – let’s all live together; it’ll all be awesome; we’re going to have a great time and we’re going to live in one state together, and it’s just going to be a fabulous amount of fun, then that’s great. But that’s not where we are. You know, again, we have this – we have an ongoing demonization of Israelis and Palestinians of one another. We have ongoing violence. And we are not in a place where I believe we can have a happy one state.
And so I think while there’s still a chance for two states, it’s worth pursuing. So I’ll just – I’ll just leave it at that.
DR. LUSTICK: Could I ask another question? I completely understand your sentiment. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it myself. But I want to ask you a question that’s raised by what you said. And before I do, I just want to say that all of us know that there are many, many more beautiful desires that don’t get – whether it’s personal desires or national desires, that don’t get realized, and the rare beautiful one that does. So I don’t see that as a political principle for judging the possibilities of the future.
You said after 10 years, forget it; it’s over. That implies that you know that you’ll be able to see something that happens. You’ll say, OK, yesterday was possible. Three days – three years ago was possible. But now it’s no longer possible. What you said again, aside from the idea that as long as one person dreams it – well, I’ll put that aside.
But let’s – I want to ask, because I’ve asked Jeremy Ben-Ami, I’ve asked everyone I can who makes this argument, fine, just tell me what it is you’ll see that you’ll know, OK, now the point of – now it’s, on balance, better to pursue the unusual or unlikely possibility of another alternative and stop pursuing a two-state solution. What is it you’ll see? Is there nothing you can see, or you’ll know it when you see it?
DR. AMR: I mean, so one thing – just to reclarify, I mean, I wouldn’t say if one person can dream it. But I think as long as there’s a critical mass of Palestinians that do desire to have a national life, it’s worth pursuing, if it’s possible. Now, where’s the tipping point?
DR. LUSTICK: How do you know when it’s not possible anymore?
DR. AMR: Look, I mean, when do you cross from darkness to night, you know, as you’re looking? Look, I think there are a couple of dimensions of it. One is, at some point – let me just start on the national. At some point – you know, again, I alluded to this – from the creation of Israel to the creation of the PLO to the 1990 – 1988, you know, whatever, Tunis declaration, the Palestinians traveled the journey to accepting the two-state solution. It took decades to do that.
The question is – so there was a critical-mass tipping point where the Palestinian people supported a two-state solution. We’re still there, I believe. At some point that will tip out. So that’s one thing that will end the two-state solution is when a critical mass of Palestinians no longer support it and the structures are no longer there. So that’s number one. The structure’s no longer there or basically the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, either voluntarily or through an uprising or through the unwise – you know, if Israel wants to dismantle it. So those are two variables.
The third variable, again, is, again, if you look, as I did – and again, this is an issue I’ve – it was my first job out of college. It was very formative for me. I’m married to it. I’ve got children. You know, I’ve got a one-year-old at home who’s going to be dealing with this in some capacity over God knows – I’m going to my grandmother’s 100th birthday in a few weeks, so maybe 100 years, if she inherited those genes. So I don’t know what’s going to transpire in her lifetime.
But at some point, when you look in the tremendous detail that we did in the settlements in the West Bank, when you do the not-for-public – you know, we do – public-opinion surveys were just mentioned. We survey settlers and their attitudes about would you leave? Would you not leave? Would you leave for money? Would you leave if there were a vote that the Jewish people took that it was in the Jewish people’s interest to leave? Or do we have to – you know, do we have to shoot you out of there, you know?
And so, looking at all that, at some point, when there are, you know, a critical number – you know, 10 – once you get to a certain number of settlers that are deep inside the West Bank, that would make the creation of a Palestinian state impossible. I don’t have a magic number for you, right. And so then you say, well, if you don’t have a number, then this can go on forever, and then 100 years from now, you know, your kid, 50 years from now, is going to be sitting here and giving the same spiel.
That’s a fair criticism. But at some point the reality will no longer be possible. And I don’t think we’re that far away from it. Again, I think it’s – I think it is a single-digit years. That’s how far we are away from it. So it’s this U.S. president and the next presidential term that we have. I think after that, you know, it’s – that’s – it’s game over.
AMB. FREEMAN: Certainly the two-state solution would be vastly preferable. And it was preferred by everybody except the government of Israel, which has effectively made it impossible, in my view. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Hope springs eternal, but I don’t see that as a basis for a realistic U.S. foreign policy. And I don’t believe it can garner continued support internationally.
