The Future of Israelis and Palestinians
The following is an unedited transcript of the seventy-fourth in a series of Capitol Hill conferences convened by the Middle East Policy Council. The meeting was held on October 9, 2013, at the Washington Court Hotel, with Thomas R. Mattair moderating. The video can be accessed at www.mepc.org.
OMAR KADER, chairman of the board of directors, Middle East Policy Council
The Arab-Israeli conflict is not new to any of you in this room. It’s about 65 years old, for those of you who do not want to deal with the Bible. Roughly 15,000 Israelis have died in this conflict and about 55,000 Palestinians and countless lives destroyed on both sides. And the stakes are really high. It’s a pile of rocks called The Holy Land. I call it modern day idolatry. And it doesn’t seem to abate.
Today, we want to examine the unresolved conflict that many, including the president of the United States, commander in chief, generals, policy analysts say that the national interests of America are dramatically affected because we keep pushing this problem down the road further and don’t seem to have enough backbone to do what needs to be done.
Today, we want to explore the solution that has been pursued in the past for two decades and see if it’s still any chance of success or is there another potentially good outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will benefit America’s national interests and the people on the ground.
Each one of these distinguished scholars will address the issue and they all have an outstanding record of discussing this issue and debating it in the elite media of the country.
The conflict remains at the heart and peace and stability of the whole region and dramatically affects U.S. national interests. And that’s what our concern is here today to discuss.
So we will take the speakers in the order that you have them. Jeremy, you’ll be first. In the order that you have them — is it — oh, I’m sorry, the program. Yeah, Jeremy, I have your bio first. Ian Lustick will be — Professor Lustick will be the first to speak. For those of you that have the program, his bio is on the back of the program, and he’s the fourth one down. And if you’ll read that, you’ll save him time to deliver his speech.
IAN LUSTICK, professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
Thanks Omar, and thank you for coming. Thank you to the Middle East Policy Council for organizing what I hope will be an informative and stimulating exchange. I’m confident it will be.
My name is Ian Lustick. I’m a Jew from a shtetl in Northern New York called Watertown. In high school, I was a member of the modern Orthodox youth movement, the National Conference of Synagogue Youth. I was actually a chapter president. We used to sing and dance to scores of nigunim, that is Hasidic type melodies for hours on end. The song I loved the best was one that we couldn’t dance to. You didn’t dance to it. It’s called “Ani Ma’amin,” I Believe. And almost all Jewish Israelis and most Jewish know the words, the powerful melody, and the deep emotion of its message. It translates like this “I believe with a complete faith in the coming of the Messiah. And although he may tarry, yet I will wait for him. I will wait for him all the days of my life.”
The deep meaning of the song is that whether or not the Messiah comes, and whether or not there really is a Messiah waiting to come, the yearning for what his arrival would mean and the injunction never to lose hope for mankind are values in and of themselves that help make life worth living. Much of the intelligent and passionate criticism I’ve received in response to my New York Times op-ed piece “Two State Illusion” is the critics’ own version of “Ani Ma’amin.” It is an anxious yet defiant song of resistance against despair by professing against all odds complete faith in the coming of the two-state solution.
The reality is that God will not announce that the Messiah is not coming. Nor, regarding a negotiated two-state solution, will he announce when the point of no return making that impossible has actually been passed. But there is a great difference between the two. There’s really not much to lose by declaring Mashiach ben David, the Messiah son of David will come, even if he will not. But there is a tremendous amount to lose by continuing to advocate two-state plans that cannot be implemented when the evil designs of others can exploit that error.
The most important message in my article was not that two states are absolutely impossible. Indeed I did not say that and do not believe it. Rather, my argument is that paths to political decisions in Israel and the United States that could result in that outcome via negotiations are so implausible that the negotiations themselves end up protecting and deepening oppressive conditions. In addition, by diverting energies from the difficult search for alternatives, however painful they may be, fixation on the tantalizing mirage of the two-state solution’s imminent arrival increases the likelihood that when transformative change comes — and it will come — that change will be catastrophic.
Let me be clear. I am not claiming and I did not claim that I have discovered a realistic path forward to satisfying the legitimate rights of Jews and Arabs in Palestine, the Land of Israel. Such a path may exist, but it may not. For several decades I believed, and I think correctly, that internationally brokered direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians had a good chance of achieving a real two-state solution that would both naturalize Israel’s presence in the region and provide Jews and Palestinians with limited, but democratic and satisfactory, outlets for their collective aspirations. Problems there would have been, but those problems would have been much preferable to those associated with any other course of action.
To be sure, neither its benefits nor its implementation were ever sure things. To have pulled off the two-state solution while it was available would have been in some ways more amazing than the establishment of the state of Israel itself. It would have made Israel the only European fragment society to have successfully institutionalized its presence in a non-European region without effectively eliminating the aboriginal population.
The odds were always against the two-state solution’s success, whether because of the crippling hold that a blinkered Israel lobby has on American foreign policy in the region, the Islamicization of politics in the Arab world, or a cultural transformation of the Israeli political landscape driven by decades of siege, Holocaustmania and triumphalism.
The argument I’m making is not that I have a better plan for a nice future than two-state true believers possess. It is that if catastrophic scales of destruction can be avoided, ways to do so will not be found by those blinded by faith in an appealingly familiar but no longer effectively available path. Why? Because as long as Israelis and Palestinians do not feel, immediately and concretely, that their very existence is threatened by the absence of a way to live together, they will not question the assumptions that need to be questioned.
What are those assumptions that need to be questioned? For Israelis. Is statist Zionism the only framework for satisfying Jewish national and cultural ambitions? Can the fundamental inconsistency between Jewish stateness and principles of citizen equality be the actual basis for stable relations between equal and powerfully mobilized Jewish and non-Jewish communities? Can those who live in a villa survive in a jungle unless the jungle is transformed into villas or the villa becomes a part of the jungle? Can the Jews of Israel ever expect to win an endless competition in brutality with the other peoples of the Middle East?
For Palestinians. Can Palestinians as a people survive an all-out struggle between a Muslim Middle East and a Jewish state capable of using weapons of mass destruction? Can a Palestinian Zionist movement intent on achieving the return to its land generations after the loss of that land, be more successful, humane, or stabilizing in its effects than the Jewish version? Can the category of Palestinian embrace Jews in a way that the category of Zionist was unable to embrace Palestinians?
In my essay I suggest a variety of things that could happen in a radically changed Middle East. I do not offer those ideas as forecasts, but as examples of possibilities that may help two-staters understand the category of theoretically possible but highly implausible, a category which now also includes the negotiated route to a two-state solution.
I agree that despite the fact that ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslims do ally with one another in the Israeli parliament to support segregated schools and strict dietary rules in public facilities; it is a stretch to think of those two groups allying themselves more broadly. Certainly it is difficult to imagine the circumstances that would lead most Mizrachi Jews in Israel to identify also as Arab.
On the other hand, if Germans and Jews could be close allies within two generations following the Holocaust, and if my own side of the Jewish world has no problem referring to itself as “Ashkenazi,” i.e. German, then why think a changing mix of challenges and opportunities cannot lead Jews from Arab countries to acknowledge their heritage in a parallel fashion?
Politics, as I noted, makes strange bedfellows, but only when circumstances demand it. That’s what rough politics does. Rough politics is not something that moves according to a plan. But rough politics is how history produces most of the outcomes to protracted struggles. Those outcomes are seldom the solutions that anyone planned for or sought systematically to bring about.
Right now, for example, there is no one-state solution, but there is a one-state outcome. Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea there is one and only one real state: Israel. It has shown repeatedly that it can and will send its military forces into any corner of that territory whenever it deems it necessary.
The Palestinian Authority’s nominal administration over some domains and Hamas’s position in Gaza notwithstanding, virtually nothing goes into or out of this entire area that the state of Israel does not authorize. The question then is not whether there can be one state in the country. The answer to that question is obvious. There is. The question is what is that state like and can it be changed? Are there other outcomes available that are more compatible with principles of democratic and human rights for all the country’s inhabitants and those with rights to live there?
Here’s where I agree with the argument that, absent successful negotiations — and no one has produced a scintilla of evidence that these negotiations currently underway will succeed where so many other have failed — absent successful negotiations, Lebanonization or apartheid are the two most likely medium-term outcomes.
On the other hand, as we can see from the South African case, and to an extent in Lebanon, neither anarchy nor oppression are durable over the long run. What I have tried to do is draw attention to how the dead plan walking known as the two-state solution facilitates the integration of masses of disenfranchised Palestinians into the control system of the Israeli state, blunting pressures that otherwise would be brought to bear on the protagonists and discouraging new forms of mobilization and cultural change.
In this way, with its prospects reduced from the plausible to the theoretically possible, a negotiated two-state solution and the discourse surrounding it remain key factors in the political equation. Indeed the fundamental reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s embrace of the slogan, drained of all real meaning of course, is that the tantalizing image of its availability sucks all oxygen out of the political atmosphere. To be sure, the large-scale pressures, mobilizations and psychological shifts necessary to make progress possible cannot be predicted in detail. But only thus can a situation featuring a single state that dominates life between the Jordan and the sea be transformed into a society within which more satisfactory confederal, unitary, regional, bi-national, or even, eventually, two-state arrangements could evolve.
An interesting dimension of many public critiques of my — by two-staters of my New York Times essay is the extent to which the authors agree with the core of my analysis, even if often accompanied by shrill attacks on my motives, knowledge or bona fides. I believe most would probably agree with me that the systematic efforts of Israeli annexationists and their supporters outside of Israel to destroy paths to the two-state solution constitute one of the greatest crimes ever committed in Jewish history. Like me, they find themselves unable to trace a series of steps that could lead from where we are now to a satisfying two-state solution. Like me, they decry the fetishization of negotiations and Washington’s chronic failure to act decisively. Like me, they understand the negotiations as serving many petty parochial interests, rather than the objective of achieving peace. Down deep I think they also agree that neither the Kerry version nor any version of negotiations per se will be capable of bringing about a two-state solution.
Some larger set of political forces will need to appear that will shake up the political landscape, especially in Israel, with sufficient force to produce a government ready to sign the agreement whose detailed provisions, they say, everyone already knows.
The exact place where I differ with many of these critics is in the scale of the political shifts that need to occur in order to enable real progress. For example, Avner Inbar and Assaf Sharon have pointed to what they describe as the potentially game-changing option of Palestinians bringing their case to the U.N. They imply that this is the kind of development that could jolt the two-state project back to life. I disagree. I do not argue, as they and others say I do, that the weight of sheer settlement, as facts on the ground, is what is decisive. Not at all.
