Expanding the Debate
OMAR KADER, Chairman & CEO, Paltech; Chairman, Middle East Policy Council
Well, welcome to the Middle East Policy Council briefing. We’ve had a little delay getting in the building. We’ve still got people coming in, but we’re going to go ahead and get started. I’m Omar Kader, the chairman of the board of the Middle East Policy Council — I’m joined by a number of board members that are here. Where’s Ambassador Frances Cook? Hello and welcome, and we’re glad that you could join us. I’m not sure we have any other board members here. Philip, where is — oh, I’m sorry. Philip Mattar, Dr. Mattar is over here, a new member of the board, and we’re delighted that you could both be with us today.
We have our editor. And for those of you who haven’t seen our journal, Anne Joyce, who has done just an absolute wonderful job of turning our journal into an institution over the decades, and the most widely resourced, referenced journal on Mideast — you want to read it if you don’t.
Tom Mattair I’ll introduce as our executive director.
You’re going to have cards on your chairs. You can write questions, and if you don’t want to write a question, we’ll have a mic. So you can go either way, a question by writing or just step up to the mic and ask it.
We’re going to start with Dr. Walt, right? Is that right? Let me introduce Dr. Walt and get going as quickly as we can. And then who’s going to be second, Tom?
THOMAS MATTAIR, Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council
DR. KADER: Philip and then you and then Henry?
DR. MATTAIR: No, then Henry.
DR. KADER: Then Henry and then OK. Let’s start with — let me introduce Dr. Stephen Walt. He’s the Robert and Renee Belfer professor of international affairs at Harvard. He previously taught at Princeton and the University of Chicago, where he served as master of social science in the collegiate division, deputy dean of social sciences. He’s been a resident associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution. Dr. Walt also served as a consultant to the — for the Institute of Defense Analysis, the Center for Naval Analysis and the National Defense University. He’s a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He’s the author of several books: “The Origin of Alliances.” “Revolution and War.” “Taming American Power.” And he’s a co-author along with Dr. Mearsheimer at the University of Chicago, “The Israel Lobby.”
Dr. Walt, we’ll take 15 minutes for speaker. Thank you.
STEPHEN WALT, Professor of International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
It’s a pleasure to be here this morning, and I want to thank the Middle East Policy Council for sponsoring the event. In his essay on democracy, John Stuart Mill famously argued that the liberty of thought and discussion was essential to a healthy democracy because suppressing ideas or debate made us more likely to commit errors, to keep repeating past mistakes. If you want to know why Middle East policy here in the United States has been replete with failures over the past several decades, one reason has been our inability to have a candid and honest discussion about it. And as long as our public discourse on this topic is warped, our foreign policy is going to be warped too.
So I want to make three quick points today. First, I’m going to argue that the two-state solution is either dead or on life support, and that its failure is going to require us to start thinking about alternatives.
Second, I’m going to explain why it’s still hard to have a frank discussion about these issues and consider whether that situation has started to change and are we starting to get a more open debate.
And third, I’m going to offer a few suggestions for what could be done to keep expanding public debate on this very important topic.
So let me start by why I think we’re going to need a more open discussion. For the past 15 years or so, the idea of a two-state solution has been the consensus goal of the foreign policy establishment. And just remember, this was not true before then. The Oslo Accords do not mention a Palestinian state. First Lady Hillary Clinton got into trouble in 1998 when she openly called for the creation of a Palestinian state. She was too early.
Since Camp David in 1999, however, the two-state solution has become the default. This is a convenient fig leaf for politicians. Even if we aren’t making any progress, they can always say that our ultimate goal is two states for two peoples. I might add, I’ve been a consistent advocate for a two-state solution as well.
But the problem, as you all know, is that this goal is further away than ever. Indeed, many serious analysts in the United States and in the Middle East, including Israel, believe it is now impossible. The number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem exceeds 600,000. Settlements like Maale Adumim cut the West Bank into separate enclaves. The Palestinians themselves remain weak and divided, cannot put meaningful pressure on Israel or negotiate in an even way.
The current Israeli government is dead set against the creation of a viable Palestinian state, and politics there have been drifting to the right for a couple of decades. Moreover, Israel is now dependent on water from aquifers in the West Bank, which makes it harder and harder to imagine how a viable, genuine Palestinian state could be created. Obama’s failure to make progress on this issue or to slow the expansion of settlements has made it clear that the United States will never be a truly honest broker.
And you put all that together, and it’s why Secretary of State Kerry recently told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that, quote, “The window for a two-state solution is shutting. We have a year to two years and it’s over.”
If Kerry’s right, then we’re going to need to start thinking about alternatives. At some point, you won’t be able to say you support a two-state solution without making people laugh. It just won’t be credible any longer. And sooner or later, that will be true for members of Congress and secretaries of state and for presidents. The fig leaf of a two-state solution won’t cover them up anymore. When that day arrives, people will want to know what the United States is in favor of instead, which in turns we need — means we need to be able to have that kind of honest discussion of where we’re headed.
And remember, if the two-state solution is gone, there are only really three alternatives: A one-state democracy, one person, one vote in the entire area; or ethnic cleansing, to remove both Palestinians from greater Israel; or some form of permanent apartheid, as Jimmy Carter, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak have all warned about. Although it would have been better if discourse on this subject had been more honest and open long ago, we are now facing a situation where a more open discussion is really going to be imperative. And the problem is, it’s still very hard to have that conversation here in the United States.
Let me turn to the second problem. Why is it so hard to talk about this? Well, the main obstacle to open discourse on this subject is the Israel lobby, which works very hard to shape what Americans hear, read and know about the conflict. And it does this in two ways, one of them completely legitimate, and one of them completely illegitimate.
The legitimate activities are its own efforts to portray Israel in a favorable light, to blame the region’s problems on others and to convince Americans that unconditional support is in America’s national interest. Groups like AIPAC, the Washington Institute, the Conference of Presidents and many others work overtime to promote their side of the story, and they’re very good at it. They’re aided by various publications like the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post op-ed page, the Weekly Standard and others, and of course by various think tanks in Washington that receives lots of support from people or groups sympathetic to Israel. Some of you might think this is undesirable, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong or illegitimate about this sort of behavior. It’s how our system works.
Unfortunately, some individuals and groups in the lobby also do some things that I regard as wholly illegitimate and contrary to that liberty of thought and discussion we’re supposed to have here. And I refer here to the repeated efforts to silence, smear or marginalize anyone who criticizes Israel’s actions, questions the special relationship or points out the power of the lobby itself. Anyone who does this is certain to be accused of being an anti-Semite, or if they’re Jewish, accused of self-hatred. Any organization that invites people with different views to speak will get flooded with phone calls, demanding either that additional speakers be put on for the sake of balance or asking that the original speaker be disinvited. Sometimes people who question the current situation lose their jobs or have their careers sabotaged unless they are lucky enough to have tenure or have employers who will stand up to the heat.
This is why Jimmy Carter has been repeatedly smeared, including being called a Jew-hater, even though he did more to secure peace for Israel than any other president. It’s why Chuck Hagel was accused of being an anti-Semite after he was nominated to serve as secretary of defense and why he had to grovel in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation process. It’s why MJ Rosenberg, a long-time supporter of Israel, was forced to step down from his job at Media Matters for America for using the term “Israel-firster.” There is no other public issue in America where one side attacks the other so predictably, so viciously and so relentlessly. Why do they do this? First, to deter people from speaking out, and second, to marginalize them in the public arena. If you can get someone labeled as an anti-Semite, politicians won’t go near them and people will tend to ignore what they have to say.
The goal here is simply to make everyone understand that it could be professional suicide to question the special relationship, talk openly about the lobby or discuss alternatives. And I believe the other side, these zealots used these tactics because they know that a more open discussion might cause Americans to question the special relationship and to conclude that a more normal relationship would be better for everyone. If the two-state solution is gone, they don’t want people using the word apartheid, even though key Israeli leaders have used it repeatedly. They don’t want people talking about a single state where Palestinians have the right to vote because the idea of one person, one vote is hard to argue against here in the United States. I should say I think there are big problems without that outcome too, but it’s where we may be headed.
Now finally, these tactics have been around for a long time, and it’s worth asking whether the situation is now changing. There are some encouraging signs. I think we are getting more open commentary in parts of the media, especially the blogosphere. I’m thinking here of people like Andrew Sullivan, Nicholas Kristof and even Tom Friedman, on a good day. (Laughter.)
You see the emergence of groups like J Street or Jewish Voice for Peace, which are also having an impact on discourse. The publication of Peter Beinart’s book, The Crisis of Zionism, was another sign of a more open discussion. And yes, it’s true that Chuck Hagel got smeared during his confirmation, but he also got defended, which is important as well and very encouraging.
The bottom line here, is although politicians in Washington and especially on Capitol Hill are still intimidated into silence or encouraged to take absurd positions on these questions, I think we are seeing the beginning of a somewhat more open climate.
So let me wrap up by just laying out several things that might encourage a further broadening of the debate over time.
The other side, I think, has to smear and silence people because they’re defending a weak case — not the case for Israel’s existence but the case for giving it unconditional support no matter what it does. And those of us who want a more open debate and more flexible U.S. policies should stick to facts and logic and not throw a lot of mud back ourselves.
Second, we need to confront the gatekeepers of opinion. The Internet and the blogosphere has opened up things up, but we need to keep challenging editors, reporters, committee chairs here on the Hill and anybody else who helps shape discourse. And we have a strong case here, too. We’re not trying to silence anyone. We’re just asking for the opportunity to be heard.
Third, we need to expose how the other side works. Free speech is a very powerful principle in the United States, and most Americans don’t like the idea of suppressing debate. When groups in the lobby try to suppress free speech, it’s important to publicize that that’s exactly what they’re doing. When people like Elliot Abrams or Alan Dershowitz make ludicrous charges, they should be publicly scorned; their employers should get letters and phone calls condemning what they’re doing. But please note, the goal is not to silence them, to keep them from participating: The goal is to deligitimate the use of smear tactics and make them backfire.
Jewish Voice for Peace has done this very effectively through websites like MuzzleWatch. It would be great if those activities could be expanded.
