After listening to very erudite analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics by Mark Rosenblum, a former Queens College Professor of Mideast Studies and co-founder of Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding (CERRU) at a meeting of Long Island grassroots activists, Reachout America, I came to my own enlightenment. It came when Rosenblum, who is also a founding member of Americans for Peace Now, showed us a map of Israel with the Palestinian communities shown as brown clusters on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Then he made this point: 80% of the 420,000 Jewish settlers in the so-called Occupied territory, the vast majority secular and not messianic Jews, live along a sliver of that territory that hugs the internationally recognized border of Israel.
Now, for the longest time, the contention has been that even though the Arab states invaded Israel in 1967 en masse intending to drive the Israelis (Hebrews) into the sea and despite the fact Israel won the war for its very existence, that the Palestinians are entitled to 100% of the land that Israel occupied (forget the fact that Israel has already given back the entire Negev to Egypt in a “land for peace” deal, and has already uprooted its settlers to give back the Gaza Strip). The Palestinians insist on Israel being returned to its pre-1967 borders, including dividing once again the holy city of Jerusalem, which it intends to make its capital. And even after the rest of the occupied territory is given “back” to Palestinians, they are still demanding the right of return into the Jewish State. They want it all, despite being the aggressors.
I happen to support a two-state solution, convinced of the argument as expressed by former President Ehud Barak when he spoke in Great Neck, that Israel cannot swallow up the Palestinians and simultaneously remain secure and democratic – the demographics are such that unless Palestinians are not allowed full citizenship (and the ability to vote and be represented in the Knesset), the Jewish State would fairly quickly become majority Muslim.
But what I don’t understand is that the Arabs who sought in 1967 and still today seek to destroy Israel (despite any calculatedly tempered language) should have all the territory returned without bearing any consequence.
Israel should not apologize for taking the lead on drawing the new borders – it should dictate those borders according to its own self-interest, and that means a unified Jerusalem and a border that includes the vast majority of the settlers, and no right of return.
Israel should be a contiguous nation with defensible borders – not hollowed out with a Gaza strip from which thousands of rockets have rained down on Israel’s civilian communities and would continue to be an incubator for terror attacks. That is intolerable. Israel should take back Gaza and allow the Palestinians to relocate to the new Palestinian state, or if they stay, become loyal citizens of Israel (yes I recognize the issue, but Israel already has Arab citizens). This would not be the same as ethnic cleansing, which is repugnant, because the Palestinians would not be thrown out. They would have the freedom to choose their citizenship, just as they chose to leave in the first place. Meanwhile, Jewish settlers would also have to be uprooted from the territory that abuts Jordan.
This is not to be confused with another sticking point, which oddly is rarely mentioned in terms of why the Israel-Palestine conflict has been intractable: the right of return. There should not be any right of return. In the first place, the Arabs who left, left because they thought they would be able to join the conquering army and throw out the Jews. In other instances, the land was purchased.
So, looking at the map that Rosenblum presented, carve out from that a Palestinian State. Let the Palestinians make their desert bloom as the Israelis did with sweat, innovation and invention.
I heard all of this, and then went to the UN General Assembly and heard Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu basically say what Rosenblum said: “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the larger Arab-Israel conflict – was the cornerstone, the touchstone about how to think about the Mideast, …the Israel-Palestinian conflict was the driver – if you don’t solve that problem, you don’t solve anything. Today, one has to think of Israel-Palestine in context of Mideast imploding with contagion.” And terrorism that has spilled over from the Mideast.
Netanyahu, put it another way:”We’re in the midst of a great revolution. A revolution in Israel’s standing among the nations. This is happening because so many countries around the world have finally woken up to what Israel can do for them.” This is because, he said, “Israel is THE innovation nation. THE place for cutting-edge technology and agriculture, in water, in cybersecurity, in medicine, in autonomous vehicles” and counterterrorism. Israel hasprovided intelligence that has prevented dozens of major terrorist attacks around the world. We have saved countless lives. Now, you may not know this, but your governments do, and they’re working closely together with Israel to keep your countries safe and your citizens safe.”
Indeed, Netanyahu had very little to say about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, except almost matter-of-factly, “Israel is committed to achieving peace with all our Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians.” Instead, he devoted a considerable portion of his remarks attacking Iran and a call to “fix or nix” the Iran nuclear agreement and rein in Iran’s terror activities.
But while Netanyahu seemed to breeze through the Israel-Palestinian conflict (the topic of a Security Council meeting on Sept. 25), Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in his General Assembly address, went on a tirade about how dare the UN not enforce the 1967 borders, including making Jerusalem the Palestinian capital, how dare the good people of the world not boycott the settlements, how dare Britain not apologize for the Balfour Declaration, and not make reparations to the poor, poor Palestinians, and how could the UN not demand the right of return (with recompense) to Palestinian refugees.
Mind you, Netanyahu had only hours before called the United Nations “the epicenter of global anti-Semitism.”
There is a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict: a two-state solution around practical borders that Israel gets to set. But there does not seem to be the ability to embrace it, as even Rosenblum, who has been working on the issue for 42 years, seemed to conclude:
“They will not by themselves have the will or capacity to pull themselves out of the mud and blood they are soaking in. Leaders on all sides -Netanyahu, Abbas, Trump – represent not the Three Musketeers but the Three Stooges. They will take us no where toward a historic breakthrough.
“The Israeli street and Arab street are stuck as to whether enemy or frenemy for eternity. Every morning, Mideast changes- yesterday frenemy is today ally, yesterday enemy is frenemy today.
“We have to find way of addition through subtraction,” said Rosenblum. “The real hope for a breakthrough toward Israel-Palestinian peace is coming from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Gulf States except Qatar. They treat Israel as an ally, a bulwark against Iran – that’s what the Trump generals are most interested in working on.”
In his speech to the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 20, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the state of Palestine, railed against Israel, the United Nations, Great Britain and every nation that has commerce with Israel, and demonstrated why the Israel-Palestine issue is intractable. His notion of a two-state solution is for Israel, which beat back an invasion in 1967 intended to annihilate the Jewish state, to return to 1967 borders which means splitting Jerusalem which he wants as his capital and leaving Israel with undefendible borders, and allow the right of return for Palestinians who long ago left – which would demographically overrun Israel. These are the same sticking points that have prevented the solution for decades since Israel has agreed to swap land for peace – as when they completely exited the Gaza Strip, only to have thousands of rockets rained down on Israeli communities.
Abbas gave a hard-line speech, stating that 24 years had passed since the signing of the Oslo Accords, an interim agreement that set a five-year period for ending the Israeli occupation. Today, he asked what was left of that hope. Israel continued to pursue its settlements, breaching all international conventions and resolutions on the question of Palestine. The United Nations bore a legal, moral and humanitarian obligation to end the occupation and enable Palestinians to live in freedom in their independent State, with East Jerusalem as its capital along the 4 June 1967 borders. Doing so would deprive terrorist groups of a rallying cry that they exploited to promote their repugnant ideas.
He pressed Great Britain “to rectify the grave injustice inflicted on Palestinian people when issued Balfour Declaration, promising Jews a national homeland in Palestine – despite the fact that it was inhabited … … 97% of population were Palestinians…The British have not taken any steps to correct this historical injustice against our people – should apologize and provide us with compensation and recognize the state of Palestine. Even worse, in November they want to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of this crime against our people – the silence from the international community as to the aggression of the Israel government has emboldened Israel – I remind you that Israel violated international resolutions since its establishment….”
“The two-State solution is today in jeopardy,” he said. Palestine had called on the International Criminal Court to open an investigation and prosecute Israeli officials involved in settlement activities, and would continue to pursue its accession to international conventions, protocols and organizations. Palestine had upheld its responsibilities towards its people in the Gaza Strip, repeatedly affirming that “Gaza will not be the Palestinian State” and that “there can be no Palestinian State without Gaza”. He expressed gratitude for the agreement reached in Cairo aimed at nullifying measures taken by Hamas following division of the area and formation of a government.
To save the two-State solution, he urged the United Nations to help end the Israeli occupation within a set timeframe and implement the Arab Peace Initiative. It should work to end all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem; ensure international protection of the land and people of the State of Palestine in line with resolutions 605 (1987), 672 (1990), 673 (1990) and 904 (1994); and demand that Israel commit to the 1967 borders as the basis for the two-State solution. He similarly urged Member States that recognized Israel to proclaim that their recognition was based on the 1967 borders, and thus align themselves with international resolutions.
States should also end their involvement and support to the illegal Israeli colonial regime in the occupied State of Palestine, he said, pressing those that had not yet recognized the State of Palestine to do so, in fulfillment of the principle of equality. For its part, the Security Council should approve the State of Palestine’s application for full United Nations membership, while the broader international community should continue providing economic and financial support to Palestinians to achieve self-reliance, as well as support the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Abbas Meets with Trump
Later, before a bilateral meeting with United States President Donald Trump, Abbas said this meeting “attests to your seriousness” to “achieve the deal of the century,” during this year or in the coming months. And we are very certain that “you Mr President are determined” to bring peace in the Middle East. And “this gives us the assurance and the confidence that we are on the verge of real peace” between the Palestinian and the Israelis, he said.
