Daniel C. Kurtzer, Matthew Duss, Natan B. Sachs, Yousef Munayyer
The following is an edited transcript of the seventy-eighth in a series of Capitol Hill conferences convened by the Middle East Policy Council. The meeting was held on October 15, 2014, at the Phoenix Park Hotel in Washington, DC, with Omar Kader moderating and Thomas R. Mattair as discussant. The video can be accessed at www.mepc.org.
OMAR KADER, Chairman of the Board, Middle East Policy Council
There have been six Nobel peace prizes given for the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 1950, Ralph Bunche got it for negotiating the armistice. In 1978, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin received it for negotiating Camp David. In 1994, Arafat, Rabin and Peres got it for negotiating the Oslo accords. Then Carter got a Nobel Prize in 2002 for a variety of reasons, including the work that he did on the Arab-Israeli peace talks.
Another statistic that we don't really like to talk about is that two of those Nobel winners, Sadat and Rabin, were assassinated for signing peace agreements. To this day, Rabin's grave has to be watched over by Israeli soldiers because it's desecrated on a regular basis for his "betrayal" of the Israeli people in reaching peace. So here we are: six Nobel peace prizes, two assassinations and another failed attempt at peace by a very able and experienced secretary of state, John Kerry.
Speaking to the panel, what could you tell this group and what could you tell the American people and the people reading Middle East Policy in the months and years ahead that they haven't heard before? What could we say to young people who want to make it a career? What could we say to those who don't belong to what I call the three common thinking styles: the Dennis Ross style, tiptoe around the Israelis no matter what; the Aaron David Miller style, nothing can be done; and the John Kerry style, never quit, keep trying?
I refuse to believe that what John Kerry tried was for naught. There had to be something in what he did that moved the ball down the road a bit further towards that tipping point where something will happen. What was it? You can't go through nine to 12 months of intense behind-the-scenes negotiating without kicking the ball further down the road. Or was it just another useless attempt?
I read on the front page of yesterday's New York Times that the British Parliament passed a nonbinding resolution to recognize the Palestinian state. Sweden last week said it was probably going to recognize the Palestinians too. The French said, we're ready; the Spanish said, we're getting ready; and the EU is thinking that they're going to have to do something collectively. There may be a we're-sick-of-this-problem syndrome going on in the world today, and maybe the Kerry effort was part of loading that up and putting it on the front burner and asking the world, "How many of you would like to rebuild Gaza again?" Another half-billion dollars was committed by the EU yesterday in addition to the half-billion they've already rebuilt and had destroyed. There is a degree of insanity to all of this, and it has nothing to do with peace and war. We have to get right back to the basics. How do we make diplomacy work? A couple of questions to get us started: Have the Palestinians failed to take the talks seriously enough? Is it too late to expect an agreement? If so, have the Israelis built too many settlements? Is Israel stuck on an ideology principle — given a choice between peace and land, they've chosen land? Has Israel successfully eluded an agreement by building settlements deliberately to kill the peace process? Should the EU follow Sweden? Will the United States back a Palestinian state's admission to the United Nations, or will they block it?
Has public opinion in Israel changed enough to allow an Israeli prime minister to reach an agreement? If so, on what grounds? I'm not naïve enough to believe that one person in Israel holds the key to peace. The prime minister has limits; it's a very complicated country with a multitude of parties of every political stripe. Finally, will demographics be the key to a settlement? There is a giant elephant in the room called population growth.
DANIEL KURTZER, Professor, Middle East Policy Studies, Princeton University; former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
However much our policy makers and part of our public hope to ignore this issue, it simply will not go away. If one thing was proved as a result of the endgame that followed the unsuccessful Kerry diplomacy, when the United States called a pause in the peace process, it is that status quos are anything but static. They can get better if you work on them, sometimes they get worse if you work on them — but they don't stay the same. For several months after expectations had been raised over the course of the previous year, nothing happened. The situation on the ground was allowed to fester, tensions were allowed to build up, frustrations were allowed to gather. It suggested that a spark — in this case the kidnapping and murder of three teenagers — could ignite an Israeli response and a Hamas response, and once again there followed a period of violence. It was the inevitable result, in my view, of a status quo that people assume can continue unchanged.
If that's the case, it really behooves our policy makers to spend some time on this issue. That's not easy to do today in Washington. Not only is the Middle East beset with problems — whether it's ISIS or Syria, humanitarian distress or the Iran negotiations — but the president also has a foreign and domestic agenda that's far wider than just the Middle East. All of these issues compete for presidential time and decision making.
In Haaretz, there's an article today that reports President el-Sisi's comment to Prime Minister Netanyahu that the road to Riyadh, in his view, runs through Ramallah. We remember that in 2002-03 we used to have this debate: does the road to Jerusalem run through Baghdad, or does the road to Baghdad run through Jerusalem? I'm not sure el-Sisi is right. We, as a large country and a big power, don't have the luxury of deciding to prioritize some issues in a manner that ignores others. We have to simultaneously "walk and chew gum." But we have to avoid what Monty Python used to call the hundred-meter dash for runners without a sense of direction, in which the starter fires the pistol and eight runners go off in different directions.
The question is, do we have a direction? Do we have a strategy? Do we have a set of tactics that might actually advance us toward the goal of a two-state solution? Have we learned anything from previous experience that is applicable to this effort to move ahead? If so, how do you align expectations, which today have to be kept low, with realities; it's highly unlikely that we are going to have a peace process that ends in a two-state solution. But we need a process that keeps the diplomacy going and offers hope to both Palestinians and Israelis that there is an outcome to this conflict other than periodic bouts of violence, settlements, occupation practices and the like.
So first, I want to talk about lessons learned and unlearned. I've spent the eight years since leaving government co-authoring two books and editing a third, all on the peace process; in each of them I focused on lessons learned. The total adds up to over 20, but I now have it whittled down to about a dozen. If we look at several of them and apply them to what John Kerry may decide to do again after our mid-term elections, we could be better off in the next round of our diplomacy.
The first is the obvious lesson of deciding on a strategy before you decide on the tactics. In our book The Peace Puzzle, we characterized the Obama administration's policies in the first term, under George Mitchell's guidance, as a kind of billiard-ball diplomacy. We tried a tactic, it didn't work, and then we bounced off the wall and tried something else. When that didn't work, we tried a third tactic.
First it was confidence-building measures. Then it was indirect talks. Then it was direct talks. Finally the president, in 2011, came up with the idea of establishing a minimal set of parameters to try to start negotiations on security and borders as a way of framing a Palestinian state — and then of course adding content into that frame.
The question is, why did we not start with a strategy and then decide how these various tactics might fit in? Confidence-building measures, for example, the second lesson learned, don't work in the abstract. That's not to say that a freeze on settlements is not important. It is important. Settlements remain one of the most persistent negative issues in this conflict, notwithstanding that some argue, including people in Washington, that settlements are not a problem. That's ridiculous. Settlements are a very serious problem. But asking an Israeli government, whether led by Netanyahu or even by Rabin in the '90s, to freeze settlements in the abstract simply doesn't work. There's a political price that a prime minister has to pay, so that prime minister has to know that, if he's going to pay that price, there will be some payoff for him to be able to justify the cost of freezing settlements.
The issue is not to seek the confidence-building measure, but rather to embed it in a strategy so that you can market it in a sustainable process in which there are going to be gains and challenges for both sides, but the gains hopefully will outweigh the risks that the two sides have to take.
A third lesson, argued quite cogently by Rob Danin in a book I edited entitled Pathways to Peace, is the question of top-down versus bottom-up diplomacy. For years we have tended to see the two as somehow the opposite sides of a dichotomy. Either we do a peace process in which we define the endgame, or — if that doesn't work — we try to improve the situation on the ground. In fact, today you hear voices in Washington and in the region saying, since we're not going to have a peace process, let's just improve the quality of life. That's very important to do, because to the extent that Palestinians can live better and build up the institutions and sustainable economy that would make a Palestinian state succeed, the chances of a post-settlement success go up exponentially. But neither of these works in the abstract, for the same reason that confidence-building measures don't work in the abstract. The people for whom life is getting better on the ground need to know that there's a destination, that they're not simply going to live better under occupation. They need to know that there is some process underway — though maybe it doesn't end today, tomorrow or next week — that will, at some point, help them achieve independence.
Those on the other side, who have to make very difficult concessions with regard to peace and security and governance and political control, also have to know that the conditions on the ground have been built up strongly enough, that people have a reason to sustain their life — they understand that there would be costs to their deciding to prolong the conflict. So you're talking about top-down and bottom-up.
A fourth lesson involves short-term fixes. I penned an op-ed this summer during the Gaza war in The Washington Post, suggesting that a ceasefire was inevitable. They always happen. We've had many, many bouts of violence in the Middle East. They always come to an end, for lots of reasons — fatigue, perceptions of victory, declarations of victory even when there isn't victory. But does anything happen beyond a ceasefire, or do you simply stop the violence? You fix a few technical issues; you reconstruct Gaza with $5.4 billion worth of commitments; you open up a little bit. There's a report today in the press that a large number of tons of cement and iron have entered Gaza. That's good news, but then what?
If we had not experienced this previously, we could say, maybe just fixing the immediate problem of the violence is sufficient, because it's sometimes hard to achieve that ceasefire. But we've seen this movie before. If you only fix the proximate causes of violence and you don't start to deal with the root causes, you are fated to see a repetition of the violence itself. People tend to forget that there was a war in Gaza even while we were focused on the war in Lebanon in 2006 and 2008 and 2012 and 2014. Maybe another war will not recur for three years instead of two years. Maybe we'll gain an extra year because of reconstruction. But is this wise? Is this the right way to conduct policy, to simply say that the two sides have fought a war and we're going to end it with a ceasefire and some reconstruction, without trying to get at the root causes of that war?