Two more and then I’m done. Solidarity is another important step here. It’s hard to challenge taboos. It takes a long time to open up a debate. It is easy to get discouraged, especially when the other side has the upper hand. So it’s important for those of us who are seeking to open the debate up, support and defend each other and not get distracted by our occasional differences.
The other side’s very good at standing together, and we need to be just as cohesive, which occasionally means defending people with whom we disagree on some issues as long as they are also part of that group that promotes open and honest discourse. In other words, we want the reasonable people to be front and center in this conversation and move the unreasonable people to the margins.
Lastly, those who favor a more open discourse should defend the moral high ground. We’re not arguing in favor of one group over another. We are arguing for policies that would be better for the United States, better for Palestinians, better for other Arab societies and better for Israel, too. They are also policies that are much more consistent with American values. We have nothing to apologize for
It seems to me if we keep making that case in a calm and nonconfrontational way, current taboos will continue to erode, we will have a more sensible discussion and a Middle East policy that works rather better than the one we have followed for the past several decades. Now, that’s a very low bar to clear, but I believe in starting with achievable goals.
Thanks very much. (Applause.)
DR. KADER: Thank you, Dr. Walt.
You’ll get a chance to ask questions when we’re done. We’ll have enough time to do that. We were scheduled to have four speakers, and Hussein Ibish had to drop out last night due to a family emergency.
Next we’ll hear from Philip Weiss. Mr. Weiss is founder and co-editor of Mondoweiss.net, a news web devoted — a website devoted to covering American foreign policy in the Middle East from a progressive Jewish perspective, although the site aims to build a diverse community with posts from many authors. He has written for the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s magazine, Esquire and the New York Observer. He is also author of the American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps, 2004, and also co-edited The Goldstone Report, the Legacy of the landmark investigation of the Gaza conflict. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife, who is also a writer.
PHILIP WEISS, Founder and Co-Editor, Monodoweiss.net
Thank you all for coming. It’s great to be here. And I’m going to echo a lot of what Steve said about opening the discourse. I’m going to bring — I’m the only reporter here on the panel. That’s one of the hats I’m going to have. So I’m going to first tell you something about my observations of the occupation and why I believe the two-state solution is dead. I’m going to move on to a little bit of analysis about why this came to pass, why this historic compromise is over. And the third part is I’m going to put on my movement hat a little bit. Steve understands the degree—mentioned the degree of activism that this is going to require on all our parts, and it’s — I have my own thoughts about where we go from here and how we do that as Americans, and there’s also a Jewish-American piece that I want to bring in because I think that’s so important.
First, as a reporter, I want to tell you that it’s great to be in Rayburn describing the occupation. This is work that our politicians should be doing all the time. Our executive — members of the executive branch should be going to the Hill and describing the occupation. Congressmen should be standing up — congresswomen should be standing up and describing the occupation. They’re not. And that has made my job very important. So, you know, personally I’m somewhat grateful for that, but it represents a great deficit in our national conversation that I’m the one who has to bring that news, that reporters have to — on the margins reporters have to bring that news.
So one scene from the occupation. You walk out — you go out in East Jerusalem to Abu Dis, which is the village that was going to be the capital of the Palestinian state under Camp David/Oslo negotiations. It’s two miles east of the old city, just as the Knesset is two miles west. And so this is where the Palestinians would have their parliament building. And I believe there are some parliament buildings there. But if you go out from East Jerusalem, from the Old City, through the Mount of Olives, these — past the Dome of the Rock, this incredible world heritage site, you come to a 26-foot-tall concrete wall, and that is the Palestinian capital, this concrete wall separation fence that keeps people from the West Bank from coming into occupied East Jerusalem. So there before your eyes is one of the symbols of apartheid in this — in Jerusalem.
And there are — there’s concertina wire along the top of this wall so that kids can’t scale it. Kids have been able to figure out a way to sort of belay themselves up between the slabs using rope and to get over, to get into East Jerusalem, but now they’ve put up this barbed wire.
Second scene is a small village in — near the Hebron Hills in Area C in the West Bank, which I visited. And there are Palestinian herdsmen there who have a couple of small houses and sheds for livestock. And the day I visited this town — I’m not going to get it — Sadat Al Talay (ph), I think it was called, a very small — a hamlet — the Israelis had come in a few days before and, using a bulldozer, had destroyed the cistern. So this kind of ancient practice that’s throughout the Middle East and many parts of the world of storing water in cisterns — in this case a limestone cistern carved out of the hill, the Israelis had destroyed that. And so the source of water was destroyed and there were five sheep killed. And this kind of wanton destruction is going on on a regular basis in the West Bank, with the aim of pushing people off the land, off Area C and into cities, where they can be sort of gathered. Israel has always wanted as much land as possible with as few Palestinians on it. That has been part of the program from the start.
Third scene from the occupation. I go out of my hotel, the research institute I stay in in East Jerusalem, in Sheikh Jarrah, and I — I’m right next to the Quartet offices, this huge, magnificent structure built for Tony Blair, with big security walls around it. And just on the other side — that’s on one side of me, and on the other side is the Shepherd Hotel, a Palestinian palace, traditionally. This was a very fancy section, traditionally, of Jerusalem, the Sheikh Jarrah area, and now it’s been — the palace is being — parts of it have been bulldozed. It’s owned by a doctor from Florida, Irving Moskowitz, has developed a settlement there. And they’re putting up — so they’re moving Palestinians out of Sheikh Jarrah and bringing in more settlers. And that evidence, when you’re in Jerusalem, is everywhere around you. You see Israeli flags hanging in Palestinian neighborhoods as symbols of defiance: We’re taking over.
And that was most poignant to me when I was there at Ramadan and I was in the old city and saw the people — the people who had gone to the Haram al-Sharif for prayers on Friday — jamming those streets and coming out of the Old City, and over them are five — at one point are five Israeli flags hanging down with the Star of David, saying we are taking over the Arab Quarter, too, and moving settlers in.
It’s for this reason that because the Israeli — Israel has so permeated the West Bank and East Jerusalem and has encircled East Jerusalem — it’s for this reason that I believe the two-state solution is over. It’s not going to happen. There are 600,000, 650,000 Israelis east of the Green Line. They’re not going to move. And so what you find is a situation in which this historic conflict, which has been called, you know, two irreconcilable claims to the same land, is over. There’s no — one side has won. That has always — it’s always been the case that one side was winning. We’re now at a point where it’s just one side controls all the land with the exception of the Area A, in which the PA is exercising some type of authority.
And I think that when you look at — I’m going to steal one of Henry’s lines here, but one thing that really looks — stands out when you look at the history of this conflict is that one side has compromised. There has been only one compromise in this whole struggle, and that was in the late ‘80s when the PLO said, we will accept a state on 22 percent of this historic territory. And Henry has made that point. And that compromise, whether it was going to last — maybe a two-state solution would have worked. I can’t say. There are justice issues around it that have caused some to question whether it would be sustainable. But that historic compromise has been destroyed over the last 20 years. So this historic effort is reached to compromise on these two sides, and that compromise is now destroyed.
And I think that the question arises of why this happened. And I think that from the Israeli standpoint — I’m reading Rashid Khalidi’s book right now, Brokers of Deceit, which is about the American role in failing to balance the two sides in any manner. Khalidi points out that as early as — well, in the 1977 Likud platform, the program was extremely clear about we want all the land of Israel; we are not going to bring the settlers back; we may allow — in ’82 there was — a CIA analyst created a document for the Reagan administration saying the Israelis will allow some type of governing authority ultimately in portions of the West Bank, but they are going to control this territory, they’re going to have access to water, and they are not going to pull back the settlers.
So Khalidi’s point is that this policy on the part of Israel — expansionist, unapologetic claim to all this land — that this policy was very clear, has been clear from the start, from the beginning where the Jewish state was given 55 percent of the territory, and two years later, after conflict, wound up with 78 percent, to now, where this governing authority on the West Bank, that Netanyahu seems to imagine, if he imagines anything, a Palestinian entity there — is, as my publisher Scott Roth likes to say, a castrated rump state. That’s what it would produce. It’s not a — this “viable” word that is thrown around, viable, yes, if you pump international aid into it and help these people along. No one wants to be helped along, but that’s what it would require to maintain a Palestinian state as they envision it.
So the question is, why did the United States allow this to happen? And there I defer to Steve. I share his view that the Israel lobby has been determinative on this question. Again Scott, my publisher, was in — at Ben Gurion last month for Obama’s arrival, and he was on the tarmac, on this red carpet there, all the dignitaries were waiting. Air Force One comes down, and who comes out but Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Eliot Engel. They got rides to Israel with the president. It’s a little like the president trying to organize for — trying to build a movement for limiting gun rights and bringing in Max Baucus, you know, as a representative Democrat.
You can’t build a coalition when the people — the powers that you are recruiting inside the Congress and in our political life are undermining your position. And Debbie Wasserman Schultz has undermined it by referring to the settlements that surround Jerusalem as suburbs, they’re so-called settlements, and she led the move at last year’s Democratic Convention to push through this platform declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital. So partition always said that Jerusalem would be internationalized. Now our political structure is firmly behind the Judaization of Jerusalem. And that’s the person that he brings on his plane with him. I think that this has to do with the power of the lobby in our political life.
And moving on to the movement piece, the lobby draws its strength from the fact that the American-Jewish community committed itself to Zionism and the need for a Jewish state in the last 60 years, or — it began a hundred years ago.
And so finally, to this movement piece, I think that as a journalist and as someone who is trying to foster open debate, I think that we are facing a period in which this old paradigm has collapsed and we have to move forward. And some of my work is going to be in a kind of recovery movement, both inside American Jewish life and inside American life — political life.
And the Jewish piece of it is that I am a Jew who is an anti-Zionist. I don’t see a need for a Jewish state. I’ve never seen a need for Jewish state. Now, the reasons that my community embraced Zionism, there were very real reasons for that, of course. And I may well have been a Zionist a hundred years, even 80 years ago. And surely, maybe right after World War II, I might have been a Zionist. Zionism was a real — a valid response or a — and a predictable response to the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe as Jews entered the cities of Central and Eastern Europe. And it was a — it — there was always an anti-Zionist strain in Jewish life, but that ended pretty much after World War II and then after the ’67 war.