“We have met with our brave and active delegation” more than 20 times after January 20, Abbas said. “This is an indication of how serious you are” about peace in the Middle East.
“You will find utmost seriousness on our part to achieve peace,” President Abbas said because it is in the interest of Israel and Palestine.
“We can coexist peacefully together,” the President said. “Once again Mr. President, we count on you.”
Trump said he has been hearing about peace in the Middle East since the time he was a little boy. And for so many years “I have been hearing about” peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We are fighting very hard, we are trying very hard” to achieve this peace. “If we do it, it would be a great great legacy for everybody,” Trump said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his address to the General Assembly Sept. 19, 2017, pointed to “a revolution in Israel’s standing among the nations,” heaped effusive praise on US President Donald Trump, but chided the United Nations as the “epicenter for anti-Semitism” in its resolutions. But he used a good portion of his address to follow Trump’s condemnation of the Iran nuclear agreement (which Trump has hinted he would de-certify). Netanyahu called to “fix or nix” the Iran nuclear agreement, heaping harsh attacks on Iran as a purveyor of terror in the region. Later, Iranian President Rouhani and Palestinian President Abbas hurled attacks back at Israel, a reminder of why the conflicts are so intractable. Here is a highlighted transcript of Netanyahu’s speech- Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features
Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, we’re in the midst of a great revolution. A revolution in Israel’s standing among the nations. This is happening because so many countries around the world have finally woken up to what Israel can do for them. Those countries now recognize what brilliant investors, like Warren Buffet, and great companies, like Google and Intel, what they’ve recognized and known for years: that Israel is THE innovation nation.THE place for cutting-edge technology and agriculture, in water, in cybersecurity, in medicine, in autonomous vehicles. You name it, we’ve got it.
Those countries now also recognize Israel’s exceptional capabilities in fighting terrorism. In recent years, Israel has provided intelligence that has prevented dozens of major terrorist attacks around the world. We have saved countless lives. Now, you may not know this, but your governments do, and they’re working closely together with Israel to keep your countries safe and your citizens safe. I stood here last year on this podium, and I spoke about this profound change in Israel’s standing around the world. And just look at what has happened since, in one year.
Hundreds of presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other leaders have visited Israel, many for the first time. Of these many visits, two were truly historic. In May, President Trump became the first American president to include Israel in his first visit abroad. President Trump stood at the Western Wall, at the foot of the Temple Mount, where the Jewish people – or rather the Jewish people’s temples stood for nearly 1,000 years, and when the president touched those ancient stones, he touched our hearts forever.
In July, Prime Minister Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. You may have seen ten pictures. We were on a beach in Hadera, we rode together in a Jeep outfitted with a portable desalination device that some thriving Israeli entrepreneur invented. We took off our shoes, waded into the Mediterranean, and drank seawater that had been purified only a few minutes earlier. We imagined the endless possibilities for India, for Israel, for all of humanity.
In the past year, Israel has hosted so many world leaders, and I had the honor of representing my country on six different continents. One year, six continents. I went to Africa, where I saw Israeli innovators increasing crop yields, turning air into water, fighting AIDS. I went to Asia, where we deepened our relations with China and with Singapore and expanded our cooperation with our Muslim friends in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. I went to Europe, where in London and Paris, Saloniki and Budapest, we enhanced our security and economic ties. I went to Australia, becoming the first Israeli prime minister to visit our great allies down under, and just last week, I went to South America, visiting Argentina and Colombia, and then I went on to Mexico, becoming, if you can believe it, the first Israeli prime minister ever to visit Latin America.
After 70 years, the world is embracing Israel, and Israel is embracing the world.
One year, six continents. Now, it’s true: I haven’t yet visited Antarctica, but one day, I hope to go there. I want to go there, too, because I heard that penguins are also enthusiastic supporters of Israel. Now, you laugh, but penguins have no difficulty recognizing that some things are black and white, are right and wrong, and unfortunately, when it comes to UN decisions about Israel, that simple recognition is too often absent.
It was absent last December when the Security Council passed an anti-Israel resolution that set back the cause of peace. It was absent last May when the World Health Organization adopted – you have to listen to this – the World Health Organization adopted a Syrian-sponsored resolution that criticized Israel for health conditions on the Golan Heights. As the great John McEnroe would say, you cannot be serious. I mean, this is preposterous. Syria has barrel-bombed, starved, gassed and murdered hundreds of thousands of its own citizens and wounded millions more, while Israel has provided life-saving medical care to thousands of Syrian victims of that very same carnage. Yet who does the World Health Organization? Israel.
So is there no limit to the UN’s absurdities when it comes to Israel? Well, apparently not. Because in July, UNESCO declared the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron a Palestinian World Heritage Site. That’s worse than fake news; that’s fake history. Mind you, it’s true that Abraham, the father of both Ishmael and Isaac, is buried there, but so, too, are Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca – Sarah’s a Jewish name, by the way – Sarah, Rebecca and Leah, who just happened to be patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people. Well, you won’t read about that in the latest UNESCO report, but if you want to, you can read about it in a somewhat weightier publication. It’s called “the Bible.” I highly recommend it. I hear it even got four and a half out of five stars on Amazon. And it’s a great read. I read it every week.
Ladies and gentlemen, a moment to be serious. Despite the absurdities, despite the repetition of these farcical events, there is change, slowly but surely. There are signs of positive change, even at the United Nations.
Mr. Secretary-General, I very much appreciate your statement that denying Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitism, pure and simple. Now that’s important because for too long, the epicenter of global anti-Semitism has been right here at the UN, and while it may take many years, I’m absolutely confident that the revolution in Israel’s ties with individual nations will ultimately be reflected here in this hall of nations.
I say that because there’s also a marked change in the positions of some of our key friends. Thanks to President Trump’s unequivocal support for Israel in this body, that positive change is gathering force.So thank you, President Trump. Thank you for supporting Israel at the UN, and thank you for your support, Ambassador Nikki Haley. Thank you for speaking the truth about Israel.
But ladies and gentlemen, here at the UN, we must also speak the truth about Iran, as President Trump did so powerfully this morning. Now, as you know, I’ve been ambassador to the UN, and I’m a long-serving Israeli prime minister, so I’ve listened to countless speeches in this hall, but I can say this: None were bolder, none were more courageous and forthright than the one delivered by President Trump today. President Trump rightlycalled the nuclear deal with Iran – he called it “an embarrassment.” Well, I couldn’t agree with him more. And here’s why: Iran vows to destroy my country. Every day, including by its chief of staff the other day.
Iran is conducting a campaign of conquest across the Middle East, and Iran is developing ballistic missiles to threaten the entire world.
Two years ago, I stood here and explained why the Iranian nuclear deal not only doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb, but actually paves it. Because the restrictions placed on Iran’s nuclear program have what’s called “a sunset clause.” Now let me explain what that term means. It means that in a few years, those restrictions will be automatically removed, not by a change in Iran’s behavior, not by a lessening of its terror or its aggression: they’ll just be removed by a mere change in the calendar. And I warned that when that sunset comes, a dark shadow will be cast over the entire Middle East and the world because Iran will then be free to enrich uranium on an industrial scale, placing it on the threshold of a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons. That’s why I said two years ago that the greater danger is not that Iran will rush to a single bomb by breaking the deal, but that Iran will be able to build many bombs by keeping the deal.
Now, in the last few months, we’ve all seen how dangerous even a few nuclear weapons can be in the hands of a small rogue regime. Now imagine the danger of hundreds of nuclear weapons in the hands of a vast Iranian-Islamist empire with the missiles to deliver them anywhere on earth. I know there are those who still defend the dangerous deal with Iran, arguing that it will block Iran’s path to the bomb. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s exactly what they said about the nuclear deal with North Korea, and we all know how that turned out.
Unfortunately, if nothing changes, this deal will turn out exactly the same way. That’s why Israel’s policy regarding the nuclear deal with Iran is very simple: Change it or cancel it. Fix it or nix it. Nixing the deal means restoring massive pressure on Iran, including crippling sanctions until Iran fully dismantles its nuclear weapons capability. Fixing the deal requires many things, among them inspecting military and any other site that is a suspect, and penalizing Iran for every violation. But above all, fixing the deal means getting rid of the sunset clause. And beyond fixing this bad deal, we must also stop Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and roll back its growing aggression in the region.
I remember when we had these debates. As you know, I took a fairly active role in them – and many supporters of the deal naively believed that it would somehow moderate Iran. It would make it a responsible member, so they said, of the international community. Well, you know, I strongly disagreed. I warned that when the sanctions on Iran would be removed, Iran would behave like a hungry tiger unleashed, not joining the community of nations, but devouring nations one after the other. And that’s precisely what Iran is doing today.
