The following is a transcript of the eighty-eighth in a series of Capitol Hill conferences convened by the Middle East Policy Council. The meeting was held at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, on April 26, 2017, with Richard J. Schmierer, chairman of the Council's board of directors, moderating, and Thomas R. Mattair, the Council's executive director, serving as discussant. The video can be accessed at www.mepc.org.
HADY AMR, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution; Former Deputy Special Envoy, Israeli-Palestinian Relations, U.S. Department of State; Former Deputy Assistant Administrator, Middle East, USAID
Twenty-five years ago, when I was 25 and working on a civil-society project in the West Bank, little did I know it, but the Oslo Accords were being negotiated. They were signed at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in 1993. What did Oslo do? Number one, it created an interim self-government: the Palestinian Authority, with an executive branch and a legislative council. Why was that a big deal? Because before that Palestinians could be arrested for flying their flag or holding membership in the PLO. The Oslo Accords also called for a conclusion, within five years, of the remaining issues that needed to be negotiated. That would have been in 1998. Now its 19 years after that.
The third big thing that Oslo did was to call for the transfer of power to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in different tranches, with part — 20 percent — of the West Bank to be under full Palestinian Authority administrative and security control. The second part, Area B, was supposed to be under Palestinian administrative control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control. And this is really important: the third part, Area C, 60 percent of the West Bank — a significant although unspecified portion — was also supposed to be transferred to the administrative control of the Palestinian Authority. That never happened.
That was the '90s. Let's fast-forward to 2008. President Obama began his presidency with a passion on this issue, swearing in former Senator George Mitchell (D-ME) in his first few days of office. They pushed for and got a settlement freeze from Israel. But when that came apart, Mitchell decided to move on. There was a lull for a little while, and then in 2013, after John Kerry became secretary of state, he decided to put a lot of his energy into this, and I was asked to join the team.
Now, let me rewind to just 100 days ago, the end of the Obama administration. Kerry had worked tirelessly, supported by my two bosses, first Ambassador Martin Indyk and then Frank Lowenstein, to bring about a two-state solution. Dozens of trips, countless phone calls — we tried but lost count after the numbers got inordinately high — in an effort focused on bringing about the two-state solution that Kerry, the president and the whole leadership believed was the only way to fulfill both the joint national aspirations of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples. Kerry believed, and I believe, it's either two states or one mess. And I can add to that the operative choice on a day-to-day basis is settlements. Israel can choose between settlements and democracy in the long term. It just can't have both.
What do I mean by "one mess"? Let's rewind the last couple of years of news stories. There are hundreds of points of friction in the West Bank: terror attacks on Israelis; violence against Palestinians, whether by settlers or the Israeli army; a stifled Palestinian economy in which the GDP is only $12 billion, as compared to over $300 billion in Israel — a few thousand dollars versus $35,000 per capita. Gaza has been not quite in collapse, but near to it. Unemployment is hovering at about 40 percent, sometimes above that, higher than in any country in the world. Ninety-six percent of the water is unfit for human consumption. In summer there are only about six hours of electricity per day. That's not a formula for happiness.
But it could get worse than that. The Palestinian Authority (PA) could collapse in the current political situation. Donors would likely then pull out the billions of dollars they spend supporting the PA, and Israel would then be responsible for security control. Who's going to replace the 30,000 Palestinian security-service personnel in the West Bank — probably triple the number from the Israel Defense Forces? This is not a positive scenario for the Palestinians or for Israel.
On the one hand, no U.S. administration did more to support Israel than the Obama administration. We signed the largest military-assistance package in U.S. history to any nation on earth, $38 billion over 10 years — $450 per Israeli per year. On the other hand, we had deep concerns about Israel's policies in the West Bank, particularly settlement expansion.
We felt then, and I personally feel now, that "two states" is in deep jeopardy. There are perhaps only a certain number of years, probably in the single digits, before a two-state solution is no longer possible. Why is that? There are trends on the ground, whether violence and incitement, settlement expansion or — as John Kerry has said — "increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people actually don't want." The status quo — settlement expansion, the situation on the ground for the Palestinians — is a decision. So maintaining the status quo is effectively a decision. In under a decade, in my estimation, we will be faced with only one possible outcome: a one-state solution.
Today the Jewish population between the river and the sea is about half the population. And Israel has a choice. It can have settlements, which in my opinion lead us to one state and one mess, or it can have a Jewish-majority democracy. It can't have both. Although Prime Minister Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he supports two states, he's also said that his government and he personally are more committed to settlements than any government in Israel's history. That just doesn't square with the reality as I saw it, or as Secretary Kerry saw it.
Let me turn again to Area C, where 60 percent of the land of the West Bank is essentially defined for Israeli economic development, military use and settlement expansion. In all of 2014 and '15, Palestinians were given permission to do only one construction project in that 60 percent of the West Bank. Meanwhile, hundreds of Israeli settlement units were advanced. In 2016 alone, the year that just ended, 1,300 Palestinians were displaced from their homes in Area C, 600 of them children, more than in any previous year.
Let's take a look at the settlements themselves. There are about 130 in the West Bank. The number of settlers has increased since the Oslo Accords were signed by over a quarter million, 270,000 — 100,000 during the Obama administration alone. Leaving aside those in East Jerusalem, there are 390,000. Including East Jerusalem, it adds up to 600,000. That's a large number living among 2.7 million Palestinians. But 90,000 of these settlers live on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier, the wall that Israel itself built. This number has increased by 20,000 since the beginning of the Obama administration.
So, with 90,000 settlers on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier in over 100 illegal settlement outposts and "legal" settlements, we've got an unstable situation. As that number rises, the number of people who are going to have to be evacuated from settlements to make a Palestinian state possible is rising and will become so large that, at some point, it's going to be insurmountable. Let's remember back in 2005, when the Israeli leadership sought to evacuate settlers from Gaza. There were just a few thousand. Hundreds of them barricaded themselves in their homes, some with weapons, and it took a significant and very traumatic effort to get them out. The number of settlers deep in the West Bank, on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier, is 10-20 times higher.
To paraphrase Secretary Kerry, you may hear these remote settlements aren't a problem because they only take up a small percentage of the land, but it's really about whether the Palestinian areas can be connected or if any potential state would be hollowed out like Swiss cheese. No one thinking seriously about peace can ignore the reality of what settlements pose to that peace.
It took the Palestinians about 25 years, from 1967 to 1993, to accept and sign up for a two-state solution. As we approach the 25-year mark since the Oslo Accords, it may be that Palestinians will give up on the two-state solution. And there are challenges to the two-state solution on the Israeli side. As one prominent Israeli minister who heads a settler party recently declared, the era of the two-state solution is over. Those folks on the Israeli right want the two-state solution to be over, but what they don't want is an open and democratic state. They want the Palestinians confined to enclaves, as Secretary Kerry said, "with no real political rights; separate legal, education and transportation systems; vast income disparities, under a permanent military occupation that deprives them of their most basic freedoms. Separate and unequal is what you would have." Would an American or an Israeli accept living that way? Again, today these enclaves make up just 10 percent of the land between the river and the sea. Jammed into them are 35 percent of the total population, with a density more than four times higher than in the areas controlled by Israel, including East Jerusalem and Area C.
Just before he died, Shimon Peres said, "The original mandate gave the Palestinians 48 percent of the land; now it's 22 percent. I think 78 percent should be enough for us."
That's all a dreary picture. But when the White House and Secretary Kerry asked if the United States should be willing to just give up, the answer was no. That's why under the Obama administration, the United States continued to call on the Palestinian Authority to fight violence and curb incitement. That's why we continued to call on Israel to end settlement activity. That's why we consistenly called for a greater transition of power and authority to the Palestinian Authority in Area C, as contemplated in prior agreements, in a way that would not impact Israel's security.
At the close of the administration, Secretary Kerry also offered core principles he believed would need to be part of any deal. First, secure and recognized borders with a viable and contiguous Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines with agreed equivalent swaps. Second, the full implementation of UN Resolution 181: two states for two peoples with full recognition and equal rights for all their respective citizens. Third, a "just, agreed, fair and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue." Fourth, "an agreed resolution for Jerusalem as the internationally recognized capital of the two states, and [a guarantee to] protect and assure freedom of access to the holy sites consistent with the established status quo." Fifth, a full end to the occupation "while ensuring that Israel can defend itself effectively and that Palestine can provide security for its people in a sovereign and non-militarized state." Sixth, "end the conflict and all outstanding claims, enabling normalized relations and enhanced regional security for all as envisaged by the Arab Peace Initiative." These principles were the basis of our pursuit, and we believe they are essential elements to any final deal.
That's where Secretary Kerry's efforts concluded at the end of the Obama administration. But, what can Trump do now? I think it's highly unlikely he can pull a rabbit out of the hat and get a Nobel Prize-winning end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the actors we currently have on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. But there are a couple of big ideas that, instead of hitting a grand-slam home run, could possibly get us to first base and make the situation a little better.