And what I’m doing inside — in my work inside Jewish life is to say that I like a state in which a religious minority has freedoms and rights as I do in the United States. That’s the type of state that I want. I don’t believe in — I’ve never seen a need for Jewish state, and I think that creating a Jewish state has resulted — some of the — what I described about the occupation has resulted inevitably from the character of that state, that it is — the Jewish national home, that some of the oppression of minorities and the contempt for Palestinians grows out of the very nature of that creation.
So I’m taking on Zionists in American Jewish life. I want to have that conversation. That’s very important to go into this and say, why are you here enjoying the freedoms of liberal democracy if you think it’s so important to have a Jewish state? And it is possible to have — sort of warehouse one state while you’re in another? There are contradictions that I think are deep inside Zionism that have to be interrogated. And I am taking that project on, and a lot of my friends in Jewish are taking that on.
The American piece of that is that there was an anti-Zionist element in American political life too. Now, the overlap of anti-Zionism in American political life and anti-Semitism was unfortunately — there was a certain congruence of those communities. But that being said, we’re not far from where George Marshall, the secretary of state, said to Truman in ’48, if you recognize this state, I’m not going to vote for you in the next election, where — we’re not from where James Forrestal died after opposing — committed suicide after opposing the creation of a Jewish state and feeling that he was hounded by Zionists. In fact, the press was — helped to destroy his reputation for that. And we’re not far from the State Department where Near East Affairs, the Arabists, said back in ’48, if you create a Jewish state in Palestine, there is going to be never-ending conflict. And surely, there has been never-ending conflict. So I think that there has to be a recovery of our own American tradition of questioning an ethnocracy.
The last point I’d make is that I’m optimistic about this change, about our ability to make this change in — not because of the politicians. I think that’s a dead letter right now. Witness Obama’s flying companions. But I think that the media are changing. And I would point to The New Times Magazine piece of a few weeks back that showed Palestinian resistance in the little village of Nabi Saleh, the occupied village of Nabi Saleh. This is a village where they can’t even get to their spring, their source of water, because there is a settlement built on the hillside right across from them. And these people have gone out and — every week to demonstrate, and the kids throw stones at the soldiers.
And the triumph of this piece, in my view, was that we saw Palestinian resistance honored on the front page of The New York Times Magazine, the faces of Palestinians who are resisting occupation. And what’s more, the piece honored a principle, which is that you have a right to resist occupation. Every time that Palestinians have resisted occupation over the last 60 years — or — routinely this is described as terrorism, or they’re — you know, they’re crazies, they — the — our discourse on this has been — has been bankrupt. And what this article shows is that finally, we are beginning in this country to recognize that there are real sources for this rage and that are actually human rights. And so that human rights discourse is I think the last piece of this that is really going to become more and more a refrain as the margins of journalism but also sometimes The New York Times begins to reflect some of these views. Thank you. (Applause.)
DR. KADER: Our next speaker is Henry Siegman, who is known to many of you and has written some of the most informed and, what most of us would agree in this climate that we live in, controversial, but a lot of us think of it as a different Henry Siegman, who has brought meaning to the phrase “the emperor has no clothes” in every article that he writes, and he strips everything out of it — and if you haven’t read Henry Siegman on a regular basis, short articles that really are powerful and especially the last one on the trip by Kerry and Obama. And let me just read to you a little bit about Mr. Siegman’s background.
He’s president of the U.S./Middle East Project, which was established by the Council on Foreign Relations in ’94. His organization became an independent free-standing policy institute in 2006 under the chairmanship of retired General Brent Scowcroft. Mr. Siegman is a research professor as Sir Joseph Hotung Mideast Program at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He’s been involved in Mideast peace process since its inception and is consulted by governments, international agencies and nongovernmental organizations. His articles and op-ed columns on the subject have appeared in the world’s leading newspapers and periodicals. He’s a former head of the American Jewish Congress and served as a general secretary of the American Association of Mideast Studies and editor of its journal, Mideast Studies.
HENRY SIEGMAN, President, U.S./Middle East Project; Former Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
Thank you for your introduction. And I hope that your kind words (could ?) spare more readers of my propaganda. But let me try to live up to this reputation I have of being a controversial person and start by telling you that unlike (the ?) previous speaker, who I — whose writings I admire and respect, I am a Zionist, and I’m not opposed to a Jewish state. Indeed, I spent much of my early life supporting the creation of a Jewish state.
And my understanding of Zionism, however, was shaped by the founders, the early — the early founders of the Zionist movement, who would be appalled and are probably turning in their graves seeing what their historic experiment actually yielded. And I personally did not begin writing the kinds of things that you have — some of you have been reading until the early ’70s, when it became clear to me that these foundation principles of the early founders of the Zionist movement were being traduced and violated by successive Israeli governments and that some of the assumptions they made about the kind of society that would be shaped and that would develop in Israel in the state — in this Jewish state turned out to be false assumptions, not because the enterprise of developing a democratic state was inherently a false one, but because the people who came to power in Israel, who led its governments, tragically and sadly seemed to learn absolutely nothing from 2,000 years of Jewish experience and even less from the Jewish heritage which gives the name “Jewish” to the state that — and to the governments that they have formed. And that is when my attitude to — not to the idea of a Jewish state but to the policies of the government of that state changed completely.
Now, I don’t have — I actually prepared a four-page speech to read to you. I’m not going to do that for several reasons, but primarily because the fundamental outline of the situation has been presented to you by the two previous speakers, and there’s no need for me regurgitate that once again. And I’m far more interested in engaging audiences in discussion and questions and answers than at talking to them. So let me simply share with you some brief random thoughts, and then hopefully we can pick up the conversation in the discussion that will follow.
First and foremost, and this echoes what you have heard already, the peace process, the Middle East peace process, is probably the greatest scam in modern diplomatic history, and future historians are going to be absolutely in awe in how that was pulled off. And that is not a recent development. That has been the case from the very beginning. From the day after the 1967 war, there has not been a single Israeli government that has seriously considered the possibility of allowing a truly independent Palestinian state and sovereign Palestinian state, terms explicitly used by the road map that everyone, including the United States, Israel and the Palestinians signed on to, implicit in the Oslo Accords and promised repeatedly, even now, by Bibi Netanyahu in the famous Bar-Ilan speech. There was never any idea entertained by any Israeli government that the West Bank would not remain under complete control. Palestinians could call their self-government — whatever forms of autonomy that would permitted could be called — would be allowed to call it a state or an empire or whatever they wanted to call it, but it would be completely under Israeli control.
And this is not just a Likud idea. Dayan — some of you are old enough to remember who Moshe Dayan was; he was a legendary figure in Israel who was supposed to be the savior of the ’67 war — said immediately after the war and then again 10 years after the ’67 war, when he was asked, what will be the future, what will happen with the West Bank and with the Palestinians. And he said, our challenge — he said this publicly because at least in this respect he was an honest man. He said our challenge is to make sure that the situation today remains unchanged permanently. That’s our challenge.
And that’s, indeed, how various Israeli governments have dealt with it. And of course, the chosen instrument for establishing that permanent control over the territories has been the colonial project, the settlements project that incidentally was launched initially by a labor government — none other than Shimon Peres. And it was, of course, improved upon by Begin and Shamir and all those who followed him, and particularly by — I’m having one of those senior moments.
DR. KADER (?): Sharon?
MR. SIEGMAN: By Sharon, who became the godfather of the movement.
And consequently, if one asks: Why have — why has the peace process failed, why are we facing the situation we’re facing today? It’s simply because the policy of Israel has been from the outset not to permit a genuinely independent, viable and sovereign Palestinian state to ever come into being. And I believe they have succeeded in that.
I don’t think the two-state solution is on life support. I think it is history; it is gone. And the reason it is gone is because the settlement project has succeeded. And I wish I could believe that there’s a reason to draw optimism from a Tom Friedman editorial, which incidentally — and I admire his recent courage when he has come out and said things he hasn’t been willing to say before. But one of the reasons we do not have an honest discussion in this country about these obvious issues is because we always feel that even when we finally recognize the gross injustice and unfairness of the situation, we cannot state that truth without first embedding it in a critique of what Palestinians are doing.
And even in his latest column, Tom Friedman first says why the Palestinians, of course, are so inept and responsible for their own problems, and then because it’s unsafe even for someone of his popularity to say such things in a straight, unvarnished way. I will tell you briefly a — beyond that, the reason the American public has bought a particular narrative of the situation, which is totally dishonest and completely misrepresents the obvious facts. I mean, what could be more obvious that you cannot have a peace process even as you systematically steal the territory underneath the ground that the Palestinians are standing on and living on and discussing in terms of statehood? A six-year-old would understand that you can’t be serious if that’s what you’re doing.
And the reason the American public, it turns out from recent polls, are overwhelmingly supportive of the Israeli position — and only a tiny minority has any sympathy for the Palestinian position — is, first, because the American public generally is largely uninformed about foreign affairs and geography. I mean, ask most Americans to identify countries in Africa or Asia on a map; and, much less, to know what is really going on there. That’s part of the problem.
And that was brought home to me several years ago when I was at the Council on Foreign Relations and I was asked by a person whose name I will not disclose but who was and is a prominent TV anchor. He wanted to come by with two of his research assistants to discuss and be enlightened on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And they came, they spent three hours in my office, and I learned shortly before our — as our conversation began that not one of them was aware that Israel was created as a result of a partition resolution by the United Nations. It came as complete news to them. So, is it surprising that the American public has bought a narrative that is totally unrelated to the facts and realities on the ground in that situation?
The other thing — and then I will essentially end my remarks. The hypocrisy that has marked the American approach — incidentally I said that one of the reasons there is no Palestinian state, and probably there won’t be a Palestinian state, at least in terms of the two-state formula — is because of Israeli policy, which was — but the other reason is, there was one possibility that this Israeli determination to prevent a Palestinian state from emerging might be stopped, and that was the one power that had the ability to do it — the United States.
And it was always assumed that at some point, because of America’s generous support to the state of Israel, because of its deep friendship to the state of Israel and because the state of Israel has no other such powerful support in the diplomatic world, militarily and so on, that at some point the U.S. would leverage the credits it accumulated over the years and turn to its friend and say, enough; there are certain lines you cannot cross, because if you do, then we can no longer invoke our common values as the foundation for this relationship because apartheid is not a common value.
