CHAS. W. FREEMAN, JR., president, Middle East Policy Council
Whether the peace proposal of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was an offer or an ultimatum, it certainly was historic. It’s very unlikely that any other Arab leader at present has the stature in the Arab or the Islamic world to make the proposal that Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz did. That proposal, as summarized by His Royal Highness Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, in Beirut, is simple: complete peace for complete withdrawal. That is to say, Saudi Arabia offers peace and normal relations with Israel – not just on its own behalf, but on the part of all Arab states – in return for Israel’s negotiation of mutually satisfactory peace arrangements with Israel’s neighbors.
This is also the first time that a ruler of Saudi Arabia, to my knowledge, has sought to communicate directly with the Israeli people. That this was the purpose of the peace proposal is clear. That it continues to be its purpose is equally clear, as the Saudis engage in extensive polling in Israel for the first time in an effort to try to understand the shifting kaleidoscope of Israeli opinion in response to events and to the peace plan.
It is also clear, however, that the crown prince’s proposal is not a road map but a destination. It is a reward for success in bilateral negotiations between Israel and Palestine, Israel and Syria, and ultimately Israel and Lebanon. It does not attempt to specify how those negotiations should proceed, and it has left open the question of how Israel and its neighbors might get to the destination that would justify the reward. In fact, since the crown prince’s proposal, the discussion has been dominated by the question of tactics and how to get there. Whether Israel will accept this vision of the crown prince is uncertain. Whether Israel will seek to impose a solution or to negotiate one also remains uncertain.
But there are two clear trends. The first is the emergence of differences about the road map for how to get to peace. Some say that first the Palestinians must halt their violent resistance to the Israeli occupation. Then the Palestine Authority must be reformed to produce more acceptable leaders with whom to negotiate. Third, discussions could then begin about the Palestinian state and its contours.
Others reverse the order. First there must be a Palestinian state because only a state can bind all Palestinians to an agreement. No movement, no political party, can speak for everyone. Then there must be reform of the Palestinian Authority in order to make the government of that state effective, responsible, accountable, and to make the state viable. Finally, there must be an end to the violence in the context of the negotiation of agreed borders, frontiers and relationships between Israel and the Palestinian state.
The second trend is that there is rising pressure within the Arab world, and especially within Saudi Arabia, on the crown prince to retract his peace offer and to show its flip side. If complete peace is offered for complete withdrawal, then it is clear that many see the flip side as escalated confrontation with Israel, including perhaps the collapse of the Camp David framework, in response to recalcitrance and unilateralism on the part of Israel. It is also clear that the crown prince has paid a very high political price for his courage in putting forward this proposal. This is nowhere more clear than in the unprecedented assertion of political power by Saudi women against the wishes of the government. This is something that has not been reported in the Western press: an extremely effective consumer boycott of American products, engineered by Saudi women behind the back of, and over the opposition of, the Saudi monarchy.
These factors raise questions also about the broader Arab context of this proposal. How long can it remain on the table? Is it a sustainable offer? Is its flip side about to show itself or not?
Here to discuss these and other issues of vital importance to anyone concerned with the Middle East, we have a very distinguished group of people. First Mamoun Fandy, professor of politics at the Near East/South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, someone who follows opinion in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world very closely.
Mamoun will be followed by Ambassador Ned Walker, a colleague who is the president of the Middle East Institute, a sister organization with which we are very pleased to be able to cooperate. MEI is a membership organization that fosters policy discussions amongst its members, provides a forum for visitors to address those members and others, publishes an excellent scholarly quarterly – The Middle East Journal – has a unique research library, and teaches Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew and Turkish to the public. We are very pleased that MEI’s activities complement our own and do not overlap with them, enabling us to cooperate, as we are today.
Third, we will call on Ofer Grosbard, who is now finishing a doctorate at George Mason University, but is a clinical psychologist with a degree from Tel Aviv University who has taught in Israel and done a lot of work in psychodynamic dialogue between Jews and Muslims. His doctoral dissertation is on conflict resolution, which is very much to the point. Finally, we will hear from Michael Hudson, professor of international relations and Seif Ghobash professor of Arab studies at the School of Foreign Service in Georgetown University.
MAMOUN FANDY, professor of politics, Near East/South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University
The crown prince’s initiative is extremely significant. What I would like to do just before the discussion is to let you know what it is after it was adopted by all Arab states March 28, at the fourteenth Arab Summit in Beirut. The basic ideas in this initiative were that the Arab states were to call upon Israel to affirm a full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the lines of June 4, 1967, as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territory in the south of Lebanon.
They asked for a just solution to the Palestinian refugee question on the basis of UNSC Resolution 194. There is also a request for the acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4,1967, in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Consequently, the Arab states will do the following: One, consider the Arab-Israeli conflict to be completely over; two, establish normal relations with Israel in the context of comprehensive peace. They also called upon the government of Israel and the Israelis to accept this initiative in order to safeguard the prospect for peace and stop further shedding of blood in the region. These are the key issues. They have been described as peace for withdrawal, I would describe them as normalization for normalization: The Arab states are asking Israel to be a normal state. In return, they would normalize their relationship with Israel – economic, cultural and otherwise.
We know that normal states are clearly defined in terms of borders. They have fixed and clear borders. They do not occupy or invade. Normal states are normal states. So for the Arabs, Israel has to be a normal state in the region with clearly defined borders, and not occupying other people’s land. In return they will have normal relations with Israel. This is a broad Arab position reflecting that Arab parties have chosen peace as the strategic option in the region.
The specialness of the crown prince’s initiative stems from two things: the man and the state. Crown Prince Abdullah is known from Marrakesh to Bangladesh, throughout the Muslim world, as a man of integrity. There is very little criticism of him in terms of either issues of corruption or issues related to his personal life. He is admired throughout the region. He is known to be a straight shooter, a Bedouin man with a clear head and a clear vision. He’s the key Arab figure who enjoys respect throughout not just the Arab world, but also the Muslim world.
The crown prince right now is managing the most important state in the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia is the seat of the Muslim world, the place where the holy sites of Islam are located. The birth of Islam took place in Saudi Arabia. So that state has an amazing reach in the Muslim world. It is capable of convincing not only Arabs, but Muslims to accept whatever deal the Saudis will accept.
It was very obvious at the beginning had this initiative come from any other party it would have been doomed. But Crown Prince Abdullah and skillful Saudi diplomacy managed to get unanimous consent for the initiative at the Arab League meeting in Beirut, including from Iraq, of all countries.
It is important to remember that most people here in the United States sometimes miss great events that take place in the world. There is a World Cup taking place right now, but very few of us are following it. The whole world is engaged in an event, but we don’t know much about it. The same goes for the crown prince’s initiative. It was a very big event in the Arab world for both the man and the state. Saudi Arabia is known to be a cautious, conservative, status-quo power.
Finally, it put its neck on the line for peace in the region. The Saudis decided, as Egypt did in 1977, there are two keys for stability in the Arab world. The first is peace as an organizing concept that regulates relations among states in the region. The other is internal reform, which will regulate relationships between states and their societies. If one looks at the record of Crown Prince Abdullah, one can see that indeed these two concepts are at work. There is an internal reform regulating the relationship between the state and its society, and there is also a commitment to peace. That commitment is very obvious. He has brought all the Arab states along with him. The detractors of his initiative focus on the issue of whether it is an ultimatum or a serious initiative? Prince Saud al-Faisal gave an interview April 28, after the crown prince’s visit to Texas, and responded to these remarks by saying there was media speculation that the crown prince was pressing for one thing, and the president was pressing for another. He said this was a discussion between friends and that threats are no way to discuss things among friends. God knows we have enough threats in the region.