DR. MATTAIR: All right. Well, Kerry actually said, in his remarks in December, that a one-state solution is going to be perpetual occupation. Now, why is that not true? What is it that could happen that would lead to equal rights? What kinds of governance structures would have to be established? How do you get there? And actually, would that be frightening enough for Israel for them to take a new look at a two-state solution?
AMB. FREEMAN: You look to the future. What I think you will see is an increasingly violent struggle conducted not only within the confines of greater Israel, but against the supporters of Israel outside Israel, back to the future, if you will, of 1967 and Palestinian terrorism.
But you will also see a lot of people in Israel doing what many have already done – emigrating – because they are troubled. There are very good people in Israel who are troubled by this ongoing situation and who don’t want to be part of it. And you will also see the progressive withdrawal of international support for the Israeli oppression of Palestinians, not just the BDS movement. But look at the figures on young Jews and their level of identification with Israel. This is a not-in-my-name kind of argument that one hears.
So I think time is working against a separatist, segregationist approach in Israel. And you can say the pressure on the Palestinians, you know, has not broken their desire, I agree, for self-determination. Perhaps the pressure on ultra-Zionist elements in Israel will not break their determination.
I think, Hady, you began by saying a mess was a possibility. I think that’s what we have. And I think the mess is likely to get messier.
DR. MATTAIR: Well, Ian, how do you see that happening?
DR. LUSTICK: Can I stand up there for a second?
DR. MATTAIR: Well, you can use the –
DR. LUSTICK: Can you hear me?
So that is really the question. I mean, I think the fact is that the debate between the – over what to do with the two-state solution that looks like it’s – the pursuit of which looks like it’s worse than not doing anything – what do you do with it if you don’t have another solution in mind? When I say solution, I mean I not only have a pretty picture of the future – because I’ve got lots of pretty pictures of the future; two states, one state, three states, cantons, regional federation, all kinds of things – that’s not the meaning of the future. The future is some way to get from here to there.
Now, we have imagined that there’s a two-state pretty picture and a route through negotiations to get there. I still believe the two-state solution is a pretty picture, but the route to get there is not through negotiations. There isn’t – that’s what’s impossible. And therefore, I don’t see it as a solution. It’s just a pretty picture.
The one-state idea – and I agree, there’s already one state; it’s not can there be, it’s what kind of state will it be – is what is the mechanism from here to there? So far there are not coherent enough ones to say it’s a solution. So I don’t see myself as a one-state-solution person. I see myself as somebody who has thrown away a degenerative research program called the two-state solution and looking around for a new paradigm. And that paradigm has to be more interesting.
I would much prefer to trade the boredom of thinking about where we’re going to draw the map with this new settlement to the anxiety of, my God, what are we going to do? We don’t have a solution. Anxiety in this context is better than boredom. And I’m suggesting that, in the first little way, what plausible mechanism there is. Yes, it is a mess. Politics is messy. As I said at the beginning of my talk, show me a protracted conflict, anything like this one, that ended because someone had a nice architecture that they implemented through polite negotiations. You won’t find one. It doesn’t happen.
Let’s take the Irish case as an example. And when I say Irish, I don’t mean current Irish or 1920s Irish. I mean 1800 Irish. The British occupied Ireland. The Catholics had no rights. Their land was expropriated. They were expelled Connacht or Hell, and many of them came here.
In 1800, Ireland was annexed to the United Kingdom, but the Catholics were not allowed to have rights. But they were now a part of the same country as England. Over a period of 70 years, there was a struggle over whether the Irish would be able to vote in – Irish Catholics, especially the workers, would be able to vote. Eventually they were in the late 19th century, and they entered British politics and transformed British politics, because it became clear that the liberals couldn’t win elections without supporting Irish nationalist demands.
Eventually that gave rise to the Home Rule movement, the Anglo-Irish war, and partition of Ireland. So you didn’t – so you had an alone plan. So the southern part of Ireland is independent. You have a two-state solution. But it didn’t come about through negotiations toward it; it came about through, first, a one state that was not perpetual, which then split.