First, studies examining the Palestinian economy and the land in the West Bank very closely have estimated that just 1 to 2 percent of Area C transferred from Israeli to Palestinian control — for much-needed housing in cramped Palestinian urban areas, agriculture, industry and mining — could possibly unleash up to a billion dollars in annual economic activity through housing construction, solar fields, agriculture and other things, in addition to keeping the Allenby Bridge open 24/7.
Second, during the course of the Obama administration, we helped facilitate a number of what I call new "roommate agreements," between the Israelis and Palestinians, on areas ranging from water to electricity and telecommunications. Palestinians currently are digitally subsisting on 2-G technology rolled out around the world in 1991, which is 100 or 200 times slower than what your typical American or Israeli use on their smartphones. So implementing a rollout of the recently signed roommate agreements in health, taxes, electricity, water and cell phones would dramatically reduce ongoing friction in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and help advance the Palestinian economy.
Third would be to focus on the really heartbreaking situation in Gaza. As we're entering the summer, Gaza has only about a third to a quarter of the electricity it needs. That means there are blackouts for 12 to 18 hours a day. Gaza needs to triple its current. They could use a new power line, and that's potentially something the Trump administration could work on. They could also use a gas line into Gaza that would enable them to generate their own power. Gaza has so much potential — a highly educated urban population right on the shores of the beautiful Mediterranean — if they could only be allowed to use it.
The other thing that they need in Gaza is water. Ninety-six percent of Gaza's water is unfit for human consumption. They need massive water infrastructure projects that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. There is funding for that in the Arab world and among the Europeans. But there are so many complications in construction — dual-use items and what Israel will allow in.
In closing, let me just say again: two states or one mess; settlements or democracy. Maybe 100 years from now there will be a creative new and different possibility, but that's how I see it today.
IAN LUSTICK, Professor, Bess W. Heyman Chair, University of Pennsylvania; Former President, Politics and History Section, American Political Science Association; Member, Council on Foreign Relations
Protracted conflicts are seldom resolved by the timely achievement of wise compromises. Much more common is catastrophic defeat, or a hurting stalemate that leaves the protagonists exhausted and desperate to end their suffering, or temporary arrangements that gradually are not.
Intellectuals and political architects can always devise arrangements to meet the minimum conditions of moderates on both sides. Certainly, that was the case for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That was the case at least for those of us who from the late 1960s realized that, for a few decades, a two-state solution was a framework for a long-term, minimally satisfying and minimally just peace. But in the foggy, brutal, bloody, emotional, and ferociously self-interested terrain of nationalist politics and international conflict, such elaborate designs can almost never find their way to timely implementation. More commonly, almost every wrong turn must be taken, almost every opportunity that can be wasted must be wasted, before whatever short of total loss to all concerned can be salvaged.
Early efforts in the late 1960s and early 1970s to move toward realization of the two-state institutional architecture went nowhere. Most Israelis were flying high, thinking they could have all the territory and ignore Palestinians. Most Palestinians still did not accept the strategic necessity or possibility of compromise with the "Zionist entity." The War of Attrition, and especially the 1973 war, changed things — for Israelis, for the Arabs and for the Palestinians. Indeed, we can mark disengagement talks between Egyptians and Israelis at Kilometer 101 in the Sinai, on October 27, 1973, as the real beginning of what we have for so long referred to as the "peace process."
Since then we have had a world of process, but very little peace. The question now is not just why no peace, but why so much process? Why all the diplomatic churning when the result is so predictably unsuccessful and so deeply counterproductive (whether productivity is measured in terms of available hope, facts on the ground conducive to peace, political learning and development, or security)?
When it comes to progress on the Palestinian question, consider just how long is the list of failures.
In October 1973, disengagement talks led to the short-lived, U.S.-Soviet-convened Geneva Conference, followed by Henry Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy, between 1973-75. Despite initial attempts by President Richard Nixon to include Jordan in the disengagement negotiations, Kissinger skirted the West Bank issue, going so far as to give future Israeli governments a veto over U.S. contacts with the PLO. From 1977 to 1981, the peace process (including Sadat's visit to Israel, the Camp David Summit hosted by President Jimmy Carter, and the ill-fated "Autonomy Negotiations") was conducted within the framework of the Camp David Accords. Fruitless negotiations, thoroughly exploited by the Begin government, revealed that the idea of "full autonomy" for the Palestinians was simply a fig leaf to camouflage Israeli settlement and absorption of the West Bank while consolidating a separate peace between Israel and Egypt.
In the aftermath of the first Lebanon war, the Reagan Initiative was launched, pointed toward some arrangement entailing an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian areas. That fizzled, leading to frantic and complicated efforts during the Peres-Shamir national unity government in the mid-1980s to arrange a Jordan-option-centered negotiating process. After that effort's collapse, and the outbreak of the first Intifada, Secretary of State Shultz's Plan of 1988 took the stage, followed by the Shamir Plan of 1989, neither of which went anywhere. After the Gulf War in 1991, President George H. W. Bush convened the Madrid Conference, which aimed at a comprehensive peace. That process staggered on to an inconclusive, ignominious end by 1994.
Meanwhile, Israelis and Palestinians had begun what became known as the "Oslo Process." From 1993 to 1999, that process achieved significant gains, including Israeli withdrawals from small portions of the West Bank and Gaza and the relocation of PLO officials to those territories. But Israeli government timidity, ferocious opposition from rejectionists on both sides, Rabin's assassination, constantly rising settlement activity, calculated sabotage by the first Netanyahu government, Ehud Barak's hubristic errors, and President Clinton's diplomatic ineptitude, produced Oslo's effective collapse following the second Camp David Summit in 2000 and the outbreak of the second Intifada. In 2002, President George W. Bush announced his own two-state solution initiative known as the "Road Map to Peace."
Desultory talks continued within this framework through the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit of 2005, Israel's unilateral disengagement and blockade of Gaza in 2006, the second Lebanon War in that same year, and the Annapolis Peace Conference of 2007, featuring talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In the wake of their failure, President Obama appointed George Mitchell as his special envoy for Middle East peace. Mitchell oversaw intensive but fruitless negotiations among Israelis, Palestinians and Americans from 2009 to 2011. Within two years after Mitchell resigned in 2011, Secretary of State John Kerry launched his initiative, with Martin Indyk acting as special envoy — a frenzied but failed diplomatic effort that lasted from 2013 through 2014. Most recently we have seen efforts by the Trump administration, via Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, to continue the process.
With this record in mind, one can be forgiven for doubting that "process" is the correct noun. A "process," by definition, leads from one place or state of affairs in a sequence, however direct or indirect, toward a desired or at least a different outcome. A process, in other words, includes both movement and direction. What we can see, across the decades, is a great deal of movement, but no direction. What we have here, in other words, is not a process but a carousel, not a journey from war to peace, but a merry-go-round of endless motion, leading nowhere. If the merry-go-round has a purpose, it is not to arrive at a destination; its purpose is the motion itself.
Cui bono, who benefits, is the first question political scientists are trained to ask. Where does such a question lead when asked about this peace process merry-go-round? First a story.
In The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn tells the story of a party meeting in the 1930s. Stalin's name was mentioned. Immediately every functionary on the dais and every person in the hall rose to his or her feet and started clapping. And clapping. And clapping. And clapping. After all, who would stop clapping first? Who would reveal less enthusiasm for the Great Leader than everyone else. And so, as the story goes, the applause continued for more than 11 minutes. Finally, one factory director on the dais stopped and sat down. Immediately everyone else stopped, and the meeting resumed. That night the factory director was arrested. After his interrogation, he was given 10 years in the Gulag and reminded: "Don't ever be the first to stop clapping!"
Political scientists have a name for the predicament of those tired but still clapping communists — a "Nash equilibrium." Named for the Nobel prize-winning mathematician John Nash (played by Russell Crowe in the film "A Beautiful Mind"), the stability of this sustained pattern of collective behavior, this equilibrium, is produced by the inability of any of those caught in this predicament to improve their situation by acting unilaterally. Unable to trust or coordinate a simultaneous change of behavior, each clapper prefers to keep clapping, even though weary and with sore hands, to the risks of doing first what each wants someone else to do — to be the first to stop clapping. So the clapping continues until one clapper makes the fatal mistake of trying to improve the situation.
This is a very simple Nash equilibrium. Each player has the same desired goal — to stop clapping and to get on with the meeting without being sent to the Gulag. But Nash equilibria also appear when there are considerable differences in the objectives of the players and asymmetry in their relative power.
With these ideas in mind we can see that the continuous merry-go-round of American-orchestrated negotiations involving Israelis and Palestinians is similar to the endless clapping. The fundamental explanation for the stability of the pattern of fruitless negotiations staggering on, failing, then restarting under a slightly different name, failing, starting again under a slightly different name, failing, and so on, is that the four key (but not equal) main players in this "game" are caught in a Nash equilibrium. Each player — the U.S. government, the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, and what may be called the "peace process industry" — has objectives in mind they would much prefer to pursue, but each player believes it will pay much higher costs trying to pursue those interests than continuing to pretend that the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — to which they all pay lip service — is actually being advanced by their efforts.