Everyone wanted to present this as Saudi Arabia threatening the United States; they talked about Saudi Arabia using oil as a weapon. The reality is that since April nothing has happened. Saudi Arabia has not used any weapon. The amazing thing about Washington is that it always gets it wrong about Saudi Arabia. That’s the solid conclusion that one can come up with. Whenever there is a crisis – for example, in 1990 and ‘91 – everybody said that Saudi Arabia would crumble. People say Saudi Arabia is mired in problems. But for the last 80 years or so people have been making wrong predictions about Saudi Arabia, and those who think that the crown prince’s initiative is an ultimatum are making another wrong conclusion.
EDWARD S. WALKER, JR., former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs; president, Middle East Institute
Thank you very much, Chas., for saving all of us the time of having me talk about the Middle East Institute. We are sister organizations and do work closely together.
I think that it is wrong to characterize what the Saudi crown prince did as a plan. It is not a road map to peace. It is a vision for the future, primarily addressed to the Israeli people. That was its original intent. The idea was to give them a sense that if we can get to peace, there will be acceptance in the Arab world; there will be recognition. This is based on the premise that this has been one of the longstanding, basic Israeli fears: that we will make peace and then they will continue to seek the destruction of the state of Israel. That’s a continuing fear in Israel, and there are lots of reasons for people to believe such a thing. The crown prince was trying to answer that question.
Then he took it further. He took it to the Arab world, to the Arab League meeting in Beirut. I was in touch with a number of the participants in the Beirut process. It was not easy for the Arab world to come together – including rejectionist states – and to say, yes, if there is peace, we will recognize Israel; we will have normal relations with Israel. This was an astounding accomplishment on the part of the Saudi crown prince.
If you think back almost three decades, you might remember that the Arabs got together and said in Khartoum that there would be no peace with Israel, no recognition and so on. If you think back to the way King Faisal talked about the issue, he said that if every Arab state recognized Israel, Saudi Arabia still would not. Then that policy evolved to Saudi Arabia will be the first to recognize Israel – this is truly revolutionary on the part of the crown prince.
The question was raised by Chas. as to whether this was an ultimatum or an offer. I disagree with my friends. It’s both. It’s an offer to the people of Israel. But in reality it’s an ultimatum to the rejectionists. This is a plan that the Saudi crown prince has put out there to say, in effect, rejectionism is over. We as Arabs cannot accept the rejectionist program any more. That has profound implications for Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Syria, Iraq, ultimately Iran and so on.
The United States was slow in embracing this. We should have welcomed it with open arms. There are a lot of people who will psychoanalyze why the crown prince did this. We know that the Saudis were feeling pressed because of the participation of Saudis in the September 11th acts. We know that they were concerned about their status in the Arab world and in the United States and the West. These are all possible motivations. But it doesn’t much matter why this took place.
What matters is that it did take place. We haven’t sat down and asked ourselves, why did Sadat go to Jerusalem. The result was the important thing. I was just out in the region, and I talked to the crown prince and talked to a lot of businessmen. Chas. is absolutely correct: This was not a popular move in Saudi Arabia. The crown prince was criticized for it. The atmosphere there is very negative towards the United States and towards the administration. There is enormous frustration, particularly among the younger people in the region, and particularly in Saudi Arabia. There is the feeling that the United States has completely identified with Israel. I think that’s wrong, but that’s what the impression is. There is a growing hostility toward the United States.
I would add another thing: This was solely his initiative, not something he went through with a fine-toothed comb, with all the other princes and so on. In fact, Prince Sultan was out of the country when this was announced. So this is the courage and the vision of one man. I seriously doubt that he is going to back away from it. That certainly was not the impression I got when talking to him just two weeks ago.
Crown Prince Abdullah was deeply impressed with his visit to the United States, with his discussion with President Bush out in Crawford, Texas. He was waiting to see what we are all waiting to see: next week’s announcement of the direction the United States is going to take. But he was very firmly committed to his vision of what the future can bring.
Keep in mind that he was not specifically defining borders or territory when he made the proposal. He said, “I am not in the real estate business.” So it’s up to the Palestinians to make those decisions. What he’s trying to do is provide leadership in the Arab world, and he is working very closely with President Mubarak as well. This has been a coordinated effort. There are those who think that there is some kind of a contest going on, but there is no contest. This is in the best interests of both countries. Both want to see it work. Both want to work with the United States to make it work. We have a hard road ahead. He’s aware of it. President Mubarak, whom I also talked to, is aware of it. They are going to take a lot of flak among their own constituencies. But if we take the leadership and if we engage, this will be the strongest coalition that has ever been put together on the movement towards peace in this region of the world. With the cooperation and help of our Israeli friends, we may actually make a breakthrough in this area.
AMB. FREEMAN: Let me now invite Ofer Grosbard, who is the author of Israel on the Couch, to come up and put this whole process on the couch for us.
OFER GROSBARD, clinical psychologist; author of Israel on the Couch – The Psychology of the Peace Process
I would like to suggest in this short introduction a new and different look at the Middle East conflict using psychoanalytic tools taken from my profession as clinical psychologist. I shall concentrate on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The terms of the final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the question of the borders, are quite clear today. We are speaking about the borders prior to the ’67 war. The problem is not a few percentage points to this side or the other, or exchanging land – those are technical problems. I can also assure you that most Israelis support the Abdullah plan, and I believe most Palestinians also support it. So why do the parties, who might agree on the borders issue, or to the Abdullah plan, not move toward peace? Why has the hostility never been greater? The reason for this block is an emotional/psychological one. Therefore, I suggest that you think about this conflict in emotional, not rational, terms.
Israel has acted over the years out of a deep fear of annihilation. It has good reason to feel like this, mainly because of the Holocaust and the attempt of Arab countries in the past to exterminate Israel. It is again true on the individual as well as on the national level that people under such a threat try first of all to convince themselves that they are very strong. It is difficult for them to be empathetic to the other, perceived as the aggressor. So Israel has made a lot of mistakes of this kind through the years. The Six-day War was an example of passing from feelings of existential threat to euphoric grandiosity in a very short time. In such a psychological state, Israel could not recognize the Palestinians. Our lives would be different if we had helped the Palestinians establish their state after the 1967 war. We could have withdrawn from Lebanon much earlier, and in the future we will say the same thing about the West Bank and Gaza. For Israel to remain small and vulnerable psychologically is the most difficult thing. We call it “Auschwitz borders,” and it is almost unbearable for us. Those anxieties, part of which have had a basis in reality but are today mostly unrealistic, cause us to invite war instead of peace, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Under such anxiety, it is impossible for the Israeli leaders to look straight into the eyes of the Palestinians and tell them that we Israelis recognize and acknowledge their suffering, and to say, we know that our independence was your Nakbah (disaster); that we will do everything to help you build your state because it is our moral and historical responsibility – but still we are not guilty and do not need to apologize; that we also want to exist and have a state. Such an emotional statement from an Israeli leader, which will have to be repeated time and again, is invaluable. But still we cannot say it because of our psychological anxieties, which do not allow us to see the other. The Israeli leaders are afraid that if they say it immediately it will mean that we Israelis admit our guilt for what happened to the Palestinians. They do not understand the security importance of such declarations. You see how hard it is to recognize the suffering of the other and at the same time not to jeopardize your own right to exist. This is why this conflict is so difficult.
Because of these anxieties, Israel does not know something very important for every person and state to know: Where do I end and someone else begins? What is mine, and what is not mine? We call it a separation difficulty or dependency. Yes, Israel is dependent on the Palestinians when it says our borders will be fixed only in negotiations. Israel has never decided on its own borders; it depends on the Palestinians to determine them. If you leave the Israelis to decide on their own borders, they will have a hard time agreeing about them without any connection to the Palestinians.
This question of separation has immense consequences on the emotional life of a state. Where do we put our energy, money – everything? In the settlements, or inside Israel with all its problems? What do you see on the media: the poverty inside Israel or the war outside our borders? Did I say outside our borders? I got confused. The libido, the emotional energy, should be directed inside for growth and not outside. These are only small examples of the huge sea of emotional problems of a people who for 2,000 years crossed borders and now are trying to pass from a religion to a state – to pass from the boundless kingdom of imagination to the ground of reality.