Politics, therefore, is – the thing about politics is it never stops. There is no perpetual occupation. Once you change the rules of the game, change the expectations, you set up incentives for those in Israel who would like a government other than run by the ultranationalist, ultra-clericalist right. And just like in the United States, Democrats will never rule the country without large turnouts of blacks and Hispanics. In Israel, liberals will never rule the country without an expansion of the Arab vote, meaning West Bank votes at least. And that dynamic, that centripetal dynamic of democracy and politics, is what you’re going to have to rely on for something better in the future, because it’s not going to come through negotiations.
DR. MATTAIR: Comment?
AMB. FREEMAN: That’s what President Rivlin said.
DR. MATTAIR: Well, how long is that going to take, Ian? And –
DR. LUSTICK: I left my crystal ball in the car. I said in my talk – that talk, I thought about it a lot. And I said decades. I had years or decades in my first draft. I took out the “years,” because I really don’t think it can take years. It will take decades. And threats of emigration, the change in the – a lot of things will be a part of that, including the kind of regional concerns that you discussed. All of this is part of what will be coming.
But, as I said, don’t – architects and clever political scientists and clever people who come up with legal arrangements are all part of the larger game. But they’re not the guiding hand. The guiding hand is ultimately the desperate desire of people to find some way that’s acceptable than what they seem to be trapped in.
DR. MATTAIR: Well, I’d like to ask some questions about regional politics. But before we get there, a couple of questions from the floor focused on domestic American politics. And people are wanting to know if there is still any possibility that liberal American Jewish efforts could influence our administration and to bring about a two-state solution?
And another question is that is there any likelihood that any Israeli government is going to bring Israeli Arab parties into a coalition that would then lead to a decision by that government to consent to a two-state solution? In other words, people still want to know if there’s any hope here in any way.
DR. LUSTICK: I wrote a piece for The Guardian a couple – a month or so ago that started with the line, “A broken watch is right twice a day.” When President Trump said two-state, one-state, whatever they want, this is a great thing. It’s an advance over what we were saying, because it’s fundamentally true. And it’s rejection of Netanyahu’s policy. Netanyahu’s policy is manage the conflict to try to get to the point where it can be ignored. Don’t pursue one-state or two-state.
So he was, in that phrase, whether he knew it or not, rejecting Netanyahu’s policy and making the most sensible position you can take. Whatever they can agree on, fine. But right now we insist on, as he did, democracy, equality and the mutual opportunities for self-determination. And self-determination does not only – does not require a single state for every single nation. In Canada, the Quebecois and the Anglos have national self-determination within a state that doesn’t have the Union Jack as its flag anymore; Switzerland, but there are other states. Nothing’s perfect. But are we?
National self-determination dreams, whether it’s Jewish or Arab, don’t have to be sacrificed in the context of something that could be single state. And I’ll take the Balfour Declaration as an example. I’m actually right now writing a paper on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. And what I’m fascinated by is this document dropped on earth by aliens from another galaxy; I mean, Europeans dropped in the Middle East.
This had a phrase in it which came out of – I believe out of the Irish Home Rule movement. We’re going to have home rule. We’re going to have a national home. What? What’s that? OK, well, we can’t say state, so we’ll say home. But it means – and you know what it is? It’s exactly what’s needed now, the idea that there’s going to be a national home for Jews in Palestine. Fine. And there’ll be a national home for Palestinians also in this country called “blech” – Palestine, Israel, the two. There will be two national homes. And then there’ll be the 700,000 non-Jewish, non-Arabs, who will also enjoy living there. But they won’t be in those two national homes.
I think that the Balfour Declaration owes the world something. And it’s now actually providing something, which is this idea of a national home. And many of the most imaginative people who are thinking about the future now think in terms of parallel states or two states in one territory. I predict they will eventually go to this idea of a national home for the Jews and a national home for the Palestinians.
DR. MATTAIR: OK. Now, in the time that’s left, we should examine the role of other actors in the region. And Chas referred to this phrase that was used in the opening weeks of the Trump administration where they indicated that there would be what they called an outside-in approach; namely, that the major Arab states had so much in common with Israel – namely, their joint – their common concern about Iran – that they could be enlisted to help bring about a resolution of this problem.
So let’s look at that. Let’s just ask the first question. What exactly is it that Israel could offer to the major Arab states in their efforts to contain or roll back Iran that would induce them to help Israel if it meant Arab concessions on the Palestinian issue? And then exactly what is it Israel expects the Arabs to do?