So, the second reason there won’t be a two-state solution: because America, the White House and the Congress never had the political and moral courage to act on that expectation. And despite some of the encouraging phenomena mentioned by others, by my previous speakers, the fact that our president went to Israel and said to them — and competed with some of those from his administration who visited Israel before — competed with them in finding adjectives that adequately express our unconditional support and commitment to the state of Israel, and assuring Israel that only its own government can decide how to protect its security — no matter how it affects a neighboring country, American interest — but only they can decide. This is after an initial start in his first administration that raised hopes that finally America would act on what was expected of it.
So, the trajectory in terms of the one power that can make a difference because my dear friends on the left here, J Street — an organization I helped get started — and all the other wonderful people, they will not make the difference. They won’t change even the direction of the American Jewish community. Not in our lifetimes. The U.S. could have done it, but how can anyone expect the United States to turn now on a government that incidentally, despite what the media said, is even more reactionary in its composition than the previous government? Because some of the key people in the Likud have been thrown out, have been ditched. And the people who are supposed to be Tel Aviv secularists like Lapid, their closest political buddies are people like Bennett, the head of this new religious nationalist party, who has been given all of the key positions that relate to housing and settlement construction and finance and so on. They are the ones who are now calling the shots. And anyone who expects after the promises and repeated adulation expressed by our president in Jerusalem, the unbreakable nature of our relationship, of its eternal character and only you can decide what which — what security you need and how to act in achieving that security — that he will then turn around and say, no more? I wish that were true and I could share in that expectation. I don’t.
So, in the end — and that’s a whole other subject I will not open here; perhaps we can discuss it in the discussion that will follow. And it is up to the Palestinians themselves . And I believe that those people that you mentioned — Nabi Salih, with whom I’ve spent a great deal of time in the other villages. They have come around to the conviction that statehood is not the issue for them. For them, the issue is dignity and rights, and they don’t care whether it’s in a state that’s called Israel or a state that’s called Palestine. And if they act on that demand and that conviction in ways that I think one needs — we need to think about very seriously, perhaps in the end, something good may still come out.
Thank you. (Applause.)
DR. KADER: We’re going to start the questions now. And I’ve asked Dr. Mattair, who’s our executive director of the Middle East Policy Council, to lead off with a question.
DR. MATTAIR: Yes, well, I have, I think, questions for all three speakers. Two of them think the two-state solution is dead. One of them thinks it’s either dead or on life support. And all of them think it’s because of the settlement project, which, I would point out, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and George Bush and everyone has tried to stop. In fact, Ronald Reagan said it in no way enhanced Israel’s security and it only demoralized the Palestinians.
So, here we are, and the Israelis have also been clear about their policies in the past. Shamir, for example, said he intended to drag out the Madrid talks for 10 years. So, here we are with the two-state process possibly dead.
For Steve, my question — because Steve is an international relations theorist from UC-Berkeley. You said that it is not in our interest to continue down this road. So, can you — can you define the American national interests that are at stake here and what failure — what are the consequences of failure for us?
For Philip, I would ask this: You spoke about Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Democratic Party (flank ?) which called for Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of Israel, when it went to the floor vote, there were significant nay votes. Significant opposition to that at the Democratic Party. What does that mean?
And I suppose I — for Henry, you finished up by saying that J Street and others can’t make a big difference. But can Obama? Is it too late for Obama to do something like a speech to the nation from the Oval Office? And the second question is, you said it’s up to the Palestinians. So, what is it that the Palestinians can and should do now?
DR. MATTAIR (?): Do you want to take the podium?
DR. WALT: If it’s OK, I’ll just do it — do it from here. That’ll probably be more efficient.
I’ll — that’s a — it’s a terrific question and I think the answer is pretty straightforward. The United States does have some genuine strategic interests in the Middle East region. Most of those revolve around energy; the fact that the world economy continues to run on petroleum gas, natural gas and oil, things like that, and the supply coming out of various parts of the Middle East is critical to keeping that price as a reasonable level. And if anything were to disrupt that, that would affect the lives of Americans in very obvious ways.
We have a few other interests there. We obviously don’t want to see terrorism emerging out of that part of the world. We don’t want to see weapons proliferation of various kinds in that part of the world. Those, to me, are our main strategic interests there.
Finally, we have some moral interests, right? We do claim to stand for human rights. We do claim to stand for democracy and things like that. So we would like to see those things, to the extent possible, advanced.
The problem with the current situation, the occupation and unconditional American support for the country that’s practicing the occupation, is, as many people, including several U.S. generals leading CENTCOM, have said, is that this is an enormous strategic liability for us. It makes it harder for us to do business with other countries in the region. It certainly contributes greatly to the very negative image that the United States has throughout the Arab and Islamic world in almost all of these societies — not all, but almost all.
It is one of the sources — not the only one, but one of the sources of international extremism and international terrorism directed against the United States and its allies. It is certainly a very potent weapon in the narrative of Islamic extremists as well.
And finally, I would argue this is going to get worse with time, not better, because the things that are happening in the Middle East that we think of as the Arab Spring, in my view, are ultimately going to produce governments that are more sensitive to popular sentiment than their predecessors were. That’s not to say they’re going to be democracies necessarily, but they are going to be governments that pay more attention to popular feeling than, say, the Mubarak government did in Egypt. And given where public sentiment is about the United States, right, this is not good news for the American relationship with the entire region going forward.
And finally, just to echo some points that have been made by others, you know, the — it’s often presented as the United States has to choose one side or the other here. It seems to me this — that is not the case. The policies we’ve been following have not been good for the United States in terms of its strategic interests, but it has not been good for Israel either because ultimately, given that two states isn’t going to happen, as Ehud Olmert said in 2007, Israel is going to face a South Africa-like struggle for political rights. Henry may want to comment on that as well. And that’s ultimately something that’s going to be incredibly hard for the Palestinians, yes, but also very hard for Israel and, one could even argue, threatens Israel’s future far more than the creation of a viable Palestinian state would have had it been done 15 years ago when it should have been.
MR. WEISS: Thank you, Tom. I don’t know how many of you — I — surely a lot of people in this room know about what happened, I think it was September 2nd, at the Democratic National Convention. Well, on that occasion — there are a couple of people who may not know what happened — there was — the platform as presented late at this point in the convention was absent a plank saying that Jerusalem would remain the capital of Israel — should be the capital of Israel and would be the indivisible capital of Israel.
And so the party bosses had to insert that language. And they thought it would be a routine matter, and they called for a floor vote to insert the language, and there was a demonstration on the floor of the convention against this. People rose up and said no. And so what does this — and ultimately, it was rammed down their thoughts. Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of L.A., was chairing the convention at that time, and he said, I think the ayes have it, and people roared in displeasure because it was evident that the nays had it. But ultimately, they rammed that part of the platform through. And Villaraigosa said recently that Obama himself was absolutely livid that that language was not in the platform.
So the significance of this, I would say, is twofold. One is the presence of the Israel lobby in our political life on the Democratic side. I think that Khalidi himself mentions the, you know, significance of people who are very favorable to Zionism — Pritzker, Crown (sp) — to the — Obama’s — they formed Obama’s finance committee when he first ran for office. The importance of appeasing or pleasing a Zionist caucus in the Democratic Party is just overwhelming for — partly for fundraising reasons and partly because it’s in the media culture to support Israel regardless of what it does.
The other part of that, the good side of that, is that everyone knows the story now. Everyone knows the story about — the cat is out of the bag in terms of what Israel is doing. I think that that was true at the Hagel hearings as well. Everyone understands that despite the efforts to marginalize Jimmy Carter, who was not invited to the Democratic convention, he was able to get that word, “apartheid,” into our discourse in 2006.
And people understand this now. People who are with it, anyone who is at all — we’re past the era — regardless of the fact that a network anchor doesn’t know that Israel resulted from a partition resolution, I think that everyone understands there’s a real problem over there. It’s a human rights problem, and the Palestinians are getting it in the neck. And this is hurting the United States.
So I think there’s a real groundswell understanding of that, and that’s why my work is so involved at the grass roots, because the party bosses can hear the message, but everyone knows what’s going on. And the key is to enable people, as both Rashid and Henry have used this “emperor’s new clothes” metaphor — the key is to enable more and more people to say, hey, it’s naked, and say that publicly.
MR. SIEGMAN: Well, I hope — I hope you’re right. But — (chuckles) — but it ain’t going to produce a two-state solution.
But let me answer the question that was directed to me. If Obama were to do what you have suggested, of course it could — would change things. If Israel were told that Obama will not veto the next time there is a Security Council meeting discussing the settlements and Israel’s violations of international law and agreements and so on, of course that would make a difference. My point is that the prospect of his doing so is virtually nil. And to the word “virtual,” that adjective may not be necessary. (Laughter.)
On the question, what should Palestinians be doing, what is that alternative that I alluded to, it is something I have discussed with Palestinian leadership. And —
DR. KADER: Yeah, Henry, let me read this question, and then continue your answer, because it fits.
Professor Walt said that there were three alternatives to a two-state solution: one state with one man, one vote; ethnic cleansing; or apartheid. What does the rest of the panel agree, and — does the rest of the panel agree? And if so, what alternative is most likely? And should there be an addition to these three points, or are these three points pretty much it? And continue; I’m sorry to interrupt you.
MR. SIEGMAN: Sure. If, in fact, the two-state solution is gone — and I believe that that’s the hard reality facing the Palestinians — I have suggested — and I’ve discussed with Palestinian leadership, and more importantly, I think, I’ve discussed it with Palestinian activists, who do not admire greatly their own leadership — the time has come for Palestinians to shut down the Palestinian Authority because the Palestinian Authority is an instrument of the occupation and perpetuates the occupation. And what that makes the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, I leave to your imagination. But certainly that is — that is the reason they virtually have no respect and enjoy virtually no support among the Palestinian public these days.
But what I have suggested to them is that they shut down the Palestinian Authority and say to the international community and to Israel, you have succeeded in denying us a state; we have fought for the agreements, called for it, international calls for it, but you have denied that to us; it’s no longer possible; you have succeeded, with your settlement project, in ending that; consequently, what we — we are changing — we are altering our national struggle from statehood to equal rights in that single state that you have created. And if it is done in a way that is credible to the Palestinian — to the Israeli public, there are then only two possibilities, because the one thing that Israelis — the one price that the Israeli public will not pay for greater Israel is a state that, in time, will no longer be Jewish.