Understanding these emotional dynamics suggests straightforward practical methods to enhance peace, but these are beyond the scope here. The Palestinians have many emotional difficulties as well. To be a Palestinian means to feel oneself a victim and to be without hope. I think there are some basic facts that the West does not understand in this regard. In traditional hierarchical families many times the child and later the adolescent has two possibilities: to rebel or to surrender. This is the first occupation in the mind of the child. Here we can speak about women’s liberation and children’s liberation in Palestinian society. The feelings of victimization and absence of hope starts here. The second circle of occupation is the regime. Today Palestinians speak in a more open way about the corruption of their regime and how it exploits them. The whole world speaks today about the reforms that are necessary in Palestinian society. Then there is the Israeli occupation.
In the minds of the Palestinians, all these occupations are one entity; it is impossible to distinguish among them. Therefore, Israel gets a lot of the rage that should be directed at the regime and the family constellation. It is very easy for the regime and for the parent figure to direct the anger to the so-called legitimate target, so they remain innocent. This is another powerful argument for Israel’s prompt withdrawal from the occupied territories. The Palestinians cannot fight on two fronts at the same time. Only when Israel is not there anymore will the Palestinians have the chance to improve their regime and confront issues of civil rights.
Israelis and Westerners do not understand what it means to be under occupation, especially for Palestinian society, and what intense feelings of humiliation it generates. The willingness of some Israelis to replace Arafat is a huge mistake. The child has to rebel against his authoritative figure. He will never agree for an outsider to humiliate his father. It will cause him to cling to him and defend him in a stronger way. Israel should not be there, inside the Palestinian home, involved in this internal Palestinian business. I have no doubt that some of the suicide terrorists would like to set off their bombs in the office of Arafat, but it is impossible for them to recognize this repressed urge. The deep feelings of victimization and absence of hope that characterize so much Palestinian discourse emanate from what I have just explained. They feel themselves victims on conscious and unconscious levels, and they also do not believe they can change their lives. This is the reason why so many conversations between Israelis and Palestinians end up with hope on the Israeli side and despair on the Palestinian side.
For peace to be achieved, Palestinians like the Israelis must know, where do I end and someone else starts? What is mine, and what is not mine? In short, they need the ability to be separate. The “right of return” means, on an emotional level, to be mixed up with Israel, to live in a dream and to wake up every morning thinking about it instead of building their country. It is not a coincidence that the Palestinians have not declared their independence yet, although the whole world – including Sharon – has agreed to it. To say that from now on I am independent is essentially an emotional declaration that aims toward growth, taking responsibility and directing the libido inside and not outside. The recent suggestions of Mubarak, Bush and others are the right beginning from a psychological perspective, but understanding this dynamic may also help with many other ideas. Therefore, the ultimate test that will tell us if we are on the right track is the ability of the Palestinians to build their independent state and to invest their energy inside in hospitals, schools, economics etc. and not outside in an imagined return to Israel. The concept of separation exists on the territorial as well as on the emotional level.
There are many other things in Palestinian society that should be understood with the aid of psychodynamic tools, if we want to enhance peace. For example, the denial of the Holocaust; their different theories about what really happened on September 11; the “lies” of Arafat on TV, his saying that the Jews have never had anything on Temple Mount – the list is endless. We have to understand where it comes from and what it really tells us. We cannot allow ourselves to skip such issues because of political correctness or to ignore them because of the absence of psychological tools to understand them. This fear of touching such issues is a fear of understanding empathically the other side.
AMB. FREEMAN: I think your statement is remarkably sensitive, nuanced and insightful, and it will bear careful rereading. I am struck by many points that you made. I think the idea of Israeli dependence on Palestinians to define Israel’s borders and thus to bring the Israeli state to maturity and completion is a very important insight. It echoes the thinking of those who have studied war termination more generally. It is those who are defeated whose acceptance of defeat ends the war. If those who have been defeated, as Saddam Hussein reminds us daily, do not accept their defeat, the war does not end. Therefore, each side has a certain responsibility. This illustrates – as did the last discussion we had, which was on the subject of a possible Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the occupied territories – why unilateralism won’t work. There must be mutual acceptance.
Finally, I was struck by your implicit suggestion that Israelis might find a measure of psychological comfort and purpose after peace in discharging their responsibility to aid in the creation of an effective Palestinian state and to help Palestinians build one. That puts the concept of redemption, if you will, in a new context.
Let me invite Michael Hudson to the floor.
MICHAEL C. HUDSON, professor of Arab studies and international relations, Georgetown University
It often falls to me to deliver unpleasant news and to say disagreeable things. I’m afraid that is what I’m going to have to do now. That’s what I was asked to do when I was approached by the organizers. They had heard that I had recently returned from a 10-day visit to the West Bank. I was asked, therefore, to try to relay a perspective from the Palestinians, who are actually under occupation, as to how they look at their future, and how they might look at the Saudi and other diplomatic initiatives that have been proposed. I hate to talk about these grim realities, especially after Mr. Grosbard’s sensitive and constructive remarks. I must say, I hope that he will be appointed an adviser to the Israeli government as soon as possible.
I want to make three points. First, the situation on the ground is appallingly bad. Second, from what I can judge from public opinion, particularly among the Palestinians but also more generally among the articulate opinion-making elements in Arab societies outside of their governments, there is enormous disrespect for what the Arab governments actually do and what they can do. I want to underline that, because it goes against the grain of some of the remarks that were made earlier about the momentum and the authority that the Saudi crown prince commands with his approach. When you look below the surface of diplomacy and government and protocol, you find people who are deeply unimpressed with the way Arab governments conduct their diplomacy on this matter, and also how they just generally govern their societies. We need to have a sober understanding of just how far Arab governments can go and what we can expect of them at the moment.
My third point, however, is actually upbeat. I do think – and this allusion has already been made – there is light at the end of the tunnel in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is a consensus about what the end of the story is. In that respect, there is a certain congruence between Palestinian and Arab public opinion on this point and the initiatives that are being proposed by their governments. The problem is that the Bush administration appears to have aligned itself with Sharon’s sterile, militaristic policy.
Let me elaborate on each of these three points. First of all, things really never have been worse. I’ve been studying the Arab-Israeli problem for up to 40 years now, and I travel very regularly over there. I have never seen so much bitterness and hatred on the Palestinian side toward not just this Israeli government but also toward the United States. It is a very unpleasant place for an American diplomat to be operating.
I want to impart to you the sense of profound dismay and urgency that I felt after I came back from visiting Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other places. The situation is deeply infected and seems likely to persist indefinitely. Both sides have considerable capacity to continue to do real damage to each other. Unless there can be an effective international intervention, which I think has to involve the United States in a multilateral approach with the Europeans, the United Nations, the Russians and certainly with the Arab governments, we’re going to see a worsening of the climate. This can only increase the likelihood of nihilistic, terroristic activities being targeted against us in that part of the world.
As Mr. Grosbard was mentioning, there is a very deep hatred – deeper than I’ve seen it for a long time – between the Israeli public and the Palestinian public. And there are all too many indications of this. I won’t describe some of the more malicious and destructive aspects of the recent Israeli military campaign into the West Bank, which is more or less continuing. But, at the same time, the kind of revenge sentiments that celebrates suicide bombers on the Palestinian side is very widespread, even though there is growing opinion among cooler political heads that such bombings carry more political costs than benefits.
Without denying the subjective perceptual dimension, one must also recognize that there is an objective rational basis for this conflict. It is not just your mood that makes you unhappy if you’re a Palestinian these days. Sharon’s policy of strangulation of the Palestinian urban enclaves is slowly squeezing to death what is left of an economy and society that was already totally battered by what happened beginning in March. So, if you’re an ordinary Palestinian, it’s not just your imagination that makes you feel that the most desperate measures are justifiable, even if they don’t seem to be producing the desired results – at least so far.