About six years ago, I wrote an article called, "The Third Intifada: Coming to a TV Screen Near You." The projection was that we would have a third intifada because none of the issues that motivated Palestinians to start the second intifada had been addressed or fixed. We haven't yet had a full-scale third intifada, and I hope we don't. But it's inevitable that we are going to have outbursts of violence all the time unless you not only fix the proximate causes of the violence, but start to deal with the underlying causes as well.
A fifth issue is monitoring, accountability and consequences. John Kerry engaged in brilliant diplomacy for six or seven of the nine months in which he was quite active. He didn't approach the peace process as the United States had approached it for many years, which was let's simply get the parties to the table; if we get them to the table, magic will happen and they'll make some advances. What Kerry understood is, if you don't get to the table on the basis of a strong platform, a strong foundation, the negotiations are fated to fail. So, before even thinking of getting the parties to the table, Kerry brought General John Allen into the picture to look at security; he brought the Arab foreign ministers to Washington to reiterate the Arab Peace Initiative and to indicate that there is a regional context in which this takes place. He adopted the World Economic Forum plan for a multibillion-dollar investment for the prospective state of Palestine.
He did ask the two sides for confidence-building measures in the context of what he was doing — prisoner releases and forgoing the move toward independent Palestinian statehood outside of this process. Having put this construct together, he said, now we have to turn to the terms of reference for negotiations. If you only bring the parties to the table without terms of reference, they are the Monty Python race without a sense of direction. It's that part that failed. Kerry tried to bring about terms of reference for negotiations in which there would be not only a serious context for the parties to negotiate in, but also a serious process by which we would begin to monitor behaviors. Those two elements — terms of reference and monitoring — have been absent for too long from American policy and the process. They may be, in fact, the most important of the lessons we need to learn.
Let me take up the second one first, monitoring accountability and exacting consequences. If you look back over the 20-plus years since Madrid and Oslo, there have been a number of occasions when the United States faced a choice as to whether to hold the parties accountable for not doing what they promised to do or for doing things they promised not to do. The most obvious of those are the violence the Palestinians said that they would renounce and the settlements Israel should not have been building.
We never set in motion a serious process of monitoring behaviors. For those historians in the audience, you know how dangerous this has been in the past, just in the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 1970, along the Suez Canal, there was no monitoring after [Secretary of State William] Rogers succeeded in achieving a ceasefire. The Soviets then brought up their surface-to-air missiles. What happened three years later? Those SAMs became the umbrella under which the Egyptians felt comfortable attacking Israel. I'm not judging whether or not Egypt had a right to attack. The issue here is, if you do diplomacy, you've got to monitor the agreements and the undertakings and the commitments that flow from it. And we've never done that.
If you do monitor, you have to hold the parties accountable. In the Annapolis process, the Bush administration did in fact appoint a monitor. We had a general who was asked every several months to go out and check how people were doing. Nothing ever happened with his reports, because there wasn't the third aspect: exacting consequences from the parties who don't do what they're supposed to do. If there are no consequences for bad behavior, there is no reason to stop. The argument some made in the 1990s — that this process is like riding a bicycle; you have to keep pedaling; if you ever stop to deal with bad behavior, the bicycle will tip over — is ridiculous. It's like saying, I'm going to ride a bicycle, and even if I'm heading into a swamp, I've got to keep pedaling because I don't want the bicycle to tip over. That's what we've done. We've been riding this bicycle into a swamp while bad behaviors continue.
So one side of this equation is to establish a serious monitoring, accountability and consequence system. The other is to develop serious terms of reference. Why do we need them? You remember at Madrid in 1992, the letter of invitation — which is available online — became the terms of reference. It laid out the expectations and agreements of all of the parties of what was going to happen, both at the Madrid conference itself and in the bilateral negotiations that followed. But Madrid was a process-oriented breakthrough. That's what the first Bush administration was able to achieve.
Break the stalemate. Get the parties to the table. Establish a two-track negotiating process in which you have bilateral negotiations in parallel with multilateral negotiations, a critical breakthrough in the Middle East. To move to the next step — how to imbue the bilateral, substantive negotiations with the possibility of success — you also need terms of reference. Otherwise, the two parties start on entirely different planes heading in entirely different directions. We may not like a Palestinian position that claims all of the territory of 1967 and all of Jerusalem and demands refugee return. We may not like an Israeli position that says, no, we're not giving back a large part of the West Bank and we want no refugees. But if you allow these parties to walk into a room without some understanding of where the parameters are within which they're going to negotiate, the negotiations are doomed to fail.
It's for this reason that I continue to argue for a set of parameters. It's in the public domain in an appendix to Pathways to Peace, and I put it out in a separate article. These are my parameters; they don't have to be anybody else's. The idea was to see where the negotiations had come over the years. You take what Clinton had done in 2000, what happened in Annapolis, and where Olmert and Abbas got to. And you develop an idea of where the United States might position those parameters: far enough ahead of the positions of the parties that they know where they have to go — it's kind of a road map and a GPS — but not so far that they find it impossible to head in that direction. You position them at the head of a funnel with the understanding that you're going to narrow their differences over time as they move toward the objective of achieving a negotiated agreement.
There are no parameters that are so far removed from the reality of Israeli and Palestinian life that they would destroy this process. It may be that today, because of the configuration of Israeli politics and Palestinian politics, those parameters may not be a catalyst for actual negotiations. I want to be realistic here. If the United States decided tomorrow or right after the midterms to put out a serious set of parameters, we might not get to negotiations. But that's not a disaster. This administration will have established a baseline that will make it impossible to move anywhere else when the political conditions on the ground allow for negotiations. In fact, it gives us diplomatic opportunities, because our diplomats right now don't have a policy on which to base our diplomacy. What do we stand for when it comes to Jerusalem, refugees, the territories occupied in '67? Let's give our diplomats tools. We could even think about not vetoing something in the UN Security Council; we could actually propose a resolution that incorporates our parameters. They could become a successor to Resolution 242. In other words, it gives you diplomatic options, which we don't currently have.
I have not given up. The United States has not yet failed, but we are continuing to not succeed by failing to understand the lessons we have lived through in the past. We need to revise our approach, develop our strategy — a serious set of terms of reference — and build into that a process in which we ask the parties to change their behavior and then monitor and hold the parties accountable for how they behave. That could represent a serious diplomatic strategy. It may not get us immediately to negotiations and peace, but it will set this peace process on a far better course than it's on today.
NATAN SACHS, Fellow, Brookings Institution's Center for Middle East Policy
As I started thinking about this talk, I was considering the question, has the United States failed? On the face of it, it seems like a relatively easy one — "yes" (and on Twitter there were a lot of one-word responses to the title: the answer simply is yes). I think it's a bit more complicated than that, however. The United States has obviously not succeeded. We don't have a final-status agreement, which has been the U.S. objective for quite a while, certainly for the past year. But I think the ones who have failed, the ones who will pay the price more than anyone else, are the two sides themselves, the Palestinians and the Israelis.
This seems an obvious point, but it's worth noting, in particular because there is a perception in this city that you do not ascribe agency to the parties, especially to the Palestinians. The Palestinians are the weaker party; many of them are under occupation. Therefore, there is an assumption that they simply have no tools of policy to decide where they're going. This is patently false. Simply comparing the fate of the two main Palestinian territories this past summer shows the dramatic difference that Palestinian political decisions make. Of course, the Palestinians are the weaker party, and the Israelis are the stronger party, and certainly the Israeli decisions are extremely consequential. But both parties have agency. In their now-stated goal of a two-state solution, they have obviously failed quite miserably.
So the main question to my mind is: Who is going to pay the price, or what will be the price for this lack of peace? On the one hand, if we look at the past year, the root cause for the fact that there was no success in this process to my mind is the fundamental and very deep lack of trust between the leaders of the two sides. The political systems echo this and enhance it. The Israeli political system constrains Netanyahu to a large degree, and the Palestinian public certainly constrains Abbas, as does his own leadership within Fatah. But, more than anything, we have two leaders who know each other very well, who came into office with absolutely no trust in one another, and have now much less. They truly believe that the other is antagonistic to their interests and even to their words.
So why did the U.S. secretary of state go in this direction? The way the secretary explained it is that this might be the last moment. It may not be a good moment. We may not have the ideal leaders for peace, to put it mildly. We may not have the right political coalitions to do it. Moreover, something has happened in the Middle East in the last few years that may not make this the best moment to deal with this problem. And yet, the secretary said, this may be the last opportunity for a two-state solution, and therefore, we have to go for it now.
After the failure of the talks, two main questions arise. First, what happens in the absence of peace moving forward? Second, building on what the ambassador said, what happens if people get convinced that this simply is impossible; if they take the secretary at his word and simply conclude that it is too late — too many settlements, so the Palestinians are no longer interested, et cetera?
On the Palestinian side, you see a contradiction. On the one hand, if you look at polls today, even after the Gaza war, you still see a majority mildly favoring a two-state solution, even compared to the Yugoslavia option — what some people call the one-state "solution," they sometimes say it without irony; Palestinians still do prefer the two-state solution. Yet they very strongly, even more strongly than before the war, believe it's impossible because the Israelis are not there.
This is of course mirrored on the Israeli side. There are still significant majorities on the Israeli side that would prefer a two-state solution. It's certainly higher than among the Palestinians. On the Israeli side, the one-state scenario — the Yugoslavia or Bosnia option — is not very popular. But, still, clear majorities of Israelis, and for a very long time — basically since the second intifada, when everything really broke down — Israelis do not believe Palestinians are there.