So if they believe that this is — now is an apartheid struggle and that what Olmert predicted, if it turns into that struggle — he said, quote-unquote, “Then Israel is lost.” They may very well rethink this idea of greater Israel and their opposition to a Palestinian state. But if they don’t — then there’s no guarantee, of course, that they will, but if they don’t, then this kind of a struggle could not be more timely for their rights. It’ll be a bitter struggle. Palestinians will suffer. Israelis will suffer as well. But in the long term, an apartheid situation in the state of Israel is not sustainable. And there is, at this point, very considerable support for this change in direction among the most important political activists in the West Bank.
DR. KADER: Thank you. And we’re going to take a question from the floor and continue reading the questions that we’re getting from Twitter and those of you in the audience. But go ahead, and then I’ll come back to you.
Q: Hi. I just wanted to raise two issues for conversation. One is the U.N. as a platform, as a venue. The two small but very significant successes Palestinians have had have been the votes in UNESCO and the General Assembly of the United Nations. And despite the fact that, you know, Marshall Islands and Micronesia and all this, you know, heartbreaking opposition of these countries, that may be the only way to go, that we have to shift this to the U.N. and, instead of repeating the same conversations that haven’t got us anywhere, move behind a possibility of a — you know, a more balanced approach. But the Americans should support this. Secondly, to move this out of the fateful triangle, there can only be a regional solution to this problem that includes all the Arab countries, Iran, and comes up with a historical breakthrough, and the actors in this drama are going to be the regional actors.
DR. KADER: OK, and your first question was to move the debate to the U.N. Is that a proper venue for this? It has such a tremendous track record. (Chuckles.)
DR. WALT: Let me take those very quickly. I mean, I do think the developments in the United Nations are a sign of, say, where global sentiment is on this particular question. But the U.N.’s capacity to act decisively, to actually wield anything you would call power or influence on it, I think, is quite minimal. So they can pass resolutions. They can give the Palestinians this sort of virtual statehood. But that’s not the problem. The problem is — as Phil and Henry has both documented, is the facts on the ground, as it will, and the political realities there. And I see no sign that the United States is going to shift its views in the Security Council in any fundamental ways that would — that would change things as well.
And finally, you may be right that a genuine, long-term, lasting solution will require regional buy-in. But boy, if that’s the case, there’s even more reasons to be gloomy because this is hardly the moment in regional politics where you would anticipate it being easy to come up with some kind of larger solution that involves all of the Arab countries now in ferment and also Iran, a country that, you know, we still occasionally are having conversations about whether or not we’re going to fight a preventive war with them, right?
So, you know, I ended my remarks by saying I wanted to start with achievable goals. What you’re suggesting might be necessary, but it also sounds a bit like a bridge too far.
The one other part of it though, is, you know, that I’ve heard, at least, that John Kerry is trying to use the Arab League peace offer as a way of restarting the peace process. I don’t think this will ultimately go anywhere, for reasons that have already been described. But that does have a regional aspect to it. So you could see that as maybe a way of moving forward, but ultimately, you know, it would involve a complete shift in American policy and that then producing a rethinking on the Israeli side.
DR. KADER: Dr. Mattair.
DR. MATTAIR: Well —
DR. KADER: Use the mic.
DR. MATTAIR: — we have a lot of questions here, but Steve just said we would need a complete rethinking here in America. It’s already been said that there’s a place in academia, there’s a place in journalism for open discussion of this. Maybe the one place where there isn’t room is here in the U.S. Congress. So what would the likelihood be of educating or persuading the Congress and how would you do that? And maybe that would be what Obama would need in order to — in order to do something, because I think early in his first term, he demonstrated a very deep understanding of the problem.
Steve, what would you — what would you do with the U.S. Congress?
DR. WALT: It’s — (laughter) — it’s very tempting to use that as an opportunity for a cheap one-liner. But I will — I will resist the temptation.
I mean, I think that politicians first and foremost respond to the political incentives that they face. And right now most members of Congress have virtually no incentives to be out front and outspoken on this issue in a way that I would find appealing, which is why you get the behavior you get, not just of those who are themselves personally committed, say, to the Israeli side here, but people who are largely indifferent but can put their fingers up and read, you know, which way the wind is blowing. And until politicians face genuine political pressure in the form of countermobilization, in the form of awkward questions when they go back to their districts and they show up for a meeting and people standing up and asking them to defend the votes they’ve taken and why they think that’s in American interest, et cetera — until that happens, you’re not going to see a sea change here on Capitol Hill.
But I’m sorry to say that. I have done my part, I think, to try and shift some views there, but it is very, very hard, for all the obvious reasons. And that’s true in lots of other areas, whether it’s, you know, foreign policy or God forbid, gun control too.
DR. KADER: Hang on, Tom, there’s a question from the floor here, very quickly, and then we’re going to — yes, sir.
Q: Thank you. A question for all the panelists. I think probably most everybody in the audience is somewhat depressed about the prospects, since everybody’s agrees that the two-state solution is dead, barring some radical shift. And of the three options presented by Dr. Walt, I would say the least likely of the three is a democratic transition of a unified Israel-Palestinian state.
So my question is, when do you reach the point that the appropriate analogy is to the American Revolution, when at a certain point the founders concluded that there was no alternative to launching basically an armed revolt and seeking international endorsements and support for that? We’ve got the League of Armed Neutrality during the American Revolution, and have we reached the point where all of the U.N. and American and other diplomatic efforts have also reached the endpoint where they cease to actually be a viable way to get to the next step?
DR. KADER: Thank you. And to add to that question, I’ve had more than one Israeli tell me, I don’t know why the Palestinians don’t just declare a state.
MR. SIEGMAN: But they have.
DR. KADER: They haven’t declared the state officially and seceded from Israel
MR. SIEGMAN: Secede? (Laughter.) Where are they going to go?
DR. KADER: Yeah, I know.
MR. SIEGMAN: They have in fact declared a state, not once but on three different — at least three different occasions.
DR. KADER: Talk more about that.
MR. WEISS: Oh —
DR. KADER: Go ahead.
MR. WEISS: I want to echo the idea that this is a very grim situation. There’s — while we’re talking about these sort of abstract ideas, this is a desperate situation in which people have been denied basic rights for 70 — going on 70 years, 65 years. And it’s a revolutionary situation.
And the reason that revolution is not a good prescription here, I don’t think, is that you have one side with nukes and — with the support of the United States government and a huge army, and another side with rocks. And there will be ethnic — they — an — Israel would love a violent uprising on the West Bank because that’s not how — that’s what it knows how to respond to. It doesn’t know how to respond to Gandhis, which it is getting now, and that is baffling Israel and causing a shift in worldwide opinion.
The other part of that that I want to address, which touches on the congressional piece, is that a friend was telling me about the U.S. campaign to end the occupation lobbying in Congress some years ago, and they would go to a congressman’s office with members — citizens from his district to say or her district to say, we don’t like this occupation. And the staffer of the congressman would just be kind of, you know, marking time with these activists, and then one of them would say, I’m a Jewish-American in your district. And according to my friend, who was involved in this lobbying effort, the congressman would look up and would listen to what the person was saying.
And I think what that reflects is that the moral force behind the creation of Israel and behind the sustaining of Israel is the force from the Holocaust, and the legacy of Jewish persecution — Henry here barely escaped the Holocaust — there’s a reason why we honor people of Henry’s generation who chose Zionism as a response to the Holocaust. And — but that is the essential political dyad, I think, in this whole conflict, is Israel and the United States and a sort of commitment that the United States made to Israel out of this great historical persecution.
And that’s why I believe that for a different time, we have to overcome that dyad. And the way that I think that we overcome it is by saying, Henry, I think that was an error. I think that while I honor what happened, I — it’s a sacred chapter of Jewish history, I think it’s as if the Jewish community said, we want the Marcus Garvey option. And that’s what they did. They chose the Marcus Garvey option, which was to create we’re not safe here; we’re not safe in Europe. So we have to create a national home. I think that was a wrong choice. And while — and that’s why I’m an anti-Zionist, because I don’t believe in the Marcus Garvey option.
And for a last part of this, politically, that is so significant is, Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset in Israel said that Zionism created two great structures after the war. It created the state of Israel and it created the American Jewish power establishment that supported — the lobby, in a word. And I am responsible for that personally. I’m part of the American Jewish community, which is being represented by the lobby, and I say no.
So I think that the greatest thing I can do is say, I don’t believe in the Marcus Garvey option. And that could have a huge effect on what Henry rightly describes as the attachment of the Israeli people to a Jewish state and a Jewish majority. If the other part of that partnership, the American Jewish community, honestly says, as I honestly say, I do not want the Marcus Garvey option; I want participation in a liberal democracy, and I am going to organize my community on that basis, both American Jews and the larger American community, I think that could have a huge effect on the consciousness of Israelis.
Q: Hi, I’m — my name is — can you hear me OK?
DR. KADER: Yeah.
Q: My name is Joel Siegel (sp). I worked here for 13 years. I left my position in Congress about three weeks ago. And where I want to applaud everybody on this panel — this was the most honest discussion I’ve ever heard on Israel-Palestine since I was here for 13 years.
But I’m going to give a slightly different perspective and ask a question. First of all, I’m very hopeful that there will be resolution in the conflict and that’s because from the Martin Luther King tradition or the Gandhi tradition and the Mandela tradition, you have to keep hope alive. I never thought I’d see the Berlin Wall fall. I did not think I would see an African-American president.
The question I would have is if 70 percent of the American Jewish community favors a two-state solution; if the majority of the Palestinian community favors a two-state solution; if the majority of Americans, Europeans, Africans, Asians favor peace and a two-state solution and there is a small minority of hard-liners from — and I’m Jewish — from the Jewish community who are against a two-state solution and you have Likud or you have Netanyahu, why are we allowing a very small minority of actors decide the fate of Middle East peace when the majority overwhelmingly are for peace and stability?
Which would lead to the next question: Why hasn’t there been more civil society meetings with all the progressives on this issue to strategize about a common vision and move forward in an activist way, in the Martin Luther King tradition? What I see is we have beautiful and great minds working on this, but there has not been a cohesive, unified civil society movement for our two-state solution. And if that hasn’t happened, could it not happen? Since we are in the majority, we should be speaking louder and amplifying the voices of peace.