From the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, from Tehran to Tartus, an Iranian curtain is descending across the Middle East. Iran spreads this curtain of tyranny and terror over Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere, and it pledges to extinguish the light of Israel. Today, I have a simple message to Ayatollah Khamenei, the dictator of Iran: The light of Israel will never be extinguished.
נצח ישראל לא ישקר.
Those who threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril. Israel will defend itself with the full force of our arms and the full power of our convictions. We will act to prevent Iran from establishing permanent military bases in Syria for its air, sea and ground forces. We will act to prevent Iran from producing deadly weapons in Syria or in Lebanon for use against us. And we will act to prevent Iran from opening new terror fronts against Israel along our northern border. As long as Iran’s regime seeks the destruction of Israel, Iran will face no fiercer enemy than Israel.
But I also have a message today for the people of Iran: You are not our enemy. You are our friends. (Farsi: Shoma duste ma hesteed.) One day, my Iranian friends, you will be free from the evil regime that terrorizes you, hangs gays, jails journalists, tortures political prisoners and shoots innocent women like Neda Soltan, leaving her choking on her own blood on the streets of Tehran. I have not forgotten Neda. I’m sure you haven’t, too. And so, the people of Iran, when your day of liberation finally comes, the friendship between our two ancient peoples will surely flourish once again.
Ladies and gentlemen, Israel knows that in confronting the Iranian regime, we are not alone. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those in the Arab world who share our hopes for a brighter future. We’ve made peace with Jordan and Egypt, whose courageous president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi I met here last night. I appreciate President al-Sissi’s support for peace, and I hope to work closely with him and other leaders in the region to advance peace.
Israel is committed to achieving peace with all our Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians. Yesterday, President Trump and I discussed this, all of this, at great length. I appreciate President Trump’s leadership, his commitment to stand by Israel’s side, his commitment to advance a peaceful future for all. Together, we can seize the opportunities for peace, and together we can confront the great dangers of Iran.
The remarkable alliance between the United States and Israel has never been stronger, never been deeper. And Israel is deeply grateful for the support of the Trump administration, the American Congress and the American people.
Ladies and gentlemen, in this year of historic visits and historic anniversaries, Israel has so much to be grateful for. One hundred and twenty years ago, Theodore Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress to transform our tragic past into a brilliant future by establishing the Jewish state. One hundred years ago, the Balfour Declaration advanced Herzl’s vision by recognizing the right of the Jewish people to a national home in our ancestral homeland. Seventy years ago, the United Nations further advanced that vision by adopting a resolution supporting the establishment of a Jewish state. And 50 years ago, we reunited our eternal capital, Jerusalem, achieving a miraculous victory against those who sought to destroy our state.
Theodore Herzl was our modern Moses, and his dream has come true. We’ve returned to the Promised Land, revived our language, ingathered our exiles, and build a modern, thriving democracy. Tomorrow evening, Jews around the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of our new year. It’s a time of reflection, and we look back with wonder at the remarkable, the miraculous rebirth of our nation, and we look ahead with pride to the remarkable contributions Israel will continue to make to all nations.
You look around you, and you will see these contributions every day. In the food you eat, the water you drink, the medicines you take, the cars you drive, the cell phones you use, and in so many other ways that are transforming our world. You see it in the smile of an African mother in a remote village who, thanks to an Israeli innovation, no longer must walk eight hours a day to bring water to her children. You see it in the eyes of an Arab child who was flown to Israel to undergo a life-saving heart operation. And you see it in the faces of the people in earthquake-stricken Haiti and Nepal who were rescued from the rubble and given new life by Israeli doctors. As the prophet Isaiah said, (says in Hebrew first) “I’ve made you alight onto the nations, bringing salvation to the ends of the earth.”
Today, 27 hundred years after Isaiah spoke those prophetic words, Israel is becoming a rising power among the nations, and at long last, its light is shining across the continents, bringing hope and salvation to the ends of the earth.
Happy new year. Shanah tovah from Israel. Thank you.
Iran Exerts Right of Reply
The representative of Iran, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said the representative of the Israeli regime had made unfounded allegations against his country. The nature of that regime was founded on aggression, occupation, suppression, violence and terror, he said, adding that in the information age, “weapons of mass deception” were becoming more useless day by day. That representative could have explained why his regime had invaded all its neighbours, and even countries outside its region, waging 15 wars in its short lifetime. Why did that regime continue to disrespect resolutions adopted by the Assembly, the Security Council and other United Nations bodies, he asked, and why was it a State sponsor of terrorism, including support for ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) with arms and other military assistance. It was the world’s last apartheid regime and the warden of its biggest prison, arresting and jailing Palestinians and imposing an inhumane blockade on the Gaza Strip. He went on to ask why that regime, the only nuclear weapons possessor in the Middle East, lectured the world on non-proliferation and Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. The representative of the Israeli regime had hypocritically tried to abuse the Assembly by accusing others and stirring anxiety about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, he said. It was a regime that favored conflict and war over diplomacy, he added.
People around the world are holding their collective breath as to what Donald Trump will do when he comes to the United Nations for the 72nd General Assembly. Will he be like a bull in a china shop, or will he stick to the speech written for him on the teleprompter? At a press briefing at the White House September 15, the National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley outlined what is supposed to happen, and the policies and positions Trump will proclaim. Here is a highlighted transcript – Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features
GENERAL MCMASTER: Good afternoon, everyone. I also want to begin by acknowledging the horrific attacks in Europe [London, England where an improvised explosive was set off in the underground during rush hour and in Burgundy, France where a counterterrorism soldier was attacked]. The United States, of course, stands in solidarity with the people of the United Kingdom and France. We will continue to work tirelessly with our partners to prevent attacks. And, of course, the United States remains committed to defeating terrorist organizations, as well as their evil ideology.
The President has been unambiguous here, energizing our defeat-ISIS campaign, and calling on Muslim-majority nations to combat extremism and to end financing of terrorist organizations. We will defend our people and our values against these cowardly attacks, and we will always stand with countries around the world to do the same.
Now, I want to turn to President Trump’s trip next week to attend the 72nd United Nations General Assembly. The President’s consistent message across all of his engagements throughout the week will emphasize three goals common to all nations who will be gathered there: First, to promote peace. Second, to promote prosperity. And third, to uphold sovereignty and accountability.
A peaceful world depends on the contributions of all nations. We must share responsibility for international security, while each country protects the security of its own people.
Prosperity is also a shared responsibility. The President looks forward to furthering economic cooperation, investment opportunities, and new business ties with other governments and businesses across the world. As always, this administration’s ironclad commitment to free, fair, and reciprocal trade and access to markets will be the bedrock of our economic talks.
Sovereignty and accountability are the essential foundations of peace and prosperity. America respects the sovereignty of other countries, expects other nations to do the same, and urges all governments to be accountable to their citizens. That accountability is broken down in places such as Venezuela and Syria. And we also see, today, revisionist powers who are threatening the sovereignty in the greater Middle East, Eastern and Southern Europe, and in East Asia.
Now, let me quickly run through the President’s schedule. On Monday, the President will join senior U.N. leadership and the leaders of more than 120 other nations to discuss reforming the institution. The President will express support for Secretary General Guterres’s reform efforts. The United Nations, of course, holds tremendous potential to realize its founding ideals, but only if it’s run more efficiently and effectively.
That day, the President will also meet with the leaders of France and Israel, two of America’s closest allies. While their conversations will be wide-ranging, we expect that Iran’s destabilizing behavior, including its violation of the sovereignty of nations across the Middle East, to be a major focus.
Monday evening, the President will host a working dinner with Latin American leaders. He’s looking forward to discussing the crisis in Venezuela, as well as our increasingly strong economic ties, shared goals for elevating the prosperity of our peoples, and the extraordinary success of likeminded Latin American nations in recent decades.
The President’s Tuesday morning speech to the General Assembly will emphasize the need for states to promote peace and prosperity, while upholding sovereignty and accountability as indispensable foundations of international order.He will urge all states to come together to address grave dangers that threaten us all. If nations meet these challenges, immense opportunity lies before us.
Later that day, the President will have lunch with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, meet with this year’s General Assembly President, Mr. Miroslav Lajčák of Slovakia, and meet with the Emir of Qatar. In the evening, he will host a traditional diplomatic reception.
On Wednesday, the President will meet with the leaders of Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, the United Kingdom, and Egypt. He will host a working luncheon with African leaders to discuss how the United States can help African nations develop their economies, address urgent challenges, and strengthen security relationships and economic relationships between our nations.
Finally, on Thursday, the President will meet with the leaders of Turkey, Afghanistan, and Ukraine. The latter two countries in particular have suffered direct and persistent attacks on their sovereignty in recent years.