On the second point, the question of Arab diplomacy, the first thing that struck me, particularly after listening to these interesting presentations just now, is that when I was attending a conference organized by Birzeit University – which was held in Ramallah because you couldn’t get to Birzeit University because of the barriers – it’s like the dog that didn’t bark. I don’t think I heard anything about a Saudi plan or an Egyptian plan or Arab diplomacy. In fact, to the extent that the role of the Arab governments was discussed, the mood was, to put it mildly, dismissive.
It’s not a problem of what Crown Prince Abdullah or President Mubarak is proposing. The problem is that Palestinian public opinion and Arab public opinion generally believes that Arab governments are toothless and that they can’t move this situation forward simply by imploring the United States to do something. I think that they have a point here: The Saudi initiative isn’t an “ultimatum” nor is it an “offer.” I think it’s a plea. It’s a plea to the American government to please do something. There’s a warning behind it, but it’s just an imploring warning that “you’ll be sorry if you don’t.” The Arab public just doesn’t think that their governments have any patriotic backbone. What do they see when Arab leaders and high officials come trooping over to Washington regularly to make their case? They observe that the American government says, “Thank you very much, but I really only want to listen to what the prime minister of Israel has to say.”
So there is a deep popular resentment that the United States should take into account. Ambassador Freeman’s remark about looking at Saudi opinion – the most veiled of all opinions – is very interesting. That a boycott of American goods is being organized, even in Saudi Arabia by women, signals a broader public perception of the impotency of what their governments are doing. People ask, “Why aren’t the Arab governments threatening to distance themselves from U.S. policies in the region? Why do they come only to plead? Why don’t they cut back on their military cooperation with the United States? Why don’t they insist on the Americans scaling down their presence there? Why don’t they use the oil weapon?” I’ll leave the answer to others.
But let me finally return to my third, more optimistic point. With all the caveats and conditions and pessimism that I just raised, these recent Arab diplomatic initiatives – the Saudi plan, the summit, the recent Egyptian initiative – are constructive, even if they’re not all that new. I hear echoes of U.N. Security Council resolution 242 of 1967. But the good news is that there is a fairly broad international and regional consensus around the fundamental outline of the two-state solution that was expressed, perhaps in its most hopeful form, in Taba in January of 2001. It’s a long way back to Taba, but I don’t see that there’s a huge obstacle in terms of Palestinian or Arab opinion about ultimately adopting that model. Mainstream Palestinian opinion is surprisingly congruent with U.S. and international demands for reform in the Palestinian Authority, albeit for different reasons. Increasingly, moderate Israelis are coming to realize what is already apparent to most of the international community (and even to some elements of the administration) – namely, that the conflict cannot be solved by military means alone.
AMB. FREEMAN: I take it you were agreeing, however, in your final remarks, with Ofer Grosbard and others that, in fact, the contours of the settlement are quite clear. What is lacking is the will of the parties to reach that. My last question, as I introduced the topic, was whether the crown prince’s peace plan was politically sustainable, given the level of alienation and estrangement that exists. I hear you saying that, among Palestinians, but I think more widely in the Arab world as well, disbelief in the efficacy of governments has led to disrespect for those governments. The desperation among Palestinians is matched by the despair of other Arabs that peace will arrive. The rage of Palestinians finds its echo in the frustration of other Arabs, and everyone finds this an intolerable situation. This leads to a sense of urgency about making a decision.
I’d like to ask other members of the panel, perhaps Ned, to comment at the outset on whether the crown prince’s offer has an expiration date? This is the external reality which would actually validate some of the disbelief that you report among Palestinians.
AMB. WALKER: I don’t question for a minute the hostility of the Palestinian people to the efforts of Arab leadership to find a solution or to help encourage the United States to help find a solution. That carries over into Saudi Arabia. I’ve heard people there talking about the boycott. One man said that he wouldn’t smoke Marlboros anymore. Another said that his children were not allowing him to go to McDonald’s or to drink Coca-Colas. This is based on a realization that this has no direct impact on the United States; it only hurts local businessmen. But I was told, it’s the symbolism; it’s doing something. Because the feeling is that nobody’s doing anything, and there is enormous sympathy, for the Palestinians, based on what people get from the television, on the World Wide Web, the chat rooms and so on.
The feeling is more intense among the younger generation, which hasn’t been so exposed to the West, which hasn’t gone to university in the West, which is more and more isolated from the way we look at things. That’s a worrisome sign for the future. But I don’t think we ought to overemphasize this feeling. It is not deeply ingrained. As one man said to me, yes, it’s true this concept of a boycott is achieving some traction in the region, so you’ll see people drinking Pepsis telling their children not to drink Cokes.
Of all the possible leaders in Saudi Arabia, the crown prince still has a great deal of respect from the people of Saudi Arabia. His words do make a difference. He is trying to make adjustments in the kinds of things that come out of the mosques, constrain the more egregious statements, work on the educational system, look for reform in his own society. These are all revolutionary items, and it is a difficult road.
Saudi Spokesman Adel Al-Jubeir said last night, if the Palestinian issue continues to fester and to get worse, it becomes harder and harder for other leaders in the region to make the kinds of reforms that they want to do. They will have to be looking for safer ground as the people become more and more intensely involved in this issue. So it’s important that we move quickly and aggressively, in order to recapture our own credibility in that region.
DR. FANDY: For any deal to take hold, somebody has to make an offer; the person on the other side has to accept it; and somebody has to be in the middle to close the deal. The Arabs have made an offer. Some elements of Israeli society accept it. The Sharon and Netanyahu crowd do not accept it, very clearly. But it is not fair to see Israel as just Sharon and Netanyahu. It’s bigger. The United States is also going to be involved in all of this. To dismiss Arab leadership and say, yes, Arab societies think of their leaders as despicable, is a bit much.
Is this process politically sustainable? I think it is. There is no way out other than peace for that region. It started as Crown Prince Abdullah’s initiative, it became the Arab initiative at Beirut. But I can’t see any way out of that conflict except that kind of a deal. Israelis will come along, under pressure, if the United States realizes the consequences.
I admire Arab leaders now more than ever, because the street is boiling. When President Sadat went to Jerusalem, he paid for it with his life. But a risk was taken and a peace deal was cut that’s still holding. I don’t think it was absent from Crown Prince Abdullah’s calculation that this risk is very heavy. Despite that, he took the risk. Arab leaders took the risk. Are they despised by their people? Not necessarily so. I think Crown Prince Abdullah, President Mubarak and all serious Arab leaders managed to bring a large segment of their public along.
The kinds of Israeli hostilities, and the fact that now there is no daylight between Israeli policy and American policy in the mind of Mohammed Sixpack on the street, makes people frustrated. They want to see separation between America and Israel. People now are burning the American flag before they burn the Israeli flag. Then in this atmosphere leaders are taking risks.
Q: Among specialists it is conventional wisdom that there has to be a third party for peace and that third party is primarily the United States. But no one, until Mamoun just began to touch on it, focused on the U.S. political paralysis. Is the United States up to the challenge in terms of its own national interest? Does it have the vision, conviction, commitment and courage – moral, political, personal, professional, perhaps even physical – to do the right thing in the right way at the right time for the right reasons?
DR. HUDSON: This is very big question. If you try to answer it by looking at the track record of American policy, you don’t come out with a very optimistic response. The pages of Middle East diplomatic history are littered with dozens of peace initiatives and proposals, many of which did come from the United States, most of which failed completely, and only two of which succeeded partially, one being the Camp David agreement of 1978 and the other one, with many qualifications, the Oslo process of 1993. But when we look at recent history, responsibility for the disastrous collapse of the Oslo process, in my view, must be assigned very heavily to the inadequacy of U.S. custodianship of that process over a period of years. That doesn’t bode well, but it looks a lot better than the lack of activity that we’ve seen in the present administration.