Right-wing Israeli governments would prefer to be liberated from the Palestinian problem altogether, to see it removed from the agenda. They would prefer a free hand to expand settlements, eliminate autonomous Palestinian economic activity, squeeze Palestinians out of East Jerusalem, and push as many of them as possible, by immiseration and harassment, out of the West Bank entirely. For them, continuing the negotiations to nowhere, with a hollowed-out two-state slogan as their official framework, is suboptimal but acceptable. Under the pretext that negotiations may be reaching a crucial stage, settlement construction or expansion can be encouraged as an urgent necessity and pursued as a brave battle, cleverly fought, to implement Jewish rights in the ancient homeland. Meanwhile the Israeli majority that vaguely supports a "two-state solution" in return for "real peace" can be held at arm's length. Even the international community has a hard time blaming the Israeli government since it formally accepts the two-state solution and says, at least, that it is ready to negotiate with Palestinian representatives in internationally sanctioned peace negotiations.
American presidents as different as George W. Bush and Barack Obama genuinely wanted an end to the conflict based on two states. But no president has, and almost certainly never will, find it politically rational to exert the pressure on Israel required to compel concessions necessary for a sustainable peace. That being the case, serial pursuit of the mirage of a negotiated two-state solution has sufficient rewards to justify the humiliations associated with repeated exposure of the weakness of American diplomacy on this issue. Most important in this regard is the protection against Israel-lobby attacks that the White House gains by officially engaging with Israeli governments in peace negotiations. U.S. administrations also find it convenient to respond to European, third world, and Muslim criticism for Washington's unbalanced policies by using the ongoing "peace process," or efforts to resume talks, to justify its "restraint" toward Israel.
Anyone who has read The Palestine Papers, the minutes of negotiating sessions held between Israel, the United States, and the Palestinians from 1999 to 2010, can only marvel that Palestinian negotiators could stand playing this maddening game without their arteries popping from the high blood pressure that must result from the repeated double-binds, transparent delaying tactics, and betrayals to which they were continuously subjected by American and Israeli negotiators. Of course, the Palestinian Authority would prefer a two-state solution based on two real states. But facing an Israeli government whose highest priority is to prevent such an outcome, and with Washington operating almost entirely as Israel's lawyer, that objective, via negotiations, is obviously unattainable. The (barely) acceptable alternative is to continue the charade of negotiations, moving from frameworks for negotiations that have failed to frameworks that will fail, but by doing so continue to collect hundreds of millions of dollars from the United States and Europe that pay the salaries of Palestinian Authority employees, preserve VIP treatment for the Palestinian leadership, and support a half-way decent standard of living for most of those Palestinians living in Area A. If some prisoners can be released and if Israel must limit at least some of the ruthlessness it might otherwise unleash on Palestinians in Areas B and C, so much the better.
And then there is the peace process industry. Legions of pundits, scholars, commentators, funders and conference organizers have built entire careers around both the hopes and fears that, in any iteration of this process, a peace based on two states could appear. Their speculations, warnings, maps, and advice fill the newspapers, blogging sites, and air-waves. While they themselves do not enforce the cycle of failure of talks, the redesign of the framework for talks, restart of talks, distractions and delays during talks, failure of talks, and so on, imminent implementation of the two-state solution (as a goad to those terrified of it) or its complete and final disappearance (as a goad to those who cannot tolerate thinking about the future without it) does protect the entire merry-go-round. It discourages both protagonists and observers from thinking beyond the outworn categories of two states to imagine other possibilities.
Those working so tirelessly within this industry, whether to prevent a land for peace deal they see as a betrayal of Jewish or Arab rights, or whether to achieve it, would undoubtedly prefer an end to the "process" (whether in failure or success) to its continuation, but they can manage without that as long as they have a process which is both unproductive and unceasing. Most relevant here is the perspective of two-state solution proponents. Given the choice between a vanishingly small chance of success and having to develop and adopt an entirely new framework for pursuing values of justice, peace, equality and democracy in this domain, they prefer continuing the fight. It is far easier to raise funds, preserve institutions and promote careers by describing a closing window of opportunity for two states than to ever admit that, in fact, the window is closed.
Search for "Stalin" and "clapping" on YouTube and you will find that the Soviets found a solution to the Nash equilibrium problem. After a sufficiently sustained period of enthusiastic applause by an audience pretending to be giddy with delight at Stalin's name or his appearance, a loud bell would sound, triggering immediate silence and allowing the assembled multitude to sit without fear of being sent to the Gulag or shot. No such easy solution is available in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process." Unless outworn but still hegemonic conceptions are overturned, we can expect, even with a Trump administration in Washington, to hear lots more clapping — more peace, less process — for quite some time.
Each of the riders on the peace-process merry-go-round may find something to enjoy, but although the process doesn't produce peace, it does have destructive consequences. The continuation of talks about talks about a two-state solution that cannot be achieved, even if talks begin, has several destructive effects: 1) it entrenches and normalizes realities that are transforming Israel, the single state that rules all the territory from the river to the sea, into a regime of systematic separation and oppression; 2) it drains the oxygen out of any discussion among those who yearn for something better because such discussion of any ideas other than the doomed two-state solution are silenced by the threat they pose to the carefully cultivated image of hope that the point of no return has not yet been passed; and 3) it constrains the volatility of desperate desires, hatreds, and fears that cannot be alleviated without real political change — the consequences of which can only be escalating spasms of bloody violence.
We must therefore consider how to escape from a Nash equilibrium that is not a "pure coordination game" — where everyone really wants the same thing, and where ringing a bell can solve the problem. One theoretical possibility is that the equilibrium can be broken by a player who decides that the suboptimal return is insufficient to justify continuing the game by prevailing rules. For example, the Palestinian Authority could decide to dissolve itself and suffer the consequences for the living standards of tens of thousands of officials and security personnel. Another theoretical possibility is that one of the players, most likely the Israeli government, could make the judgment that it can get all that it wants, or much more of what it wants, than it has been getting by pursuing the suboptimal strategy of continuing to pretend that a viable two-state solution were its objective. In fact, both of these developments may be in the offing and I would argue that the second has, in fact, already begun. I do not mean that Israel is now in a position to stably absorb the West Bank while maintaining the long-term political subordination of the Palestinians who live there, but its leadership has been increasingly attracted to the mistaken idea that it can, and those mistaken judgments have the potential to lead in new and even exciting directions.
Let's take a closer look at the effect decades of the peace-process carousel have had on perceptions of Israeli ruling elites. For all the running in place, there is one thing that has changed, one measure of "progress" toward a destination that is unmistakable — that is the steep, steady, and seemingly irresistible upward slope of the line tracing the number of Jewish settlers living across the Green Line. In the early 1980s, Meron Benvenisti, along with planners within the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency's Land Settlement Department, identified 100,000 settlers as the "point of no return" beyond which Israel would permanently lose the option to withdraw. Including the settlements in expanded East Jerusalem, more than six times that number of Jews now live in occupied territory — equal to 10% of Israel's Jewish population. The settlements are only one factor, but a major factor, in understanding why the two-state idea has been a "dead solution walking" for at least a decade. That a viable Palestinian state will not be established in the West Bank via negotiations is a reality that can no longer be plausibly denied. It is no longer feared by its opponents, nor genuinely expected by its advocates. The idea of negotiations to establish one democratic state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean is just as far-fetched.
The slow-boiled death of the two-state solution is clearly manifest in the shifting terms of debate. Even its die-hard promoters long ago stopped advancing specific plans for moving toward trading territory for peace. For years, they have been on the defensive, desperately struggling to replace old maps of what could have been, with new maps of what, despite settlement expansion and changing dimensions of the Israel's "national consensus, still, perhaps, eventually, could be. Meanwhile the right, freed of the need to decry the dangers of trading territory for peace, because the possibility of doing so seems so utterly remote, has shifted attention to paving the way for annexation, in one form or another.
Protected by distracting upheavals in so many parts of the Middle East and by a cocoon of virtually unlimited and unconditional American political, economic, and military support for Israeli governments, it is no surprise that Israeli politicians have come to feel free to indulge the worst fears and most extravagant fantasies of their supporters. The result is a pattern of unofficial but unmistakable movement toward the exercise of full Israeli rights to settle and control the entire West Bank and to rule over or otherwise dispose of its Palestinian inhabitants.
Despite Netanyahu's hemming and hawing when it comes to what he means by a two-state solution and his commitment to it, his government, and the country as a whole, are pulled willy-nilly by activists and by dominant ideological inclinations to settle everywhere — Area C, Jerusalem, in the "settlement blocs," in areas "abutting" the settlement blocs, etc. The government's panicky struggle against the BDS movement has led it, via a bizarre "Law of Entry," to authorize denial of entry into the country to anyone, Jew or non-Jew, who actively supports boycotting Israeli settlements. This is the dream of the early settlers — to officially erase the legal separation of the State of Israel, and those who live there, from the territories it occupies and those who live within those territories.