There were nearly twice the number of settlers in Algeria as there are east of the Green Line and they were all evacuated. However, that evacuation was not produced by an FLN maneuver at the U.N. It was the complex consequence of the overthrow of the Fourth Republic in France, years of emergency rule in the Hexagon, a horribly bloody revolution in Algeria, and the reconstitution of political life in France under a radically new constitution.
My point is that it is not the settlements, per se, that are the problem, but the political constellation of power and purpose that produced them, that grows them and that will protect them. What I am arguing is that the entrenchment of the forces in Israel that have destroyed every effort to achieve two states is so deep and so firmly rooted in ideological, cultural and American institutional political realities, that much bigger forces will be necessary to transform them than operate within the normal course of Israeli or United Nations politics.
My message is not a happy one. The whole situation is deeply tragic. While there were unavoidable contradictions buried in all Zionist plans for transforming Palestine, the post-1967 period did open up the spectacularly hopeful prospect of successful partition. It’s with profound sadness that I find that prospect has effectively vanished as a political program. But my commitment to Jewish values, democratic principles of government and the human beings I know and love on each side of the conflict’s terrible divide demand I face that sadness with the tools I have.
I’m not a prophet, nor am I a political leader. I am a political scientist. What I owe is no more and no less than the best analysis I can provide of a political situation that is turning the hard work of peace movement heroes into threats to what they themselves hold most dear.
I argued for the two-state solution beginning in 1969 and ironically for years was called a self-hating Jew because I supported two states. The passion I put into that effort was spurred by my certainty of the doom that intensive settlement of the territories would mean for the Zionist dream I embraced of a democratic, Jewish and civilized state. As I have said, God will not announce when pursuing that dream becomes or became an empty hope. But any advocate of that political project must judge how he or she will know when that time arrives. Otherwise, the illusion of its assumedly permanent availability will strengthen those ready to base Jewish life in the land of Israel on systematic coercion and permanent oppression. (Applause.)
YOUSEF MUNAYYER, executive director, the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestinian Center
Thank you. My name is Yousef Munayyer. I’d like to thank Tom and Omar and the Middle East Policy Council for the opportunity to address you today and for convening this important panel.
We find ourselves today, 20 years since the Oslo Accords, in a position where many still advocate for two states. And two states, in fact, is the stated policy objective of this country’s government. While in reality, we have never been further from two states on the ground. It’s time to wake up. What we have today is a one-state reality.
The one-state versus two-state debate is not so much a debate about which solution is better at all. To have a debate about which solution is more appropriate, there must first be an agreement about what the problem is we are seeking to solve.
Increasingly the two-state/one-state divide is characterized by an overlapping divide and an understanding of the problem. Two-state proponents see the problem as demographic, leading to the conclusion that drawing a line can solve it. One state proponents tend to see the problem as one of rights denied, which can only be corrected by fully affording those rights.
In my view, the problem has never been about finding space for two nationalisms in one geography, but rather about the basic rights denied to the native inhabitants of that geography for the purpose of empowering just one particular demography.
The foundations of Zionism, wrote the prolific and brilliant critic Hannah Arendt in the 1940s, were laid during a time when nobody could imagine any solution of minority or nationality problems other than the autonomist national state with a homogeneous population. Zionists, she said, are afraid the whole building might crack if they abandoned their old ideas.
The contrary is true, she says. The building will collapse if we don’t adapt our minds and our ideas to new facts and new developments.
The interesting question to me is not one state or two. It’s clear that the answer is the former. Rather, the interesting question to me and one that we should all be asking is why. Why despite stated policy naming two states as the objective, and despite growing policy advocacy in favor of that objective, are we further from that objective in reality today than ever? The answer, I believe, is even though the truth is blindingly obvious, it’s inconvenient for many, especially politically.
This forces two-state proponents to formulate advocacy based less on the landscape on the ground and more on the landscape of argumentation. More often than not this means behaving reactively and operating in the little space left available for dissent in an overwhelmingly Zionist discourse in Washington and more broadly in the United States.
This approach is problematic, to say the least, and leads to the promulgation of several myths. These myths end up creating expectations that are never fulfilled. One state or two, we must correct this method of advocacy or continue to watch it falter.
Allow me to enumerate the three most problematic myths. Myth number one, Middle East peace and the creation of a Palestinian state is a, quote, “vital national security interest of the United States.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this, especially from those dedicated to two-state advocacy. This became something of a battle cry after 9/11, the logic being that the blowback from prolonged U.S. support for Israel at the expense of Palestinians will cost the United States.
This much is true. Palestine is the bleeding heart of the Arab world and the cause of discontent among many across state borders, but a vital national security interest? That’s beyond a stretch. Let’s define this for a moment. A vital national security interest is in plain terms an interest the United States would use military force to defend. Seeing that the United States will not so much as condition aid to Israel in an effort to change its colonial behavior in the West Bank, I think it’s safe to say that there is nothing vital about this interest. The United States’ vital interests in the region are straightforward. It cares about maintaining Israel as an ally in the region and propping up other allied regimes.
The overarching goal in the region has always been the same: ensuring stability to facilitate the free flow of natural resources out of the region.
Now, Palestine can be connected to this. There’s no doubt that the prolonged statelessness of Palestinians has had destabilizing effects on the region that nearly even brought the United States to war. In Jordan, in the fall of 1970, the United States was only a few Syrian tanks away from what could have been military confrontation with the Soviet Union. But much has changed since then. The instability of Palestinian statelessness has largely been contained to the occupied territories thanks to an abomination known as the Oslo Accords, which imploded a problematic PLO into an even more problematic Palestinian Authority, and of course, thanks to steadfast Israeli repression.
So the question of Palestine is far from being a vital national security interest for the United States. That being said, a peace agreement could serve U.S. interests in the region insofar as it contributes to regional stability. But this is a secondary if not tertiary objective. This means that while it might serve U.S. interests, crafting policy to achieve it involves a calculus that gives great deference to other interests, including domestic political constraints, which are strongly opposed to this end.
This brings us then to myth number two. Myth number two: ending the occupation is in Israel’s interest. This too is a popular mantra of two-state advocacy, the idea being that Israel, an ostensible Jewish and democratic state, cannot subjugate millions of voiceless Palestinians without an identity crisis. But this dangerously conflates the interests of the state with the interest of maintaining this identity.
Israel’s claim to Jewish democracy and Israel’s interests are two very different things. This much is evidenced by the fact that a growing number of Israelis are perfectly willing to jettison the notion of democracy in favor of demographic supremacy and keeping the majority of the settlements.
So what interests are involved in the occupation and, perhaps more importantly, what interests weigh into the decision to end the occupation? Israel today is a strong state with a thriving economy. True, it is increasingly isolated in the world, but few Israelis seem to genuinely care. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis, about 10 percent of the population, live in occupied territory. These folks vote and they vote in growing numbers.
In a study I did on Israeli election data from 2009 and 2013, the most recent election, the most striking thing I found was when you disaggregate settlement voters and non-settlement voters, what you find is over a four-year period there was a 6.2 percent increase in the number of eligible voters outside the settlements, whereas inside the settlements, that increase was a remarkable 45 percent over four years.
This is due in part to state policies of settlement expansion and financial incentives encouraging the transfer of civilians to the settlements, but also due to the stark disparity in birthrates between the settlements and those not in the settlements. Couple this with the fact that while turnout in the main population centers outside the settlements, like Tel Aviv, for example, was about 62 percent, turnout in the settlements was 78 percent.
Then throw into the mix the fact that most Israelis that did not vote for Likud or the religious nationalist parties are more concerned about the price of cottage cheese than some abstract notion of identity and you can clearly see why Israeli settlers and their interests are overrepresented in the decision-making officialdom in Israel and will continue to be into the future. But these are just the political costs. There are other costs associated with Israel making the decision to end the occupation.
Some naively argue that since Israeli settlements exist by virtue of the Israeli military’s defense of them, if the Israeli military withdrew, the settlers would quickly leave. But as we saw in Gaza, there’s nothing simple or cheap about this exercise. Aside from the need to use military force to evacuate the settlements in Gaza, the resettlement costs of about 5,000 Israeli settlers, many of whom, by the way, resettled in the occupied West Bank, cost about $1 billion U.S. Think then about 20 times this number. That number, about 100,000 is a conservative estimate of the number of settlers that would have to be removed in a very unfavorable land swap deal for the Palestinians.
This is not Yamit we’re talking about here. But let us, for the sake of argument, think about that number. Based on resettlement costs from the 2005 withdrawal, which is, by the way, in 2005 dollars, this would cost about 10 percent of Israel’s current GDP. Add to this the additional value Israel gains from the occupation, including the exploitation of the land and resources, prime among which of course is precious water, Israel illegally takes some 80 percent of the Mountain Aquifer’s water, which is located in the West Bank. That water is a significant portion of the state supply, 60 percent of which is devoted to domestic agriculture.
In the last few days, the World Bank released an important and detailed report on the impact of Area C closures on the Palestinian economy. What was clear was that in Area C Palestinians are losing out on billions of dollars in potential economic rewards from the land, the water, the mineral resources, tourism and so on. What is not explicitly stated but is nonetheless clear is who is reaping these economic rewards in the meantime. The state of Israel.
Some will concede that Israel reaps many rewards from the occupation, but note that there are also costs to a prolonged military presence in the West Bank. Surely there are, but those costs have only become more and more bearable under the two-state framework and its peace process.
In fact, Israeli defense consumption in relation to its GDP is in recent years at record lows. Over the course of the past 20 years, that number has halved. So while there are military costs associated with the occupation, they have only declined and continue to decline during peace processing, while the rewards of occupation and the costs of withdrawal have only increased in large part thanks to the same process.
If we’re going to talk about Israel’s interests vis-à-vis the occupation, let’s talk about real cold, hard interests, not abstract interests. It’s only the former that actually influences state behavior.
This brings us then to myth number three. Myth number three, the status quo is unsustainable. It’s said that a lie told often enough becomes truth. I don’t know if that’s the case, but I do know that a lie told often enough might be repeated by the president and other principals of his administration.
Indeed, in 2011, President Obama said about Israel, quote, “precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth. The status quo is unsustainable. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.” The same was uttered by his then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
If anything has been sustainable in the turbulent Middle East for the last half-century, longer than Mubarak and longer than Gadhafi, it has been Israel’s occupation. Sure, nothing is sustainable forever. At one point, I suppose, the Grand Canyon was just a river. But it’s particularly disingenuous to hear this language from the very officials who are crafting policy to ensure that the status quo remains sustainable.
As I’ve already discussed, not only is the Israeli occupation sustainable, it is profitable. Indeed, Israel has done almost all it can to ensure the occupation persists for generations by carving up the West Bank with colonies and entrenching its presence there.