The past breakdowns of these talks enhance this perception. The Palestinians saw settlements on the Israeli side, the embodiment of Israel working against the supposed two-state solution. On the Israeli side, they saw a confirmation of the same old narrative. Abbas, who is perceived as much better than Arafat in that he himself is not involved in violence while negotiating peace, is still not willing to sign a final deal, in particular one that would end all claims on such matters as the right of return and Jerusalem. Time and time again, Abbas, according to the American reports, was unwilling to give a conclusive answer. Now, of course, why Abbas did this, why he did it with Olmert, why Arafat did it previously — there are always circumstances. But in the Israeli perspective, which is extremely skeptical of Abbas to begin with, this was — yet again — at least consistent with the notion that Abbas is willing to do many things, but not to sign away historic rights.
On the Israeli side, where does this leave us? In the absence of peace, for the Palestinians, this means abject failure, historic failure, continuation of occupation, continuation of the refugees. And again, I want to emphasize that the Palestinians themselves are a party to this failure, the continuation of occupation, the refugee problem, all of the difficulties they point to the Israelis about. For the Israelis, this means continuation of occupation, which has very deep, long-term consequences for Israeli society. A fifth of Israelis are not Jewish, and the occupation and the conflict have deep ramifications for relations between the majority and the minority inside Israel. The leaders on both sides of this matter don't help either.
It also has dramatic ramifications in the international arena. We saw, of course, the vote in the British Parliament, in Sweden, et cetera. And the rise of BDS, as they call themselves, is sometimes formulated as a pro-peace movement against occupation, but is usually formulated simply as an anti-Israel movement, which is actually the opposite of a two-state solution, exactly the opposite of peace. Israelis are confronted with this and feel a very strong, growing sense — a wrong sense, in my mind — that the world is simply against them. BDS is obviously not promoting the two-state solution, they are not boycotting the settlements, for example; they're boycotting Israel. They're against Israel. Many of their proponents do not talk about a two-state solution; if they did, they would lose the coherence of their camp. Some of them, for example, when they do mention a two-state solution, talk about a two-state solution and the full "right of return." In other words, a state and a half for Palestinians and half a state, for awhile, for Jews. When Israelis hear this, the answer is very clear. This is just one more stage in this perceived world campaign against Israel — a misperception, to my mind, but a very strong one.
We see a very strong rightward trend inside Israel, rightward in one sense, toward hawkishness. During this war, for example, Netanyahu lost a lot of popularity, not to the left, but to the right. Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home party, a member of the coalition, at least nominally, is much more hawkish than Netanyahu. He is the one who gained most from this, in part because he and others, even Foreign Minister Lieberman, pointed to a lack of strategy on the Israeli side, saying, what are you actually trying to do? If Hamas is as bad as you say, and it is such a threat to Israeli security, bring it down. But if you're not bringing it down, what actually are you after? So we see a rise of the right wing, on at least the security hawkish side. As I said, we see a strong sense in Israel of "the whole world is against us."
In this context, contrast BDS to the British Parliament vote, which was very different from what you hear on campuses — not a boycott of Israelis at all. That is why, for example, George Galloway couldn't attend. He, of course, boycotts Israelis period, while the resolution in Parliament was for a two-state solution, one of them being Israel. But some Israelis see this campaign, sometimes in the British Parliament forum but often in the louder forums, as simply anti-Israel. They have very strong rightward tendencies on security, and they see a dramatic change in their region.
Over the years, when Israelis looked at the problem, they used to always claim that the road to Baghdad does not go through Jerusalem, that the Palestinian-Israeli problem is not the core of the Middle East problem. It may be important, but the Middle East has an enormous array of problems that have nothing to do with Israel, that use Israel as a hook because the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Hence, for example, the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has no borders with Israel and really has no problems with Israel per se, because it is a Shiite power, because it is non-Arab, sees an enormous advantage in becoming the vanguard of a glorified resistance movement against Israel and taking on the mantle of leadership in the Middle East among Sunnis.
The last three or four years, to the Israeli mind, especially the center-right, have been a very strong validation of this perspective. If you look at the Middle East today — the horrendous civil war in Syria, massacres in Syria and Iraq, the enormous upheaval in the largest country in the Arab world, Egypt — none of these have anything to do with Israel directly. The Iran question perhaps does. It depends on what day Israelis talk about it. But usually, most of these issues, to the north, to the south, in every direction, have nothing to do with Israel directly. For many Israelis, especially on the center-right, this is a very strong validation of the perspective that Jerusalem, Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not the central problem.
Of course, there is a flaw in this. On the face of it, it is true, and the president, in fact, said so recently. That of course does not change the simple fact that the Palestinian-Israeli problem is extremely important, that it exacerbates the U.S. position in the region for many other reasons. It also makes it very easy for other parties in the region to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict whenever it suits them. In other words, it is extremely important in its own right and should be solved, even though it is not the key to all the problems of the Middle East, or even most of them.
But the Israelis, when they look at it, not only see things that are unrelated to the Palestinian problem; they see things that exacerbate the extreme risks that Israel would take if it were to concede what the Palestinians want. When they look, for example, east, and see the Islamic State or whatever we're calling it these days, they see a dramatic threat to Jordan on Israel's border. On the Golan border they see Islamists, not quite ISIS, but Islamists sometimes firing accidentally into Israel. In Lebanon, they see a Hezbollah that is involved in the huge civil war that spans Iraq and Syria now and is on the border of Israel. They see a Sinai that seemed to be a hotbed of the same thing until Sisi came to power and the military took action. All of these are not theoretical questions; they represent very real threats on Israel's borders.
So when Netanyahu says, we do not want to create another Gaza in the West Bank, it may sound like hollow rhetoric in English, but this is the one thing that resonates most strongly with Israelis as a very tangible, real, personal thing. Netanyahu was ridiculed for claiming that there would be missiles fired from Gaza onto Ashkelon. But for Israelis, he was vindicated in every way possible in foreseeing what might happen in Gaza. The same prediction about the possibility of the growth of Hamas in the West Bank, concomitant with everything else that's going on in the Middle East, seems to Israelis like the last moment in which they would take dramatic security steps.
Where does it leave them? To my mind, it leaves them in a very strange contradiction. Like Palestinians who seem not to know where to go — they want a two-state solution, but they don't think it's possible, so many of them are holding onto options that are sold to them as solutions but in fact spell civil war — Israelis find themselves in a situation in which economically and from many other perspectives, they are doing very well. Demographically, economically, technologically Israel is much stronger than it was even 10 years ago and especially 20 or 30 years ago. It is now officially a member of the OECD, a developed country. It truly is in many respects. It now finds itself able or compelled to deal with domestic issues that have nothing to do with the Palestinian problem, something that they could not do before.
At the same time, there seems to be a malaise among Israelis, a very deep sense of a loss of direction, in particular with relation to the Palestinian problem. In the Israeli narrative, which you've heard a million times, all the attempts to reach peace with Arafat, with Abbas, through the Arab states, or unilaterally, all these things have failed. Force doesn't seem to work. Peace certainly doesn't seem to work. Nothing seems to bring about normalcy for Israel in any kind of recognizable borders. So there is, to my mind, a combination of escapism — an idea that, OK, we will just somehow have to manage this and deal with completely different things — and the rise of alternative visions. I spend much of my time when I speak to Israelis now talking about Israeli strategy and trying to figure out what it is. Like the title of this panel, many people answer with one word when I ask, does Israel have a plan? Does it have a strategy? And the answer is one word, no.
Of course, it's more complicated than that. Israel has many plans. In fact, what we see today in Israel is a troubling growth, to my mind, of all sorts of alternative ideas, almost all of them ludicrous, describing what might happen with the territories in the long term: pseudo-democracy, semi-occupation, autonomy, simple management for the long term. Of all of these, the one that is most likely, I'm sorry to say, is simply some kind of management for the long term. We have suggestions for what are now called "plan Bs" in Israel, all sorts of fixes to the border, plan Bs about how Israel would withdraw unilaterally from part of the territories to make its position better in the short term. But in the end it boils down to managing the problem, in particular given what's happening in the Middle East.
What does this mean in the long term? From the U.S. policy perspective, it comes down very much to what Ambassador Kurtzer said. The United States needs, as does Israel, as do the Palestinians, to keep their eye on their long-term strategy. Whether the two-state solution looks like the negotiated thing we assumed in the past or slightly different, the fundamental idea that these two peoples need to govern themselves separately still holds true. If that is the goal, everything should be judged accordingly. Tactics need to be derived from this strategy.
As for the UN vote, to my mind, two and a half years ago, when there was talk of the Palestinians going to the United Nations, there were some in the central Israeli political system who were saying, Israel should just say yes. Israel should be the first to recognize the state of Palestine and negotiate with it. I think that would be a good idea. Israel should be the first state to recognize Palestine, but without changing any of its demands on security or many of the other issues. This is, of course, anathema to those who want a Yugoslavia, or one state. This is actually an indication of why it might be useful. The same is true for the Americans and the Palestinians. Anything that can promote this would be good.
At the end of the day, though, we come down to the fact the status quo is not static. What, therefore, do we do? Settlements are growing. The Palestinians are turning away from a two-state solution. Palestinian politics are going in a very different direction. To my mind, what the United States needs to do is to set some parameters for non-peace, for a situation in which we don't have a solution. In part, this has to do with settlements. It also has a lot to do with violence, with the fact there are two armies in the Palestinian territories. What happens in the Gaza Strip, whether Hamas is allowed to be armed and wage war separate from the Palestinian Authority? These are very difficult questions that need to be dealt with, but they always need to be dealt with in light of the same basic strategic goal.
I'll just say one last thing on the Israeli public mind. I mentioned two very troubling trends: the rightward movement of hawkishness on security and the sense that the world is against us, that they are simply all anti-Semites. But the Israeli move to the right is not necessarily on the question of land and ideology. One can believe this or not, but for most Israelis, the settlements are not an attempt to prevent peace. They may be wrong, but they don't think that. Most of them, even if they object very strongly to the idea of a blanket freeze on settlements, don't necessarily support robust building. They have moved strongly to the right on security. They do not believe the Palestinians, but they haven't necessarily changed their minds fundamentally on what the ideal state is or whether the Palestinians should govern themselves.