AMB. FREEMAN: You’re looking at me?
DR. MATTAIR: Yeah, I am. (Laughter.) And Riad too, please.
AMB. FREEMAN: I’d like to hear Riad on this subject.
I think there has been a fundamental misperception or distortion, perhaps – I’m not sure which it is – of the so-called Arab peace initiative of 2002 in Beirut. It is not an offer to negotiate. It is a reward for a detail between Israelis and Palestinians. So it’s a bonus. But the prize is agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, and even the most optimistic of us on this panel does not see that coming about anytime soon.
So the Israeli objective has always been something for nothing in terms. Why shouldn’t all the countries in the region accept our legitimacy? I mean, after all, British imperialism authorized us to be here in the Balfour Declaration. You know, we’ve established our right to be here by fighting, which is true, and why shouldn’t everybody accept that without regard to what we’re doing to the indigenous people in Palestine? That’s been the basic proposition and it’s tried, almost every new administration that comes in that doesn’t like the preexisting framework comes up with this. When Ronald Reagan came in, Al Haig went off and tried to persuade the Israelis and the Arabs that they should cooperate against the evil empire of the Soviet Union and forget about the Palestinians, and so forth and so on and many iterations of this. It doesn’t work in the end and especially it doesn’t work in the age of satellite television and social media where the suffering of people under occupation is in the living rooms and on the phones of everybody in the Arab world.
So basically, Israel, the Trump administration I suppose, Mr. Greenblatt, Mr. Kushner, Ambassador Friedman, would like to solve this problem without dealing with the Palestinians. And that’s not going to happen. So this is a familiar pipedream and it’s going to go nowhere, but maybe Riad will tell us that common concerns about Iran overrule the Arab street.
DR. MATTAIR: Riad, can you comment on that? What could Israel actually do to help the Arab world vis-à-vis Iran? And what would they want from the Arab world, and can they get it?
MR. KHAWAJI: Well, Israel is ‒ let me just give you a few examples and then I will give you an answer, you know, for this. First of all, the Arab Gulf states reached out to Israel ever since Oslo. And if we remember correctly, Israel for a while had ambassadors in Moscow and Doha and did have some level of representation and talks with the other Gulf countries that remained un-public, remained behind the scenes. And there were further efforts, even, you know, in the 21st century that were going a long way in businesses, especially in the fields of technology and joint intelligence work on Iran.
But then Israel kept surprising the Arab side with moves that send counterproductive messages as if Israel does not really want such a normalization, this strong normalization of relations to really come about. And it does not seem to respect the sensitivities and the wishes of the other side of how to go about it to reach the sought objective. And one example was the assassination of Mabhouh in Dubai, for many people do not know that this happened at a time there was a great deal of progress in talks behind the scenes behind Israel and Arab Gulf states. There was a lot of things happening and everything came to a halt and a dead end from that moment onward.
There were many people from the U.S. that reached out to the Gulf countries about let’s revive this. And everybody kept asking the question to the U.S. delegations was, remember Mabhouh, what happened. I mean, we have reached so far, why did Netanyahu do what he did with the assassination of Mabhouh in Dubai, as if it was meant to torpedo everything that was going on. And this kept, you know ‒ it still haunts many people, many officials that were part of this process in the Arab world.
Having said that, they still realize today the importance of Israel in the equation vis-à-vis Iran and that this would be a good opportunity. However, I asked this question, this very question you’ve asked me, to one official, a senior official in the Arab Gulf countries of, what would it take now to take a first step towards improving relations with Israel, you know, to consolidate this alliance against Iran? And the question was, well, if you can convince Netanyahu to stop settlements for one year, it could be possible.
It cannot move at a time you can see every day in the media Palestinians being kicked out of their homes, displaced, bulldozers demolishing houses, sending young people out in the street in the West Bank for no reason, just because they wanted to build additional settlements and come up with, you know, excuses here and there and the whole world standing helpless. And the Arab leaders will have no option but to go to Palestinians and say don’t worry, we will help you, Palestine will be back to you one day, you know, the Quran told us this and so forth. And, you know, you have this false hope implanted within these people.