Washington has done little to stop it and is, in fact, actively encouraging it with economic and diplomatic support. There was a time, only 20 years ago, when a U.S. secretary of state was rallying international support to get behind a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements as illegal — not illegitimate, but illegal. Today, it is the United States that is single-handedly standing in the way of such a resolution by using its veto despite vast international support for it.
The status quo is absolutely sustainable in large part because of Washington’s unyielding support for Israel. Telling ourselves otherwise, despite this obvious reality, is a recipe for disappointment and disillusionment. Why is it so important to debunk these myths? By allowing these myths to be our assumptions, we permit unrealistic expectations to come about.
If for example, a peace deal was a vital national security interest of the United States and if ending the occupation was in Israel’s interest and if there was an urgency created by an unsustainable status quo, well, then you’d expect all that is necessary is to bring the parties together to the negotiating table for a ripe deal to be made. If power acts in its interest, and with these assumptions we’d think that would be the case, the negotiation should lead to the desired outcome. Instead, as we have seen, negotiations have only lead to the opposite outcome.
In fact, it is due to the illusions these myths create that many can’t see the blatant double standard so perfectly captured by President Obama himself in recent weeks. It was just last week that President Obama told NPR in regard to the stance House Republicans were taking by refusing to pass a continuing resolution before a government shutdown deadline, quote, “you don’t negotiate by putting a gun to the other person’s head.” And yet only days earlier, President Obama said, after meeting with Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the U.N. GA that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians it occupies not merely with a gun to their head, but with an entire foreign military occupation in their land, negotiations were, quote, “the best way,” the only way for a successful outcome.
These myths and assumptions also lead to an unrealistic and unhelpful understanding of responsibility and blame. If it’s good for the United States and good for Israel, why hasn’t it happened, we are led to believe. It must be because of Palestinian rejectionism.
Moving forward, we need to revisit these assumptions, challenge these myths and radically alter policy if there’s going to be a change in the situation. Here’s what most liberal Zionist two-state advocates and what most other two-state advocates constrained by U.S. domestic politics don’t want to tell you or are afraid to tell you. Without massive — and I underscore massive — pressure on Israel, Israel has no reason to change the status quo.
Advocacy for a two-state outcome without advocacy for massive pressure on Israel to bring it at minimum into full compliance with international law is in effect advocacy for perpetual occupation and is in part responsible for the morass of today.
All of this brings us back to the more fundamental question, should policy advocacy aim for what is right, fair and just, or should it aim for the path of least resistance, given the powers that be? I don’t know where the United States might be if Martin Luther King chose the latter. I don’t know where South Africa might be if Mandela chose the latter. I do know, however, where Israel-Palestine would be if advocates continue to choose the latter — precisely where we are today, but with more settlers and an even deeper rooted version of Israeli apartheid.
It’s time, as Hannah Arendt said, to adapt our minds and our ideas to the present reality and imagine new paths forward. Thank you. (Applause.)
DR. KADER: Before you start, Jeremy, if you’ve got questions, be writing them and sending them forward or there’re people along the side to pick them up.
JEREMY BEN-AMI, President, J Street
So well, good morning everybody. I’m Jeremy Ben-Ami. I’m the president and founder of J Street and perhaps the foil for today’s discussion.
I want to thank Omar and Tom for this opportunity to engage in what I consider to be an extraordinarily important and respectful discussion of whether or not there really is an alternative to a two-state solution for resolving the longstanding conflict between the Jewish and the Palestinian people over the land that we call Israel and Palestine.
It goes without saying that I find myself in the slightly unusual position today of serving as the right end of the political spectrum. As some of you may know, I spend much of my time engaged in a different political dynamic. So I’m very grateful to the Middle East Policy Council for a little change of venue for me.
Let me open up my remarks by just saying forthrightly and clearly that I am a proud and unapologetic supporter of the state of Israel and of the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in the land of Israel. My family was among the very first Jews to return to the area in the 1880s. They fled persecution in Russia and they sought to rebuild the home of the Jewish people in the land of Israel that their ancestors had dreamed of and longed for for centuries.
The movement that they were a part of, Zionism, fit neatly into a larger trend in the 19th century towards nationalism that blossomed as peoples across the globe sought to establish their right to self-determination and to claim a place among the community of nations. So today, most of my family lives in Israel, as I myself did for several years. And I remain firmly committed to both the necessity of a Jewish homeland and the justice of its existence, its defense and its survival.
My belief in Jewish nationalism is rooted in history, both the millennia-long connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and the need for one place, somewhere on the globe, where Jewish people can live safely and securely in a home of their own, given our people’s tragic history when living in the lands of others.
Let me state equally proudly and unapologetically that there will only be security, peace and justice for the Jewish people and their national home when there is security, peace and justice for the Palestinian people.
I and J Street, the organization that I represent, do believe that the Palestinian people have the same right to freedom and to self-determination as the Jewish people. I and J Street do oppose the ever-expanding settlement enterprise on the West Bank and the ongoing occupation that exists in post-1967 occupied territories.
The present situation does threaten the national interest of the state of Israel, a state that is only the home of the Jewish people if it is both democratic and Jewish in nature. And the present situation threatens Israel’s long-term survival physically, but it threatens the moral fiber of the Jewish people as well.
So those starting points lead directly to the question we’re here today to discuss, which is: how do we resolve a conflict between two people who both have valid rights and claims?
For all the complexity at the heart of this conflict and for all the deep emotions that it understandably taps over not just the past 45 years, not just the past 60-plus years, not just the past 100 years, but over millennia, I do maintain that this conflict must be understood as a conflict between two people who have a legitimate and conflicting claim to one piece of land. And I only see three options for resolving that conflict.
One, continue to fight until somebody wins and takes control of the land in its entirety; two, divide that land in some way and agree to be satisfied with only a piece of what you want; or three, to share it without dividing it. I firmly believe that there is only one viable option, and that is the second, division of the land into two independent states. I hope that all of us in this room, everybody on the panel would join together in rejecting option one and agree there is no zero-sum solution in which one winner takes all. While there are those on both sides of this conflict who may harbor that illusion, theirs is a path that is paved in blood, pain and suffering that I hope all of good will seeking peace reject.
But I know that many in this room and on this panel would argue for the third option, for sharing the land. I understand the frustration over the failures of the last 20 years since the beginning of the Oslo era and I understand that faced with that frustration, they suggest stopping trying. Don’t try to divide what can’t be divided. Start figuring out how to live together as one big happy family in one big bi-national state.
Let me just note that on my right, politically as well, there’s growing interest in exactly that, in a one-state outcome, but for different reasons. In the version of one state supported by the settler leaders whom we all oppose and by Israel’s most right wing politicians, all those from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea would become part of one big state, but they wouldn’t share equal rights.
I’ll assume for the sake of discussion here — and I’ve heard that this morning that those on the panel with me are only considering one-state options that incorporate having equal rights regardless of race, religion and background — and I do understand, Professor Lustick, why this one-state model has some attraction, especially for American liberals who’ve become used to lauding our — the development in our nation of an increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. If we all managed to get along here in America, surely Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs can get along just fine in some imaginary single state, let’s call it Isratine.
I don’t view this as a solution. I don’t call this a one-state solution. I regard it instead as the perpetuation of a one-state nightmare, and a quick review of the political trends and recent history around the world shows we’re moving away from and not towards some form of humanist utopia.
Look at the former Yugoslavia which split into seven separate nations amid a frenzy of bloodshed and ethnic cleansing. Look at Belgium, where French and Flemish-speaking Belgians are barely on speaking terms; or in Spain where Catalans are joining hands in a human chain 250-miles long to demand independence. Czechs and Slovaks recently agreed to go their own separate ways. Even the Scots want out of the United Kingdom.
And then there’s the Middle East, where the fabric of multinational coexistence, which was enforced for centuries by the Ottomans and more recently by military strongmen, is violently unraveling before our eyes. Lebanon is torn between Shiites and Sunnis, Christians and Jews, barely hanging together. Iraq remains tormented by bloody terrorist attacks. Egypt’s Copt minority is the frequent target of attacks. And of course, Syria has disintegrated into an all-out civil war.
Forcing a roughly equal number of Jews and Palestinians to coexist in one state and to compete for political power, economic resources and overall control is not a solution, it’s a formula for similar tension, conflict and bloodshed. A two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians offers both peoples a way to avoid such a fate. It is the only way to give them both what they want: national self-determination.
And I, again, understand the deep frustration over a generation now of trying to reach a diplomatic solution. And believe me, I also understand the lack of belief that the present Israeli government intends in good faith to end this conflict, but I don’t buy the notion that the obstacles in the path of getting to the goal of a two-state solution mean that the destination itself is wrong. To my mind, the right answer is to redouble our efforts to remove those obstacles so we can reach our goal.
And I’m pleased to say that with the energy and determination that is being brought today to the cause by Secretary Kerry, there is reason for renewed optimism. If these efforts fail and the two peoples end up forced to live together in one state, I see little chance of that turning into a blissful paradise of equality and coexistence. Instead, I think we would be condemning our children and grandchildren to a never-ending cycle of violence and bloodshed as both people seek control and dominion over the other.
I look forward in the coming discussion to understanding better how those who promote a one-state future propose to deal with the practical issues such as establishing the political rules of engagement in such a state. Who gets to vote? Who has the right to citizenship? How are resources allocated? How are the national defenses of this hypothetical state established and run? And how do all these rules get set in the first place? Wouldn’t the negotiations over establishing such a system be at least as complex and even less likely to succeed than the negotiations over a two-state solution?
All of our children and their children and the generations that follow will be far better served if the Jewish people and the Palestinian people each have a country that they can call home. Each of these two nations should provide full and equal rights to all citizens regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. Religious freedom and the rights of all people in both states should be fully respected and full access should be provided to the religious sites of all faiths.
Two successful states for two peoples living side by side could potentially bring those peoples far closer together than they are today, affirming similar economic security and cultural interests rather than their differences.
But for now, my focus is not on idealism but on a practical solution to a generations-old conflict, a conflict that has taken too many lives, caused too much suffering and needs to be brought to an end. And the only sustainable long-term resolution to this conflict is one that meets the most basic requirements of both parties: security and independence from one another and self-determination.
I understand that the bottom line for the Palestinian people in any resolution is that their rights must be recognized and respected, and wounds must be healed. In particular, that means a just and agreed resolution to the refugee issue.
But I ask in return that the bottom line for the Jewish people be recognized and respected as well. And that is that the security and survival of a national home for the Jewish people in the land of Israel be recognized and guaranteed. And that will only happen through a two-state solution. Anything else is not a formula for resolving the conflict, but for perpetuating it. Thank you. (Applause.)