As a political scientist, I try to disaggregate what you mean when you say “the U.S. position” – the U.S. political system and government is made up of many different elements. While I think that there are elements of good sense and moral vision in parts of this government, in certain parts of the executive branch, maybe even in certain parts of the Congress, the balance of forces seems to suggest that moving toward the middle is going to be extremely difficult for the president to undertake. That has a lot to do with the configuration of political forces. When the House of Representatives passes an extremely unhelpful and unbalanced resolution, one wonders whether there is any hope at all. And when the Senate does one that is almost as bad, one wonders again.
So in terms of the play of political forces, it’s going to be a close call. The logic of American interests, the growing popular disenchantment throughout the region, the socioeconomic environment that nurtures violence and terror (which is inevitably going to be directed against us) would suggest, hopefully, that the top leadership will eventually make the right decision. That’s why people over there and people here are waiting to see if President Bush is finally going to come up with a balanced and vigorous policy. We can only hope that a sufficient sense of the gravity of the American situation in the region will permeate the highest levels of government here.
MR. GROSBARD: I think it’s quite difficult to understand this conflict from outside by the United States. I would like to give you an example: the unconscious agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. Today, if you want to telephone the West Bank, you pass through an Israeli telephone center. And today Israel supplies water and electricity to the West Bank. It’s a sort of unconscious agreement of interdependency. The story is that after ’67, there were two electrical power stations in the West Bank, and Israel decided to cancel them because Israel thought that if the Palestinians were dependent on her, there was less chance that they would rebel. So the Palestinians depend on Israel in many ways.
But today in the midst of all the hostility, Israel supplies the Palestinians electricity, water and telephone services. Is it because of the philanthropy of Israel? I am afraid that the answer is no; it is because of the dependency of Israel. And we know that very dependent people create a circle of dependency around them. They want others to be dependent on them. And Israel does it a lot. The Palestinians – again, perhaps subconsciously – participate in this. They do not try to build their own power stations; they stay silent.
So if you think about steps to build a peace, you have to think about how Israel will stop supplying these things, gradually, through an agreement, not suddenly, and the Palestinians take these things upon themselves. I can give you many other examples like this. Israel never once said, “Because of the suicide terrorists, we will stop the electricity,” because Israel wants this dependency. And the Palestinians don’t say anything because they want it, too.
DR. FANDY: I think the main lesson of September 11 is that the United States can no longer tolerate any part of the world that’s broken. For a long time, the Middle East has been a neighborhood with bad plumbing; they were flushing internally and nobody cared. September 11 made it clear that this kind of flushing can reach New York and Washington and is extremely dangerous. It’s the business of the United States to fix the bad plumbing of the Middle East, as well as South Asia perhaps. The business of peace making falls upon the United States because the consequences can reach the United States with the spectacular magnitude that we saw on September 11.
Unfortunately, there are forces inside the United States who try to create some kind of convergence between America’s complex global interests with, let’s say, Israeli interests in the small region of the Middle East. These interests are not compatible, and Sharon’s war is not America’s war on terrorism. The war on terrorism should not be allowed to be hijacked and misdirected. Unlike other empires, we do not have Lawrence of Arabia, people who understand the Middle East. We do not have a clear understanding of the dynamics that move people for or against the United States in that part of the world. Usually we’re told that what Israel sees to be America’s interest in the Middle East is what the administration should sign on to. But the Israeli lens is not the American lens; the view of a regional power like Israel on global questions is not necessarily the view of a global power with complex interests.
The American role, in light of September 11, has to be rethought carefully, to serve the interests of America alone, not anybody else.
AMB. FREEMAN: There’s nothing new about the dilemma of presidents having to make decisions about foreign-policy issues that are also domestic-policy issues. The Middle East is overwhelmingly a domestic-policy issue. If you doubt the antiquity of this dilemma, I urge you to re-read George Washington’s farewell address, in which he speaks eloquently about the perils of excessive affection for foreign countries. It is clear that Israel has an inordinate degree of influence in American politics, to the point that the president finds it extremely difficult to examine these issues from the point of view of American interests.
This president came to us from a position as governor of Texas, in which the residue of the Comanche issue looms a great deal larger than the Arab-Israeli dispute. It’s not surprising – indeed, it’s to his credit – that he has taken the time during recent weeks to listen, first to an Arab, then to Mr. Sharon and then to another Arab leader and to try – I think honestly, let us give him this benefit of the doubt – to come to a considered judgment of his own about what must be done. Whether his considered judgment when he reaches it is adequate to put us in a position to address all of the issues that have been raised is an open question. But he is trying to reach a considered judgment, and let us hope he reaches the right one. I think if he were to get down on the couch with Ofer, it would be helpful.
The very intimacy of U.S.-Israeli relations is a serious problem in American peacekeeping. Oslo was done behind the back of the American administration precisely because the American administration was full of people with close connections to Likud. Those who did Oslo were desperately afraid that if they sought American help, they would instead find American mischief making within the arena of Israeli politics. Just so now: Mr. Sharon’s government could be brought down in a minute, but it is very unlikely that any Israeli politician would have confidence in the American administration’s willingness to work with the left in Israel. The administration is now full of people closely identified with Mr. Sharon and Likud and its philosophy. So the very intimacy of U.S.-Israeli ties, which ought to give the United States leverage, sometimes becomes an obstacle.
In response to Mamoun’s comment on terrorism, I’m a very practical man, and my concern is simply this: that there are movements like Hamas and Hizbollah that in recent decades have not done anything against the United States or Americans, even though the United States supports their enemy, Israel. By openly declaring that we are their enemy, we invite them to extend their operations to the United States or against Americans abroad. There’s an old adage which says you should pick your friends carefully. I would add: you should be even more careful when designating your enemies.
Q: One thing that could be tried is to bring in the two key leaders of the region. Egypt has a demographic presence of 69 million people, and their experience in dealing with the fundamentalists and the extremists has been very effective. You have the Saudis, with their religious position and their financial muscle. We should try to bring these two to start drawing a road map according to what was decided in Lebanon, and to come back to the Americans and say, “We are willing to take the risk with you.” At the moment, we are asking the Americans to take the risk, put out their plan, implement it, so that in case things go wrong we have an alibi saying: “You did it; it is not our fault.”
MR. GROSBARD: I think the position now is so bad that no minimal plan could be established. What I think right now is needed is to make a psychological plan. Take a few months, half a year, of small gestures, that might help to change the atmosphere, and go on to other things. First of all, something in the atmosphere should be changed. Israeli leaders can say a few things, as I suggested before. You have to be creative. I remember two beautiful examples. When Sadat came to Jerusalem, the gesture was so powerful that it changed the whole picture. The second gesture was when King Hussein of Jordan came to the bereaved families of the seven Israeli girls a Jordanian soldier had killed. Hussein came and knelt and wept with the families. Israelis were so touched by this, and he didn’t give up anything. When you make a gesture, you give something emotional, which is often more important than all the other details. When you’re stuck on details, it means that the problem is not in the details. It’s in the relationship.
DR. HUDSON: I’ve been reading the text of a very interesting speech Richard Haass [director of policy planning, U.S. Department of State] gave in April, in which he tries to define the Bush doctrine for coping with what he calls a post-post-Cold War world. He’s talking about the need for America to integrate everybody else into a set of behaviors and attitudes compatible with our security and our interests. Haass doesn’t refer very much to the Middle East in his speech, but one gets the impression that the Middle East is seen as an unruly and dangerous region in which force rather than diplomacy must be the dominant instrument of American policy in the war on terrorism. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is framed in terms of “terrorism” and no longer in terms of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Yet anyone who seriously follows this issue knows that in fact it is all about occupation. Let’s hope that it’s not going to work that way.