This, coupled with similar sentiments that might remain among Palestinians, gives some hope that with time and perseverance — keeping one's eye on the strategic goal — we have not yet reached the point of no return that the secretary warned us about.
MATTHEW DUSS, President, Foundation for Middle East Peace
Thinking about the title of this conference — has the United States failed? — just to be contentious, I might answer with another question. Failed at what? Has the United States failed to achieve a lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Obviously, yes, the United States has thus far failed to achieve what U.S. administrations have repeatedly stated is a key regional interest. If the Obama administration's view of the conflict could be summed up in a sentence, it's this: The status quo is unsustainable, as our previous speakers said.
Secretary of State Clinton told the AIPAC meeting in Washington in March 2010, "The status quo is unsustainable for all sides; it promises only more violence and unrealized aspirations." President Obama himself, in his May 2011 speech on the Arab Spring at the State Department, said, "The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel must act boldly to advance lasting peace." Secretary of State Kerry earlier this year at the Munich security conference said, "Today's status quo is absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you, 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It's not sustainable. It's illusionary. There is a momentary prosperity; there is a momentary peace." I think, as Ambassador Kurtzer pointed out, the Gaza war brought that home.
So, although the Obama administration may have coined this phrase and repeated it constantly, the sentiment is not new. Every administration since Carter's has, in some fashion, recognized that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict creates costs for the United States and the region, and that the United States has an interest in resolving it. In the words of former CENTCOM chief General David Petraeus, the conflict "foments anti-American sentiment, limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the Middle East." And I want to agree with Natan's characterization of the significance of the conflict. I think it's untrue that it is the key or the core conflict of the Middle East. We will not solve every other problem by achieving a resolution to the Israel-Palestinian problem, though I think we'll make some of those problems easier. But it is important in its own right.
So even in the face of this consensus of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment and the international community — that the status quo is unsustainable and dangerous and that a two-state solution is the best way to solve it — that status quo persists. Define the efforts of the world's most powerful country to change it time and time again. The Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations all put considerable effort into reaching a deal that would end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. President Obama made achieving this goal a priority of his presidency, appointing a special envoy in his very first week as president in 2009. And yet, now, over five-and-a-half years later, Secretary Kerry failed to even keep the parties at the table, never mind hammering out a final agreement.
Why did the talks collapse? I think one of the key reasons we have to look at is that many in the current Israeli security establishment — I won't say all, but many — believe the status quo is, in fact, sustainable and that it has to be sustained. I'm thinking of remarks by Israeli scholar Martin Kramer at the Herzliya conference in February 2011, just as the Arab uprisings were really getting started, mocking the statement about the status quo, saying, no, we in Israel believe, not only is the status quo sustainable, it is the job of the United States to sustain it. There was an interview you should all check out if you haven't seen it already with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon in today's Israel Hayom, where he says that straight up. It's management; we're going to manage this problem. There is no solution. The status quo may not be perfect, but it's the best for us, and the Palestinians are basically just going to have to deal with it.
I think recognizing that this is the attitude, the approach, the policy of the current Israeli government is hugely important. Discarding illusions that this current government is, in any sense, genuinely committed to achieving a two-state solution is very important to deciding where we go from here. In the wake of the collapse of the talks, let's look at how the U.S. team themselves assessed it. Unnamed U.S. officials told Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea that, while there were issues on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides blocking progress, in the view of the United States, the key problem lay on the Israeli side, in particular, the unwillingness to cease the growth of settlements.
It was good to have U.S. officials laying out these views, though it would have been better to have them reveal their names. But still, the interview, to me, was troubling in what it revealed about the lack of knowledge of current Israeli political realities. For these officials to say that they did not realize that settlements were going to be a problem, that settlements were constantly going to be used to undermine negotiations by parties and officials to the right of Netanyahu, is a bit mind-boggling. I see no excuse for not having realized this going in. Israelis, Palestinians, Europeans and Americans were all warning Kerry when he began his own peace process.
In March 2013, just as Netanyahu was assembling his current coalition, I was in Israel. Nearly every Israeli official with whom I spoke voiced strong concerns that a "surge" in settlement building was coming. Writing that same month, Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Israel's Haaretz newspaper, warned, "the third Netanyahu [government] has one clear goal: enlarging the settlements and achieving the vision of ‘a million Jews living in Judea and Samaria.' The magic number will thwart the division of the land and prevent, once and for all, the establishment a Palestinian state." Leaving aside what U.S. officials could have and should have known, the question is, having now said publicly that the Netanyahu government's prioritization of settlements is a primary obstacle to achieving a stated U.S. interest — the two-state solution —what's the United States willing to do about it?
One more quote from the U.S. official to Barnea: "Twenty years after the Oslo accords, new game rules and facts on the ground were created that are deeply entrenched. This reality is very difficult for the Palestinians and very convenient for Israel." So the question I have is, is the United States prepared to take steps that make reality less convenient for Israel? This is, of course, not to exonerate or absolve the Palestinians themselves from their own responsibilities. They have issues regarding their own political movement. Elections are way overdue, and I think Palestinian unity, in some form, is absolutely necessary to create a legitimate Palestinian representation that can speak for all Palestinians and make an agreement that Israelis can trust. But in terms of managing the massive power imbalance, the settlements and this current Israeli government do deserve some special focus. For years, the mantra of conservative pro-Israel groups here in the United States has been that Israel will only be able to make the difficult choices for peace if it knows that U.S. support is absolute. But there is a flip side to this as well. When Israel knows that U.S. support is absolute, it has no incentive to make difficult choices.
So, yes, the United States has obviously failed thus far to manage a process that achieves its stated goal. On the other hand, it has quite effectively managed a process that protects its ally, Israel, from any genuine pressure or costs. I wouldn't simply dismiss some of the issues that Natan talked about — international pressure, criticism of Israel. I think we have to note the upsurge in anti-Semitism that happened in Europe during the Gaza war, which everyone should condemn as horrible, and that there's absolutely no excuse for. That sense of criticism and confrontation is very real, but in terms of actual costs to the state of Israel, I see very few.
But getting to the U.S.-Israel relationship, while trying to manage a process to broker a peace agreement or broker a set of talks, while at the same time expending a great deal of political and diplomatic capital to protect Israel from any real costs internationally, gets at a fundamental tension in the U.S. approach. Can the United States effectively broker negotiations between two parties when it has pledged unstinting support to one of them, regardless of that party's actions?
I don't think there's any negotiation in the world that's going to succeed under those terms. No negotiations will go anywhere if one of the two parties is completely unmotivated to actually negotiate. We constantly hear that Israel has some hard choices to make. That's quite true; they do. But why would anyone make hard choices if there's no cost for simply not making that choice? That is the policy we see described by Defense Minister Yaalon. They are not going to choose. They're simply going to manage the status quo, because there's really no cost to them for doing that.
For comparison's sake, let's look at another ongoing negotiation, which Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations now refers to as the second-longest negotiation in the Middle East: the Iranian nuclear talks. Everyone agrees that some pressure in the form of sanctions was necessary to get Iran to the table and engage in good faith, which almost everyone would agree that Iran has done, even if not as thoroughly as some would hope. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu certainly believes it; he won't stop talking about it. Yet somehow, this logic never applies to Israel. It is deeply ironic to hear Netanyahu when he says, "Beware of Iran's using negotiations as cover for continuing their work." He is very familiar with this strategy; it is his own strategy.
Obviously, here in the United States, domestic political realities make it difficult to put pressure on Israel. I hope, during the Q and A, we'll talk through what some of the options are for both Israelis and Palestinians to help guide them or shape their choices. For the time being, it's probably better to focus on whether the United States will get out of the way of others taking steps, such as the EU. We saw, as Natan mentioned, the vote in the British Parliament. We see the EU looking more seriously at settlement regulations. Again, these are not sanctions as such. They are simply the EU enforcing the letter of its own law with regard to products made in the settlements. Frankly, I think the EU settlement decision, even though it obviously created some consternation when it came out, was probably the best thing to happen to the peace process in many years. The amount of Israeli outrage over comparatively small actions shows how accustomed they have become to experiencing no cost for these constant unilateral actions.
The United States has to take a hard look at its management of the process, and I would say that it's the process that is the main problem here, not the goal. I understand the arguments for and against two states, for and against one state, a binational state — perhaps we'll discuss some of them here today — but I think it's a bit shortsighted to look at the poorly managed process and determine that it's the goal that has been the problem all along. It's like driving an old, busted car from D.C. to New York, and then, when the car keeps breaking down, deciding well, the problem was, we should have been going to Atlantic City.
Rising skepticism about two states — among Palestinians, among Israelis and among activist groups in the United States — is something that's very real, and I think it has to be taken very seriously. It's a debate that really needs to be engaged in energetically and in good faith. In my view, two states are still the most practical goal, the one that produces the best outcome for the most people. But if the process is going to work, I think the United States has to relinquish to some extent its monopoly and allow other players a greater role. That includes Palestinian efforts to circumvent Israel's ongoing veto over its national and human rights by seeking nonviolent relief in international fora. It's worth noting here that these efforts by Palestinians to address the massive power imbalance and create some disincentive for the Israelis, as they see it, is a direct result of the United States's having failed to do it. Ideally, brokering a process would involve addressing the massive power imbalance. Ambassador Kurtzer got at that a bit in his talk about terms of reference, which I agree are hugely important.
So yes, obviously, the United States has thus far failed to achieve a lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I think it will continue to fail unless it takes a very hard look at the way it has managed the efforts and decides, finally, to change it.