AHMAD SAMIH KHALIDI, senior associate member, St. Anthony’s College, Oxford; former PLO advisor (1991-93).
My name is Ahmad Khalidi. I am Palestinian from Jerusalem. My family is from Jerusalem. We trace our origins back to about 1,000 years. The Nasebis (ph) claim to have been there before us, but they have no proof of that. And I have grown up in the diaspora. I’m currently based in England. I’ve been active in Palestinian politics for about 500 years mostly in official and unofficial peacemaking and with great success as you can see from today’s panel. (Laughter.) I wish to thank Tom and Omar and the Middle East Policy Council for bringing me over to no little expense. I hope they find it worthwhile.
How can we characterize the Middle East today? Fundamentally, it’s — there is a rampant regional civil war across the Levant, from Lebanon’s shores to the Iraq-Iranian borders. Now it has taken a substantially sectarian character, Sunni-Shiite, with multiple underlays. Here and elsewhere in the region, there are ethnic, economic factors — regional power struggles, historical rivalries, personal animosities, grand power politics, generational transitions, youthful frustrations. All of these have created a maze of interconnected, overlapping conflicts and fault lines.
Out of this turmoil, we have had new borders and new identities. In Southern Sudan, there’s a new state. In Syria, there’s any number of statelets. Iraq has broken apart. Libya is polarized. Yemen is likely to go the same way. And the map, as has been now widely recognized, is changing shape, and its geopolitical permutations remain unpredictable. Will there be a new Kurdish state, for instance? Will new tribal and confessional entities redraw the region along more or less stable lines? Will the collapse into more primordial and less heterogeneous policies, or polities rather, ultimately bring peace and coexistence, or will the forcibly cleansed ethnic tribal or confessional entities that are emerging remain in perpetual conflict and competition? Will they be at least as much a source of chronic instability as their predecessors?
You’ve already seen the tide of shifting conflicting axes and alignments come and go; alliances and forces appear and wither. Yesterday’s Muslim Brotherhood, which seemed to be sweeping through the region is now being swept out of power, apparently in relentless retreat. New powers have emerged, dominated and then receded. Qatar, yesterday’s master of the region, today has shrunk back into its football stadiums. Old players appear to be on the verge of extinction, only to prove a confounding survivability and sustaining power, our good friend, President Assad of Syria.
Where is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in all of this? Certainly, it’s not the most visible. But compared to the rest, it is in a pacific moment, a relatively bloodless one, thank God. But visibility should not be confused with saliency.
The Palestine-Israel conflict, amongst other things, is the point of convergence and intersection between almost all the elements that I have mentioned above — borders, ethnicities, identities, religion, nationalism, all come together here on this ground. Its relative insulation from what is around it today is no indication of its incendiary potential, as we have witnessed before on many occasions.
And furthermore, it is of global resonance. It is not a local affair, partly as a consequence of its history and the historicity of its place and its players, and partly because Israel is integral to the U.S. political fabric as is Palestine to the political and moral consciousness of millions around the globe.
When the U.S. wants to go to war in and around the region, it is Israel that is invoked for better or for worse. When protesters mass in Tehran, Ahmadabad against Western injustice, real or perceived, Palestine is still a genuine rallying call.
Will a Palestine-Israel solution address everything and resolve all these conflicts in the region? Of course not. No fool would say so, not even this one. Will it help to create a stable zone in a sea of turmoil? Most probably, yes. Will its perpetuation as an open sore help to make the world a better place? Undoubtedly not. This I think very simply is the very basic calculus of the United States today. It is also the calculus of Israel and the PA-PLO’s own dynamic.
Putting myself in Israel’s position for a moment, of this Israeli government, you see an ever-expanding path towards growing delegitimization, spreading Jewish communal divisions in the diaspora, and a genuine demographic and political dilemma on the ground. How do you preserve the Jewish state when you’re spread between and amongst roughly four Palestinians?
And for the moment as well, if I’m Bibi Netanyahu, Iran certainly looms large not just for the day when, but for the day after whatever happens is going to happen, because if you want the world to support you on the day after you do what you have to do, the key — the key I think that Bibi has come to realize, lies in potential movement with the Palestinians. Palestine, if you want, for Netanyahu, has become the key to Tehran.
But for Ramallah, the road ahead is also very uncertain. This leadership’s slender national credentials hang by a thread. There’s no visible alternative to them but they still represent the very last breeze from the Palestinian national movement’s winds of the ’60s. The national project, so-called in 1988, which is to build a state for Palestinians on this — territories occupied in 1967 is still at the PLO’s (shaky ?) core. And all talk of U.N. unilateral action, notwithstanding the PLO leadership today, which is wedded to a negotiated solution, has little option of divorce from it.
So what about a two-state solution? The two-state solution is not a new invention. It is a very respectable 76-year-old — Peel — Lord Peel, in 1937, was the first to propose the two-state solution. It was, of course, tried in 1947 again. It was manifestly unacceptable from their point of view then. This is not the place to debate it. But it only really sprung back to life after the PLO adopted it unilaterally in 1988. Indeed, the much-maligned Yasser Arafat is today the father of the latter-day two-state solution.
It seems to have been forgotten by all those who are adamantly supporting it today that it was adamantly opposed yesterday by the U.S. and Israel for almost a decade, even in 1999, just before Camp David, Mr. Barak, the leader of the Labor Party in Israel, refused to include the two-state solution on the Labor Party electoral program. It was not until 2003 paradoxically, that it was adopted by Israel, and not until — by Sharon — and not until 2009 that Bibi was converted to it.
But nonetheless, it is today the only vehicle that is the common ground between all parties to the conflict: Israel, Palestine and Arab. Even Hamas does not oppose in principle and it will take a massive political earthquake to shift this cumbersome ship from its course.
The fact is that there’s no real plan B. There’s no negotiable solution. There are many other options, but if we’re talking about negotiations, there is no negotiable solution — alternative to a two-state solution. The practical alternatives are unacceptable to one or both parties. An interim or provisional state or process on the one end or a one-state solution on the other; and in between, the whole range of unilateral actions that will only involve at best a partial and temporary solution.
I do not want, for the moment, to dispute the difficulties of reaching a fair and sustainable two-state solution. There is no doubt about the narrowing window that Secretary of State Kerry spoke of earlier this year at his confirmation hearings in Congress. I personally came to this conclusion many years ago. How does one shift 500,000 settlers out of the West Bank? How does one divide Jerusalem in a way that’s workable? How do you get the Israelis out of the Jordan Valley after Bibi Netanyahu’s told Abbas that he wants to stay there for 30 years? How do you ensure Palestinian security against future threats? How do you resolve the refugee problem and address the issue of a Jewish state? The problems of negotiating have to do with signing, ratifying, implementing, verifying and then sustaining. Signing, ratifying, implementing, verifying and sustaining. And these are immense.
The first, that of negotiating, is just the very, very first hurdle. In spite of all of this, I believe that the prospects of actually reaching an agreement today are not negligible and we should be prepared not because the parties have suddenly turned to peace mongering, if there is such a thing, but because the short to medium term — in the short to medium term, every other alternative looks worse to one or both sides. And this is not about optimism or pessimism. It’s about reading which way the compass — which direction the compass is pointing.
A catastrophic failure of the talks, however, could lead — should lead to a rethink. And, again, this is not necessarily new. I’ve been recently involved in a five-year-old project now called the Parallel State Project, which is about — a book is just about to be published by I think California University Press, edited by Mark LeVine and Mathias Mossberg, which is a very interesting idea. The idea is if you take the whole of mandatory Palestine, and you have two states, one superimposed over the other, so that, for instance, all the Jews in the land would vote in one parliament, all the Arabs would vote in another, and you could see how this may or may not work.
And it is indeed, as a matter of principle very, very hard to argue against the notion of a one-state. Ian Lustick makes a very good case not necessarily for one state as a virtue, but the one state as a possible outcome. But I would say that it’s very hard to dispute the vision of a civic state with one man, one vote, in which everyone can live wherever they want in the whole of Mandatory Palestine.
I think we can distinguish between three forms of one state. And I think one has already been very clearly made, which is the one-state reality. This is not just the reality of the day. It’s a reality since 1967. This is the apartheid state, the one that we have today. It is a de facto consequence of occupation and its prevailing characteristics are Israeli domination or oppression of the Palestinian people.
A second is one state as a desirable outcome. The question here is how. This to my mind is not something that you can negotiate, at least not in the short term. How will the Jewish majority that is in control of every aspect of their life hand over, transfer power to a Palestinian — either similar number of Palestinians or even a Palestinian majority? In many ways, this is very similar to the predicament that the Palestinians found themselves before 1948. I don’t see any mobilizable partners to such a project in the short to medium term.
The second is that something may arise not out of a rational strategy, but out of the convergence of some unseens and unknowns. Something may happen. But I believe we cannot base politics on maybes or unseen aspirations. This is neither good strategy, nor very good analysis.
And as someone who’s not unsympathetic to the vision of a one state, there are enormous problems. Jeremy I think has mentioned some of them: Jewish fears of Arab domination, potential deadly competition over land and resources; the issue of Jewish technical institutional domination; the emergence of a marginalized Arab underclass in a largely Jewish-run state. We’ve seen all of this before during the one state of the mandate. And furthermore, the region is not providing a perfect model of harmony and communal existence for one to draw on.
I believe that the one-state/two-state dichotomy is to some extent false. The two are not necessarily exclusive. One state could eventually arise as the result of two states. And this for me could be a very likely outcome. A consensual new regime in mandatory Palestine born out of enlightened self-interest and after the conflict has been defused. And this is where the European model becomes relevant. It only took a very few years from the end of World War II to the beginnings of the E.U.
For the one-statists, the real challenge is to operationalize within a real timeframe and a pragmatic political context. How in essence do you get Israel to de-Zionize itself in an era of ethnic and religious retrenchment and at a point where Israel’s Jewish population is becoming more nationalist, more religious, more Jewish that Israeli, if you like? Ovaida Yosef’s 500,000 mourners yesterday attest to this.
But the one-state/two-state dichotomy is not the only consequence. Other things may move as well. The worse case is a descent into intercommunal violence that is now all too common across the region. If Sunni can slaughter Shiite, Arab and Jew within and across the green line are perfectly capable of following suit.
A more hopeful scenario is one where the Palestinians retrench and reconnect in peaceful pursuit of the three primary national aims: full civil rights in Israel, end of occupation of the territories occupied in 1967, and a fair, just and justifiable deal for the 1948 refugees, a struggle in which the precise form of national statehood takes second place to other goals. Thank you. (Applause.)