He will also host a lunch with the leaders of South Korea and Japan. As Kim Jong-un’s most recent missile launch demonstrates, North Korea remains one of the world’s most urgent and dangerous security problems. It is vital that all nations work together to do our utmost to solve that problem.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Ambassador Haley.
AMBASSADOR HALEY: Thank you very much. And I will tell you that next week is not going to be short on topics. I think, first of all, we can all say it is a new day at the U.N. The U.N. has shifted over the past several months. It’s not just about talking, it’s about action.
The members are starting to get used to act, whether it’s Security Council resolutions, whether it’s with U.N. reform, whether it’s with peacekeeping. We’re starting to see a lot of changes at the U.N. They are all anxious to see what the U.S. delegation looks like next week, and I think they will be heavily impressed with the fact that we have the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, and many members of the National Security Council coming to really show the U.S. strength that we have in the world.
And I think — obviously this will be the first time that the President has addressed the General Assembly. They are all very anxious to hear what he has to say. And I think that he will make quite an impact in terms of all of the issues that we’re dealing with.
We have three events that will be extremely important. First, the President will highlight the U.N. reform event. It is very, very important. We’ve got a massive reform package being led by the Secretary General that really streamlines not just the processes, but also the budget as it goes forward, and makes the U.N. much more effective. We basically have the President headlining a U.N. reform effort, which would really support the Secretary General. But the impressive part is, we asked other countries to sign on to their support of reform, and 120 countries have signed on and will be in attendance. That’s a miraculous number.
The Vice President will be doing two very important briefings. He’s going to do one on Human Rights Council. Now more than ever, human rights matters. We say all the time that if the government doesn’t take care of its people, bad things will happen. And I think we’re seeing that in multiple places, and that’s all the reason why the Human Rights Council really needs to be effective. We have offered reform. I think the Vice President will go in and not only support the reform, but talk about why it’s needed and the areas that are really needing to be addressed when it comes to human rights.
The second one he’s going to do is on peacekeeping. And in the last several months, we have taken every peacekeeping mandate and changed it. Basically, we have saved half a billion dollars in peacekeeping. But before anyone thinks that’s a travesty, basically the way they handled peacekeeping in the past was, if there was a challenged area they would throw more troops at it. But they didn’t see if the troops were trained or give them the equipment to do their job. Now we’re going towards the political solution, making sure the troops are trained and armed, making sure that we’re more effective. So it’s smarter and it cut half a billion, and in some cases we’re having to increase, and in some cases we’re having to decrease.
So having the Vice President talk about the importance of the peacekeeping being effective is going to be very important.
And then, as I said, there are no shortage of issues, with North Korea being front and center. Iran will be an issue. Syria will certainly be talked about. Terrorism efforts and how we counter that is a huge topic on what we’re dealing with. And obviously the humanitarian issues that we face around the world.
So, with that, I think the General Assembly is going to be quite active next week, and I think the U.S. is going to be very strong next week. And we look forward to a very good week.
GENERAL MCMASTER: Gentleman in the center.
Q Thank you, General. My question is about North Korea, which is perhaps the biggest foreign policy challenge for President Trump right now. About a month ago, the President issued a threat to North Korea; he warned of “fire and fury.” And as you know, Ambassador, at the U.N. Security Council you’ve imposed tougher sanctions on North Korea. Both of these efforts do not seem to be changing their behavior. Is it time for the U.S. to change its approach to North Korea? Is that something that you’re contemplating? And, General, if you could weigh on this well. I appreciate it.
AMBASSADOR HALEY: I think what was really important with North Korea was that we try and push through as many diplomatic options as we have. If you look at the resolutions that have passed in the last month, the two of them, they cut 30 percent of the oil. They banned all the laborers. They banned 90 percent of the exports. They banned joint ventures. We’ve basically taken and, in the words of North Korea, we have strangled their economic situation at this point. That’s going to take a little bit of time, but it has already started to take effect.
What we are seeing is they continue to be provocative, they continue to be reckless. And at that point, there’s not a whole lot the Security Council is going to be able to do from here when you’ve cut 90 percent of the trade and 30 percent of the oil.
So, having said that, I have no problem kicking it to General Mattis, because I think he has plenty of options.
Q General, can you weigh on that too?
GENERAL MCMASTER: I’d just emphasize the point that Ambassador Haley made. These sanctions are just now taking effect. What’s really important is rigorous enforcement of those sanctions so that we can really let the economic actions and diplomacy progress as best we can. But I think we ought to make clear what’s different about this approach is, is that we’re out of time, right? As Ambassador Haley said before, we’ve been kicking the can down the road, and we’re out of road.
And so for those who have said and have been commenting about the lack of a military option, there is a military option. Now, it’s not what we would prefer to do, so what we have to do is call on all nations, call on everyone to do everything we can to address this global problem short of war.
So that is implementing now these significant sanctions that have just now gone into place, and it is convincing everyone to do everything that they can and that it’s in their interest to do it.
What’s different, I think, about this approach to North Korea is worth noting. First of all, there is consensus among all key nations that denuclearization of the Peninsula is the only acceptable objective.
The second thing is, this is not an issue between the United States and North Korea. This is an issue between the world and North Korea.
And the third recognition is, there is a lot that we can about it together. And so we need time, obviously, for any strategy to work. It is a sound approach to a very difficult problem, and we’ll see if it succeeds.
Q Ambassador Haley, a conference call preceded your briefing here. Jonathan Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that next week’s UNGA will be as much the world taking measure of the United States as it is the U.S. speaking to the world. He went on to say that the UNGA, because of its very quick meetings, is sort of like speed dating from hell, and that it’s a very sophisticated dance that neither Secretary of State Tillerson or the President have a particularly strong point on. What would you say to people who are wondering how the U.S. will do at next week’s UNGA?
AMBASSADOR HALEY: I think there’s a lot of interest in how the U.S. is going to do, and they’re going to find out we are going to be solid, we’re going to be strong.
If you look at all of the meetings that the national security team has, these are important meetings. These aren’t just wasting time. This is going to talk about terrorism; this is going to talk about the issues in North Korea; this is going to talk about the issue in Burma and what we’re dealing with there; Venezuela — all of these issues. No one is going to grip and grin. The United States is going to work.
And I think with all of the challenges around the world, I think the international community is going to see that. This is a time to be serious, and it’s a time for us to talk out these challenges and make sure there’s action that follows it.
Q One of the big questions from some of the people outside of this room and other countries is, in addition to what we do militarily is the humanitarian effort. And we’ve been criticized for not being involved in the humanitarian effort too much, especially by the third world. So when you go to New York, in addition to addressing the security measures, how are you going to address the criticism about the U.S. not leading humanitarian efforts?
AMBASSADOR HALEY: We actually have led humanitarian efforts and continue to. Human rights, in general, is very important. That’s something we’ve been loud on, which is the fact that you have to protect human rights.
But the humanitarian side of what we’re seeing in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo; what we’re seeing with the Syrian refugees that are in Turkey and Jordan; the fact that we are trying to deal with Burma and find out ways that we can get humanitarian access in there. Yemen is something that the United States has been working very closely with the Saudis on and the U.N. to try and make sure we get humanitarian access.
So we have been as active and vocal and leading the charge on humanitarian access in all of these areas, and we are making a difference. I think just in Syria, we’ve had over $3 billion that we’ve given, in terms of helping that situation. Venezuela, you saw what we did with the sanctions, but we’re making sure they get that. Right now in Burma, we are taking that very seriously, and that’s of utmost importance that we get front and center on that one.
Q I have a question first to General McMaster before I get to one on North Korea for you. General, you mentioned the, obviously, terror incident overseas in London. The President tweeted this morning that it was “sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard.” You may have seen Prime Minister may say it was “not helpful for people to speculate.” Did the President share information that he wasn’t supposed to? And if not, why was he speculating?
GENERAL MCMASTER: I think what the President was communicating is that, obviously, all of our law enforcement efforts are focused on this terrorist threat for years. Scotland Yard has been a leader, as our FBI has been a leader.
So I think if there was a terrorist attack here, God forbid, that we would say that they were in the sights of the FBI. So I think he didn’t mean anything beyond that.
Q I’m sorry, I’m not clear. Meaning he was saying generally terrorists are a focus for Scotland Yard, or was he saying in this specific incident, Scotland Yard knew potentially this was coming?
GENERAL MCMASTER: I think he means generally that this kind of activity is what we’re trying to prevent. And so these organizations that are responsible for it, whatever comes out of this investigation, that remains to be seen. It is likely that law enforcement had been working on that problem set.
Q And did that come up in the call with Prime Minister May?
GENERAL MCMASTER: I was not on that call this morning.
Q Ambassador, to you, on North Korea. Obviously there’s more U.N. Security Council action that could be taken. Are you at all hopeful that there is any chance for a full oil embargo as this administration had wanted? Or at what point — President Trump himself said this was a small step, the last U.N. Security Council vote. I think disagreeing with you, but Secretary Tillerson agreed with him that it seemed to have been a small step. So at what point does this administration take a bigger step and, for example, put tougher sanctions on China in order to put pressure on North Korea?