The shifted focus of the Israeli right on how to proceed with annexation, rather than how to prevent withdrawal, has resulted in extravagant propaganda efforts that have persuaded most settlers and their supporters, along with many middle-of-the-road Israelis, to believe that there are many fewer Palestinians living in the West Bank than there actually are — that the doves in Israel's central bureau of statistics and their counterparts in the Palestinian Authority have conspired to inflate Palestinian population figures to dissuade Israel from pursuing permanent rule of all of the Land of Israel. These same propaganda outlets seek to reassure Israelis about Israel's capacity to permanently rule the West Bank by pushing images of rising Jewish birth rates and millions of Jewish immigrants.
A background theme among pundits and activists on the Israeli right has been to adumbrate, however vaguely, how Israel could incorporate the West Bank (and Gaza) without threatening Jewish control of the country. Most of these schemes are far-fetched — for example, imagining that Egypt and Jordan will accept responsibility for Palestinians living in those areas, and/or transferred out of them. Others are disingenuous, offering equal citizenship to any Arabs who chooses to remain in the expanded Jewish state and meets a long list of virtually impossible requirements.
Recently, however, the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin — a life-long Jabotinskian revisionist, veteran leader of the Likud, and former speaker of the Israeli Parliament — proposed real annexation, with equal rights to be accorded to all inhabitants — whether Jews or not. Rivlin made his remarks to a large meeting of settlers and their supporters in Jerusalem on February 13, 2017. Rivlin was outraged at the "Regularization Law" that legalized thousands of settler housing units on privately owned Palestinian Arab land, and at the signal sent by Minister Miri Regev that such discriminatory legislation would be the route followed by Israel to achieve its long-term objectives toward the West Bank. According to Regev, the legislation was a "historic move…the first step towards complete regulation, namely, applying Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria."
To preserve the democratic values and honor of the state, and to insure the permanence of Israel's incorporation of the entire Land of Israel, Rivlin called for outright annexation of the West Bank, including the granting of full and equal citizenship to all its Palestinian inhabitants — more or less exactly what Israel did when it transformed areas in the Galilee and elsewhere that it had declared as occupied in 1948 into full and equal parts of the State of Israel, imposing Israeli citizenship on all inhabitants, including Arabs. Rivlin declared,
Today it is impossible to avoid the question of whether Israel desires to annex Judea and Samaria…we are now at the moment of truth, the time at which we must determine and understand that international law applies also to us, and as a result we must decide regarding the application of Israeli law.… I believe that all of Zion is ours and that the sovereignty of the State of Israel should be applied to every single piece of the Land. The imposition of sovereignty over a territory begins with the grant of equal citizenship to all who inhabit the territory, without exception. There cannot be one law for the Israeli and another one for the non-Israeli. When I say that my faith is directed to all of our Zion, that is precisely what I mean. The sovereignty of the State of Israel must be established over all of Zion and over all its inhabitants. In one piece of land there cannot be one law for the Israeli and another law for the non-Israeli — for all, the same law.
An unequivocal act of annexation is not about to occur. It is most likely that the Nash equilibrium game will continue to be played for some time, but the judgments by increasing numbers of influential Israelis that annexation can and should be accomplished, is significant. They may think that can occur without producing a transformation in the character of the State of Israel. They are wrong. Yet that error may be father to the act, and grandfather to the transformation of the country. For though it would not create warm and fuzzy feelings among Jews and Arabs, and though it is unlikely equal citizenship would be granted quickly to all, or even most Arab inhabitants, it would create a political arena of immense potential, transforming politics from a zero-sum struggle between Israeli Jews and Palestinians to a more complicated and potentially more productive competition among different Palestinian and Jewish groups searching, within and across the boundaries of their national communities, for political allies and power.
It would take decades for struggles to result in the expansion of citizenship and suffrage for all. But that would occur, not least because substantial numbers of Jews would eventually find it in their political interest to join with Arab citizens to support suffrage extension to all those ruled by the state. The mixed governments that would arise from a citizenry comprised of millions of Jews, millions of Arabs and hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish non-Arabs, all divided into religious, ideological, regional and economic factions, would face enormous challenges — not least what to do about Gaza. But with the likely enthusiastic support of the international community, new ways forward would also become available.
It is too soon to speak of such a move as a solution. But it is time to imagine trading the festering problems of occupation for a better set of problems associated with learning to live with one another as equals. Neither Jason Greenblatt, nor Jared Kushner, will help Israelis and Palestinians move in this direction, even though President Trump's off-the-cuff comment regarding the acceptability of either a one-state or a two-state solution, depending on what the two sides can agree on, may actually have been more helpful than all the travel and speeches of John Kerry combined. In the end, it is only by thinking seriously about how to honor both democratic principles and the equal legitimacy of both Jewish and Palestinian aspirations, that Israeli, Palestinian and American leaders can inject new life into a land too long stalked by death and bereft of hope.
RIAD KAHWAJI, Founder and CEO, INEGMA; Middle East Bureau Chief, Defense News; Middle East Correspondent, Jane's Defense Weekly
I would like to say, first, that the presentation we just heard is the best and most honest I have ever heard on the issue. I agree with it 100 percent, though I am one of the very few who dare to speak out in favor of the one-state solution. I was there in Oslo as a journalist, and covered the whole thing. I remember the environment that prevailed regionally and within and among the two players, the Palestinians and Israel. It's no longer there; today, we have a whole different environment. The whole Middle East is going through a rebirth, and Israel will not be spared. It will be affected one way or another, and so will the Palestinians.
I'm not going to repeat what was addressed by my co-panelists here, but just talk about the regional environment and how it's affecting and will continue to affect the situation, the issue of two states versus one state and how the two-state solution is also no longer feasible under the current regional and international environment.
I remember when I was covering Oslo, the people I met had been present from the very start of the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, from the birth of Israel — from Shamir to Rabin to others. And for them, looking at the issue was totally different from what the politicians in Israel face today. At least now it's not just the Palestinians, it's also about Israel's relationship with the Arab world. It's not addressed with the same priority, in the same way. Were people like Ben-Gurion or Rabin living today and hearing the invitation from the Arab world for normalization of relations, I'm sure they would not miss this opportunity. These were leaders who were thinking about the strategic interests of Israel for the long run, not for the near term, how to keep a seat in the Knesset from election to election, as we have today in Israel.
At the same time, the Palestinian Authority, as far as I am concerned, was stillborn from day one. There was a lot of corruption and rivalry; nobody hurt the Palestinians as much as the Authority itself. Today, it exists just to try to delegitimize a non-state actor, Hamas, in the south. They give legitimacy to one another. At the time of the Oslo agreement, the mentors of the so-called Palestinian cause, the sponsors, were the Arab countries — Egypt, the Saudis, the Syrians and so forth — although they didn't have the same agendas. However, they were the fathers of the cause, along with the PLO.
Today, the region is ruled by non-state actors, not by countries. To Israel's north, the one that controls the borders is Hezbollah. As for the Golan Heights, Hezbollah shares it with al-Qaeda and ISIS and the others. In the south, in the Sinai, Egypt is struggling to maintain control and to keep the Islamist groups in check. Jordan has received more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees. How can Jordan be the answer for a unified state with the West Bank, when it is unable to absorb the refugees still flowing in from Syria?
Iran is the main player today in the region, no longer the Arabs. Iran is in control, along with the Russians, in Syria. They are the ones in control in Iraq. They are spreading their authority everywhere. Soon, if they get their way, we could see them through their militias opening a land corridor connecting Iran with the Mediterranean, through Mosul and Deir ez-Zor, all the way to Homs and the Syrian coastal side, along with Lebanon. Then Iran will ultimately be the force on Israel's immediate northern borders. Maybe then the Israelis will have a different idea about the whole situation.
The nature of the conflict in the region today is becoming very ethno-sectarian — Sunni v. Shiite, Arab v. Persian, Arab v. Kurds — and this is definitely not all in Israel's favor. When you have this growing rivalry between Sunni and Shias, it soon is going to be, who can do more for the liberation of the Holy Land, Jerusalem? Today, it might look very attractive to some parties to see countries like Syria, Iraq and so on, self-destruct. But soon afterward you're going to have a whole new environment of sectarian mini-states and neighborhoods. This will be a very unstable environment that we see coming into place.
Today, the Palestinian Authority is in intensive care, living on the donations allocated by various parties, with the false hope of achieving a two-state solution. Nothing is happening, as we just heard from the previous very well-put presentation, and I agree with all of it. There is a competition between Iran and the Saudis over who will be the main patron of Hamas and what Hamas's role will be. But Hamas will always be Hamas; it's not going to change.
What will be in the best interest of the Israelis for the long run? And what's in the best interest of the Palestinians inside the West Bank and even residents of Israel who do not have a voice in all of this? All that they need is to have some peace, prosperity and the basic rights of any citizen anywhere. A single-state solution will provide that, though I believe some Israeli right-wing parties now might get their way and be allowed to annex the West Bank without giving rights to Palestinians. But eventually the international community will prevail, and not even the Israel lobby in Washington will be able to prevent the inevitable: giving equal rights to Palestinians and Jews in Israel.
So the best option for the future is a single-state solution where all are equal regardless of race or religion. It will compel every single country in the Middle East to accept the Palestinians, naturalize them, or accept them as immigrants from the single state of Israel.