DR. KADER: I don’t remember having a more clear, intellectually rigorous, (stack ?) of integrity that four speakers could present to an audience today. I can’t thank you enough for your presentations, how outstanding they were and how honest and rigorous you were about it. And Jeremy, you were brought because of your intellect, not as a foil. (Scattered laughter.)
For those of you that have questions, would you just hold up your card and we’ll start them. We’ll start the questions and the discussion with Dr. Mattair leading, and then we’ll take questions that were handed in and then we’ll take questions from the floor. Tom, do you want to take the podium or do you want to do it from there?
THOMAS R. MATTAIR, executive director, Middle East Policy Council
I will start with a couple of questions and then ask the panelists to respond to what the others have said and then take questions from the floor.
I’d like to start with a question for Jeremy and Ahmad. Given all of the settlements and the bypass roads and the Wall and the separation of Gaza from the West Bank and the political strength of the pro-settlement forces, what are the steps that would have to be taken to make a two-state agreement possible? And actually, Jeremy and I were talking for a minute before the conference about how much evacuation of settlers would be necessary, and how much dismantlement of obstacles would be necessary. And how would you patch together the political forces in Israel and the United States to make all that a possibility?
And then for Yousef and Ian, my question would be — Ian, you haven’t advocated one state necessarily. In fact, you’ve warned that it might only emerge after a lot of blood, after a lot of violent struggle. And that’s the catastrophe you’d like to avoid. So could the two of you again talk about how that could be avoided? What concrete steps could be taken now to prepare for the failure of negotiations over two states? And what kinds of changes, what kinds of constitutional foundations would be necessary, and what kinds of institutional transitions would be necessary, and where are we going to find the constellation of political actors to put that together?
And Yousef, when you respond to this, I’d like you to think about one thing, and that is you were talking about myths and how it’s a myth that it’s in the U.S. national interest to resolve this and it’s a myth that it’s to Israel’s advantage to resolve this. It all depends on how you define interests and objectives and strategies. And maybe when you point to American behavior, you’re talking about American objectives and American strategies that actually don’t conform to American interests and that because of domestic politics and because of a lack of courage and because of a lack of clear thinking, we’ve got objectives and strategies that are not in the national interest — and so maybe it’s not actually a myth, that suggestion.
So those are my questions. Maybe we could start with Jeremy and Ahmad.
MR. BEN-AMI: OK. Thank you very much. I’ll address the two questions you asked me, although I have opinions of course on all of them, but the two questions are what steps practically can still be taken to achieve a two-state solution, what given all the obstacles is possible. And then two is about the politics both in Israel and here in the United States, and I’ll particularly talk about the Jewish community.
So first of all, you know, my basic argument about why the notion that somehow a window has closed in a manner that can never be opened again on the two-state solution is that all of the obstacles, all of the barriers, which are enormous, be they roads or army bases or walls or buildings, whatever the case may be, the obstacles are, at the end of the day, manmade. And with sufficient political will, recognizing the balance of interests that you began to discuss, they can be man-unmade.
It’s not easy. Moving 70 (thousand) to 100,000 people in the context of a negotiated two-state deal from beyond the ultimate border that will be established back to the state of Israel, within the state of Israel will not be an easy task, and it will require, I believe, wrenching conflict within Israeli society and the Jewish community more broadly.
But somebody said resettlement of — you know, even as many as several hundred thousand people, I think it will only end up being in the neighborhood of 100,000, but even were it several hundred thousand people, it was implied that it’s not possible. And all I would say is just remember that in the 1990s, the state of Israel absorbed a million Soviet Jews who had to leave and wanted to leave the Soviet Union. And within a decade, those million people were housed, employed, integrated into Israeli society without benefit of understanding the language and the culture and all the rest of it. And so it is not impossible. The window can be propped open. The window can be reopened. There is no such thing in a manmade problem as an inability to solve the problem. There just needs to be the will to do it.
So I don’t buy the concept that this two-state solution is ever actually dead, it will only keep getting more and more costly and difficult to get there. And as I said in my opening remarks, the road that we will have to travel, as Ian said, is going to be bloody and awful, and people will suffer. So that’s my answer on the first question about what practicalities.
On politics, Israel first. The elections earlier this year marked a tick back towards the center for the Israeli political pendulum. The right wing bloc today has fewer members than it did prior to the January elections. The number of members of Knesset who support a two-state solution publicly is greater than half of the Knesset. There are members of the coalition, like Tzipi Livni and her whole party, like Tzachi Hanegbi from Likud who attended the J Street conference this week, who do support a two-state solution. And the politics actually in Israel are resulting in a more extreme right wing, but a right wing that’s smaller, and a growing recognition on the center right that in the national self-interest of those who believe in a democratic Jewish home in Israel — in the national interest, there must be a two-state solution.
So I would argue that the politics in Israel are actually not shifting inexorably over to the far right but are in the process of shifting back towards the center and that the extremists in the settler party and within the Likud are the ones that are becoming smaller and isolated.
In the American-Jewish community, one only needs to look at the recent surveys that just came out in the last week. One was by the Pew Research Center that talked about the views of Jewish Americans on these topics. And then a second was just published yesterday by the Jewish Council on Public Affairs which looked at opinions of rabbis, about 600 rabbis in this country.
The positions of the American Jewish community on these issues are deeply in line with the two-state outcome that I am outlining. And the political atmosphere in this town is changing. The political atmosphere in this town is coming to recognize that the more extreme right-of-center voices in the Jewish community that we always thought spoke for the entirety of our community do not speak for the entirety of the community, that there is not only a diversity of views within the Jewish community but actually a majority within the Jewish community who hold moderate, rational, sane views that understand that only through compromise and a two-state solution will there be peace and security for Israel in the long run. And that is changing rapidly. My organization is a symptom of that, perhaps in some ways a bit of a catalyst, but at least a part of a larger wave that is emerging in the American-Jewish community.
So I would argue the politics here and in Israel are not as bleak as they are sometimes portrayed. And I would argue that the obstacles that do exist are in fact removable at great cost, but with the right political will can be done.
MR. KHALIDI: I need to premise something and perhaps contradict myself. One of the most extraordinary things that’s happened in recent times is that the two-state solution has become a Zionist solution to the — in the eyes of almost everybody I talk to, at least on the Palestinian side. Is this on?
What was the national — the fulfillment of the national aspiration of the Palestinians supposedly has become essentially a means of satisfying Israel’s needs for, you know, demographic and strategic security. But I think there’s a — there’s a genuine Palestinian national interest still in this. There are very few people who perhaps on the Palestinian side will agree with me because the vast majority certainly of young people these days have gone almost completely into one-statism. And I understand why. Partly it’s because of the frustration with the peace process, partly because it’s the creation of realities on the ground.
If we actually have an agreement — that’s a very big if — it will be the very first time that the Palestinians and Israelis have ever agreed on an end game. And that in itself will create a new political reality. It’s not enough. But if you can get an agreement, then you change the discourse, the hopes and the aspiration. It’s no longer about something that may or may not happen, it’s about something that becomes concrete and achievable.
And if this agreement, as it must — if it’s going to be at all an agreement, sets the borders and the issue of settlements, where you continue building and where you don’t, it will become that less significant because you’ll have decided where the borders are. The same applies to Jerusalem. And the same even applies to the issue of refugees.
So even before you enter the phases of implementation and despite all the difficulties, the very fact that you can achieve a common agreement that sets out where everything is going will completely alter the dynamics of the conflict and the nature of the discourse. And for the short term, I think, this is the best we can hope for.
DR. MATTAIR: Yes. Ian, do you want to take that second question or comment on that?
DR. LUSTICK: Actually, I want to take the first question. (Laughter.) I think the second question, maybe Yousef is more focused on it. I’m really focused on this first question.
Now, I want to take direct issue with some of the things that Jeremy said in the sense of what’s omitted when you accept that line of analysis. There is a huge difference between something being possible and something being plausible enough that it’s worth entertaining. If you make the argument that everything that’s manmade can be unmade, Israel is manmade. It, therefore, can be unmade. Therefore, why go for a two-state solution if you can actually go to the root? That is, if you’re looking at it from a Palestinian point of view. The answer would be, well, that’s absurd. I mean, maybe in principle Israel could be unmade but it’s not a practical possibility, so let’s not think about it.
In other words, even you, Jeremy, have to operate in the political world, distinguishing between things that are theoretically possible and the things that are plausible enough that it’s worth pursuing. That is exactly what Secretary of State Kerry said in his confirmation hearing when he said we’ve only got — he said in April — a year, one-and-a half-years, maybe two at most. Now, since it’s six months later, he’d have to say six months, a year, a year-and-a-half at most.
Martin Indyk, when he spoke at the J Street conference, said the window — the reason why — and this is non sequitur but it’s a revealing non sequitur— the reason why this go round of negotiations will succeed is because it’s the last opportunity for it to succeed. The window will be closed, period. Now, yes, that’s an exhortation to action. And I can accept, as I do accept, the impossibility of saying that it is impossible.
But what’s not impossible is saying that the opportunity costs of pursuing something that has a very low plausibility may be too high. That’s where I see, Jeremy, that you’re not — you’re not opening that question. What are the opportunity costs of pursuing something that becomes less and less possible, plausible, so much so that the right can pretend to adopt the two-state solution?
And when you tell me Tzachi Hanegbi endorses the two-state solution — I knew Tzachi Hanegbi a long time ago. I know what makes this guy tick. When you see Bibi Netanyahu speaking at Bar-Ilan a couple of days ago about the two-state solution and what it entails, it’s a — they’re using you. They’re using this mirage, this tantalizing mirage in order to camouflage and protect the tightening grip of an Israeli version of a — of a one-state solution which is — which is based on oppression and based on the bet that Jews will be able to out-compete other Middle Easterners in a game of brutality forever. That’s their bet.
And now, I believe that there was a whole period of time during Oslo — I do not consider it an abomination — when that was a reasonably plausible way to get satisfactory arrangements, and it was not playing into the hand of the right. Now, it’s a — there’s a sense in which the relationship that you have to the right in Israel that is the same relationship as Ben-Gurion had to Abraham Isaac Kook. Abraham Isaac Kook was the intellectual godfather of Gush Emunim; came up with the idea of mystical Messianic Zionism. When he looked at Ben-Gurion and the other apikorsim, the sinners, the Jews who wore short pants, had premarital sex and didn’t eat kosher food, he said, it’s OK. They’re doing God’s work. We will inherit their objectives, and we will bring the messiah, and rule over the entire land of Israel. Of course, Ben-Gurion thought that actually it was him who was playing the rabbi. We can see who won in the end.