AMBASSADOR HALEY: Well I think, first of all, let’s talk about what a big sanctions resolution this was. The first one was a billion dollars. The second one was $1.3 billion, not counting the 30 percent decrease in oil. We did a 55 — and just imagine if this happened to the United States — a 55 percent reduction in diesel and oil. Overall ban of natural gas, overall ban of any substitutes; overall ban of textiles; stopping the labor program, which we call as modern-day slavery; stopping all joint ventures so foreign investment goes in there.
We have cut off now 90 percent of trade going into North Korea, and they are saying that this was strangling. So whether some believe it’s big or small, I think what the President is saying is this is just the beginning of what we can do.
So it’s going to be — by the time we get going on this, if we have to go further, this is going to look small compared to what we do.
But no, it was a massive sanctions bill, and I think the fact that we had a 15-0 record and you have China onboard and Russia onboard, I think that’s very important. We’ve cut 30 percent of the oil. Is there more you can do? There’s always more you can do, but then you get into the humanitarian aspect of it, which is at what point are you going and actually hurting down to the people of North Korea. But we will always explore all options that we have.
Yes, in the red.
Q Thank you, Ambassador. You said that Syria is going to be on the agenda. As you know, today Turkey, Russia, and Iran agreed to deploy 1,500 monitors in the Idlib province. Does that leave the U.S. behind? And what exactly the focus will be when you talk about Syria at the U.N. next week?
And, General, if I can, you said that the meeting between the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu will talk about Iran. How much of the peace process with the Palestinians will take place in that meeting? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR HALEY: I think the efforts in Syria have been remarkable — both Syria and Iraq. To see how we have really bulldozed through ISIS in the way that we have shows how strong the U.S. had been in partnership with them, but I think we’re also looking at post-ISIS — what does that look like? And I can tell you, Iran is not going to be in charge, and Iran is not going to have any sort of leadership in that situation to where they could do more harm.
But Syria is always going to be a topic. I think we continue to be strong in making sure there’s no chemical weapons and making sure that we’re looking at the humanitariansituation. But the U.S. is a very strong partner in the resolution for Syria and will continue to be until we know that everything is stable.
Q (Inaudible) that does not include the U.S.?
AMBASSADOR HALEY: Well, I think we’re not going to be satisfied until we see a solid and stable Syria, and that is not with Assad in place. But what we are going to do is continue to be very effective and be a part of that process so that we get to a resolution.
GENERAL MCMASTER: Yeah, I’ll just say that, of course the President will talk about the prospects for lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, among a broad range of regional issues, with really all of the leaders he’s meeting during the week.
Q Ambassador, two quick questions. The first one is, the fact that president Putin and President Xi Jinping won’t be there, will it have an impact on the what the outcome of whatever you’ll discuss on Syria and North Korea?
And, General, you’ve been insisting a lot on the respect of sovereignty. Wouldn’t an investment in a peacekeeping mission be part of getting involved and having a stronger impact on this?
AMBASSADOR HALEY: I do think that it’s still going to be strong and have an impact because you’ve got two very strong foreign ministers from Russia and China that are going to be there. And the idea that we’re going to be talking about Syria and North Korea, and Iran, and all of those other things, I think it will be serious discussions.
And I think the fact that President Xi and President Putin couldn’t be there is not going to change the effect of the talks that we have next week.
Q Are you disappointed that they’re not going to show up?
AMBASSADOR HALEY: That’s their choice to not show up.
GENERAL MCMASTER: I would just add on to say the U.N. General Assembly is not a substitute for bilateral relationships with any nations. And as you know, the President has been working very closely, especially with President Xi, on this common problem and this world problem of North Korea.
So those discussions will continue, and it will continue in the context of multilateral engagements but also in context of our bilateral relationship with China.
AMBASSADOR HALEY: Back in the back.
Q Thank you, Madam Ambassador, General. A question regarding etiquette. In the past, Presidents have copiously avoided certain world leaders. A decade ago, President Bush avoiding President Ahmadinejad when he was at the opening of the U.N. Will the President speak to President Maduro at all when he is there?
GENERAL MCMASTER: Yeah, I think it’s unlikely that he’ll speak with President Maduro. As you know, the United States designated President Maduro after he victimized his own people, denied them their rights under his own constitution. And I think as the President has made clear, he’s willing to talk at some point in the future, but it would have to be after rights are restored to the Venezuelan people.
Q Thank you, Madam Ambassador. Two questions. One, what is the future of India and the United Nations membership and Security Council? Because when Prime Minister Modi visited the White House he brought up this issue with President Trump.
AMBASSADOR HALEY: Well, I think that Security Council reform is still being talked about, and I know that it’s something that India wants. Many other countries want it as well. So we’ll have to wait and see.
Q Do you have any indications right now that sanctions will work towards North Korea?
AMBASSADOR HALEY: You have to look at how much has been cut off. They’ve already started to feel it, but they’re getting ready to feel 90 percent of their exports going away; 30 percent of their oil. Imagine what that would do to the United States if it was there.
And if you look at what — I was looking at what North Korea was saying. They said it was a full-scale economic blockade, suffocating its state and its people. This is dramatic. This is something — and not only is it dramatic, but you’re looking at — Peru has dropped ties. Thailand has dropped ties. We’re seeing so many just kind of get rid of either the ambassadors or the trade that they’re doing. There is no way that North Korea doesn’t feel this.
Now, how they choose to respond, this is totally in their hands on how they respond.
One more question. I’ll let you pick who gets the last question.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Appreciate it. So I was wondering — we talked a little bit about the President, the speech that he’ll deliver on Tuesday. But I’m wondering if you could talk in any more detail now — and I’m sure we’ll get more detail later — will he be sending direct messages about Iran and North Korea in that speech? Are there any more specific themes?
And also, Ambassador Haley, I wanted to ask you: On the question of U.N. funding, I know reform is probably an important part of this question, but as a candidate, President Trump was — then-candidate Trump was somewhat skeptical about the reach and the import of the U.N., the point of it long term. As President I’m sure he’s learned more. Is the U.S. committed both to fulfilling its financial obligations? And where does it stand on terms of its voluntary funding for the U.N. going forward? Would you talk a little bit about that?
AMBASSADOR HALEY: Right. To start off with the speech that the President gives, I think you can see it for yourself. I personally think he slaps the right people, he hugs the right people, and he comes out with the U.S. being very strong in the end.
Q So it’s written, and you’ve seen it?
AMBASSADOR HALEY: I have seen it, yes. And then the second part of it is, the U.N. — when I originally spoke with the President, what I said is, we’ll see what we can make of it. And that’s the thing is, we’re creating an opportunity. We’re making the most of it. We’re moving foreign policy. We’re changing the way peacekeeping is done. We’re really bringing up human rights. And more importantly, what I appreciate is they stopped focusing on the commas and the periods, and we’re actually acting. We’re actually seeing strong things happens.
And so I think the President has always believed there’s great potential in the United Nations, but I think now the world is seeing it — that it is actually changing, and it’s actually becoming more effective.
Q Will he firmly articulate his intention to continue traditional U.S. funding at full levels?
AMBASSADOR HALEY: I think you’ll have to wait and see. Thank you very much.
Q Sarah, a follow-up on something that Ambassador Haley said. She mentioned that she would feel comfortable kicking this issue to Secretary Mattis. Should Americans be concerned about the possibility of war? And how much time are you willing to give China to implement the resolutions in the U.N. Security Council agreement?
PRESS SECRETARY SARAH SANDERS: As we’ve said many times before, we’re not going to broadcast, and I’m not going to lay out a timetable on what that would look like. We’re continuing to keep all options on the table. We’re going to push forward with a plan right now.
And again, as both General McMaster and Ambassador Haley stated, we are working on putting that pressure on North Korea to reach that ultimate goal of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. That’s what we’re focused on. We’re going to go keep pushing forward on that front. But at the same time, we’re going to keep all our options on the table as we do that.
Q What will the President say to the leaders that he meets next week who are eager for talks with North Korea? I know that the President has opposed that. How will he address that with the Europeans and others who are in favor of it?
SANDERS: I’m certainly not going to get ahead of any conversations that the President is going to have. As always, we’ll provide readouts and background of those conversations. But I think the President will be very clear that putting extreme pressure on North Korea is very important.
Ehud Barak, the former Prime Minister of Israel, argued forcefully for a two-state solution as the only way to preserve “The Zionist Project” – a nation that is both Jewish and democratic. Indeed, he asserted, a two-state solution is the only way to preserve Israel as a strong, independent nation.
While there are no options that do not bring risk, he asserted, the basis for his contention is that Israel is the strongest economy and has the strongest military in the region, would insist on drawing the border lines that protect its security. The existential threat, he argued, would be to abandon the two-state solution.