It comes down to one word: “occupation.” To paraphrase a recent American electoral slogan, “It’s the occupation, stupid.” The occupation is the fundamental cause of the great and increasing distress that Israel feels, that America feels, and, certainly, that the Palestinians most of all feel. Therefore, you need not just confidence-building gestures but more tangible steps toward ending the occupation to move you toward where you want to go.
DR. FANDY: I think it’s very important as we think about the American role vis-à-vis the Middle East to be realistic. The Middle East from the Ottoman Empire down is really about seats of empires and pashas ruling local vicinities. As far as the American empire is concerned, Sharon and his government are given $3 billion a year; the settlers are roaming around. The Israeli leader is one of the pashas of the empire and ought to be told what the solution is, rather than be talked to in the world of sovereign states. There is an American empire, and empires impose solutions. The outline of the solution is clear. President Bush listened to all the Arab leaders; he listened to the Israelis. America has more leverage on Israel than it does on the Arab world and today the pasha of Tel Aviv is so dependent on the empire that he should be told what to do.
Q: I’m just from Cairo, where I spent three months reading Al-Ahram every day. I’m very interested in Professor Hudson’s idea that he can see some light at the end of the tunnel. If you had spent three months in Cairo, you would not see any light at the end of the tunnel. There is one dimension of this despair that nobody’s talking about. And you read it in Cairo all the time. President Bush, during his speech on the day of the Holocaust here, said exactly this, which came back over and over again on TV: “We shall always defend the people of Israel. We shall always give them full backing.” And then he looks at the public with very keen eyes, and says, “And they, after all are the people chosen by God.” The reaction was very intense. How can we even consider that he is listening to the Arabs?
Bush is totally identified with the Christian right, who are heart and soul behind the people of Israel and who consider Arabs and Palestinians as terrorists, as second-class. The Egyptians are saying “If they are sons of God, we are sons of what?” You know? They say, “If the Israelis today occupy Gaza and come to the frontier of Egypt, what can we do?” And people say “Nothing.” “Now suppose they come to the Suez Canal, what can we do?” “Nothing. Are we going to fight America?” The idea of the total identification of America with Israel is really something that you can see very clearly. I really wish somebody would really give me some reason to see a light at the end of this tunnel.
DR. HUDSON: Well, I don’t often meet somebody who is more pessimistic than I am about the situation, but I take your point, and I understand exactly what you mean. What I meant has to do with the shape of a permanent, accepted solution. I think there is a consensus out there that will be acceptable to mainstream opinion, as well as to governments, which have already essentially accepted it, with the singular exception at the moment of this particular Israeli government. But opinion-poll data from Israel shows that Israelis are ready in principle for a secure two-state solution. That’s the reason I think there’s a little light.
But Chas.’s question is the tough one, about the tunnel. How do you get from here to there. I am quite pessimistic, partly because I think this government in Washington, for reasons that have been discussed, is unlikely to do what needs to be done to jump-start the diplomacy that within a fairly short period of time would end the occupation. If you’re going to do it, this is not a burden that the United States government can carry by itself. An American role is essential, but it should not be exclusive. That’s why, if there’s a tunnel to be constructed, it needs to be constructed multilaterally. Colin Powell has made very interesting gestures in some discussions about an international quartet that would work as a seamless group to do what the empire thinks needs to be done in this case. Somewhere in that tunnel there needs to be an international military presence, at least observers, but probably more than that. There needs to be a kind of security presence, both for the sake of Israelis and Palestinians, because the hatred and the fear between these two populations at this moment are extremely great.
AMB. FREEMAN: I think we should also note, as Fouad Makhzoumi did in his comment and question, that it would be very helpful if the unity that the crown prince’s proposal evoked at Beirut among Arabs were extended to a united position on the construction of the tunnel. That is, how you get from here to there. So far, while we see signs of some kind of coalescence of views, there is no common vision on the means to an end that everyone in the region who is thoughtful, including the vast majority of Israelis, would like to find a way to get to.
Q: Are the shifting factions in the Israeli government, the instability of Israeli governments, an obstacle to a decision on peace?
MR. GROSBARD: Paradoxically, today, the government is more stable than any time in the recent past. It’s a unity government of left and right, of Peres and Sharon. When there is a perceived threat from outside, it’s natural that inside you get unity. The same thing has happened with the Palestinians.
AMB. FREEMAN: Over the last 20 months or so of the Al-Aqsa intifada, there has been a steady hardening of attitudes on both sides. Many people suspect that if Mr. Sharon were to fall from power he might be succeeded by Mr. Netanyahu, or some other yahoo. Others believe that if there were an election and a reformed Palestinian Authority, it might bring to power Hamas or some Palestinian analog of the Israeli extreme right. The shifting kaleidoscope of Israeli politics has been a serious problem in the past. It’s the very stability of the Israeli government now and the lack of obvious alternatives on the Palestinian side that are the obstacles.
Q: To Dr. Hudson and Mr. Grosbard, are things really as bad now as they’ve ever been, and how do you know, based upon past experiences? And I’d like Amb. Freeman and Dr. Fandy to comment on whether or not the sides will be able to make peace.
DR. HUDSON: There was a report done by the United Nations, the World Bank and the government of Norway, issued on May 15, about the damage assessment from the Israeli campaign in the West Bank: $361 million in infrastructure damage, the worst of it in the Nablus area. In one month, Israel destroyed roughly the equivalent of two years of public investment by the PA. Since the beginning of the uprising, they see $2.4 billion in estimated losses due to restrictions on people and goods, and $305 million in losses to infrastructure. And there are many more statistics like that.
I know people very well who were there in 1967, and they’re unanimous. They say, “What just happened to us is a lot worse than what happened in ’67.” Surely it’s not as bad as what happened in ’48, but I think things have gotten worse. They’ve also gotten worse for Israel. This intifada has done some serious damage, not just in loss of life, but in many other ways, as well. So let us not assume we’ve reached bottom yet.
MR. GROSBARD: Yes, things are getting worse; the number of casualties, suicide bombers, the mood, the atmosphere and the mutual damage to both societies.
But I hear many charges against Israel. Let’s suppose all of them are right. When you think that all the right is on your side, you’re innocent, you’re not in a position to take any responsibility. I really believe that in this conflict, there are no guilty and innocent, bad guys and good guys, or black and white. To think about this conflict through this lens won’t help us. My Arab friends will argue with this, because they say that they have justice on their side. If an Israeli married couple comes to my clinic and one of them says that all justice is on his side and the other is completely wrong, I don’t like to treat them, because I know they are starting from the lowest possible point. I would like to address the question in a different way: not who’s right and who’s wrong but why both sides suffer so much. If you think you are always right, you are in a paranoid state of mind. You feel very pure, like a baby. I suggest transferring the conversation to what we call a depressive position, in which you understand that you are not completely right.
In this frame of reference, you must recognize the other. In human development, the process of recognizing the other takes one through a mourning period. I have to give up my egocentricity and see the other. This is what has happened to Israel – it hasn’t recognized the Palestinians all these years – and this is what has happened to the Arab world in respect to Israel. When I ask why the two sides suffer so much, this question is more empathetic, it enables dialogue.
AMB. FREEMAN: It’s inspiring to know that the tradition of Martin Buber lives on in clinical psychological form.
DR. FANDY: Ordinary people in the Arab world have been deprived of most of the fruits of the major revolutions that have happened in the world over the last 50 years, simply because of the Arab-Israeli struggle. So many people want to end that. They see changing economic conditions and other things, so there is a resignation on the part of large segments of the public that indeed this is the only way out. Their feelings have been exploited over the last 50 years by slogans like “there is no voice that should be higher than the voice of war.” And along the way, they were cheated of their destiny and their well-being. People do not want to repeat all of that.
Many in the Arab world accept the idea of normalization for normalization. Arabs are willing to have normal relations with Israel: economic, cultural – given that Israel becomes a normal state. And normal states behave normally: they have their borders, they do not occupy other people’s land. I think if Israel looks normal in Arab eyes, they will have normal relations.