But right now, Jeremy, you have to be aware of the possibility that you’re being played in this way. And you have — and the way you have to become aware of it is to be able to say out loud, there are certain circumstances in which I will judge that there are — the opportunity costs of continuing down this line are too great. And until — when I hear you say under no circumstances will I ever give up, that really does open up the opportunity of permanent exploitation by the other side.
I’m going to close with a — this remark with a joke that I think really does capture why these negotiations are going on. It’s actually the last scene of “Annie Hall.” So here — at the last scene of “Annie Hall,” Woody Allen gets in front of the camera and he tells a joke. And this is what he says: this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, doc, my brother is crazy. He thinks he’s a chicken. And the doctor says, well, why don’t you turn him in? And the guy says, I would but I need the eggs. (Laughter.) Well, I guess that’s pretty much how I feel about relationships, says Woody. You know, they’re totally irrational, crazy and absurd, but I guess we keep going through it because most of us need the eggs.
Now, every protagonist in this relationship, in these negotiations — the United States government, the peace industry, the PA, and the current right-wing Israeli governments — are getting eggs out of this negotiation. It’s got nothing to do with actually getting a solution.
And, again, I have yet to hear anybody answer what I call the Thetford problem. The Thetford problem — I used to live in New Hampshire, and it’s a very crazy kind of system of roads and mountains and rivers, very old. So somebody’s lost, driving around, trying to find Thetford, which is in Vermont, so he asks a local, how do you get to Thetford? The guy stops a minute and says, well, you can’t get there from here. It’s not that we can’t imagine a there, it’s just that you don’t have outlined this is how we’re going to get through it.
You talked about the Russians, the transformation of Israeli society. Yes, maybe the election goes this way or that way, within a very narrow range and a bizarre image of what the two-state solution really means, but from a political-cultural point of view, Israel has got to go through a much more fundamental transformation in part because of the integration of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
DR. KADER: We have some responses. You’ve provoked your colleagues. Ian, if you keep this up, we’re going to start charging attendance. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
MR. MUNAYYER: I just wanted to respond to what Tom raised earlier about the question of the myth of U.S. vital national interests. Can you hear me? OK?
What I said or what I meant to say, if I didn’t say this, then I must have misspoke is that the myth is that it’s a vital national security interest. We over-exaggerate the extent to which the United States is going to commit itself to changing the situation. And so while I do think that, you know, a peace agreement can serve U.S. interests, it will only move — the United States will only move in that direction if other things fall into place as well. And domestic politics simply do not allow that for a variety of the reasons that we discussed.
I did also want to respond to one thing that Jeremy brought up in his answer to the question about Israeli politics. I did not see the election this year as a move of Israel to the center. Actually, I saw it the exact opposite way. I saw it as a shift to the right, a stark shift to the right. And I think when you look at the breakdown and you look at the numbers, they really only point to that fact.
Israeli politics is about getting to 61. And really now, the only viable coalition that can get to 61 is a right-wing coalition, primarily because the non-right-wing parties, if we can call them that, do not include the Arab parties. And so by, you know, the Arab parties excluding themselves and also the Zionist parties excluding the Arab parties, the opposition can never get to 60 under the current formulation.
And the parties in the opposition, like Yesh Atid, for example, is not a centrist party. If you look at their politics, they’ve said very little about the question of Israel’s position in the West Bank and the continued occupation. And the leader of that party announced that he was running in the Israeli colony of Ariel, in the West Bank. So, you know, this is by no means a left wing pro-peace party.
The center has actually moved to the right because the right has also moved to the right. And so much so that Avigdor Lieberman today is no longer the most right-wing, crazy, you know, fascist in Israel. Now he’s part of the more mainstream right of Likud. So I think that it’s actually gone in a much more difficult direction than the one that Jeremy characterized.
MR. BEN-AMI: So just a few points of — I’m sure it we’ll provide time for discussion over the next half hour or so on many of these points.
The question of what is possible — I understand the difficulties. I understand the costs, but what I don’t hear from Ian and I don’t hear from folks who put forward the one-state scenario is the road that they would pursue. And I think Ahmad made that point as well, that it is really, really hard to see how Martin Indyk and John Kerry are going to be successful over the next couple of years. I admit that. The odds of success are probably not 100 percent. I don’t know if anybody in this room thinks they’re higher 50 percent. Can I see a quick show of hands? OK. So, you know —
DR. LUSTIK: Is your hand up?
MR. BEN-AMI: No. My hand is not up. I’m asking the question.
So let’s agree that this is very, very hard to try to get a negotiation to success around the two-state formula, but to think that it would be easier to reach an agreement on a one-state outcome is, to my mind, a flight of fancy. I think it is more akin to planning the colonization of Mars than to think about how you’re going to get the Israelis and the Palestinian people to sit at a table together and talk about the practicalities of arranging an equitable, just one-state future together.
So given that, I understand Martin Indyk trying to inject a sense of urgency and saying the window will close. I think the window closes on this round of efforts. I don’t know that President Abbas has another go in him at age 78. I don’t know whether or not another American secretary of state will come along like John Kerry for quite some time who’s going to do what he did to get this back in gear. It’s going to be a while.
I do know that the next decade, the next generation will be really, really ugly if we don’t succeed. It’s going to be very painful for all of my friends on both sides of the line.
And I predict — and I hope I’m young enough to see this — that one day we’ll come back to the two-state solution. After this window closes, if we fail — and I pray to God we don’t fail — but if it fails and we go through all that pain and all that suffering, ultimately everybody will come back to the table and say, how do we divide this land? Where is the border? How do we figure out Jerusalem? How do we meet the needs of the refugees? How do we figure out security? We’ll be right back in the place we’re at because there isn’t — you talk about plausibility of the two-state solution. Give me one scenario of a plausible future that is agreed upon and how you get there in our lifetimes for achieving this fanciful vision, and then we can talk about plausibility.
I have one other thing to say which is about Tzachi Hanegbi and those on the right. My father was a commander in the Irgun. My father was a comrade in arms with Tzipi Livni’s father, with Dan Meridor’s father, the parents of many of the leaders of Israel’s right today. I understand the right-wing mentality too. I grew up in it. I defended it.
But there comes a point — and it has for Dan Meridor; it has for Tzipi Livni; it has for Tzachi Hanegbi — when you realize that the only way to ensure the thing that does matter to all of us, which is the survival of a national Jewish home, is some form of compromise. You can’t have it all. And that recognition from the center right is the single most important reason for optimism that there is a hope, because the confluence of Israelis saying it is in our national self-interest and knowing that Palestinians believe it is in their national self-interest, that this is the way to fulfill their national aspirations, that is where the hope lies. As long as there are people on the center right in Israeli politics willing to stand up and say that and work towards that end, they need to be embraced and not scorned.
DR. MATTAIR: Well, I do have questions from the floor I’d like to get to, but my second question was, if the two-state solution is impossible or will be impossible in a year, what needs to be done to avoid an apartheid state or a bloody revolution? And how long will it take? How will we get to equal rights for everybody?
MR. MUNAYYER: At this point, we can’t avoid an apartheid state because we have one, and I would argue that we’ve had one since 1948. I don’t think it’s been about 1967. An apartheid state by definition is a state that uses systematic human rights abuses to empower a particular demography based on race or ethnicity or what have you. I think that’s been the case since the creation of the state of Israel by virtue of its denial of allowing refugees to return to their homes. It’s used systematic abuse of human rights to maintain a particular demography as an empowered majority. That continued to be the case in 1967. That continues to be the case today. The system has only become more and more complex.
And I think there’s only one way to change that. And as I said in my remarks in the beginning, it requires massive pressure on the state to change its behavior. You cannot convince Israel that it should end the occupation by trying some reverse psychology about it being in its abstract interest years down the line when they see that they can very well maintain this today. They can maintain it. They are maintaining it. They’ve been maintaining it. Perpetual occupation has been a viable policy option in Israel and continues to be. Until that calculus changes on the Israeli end, nothing else is going to change.
You know, it’s funny. About 20 years ago, shortly after Yitzhak Shamir lost election, he was interviewed by a newspaper. And he said, you know, if it was up to me, I would have negotiated autonomy with the Palestinians for 20 years, and by that point, we would have had half a million settlers in the West Bank.
DR. MATTAIR: All right. I’d like to take some of these questions from the floor. And some of them are for Jeremy. I’m going to try to combine them. Here’s one. Netanyahu has set conditions for an agreement with the Palestinians: number one, no return to the 1967 borders, which he considers indefensible; no return of the Palestinians of 1948 and their children — that’s the refugees and the diaspora — and their children and grandchildren; and number three, Israel has to maintain a military presence on the borders of the Jordan Valley. Given those positions, how are you going to get to a two-state solution?
And then there’s another condition that has been introduced in the last two years or so, in which Netanyahu has asked the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And then there are a number of questions here about the concrete facts on the ground. Here’s one. There are 30-plus Israelis laws that institutionalize discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel — now this is Palestinian citizens of Israel — including laws regarding to land acquisition. Will you go on record as opposing these? And if so, what are you and J Street doing to oppose them?
And — all right. That’s three that are combined. Can you take them?
MR. BEN-AMI: Happy to. Let me begin — because I must respond, Yousef. You know, I can’t sit here, of course, and accept and leave hanging the notion that, by definition, Israel since 1948 has been an apartheid state. I, of course, do not agree.
I would share with former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert my very, very deep concern about the future and where Israel heads if there isn’t a two-state solution and what happens in a society in which potentially a minority of Jewish residents and citizens have rights that a majority of non-Jewish residents and citizens don’t have. That apartheid word has been used by Prime Ministers Olmert and Barak as a potential for where Israel is headed.
To me, the national home of the Jewish people must be a state rooted in justice, rooted in treating people equally. And if that is the future, then we have lost Zionism, and we have lost what it means to have an Israel. And so, yes, that is a national interest to me is avoiding that future. But I don’t buy that the very definition of Israel is that. I think there is a way to square being Jewish in character and being democratic in nature.
In answer to the question about do we speak out about the injustices to those within Israel who do not receive, as citizens of the state of Israel, equal treatment of the law? We do speak out on that. It’s not our mission. There’s an organization called the New Israel Fund that I used to work for that that is their mission. I’m a supporter of the New Israel Fund to ensure that those rights are upheld, equal rights. And I said it in my opening remarks that the Israel that I want to fight for and the majority of Jews around the world want to fight for is one that upholds those rights. So absolutely that is of deep concern.