And he insisted that Israel’s Right Wing government leaders need to wrest themselves from paralysis and politics and act, even unilaterally, to setting the stage.
The former Prime Minister spoke in front of an audience of some 800 New Yorkers who filled Temple Emanuel of Great Neck, Long Island, coming from a broad swath of the region, from Forest Hills Huntington, and representing a broad spectrum of American Jewry, from left to right wing.
Barak laid out a cogent argument, based on a lifetime at the center of Israel’s defense, politics and leadership, serving as Prime Minister, Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces and most recently as Minister of Defense, and set out the context for his insistence that Israel’s existential threat is not from the formation of a Palestinian state, but the lack of one.
“The Zionist Project is by far the most successful national project of the 20th century. When [the early settlers] originally came, 120 years ago, there was literally nothing – 70% of the land was desert, 2 lakes, one alive the other dead, connected by the River Jordan that looks like a neighborhood creek – more history flowed than water.”
In the last 70 years since Israel was established asa nation, despite seven wars, two intifadas and countless terror attacks, the population grew by a factor of 12; the GDP by 70. The Israeli currency (shekel) is one of the strongest in the world. “We are a start-up nation, with more firms on NASDQ than any other. Thanks to the arrival of 1 million Russian Jews between 1990 and 2000, we have more orchestras, ballet companies, chess grand champions per capita than any in the world.”
There are a lot of internal tensions, certainly – many that mirror what is happening in other countries: rich and poor, Arabs and Jews, secular and religious, even the status of Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel which though secular, is dominated by Orthodox Jewry – “they are not treated equally in our homeland.”
And then there are the external tensions, such as the spreading BDS [The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] movement, particularly on American college campuses.
“There is great worry about what happens abroad- the position of Israel in the international community is deteriorating – BDS has spread over the world.
“There are question marks about our policies, something that disturbs the Jewish Diaspora even in this country. We are losing part of the young generation in universities especially in North America and even among young Jewish students. This all needs treatment.”
Israel’s relations in the areas “liberated or occupied is in the eye of the beholder” has been a central problem for the past 50 years since the Six Day War when Israel won territory now known as the West Bank and the Sinai (which in exchange for peace, Israel returned to Egypt years ago).
He said that the rise of ISIS and the globalized threat of terror from radical Islamic jihadists ironically creates an opportunity because it has elevated Israel’s position as an essential actor in a global conflict, while at the same time diminishing the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a regional one.
“The whole world in the last decade is facing unprecedented geopolitical earthquake, the kind of which we had not witnessed since the end of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It covers the whole world, but concentrates around the Middle East. Within the last few years, the Arab Spring turned into an Islamist Winter; nation states collapsed, borders erased, centuries-old conflicts came back to life. Israel found itself in a perfect storm – on the one hand, at the clashing point of civilizations of the West and the world of Islam, and at same time, in the eye of a storm that swirls around the Arab world.
“In this situation for Israel, can see bad news and good news: the bad news is clear – the Middle East is a tough neighborhood. The good news is that Israel, as a result of its achievements, is the strongest country 1000 miles around Jerusalem, from Benghazi in Libya to Tehran in Iran.
“And Israel is going to remain the strongest country in this area for the foreseeable future.”
It’s not just its military defenses – with the help of a supportive US administration – but its strong economy – not the biggest, but the most vibrant in the region.
Barak argues that “Israel, being the strongest player all around the area, can use this position of strength in a self-confident manner” to finally resolve the Palestinian issue.
Israel has always faced existential threats. “We always have to look around, ready to pull trigger../Every several years a new threat emerges- ISIS – old ones, Hamas, Hezbollah – all alive and kicking. Out of all these changes the more demanding is terror. It has become the great fight for the whole globe, which might take years, and must be defeated. The choice for the modern world is clear: either you defeat terror or you might find yourselves defeated by it.
“But this is not a new phenomena – it’s been with us a long time,” he said, recalling as a 22-year old, how as a member of a commando team, he had to rescue a hijacked Sabena airplane; and later, deal with the terrorists who massacred Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.
He argued that ISIS is more effective from a propaganda point of view – using the media and Internet to heighten its fearsomeness.
“They are effective in sowing fear, but a military threat? Ridiculous. They are succeeding because they never met a real fighting force- they are 50,000 fighters in 5000 Toyota pickups with WWII-era machine guns, a few old Soviet tanks,– not a real fighting force. They should be met on the ground and defeated by Muslims, not Crusaders or Israelis. That takes time, effort. We can help Iraqis, Kurdish, air support, intelligence, special forces – that will take time. But I am confident that ISIS will be defeated on the ground in the Mideast. That doesn’t mean the phenomenon will disappear, because of its capacity to incite. We don’t know how many Americans have joined and will come home. However loosely connected, they are part of flexible web of organization.
“This is a global phenomenon, a generational war. And it needs international cooperation. We join hands among the leaders of the world.”
“We are never going to find ourselves in an ideal world,” he says soberly. “The Mideast is never going to resemble Scandinavia.”
Which brings him to the next part of his argument:
“The major debate in Israel – how to relate to our Palestinian neighbors problem – is painful but simple. In a small piece of ground about the size of New Jersey, from the River Jordan (the size of a creek) to the Mediterranean live 13.5 million – 8.5 million Israelis, 5 million Palestinians. Among the 8.5 million Israelis are 1.5 million Arab Israelis – 99.9% are law-abiding citizens” but who are likely to vote with Palestinians.
If there is only one, that is Israel, it is inevitable that it will be non-Jewish or nondemocratic. That is because millions of Palestinians have their own national aspirations. There are only two possibilities – if they vote for Knesset [members] Israel overnight becomes a bi-national state and within few years a bi-national state with an Arab majority, almost surely civil war, and no future.
“The other alternative in a one-state Israel, is that the Arabs cannot vote for Knesset members. That doesn’t have a name in Hebrew but in Afrikaner, it means we would develop into an apartheid system.
“Neither is the Zionist dream. It is the consequence of a painful but simple reality: we need a compelling imperative to find a way to disengage ourselves from Palestinians and create a line in Israel that would include settlement blocks and the Israeli’ suburbs of eastern Jerusalem. That would include 80% of the settlers. Beyond this line, should be a place for a viable Palestinian state.
“I reemphasize: it’s not because of the need for justice for Palestinians, not because of the international community, it’s out of our compelling imperative to take care of our own security, future and identity.
“When the right wing in Israel tells you there is no way to bring together the vital security interest of Israel and a two-state solution – that the two are incompatible – that’s not true.
“The Right Wing in Israel [Netanyahu’s Likud government] try to create symmetry between these two arguments, but there is no symmetry. On the one hand, there is immediate existential threat to the future of the whole Zionist project.”
And here, Barak got more technical:
On other hand, there is certain risk which should not be taken lightly. We need to invest some equipment, some … changes in doctrine that a hostile, foreign force cannot enter into the West Bank and threaten.” But, he says, rockets can already come from all around the Mideast. They can be dealt with using advanced technology. Israel already possesses the most advanced missile defense systems in the world, especially for short-range and mid-range rockets.
There are risks and challenges to both, “but that shouldn’t paralyze you from seeing difference between existential threat and the technical military risk we’ve lived with. In a way, what happens in the Mideast doesn’t increase the threat to Israel, but reduces it.
“So the Right Wing is paralyzed in the mindset of pessimism, passivity, anxiety and self victimization. They see shadows on the walls. I see great opportunities, not without risk, but everything in life carries risk, and in many cases, the greatest risk of all is being unable to take one.”
“Zionism is a story about taking fate in our own hands.”
He points to “an opportunity that happens once in generation and might disappear in a year or more, of a joint common interest that has developed between us and Sunni moderate leadership – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and others. The common interest is fighting together against Islamist radical terror; the second is to join hands and putting at bay Iranian nuclear intentions; third, to join hands in huge regional infrastructure projects – energy, water, transportation; and fourth, the Palestinian issue.”
Barak made no reference to recent statements by the Palestinian Authority, the visit of Abbas to the White House, or Trump saying he could care less whether there is one state or two states, as long as the parties agree.
[President Abbas, in his meeting at the White House, May 3, declared: “our strategic option, our strategic choice is to bring about peace based on the vision of the two-state — a Palestinian state with its capital of East Jerusalem that lives in peace and stability with the state of Israel based on the borders of 1967.
“…for us to bring about a comprehensive and just peace based on the two-state solution, such matter would give a great impetus to the Arab peace initiative and the other initiatives, international initiatives — as well as it enables to fight and deter terrorism, and fight the criminal ISIS group, ISIS — that is totally innocent and has nothing to do with our noble religion. And that also, if we create peace that is just and comprehensive, that will also lead the Arab and the Islamic countries to have normal relations with Israel based, as stipulated in the previous Arab summits, the latest of which was the Arab summit in Jordan.”
While Abbas could take an outwardly more moderate stance, Hamas, which controls Gaza, has not abandoned its commitment to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth.”