DR. KADER: Henry, you have been the voice of “It’s over.”
MR. SIEGMAN: The voice of what? (Laughter.)
DR. KADER: It’s over.
MR. SIEGMAN: No, I didn’t say it’s over. I said the two-state solution was over.
DR. KADER: Yeah, I mean the two-state solution.
MR. SIEGMAN: It’s hardly over. It’s first beginning.
DR. KADER: Yeah. Sorry.
MR. SIEGMAN: But to respond briefly to the question of why, with this overwhelming majority, we don’t — we don’t have a two-state solution, it is because the 70 percent in Israel who say that they favor a two-state solution — 80 percent in that same poll said, but we have no Palestinian partner to make it with.
DR. KADER: Tom, I’m going to have one more question from the floor and then take —
DR. MATTAIR: All right.
Q: Thank you. I’m Benjamin Toua (sp), a retired foreign service officer.
One of the things that struck me about the discussion and some of the questions is, despite all the problems, there’s a certain optimism and hope. Mr. Weiss said that the situation is grim and desperate, but he didn’t say it was hopeless. (Laughter.)
MR. : Break out the thesaurus. (Laughter.)
MR. : Yeah.
Q: There are a lot of things going on, and some of them were mentioned by the speakers. But a number of things that weren’t explicitly mentioned was the very strong Israeli reaction to the Palestinian moves at the U.N. This didn’t get that much coverage in the U.S., but this was a very important development in terms of international recognition of the territory as a state. People have not referred to the boycott, divestment and sanction moment. There has been no reference to the role of the churches, which in the past, in the abolitionist movement, the civil rights movement, once they start getting going, can be a tremendous game changer. Most of the Zionists in the United States are not Jewish; they’re Christian. But one gets the sense that this Zionism is really kind of surface deep only, and that it could flip and so on.
So there’s a lot of momentum going towards the Palestinians — the use of nonviolent resistance, which is a very, very powerful force and that was alluded to. So I wonder if the speakers would comment on this sense of potential, hope and so on in the — it’s not over, as Mr. Siegman said.
MR. SIEGMAN: You want to start, Steve?
DR. WALT: Yeah, I’ll start it, because it’s — this — I’m going to be responding both to the last comment but also to a couple of your previous questions as well.
I mean, this question of, you know, how do you — how do you keep hope alive in situations where things don’t look particularly appealing or the prospects don’t look particularly good — the mention was made of changes we didn’t anticipate, you know, a black president in the United States. I would even think of the fact that, you know, that attitudes towards smoking have revolutionized in 40 years, not just in the United States, worldwide; race relations in the United States, fundamentally transformed, still work to do; apartheid in South Africa — again, when I was a teenager, it was firmly entrenched; you could not imagine it changing — gay people getting married or serving openly in the U.S. military — again, a sort of sea change.
So these things can happen, and they can happen with astonishing swiftness at times. And I believe one of the reasons that the political fight in the United States is often so nasty — the things I was referring to in my prepared remarks — is because the other side understands this, understands that if you start having an open discussion, if a few people — even, you know, 10 percent of Congress started speaking out openly upon this — if you had people who could serve in the Defense Department or the State Department without having to mouth all of the same — the usual platitudes, all right? Speak openly about it. If younger policy wonks in Washington didn’t get nervous if they thought for themselves thinking that they might derail their careers, right? This avalanche could flow with remarkable swiftness, because there’s lots of people who understand how the problem is. There are lots of people who understand what the problem in American policy is, they just don’t want to talk about it because they’re scared. They’re not lucky, like I am, to have tenure so I can’t be fired, right? (Laughter.)
And once that — which of course is why some groups in the lobby work so hard to make an example of people, even when they lose. Chuck Hagel gets confirmed, but Chuck Hagel is also a huge example of what can happen. If you haven’t been a senator, and if you haven’t taken a couple of bullets for the country while serving in Vietnam, you’re in real trouble, right?
Well, once that starts to change — once you start having an open discussion with more people, then this could shift very, very rapidly and I think, again, that’s what the other side is worried about. Finally, with respect to the last question, yes, there are a number of things happening in the world, and I do think many Israelis — many thoughtful Israelis do correctly worry about, essentially, international isolation. Israel has worked very hard over its lifetime to gain international legitimacy and was doing, actually, pretty well about that. The occupation, its long period — the two intifadas, the Gaza wars, et cetera have all eroded this in a variety of ways. And if this continues and you get, as has already been suggested, a Palestinian campaign for civil rights — for just basic civil rights, this will further erode Israel’s legitimacy, it will encourage outmigration from Israel, which is also something of a problem as well that they are concerned about. And you might begin to see a sea change.
Also, just — I’ll leave this out here for those of you who really want to be imaginative — it is not beyond imagination that Israeli attitudes about political rights for Palestinians could evolve over time, too, that what Israelis will think in 2060 about the nature of their society and their relationship with Palestinians may be very different than what they think in 2013. And I’m open to that possibility as well, although, as has already been said, I think that process is not going to be a pretty one, all right? It’s going to involve a lot of contention, as it has in other societies that have gone through similar convulsions.
MR. : Tom, would you go ahead and read your next questions?
DR. MATTAIR: Well, I could combine — I could combine some questions. Some of the people who still think a two-state solution is possible or still hope for a two-state solution imagine that some of the developments in the West Bank could be reserved — that the wall could come down, that some arrangements could be made for the evacuation of a settlement, or that some settlers would want to leave and that the settlements could actually be occupied by Palestinians. What are the prospects for the reversibility of part of what has already been done? The second question would be — maybe, to get there — to get there, would there be any utility to more American leverage? Henry spoke about the president warning that he would stop vetoing U.N. Security Council Resolutions, but what about economic aid? Is economic aid a lever to be used in order to bring about a change?
DR. WALT: In theory, the United States has enormous leverage, but as has already been said, it’s incapable of using it. If Barack Obama was unable to put any meaningful pressure on Israel in his first term, he’s — I think, no sign he’s going to do it in his second term. So yes, that leverage has always been there; it has occasionally been wielded in the very mildest of forms, but I don’t see any sign of that happening any time — any time soon.
MR. SIEGMAN: Ironically, the advocates for removing the wall in Israel are the settlers. (Laughter.) They are the ones who advocate the removal of the wall, because they do not want that wall ever to signify that Israel’s borders end at that wall. So, you know, to hope that the wall will be removed is a kind of a mixed — a mixed blessing.
But on the second point of whether — I’m sorry, what was the second part of the —
DR. MATTAIR: Well, that Israeli settlers might return to Israel, that some would be declared beyond Israel’s border and they would be evacuated and turned over to Palestinians. Would —
MR. SIEGMAN: Well, you know, I don’t think I’ll need to address that issue. You know how I — my views on that particular subject. Settlers — the most powerful and dominant political influence in Israel today is provided by the settlers. They are, if you will, the AIPAC within Israel, and they exercise precisely the same kind of influence on Israeli governments and Israeli policy. So the notion that they’re going to pick up and move back is highly unlikely.
Most settlers believe that the game is over; they’ve accomplished what they set out to do. They laugh — they find it humorous that there are people who are still discussing a two-state solution, and they believe that there is, in fact, today, only one state. How many of you are aware that the official policy of the Likud government, which is the government that forms this — the party that forms this government and the last government; in fact, there were three such — or five such governments in recent years — to this day, its official platform is there is no room in Palestine for a Palestinian state, and we are unalterably opposed — this despite the speech that the prime minister made several years ago saying yes, I’m in favor, which, of course, no one believed.
That remains the official — and yet — and this says something about the integrity of American Middle East policy — and yet were are telling Hamas that as long as you do not recognize the state of Israel, you cannot be part of a government that Israel can deal with. Israel can have its major government — its main government — its ruling government have on its official banner opposition to a Palestinian state in even one inch of Palestine, but if there is a political party on the Palestinian side, they’re out of the game, they are boycotted and, you know. So that’s the reality — or one of the many realities that one has to deal with.
DR. KADER: Thank you. Henry, you’re always a very fun guy to be around. You’re giving us things we don’t know — and they’re sitting right under our noses, aren’t they? Yes, sir.
Q: Ibrahim Oweiss, professor emeritus from Georgetown University. I think the reality here is that there is no way to conduct negotiations between a tiger and a cat. And the tiger is — has already tamed the lion behind it, the United States, to be on its side. So there is no way — and therefore, the only way that I can see in the future for the Zionist, racist country of Israel, is that history will take its own ugly course.
DR. KADER: And your question is? (Laughter.)
MR. WEISS: May I respond to that?
DR. KADER (?): Yes, sir.
MR. WEISS: Well, I think one of the great things about human civilization is that sometimes, if you’re a progressive, you think that people in the present day don’t have to do everything — recapitulate all the actions of their predecessors. We — if you want to drive a car, you don’t have to invent a steam engine; you go buy an internal combustion engine. And similarly, if you look at the history of race relations in our country, where we struggled with racism — we had a war in which we — 700,000 people were killed a hundred years ago, and then we had a civil rights struggle in which far fewer people were killed.
So that’s where my hope resides and where I find that history is not necessarily a model for bloodshed, that there may be a way to — through the churches, through the BDS movement — through the shifts in Jewish life, through the pressure from Europe, through the U.N., through all these means that you get that tiger very isolated and ultimately, a de Klerk figure emerges who understands the future and does not choose the path of bloodshed.
MR. : Yes, sir?
Q: Hi, I’m Mitchell Plitnick; I’m former director of the U.S. office of B’Tselem and former co-director of Jewish Voice for Peace, currently a freelance journalist. My question is really for any of you. It seems to me that, you know, we’re talking a little bit about, what should Israel do, where should Israel go, what should the Palestinians do, which seems to me, academic questions here in Washington.
And I think — you know, I think it’s much more pertinent for us to be talking about U.S. policy. And Stephen, you’ve pointed out a few times the sort of very strong, nasty tactics that the Israel lobby engages in. It seems also that we have a popular opinion for a balanced U.S. policy, and that if — we seem to be working on the assumption that if Americans knew and understood that we — that the special relationship was not in our interest, not in Israel’s interest, not in the Palestinians’ interest, that they would press for a stronger — a stronger, balanced approach. So my question is, it seems like the reason that doesn’t’ happen is that you have, on one side, a very passionate group of people who spend 24/7 advocating for this radical view, and while you may have more people working or believing in the more popular view, they’re not — they’re not putting their hearts and souls on the line. How do — how do we change and make — and get people more active, more involved with their time, with their money, with their passions?