On the question of Bibi Netanyahu’s conditions, what I would say is we’re in negotiations. Thank goodness we got past the notion of preconditions. What the questioner articulated — borders, refugees, the question of the recognition of the character of the state of Israel — those are the topics of the negotiations. They are no longer preconditions because they are now subject to negotiation. I think we’re all familiar with, let’s say, the model Geneva Accords. We’re all familiar with the Clinton parameters. We’re all familiar with the ideas that are out there about how to reach a resolution on those topics. The border between these two states, ultimately, will hue — if there is to be an agreement, will hue relatively closely to the 1967 lines. But we all know it won’t be the 1967 lines. There will be swaps. The Arab League accepted that in May. It is United States policy under this president, and it’s the common sense end to this conflict. So yes, the 1967 lines precisely will not be the border but there will be a pretty close adherence to it, give or take a few percent, and there will be swaps.
The issue of Israel’s security is a sine qua non. There won’t be an agreement if there isn’t a set of security arrangements that the establishment, the security establishment of the state of Israel doesn’t believe is sufficient. General John Allen, on behalf of the United States government, is now engaged in a separate track of negotiations with the Israelis to review every single security concern that Israel has placed on the table and to try to develop an assurance from the United States that those security needs can be met.
The question of an Israeli military presence on the Jordan River is one potentially of time. Somebody said 30 years has been put out there. Other people have said zero years. So somewhere between zero and 30 lies a compromise that perhaps can save generations of suffering. I would hope that my friends on the Palestinian side can see that conceding some limited time presence, with clear markers over that time of performance, with a gradual withdrawal of Israeli security presence is a potential way to resolve this. That is called a compromise. And I hope we are heading in that direction.
As far as the Jewish state issue, it allows me to tie back to the question of Yair Lapid and calling him, you know, a right-wing politician. It was just reported in the papers this morning and so folks on the panel may have missed it, that Yair Lapid repeated what Menachem Begin said about the need for others to recognize the nature of the state of Israel. And I share this very, very deeply.
The state of Israel doesn’t need anyone’s permission or recognition to be the national home of the Jewish people. It is up to Israel to determine its character. Israel didn’t demand this from the state of Jordan. It didn’t demand this from the nation of Egypt when it made peace. No one who believes strongly in the national home of the Jewish people should rely on somebody else to tell us what the character of the state of Israel is.
And so Yair Lapid said this should not be a precondition. There has to be a way to acknowledge both people’s rights and both people’s claims and both people’s futures. But this notion that was introduced in the last few years is an unhelpful notion and I think we really need to revisit that as part of the Jewish communal discussion of who we are as a people and how much we have to depend on ourselves for our own destiny and our own survival.
DR. MATTAIR: OK. And there’s one more set of questions that I’m going to try to combine before we go to the floor. Whether we’re talking about two states or one, how can there be a negotiated solution if the negotiations are between a stateless occupied people on one side and a regional superpower backed by the global superpower on the other? Is the United States permanently and fundamentally incapable of using its unique relationship with Israel to oblige Israel to accept a genuine Palestinian state? If you were an adviser to President Obama, what policies or strategies would you propose the U.S. adopt to promote a just peace in the Middle East? What policies or strategies would you propose? Anyone?
MR. MUNAYYER: Can you repeat — there were three questions. Maybe Ahmad wants to go.
DR. MATTAIR: Well, it’s about the asymmetry of power. How do you have a negotiation when you have an asymmetry of power between the two actors and —
MR. MUNAYYER: You don’t.
DR. MATTAIR: Given the fact that the United States has potential leverage, is it incapable of using it? And what recommendations would you make to the president right now?
MR. MUNAYYER: Yeah. You don’t have a negotiation. What you have is, you know, a massacre essentially. And that is what happens. You know, I often tell people, of course the Israelis are going to invite the Palestinians back to the table. If you were a 300-pound arm wrestler, you’d love to invite back to the table a 97-pound weakling every single time, especially when you have an 800-pound guy sitting, you know, in your corner behind you.
So of course, you’re going to invite them back to the table because, you know, what’s going to happen when you get back to the table. You’re going to impose your will and if they don’t accept it, you can impose your will anyway and then invite them back to the table. So you don’t have a negotiation that way. What you have is a massacre and that’s what we’ve been seeing with Israel continuing to impose its will on the Palestinians and every single time you come back to negotiating table, the sliver of Palestine that is up for discussion is smaller and smaller and smaller.
Let me just — want to say one thing about this notion of security and 30 percent of the Jordan Valley and somewhere in between and all of that.
There’s a fantastic candid video of Benjamin Netanyahu that you haven’t seen it, you really need to see it, of him speaking with a family living in a settlement, speaking all about how he used the idea, the pretext of security to scuttle the negotiations, speaking pridefully in doing that. It is a ruse. It is a joke. We have to start seeing that as such. And it’s just — you know, I don’t want to be cynical about it, but it’s really comical to look at this situation and think that negotiations are going to yield a just solution. They’re not. They may yield some sort of agreement at the end, but it will certainly not be anything like a just and lasting solution.
DR. LUSTICK: So I’d like to respond to this negotiations question. I don’t know if Jeremy is asking me to. And I want to point out, I have said — I tried to say very clearly. Negotiations toward a two-state solution is not an available route to a two-state outcome. A two-state outcome might — we might have one, but not via negotiations. I certainly say the same thing about a one-state. But is that unusual? Try to think of a national democracy or any kind of democratic state that’s emerged through negotiations. The way democracies are built is usually because there’s an exhausting struggle between the sides, neither side eventually figures out it can dominate, so it compromises. But those kinds of struggles aren’t at a negotiating table. How did the United States become a democracy? The Civil War, 600,000 dead Americans. How did Britain become a democracy? Civil war for more than 150 years. How did France become a democracy? One of the bloodiest revolutions in history and many of them.
This is not unusual. This is how you — it happens. So to say that in this case there will be — there will only be negotiation routes to democratic outcomes doesn’t — does not — is not consistent with what we know of how politics work. That’s not a nice thing, but it’s a true thing. And when you look at it in that context, you see that sometimes calling for negotiations, insisting on negotiations, imagining it’s the only route forward makes it more difficult to see other things that you could see if you weren’t blinded by that “Ani Ma’amin” faith that no matter what happens, he will come — I mean, it will come, the two-state solution.
You might as well — that entails the same faith that both the Palestinians as a people and Israel as a country and the Jews as a people will be there. And who knows whether that is true?
DR. KADER: Thank you. We’re going to move the questions to the floor now. For those of you that want to ask a question, please ask a question. We’ve had our four speakers speak. So if you’ve got a question, ask it now. Yes, sir.
Q: I guess I wanted to re-ask a question that wasn’t answered. It’s basically to Ian and then to Jeremy.
Using a distinction between the possible and the plausible, are there any possible U.S. policies that would make a two-state solution more plausible? If so, what are they? And Jeremy, how plausible is it, given what you’ve talked about as the changes in the politics of this town that the policies either that Ian suggests or alternatives that you would suggest could actually come about?
MR. MATTAIR: Thank you.
DR. LUSTICK: Thanks, (Jerry ?). And that’s a great question coming from someone who’s come up with so many great ideas for achieving what would appear to be only barely plausible in the past.
Here’s what I think. I was asked by Tom if you were an advisor to president Obama, what would you tell him. And I would say which advisor? Am I, you know, coming from the domestic politics side of his equation or am I coming from the State Department? And if — because if I’m coming from the first side, I say hey, there are two questions in the foreign policy where the United States doesn’t care what the actual truths of the matter are because — and those are Cuba and Israel — because those are third rails in American politics. All of your agenda is at risk if you touch those third rails, so just do whatever is safe. And right now, what’s safe is saying there’s still a chance for the two-state solution. Let’s negotiate.
MR. MATTAIR: OK, you’re not a domestic advisor.
DR. LUSTICK: OK. Now, I’m a foreign policy advisor and I say I recognize that it would be silly for me to tell you to put the kind of pressure that Yousef Munayyer says because you’ll never be able to do it. So I’m going to tell you this. The United States should say that any outcome that Israelis and Palestinians can agree on, we would support. In the meantime, we’re going to say what we think, and that means voting what we think at the U.N. And it means reducing our profile and our association with Israeli activities of any kind over the Green Line, trying to keep that Green Line intact, even though we know we can’t, which will embroil us, Mr. President, down the road in the question of Israel slipping into a pariah status.
So as you know, the EU has moved in this direction and we are quietly supporting them, and that’s a good thing.
DR. KADER: Jeremy, did you want to answer (Jerry’s ?) question?
MR. BEN-AMI: Oh, certainly, you know, one more reply.
Just very quickly, I think that there are some things that Kerry — that Secretary Kerry has done that are making it more plausible and I think he’s tried to learn lessons from the failures of the past, so I’d just point out three really quickly. I think it is very, very important that the secretary engaged the Arab League early. And some of the outcomes of this negotiation that might be positive do require broader ratification or acceptance than simply Palestinian acceptance. I think questions around Jerusalem, questions around refugees are broader than simply just negotiations of a bilateral nature. So I think number one is internationalizing the process and not isolating the Palestinians as Arafat was isolated at Camp David, is one.
Two is I do believe that the economic piece that the secretary is trying to put together does provide a vision of a better future. This can’t only be about what are the least bad alternatives, but there has to be a vision of a better future. And I think that the effort to put together both public supports and private sector investment as a carrot is exceedingly important and I’m glad to see he’s doing that. And as I mentioned before, the security track with General John Allen — I think that having that discussion take place on a U.S.-Israeli basis is an important step forward and is something that I think does address the most significant Israeli concern.
So I think those are three pieces that are different this time around. I think they are part of the reason why I’m more optimistic than many other people are on this question.
I did have one other — oh, on the question of political change — and it goes back to the U.N. question. One of the most unpopular things that J Street has done over the course of its five years is in fact on the settlement resolution in 2011 urging the U.S. not to take a position.
I think that the polling that is coming out of the Jewish community on settlements in this country reveals that the overwhelming majority of Jewish Americans understand that settlements are exceedingly unhelpful to Israel or to the United States. And I think that the political temperature on that is going to shift. The voices that speak for the Jewish community are out of step on these questions with the majority of the Jewish public. And I think that will create some more political space to potentially do something in the future at the U.N., for instance, not vetoing that kind of a resolution, which is in line with American policy.
DR. KADER: All right. Let’s take some questions from the floor. Oh, all right, let’s — I’m sorry.
MR. KHALIDI: It’s OK. There is one area that I think the United States has been very remiss in, which is — which is Jerusalem. I don’t see why the United States cannot speak out like the rest of the world on the issue of East Jerusalem and maintaining East Jerusalem as an open option for a Palestinian capital. I understand that when you come to issues of settlements, the United States does not want to use its veto in the — in the Security Council because it thinks that this will jeopardize the peace process.