We have to change the current status quo of false hope that's being used by regimes in the region. There has not been a single regime in the Arab world that has not abused the so-called Palestinian cause for its own interest. They extend their authority, they prolong their mandates and practice dictatorship under the pretext of the Palestinian cause. This was practiced for a long time and, in some places, is still continuing. It's time to stop the abuse of the Palestinian cause and create a situation where the ordinary Palestinians will have some real hope of being treated as respected citizens with equal rights inside the boundaries of their natural habitat.
Another very important issue that we need to address here: the demographic changes happening as a result of the Iraq-Syria conflicts. We are witnessing sectarian cleansing of towns and villages, in addition to the ethnic cleansing of some areas. If this continues — and we've seen the Security Council unable to check it, because of Russian vetoes — we soon could be seeing regions in Syria and Iraq of one-color communities: all Shiites, all Alawites, all Sunnis. That might sound nice for an all-Jewish state, but it will continue to create a more dangerous environment for the future of Israel and the possibility of a long-term Arab-Israeli settlement.
Right now in the Arab world, the main perceived threat is Iran. We heard in the last Arab League summit the call once again being made to Israel to come forward and just accept the 1967 lines. I believe that the Arab world today will even be ready to go into a real peace process with the Israelis, if Israel can just restrain itself for a year without settlements. We could see great progress on the Arab-Israeli front, not just between Palestinians and Israelis. They are two separate tracks today, no longer linked together. But because Iran has forced itself in as the main patron for the Palestinians, the one vying for the liberation of Palestine and the Holy Land of Jerusalem, it's putting the Arabs in an odd situation. How can they give up the old model that they know is no longer achievable today? They need to continue the competition with the Iranians today and the ongoing sectarian rift in the region. So there are opportunities, but, unfortunately, they are not being met. The current culture in Israel involves internal political rivalries among Israeli parties, each one thinking about tactical victories, from one election to another. For them, stressing the issue of the settlements, being hardline, spreading fear, are the main tools for staying in place.
The regional environment right now will not allow a two-state solution. Every time there has been any glimpse of hope for peace, we've seen missiles fired from Gaza by groups affiliated with Iran. The message from Tehran is that the address for peace with the Palestinians lies in Tehran today, not in any Arab country. So we have a serious dilemma on how to move ahead. It seems that, to save the Palestinians from abuse by all their neighbors, is to go for a single-state solution in which they would have equal rights with Jews, living in peace in one nation. I think this would bring a quick end to all the rhetoric we hear from the region. And, as I mentioned, right now we have a unique environment: in the Arab world, the number-one enemy today is no longer Israel. It lies somewhere else.
CHAS W. FREEMAN, JR., Chairman, Projects International, Inc.; Former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense; Former President, Middle East Policy Council
It's a real pleasure to be back at the Middle East Policy Council, and to follow three such brilliant presentations. The panel did not confer among ourselves before this event, as far as I know, but you've heard a perspective from a recently retired official who was heavily engaged in the effort to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis. You've heard one of our best political scientists actually persuade me that maybe there is some science in political science. And one of the most prominent intellectuals in the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf give a regional perspective. So I'm sure to bring the quality of the event down. I apologize for that.
Israel has long sought to normalize its relations with the Arab states without having to address the status of its captive populations in the West Bank and Gaza. And I think the question that emerges from all of these presentations is whether the moment to accomplish that may not be upon us. That would be a cost-free, strategic gain for the Jewish state. And this is the apparent aim of the so-called outside-in approach that some in the Trump administration favor. So, is something for nothing for Israel an idea whose time has finally come?
Normalization of relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors has always been in the American interest. But now, quite aside from its benefits to Israel, normalization might open the way to a regional coalition of Arab states and Israel that could, once again, balance Iran. The foolish American installation in Baghdad of a pro-Iranian regime removed Iraq from any balancing role. A recrafted balance of power built on Gulf Arab cooperation with Israel rather than Iraq could facilitate the lower American military profile in the region, that Americans, Arabs, Persians and Turks all claim to want.
Shared fears of Iranian power have already produced increasingly overt collusion between Israel and the Gulf Arabs in two areas — intelligence cooperation and collaborative intervention in American politics to block improvement in U.S.-Iran relations. Israeli intelligence agencies add capabilities that complement those of the Gulf Arabs. Israel's information dominance over the American media and its decisive influence here on Capitol Hill impose a hammerlock on American pursuit of rapprochement with Iran.
From the Gulf Arab perspective, the Jewish state's ability to bring U.S. politicians to heel is worth a lot more than sweet talk from the White House. Common concerns about Iran have brought Israel and the Gulf Arabs together, if only semi-covertly. Can these affinities now help achieve acceptance of the Jewish state's legitimacy, normalization of relations with it, and an end to military tensions with it by the states and peoples of the region? For decades, this has been the principal goal of U.S. policy in the Middle East, and also its most prominent failure.
In 2002, all 22 Arab states unequivocally offered Israel peace and normal political and economic relations if it would strike a deal with Palestinians. The Arabs reaffirmed this offer in 2007, and again earlier this year. Another 35 predominantly Muslim nations have signed onto this initiative. The question has been what, if anything, Israel might be prepared to do to cash in on this offer by 57 states to make peace with it. Israel's answer to that, till now, has been bupkis, nothing.
Israel's uncompromising refusal to accommodate Palestinian self-determination tests the willingness of Arab states, as well as the international community, to tolerate its subjugation of the Palestinians in the interest of pursuing wider strategic objectives. The Palestinians have done nothing to make themselves lovable in the eyes of other Arabs, and much to alienate them and the rest of the world. Arab contempt for the Palestinian leadership is second only to Israel's. The Palestinians have no Arab champion.
Mahmoud Abbas is now in the twelfth year of his four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority. The Americans imagine he represents his countrymen. Most Arabs have come to see him as the kapo for life of the vast checkpoint-checked prison camp that Palestine has become for its Arab inhabitants. In their view, Abbas holds office only because Israel has murdered or jailed many hundreds of Palestinians who might otherwise have emerged as more credible leaders or negotiating partners.
Still, Arabs are no strangers to public piety about the Palestinian plight as a cover for private cynicism. Egypt exemplified both traits 40 years ago, when it signed the basis of transparently disingenuous undertakings to facilitate Palestinian self-determination. It cannot be ruled out that others might also now sell out the Palestinians to promote interests closer to home. But if there is little Arab affection for the Palestinians, there is even greater Arab resentment of Israel's well-publicized daily abuses of them. They are, after all, fellow Arabs who are, for the most part, members of the Muslim ummah.
Since the uprisings of 2011, Arab governments have become more sensitive and responsive to public opinion than before. Israel has become a brand associated with inhumanity, arrogance, casuistry and sadistic humiliation of non-Jews. The contemporary Jewish state is not easy to market to anyone who lacks a preexisting passionate attachment to it. This explains not only the Arab desire not to be seen in its company, but the declining willingness of governments in the West to protect Israel from its burgeoning critics.
In 1947, the international community supported the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine as part of a partition plan. But Israel's ongoing expansion into Palestinian lands has, in my view, achieved its objective of making partition — any two-state solution — infeasible. Israel has repeatedly demonstrated that it wants land more than peace, and that it places more weight on terrorizing those who resist it than it does on reconciling them to its existence. Israel now rules a realm that is half-Jewish and half-Palestinian Arab.
Israel's Jews enjoy full rights as the citizens of a democracy. Some Arabs, one-eighth of all the people governed by the Israeli state, are officially Israeli citizens. They are nominally represented in the Knesset, but face intensifying racial discrimination and segregation by an assertively all-Jewish government and its electorate. The remaining three-eighths of the people governed by Israel are stateless Arab Muslims or Christians who live under the tyranny of martial law in the West Bank and Jerusalem, or relentless collective punishment in the Gaza ghetto.
The Afrikaans word apartheid is increasingly used both in Israel and internationally to describe this subdivision of Israel's subjects into half-subjugated and half-free. Both the Afrikaner and the Israeli versions of European settler-colonialism rationalize racial dominance and disenfranchisement. Both facilitate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the upper and middle classes of the ruling caste, while denying these rights to the oppressed. Both shield the master race from close encounters with the injustices and miseries their rule imposes on non-citizens, thus protecting them from first-hand observation of human distress, and the crises of conscious it can fuel. Both legitimize tyranny by praising the democracy of the ruling caste that imposes it. But how tyranny is authorized does not make it any less despotic, arbitrary or cruel.
So there are indeed similarities between South African apartheid and the system imposed in greater Israel by contemporary Zionism. But Israel does not imagine separate development, as apartheid did. It espouses Jewish ethno-religious supremacy in all of Palestine and rejects self-determination for Palestinian Arabs, even in the equivalent of Bantustans. The Israeli authorities not only obstruct economic and social development in non-Jewish areas of their domain, but harass their inhabitants to encourage them to leave, while threatening their eventual expulsion. It's easy to understand why veterans of the struggle for racial equality and justice in South Africa universally proclaim Israel's systematic violations of the rights of those it oppresses to be even worse than apartheid.