Finally I would say that regimes are, in general, interested in survival. The managers in power in the Arab world are interested in being in power. Had they thought that their public was out to throw Israel into the sea, they would not have ventured forth with any peace initiative. Egypt has had a peace treaty with Israeli since 1977, and it continues. The Egyptians do not do anything except have more trade with Israel. Trade between Israel and Egypt is greater than trade between Egypt and other Arab states. So in a sense there is optimism, because people in the Arab world want this thing to be over. But to put the whole onus of blame on Arab leaders and to claim that they cannot bring their people to accept a peace deal with Israel is simply to miss the point.
AMB. FREEMAN: Things certainly are worse for the Israelis, who used to kill 25 Palestinians for every Israeli who was killed by a Palestinian. More recently, the ratio has been two to one. That is what led to Mr. Sharon’s lurch over the border. Things are certainly worse for Arab rulers, who now feel a level of popular pressure on this issue that they never felt before. In the past it was possible in much of the Arab world for a ruler to look at this in rather cold-blooded analytic terms, and to be concerned about the Israeli-Palestinian issue primarily for its potential to radicalize people and thus to destabilize the region. Now, in addition to that cold-blooded calculation, one turns on the nightly news and sees atrocities committed in one’s own living room. As was the case with Americans during the civil-rights struggle, the impact is moral and political, and it is very real and powerful. So what was once dealt with purely rationally becomes much more emotional in the region as a whole. Arabs are being drawn into Palestinian attitudes, struggles and suffering, vis-à-vis Israelis, in a way that they never were before.
So, yes, it is worse. And, attitudes toward the United States, for a variety of reasons, seem to be about the worst they have been since the 1973 war.
Q: Normalization is the more difficult part than dividing the land into two states. Look at India and Pakistan. It is not a question of territory, but of attitudes. The West perceives Israel as part of the West, and the Muslim world doesn’t accept it. So will a two-state solution really bring peace? And, regarding the demographic situation, in the next 30 years, the population of Palestine and Israel is going to be majority Muslim. How can a Jewish state stay there?
AMB. FREEMAN: On the last point, this is a principal dilemma that the Israeli occupation has created. Sustained occupation will destroy the Jewish character of the Israeli state, and therefore the occupation and the settlements that go along with it make no sense in terms of the Zionist vision.
On the first point, a normal Israel, an Israel that behaves normally toward its neighbors, would be treated by states in the region as a normal state. The issue for the Arabs is that Israel is a colonial implant in the Arab world. It is not true, as the slogan said, that there was a land without people for a people without a land. The fact is, there were people in that land. It was not empty. Ofer Grosbard was saying that one of the key things Israelis must accept is that fact. They don’t have to apologize for their own state and their own need for a homeland, but they have to acknowledge that there were people there who have suffered as part of the process by which Jews solved their own homelessness.
Q: Peter Gubser, American Near East Refugee Aid. I’ve been going to Israel and the Palestinian territories since 1977 at least twice, sometimes three times a year. And it is now by far the worst time ever. Per capita income, according to good estimates, has dropped by half. It used to be around $1,500 and now it’s probably around $700, $750. Money is an indicator of how much food you have in your stomach, etc. Secondly, most people who are not there have a hard time imagining the extreme strictness of the closures on the ability of people to move within the territories. If you live in Jenin, you cannot go to Nablus. If you live in Nablus, you can’t go to Ramallah. This makes the movement of people, goods, money – for health or economic or social reasons, very difficult. One U.N. report had a survey showing that in two or three hospitals that had an average level of women coming to give birth, it had dropped 30 percent. That means those women are giving birth in other places, less good than hospitals. In the same context, while my organization sustained its economic and social development program, we are now heavily into relief. We are delivering a million dollars worth of food to people who do not have money to buy it. We’ve never had to do this since 1977. We’re starting to buy milk, soap, towels, diapers, to give to people who do not have money. It’s very serious, and it’s going to breed more terrorism.
Q: I work for Amnesty International. Arab governments offer proposals without having the true mandate of their citizens. So can you envisage true peace between Arab people and Israeli people, without reform and democratization in the Arab world?
DR. HUDSON: There’s a very big problem about the connection between people and their governments in the region. All of the governments, to one degree or another, are authoritarian. That said, I think these governments can deliver on their diplomatic commitments, if the nature of the commitment is not mostly objectionable to public opinion. Even though these governments are authoritarian, there certainly is public opinion, and they’re very much aware of it and concerned about it. Even authoritarian leaders have to respond, so the nature of the settlement becomes really important.
Maybe I’m more optimistic than I should be about this, but I think a Taba Plus solution that’s out there, somewhere, is one that is going to be acceptable, not only to governments, but to their publics. I don’t think it’s such a big problem for governments across the region to sell this to their people.
I do worry about the problem that these Arab governments have, because they seem to be so visibly impotent in moving a reasonable compromise proposal forward to the international community, especially to the United States. When they show that they can’t do it, then people do begin to get unhappy and to start saying, you should try something else; you should start thinking about sticks instead of just carrots. You should start being a little tougher, a little less friendly. That’s the kind of pressure that builds up because the prominent solution that they politely request doesn’t get a really good response from the U.S. government.
DR. FANDY: For any stability in the Middle East and the well-being of its citizens there are two key concepts. Peace, which regulates relationships among states, and reform, which regulates relationships between states and their own societies. The two concepts are interdependent. When you have any kind of progress on the peace process, governments can afford to make reforms. When there is also reform, there is public sentiment to move forward, toward peace.
That reform does not translate just into democratization as we see it here, but as institutional accountability and transparency. Arab politics should transform itself from a sort of personal politics in many ways, to an institutional politics. In this age of globalization, Arab institutions have to be compatible with global institutions to at least do certain specific functions in this war on terrorism. You need to track people, you need to have transparencies. So internal reform will certainly go hand in hand with the relationships among states in the region. How much of this can be done when and how depends on each society.
In 1977, Egypt started with peace, and debatable doses of reform followed. Is it fast or slow? How did they deal with the fundamentalist issue and other things? Saudi Arabia is another state that’s now taking on the concept of peace and internal reform. There are lessons that are very important to be drawn from the Egyptians, but had peace continued, Egypt probably would have been different than we see it today.
AMB. FREEMAN: Much of the criticism of regimes in the region is that they do make effective decisions and force people to adhere to them without consultation. They act undemocratically, but very few people say they are ineffective in enforcing whatever decisions they make. They may be ineffectual in the particular context of helping Israelis and Palestinians to make peace, but they’re very effective in many other arenas. The governments in the region do have the capacity to lead their people into compliance with an agreement.
The second point is the more crucial one. We have to distinguish peace from concord. Peace is the absence of armed conflict or violence. Concord is something much deeper. It is some kind of psychological or mutual empathy as Ofer was describing earlier. To get from the absence of violence to something deeper, in which you recognize other people as human beings with rights and feelings that are entitled to respect, is not an easy process. There will be people in both Israel and Palestine who do not accept the peace. There will be settlers who are evicted, who are angry, and like the Pieds Noirs in France, will act against the interests of their own government, in many cases violently. There will also be extremists among the Palestinians who will not reconcile themselves to the deal at the outset. What will be required on both sides is a measure of commitment and leadership to transform peace into concord.
MR. GROSBARD: Professor Fandy suggests that if there is peace among the states, it will be easier to make reforms inside. I don’t know which comes first, the chicken or the egg: But there is a deep connection between the kind of regime and the peace process. Many Palestinians and people in the Arab countries after September 11 said that it was a kind of conspiracy here. There are many examples like this. Recently I spoke with some Palestinians and they believe in amazing stories about a conspiracy between Sharon and Assad – you take the Golan Heights and we will take Lebanon.