But we know what the United States’ position on settlements is by and large. Today, it’s going to be solved through redrawing the borders. We don’t know what the United States thinks about Jerusalem anymore because it’s not saying anything.
And as we all understand that the United States’ relationship with the Islamic world was not at its best these days, to put it mildly, it would seem to me that the returns of a higher profile on Palestinian Arab Muslim rights in East Jerusalem are much higher than the costs that the United States would have to pay either domestically or anywhere else if it was to take a more active, proactive role on East Jerusalem.
Q: My name is Edy Kaufman, former director of the Truman Institute for Peace, Hebrew U., and now at the University of Maryland.
Actually, I’d like to ask any of you if there’s another advice you would give to President Obama again. And this is the idea that if negotiations collapse, nine months, the baby’s not delivered, would you consider, Mr. Obama, the possibility of having an Obama vision similar to the Clinton parameters endorsed by the quartet, by the U.N., by everybody else in the world, and ask the leadership of both Israeli and Palestinians, to submit it to a referendum, since both leaders have committed themselves to an idea of a referendum, and then put a big fight for Israeli and Palestinian public opinion to endorse it. There have been good ways of doing it, a Good Friday. There have been bad ways of doing it like Cyprus, when it comes to a referendum.
I resent personally that term you used, Ian, about the peace industry. I don’t know if you include people like me or other people that are dedicated in Israel to fight for peace. But we need reinforcement, and the same way that there is an AIPAC here, why not to have Israeli public committee for Israeli policy in Jerusalem?
I mean, we are now playing on the same terrain. They can do it, AIPAC. We should do it there, public diplomacy, soft power, not giving a visa to a member of Knesset who is saying Obama is a villain. So I’m not saying — you cannot change Bibi, change the Israeli public. I’m asking you whether a referendum is a viable option for a two-state solution.
DR. LUSTICK: First of all, the problem with the referenda — and you talked about Cyprus, we could talk about de Gaulle’s referendum in France — is how they’re written. Whoever gets to write the wording of the referenda determines what — how the vote is going to go. So you inherit — all the struggle about whether to have a referendum is inherited by who gets to write it and what’s it going to say, and then what does it mean when the vote takes place.
I don’t think that’s a magic bullet, but I do agree, and I should have said this, that if I were, you know, the foreign policy advisor to Obama, I would say that the United States should articulate much more forcefully that our main criteria for evaluating and our aspirations aren’t just democracy and equal rights. And that’s something that we don’t say enough of. We need to refocus our lens on — not just on Egypt as democracy, but on Israel and Palestine. That’s the key thing. We should not be as committed to particular political arrangements — two states, one state, parallel states, confederal states, consociational states, as we are to however you can get that — those principles honored.
Now, I want to say something very positive about J Street. I’m actually a supporter of J Street financially in my modest way. Why? Not because of the two-state solution, but because if you read their materials and if you listened closely to what Jeremy had to say today, you never hear the term “Jewish state.” It does not appear in their statement of principles. Nor do you hear the term “Zionist.” In fact, you’d hear the term “democratic” and “Jewish,” which leads me to wonder even if they ran on this platform in Israel, whether they’d be illegal — (laughter) — as a political party because of that.
But to me, what that’s doing is helping move the boundaries of the political discourse. They may not emphasize that side because Jeremy’s constantly fighting on his right flank. But to me, an important element in J Street is what it’s doing on its left flank and how it’s pushing that discourse in the direction that I think the United States should also advocate.
DR. KADER: We have about 10 minutes to go and we’d like to get as many questions from the floor as possible. Where was that next question? There we go.
Q: Hi, good morning. Thank you for putting this together. Yair Lapid yesterday also talked about Jerusalem and what he said baffled me. He basically said that we can negotiate about Jerusalem, but we’re not going to give up on it. He didn’t really —
MD. KADER: You’re not going to give up on it.
Q: Yeah, he didn’t really explain what that means. First of all, I don’t even know what Jerusalem he has talking about. Was he talking about Jerusalem that Israel has had since 1948 and the 1949 armistice agreement? Is he talking about the Jerusalem that Israel has had since 1967? Is he talking about the Jerusalem that now consists of the areas annexed since 1967, in the years since then? So I don’t — I don’t know what he means by that. I was wondering if folks on the panel could talk about how you negotiate over something, but you’re not going to give up on it, you’re not going to give up on the principle of holding on to it. So anyway, that’s one thing.
Second point has to do with internationalizing and having a multilateral approach. There’s one vestige, it appears to me, left from the Madrid process, and that’s MEDRC, the Middle East Desalination Research Center, which has been operating very quietly, apparently effectively I think, but that’s it. There’s nothing else left. When President Obama, on his way to Cairo, stopped in Saudi Arabia, he could not even get the Saudis to agree to overflight rights for Israeli aircraft — not landing rights in Saudi Arabia, but over flight rights. He couldn’t even agree to — he couldn’t even get the Saudis to agree to that. So I — and the Israeli government doesn’t seem to have any interest in dealing with the Arab League proposal. I don’t know that there is a lack of confidence there. Could you kind of talk a little bit more about that as well, please? Thank you.
DR. KADER: Can we start with Jeremy on that one?
MR. BEN-AMI: So if I can, just one second on Eli’s (sp) proposal, which is something that I’ve written about myself that I do believe that should these negotiations fail, that one important step the U.S. can do is to put out another set of parameters. And I think that the notion of putting it before the people, I don’t know whether it — there’s no mechanism to actually require — you know, require a referendum, but I think putting it out there as a political choice to say this is what you say you want, take it now, forces political discussion and change. So I’m all in favor of that personally and we’ll see if we get to that point. I hope we don’t.
On Jerusalem, you know, it is very unclear what people mean when they talk about Jerusalem. And Lapid has been very vague about that. Our view, which I think is the majority view within his party is that it is possible to establish sovereignty over neighborhoods in Jerusalem based on the demographics and that is the Clinton model of Arab neighborhoods are the capital of the state of Palestine and the Jewish neighborhoods are the capital of the state of Israel. And that the Holy Basin, which is the most contested one square kilometer on earth, that at the end of the day that has no sovereignty, that that is a place that I would say belongs to a higher authority. The most important thing that human beings can do is ensure that everybody has access to it.
And so when one says don’t divide Jerusalem, you know, I often say what people — the imagery they have about dividing Jerusalem in that way is that you put a wall down the middle of Central Park or down the middle of the Mall here in Washington and you have, you know, one side and the other. And that’s not what I don’t think anybody wants. I think the notion is sovereignty, an open city, freedom of religion. So I think that within Yair Lapid’s words there is the possibility for that. And I know the majority of the people in his party have, you know, policy understandings that relate to that.
In terms of the API, the Arab Peace Initiative, I do think it’s a huge missed opportunity. You know, I don’t think that overflight rights of one country is — you know, is a carrot, but I think that full acceptance of the state of Israel in the Middle East for the inevitable future and — you know, is a carrot. And that’s what the Arab Peace Initiative offers. And I think that’s what Secretary Kerry is trying to ensure is on the table on behalf of the Arab League, by bringing them back in and the adjustment in terms of ’67 lines with swaps that happen in May. I think that that is a very, very underutilized resource in persuading the Israeli people that there is a real, solid reason and a benefit to moving forward.
DR. KADER: Let’s take two more questions and then we’re going to be running out of time. Ambassador?
Q: This is for Jeremy primarily. Don’t you believe that if the United States stepped back from opposing Palestinian efforts to get recognition in the General Assembly, wouldn’t that advance the two-state solution in some way?
MR. BEN-AMI: No.
DR. KADER: Next question. (Laughter.) Go ahead. Mic up here?
Q: Hi, thank you very much. I’m trying to figure out, we’re talking about very large issues and so on. I’m an educator and I’m looking at what’s being taught to the people on the West Bank and in Gaza and what the media — the Palestinian media says. There is no Israel. The map shows Palestine, of course. The students are taught to hate the Jews, to slaughter the Jews. You hear these little 4- or 5-years-old preaching how they’ll —
DR. KADER: Are you up — are you up to date on the — on the textbooks on both sides being reviewed and found out that they are parallel?
Q: I’m not. I’m not. I just see what’s being —
DR. KADER: Yeah, there’re some parallel problems there where the Israelis and the Palestinians need to clean up their acts.
Q: I don’t know of any Israeli textbook that teaches to hate —
DR. KADER: Yeah, a new study just recently released.
Q: OK, then my question is irrelevant perhaps. I don’t know.
DR. KADER: Thank you. Next.
Q: You know, I think the two-state solution was achievable under Bill Clinton. The problem was the team he put in charge of that were neither competent or capable. They represented everything that is wrong with U.S. foreign policy establishment —
DR. KADER: And your question.
Q: — least of which — least of which diversity. So we have to solve that problem. The question is what happens when there are no more eggs? What happens when U.S. effectively becomes irrelevant to this process and maybe then — or even between now and then other venues open up, namely a regional dynamic and a transformation that could take place in that context.
DR. KADER: Does any — do any of the panelists believe that America will become irrelevant in this issue?
DR. LUSTICK: I’m often asked questions along those lines, and I use the following analogy. Saying that the United States should get out of the conflict is — or changing — is like telling the sun to stop affecting the earth. It just — we could stop all our explicit supports for the Netanyahu government, but we still have a tremendous presence, like the sun, that organizes expectations in the Middle East. We would have to try to — in order to change meaningfully in the directions that Yousef was suggesting, we have to do things that are completely unsustainable politically in the United States.
DR. KADER: Ahmad, did you have a comment?
MR. KHALIDI: No, I just want to say that the Middle East is not — is not just a regional issue. It’s a domestic issue in the United States. For the United States to disengage from the Middle East, it would have to disengage from itself. And I don’t see that happening very soon.
DR. KADER: All right. We’ve run out of time. For me, there’s one takeaway in this whole debate and it’s been very enlightening. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have heard the voices we have heard here. There are many moving parts in this problem, and movement in any of them, none are unaffected by it. And so lots can change. There’s reason to be optimistic, I think, for those of you that are pessimistic or given up or burned out or whatever the case may be.
I think we heard fresh voices, but there are so many moving parts that are going to change the outcome that it’ll surprise us all.
There’s one thing I do remember in your article, Ian, that just stood out in my mind and that is that the tipping point that comes along and you say I didn’t see it coming and the next thing you know something very significant happened, which is how many things about the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are you just sick of and that you would give up in a second? I think that day might be coming.
Anyway, thank you for coming. The panel, you’ve been outstanding. Thank you very much. (Applause.)