YOUSEF MUNAYYER, Executive Director, Jerusalem Fund and The Palestine Center
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict: has the United States failed? "Yes" would seem the very obvious answer, as all of us have pointed out today. All one needs to do is look at Israel-Palestine today to see what is clearly the absence of peace and conclude that the answer is an unequivocal yes. But let's not jump to obvious conclusions. To answer whether the United States has failed, we must first ask what it is that they're ostensibly trying to accomplish. If they have, in fact, tried to achieve a goal and have not done so, then we can say that they did fail. Is Washington's goal an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal? Not exactly. The United States has always perceived its most narrowly defined interests in the Middle East as twofold: securing the free flow of resources out of the region into a global market, and securing the existence of Israel.
Throughout modern history, these two goals have come into conflict with each other to varying degrees. The latter goal, securing Israel's survival, is probably less about regional interests than it is about domestic politics. But, narrowly speaking, Israeli-Palestinian peace is not the primary goal. Stability and Israel are. If peace happens to serve those interests, then fine; if not, it's not going to be pursued in a serious way. Even when peace does not run counter to those interests, since it is not the primary goal, other factors weigh more heavily in the policy calculus — domestic politics, for example.
Today, folks down the road in Foggy Bottom [the State Department] are brainstorming creative ways to send messages of disapproval to Israel about its policies. But even this effort is shaped by pressure from the other side of Constitution Avenue in Congress. Israel is, essentially, an American client state. It relies on U.S. support in various arenas, including the military and diplomatic and, to a lesser extent these days, the economic. But U.S. policy makers find themselves constrained when seeking to change the type of Israeli behavior that the vast majority of the world has concluded is destructive to peace.
The nine-month process initiated by Secretary Kerry, which collapsed in April of this year, is a microcosm of the long history of American mediation. At the outset, the goal of a final-status agreement seemed optimistic, to say the least, suggesting Kerry and his team were either aloof or having trouble with effective messaging. Surely enough, expectations were consistently tempered from a final-status agreement in nine months to an American peace plan maybe, to a bridging proposal, to a framework, to maybe extending the talks, to nothing at all.
To initiate the talks, Kerry worked a deal. The Palestinians, of course, were well-aware of how American-mediated negotiations had gone in the past. Should they forget, they're easily reminded with a glance out the window at a constantly growing hilltop settlement that didn't exist when this peace process began. Lacking popular support and legitimacy, and with his own inner circle disapproving, Mahmoud Abbas needed insurance that this nine-month period, which was more than likely to result in no progress, would not be a complete waste of time.
Enter the prisoners. The Israelis, too, did not want to see the Palestinians continue down the road of internationalization. The Americans made it very clear to the Palestinians that the International Criminal Court (ICC), in particular, was a bold red line not to be crossed. So in exchange for putting the Palestinian internationalization campaign on hiatus for a nine-month period, the Israelis would release 104 pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners. Kerry was the guarantor of this deal, and it was on this basis that Mahmoud Abbas decided to proceed. Keep in mind that the agreement to release the prisoners is not new. In fact, the Israelis had agreed to release them on more than one previous occasion, including in the Sharm el-Sheikh memorandum of 1999, in which Israel agreed to release these prisoners by Ramadan of the following year, 2000. Yet, here we are in 2014 still talking about some of these same prisoners.
The 104 prisoners were expected to be released in four stages during the nine-month process. The Israelis did not want to release them all at once, but instead to hold onto them as an incentive to keep Abbas in the negotiations until the end of the period and beyond. But the fourth tranche was never released despite Kerry's promise to Abbas. It seems clear that the Israelis reneged on their end of the agreement. But if we're to believe Ben Birnbaum, who penned a widely disseminated fly-on-the-wall-type piece in The New Republic, it was just miscommunication that happened when two long-winded fellows like Kerry and Netanyahu were tuning each other out. Birnbaum claims that the Israelis thought they only promised to release 80 and not 104. But the Israeli prime minister issued a press release, entitled an open letter to Israeli citizens, on July 27, 2013, wherein he stated, "I did agree to release 104 Palestinians in stages after the start of negotiations and in accordance with the circumstances of their progress." That's a very odd thing for someone to say who thinks they've only agreed to release 80 prisoners, and not 104. This widely released statement appeared first on Netanyahu's Facebook page, though now it seems to have been deleted. Of course, it still exists as an official press release on the website of the prime minister's office.
Something else, however, doesn't add up, and I mean this very literally. Each of the three tranches that were released, of which there were supposed to be four, included 26 prisoners. This is precisely one quarter of 104. So, while what was said between Kerry and Netanyahu about this might be a mystery, it's clear from the way in which these prisoners were released that they wanted to give the impression of a total of 104. What happened here is that Kerry made a commitment he could not back up. Netanyahu balked, either because he couldn't deliver the vote or because he had hoped to use the fourth tranche to get Abbas to extend beyond nine months, despite one settlement expansion announcement after the other. After the whole thing fizzled, insiders were happy to displace responsibility in statements to The New Republic and elsewhere in the press.
So, two decades after the 1993 handshake in the Rose Garden, the U.S. secretary of state was unable to get the Israelis to keep their end of the bargain over 26 prisoners, who should have been released 14 years earlier. Abbas, who beat back dissent in his ranks because Kerry gave him his word, now saw that Kerry's word had been broken. Yet somehow Kerry and Washington and many voices in this town that could not get the Israelis to keep their word on 26 prisoners — a minor issue in the grand scheme of things — still want Abbas and the Palestinians to believe that they could press the Israelis into dismantling settlements, agreeing on refugees and dividing Jerusalem. As early as January the Israelis began to signal they would not release the fourth tranche of prisoners, and it was around this time that we began to hear about a framework. That framework, of course, never came.
What is perhaps most disturbing is not Kerry's quest for a framework or that it was akin to the search for the Northwest Passage, but rather that a perfectly good framework already existed and was being scrupulously ignored. That framework, international law, has long been established, but, sadly, Washington has over time moved further and further away from it as a frame for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian question. Settlements, instruments of Israeli colonization in the West Bank, went from being illegal to illegitimate. Redress of Palestinian grievances through the UN Security Council, even when resolutions were pieced together using State Department language, were stymied by an American veto.
Everything was being done to ensure that, if the issue were to be resolved, it would only be in an American arena, not a legal one, not an international one — only one where Israel's lawyer, Washington, could be the arbiter. Never was this distancing from an international legal framework more clear than this summer, as Israel was bombarding the Gaza Strip. For perspective, consider this. In 2002, Israel dropped a one-ton bomb on the home of Salah Shehade. He was at the time the head of the Izz ad-Din Qassam Brigades in the Gaza Strip. The strike killed Shehade and 14 civilians, including eight children. The Bush White House condemned the strike. The president's spokesperson, Ari Fleischer, made clear that, despite the presence of Shehade, apartment buildings were civilian infrastructure. When queried about the Israeli claim that civilians were used as human shields, he rejected the rationale, saying, "This is one instance where the United States and Israel do not see eye to eye."
This summer, killings like the Shehade killing took place on almost a daily basis. The Batsh family lost 18 members in one strike. The Abu Jami family lost 25 members on the same day that the Siyam family lost 10. The Qassas family was targeted with an Israeli strike, and nine members were killed, among them six children. The Keilani family followed Israeli military instructions to leave areas where it was bombing. First they fled from Beit Lahya to Shujaiya, then from Shujaiya to the center of Gaza City. Israeli airstrikes still found them there, killing all seven members, including five children. All told, some 89 entire families were wiped off the face of the earth by Israeli strikes. In many of these cases — and there are too many to name here — it's doubtful that there was any legitimate military target. Even if there had been, it would not justify the wanton killing of noncombatants and children in the process, as Fleischer made clear some 12 years ago after a single strike that had killed 14 civilians.
It was not until some 500 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed that President Obama noted his "serious" concern for the loss of civilian life in Gaza. But that concern did little for those who had already lost their lives, nor did it do anything for the next 1,400 who would be killed by Israeli fire before the U.S. government issued a stronger statement about being "appalled" at the Israeli shelling of a UN school. Yet the same week that statement was made, the United States opened its arms caches to Israeli tanks so that they could reload, effectively saying one thing with its mouth and another with its actions.
What has changed since 2002? The laws of war certainly have not. Instead, what has changed is that Washington is even more willing to sit idly by as Israel flouts the laws of war on a greater and more horrific scale while still supporting them with arms, aid and diplomatic cover. There's a reason the Israeli prime minister is welcomed more warmly in Congress than he is in the Knesset. Washington has directly contributed to the growing culture of impunity in Israel by consistently failing to punish Israeli violations, and Israel continues to push the boundaries, both literally and figuratively, as if to test the extent of American tolerance.
Instead of using its leverage over Israel to get it to comply with international law, Washington has used it internationally to ensure Israel never has to. The definition of failure, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is "the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective." To say U.S. policy on Israel-Palestine has failed presupposes that Washington not only desires a just peace agreement but also that they've actually tried to achieve one. Neither seems obviously true. In fact, what the United States desires is to preserve Israel, even if Israeli leaders define that through perpetual occupation. In this, U.S. policy has succeeded. Behold Israel-Palestine today: an apartheid status quo, the fruit of American policy success.
This apartheid reality must change, but the pressure necessary to change it certainly will not come from Washington any time soon. Barring revolutionary change in Israel-Palestine policy, this pressure must come from elsewhere. The only avenue left is the international isolation of the Israeli state — and I emphasize here the state. There is a significant misunderstanding of the isolation efforts or BDS that assumes they target Israelis — that the failure to focus specifically on settlements somehow means that the target is Israelis in general. But it is the state that is crafting these destructive policies. It is the state that is financing and creating infrastructure for these settlements. They do not appear on hilltops by themselves; it is because of a conscious effort of the state of Israel, with the support of the United States of America.