Trump has not said whether or not he cares if there is a one-state or two-state solution, as long as the parties agree.]
Barak seemed to take this into account without directly referring to the statements, saying “The situation in the Arab world, the Arab street especially, does not allow them to make any sincere statement to accept or recognize Israel as a member of the family of nations of the Mideast if the Palestinian issue is not moving forward dramatically.
“No one can tell for sure whether Palestinians are ripe for painful decisions needed from both sides for a breakthrough in peace process.”
But, he added, Israel should not wait, but should initiate forward movement. “I argue that even if there is no way to achieve a breakthrough these days, it doesn’t mean we should be paralyzed, that we should be blind to our interest in starting…”
He said that “professionals” can find their way to a solution. “A group of the most senior leaders of ISF, Mossad, Israeli police, generals have formed Commandos for Israel Security (cis.org.il). They have proposed a practical plan for what should be done now to start disengagement, independently of Palestinians, with backing of Americans and others in the world community. “It contains all the elements – political, practical, and security – written by best experts of Israel.”
“They will tell you that Israel is better protected and safer if we delineate this line, if we have to struggle against terror that takes place from outside, beyond the line, and the real enemy of 80% of settlers that live in settlement of blocks, 220 suburbs of eastern Jerusalem, the real enemy are the elements of the government that keep poking the eye of the Palestinian government by continuing settlement operations.”
He concluded, “The Mideast is a tough neighborhood and will remain so, but we are the strongest player around and will remain the strongest player. Time has come to not just keep killing the mosquitoes, which we are doing effectively, but we should look for opportunities to drain the swamp,” he said to applause.
To do this, we need leadership which is not paralyzed by the complexity or uncertainty of the situation.
“We need leadership sober, open eyed, self confident of the strength of Israel and ready to act, holding in their hand an inner compass, not a weather vane. The most immediate and urgent mission is to put a wedge on that slippery slope toward one nation, one state for two peoples. The effect that extremists on both sides- our right wing and Hamas – both dream and act to haveone state is what makes one-state agenda the real existential threat to the Zionist project and Israel.
“It will take time. An optimist that can put wedge and take the state of Israel back on track and keep moving, the way Zionism has heralded.”
During question-and-answer, Barak dismissed the contention that settlements provide an important buffer for Israel’s security, but provides a basis for the government to use “propaganda that relieves them of doing the right thing.”
He also argued that the debate has become the equivalent of Climate Change vs Climate Denial and Creationism versus Evolution in this country, with propaganda, fake news and identity politics thrown in that makes it even harder to find a practical solution.
“The Right Wing is not committed to the security of Israel. Likud has been hostilely taken over by the settlers. The real strategy of government has a messianic tinge which does not serve the state of Israel…
“I don’t believe it is irreversible now, but if we continue to walk this slippery slope, it might become an irreversible situation. We have to act according to our interest – disengage from Palestinians, start, however gradually, short of perfect. Nothing is perfect, but that shouldn’t paralyze you from doing the right thing.”
Washington, D.C.—Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (NY 22) and Congressman Thomas Suozzi (NY 3 ) joined together to call on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to address official payments made by the Palestinian Authority to terrorists and their families with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to Washington D.C. on Wednesday, May 3, when he will meet with Donald Trump in the White House. The letter, signed by 36 Members of Congress, also urges the administration to ensure that the Palestinian Authority is discouraged from continuing this practice in the future.
The Palestinian Authority has a long record of providing financial compensation and employment benefits to Palestinians who have engaged in acts of terrorism. Begun in the 1990s, the practice continues today. Under current law, Palestinians convicted of an act of terrorism are given monetary compensation as well as employment upon release.
“It is extremely unsettling that the Palestinian Authority continues to provide financial support to convicted terrorists. These policies promote acts of terrorism in the region and must be immediately addressed. Additionally, it is highly concerning that payments to terrorists and their families increase with the length of the sentence, which has the potential of encouraging particularly brutal acts of terrorism,” said Congresswoman Claudia Tenney. “As the largest providers of aid to the Palestinians, the United States must lead the way in ensuring that the Palestinian Authority ends this practice and that peace is brought to the region, especially since innocent Americans have died at the hands of Palestinian terrorists.”
“The Palestinian Authority cannot incentivize terror. Terrorists and their families cannot be paid for killing innocent people. Longstanding U.S. policy is committed to a two-state solution, but this dangerous practice pushes us further away from that goal. The United States must put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to end this dangerous and unconscionable practice, which only encourages more acts of terror,” said Congressman Thomas Suozzi.
The United States provides aid to the Palestinians to assist with a wide range of needs. However, since 2015, Congress has joined together to reduce U.S. aid on a 1-to-1 ratio for every dollar that the Palestinian Authority uses for official payments to convicted terrorists. Despite the reduction, these payments to terrorists have continued. The letter urges Secretary Tillerson to use all means at his disposal to address this ongoing issue and the Palestinian Authority’s reluctance to put an end to this program.
Read the full text of the letter below.
May 2, 2017
The Honorable Rex Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520-0099
Dear Secretary Tillerson,
We write today to bring an issue of bipartisan concern to your attention. For more than three decades, the Palestinian Authority has provided monetary awards and other incentives to those who have committed acts of terrorism in the region. We fear that this financial support encourages violence and serves as a clear impediment to a truly durable peace. As such, we encourage you to address this issue when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits Washington in early May.
Since the early 1990’s, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has provided financial compensation and employment benefits to Palestinians who have committed acts of terrorism. In 2016, programs providing compensation to terrorists and their families were funded at approximately $300 million. These payments are officially sanctioned by the PA and create a perverse and troubling incentive for individual acts of terrorism. For example, under current PA law, a Palestinian who was convicted of an act of terror and given a 10-year sentence would receive $130,000 over ten years. In addition to such compensation, individuals who are incarcerated also receive a guarantee of employment following their release from prison, creating yet another incentive for terrorism.
Policies which have the potential to encourage violence in the region are simply unacceptable and given that American citizens have died in previous acts of terrorism, this is an issue of grave concern to us. For example, on November 19, 2015, 18-year old Ezra Schwartz, an American boy from Sharon, Massachusetts, was murdered by a Palestinian in an attack that left him and two others dead. The individual charged with his murder was sentenced to four life sentences, making him eligible to receive $3,000 a month. Sadly, since payments are based on the length of individual sentences, convicted terrorists receive more money for acts of terrorism that are even more brutal.
The United States is the largest provider of aid to Palestinians. This aid serves a variety of purposes, including to help meet the basic needs of the Palestinian people. Since 2015, members of Congress have come together on a bipartisan basis in an attempt to use this aid as leverage to deter the PA from providing such payments to terrorists and their families. In each year since 2015, annual appropriations have provided for a 1-to-1 reduction in U.S. aid for every dollar that the PA provides to terrorists. It is clear, however, that this troubling policy continues and that this change alone in current law has not been sufficient to deter the continuation of the PA’s program.
As a result, we strongly urge you to ensure that this issue is raised with President Mahmoud Abbas during his upcoming visit to the White House and to continue using all other means at your disposal to address the PA’s reluctance to abandon this program altogether. As members of Congress, we are committed to the long-standing policy of the United States to see a durable peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, resulting in two states; a Jewish, democratic state living in peace and security next to a peaceful Palestinian state. So long as the PA continues to compensate and thereby incentivize terrorist activity, we find it difficult to see how the necessary conditions for a lasting peace can be established.
We thank you for your consideration of this important issue and stand ready to assist you in bringing about a sustainable resolution to our concerns.
There are those who will regard the US decision to abstain from the United Nations vote condemning Israeli settlement building as a betrayal. There have been many such resolutions in the UN Security Council and the US had consistently used its veto power to cause them to fail, including every single one during Obama’s eight years in office.
But this was different. And the rage being pointed at Obama is misplaced.
In essence, if you believe in a two-state solution as the only way toward Israel-Palestinian peace which preserves Israel as both democratic and a Jewish state, you would understand why the US took this course. If you believe, as Obama and 99.9% of the international community believes, that the two-state solution is the only viable path to peace for Israel with Palestinians and its Arab neighbors, you would understand why Obama took this extraordinary step.
The way I understand the resolution, it addresses future settlements and does not impose a final status or set borders – which the US would have vetoed. That means that the hysteria (not unlike the hysteria fomented with misinformation over the Iran nuclear agreement), that Jerusalem is “occupied territory” that would be returned, that the land the Hebrew University sits on would have to be returned, is unjustified. And if the resolution went this far, the US would have vetoed it.
But first consider the context:
One may wonder why, with the atrocities being committed by the Syrian Government, Russia and Iran, the United Nations takes up action against Israel, which happens to be a country that is helping to heal Syrian victims in its hospitals, instead of hold a war crimes tribunal of Assad and Putin.