It would be very hard, if not impossible, to persuade Arab states and peoples to normalize relations with Israel under these circumstances. Despite their recognition of the Jewish state, Egypt and Jordan have been unable to befriend it. The opprobrium that Israeli settlements and behavior evoke effectively precludes the sort of regional coalition to balance Iran that shared interests would otherwise propel. The region is becoming more, not less, fixated on religion and perceived victimization by the West. The likelihood of Palestinian violence against Israel and its foreign supporters is increasing.
These trends raise the risk that the universal Muslim abhorrence of Israel's cruelty to its Muslim population could unite the region against Israel on the basis of religion. The designation of Israel as the enemy of Islam would enable Arabs, Persians and Turks to suspend the sectarian wars and geopolitical rivalries that now divide them. As unprecedented as this would be, an eventual Sunni-Shia entente to end Jewish humiliation of Muslims is at least as likely as overt Arab cooperation with Israel against Iran.
This underscores that the cost to the United States of the ongoing strife between the inhabitants of the Holy Land cannot be measured solely in terms of dollars donated to sustain Israel's qualitative edge, lives lost to anti-Zionist terrorists, or prestige diminished by the chronic failure of the transparently half-hearted and now abandoned peace process. They must also be gauged in terms of expanding opportunity costs and risks. A peace deal would open many doors to a better future. The absence of an agreement on how the Jewish, Muslim and Christian inhabitants of the Holy Land can safely coexist skews the future in dangerous directions.
With partition now impossible, the only path to peace in greater Israel lies in recognition of the reality that there is, and will be, only one state in Palestine. That state cannot enjoy domestic tranquility or regional acceptance unless the injustices on which it is built are rectified. Criticism of Israeli racism is growing, as is international support for BDS, the movement to boycott, disinvest from, and sanction Israel, on the model of the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa.
The Palestinian cause, meanwhile, is beginning to ripen into a struggle for civil rights, rather than self-determination. It has become a cliché to say, as several up here have, that Israel must choose between its democracy and its Jewishness. But the disenfranchisement of greater Israel's Arabs vitiates its claim to be a democracy. And the enforcement of Jewish supremacy throughout the territories it rules is driving the progressive abandonment of the rule of law and other liberal norms once espoused by Zionism — central to Zionism, in fact. Most Israelis already appear to prefer a Jewish to a democratic identity.
But what does it mean to be a Jew in Israel? Asked by the Pew Charitable Trust in 2016, 59 percent of Jews in America cited, "leading an ethical and moral life," as essential to Jewishness. Only 47 percent of Israeli Jews agreed. Fifty-six percent of American Jews saw working for justice and equality as part of their religion. Only 27 percent of Israelis did. Forty-nine percent of American Jews valued being intellectually curious as part of Judaism. Only 16 percent of Israeli Jews did.
American Jewish values resonate strongly with those of other Americans. A Pew poll in February of this year found that, at 67 percent, Jews top the list of religious groups for which Americans have fond feelings — quite remarkable, given all the talk about anti-Semitism. As Israelis discard the universal values Jews elsewhere aspire to exemplify, there is growing concern that they are transforming Judaism from a highly sophisticated ethical tradition into a state ideology that rationalizes racism and lawlessness by dehumanizing non-Jews.
Israel may, in fact, be on the way to becoming neither democratic nor Jewish, as these terms are understood internationally. Divorce from the norms of the Judeo-Christian enlightenment bodes ill for continued Western identification with and support for the self-proclaimed Jewish state. Among American Jews 65 and older, 53 percent say caring about Israel is essential to what Judaism means to them. Among Jews under 30, by contrast, 32 percent express this view. Roughly nine in 10 say a person can be Jewish even if strongly critical of Israel. Meanwhile, support for Israel has become a partisan issue among the general public in the United States.
The basis is being laid, I submit, for an internationally based struggle for racial equality, dignity and democracy in greater Israel. As was the case with South Africa, this drive will not be led by governments but by civil society internationally. Jewish activists in America and Europe, as well as in Israel itself, are likely, once again, to be disproportionally prominent in it. Efforts to suppress advocacy in the United States and Europe of political change in Israel will be well-organized and financed. They will test, but very likely fail, to overcome the norms of free speech and assembly that are basic to the democratic order on both sides of the Atlantic.
The struggle for a just constitutional dispensation in greater Israel will be protracted, confusing and painful for all concerned. But the achievement of a democracy in which all governed by Israel enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is essential to secure Israel's future, to preserve and protect its Jewish heritage, and to enable it to participate fully in the affairs of its region and internationally. If the moral issues that prevent Israel's neighbors from embracing it, and that are stripping Israel of support in the West, are not addressed, Israel's prospects for long-term survival will be poor. Palestinian inclusion in the democracy Israeli Jews have created would resolve this dilemma. And, as many Palestinians have come to recognize, this is now the only way they can hope to enjoy the human and civil rights they demand.
The abandonment of Israel to its fate is not an option for the United States. Reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians is as much in the American interest as it is that of those two peoples. It's also the key to restoring stability in the Middle East. Israel has effectively created a single state in Palestine in all but name. Its foreign supporters have every reason now to ask that Israel govern all the people in its charge with the justice and humanity that constitute the core values of both Judaism and Western civilization.
THOMAS R. MATTAIR, Executive Director, Middle East Policy Council
The reason we chose this topic for today — and we haven't done a conference on Israeli-Palestinian issues in almost two years — is because it's 2017, an important anniversary. One hundred twenty years ago, the World Zionist Organization met in Switzerland to propose a Jewish home. One hundred years ago, the British government said it viewed with favor the establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine — not in all of Palestine — it being clearly understood that nothing would be done to prejudice the rights of non-Jewish inhabitants of the region. That was a surprise to Sharif Hussein of Mecca, who had been promised Arab independence by Sir Henry McMahon.
Then, in 1947, as Chas and Ian both referenced, there was the UN General Assembly partition plan to establish two states. The United States actually voted for that, which means the United States voted in favor of a Palestinian state in 1947. And then came 1967, 50 years ago, when Israel acquired the Golan, the Sinai, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the June war. UN Security Council Resolution 242 was soon passed, calling on Israel to withdraw from territories occupied in that war.
There's one more anniversary that I don't think anybody mentioned today. In 1977, 40 years ago, President Carter attempted to launch a comprehensive peace effort. The first thing he did was to send Cyrus Vance to the Arab world to try to organize a conference at which everyone would try to develop a comprehensive resolution of all the problems. Of course, there was domestic opposition to that, and Israeli opposition. That is why we went to the Camp David process, which was second-best, from Carter's point of view.
So, this year marks a lot of anniversaries. But tide and time stayeth for no man, and I think some of our panelists are indicating that some of these legal documents are not so relevant anymore. Hady, there are a couple of things that you might want to respond to. I think the effort to foster negotiations, the "peace process," has been called half-hearted; it has been said that there has been movement but no direction. Frankly, I see a little direction, but how do you respond to those statements?
MR. AMR: I had the opportunity to see Secretary Kerry up close working on this. There was a joke at one point in the State Department: Have you met the new Israel-Palestine desk officer? No, no, who is he? John Kerry. He was spending so much time on this issue, particularly in 2013 and '14, a double-digit percentage of his time. I don't know how anyone can make the case that his effort was half-hearted.
In terms of the Nash equilibrium, I'm an econometrician by training, although not by practice, and I think that's an understandable analysis. But, having spent an enormous number of days on the ground with Israelis and Palestinian leadership and Israeli and Palestinian civil society, what I come back to when I reflect on all this, going back and forth between Ramallah and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is the following. In Palestinian society in the West Bank, I see this frustration. I see youth who will tell you, I don't think two states is possible. Just give me an iPhone and a passport and I'm good. But then I also see this beautiful nationalism, this drive to create a state that represents them in their image. So I don't know that you can just say, two states aren't going to work; let's just do one state.
But then I really do see their beautiful desire to fly their flag and live a national life with a national debate with a national culture and a national parliament. That's the desire that they have. And until that desire completely vanishes, if there's a will — for a while, not forever — there's a way. That desire is there, and I think it deserves the right to flourish. But I understand the frustration about two states that's been expressed.
This is what I have come to believe, from days and days on the ground. It's not a casual connection I have to this. My first job out of college was working with civil society in the West Bank. My wife is an Israeli Arab, from Galilee, so I'm stuck with this conflict, whether I like it or not, for life, and so are my children as Israeli Arab Americans. So, as long as there is the desire of people to have a flourishing national life, just like we Americans enjoy, and Israelis have had, I think it deserves to be nurtured.
We may reach a point where it is no longer possible to get to two states. That's what I was saying in my remarks — that the growth of settlements is a tremendous challenge to the two-state solution. When you look at maps, as we did for a year, day after day, in tremendous detail, there still remains the possibility of creating a contiguous and viable Palestinian state today. It will require the dismantling of a very large number of Israeli settlements, but as long as the desire is there, as long as the map is still there, I believe it's still possible — and, in many ways, still preferable.
Now, if everybody woke up tomorrow and said, it's no big deal; let's all live together; it'll all be awesome; we're going to have a great time and live in one state together; it's going to be a fabulous amount of fun — then that's great. But that's not where we are. We have an ongoing demonization by Israelis and Palestinians of one another. We have ongoing violence. We are not in a place where I believe we can have one happy state. So I think, while there's still a chance for two states, it's worth pursuing.