Of course, opponents of this approach will say — and they may have said it here today — if you do that, you will alienate the Israeli public. To this I would respond, the Obama administration can barely compete with Netanyahu and the right wing over the prevailing opinion in Congress. How can they expect to compete with him with his own public? In fact, it is only when the Israeli state is alienated that its public will seriously begin to question the positions of its leadership. Today the Israeli public is largely supportive or apathetic to Israel's apartheid policies; they come with few consequences for them. It's high time that this changed. Perhaps more important, why should Israeli public opinion hold a veto on basic Palestinian rights? For Israeli behavior to change, the denial of Palestinian rights cannot be cost-free. Any party that contributes to tipping the scales in that direction is doing a service in the pursuit of peace. If Washington wants to finally join this effort, it will find far more allies than opponents.
THOMAS R. MATTAIR, Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council
Before I get to the audience questions, I'd like to ask my own. Since we have you here, Dan, and you served in the U.S. government and have been a part of this, I'd like to start with some of your reactions to what's been said today. Has it been actually the objective of the U.S. government over the years to facilitate a two-state solution, or has the U.S. objective been to make Israel comfortable? I think I know the answer, knowing what Jimmy Carter and George Bush and Bill Clinton and many others have done, but I'm interested in your reaction.
Secondly, how did you react to the comments that were made by the two Obama administration officials, who had been in charge of the portfolio for nine months when they said that they didn't realize settlement tenders had been intended to bolster Netanyahu's government and subvert the process, and that they didn't realize that settlement construction entailed the expropriation/confiscation of land?
Third, how would we try to make the parties accountable? Is there any kind of balance between what the parties are doing in terms of the Palestinians constraining violence and cooperating in security and their successes and failures in that department, on the one hand, and, on the other, the Israelis and their response to the request to freeze and restrain settlement building?
AMB. KURTZER: Even a cursory reading of American policy over the past 35 or 40 years would answer the first question. Whether or not we think the United States conducted its policy intelligently or with success, successive administrations, even starting before Jimmy Carter but certainly since, have seen the two-state solution, the success of the peace process, as a goal of our policy and as an indication of our national interests. The answer is that the United States has supported a two-state solution. What we're trying to do today is dissect American policy process and substance over these past decades and to see what we can extract from it that may help us do it better in the future.
I was surprised by the statements of both the unnamed official in Haaretz and a little bit less strikingly so by Martin Indyk, when he spoke publicly some time after that. The admission that settlement activity was a surprise to the administration is a problem. It should not have been. It echoes, in some respects, a comment the president himself made back in 2010 to Time magazine, when he admitted that he didn't realize how hard it was going to be to make peace and might have done things differently if he'd known. This lack of understanding actually has significant roots. You see this in the various books and memoirs written about the second Camp David, for example, in the year 2000. The American delegation showed up unprepared for what were clearly going to be the two most significant issues: Jerusalem and refugees. We have a lot of homework to do and a lot of serious revisiting of what I call the lessons learned and unlearned. I think the admission most recently, after the Kerry diplomacy, is one example of that.
On the question of accountability and the balance between what the parties are doing, this is often a subject of rather angry debate. Palestinians argue that Israel's settlements policy is eating up the very territory they're supposed to be negotiating a two-state solution over, and Israelis argue that even additional settlement activity is not comparable to killing people, which has been the result of Palestinian violence and terrorism over the years. You're talking about two different types of behaviors, both of which should have been avoided by the two sides, both of which involved commitments by the two sides, and over time there are different ways to deal with it. You remember in the '90s there was an effort to persuade the Palestinian Authority and the PLO to take action against, not just those who perpetrated violence, but what was called the infrastructure of those organizations. There was only one example in which such action was taken — in 1996 after Rabin's assassination, when Shimon Peres was the acting prime minister. The Palestinian Authority did clamp down on violence by Hamas and others. But that was a one-off effort, and more needed to be done.
There has never been a serious effort by the United States to hold Israel accountable for settlement activity. There are a lot of options to do so, with respect to United States support for Israel and how that support, not just economic but also political, could be used to affect Israeli behavior.
DR. KADER: What you just heard was an excellent exchange between Yousef saying you have some morons running policy and the ambassador saying it is really difficult to move a very large government. Both are right, but it's not satisfying. You know, it's just not enough. But you just tripped over something that I think would be enlightening to this crowd. If you could elucidate a little bit more the consequences and the rewards, the carrot and stick of how you would handle the violence on the Palestinian side and the settlement expansion. When we talk about this, we talk about what we must do — what are those mechanical details of what a government can do? In Israel, the settlement policy just goes on and on and on, and the bombing and killing of civilians goes on and the violence goes on. What are the actual hands-on tactics that a government can use to put the accountability to a test that means something?
AMB. KURTZER: First of all, Omar, I don't agree with the characterization that our government is run by morons; we've heard some very harsh words here today. We've had a lot of hard-working people, myself included, who have tried our best to do what we thought was right. Sometimes we succeeded, and many times we failed. But I think it's wrong and counterproductive to assume that there is either a moronic side to our government or some underlying hostility to the very idea of reaching peace. So I think we need to get that straight as we have this discussion.
With respect to accountability, there are laundry lists of ideas that have come out over the years. The EU, for example, is making decisions on whether to accept Israeli goods produced in the Occupied Territories under EU-Israel trade agreements. But we also have a free-trade agreement with Israel, and we have not made that distinction. So one of the issues that we can think about is not accepting, either in terms of quota or customs-duty exemptions, Israeli products from the territories. Secondly, there was an article in The Washington Post yesterday that noted the degree to which our tax laws provide exemptions for 501(c)(3) organizations designed to funnel money to the settlements. This effectively means that we end up paying at least a part of that bill. And there are ways to tighten up our tax regulations. This requires constant vigilance because you can easily create a new 501(c)(3) if one is shut down, but the reality is that we operate against ourselves.
There also used to be legislation — I don't know if it's still on the books — associated with loan guarantees in which the U.S. Congress authorized the administration to deduct, dollar for dollar, from loan guarantees to Israel the amount that Israel spent in the Occupied Territories. We did it for a couple of years. So there are a variety of ways in which we can continue to maintain the support that we provide to the state of Israel for its basic security — which is critically important, and an American national interest — but not for Israel's occupation practices.
The laundry list on the Palestinian side is a little shorter because the U.S. relationship with the Palestinians is less dynamic. There is assistance provided to the Palestinian Authority, which, if it does not take action against the infrastructure of terrorism, could be brought into play. There are obviously political "sanctions" — I use the word with a small "s" — that could be employed to demonstrate our unhappiness if the Palestinian Authority doesn't take action or hides behind the idea that it somehow can't take action. There are ways to do this, and we could spend time trying to come up with tactics. The real question, as I mentioned in my formal remarks, is one of deciding that you are going to monitor behaviors, that you are going to hold the parties accountable, and that they can expect consequences for not fulfilling their obligations. My guess is that if we ever started to do that, the pain both sides would suffer — not just Israel because of settlements, but the Palestinians because of violence — would actually be quite severe. Both have been derelict in carrying out the responsibilities that they've undertaken.
DR. KADER: Let me just clarify something. The use of the word "moron" is awfully crude. What do you take as a better word for describing somebody who's surprised that settlements were a problem? What would be a better way to describe that?
AMB. KURTZER: It should have been understood.
DR. KADER: Yeah, that's what I'm looking for. That's all. But isn't it surprising?
AMB. KURTZER: I said it was, yes.
DR. KADER: I apologize for using a crude word like a "moron."
MR. MUNAYYER: That almost takes care of half of what I wanted to say. I do not think that policy makers are moronic. In fact, as I outlined, I think it's because they make very rational, calculated decisions about the prioritization of interests that we have not seen progress on this issue. It's not that peace is not an objective; it's just not the primary objective. So when it competes with other secondary objectives, like domestic political calculations, you're extremely constrained when it comes to formulating successful policy.
The other place that I would push back on is something the ambassador said. And I understand there's this question of agency, but we also have to contextualize it within the actual relationship and the power dynamic between the two parties. There's no doubt that there's agency on both sides, but the power imbalance between the two is so significant that the responses to violations need to be appropriate, so that changing behavior is done in the context of this imbalance of power. When you have Palestinian violations, there is already a very capable, powerful force holding Palestinians accountable: the Israelis and their military. But when the Israelis commit violations, there is no counterbalancing force to hold them accountable. This only goes in one direction. Israel is occupying Palestine; it's not the other way around. Israel is building settlements; the Palestinians are not.
The other area where I would push back is the characterization of violations on one side being nonviolent and on the other side being violent. The process of settlement building — the occupation, the infrastructure around the occupation — is very much a system and process of violence that is wreaking havoc on Palestinians. If you look at the numbers, particularly in the last couple years, there has been a very significant spike in the number of Palestinians killed and injured as a result of Israeli fire in the West Bank. In fact, in the last couple years, 2011-12, those numbers doubled and have remained at that very high level since then; they are on pace to do so this year as well. I would push back against that characterization.
DR. KADER: Clarify that. The point you want to make is that there is a power imbalance?
MR. MUNAYYER: I completely understand the argument that both sides have agency. But this agency exists within a power dynamic that is very unbalanced. So when we talk about correcting behaviors or providing accountability for behavior, we have to take that power imbalance into account.
DR. SACHS: I brought up the issue of agency; it goes well beyond accountability for specific acts. There are two very different worldviews. One says that there is a passive victim here, and there are agents that do things to it and have done them since '48. For example, then there was a disaster that one side did to the other, not a war between two sides, according to this worldview. In this worldview, the stronger side — in this case the Israelis, the pure malice, or the Americans, the adjacent malice — are rationally pursuing other malicious goals.
This worldview is false. There are two sides to the conflict. The Israeli side is significantly stronger in many respects and therefore more responsible, as I said before. Instances of Israelis targeting Palestinians, for example, in the West Bank, on which I have published, have to be held accountable by the Israelis and perhaps by the Americans as well.