DR. WALT: Well, it may — first of all, just to be a little bit more gloomy, it may turn out to be impossible. You may — you may not be able to raise this issue so far up the salience of most Americans to get it to change. I hope that’s not the case, but it might be. We see lots of places in the United States, given that we’re sort of an interest group-based form of government where passionate minorities who care deeply and, as you said, work 24/7 on whatever their little issue is tend to run roughshod over the majorities who are distracted, who don’t care nearly as much.
So what I think all the people on this panel, and you, Mitchell, and plenty of other people in this room have tried to do is explain to Americans that actually, you ought to care more about this, partly for the sake of American values, but also because it’s harmful to Americans in a whole variety of ways that are often hard to see initially but are there. And I think that’s, in a sense, all we can really do, is try to make this more important.
I believe, you know, again, that President Obama understood when he took office that this was an important issue, that it affected our ability to conduct policy throughout the region, et cetera, but I think he eventually looked at his list of things he wanted to do, and said this one is number nine on my list. You know, health care is number one. If I want to get health care, I can’t be having a fistfight with Benjamin Netanyahu every week. I’m just going to have to fold my tent, because this is number nine on my list of things to do, and I want to get one through eight done first.
And until American presidents, as they have on a few occasions, move it up the list and are willing to spend real political capital, actually explain their policies to the American people in clear, unvarnished language that we would all recognize, you’re probably not going to get a sea change here. I just — I wish I could be more optimistic about it, but part of our job is to try and force American presidents to take it more seriously, because Americans take it more seriously.
MR. : How much time do we have left?
MR. : Plenty of time.
MR. : All right. Go ahead.
DR. MATTAIR: Yeah, we’re actually in a catch-22, I think, because in order to educate the American people and mobilize them, that would require a speech by the president, I think. And the president can’t make a speech because he has to think about the Congress, and the Congress isn’t going to react unless there’s pressure from below. There won’t be pressure from below unless the president speaks to them, and he can’t. There are a number of other questions here that are asking — that are talking about the confiscation of land in the West Bank, the diversion of water from the West Bank aquifers, taking of rock from the West Bank quarries, et cetera. And the question here is, is Israel really trying to destroy this nation — this Palestinian nation, the Palestinian people?
And maybe there are people in the Netanyahu government who would conceive of a transfer of the Palestinian population out of the West Bank. Does anyone here think that that’s a possibility if they recognize that the demographics of a one-state solution — that the demographics of one state would be against the Jewish nation in Israel, but transfer might be an option?
DR. KADER: So on the — Professor Walt raised, it’s either a one state, one man one vote, one woman one vote, or ethnic cleansing or apartheid. So you’re focusing — do any of you of the three of you believe that ethnic cleansing is an option?
MR. SIEGMAN: What do you mean? Is likely that Israel —
DR. KADER: Is it likely that Israel would engage or try?
MR. SIEGMAN: Almost certainly they’re not going to put people in cattle cars or trucks and move them out of the West Bank.
DR. KADER: Right, but they order them a taxi or something.
MR. SIEGMAN: No. (Laughter.) But I think that there’s a certain level of dispossession that has taken place — (inaudible) —
MR. SIEGMAN: And that continues.
DR. KADER: So it’d be voluntary deportation? Is that what you mean?
MR. : It’s not deportation.
MR. SIEGMAN: I’m sorry. What I said was is that no one in Israel will allow trucks or cattle cars to take Palestinians — move Palestinians out of the West Bank. That will not happen. But there has been a certain level of dispossession of Palestinians in the West Bank, systematic, consistent, but just below — just below visibility. And it continues.
And that — with that dispossession, certainly from what Israelis now call Israeli state lands in the West Bank, which comprises 60 percent of the West Bank, that people have been moved out of there. And at the same time, Palestinian populations have been concentrated in certain smaller areas, which ultimately, as far as the settlers are concerned and in fact this — the head of the party, Bennett, who I referred to earlier and who is now a key member of the government. And he’s now in charge of housing and other — so his people are in other ministries and Knesset committees that will make those decisions.
He has — he has said a — there cannot be a Palestinian state, that issued is closed. And there is no occupation, he has said, because it’s impossible for people to be occupiers in their own land. I mean, this is the common discourse in Israel. And a committee appointed by the prime minister himself, the Levy Commission, to look into this question of is there even such a thing as an occupation, concluded that in fact there is no such thing — this is all Israel’s land.
DR. KADER: That was this week.
MR. SIEGMAN: Pardon me?
DR. KADER: (Inaudible). That decision was made this week — or that committee — (inaudible) —
MR. SIEGMAN: Was made some time ago.
DR. KADER: Yeah, some time — they announced it this week.
MR. SIEGMAN: Yeah, right. So in Israel, that’s not shocking. I mean, that’s taken for granted.
DR. KADER: So is it proper to interpret what you’re saying as, yes, there is ethnic cleansing, but it’s subtle?
MR. SIEGMAN: Well, I don’t know if the term is ethnic cleansing, because that’s a loaded term. But it — but are Palestinians being dispossessed? The answer is yes. There is a deliberate and systematic dispossession of Palestinians, in addition to their complete disenfranchisement in terms of rights under occupation. That has taken place and that continues to take place.
DR. KADER: Thank you.
DR. WALT: And I would just remind everybody that there have been two moments since the founding of the state of Israel where there were massive refugees — one in ’48, obviously, during the War of Independence, known to the Palestinians as the Nambe, but also in the Six-Day War in 1967, I think about a quarter of million refugees fled off the West Bank as well, which is why I agree with Phil’s comments that a Palestinian resort to violence at this point would be an enormous mistake.
I don’t think there’s a sort of deliberate Israeli plan or anything like that, but I can imagine in chaotic conditions, possibly involving some other countries in the Middle East, a major uprising might be an occasion where you saw the use of force that encouraged large numbers of people to leave. I wouldn’t rule that out, which is one of the reasons why I would tell the Palestinians that that is not the road to follow on this point.
DR. KADER: Let’s take a comment.
Q: This is anecdotal evidence, but I was in Jerusalem — east Jerusalem, got caught up with a little demonstration there. And 60 percent of the demonstrators were Israeli young people. And I wonder if there is some demographic polling or survey work that shows the next generation is saying peace and justice?
DR. KADER: Henry?
MR. SIEGMAN: Well, I can’t give you a clear answer to that question. You have mixed developments. On the one hand, I too have encountered — and I spent a good deal of time in Israel. I have a grandson who served in — recently in the military. And I have family that lives there — close family, including two grandchildren.
And I encounter what you have described — young people who do not see their future in Israel and who are looking to move. And I find that, since I am not an opponent of a Jewish state — I find that disappointing and distressing. And it only reinforces my sense that Israeli governments are destroying the state and that the greatest threat to Israel are not its Arab neighbors but its own leaders. That’s on the one hand.
On the other hand, there are polls — clear polls that indicate that a very substantial percentage of young people in its schools — frightening percentage — believe that Israeli-Arab citizens should not have the right to have representation in the Knesset. So draw whatever conclusions you can from those polls.
DR. KADER: Go ahead. Just have — and Tom read your question after she’s done.
Q: Professor Walt, I’m afraid that I join probably a minority of people — a majority of people in this room who fear that your grim comments are with great basis. And I would also — so I have a question to ask you and I also have a question for Mr. Siegman. I’m a retired international broadcaster, lived in the Middle East in ’67, now a volunteer with the American Task Force on Palestine. And as people know, there has long been a great desire for a two-state solution. And it may be perhaps beyond having.
My question is this: Since enlightened people make up maybe a minority of those who are really committed to action, what might be the best way, for those of us who are committed, to move public opinion in a different way? Is it, as in the civil rights movement, to bond together with churches and, in that case, clergy? A lot of young Jews, including a former roommate of mine, were involved in the civil rights movement, did change what those of us who had roots in the South didn’t believe could be changed. What is the feasible way for us to act and speak that might have some chance of bringing more hope than there seems to be today in mid-2013?
DR. WALT: I wish I could give you a really quick and easy prescription that promises immediate results, but I don’t think that’s possible in the circumstances. I guess I will say three things: If we’re basically right here, we’re suggesting that there is not likely to be anything that will change things in a year or two or three, right?
Don’t expect a miracle; don’t expect a breakthrough in the second Obama term, et cetera, like that, that’ll vindicate the Oslo process finally, and then we’ll just be in the business of trying to implement that long-illusive two-state solution. This is going to be a longer-term problem, right? And that means that social mobilization, political mobilization here in the United States will matter over time.
What individuals ought to do I think depends very much on the kind of person you are and what you’re comfortable doing. I’m not going to prescribe to — you know, this person should go lead a sit-in and this person should organize a divestment petition at their — for TIAA-CREF. And people do what they’re comfortable doing.
But it seems to me that existing organizations are always a good place to start. So, as you said, churches are very powerful because they exist already. They are an existing social organization. I think what Phil is trying to do within the American Jewish community and what Mitchell and others have done is very important to sort of keep pushing that particular dialogue.
And then there are still places within American society where it’s easier to have these conversations. It is easier to have these conversations at universities because we have a tradition of open discussion and bringing unpopular opinions in. And some of us do have the luxury of being able to say what we think without professional risk — or as much professional risk.
So that’s another place where one can organize. And the nice thing about that is in schools and universities there are lots of young people whose minds can be altered more easily, sometimes, than people who are really entrenched. So I think all of those things are going to be part of a process that is likely to take a while and whose destination is not certain, right?
It’s not quite like the Oslo process where we thought we knew where it was supposed to end up and we knew what it was going to look like. I think we’re now, as I was suggesting, kind of in terra incognita, where we don’t know what the end result is going to be, which means we’re going to have to be able to talk a lot about alternatives and how to get there and what the strengths and weaknesses of those alternatives might be.
And if you want to be able to understand that intelligently, you have to be able to talk openly and honestly and make mistakes and get corrected without feeling like your head’s going to get taken off if you even voice a slightly out-of-the-box opinion.
DR. KADER: Tom.