DR. LUSTICK: I completely understand your sentiment. I've felt it myself. But I want to ask you a question that's raised by what you said. But before I do, I just want to say that all of us know there are many more beautiful desires, whether personal or national, that don't get realized, than the rare beautiful one that does. So I don't see that as a political principle for judging the possibilities of the future.
You said, after 10 years, forget it; it's over. That implies that something can happen that is decisive enough to make it unwise to continue to pursue a two-state solution. That means you'll be able to say, at some point, "OK, yesterday a two-state solution was possible. Three days, three years ago it was possible; but now it's no longer possible. For the time being, I'll put aside what you said about the idea that as long as one person dreams something, it can happen. But I want to ask — because I've asked Jeremy Ben-Ami and everyone I can who makes this argument — just tell me what it is you'll see that will tell you that the point of no return has been passed, that now, it is better to pursue the unusual or unlikely possibility of an alternative solution. What is it you'll see? Will you know it when you see it?
MR. AMR: Just to reclarify, I wouldn't say if one person can dream it, but I think as long as there's a critical mass of Palestinians who desire to have a national life, it's worth pursuing, if it's possible. Now, where's the tipping point?
DR. LUSTICK: How do you know when it's not possible anymore?
MR. AMR: When do you cross from darkness to night, as you're looking? I think there are a couple of dimensions of it. Let me start with the national. From the creation of Israel to the creation of the PLO to the 1989 Tunis declaration, the Palestinians traveled the road to accepting the two-state solution. It took decades to do that.
There was a critical-mass tipping point when the Palestinian people supported a two-state solution. We're still there, I believe. At some point that will tip out. That's one thing that will end the two-state solution: when a critical mass of Palestinians no longer support it and the structures are no longer there. That's number one. The Palestinian Authority collapses, either voluntarily or through Israel's dismantling it. So those are two variables.
This issue was my first job out of college. It was very formative for me. I'm married to it. I've got children, a one-year-old at home who's going to be dealing with this in some capacity. I'm going to my grandmother's hundredth birthday in a few weeks, so maybe in 100 years, if my daughter has inherited those genes. I don't know what's going to transpire in her lifetime. But at some point, when you look in detail, as we did, at the settlements in the West Bank; when you do the opinion surveys of settlers and their attitudes, asking, would you leave or not? Would you leave for money? Would you leave if there were a vote that the Jewish people took that it was in the Jewish people's interest to leave? Or do we have to shoot you out of there?
Looking at all that, at some point, once you get to a certain number of settlers who are deep inside the West Bank, that would make the creation of a Palestinian state impossible. I don't have a magic number for you. So you say, if you don't have a number, this can go on forever. A hundred years from now, or 50 years from now, your child is going to be sitting here and giving the same spiel. That's a fair criticism, but at some point the reality will no longer be possible. I don't think we're that far away from it — I think it is single-digit years, this U.S. president's term and the next one. After that, it's game over.
AMB. FREEMAN: Certainly the two-state solution would be vastly preferable. It was preferred by everybody except the government of Israel, which has effectively made it impossible, in my view. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Hope springs eternal, but I don't see that as a basis for a realistic U.S. foreign policy, and I don't believe it can garner continued support internationally.
DR. MATTAIR: Kerry actually said, in his remarks in December, that a one-state solution is going to be perpetual occupation. Why is that not true? What is it that could happen that would lead to equal rights? What kinds of governance structures would have to be established? How do you get there? Would that be frightening enough for Israel for them to take a new look at a two-state solution?
AMB. FREEMAN: You look to the future. What I think you will see is an increasingly violent struggle conducted not only within the confines of greater Israel, but against the supporters of Israel outside Israel, back to the future, if you will, of 1967 and Palestinian terrorism. But you will also see a lot of people in Israel doing what many have already done — emigrating — because they are troubled. There are very good people in Israel who are troubled by this ongoing situation and don't want to be part of it. You will also see the progressive withdrawal of international support for the Israeli oppression of Palestinians, not just the BDS movement. But look at the figures on young Jews and their level of identification with Israel. This is a not-in-my-name kind of argument that one hears.
So I think time is working against a separatist, segregationist approach in Israel. You can say the pressure on the Palestinians has not broken their desire — I agree — for self-determination. Perhaps the pressure on ultra-Zionist elements in Israel will not break their determination. Hady, you began by saying a mess was a possibility. I think that's what we have, and the mess is likely to get messier.
DR. MATTAIR: Ian, how do you see that happening?
DR. LUSTICK: That is really the question. The debate is over what to do with the two-state solution, the pursuit of which looks like it's worse than not doing anything. What do you do if you don't have another solution in mind? When I say "solution," I don't mean a pretty picture of the future — I've got lots of them: two states, one state, three states, cantons, regional federation, all kinds of things — that's not the meaning of a "solution." A solution means having a way to get from here to there; from the mess to a pretty picture. We have imagined that there's a two-state pretty picture and a route through negotiations to get there. I still believe the two-state solution is a pretty picture, but the route to get there is not through negotiations. That's what's impossible. Therefore, I don't see it as a solution; it's been reduced to just another pretty picture.
The one-state idea — and I agree, there's already one state. The question is not, can there be one state; it's what kind of state it will be. What might be the mechanism to get from here to there? So far, there is none coherent enough to call it a solution. So I don't see myself as a one-state-solution person. I see myself as somebody who has thrown away a degenerative research program called the two-state solution and is looking around for a new paradigm. One that at least provokes more interesting questions. I would much prefer to trade the boredom of thinking about where we're going to draw the map with this new settlement to the anxiety of, my God, what are we going to do? We don't have a solution. Anxiety in this context is better than boredom.
So what mechanism might there be that would lead from the mess we have, if not to a pretty picture, then to a better mess?
Well, politics is messy. As I said at the beginning of my talk, show me a protracted conflict, anything like this one, that ended because someone implemented a nice architecture through polite negotiations. You won't find one. It doesn't happen.
Let's take the Irish case as an example. And I don't mean Ireland now, or 1920s Ireland. I mean during the centuries before 1800, when the British occupied Ireland. The Catholics had no rights; their land was expropriated; they were expelled — to Hell or Connaught. In 1800, Ireland was annexed to the United Kingdom. Even after annexation, Catholics were not allowed to have political rights, but they were now a part of the same country as England. Over a period of 70 years, there was a struggle over whether Irish Catholics, especially the workers, would be able to vote. Eventually male suffrange was granted; and in the late nineteenth century the Irish masses entered British politics and transformed it, because it became clear that the Liberal Party couldn't win elections without supporting Irish demands — first for land, then for national autonomy.
As a result of the Home Rule movement, the Anglo-Irish War, and the partition of Ireland, a kind of Allon plan was implemented. The southern part of Ireland became independent, yielding what we still have: a two-state solution. But that messy though prettier picture didn't come about through negotiations; it came about through the end of occupation via annexation, political democratization of the larger state, and then a kind of secession.
The thing about politics is that it never stops. There is no perpetual system of oppression. Once you change the shape of the political arena in Israel, the rules of the game will also change. Incentives will appear for those in Israel who would like a government other than one run by the ultra-nationalist, ultra-clericalist right. Just as in the United States, where Democrats can never win elections without large turnouts of blacks and Hispanics, liberals will never rule in Israel without an expansion of the Arab vote — meaning West Bank votes, at least. And that centripetal dynamic of democracy and politics is what you're going to have to rely on for something better in the future. It's not going to come through negotiations.
AMB. FREEMAN: That's what President Rivlin said.
DR. MATTAIR: How long is that going to take, Ian?
DR. LUSTICK: I left my crystal ball in the car. I've thought about it a lot, and in my remarks I referred to "decades." In the original draft of those remarks I had written "years or decades." I took out "years," because I really don't think it can take mere years. It will take decades. Many things will be necessary, including threats of mass Jewish emigration, and the kinds of regional concerns that you discussed. Architects and political scientists and clever people who come up with legal arrangements are all part of the larger game, but they're not the guiding hand. The guiding hand is ultimately the desperate desire of people to find some way that's more acceptable than what they seem to be trapped in.
DR. MATTAIR: People in the audience are wanting to know if there is still any possibility that liberal American Jewish efforts could influence our administration and bring about a two-state solution? And is there any likelihood that an Israeli government would bring Israeli Arab parties into a coalition that would then lead to a decision to consent to a two-state solution? In other words, is there any hope here in any way?
DR. LUSTICK: I wrote a piece for The Guardian a month or so ago that started with the line, "A broken watch is right twice a day." When President Trump said, "Two-state, one-state, whatever they want, I support it," this was a great thing. It's an advance over what we were saying, because it's fundamentally true; any agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinians would be acceptable to the United States. And note, it's a rejection of Netanyahu's policy — to avoid pursuing any solution by pretending to favor a two-state outcome, thereby managing the conflict to try to get to the point where it can be ignored.