But we must not fall into a deeply simplistic and false worldview in which there is one passive victim with whom justice — not peace, justice — is the goal, with whom international law is perfectly aligned. And if international law were simply followed, therefore, the Israelis would comply with absolutely everything the Palestinians want, including invalidating Israel as a Jewish state, for example. This passive victim simply cannot be held accountable because, by definition, he is passive. By definition, things are done to him. For example, last the summer you would often hear that Gaza was simply under attack (that was the main hashtag on twitter) or we hear "when the Israelis bombarded Gaza." What happened in Gaza was horrific, the damage to civilians in Gaza was horrific and should be dealt with seriously. But what happened in Gaza was not that one day Israelis woke up, and the malice inside them bubbled up, and they decided to kill some Palestinians. There was an active Palestinian side to the conflict.
There's a reason it didn't happen in Ramallah. There's a reason it happened in the Gaza Strip that may have had to do with the ceasefire before it started, which Hamas rejected, before the ground operation that Hamas rejected, et cetera, et cetera. My point is not to settle the score of who's at fault in the Gaza war. It's exactly the opposite. It's to say that we have two sides here that really have agency. Not as a platitude — two sides that actually make political decisions — and that when catastrophes happen to them, it often has to do with what they are doing.
In '48, Israel was fighting. In the second intifada — the horrific years that essentially ended the chance for peace based on trust — the Palestinians were very active, and the other side was too. Israel did things in the second intifada that were probably not very smart and maybe even very bad, but so did the Palestinians. The Palestinians were extremely active in '48 and even this summer in the Gaza war. The difference is not over scores. It's not over who's at fault. It's over a fundamental worldview. Do we have one passive side and malice on the other, or do we have a conflict in which both sides have very deep problems that need to be dealt with?
The fundamental worldview leads to very different prescriptions. If the conflict is about passivity on one side and malice on the other, then you simply go to international law. There is an answer: the answer is justice — not peace, justice. If you think this is a conflict, then the goal is peace. And in peace, many things having to do with justice are not fulfilled. That is certainly true of what is called the right of return, but it's also true, for example, on prisoner release. Release of extremely violent terrorists is justified for peace. No one can seriously claim it is justified for justice.
DR. MATTAIR: The United States has been genuinely seeking a two-state solution but failing. That leads to a question from the floor: the U.S. Jewish community seems more divided than usual. Will this make a difference in American politics? Will it liberate the American administration to hold parties accountable, or is it the weakness of the Palestinians that makes it easier for U.S. politicians to continue acquiescing in the status quo?
The next question is about Israel. If American Jewish opinion is changing and would liberate American policy makers, is Israel moving so far to the right that it's going to make it more difficult to tap into the Israelis who genuinely support a two-state solution?
Finally, if the United States and Israel cannot act, what is the role of other players and institutions that have been mentioned — the Swedish prime minister, who says they may recognize Palestine; the other international conventions to which the Palestinian Authority may subscribe, like the International Criminal Court? Should we be stepping aside? How successful might those other actors and processes be?
DR. SACHS: There certainly is a movement in Israel to the right, and I think it is very troubling for the prospects for peace. It's born of two things that have happened, both of them long term, at least since the second intifada, but it goes all the way back to the period the ambassador was referencing, at least as far as February '96 and the bombings. The perception in Israel is twofold: first, the so-called peace process, much maligned among Palestinians, perhaps for good reason, is extremely maligned among Israelis, too. The perception was that it was a process in which Israel was giving things up, but the war was either continuing or intensifying, and whatever land was given was then used as a forward base.
This view became entrenched when Israel left Lebanon — though not a Palestinian issue — and especially when Israel left the whole Gaza Strip, even the border between Gaza and Sinai, and evicted all the settlers there. It may bring joy to other people, but from the Israeli perspective it was a very difficult thing and included dragging thousands of people from their homes — sometimes the second generation. That created a forward base in the Israeli psyche.
The second thing is a very strong perception as well as a very strong narrative — I think not completely true, but not easily refuted — which is that the Palestinians are willing to do a lot of things in the peace process that will gain them all sorts of things, but to sign off on final status — to end all claims, in other words to concede that Jaffa will be Israel forever, for instance — that is something they will never do. This is a very strong perception in Israel.
The peace negotiations failed for many reasons, including settlements. They finally ended when Abbas would not reply. As some Americans have said publicly, they're still waiting for an answer from Abbas. The Israeli perception was the same — that this was the situation during the negotiations with Olmert and in other prior negotiations where the parties appeared close to an agreement. These twin things — that there is no realistic endgame with the Palestinians, and that the process is necessarily a violent one — solidified in the Israeli perspective, or in Israeli politics a move to the right that is very strong.
I think there are two silver linings. The first is that it can be countered most effectively by the same entity that is historically responsible for the big moves towards peace in Israel: a hawk from the center who actually makes bold moves.
Menachem Begin, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, was Israel's Hawk — with a capital "H" — for decades. He is the one in the end who gave up all of Sinai and signed a peace agreement. Yitzhak Rabin was certainly a hawk; the hawk of the first intifada, the minister of defense, who spoke about breaking bones, et cetera, and saying it very publicly. And Ariel Sharon. We can have various opinions on what he did at the end, whether it was good or bad, but certainly it was a bold move from the Israeli perspective, a sharp move to the center, done again by the ultra-hawk after Begin. In other words, never lose hope. These things can happen from the center or from the right. I personally don't think Netanyahu is that man, but I think there may be others, and Netanyahu won't be prime minister forever.
The second thing, as I mentioned earlier, is that the movement to the right is fundamentally on whether the Palestinians are willing to make peace, and on security, especially given what's happening in the Middle East, which looms extremely large in Israel. It is not just platitudes that Netanyahu recites at the United Nations. He says them because they resonate very, very deeply with the Israeli public. It's not completely unreasonable. But it is not necessarily a movement on the right on the fundamental ideological question of land for peace or controlling this territory or the malicious colonization, et cetera. It's not that. The vast majority of the center-right in Israel, which may be the biggest group now, does not believe that above all else Israel has to control Beit El near Ramallah. That's not the point. The point is that they have to control the hilltop near Beit El because it's a strategic location. These are very different things, and from a policy perspective I think it can give us some hope, and perhaps cautions a little bit what this movement to the right actually means.
AMB. KURTZER: I just want to comment on the third question, about the role of other actors, not in the absence of the United States but in conjunction with it. It's probably the most important issue on the diplomatic agenda today for those who are thinking about reviving the peace process, because it's quite clear that a U.S. assertion of a monopoly role as a third party is not going to work. The question then is, what are the alternatives? I agree with Natan that thought should have been given at the time of Palestine's being recognized by the United Nations as an observer state for both Israel and the United States to have joined that. I wrote this in the summer of 2011 and suggested ways in which it would benefit both sides to translate this occupied/occupier negotiating scenario into, at least on paper, a negotiation between states. That may still be an alternative.
I think it would be counterproductive, not just for the Israelis but also for the Palestinians, to translate this process into what's called "lawfare". Do we really want lawyers to take over the Arab-Israeli conflict, with each side arguing that the other side has violated such and such a statute and such and such an international law? I think it would take us down a number of blind alleys.
A third possibility, which I think is more fruitful, is to multilateralize this peace process. One of the interesting developments in the 1990s that started on the right track but then was not pursued by the Clinton administration was the multilateral track of the peace process. There were both the formal multilaterals and then what was called the "Casablanca" or the economic summits, which were designed to build public/private economic partnerships. There was tremendous promise in these activities; they started the transition from a peace process between governments into a peace process involving people. And, in the same sense that I argued earlier that you're never going to have peace if you only do top-down or bottom-up, you're also never going to have peace if all you have is a signed piece of paper between two governments. You have to start a reconciliation process between peoples. So multilateralizing this process by funding and reviving — whether it's Track II activities or joint economic activities and so forth — would be very helpful.
In that regard, what Kerry started to do at the beginning of his efforts, which was to bring the Arab Quartet and the Arab foreign ministers into the process, really should be given some substance. There is an Arab Peace Initiative on the table. It is a tremendous boon to this peace process, extraordinarily important, and nothing has happened as a result of it. Something can be done to bring the Arab world into a more active role. That would not only be helpful to Palestinians as a kind of safety net for the kinds of decisions they have to take; it would also be helpful for Israel, suggesting to the Israeli people that peace with Palestinians is going to involve risks but will also have benefits beyond Palestine with regard to relations with the Arab world.
DR. KADER: I would like to add something on your point about government-to-government and people-to-people. After the Oslo talks in the Rose Garden, they had arranged for a group of Palestinian American businessmen and Israeli and American Jewish businessmen and women to meet in the White House. We were admonished by the president, the vice president, the secretary of state to now go out and cement what we signed that day and get it moving. They facilitated dozens of opportunities.
The easiest thing for me as a businessman was to find an Israeli partner. And it was easy to put him together with Christian and Muslim Palestinians on the West Bank. We put together projects, and some of them are still going. Everybody on the ground, on both sides, in the business communities is waiting for the government-to-government to happen before doing the people-to-people. You can get into a lot of trouble doing people-to-people before the contracts are signed and the agreements are done. I'm not convinced it's going to be as hard as we think it's going to be, once you get past the formal diplomatic barriers.
AMB. KURTZER: You have the beginning of it in "Breaking the Impasse," the Palestinian and Israeli private sectors that decided their respective governments were not doing enough and simply started talking to each other. It has led to some deals. It has led to a lot of proactive efforts, including joint delegations to Davos, where the private sector was admonishing governments to get their act together. I don't think we're in a situation where we have to wait for a government-to-government agreement. I think the private sector can hold governments' feet to the fire in this respect and keep moving.
DR. KADER: There are some stigmas attached to going too far out.
MR. DUSS: I think Breaking the Impasse is in some ways a very significant effort, on the Palestinian side as well as on the Israeli side, but I would say even more on the Palestinian side; there is a great thirst and eagerness to do business. I remember visiting Gaza in 2012, talking to some aspiring young tech entrepreneurs, standing there in Gaza City and looking longingly north toward Tel Aviv, knowing that there was this engine of innovation an hour's drive north and being unable to access it. They spoke quite ruefully about having to do business through the tunnels and not being able to access any of the expertise, even knowing people involved in the tech sector in Tel Aviv and Herzliya.