So, in short, you know, in response to your question, the potential for improving the relations is there and the readiness from the Arab side is there and the regional environment requires such a move. However, is Israel ready for this? And I don’t believe so. I think Israel still believes that the Israeli government, the political leadership in Israel still sees that they can maneuver their way around it and continue to make all these gains and get whatever they want to without having to make any commitments or sacrifices or anything, just like have their cake and eat it all, which is impossible to do.
DR. MATTAIR: Well, we only have three or four minutes.
What is there that would stop Israel from just maintaining the status quo, letting the Palestinians have limited autonomy in A and B, continuing to expropriate land and build and build in Area C and never move out of that framework for the next 50 years? It’s been 50 years since 1967. And would there be a role for any regional actor in getting to where you want to get, which is one state with equal rights?
DR. LUSTICK: Well, what I was suggesting is one mechanism by which that would occur, which it seems to be the one mechanism that’s kind of reliable, and that mechanism is the internal dynamic of Israeli politics to move in a right-wing direction toward the ambitions of those who always wanted a Jewish state in all the land of Israel. Because of the American policy of support with no conditions, it has been a non-winning position for a politician in Israel to argue we better make compromises now, even though they’re painful, because otherwise the international community and especially the United States will hurt us. Well, that’s been proven over and over again not to be true, so that Israel used to be New Jersey, from a red/blue point of view, and now it’s Oklahoma or Idaho.
But, you know, things can happen there because of that, a momentum to go forward in the ways I suggested and to do what is not smart. Somebody like Moshe Ya’alon is smart, he doesn’t want to settle beyond the blocs, he doesn’t want to do provocative things. He wants to try to make it appear more credible that Israel is interested in some kind of a two-state solution, but that kind of rationality is not able necessarily to be abided by. The right is too strong in Israel. They believe too much in what they want, and the Israeli political system doesn’t have the rubber bands constraining them.
So my suggestion is the possibility that they will in fact make mistakes, go toward the position of increasing annexation. One place you could look for it is in east Jerusalem. If the Arabs in east Jerusalem, and you can find more and more of them who think this way, start voting in municipal elections, which they can do ‒ even though they’re not Israeli citizens, they’re permanent residents of Israel, they have a right to vote. They never have because under the two-state solution we don’t want to legitimize the occupation. Come on!
Now, if the Arabs in east Jerusalem, expanded east Jerusalem, voted, they and the left would run the city or Israel would have to say, oh, we can’t allow this. They might actually have to allow it and it would be an example for the future, an example of how when you really need a bedfellow to win in politics you find that bedfellow. The Arabs need the liberal Jews; the liberal Jews need the Arabs. That means they both have to be emancipated. East Jerusalem could be an example of that.
DR. MATTAIR: Would you say to the Israeli right, be careful what you pray for, you might get it?
DR. LUSTICK: Not it, but you will not get what you want. In politics, the unintended consequences always swamp the intended consequences. The line in my talk, which I would love people to remember, is that this error they’re making, oh, there are only a million Palestinians in the West Bank, we can handle that, those errors, even Rivlin’s error, can be father to the act, but grandfather to the transformation of the country.
DR. MATTAIR: Any final comments?
AMB. FREEMAN: On this same question, I think probably most of us would agree the most likely future is more of the same rather than an abrupt change either for the good or the bad. But there are two things that might produce a different result. One is a sudden lapse into statesmanship in the United States, which would mean not continuing the enablement of Israel, much like handing a bottle of whiskey to a drive in a car does, or perhaps we continue the enablement and there’s a car crash.
The other possibility is that there is a sudden ‒ a messiah arrives in Israel and the Israelis, as some have done, take their eyes off the short term and look at the long term and remember what an Israeli leader once said to me, which is, we must remember the Muslims in Spain. They had everything going for them. They did not make peace with their Christian neighbors, the holy war continued, and in the end, there were no Muslims in Spain or Jews either.
And so perhaps somebody who looks a little farther down the road and can see where all this is going if it is not tended, that it’s not ‒ you know, the beautiful dream is turning into a tragic dream and it’s worth trying to stop that. That might turn things in a different direction. But I’m not a religious person, I don’t believe in miracles, even in the Middle East.
DR. MATTAIR: Well, it’s 3:30. Thank you very much for coming. And let’s have a hand for the panel. (Applause.)
Chairman, Projects International Inc.
Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense
Former President, Middle East Policy Council
Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings Institute
Former Deputy Special Envoy, Israeli-Palestinian Relations, U.S. Department of State
Former Deputy Assistant Administrator, Middle East, USAID
Professor, Bess W. Heyman chair, University of Pennsylvania
Former President, Politics and History Section of the American Political Science Association
Member, Council on Foreign Relations
Founder and CEO, INEGMA
Middle East Bureau Chief, Defense News
Middle East Correspondent, Jane's Defense Weekly
Chairman, Board of Directors, Middle East Policy Council
Former Ambassador, Sultanate of Oman
Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council
The Middle East Policy Council convened its 88th Capitol Hill Conference on Wednesday, April 26th. “New Approaches to Israel-Palestine Peace Efforts: Can Regional Powers Make a Difference?” revealed how a two-state solution continues to recede into the distance as a feasible resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a trend fed by the actions and attitudes of the parties to the conflict along with the shift in the region from domination by state actors to non-state ones. Given the long history of each panelist working on this issue, and the fact of their prior unwavering support for a two-state solution, this changing assessment of what today might constitute a realistic outcome of the conflict was striking.
Richard J. Schmierer (former U.S. Ambassador to Oman; Chairman of the Board of Directors, Middle East Policy Council) moderated the event and Thomas Mattair (Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council) was the discussant. The panelists included Chas W. Freeman (former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia); Hady Amr (Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution); Ian Lustick (Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania); and Riad Khawaji (Founder and CEO, INEGMA).
Mr. Amr described the reality facing Israel and the Palestinians to a choice between “two states or one mess.” Despite recent U.S. efforts under Secretary of State Kerry to achieve a two-state solution, continuing Israeli settlement expansion is rapidly making that outcome impossible. In his view, Israel faces a choice between settlements and Jewish-majority democracy, but cannot have both in the long-term. Mr. Amr urged the Trump administration to focus on economic and infrastructure development in the occupied territories. He cited recent studies which concluded that a small transfer of land to Palestinians in Area C could lead to over $1 billion in economic benefits. In a similar vein, Gaza would benefit greatly from infrastructure investment, particularly around water resources.
Dr. Lustick recalled the seemingly endless series of processes since 1973 that have each failed to produce an enduring peace settlement. He described this lack of progress through the economic concept of a Nash equilibrium, with the four major parties to the conflict lacking incentive to unilaterally change their position if the other actors remain constant in theirs. (Dr. Lustick defines the four major parties as the United States, Israel, the Palestinians and a peace “industry” comprised of NGOs, academics and other organizations funded to promote the prospect that a two-state solution is still feasible). The only way to break this stasis, he argues, would be some sort of dramatic change to the status quo, like the Palestinian Authority dissolving itself or Israel publicly abandoning the two-state solution.
Mr. Khawaji emphasized the changed environment in the region today, as compared to past decades when negotiations took place. The region is in the middle of a “rebirth” with non-state actors exerting growing control. In the case of Israel, this is particularly pronounced: Hezbollah is on its northern border; Islamist groups are present in the Sinai; Jordan is overwhelmed by Syrian refugees; and Iranian proxies can attack Israel at any moment, and often do so when peace talks are underway. He also envisions a single-state solution where the international community would be forced to give the Palestinians equal rights. This view is reinforced by domestic political realities inside Israel, where coalition politics largely precludes discussing accommodation with the Palestinians, a political dynamic that is unlikely to change.
Ambassador Freeman suggested that Judiasm in Israel is being transformed into a state ideology that rationalizes racism in the form of subjugation of the Palestinians. He cited recent survey data showing sharply divergent views of Judiasm between American and Israeli Jews, and that Israelis increasingly value Judiasm over democracy. This trend is contributing to the impossibility of a two-state solution. As a result, Ambassador Freeman also sees the inevitability of a one-state solution, but one where all inequalities must be removed. This could lead to a new Palestinian struggle for civil rights, as opposed to self-determination, a shift already underway among segments of the Palestinian population. This would also require Israel’s international backers to demand equal rights for Palestinians, something that has not been consistently advocated for during the course of decades of Palestinian demands for self-determination.
The full video from the event is available on the Middle East Policy Council website. A full transcript from the event will be posted in a few days at www.mepc.org and published in the next issue of the journal Middle East Policy. For members of the media interested in contacting these speakers or other members of the Middle East Policy Council’s leadership, please email email@example.com.