From my clinical point of view, I try to understand this. Many Israelis ask for example why Arafat says the Jews have never built anything on the Temple Mount. And he said it to Barak. Clinton answered, you speak nonsense, and that was the end of the conversation – a mutual insult. Thousands of examples occur every day that we have to try to understand. I think that it’s hard for Western people to understand what it means to live in a non-democratic society. You speak with people, and you’re not sure that they can freely say what they think. So the discussion is different, but we forget why – because of the fear. Many Arabs will tell you that the Holocaust didn’t occur, or happened differently. In all these examples, it’s very hard for them to believe an authority figure. And the media is authority; books are authority; the regime is authority; and Israel also is an authority. So we have to be sensitive when we speak about peace. We are surprised every time about why things are getting worse. We don’t understand the depth of the conflict here – this is the emotional connection between democracy and peace.
Q: As I look at the initial reports of the Bush administration’s thoughts on a transitional Palestinian state, it seems to be the opposite in some ways of the Saudi initiative. “Provisional state” means no boundaries are defined, everything’s up in the air, and there’s time to create more and more facts on the ground. Where do you think this is headed?
DR. HUDSON: These pronouncements and hints are couched in Delphic terms, so you can kind of read them in different ways. I think there are two trends that are in contestation with each other within the administration. As I try to read between the lines, I get the sense that there’s a version which is sometimes identified with Secretary of State Colin Powell. Some of the things he says suggest reason for relative optimism. He appears to be saying, we’ve got to give the Palestinians some immediate relief; they’ve got to have a state.
But what does provisional mean? We’ve got to have a “Quartet,” international involvement and so on. That can be read in a hopeful way. But the other tendency, of which there seem to be plenty of hints that it has powerful allies, is quite the opposite. It leans toward perpetual interim agreements, leading ultimately to a situation in which the Palestinians will have a degree of autonomy within a certain number of enclaves that are completely surrounded and monitored. Whether that collection of enclaves is called a state, I don’t know. You know, you can read it one way or the other.
I think the advice studiously ignores substance and surreptitiously allows occupation through settlement thickening to deepen. I can read it in a gloomy way and maybe that is the way it’s going. But it seems to me that one could imagine that within the depths of the State Department, at least, there is a realization that we have to have tangible results and soon.
AMB. FREEMAN: If the administration were an individual rather than a collective body, one would call this schizophrenia. What the president has been trying to do is to come to a conclusion that presumably will unite his administration behind whatever it is that he ultimately decides.
I think it’s not unusual to have a state with no defined borders. Israel is a state with no defined borders. As Ofer remarked earlier, Israelis look to the Palestinians to define their borders. Palestinians and Israelis are going to have to mutually define the borders of the Israeli state, if Israel is to be accepted in the region. And Palestinians and Israelis are going to have to mutually define the borders of the Palestinian state, if Israel is to accept that state. I don’t find the notion of a state first, followed by the definition of borders, all that unusual.
I’d like emphatically to agree with Michael. There is a consensus in the region, based on experience, that never again should a process be allowed to substitute for peace. The peace process became an excuse for avoiding hard issues. That is no longer acceptable to anyone. The situation really has changed, and we do have to start resolving hard problems, instead of, in the manner in which Mr. Sharon would prefer, leaving final issues to some undetermined date in the future. That’s a recipe for no resolution at all, ever, and ultimately fatal to all concerned. We must solve the issues in principle up front, and then negotiate the details later.
Q: Abdullah is extremely popular in Saudi Arabia, there’s no question about that. When he launched the plan, I think it probably didn’t have the support of most of the people of Saudi Arabia, but they thought that if he wants it, we’ll certainly go along with it. The assumption was that this would be agreed to immediately in the United States with great applause and approval. And when the first American reaction was nothing, there was shock in Saudi Arabia. But then we decided that perhaps there was something there. Abdullah came to the States. He had, according to all reports, good talks with the president in Crawford, and better talks with Bush the father in Houston. But then nothing came of that. We had this strong visit to the United States and things went back to where they were before.
I’d like to endorse what Michael Hudson said that things have never been as bad as they are now. I went to the Mideast first in 1951. I’ve never seen them as bad as they are today. People have decided that we have pleaded, we’ve made this extremely important offer, the United States should endorse it, and we should have an imposed solution in the Mideast. We’re not going in that direction. Sharon was ordered, for example, to leave Jenin, immediately, and he gave the president the finger. The president pulled his forelock and bowed and said, I didn’t really mean immediately, just at your convenience That had a tremendous effect in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Muslim world as well. It should have had an effect in the United States.
People are now saying we’ve pleaded, we’ve done things that we wouldn’t have thought we’d do before. Maybe we should start thinking of doing something that will hurt the United States. I guarantee you that’s being done in Saudi Arabia and in other countries. And there are things that can be done. I don’t think the government is going to use the oil weapon. They tried it once before and it didn’t work very well. But there are a lot of people in Saudi Arabia who think that it should be done. The oil fields cover a huge area, and they cannot be totally defended. I should not be a bit surprised if some group in Saudi Arabia, not necessarily hostile to the monarchy or to Abdullah, would take it into their own hands and decide that oil production in Saudi Arabia is going to be curtailed.
AMB. FREEMAN: I certainly hope you’re wrong about that.
But I do thank you for some more basic truth. I can’t say that I disagree with anything you’ve said, in terms of your description of the situation.
MR. GROSBARD: What is hard to understand in this conflict, when we start thinking about peace, is not what we are going to do, but how. Because the how question addresses the emotions. The Abdullah plan will be good or bad depending on how it is implemented.
I just wanted to make brief comment about the refugee problem. I would like to suggest a new term: a “sad peace.” I have spent a lot of time speaking with Palestinians, and we tried to go beyond the territorial agreement. What will happen with the refugees? I know from my profession that it’s not easy to give up dreams. They told me quite honestly that a part of the refuges will agree to get compensation or exchange land, but some won’t agree, and this will mean that the terror will keep on going. We might improve the situation; it might be better than now. But we’ll have to scale down our expectations. I think that if there is less terror, for us it will still be a lot. That is why I suggest the term “sad peace.”
DR. HUDSON: I believe that there is a significant linkage between the unsolved Palestinian/Israeli and the larger Arab-Israeli problem. And the issue that certainly is highest in priority on our government’s agenda is what we call the war on terrorism, or more generally, the threat of transnational violence and hostility. There are various causes for the Al Qaeda phenomenon, but if one had to choose a particular cause that is of singular importance, it is this unsolved Palestine problem. Therefore, I think the U.S. government should take advantage of any constructive diplomatic initiatives that are being offered by any governments in the region, including Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Europe, or indeed Israel, if Israel is able to come up with one, in order to help put this fire out.
DR. FANDY: On March 28 of this year, the crown prince’s initiative became an Arab declaration of peace from Beirut, and in April, the crown prince came and conducted his conversation with the president at Crawford, and elaborated eight points to further flesh out this Arab initiative. President Mubarak was here last week to further elaborate the mechanics of that Arab declaration. On the record, for the whole world to see, the Arabs have made a very clear strategic choice and collectively signed on to it. It remains to be seen whether the other party will engage. One would hope that the United States would see that the war on terrorism, which is going to be very long, should not be misdirected by other forces. The United States should not have to fight local wars on behalf of this country or that country. These distractions should be removed so that the United States can focus on its own security needs rather than those of other countries.
AMB. FREEMAN: Someone once remarked that genius consists in seeing the obvious before everyone else sees it. The crown prince, like the panelists, may therefore aspire to the title of genius, because there really is no rational alternative to the basic outlines of what he has proposed. Unfortunately, however, if there is no rational alternative, there are emotional alternatives. This remains the great problem in this conflict. “Offer or ultimatum” may have been an imprecise phrasing of the dilemma here, yet there is a clock ticking. The psychological underpinnings of the strategic choice that Arabs have made are not secure. And this represents both a great opportunity and a great challenge for the United States.
Middle East Policy is fully accessible through the Wiley Online Library
Click below to subscribe to the online or print edition of Middle East Policy and gain access to all journal content.