So, whether the president knew it or not, he was rejecting Netanyahu's policy and taking the most sensible position one can take. Whatever they can agree on, fine. But right now we insist on democracy, equality and mutual opportunities for self-determination. And self-determination does not require a single state for every single nation. In Canada, the Quebecois and the Anglos have national self-determination within a state that doesn't have the Union Jack as its flag anymore. There's Switzerland and other states. Nothing's perfect.
National self-determination dreams, whether Jewish or Arab, don't have to be sacrificed in the context of something that could be a single state. I'm currently writing a paper on the hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration as a document that was more or less dropped on the Middle East by the equivalent of aliens from another galaxy. It had a phrase in it that I believe came out of the Irish Home Rule movement: that phrase was "a national home." Jews were to have a "national home in Palestine." Oddly, that formula may be exactly what's needed now: a national home for Jews in Palestine; and a national home for Palestinian Arabs there as well. There will be two national homes. And within both of them will be some 700,000 non-Jewish, non-Arabs.
I think the Balfour Declaration owes the world something, and it's now actually providing it: this idea of a national home. Many of the most imaginative people thinking about the future now think in terms of parallel states or two states in one territory. I predict they will eventually go to this idea of a national home for the Jews and a national home for the Palestinians.
DR. MATTAIR: In the time that's left, we should examine the role of other actors in the region. Chas referred to this phrase that was used in the opening weeks of the Trump administration: that there would be what they called an "outside-in" approach: the major Arab states had so much in common with Israel — their common concern about Iran — that they could be enlisted to help bring about a resolution of this problem. What exactly is it that Israel could offer to the major Arab states in their efforts to contain or roll back Iran that would induce them to help Israel if it meant making concessions on the Palestinian issue? And exactly what is it Israel expects the Arabs to do?
AMB. FREEMAN: I think there has been a fundamental misperception or distortion, perhaps, of the so-called Arab peace initiative of 2002 in Beirut. It is not an offer to negotiate. It is a reward for a deal between Israelis and Palestinians. It's a bonus. But the prize is an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, and even the most optimistic of us on this panel does not see that coming about anytime soon.
The Israeli objective has always been something for nothing. Why shouldn't all the countries in the region accept our legitimacy? After all, British imperialism, in the Balfour Declaration, authorized us to be here. We've established our right to be here by fighting — which is true — and why shouldn't everybody accept that, without regard to what we're doing to the indigenous people in Palestine? That's been the basic proposition, and it's been tried by almost every new administration that comes in that doesn't like the preexisting framework. When Ronald Reagan came in, Al Haig went off and tried to persuade the Israelis and the Arabs that they should cooperate against the evil empire of the Soviet Union and forget about the Palestinians, and so forth and so on. It doesn't work in the end, and it especially doesn't work in the age of satellite television and social media, where the suffering of people under occupation is in the living rooms and on the phones of everybody in the Arab world.
So, basically, Israel and the Trump administration — I suppose, Mr. Greenblatt, Mr. Kushner and Ambassador Friedman — would like to solve this problem without dealing with the Palestinians. And that's not going to happen. This is a familiar pipedream that's going to go nowhere, but maybe Riad will tell us that common concerns about Iran overrule the Arab street.
DR. MATTAIR: Riad, what could Israel actually do to help the Arab world vis-à-vis Iran? What would they want from the Arab world, and can they get it?
MR. KAHWAJI: First of all, the Arab Gulf states have reached out to Israel ever since Oslo. For a while, Israel had ambassadors in Moscow and Doha and some level of representation and talks with the other Gulf countries that remained out of public view, behind the scenes. There have been further efforts, even in the twenty-first century, that were going a long way in business, especially in the fields of technology and joint intelligence work on Iran.
But Israel kept surprising the Arab side with moves that sent counterproductive messages, as if Israel did not really want this strong normalization of relations to really come about. It does not seem to respect the sensitivities and the wishes of the other side on how to reach the sought objective. One example was the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. This happened at a time when there was a great deal of progress in talks behind the scenes between Israel and Arab Gulf states. There were a lot of things happening, but everything came to a halt from that moment onward.
There were many people from the United States who reached out to the Gulf countries to try and revive things. Everybody kept asking the U.S. delegations, remember Mabhouh? What happened? We have come so far, why did Netanyahu do what he did about the assassination of Mabhouh in Dubai, as if it had been meant to torpedo everything that was going on. This still haunts many officials who were part of this process in the Arab world. They still realize the importance of Israel in the equation vis-à-vis Iran and that this would be a good opportunity. However, I asked this very question you've asked me of a senior official in the Arab Gulf: what would it take now to begin improving relations with Israel, to consolidate this alliance against Iran? The answer was, if you can convince Netanyahu to stop settlements for one year, it could be possible.
This cannot happen when you can see every day in the media Palestinians being kicked out of their homes, displaced, bulldozers demolishing houses, sending young people out in the street in the West Bank for no reason — just because Israel wants to build additional settlements and comes up with excuses and the whole world stands there helpless. The Arab leaders will have no option but to go to the Palestinians and say, don't worry, we will help you; Palestine will be yours again one day, the Quran told us this and so forth. And this false hope is implanted within people.
In response to your question, the potential for improving relations is there, the readiness from the Arab side is there, and the regional environment requires such a move. However, is Israel ready for this? I don't believe so. I think the Israeli government and the political leadership in Israel still think they can maneuver their way around it and continue to make gains and get whatever they want without having to make any commitments or sacrifices — just have their cake and eat it too. But this is impossible to do.
DR. MATTAIR: What is there that would stop Israel from just maintaining the status quo, letting the Palestinians have limited autonomy in A and B, continuing to expropriate land and build and build in Area C and never move out of that framework for the next 50 years? It's been 50 years since 1967. Would there be a role for any regional actor in getting to where you want to go: one state with equal rights?
DR. LUSTICK: What I was suggesting is one mechanism by which that could occur, the one mechanism that's kind of reliable: the internal dynamic of Israeli politics to move in a right-wing direction toward the ambitions of those who always wanted a Jewish state in all the land of Israel. Because of the American policy of support with no conditions, it has been a losing proposition for any politician in Israel to argue that we better make compromises now, even though they're painful, or else the international community and especially the United States will hurt us. That's been proven untrue over and over. The result is that Israel, and especially Israeli leaders, have become increasingly right-wing and increasingly extreme. In effect, Israel used to be New Jersey, from a red/blue point of view, and now it's Oklahoma or Idaho.
But things can happen because of that — a momentum to go forward toward annexation in ways that will backfire on those who pursue it. Somebody like Moshe Yaalon, the ex-defense minister, now positioning himself to run for the premiership, is smart; he doesn't want to settle beyond the blocs or to do provocative things. He wants to try to make it appear more credible that Israel is interested in some kind of a two-state solution, but that kind of rationality is not likely to be honored. The right is too strong in Israel. Its activists believe too much in what they want, and the Israeli political system doesn't have the rubber bands to constrain them.
So my suggestion is the possibility that they will, in fact, not play it smart, but rather, go forward more quickly than they should toward the position of increasing annexation. That will start to change the political dynamics. Keep your eye on East Jerusalem. If the Arabs in East Jerusalem — and you can find more and more of them who think this way — start voting in municipal elections, which they can do even though they're not Israeli citizens. That is because they're permanent residents of Israel and therefore have a right to vote for the mayor and the city council. Few of them have exercised that vote because under the two-state solution slogan they don't want to legitimize the occupation. But if it is accepted that there will be no end to the occupation via negotiations, and if as a consequence the Arabs in expanded East Jerusalem voted, they and the left would run the city. That would be an example for the future, an example of how, when you really need a bedfellow to win in politics, you find that bedfellow. The Arabs need the liberal Jews; the liberal Jews need the Arabs. That means they both have to be emancipated. East Jerusalem could be an example of how that could come about.
DR. MATTAIR: Would you say to the Israeli right, be careful what you pray for, you might get it?
DR. LUSTICK: Not it, precisely, but you will not get what you want. In politics, the unintended consequences always swamp the intended consequences. The line in my talk, which I would love people to remember, is that this error they're making — oh, there are only a million Palestinians in the West Bank, we can handle that — even Rivlin's error, can be not only father to the act, but grandfather to the transformation of the country.
AMB. FREEMAN: On this same question, I think probably most of us would agree the most likely future is more of the same rather than an abrupt change, either for the good or the bad. But there are two things that might produce a different result. One is a sudden lapse into statesmanship in the United States, which would mean not continuing to enable Israel, much like handing a bottle of whiskey to a driver in a car does, or perhaps we continue our enabling and there's a car crash.
The other possibility is that a messiah suddenly arrives and the Israelis, as some have done, take their eyes off the short term and look at the long term and remember what an Israeli leader once said to me: we must remember the Muslims in Spain. They had everything going for them, but they did not make peace with their Christian neighbors. The holy war continued, and in the end, there were no Muslims in Spain — or Jews either. So perhaps somebody who looks a little farther down the road and can see where all this is going if it is not tended — that the beautiful dream is turning into a tragedy, and it's worth trying to stop that. It might turn things in a different direction. But I'm not a religious person, so I don't believe in miracles, even in the Middle East.
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