DR. MATTAIR: Well, there are a number of questions here about the one-state solution and what would it look like. Would it be the kind of state that Israel is now, where although Arabs can sit in the Knesset, they really have never been equal under the law in terms of the provision of electricity or education. Would it be that kind of a state, where the West Bank Palestinians had the second- or third-rate status? Or would the young Israelis agitate for widening of equal rights to them, or would the American public? And would it be — would it be an isolated state internationally? And if so, what are the leaders of Israel going to do about it, if it’s actually endangered?
DR. KADER: Henry, can we start with what would a one-state look like?
MR. SIEGMAN: Well, it’s highly unlikely that initially the government of that kind of a state would grant equal citizenship rights to the Palestinians in the territories. And in fact, going back to this — Naphtali Bennett, a name that is not commonly known in this country. I started writing about him about a year ago. And a friend of mine, who’s a wonderful activist and Israeli, Daniel Levy — some of you — many of you must know him; he’s now in London — said to me at the time: Why do you write about this guy nobody ever heard of?
He put forward a plan which said: We will solve the problem in a one-state by — at the time, which he’s not saying now — but at the time he said favors simply annexing the — Area C, which is 60 percent of the West Bank — annexing Area C, where he said there are 50,000 Palestinians who live there. By some other counts I’m told there are over 100,000 who live there, but that means only 50,000 will remain or fewer. They will be given citizenship. And he said, voilà, apartheid is gone. We’ve solved the apartheid problem.
And the other millions of Palestinians will live in some of these enclaves, where they can have — they can call it whatever they want to call it, but they will be completely surrounded, they will be within borders that are guarded by the IDF, and they will not be permitted even to bring back Palestinian refugees to those entities within the West Bank.
So you have a very influential group of people who have these views and who are now in government, in a position to act on those views. I don’t think that is for the long run sustainable, and if they try to do that, there will be a great deal of ugliness, and there will — there will be serious problems.
But if there is one state, it seems to me it is only a matter of time — and it may be a long time — it is only a matter of time before Palestine will have a majority Palestinian population. That will come very soon. And at some point afterwards Palestinians in that one state are going to demand their rights and ultimately will have to get it.
I cannot imagine that in this 21st century the international community will permit an apartheid situation to exist permanently. But until that happens, I think we’re — both Palestinians and Israelis are in for a rather unpleasant —
DR. MATTAIR: So the one state will not be a Jewish state.
MR. SIEGMAN: In the end, no, exactly, and this is why I think that Israel’s most dangerous enemies are the people who advocate one state, if they want a Jewish state.
DR. KADER: Philip, do you have something to add?
MR. WEISS: I would only say that I think that we’re — as Steve said earlier, we’re in a period of no paradigm, and it’s enormously — I was in Palestine after the rejection of Palestinian statehood last year and other acts by the Obama administration that essentially repudiated the position that he had taken in Cairo, and to see among Palestinians, even if they were in — they had believed in this two-state paradigm, and they’re the people who are most subject to it. You know, to us, it’s abstract. These are people living stateless, or without any rights, and to see these people, friends of mine, highly educated people, who — they had this idea that this was going to happen or something, and to have it disappear is a profound — so I think that that kind of awareness is going to enter the United States; that this model of thinking that has governed our ideas, like it or not, for 25, 30 years, is going to dissolve. And that’s an enormously challenging period.
And I guess the one thing I’d say about a one-state outcome is that this is a period that calls on Americans who have great — those of great imagination, to sort of try to help imagine a situation where communal rights could be respected in a one-state situation.
I’m for — I’m — I am for one state. I would be for partition if I thought that could work, just to be done with the problem. But it looks like one state, and I think that is a challenge to people like me, who are idealists, who believe in the idea that Jews traditionally have been “a light unto the nations,” this conception that is exceptionalist in Jewish life, which is a little arrogant in some ways. The other side of it is that this is a time to try to help imagine a situation in — where there are communal rights of both — of both peoples are respected, and this could be a model.
I’d — so I think this is a — could be — that’s my optimistic portion of the —
DR. KADER: Do you have something in that —
DR. WALT (?): No.
DR. KADER: Yeah, Ambassador.
Q: I’m Phil Wilcox. I’m the president of a group called the Foundation for Middle East Peace, which has been around for some 30 years, promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
I’d like to ask the panel a question about Jewish politics. There is a theory that the heart — the majority, silent or otherwise, of the American Jewish community are liberal people; that the secret to changing our politics is the empowerment, the mobilization of that now liberal silent majority.
Others say that that majority more clearly exists among the young American Jews and that therein lies hope for the eclipse of the traditional right-wing lobby in this country, the emergence of a new Jewish lobby, if you want to call it — that would insist on new American policies out of their love and support for the state of Israel and their conviction to the beliefs of — American beliefs in human rights and justice. Is that a sound theory, or is it an illusion?
DR. KADER: Who wants to go?
DR. WALT: I’ll take this. Very quickly, my reading of the polling of the American Jewish community is that it’s sort of divided into three groups, roughly equal size: one-third that is not engaged by this set of issues at all — it’s just not part of who they care about — another group that is modestly supportive and another group that is very, very supportive, right? So one-third, one-third, one-third.
And as you suggested, the existing organizations — most of them, in fact — are not representative of the entire community. They are much more hard-line. They are not as liberal, tend to be more Republican in orientation than Democratic in terms of — particularly a lot of the big funders as well. At least that’s my read.
And I think that is starting to change, in the sense — and Phil and, I’m sure, Henry have more to say about this — but there is the concern. It’s the concern you see expressed in Peter Beinart’s view that the younger generation is just losing interest, right? It’s not that they’re becoming hostile, necessarily. This is not an issue that engages them, and that’s a concern that many people in the American Jewish community who are strongly committed to Israel have. And that’s also being, I think, affected by intermarriage and a whole variety of others — a good American phenomenon.
If I had to forecast, I think what you’re going to see of — within the American Jewish community is it’s going to split, that that group of people who are indifferent is going to get larger and larger and larger, just not engaged.
But the people who are engaged are going to be not just 24/7; they’ll be, you know, 48/7, and on both ends, right? You’ll have Phil at one end and you’ll have what we think of as sort of the other side, the traditional in there too, and everybody else will kind of be turning off, tuning out and worrying about something else. That’s my forecast. I can’t prove that I’m right.
DR. KADER: Yes.
Q: Thank you for letting me ask the — I’m breaking the rule where you’re only supposed to use one question, but — thank you — I’m breaking that rule in Congress.
DR. KADER: I’ll rule that —
Q: I’ve spent 53 years being Jewish, so I know a little bit about being Jewish. (Laughter.) I think Phil has asked a very, very pertinent question, as he always does. The — I think the Jewish narrative, at least the American Jewish narrative — and this is what I’ve heard from my mother, who’s very liberal; and my brothers, who are very liberal; cousins, relatives, who are very liberal — it’s always about Israel’s security.
The main fear among American Jews regarding a two-state solution is that Israel will be vulnerable to attack. So there has to be an effort by progressive intellectuals who are for a two-state or one state, and I think the Palestinian community has to be a part of this. Certainly Sadat realized it when he went to the Knesset and said to Israel, I want peace. It was a very dramatic gesture.
But the — there has to be some out-of-the-box thinking about how do you approach the Jewish community, both Israelis and Americans, that under a two-state solution there would be security arrangements, like a 38th Parallel in Korea, or the fact that NATO has pinned own Hezbollah in Lebanon. If that doesn’t happen at the beginning, there won’t be any progress anywhere.
And the question I have is, how would you go about doing that? Do you bring in the Shin Bet generals? Do you bring in Colin Powell? But how do you show American Jews and Israeli Jews that their security, the security of Israel, will be guaranteed and improved through a two-state, not lessened?
DR. KADER: Thank you.
One more. Go ahead.
Q: Thank you. Benny Morris said that he worried — the Israeli historian — that because unlike the ethnic cleansing of earlier times, Israel’s security is in jeopardy because it did not do the ethnic cleansing rightly and thoroughly, and because it is that 20th century — last century, he said — do you think, any of you, that where a viable Palestinian state is out of the question now, Israel will remain viable, over time? Because Europeans historically have not lived in countries they have colonized unless they’re dominant. Or younger generations would not find — be more uncomfortable living there? Israel — will Israel remain viable in one state for the Jews? Thank you.
DR. KADER: Did you get that question?
MR. SIEGMAN: Will Israel remains viable as a Jewish state?
DR. KADER: Yeah.
MR. SIEGMAN: (Without microphone.) Well, as I think we’ve — you’ve covered that ground.
DR. KADER: Yeah.
MR. SIEGMAN: (Without microphone.) But if there is only one state, the state of Israel —
Q: We can’t hear you — (off mic).
MR. SIEGMAN: (With microphone.) Oh. I keep forgetting. Forgive me. (Chuckles.)
If there is — if there is one Jewish state, it cannot remain Jewish indefinitely. That’s not going to happen.
MR. WEISS: I just want to address this — since we’re in — at the — at the seat of government, I want to address the spiritual question here, which I think is really at the heart of the Jewish issue. And that is if you take Henry’s historical frame, my mother’s historical frame, as Jews, did they feel safe? They have good reason not to feel safe. People in my mother’s generation will say, would they hide you? You know, would the goyim who were the — the non-Jews, would they hide you when the next Holocaust comes? That was their historical frame.
It’s not my historical frame. I don’t think about would they hide you. I genuinely don’t think that — that question was brought to my — a friend said it to me out loud. I’d never thought about it. That’s my — and so that is the great spiritual divide in Jewish life, I think. And it’s the people who — if a Jewish state disappeared, would it be a personal tragedy to you? — a question they ask. And it just — honestly, it just wouldn’t be a personal tragedy to me.
And I think more and more young Jews, who lack my mother’s historical frame, don’t feel the need and — so to respond to your question, I think that — Henry has referred to this period in Israeli history — an Israeli people were created, and in Israeli history, where young professionals — empowered, privileged people — want another passport. They want to get out of Dodge. They want to go live in Berlin — (laughter) — or the United States.
So that is a profound spiritual-political divide that’s happening.
DR. KADER: Well, thank you, gentlemen. We’ve had a provocative presentation on a very, very interesting note. I appreciate you traveling down to be with us. It’s always useful to get the latest. Thank you very much. (Applause.)