But the problem with efforts like Breaking the Impasse is, yes, it's good to get these efforts teed up. It's good to make clear that there is economic growth waiting to happen. I think the Palestinians know this. They understand that there are benefits in ending the conflict and a peace agreement. But for the Israelis the question is: OK, you're offering them incentives; what about the disincentives?
Finally, the problem with any kind of business effort is the fact that uncertainty is the enemy of investment. Under the conditions of occupation is a constant situation of uncertainty, whether you can get your truck from Nablus to Ramallah in time, whether you can get your goods in and out of Gaza. It's simply impossible, as we found, to sustain any kind of economic growth under those conditions.
DR. MATTAIR: How should we be dealing with Hamas? We have a national-unity government. Hamas, I am sure, seeks to enhance its influence in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority has maintained some peace, and Fatah certainly wants to enhance its influence in the Gaza Strip. How should we be responding to that government, and Hamas in particular? Is it even possible that the Hamas idea of a long-term ceasefire is more practical than signing a final peace agreement?
MR. DUSS: The challenge presented by Hamas is a tough one. There are a few things I think we have to remember. First of all, they won an election in 2006. They do have a claim to political legitimacy. That's not to diminish the extreme offensiveness of their charter or to downplay their continuing use of violence. But I think there was an opportunity — and to its credit, I think the Obama administration recognized this opportunity with the announcement of the unity government. I was surprised at how quickly they came out and said they'd be willing to work with a government made up of unaffiliated technocrats. The rest of the world pretty much followed suit. I think there was an opportunity to do precisely what Israel says it's interested in now: to facilitate the reentry of the PA security forces, to man the crossings in Gaza. I wish this opportunity had been looked at more seriously before the death of 2,000 people in the Gaza war.
Hamas is still faced with the three conditions, the Quartet conditions, as they're called: recognize Israel, honor past agreements and end violence. In my view, there should be one condition: End violence, end the use of terrorism, join the Palestinian security forces so there is the idea of one gun. This goes to the very basic Weberian sense of a state, a monopoly on the use of violence. But the fact of the matter is, the current Israeli coalition includes parties that do not meet these conditions. They openly oppose two states. Yet this isn't seen as a problem. That's not to say it wouldn't present challenges if Hamas were to join the PA more formally. It undermines the credibility of the entire process to keep insisting on these conditions that the Israeli government blatantly flouts.
MR. MUNAYYER: I think this question goes to another problem in the way the United States has approached some of the challenges in both camps. It's the different ways in which the United States has confronted problems with domestic arrangements on the Israeli side versus the Palestinian side. On the Israeli side, if the United States gets a government coalition filled with parties or characters like the current Israeli government or previous ones, which have been clearly opposed to a two-state outcome and ending settlement expansion and all the other things that we talk about, the U.S. response has been that this is an Israeli government, an elected Israeli government, the government of a sovereign state, one that we have to deal with – and it deals with it that way. On the Palestinian side, when it gets an arrangement or a group of individuals that it does not like, it actually works to change that reality, either by imposing sanctions, as we saw after 2006, or by essentially cooperating in the isolation of Arafat and his replacement by his successor earlier on. And that difference goes back to the root problem in U.S. policy of not treating these sides equally or fairly when it comes to some of the same challenges that they present.
DR. MATTAIR: Is it feasible to have as a condition that there must be a cessation of violence? Is it possible that the Israeli government can stop every settler from committing an act of violence or that any Palestinian government can stop every unit from launching their rockets or that the mayor of any U.S. city can issue an edict that stops any violence in that city? Should we not go forward with root causes while this is going on? It seems to me that to make this a condition for going forward is to guarantee that it will not go forward.
DR. SACHS: Yes and no, to my mind. On the one hand, it is certainly true that there will be individual attacks under any conditions. Many of the attacks that we've seen on both sides are individuals doing things. That is not the problem. The problem throughout this peace process is that a lot of it is not individual attacks. The Israeli assault on Gaza was a government operation, not random Israelis doing things. It's the government doing something, right or wrong. On the Palestinian side, a lot of the attacks are often conveniently portrayed as if it's just certain individuals doing something; that is simply not the case. In March '96, which the ambassador was referencing, when Peres was prime minister after the Rabin assassination, what had finally happened is that Peres and then head of military intelligence — now minister of defense — Yaalon met with Arafat and made it very plain to him that his rule in the West Bank depended on his acting against terrorism as a government policy of the Palestinian Authority. And lo and behold, it happened. The Israel Defense Forces said this. In March '96, when that round of attacks ended or the last of it happened, Hamas was rounded up by the Palestinian Authority. That's part of the animosity that bubbles to this day between Dahlan, the person who was in charge of security in Gaza, and Hamas. And it was actually done.
Can there still be an attack by some random Hamas person? Yes, of course. I don't think we should be bound by that; it would be giving a veto to the most extreme elements. But we also must be very, very careful not to close ourselves off from what is often policy. It's true on the settlements; people could claim, well, it's just individuals doing their own thing. There is a government policy involved, and I think that should be recognized and dealt with. The same is true with terrorism. Most of it is not random.
In particular, the point that Matt made I think is excellent; I agree with everything he said about this — the one-gun issue is the fundamental issue. And from the Israeli perspective, this was always the problem with Arafat. Until the second intifada, when Fatah was actually fighting and conducting suicide bombings, Fatah was not doing it — it was Hamas doing it, but there was a revolving door. So Arafat was conducting peace talks, but there was a second army, Hamas, which was semi-sanctioned by the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, by definition, it was not official policy. It was just a second army that was sanctioned. We still have a second army; it now has a statelet in Gaza. And that is not simply individuals doing things. This has to be dealt with very seriously.
So I agree very much with what you say. We should not give veto power to lone extremists. But we should also be very realistic and clear-eyed about acts carried out by lone individuals and those that are not, and when a state is turning a blind eye to some of these actions or not doing enough. For example, now with violence by settlers and others against Palestinians, the Israeli security forces are actually quite often doing things very seriously. They still fail, as with the horrific murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem, but they are trying very seriously. A few years ago, I don't think they were doing enough.
AMB. KURTZER: Let me just underscore the point that I think Natan made quite rightly. To my knowledge and from my experience, the United States has never made actual performance a criterion as opposed to effort. The renunciation of violence has been a commitment to try to enforce a no-violence policy and then to seek out and punish perpetrators. But it has never held the Palestinians to a zero-tolerance policy.
The first dialogue that we had with the PLO at the end of the Reagan administration was implemented in the first Bush administration. The first serious violation of Arafat's renunciation of violence came in June 1990, when there was a terrorist act in Israel. The administration did not cut off the dialogue immediately but rather tried to persuade Arafat that this was a violation that required correction; he had to take action against the perpetrators, who were known. When he failed to take action against the perpetrators, at that point the United States cut off the dialogue.
So I think we can lay to rest the idea that there has to be 100 percent compliance in the renunciation of terrorism. However, there has to be action against it.The United States believes that there is a binary choice before the parties: either you negotiate or you decide on resistance. Both the United States and the Israeli government have made the same decision. You make a choice: you either renounce violence and enter this process, or you decide that you are a resistance movement, and you're going to continue violence. I think the idea of renunciation of violence is important. You hope that the performance will be satisfactory beyond that, but there is no expectation that it's going to be a letter-perfect performance.
DR. MATTAIR: We were talking earlier about how central this issue is in explaining conflict and instability in the region. I don't think anyone has ever seriously argued that it is the only conflict or the central one, but I want to give you an example of something that I saw in Riyadh a few years ago. I think Omar might have been with me. When we went to the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh, they showed us videos that they had gleaned from the Internet. They were monitoring the Internet and trying to determine what al-Qaeda is doing in the country and around the region and how they're recruiting people. They showed us that al-Qaeda is succeeding in recruiting people by showing them color photos and videos of Palestinians lying in the streets after a conflict in Gaza, bleeding and dying. So although al-Qaeda has the objective of overthrowing the Saudi government and other objectives, clearly they understand that Palestine really resonates with people and will attract them to the cause.
That to me indicates that it's extremely important for us to address this issue. The more time goes by and the longer it's unresolved, the more extremism there is that can be exploited by people who are even more wicked than anything we knew 20 years ago.
MR. MUNAYYER: We heard President Obama say something about this in his speech recently at the UN General Assembly, where he distanced himself from a position he had taken several years earlier in Cairo in relation to this argument. But one of the most common arguments against linkage completely mischaracterizes the argument. I don't know if anyone has really ever made the argument that solving the Israeli-Palestinian issue solves all other problems in the region or treats it as a cure-all. I don't think that's ever been the argument. I think the argument is that it changes the region in such a way that it makes achieving other objectives a lot easier.
I think that continues to be true, even with what we are seeing in the region. So much of what we're seeing in the region today is a product of what was characterized earlier as maybe two competing axes, one of moderation and one of resistance. But if you have a comprehensive and just Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, how does that change the way other states in the region ally with each other, if you have an agreement that is accepted by the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which includes 57 Arab and Muslim nations? The rules of the game change, and the way alliances are formed in the region could also potentially change, opening the way for things that never existed before and solving problems in ways that never existed before. So I think that it is still very central, though not in the way that it was 30 or 40 years ago by virtue of refugee populations actually being involved in civil conflicts in other countries. But still, because of the way it impacts regional alliances, it's very much connected to other issues in the region.
MR. DUSS: I agree with you, Tom, and I think there probably would be general consensus up here. I remember a quote from Ambassador Kurtzer that I've used many, many times: it's not the biggest problem in the region, but it is the issue on which opinions of the United States are largely formed.
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