Why now? I believe there were two provocations: the US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers had just delivered a scathing attack on the United Nations for failing to intervene in Syria and stop the vicious assault on civilians, on hospitals, on schools. (I believe Assad and Putin should be charged with war crimes for the atrocities they have committed.)
Second: Donald Trump stated that he would the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a clear provocation – and named as his nominee for Ambassador to Israel , David Friedman, a man who is encouraging settlement building, who opposes the two-state solution, and who has likened liberal American Jews to “kapos” in the Nazi concentration camps.
Recall also that during his reelection campaign, Netanyahu made derogatory statements about Israeli Arabs and said (briefly, until he had to walk it back), that he was no longer interested in pursuing a two-state solution.
Netanyahu actually got on the phone with Donald Trump to get him to push the US to veto the resolution– which along with his extraordinary appearance in front of a joint session of Congress to lobby for the defeat of the Iran nuclear agreement, was an enormous snub to Obama and the US. Trump, delighted to be in the limelight, tweeted his foreign policy: “Things will change after Jan. 20th.”
Consider this context: Israel was actually making headway in tamping down the aggressive stance from its Arab neighbors. Israel , has an important role to play in the counter offensive to radical Islamic fundamentalists generally and ISIS in particular which is a threat to Israel’s Arab “neighborhood.” On a recent “60 Minutes,” Netanyahu was boasting about its biotech industry, its commercial deals with Arab countries.
Now, Netanyahu’s rage – lashing out at Obama and promising retribution against the nations that voted for the resolution – will undo the progress in tamping down hostility to Israel as the Arab world focused more on countering radical jihadism. Because for awhile, Israel was not solely seen in context of Israel-Palestinian conflict, but as a key player on the right side of a global conflict.
The White House got on the phone with journalists to give a fuller explanation beyond the headlines.
“This is consistent with longstanding bipartisan U.S. policy as it relates to settlements, as it relates to our opposition to Israeli settlements, as it relates to our opposition to, and condemnation of, incitement and violence and terrorism, and, above all, about our affirmative support for a two-state solution,” stated Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications.
“And one of our grave concerns is that the continued pace of settlement activity — which has accelerated in recent years, which has accelerated significantly since 2011, when we vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution that condemns settlements — puts at risk the two-state solution, as does any continued incitement to violence. And we’ve been very concerned that these accelerating trends are putting the very viability of a two-state solution at risk. And in that context, we therefore thought that we could not in good conscience veto a resolution that expressed concerns about the very trends that are eroding the foundation for a two-state solution.
“We exhausted every effort to pursue a two-state solution through negotiations, through direct discussions, through proximity discussions, through confidence-building measures, through a lengthy and exhaustive effort undertaken by Secretary Kerry earlier in the President’s second term. We gave every effort that we could to supporting the parties coming to the table.”
Rhodes noted, however, that this resolution – versus countless ones before which the US vetoed – is more “balanced” in that it also condemns incitement, violence and terrorism against Israel, and does not impose final status, which the US would have vetoed.
As for the propaganda that Obama is anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic, these are the facts:
“President Obama has done more for Israel and its security than any previous U.S. President. We just recently signed with Israel the single largest U.S. military assistance package in history — $38 billion over the coming decade. That comes after an administration in which we provided lifesaving assistance for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System. We’ve achieved what Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has described as unprecedented security cooperation between our military and intelligence officials. We have repeatedly stood up for Israel in international fora in a variety of different ways, whether it was opposing efforts to address final status issues through the United Nations, or supporting greater Israeli integration into international fora.
“So I believe that despite what has at times been very strident Israeli government criticism of U.S. policies that President Obama has always made Israel and its security sacrosanct in his approach to these issues. In fact, we’ve always said that our pursuit of a two-state solution is guided in part by our belief that that is the only way to preserve and strengthen Israel’s security in the long run, and to achieve the goal that we share with the Israeli people of having a state of Israel that is both Jewish and democratic in nature.
“All of that said, with this criticism it seems like the Israeli government wants the conversation to be about anything other than the settlement activity. And the fact of the matter is, as you heard Samantha say, since 2009, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank has increased by more than 100,000 to nearly 400,000…
“So this is not simply a matter of construction within the so-called blocks, within what has long been considered the likely borders of a future — within a future peace agreement. We have acknowledged publicly that there will have to be an acknowledgement of the growth since the 1967 lines were established as a part of any future peace agreement. But in fact, what we’ve seen is much more accelerated settlement construction. And now the total settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem exceeds 590,000.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu recently described his own government as ‘more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history.’ Those are his words. And we’re concerned about these trends. We were concerned after our election, when one of his leading coalition partners, Naftali Bennett, declared that ‘the era of the two-state solution is over.’
“So, for us, the question here has always been about what is the best way to pursue the security that the Israeli people deserve. And we cannot simply have a two-state solution be a slogan while the trend lines on the ground are such that a two-state solution is becoming less and less viable.
“I would add that we’ve repeatedly condemned incitement to violence by Palestinians. We’ve repeatedly condemned Palestinian terrorism. We have stood up for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket fire from Gaza, even when we were one of the only countries in the world that was taking that position. So we’ve been willing time and again to support Israel in international fora, just as we’ve supported Israel’s right to defend itself, by itself, and just as we’ve ensured through our assistance that Israel will maintain its qualitative military edge for the enduring future.
“So, again, President Obama’s track record on Israel’s security is clear. Anybody can review it. But, in fact, I’d take umbrage at language that suggests that this was our preferred course of action and that we initiated it. The fact of the matter is, we’d been warning — President Obama and Secretary Kerry publicly and privately for years — that the trend line of settlement construction and settlement activity was just increasing Israel’s international isolation. This is not a new position for us; we’ve been saying that for many, many, many years. Secretary Kerry, as Frank can attest to, has had hundreds of conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu. We’ve made precisely this point.”
Rhodes also explained why the US abstained, versus voted in favor:
“..the United Nations, we continue to believe, is a flawed venue for this issue in that it has frequently been used to single out Israel, often through completely over-the-top exercises, that — again, when it comes to final status issues, we believe that those should be negotiated between the parties.
“We would have vetoed any resolution that we thought sought to impose a solution that sought to impose a view on the final status issue…
“On the narrow question of the resolution that was put in front of us, we saw a resolution that in large part was consistent with U.S. policy…
“We also abstained because while there was balance, as I discussed, in that the resolution addressed and condemned violence and incitement of violence, we thought that that could have been more prominent in the resolution…it was not sufficiently elevating at length the issues that we care very deeply about. We’re pleased that that was included, but again, when you see horrifying knife attacks, when you see continued incitement to violence, you see continued anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic slogans and calls for violence from with the Palestinian Territories, that gravely concerns us. And that’s an enormous obstacle to peace, of course.
“So again, that explains that abstention, those two issues — the U.N. as a future venue for final status issues, given its history, and the emphasis in this resolution being more focused on Israeli activity than some of the concerning activities that are addressed in the resolution with respect to the Palestinians but I think could have been addressed at greater length…..
“Prime Minister Netanyahu had the opportunity to pursue policies that would have led to a different outcome today. Absent this acceleration of settlement activity, absent the type of rhetoric we’ve seen out of the current Israeli government, I think the United States likely would have taken a different view, because our preference is for there to be a credible peace process underway.
“So, again, it’s very important that this — the fact that this is happening towards the end of our eight years indicates that this is not our preferred course of action and that we’ve given years and years and years of opportunities to address issues related to the settlements or to address issues related to the peace process that, frankly, we believe could have been more productive. And, frankly, President Obama, if you look at speech after speech that he gave, kept warning that the trends in the conflict were going to lead to greater international efforts to apply pressure in Israel; that the settlement activity was going to lead to greater national efforts to apply pressure to Israel.
“There’s a huge record on this, and I think it’s very unfair and inaccurate to suggest that somehow this was an outcome that we sought. If it was an outcome that we sought, we would have done this long ago. But the fact is, we were compelled to because of the choices that have been made over years by the Israeli government in building settlements and not taking different opportunities that were presented for a credible peace process.
“I should add that the Palestinians also failed to take opportunities. As Frank and Rob know well, Secretary Kerry’s effort did not move forward because of the decisions by both Israelis and Palestinians. So I just want to be very clear here that the Palestinians have missed plenty of opportunities under this administration as well….
“We’ve tried everything. We’ve tried proximity talks, we’ve tried direct talks, we’ve tried the Secretary of State who dove into this and made it an enormous priority for a long period of time. We’ve tried to step back. And the one consistent outcome was that it didn’t work. We can go back and look at what we did differently, but at the end of the day, precisely because we believe this can only be resolved in negotiations, it’s up to the parties to show that they’re serious about those negotiations and that talking about a peace process isn’t just a phrase — it’s an actual, meaningful, diplomatic effort to try to achieve a resolution.
“….We hear the words about a two-state solution, and then we see the actions that are making a two-state solution far less likely, if not out of reach. And at a certain point, the words and the actions become irreconcilable. And that’s what we’re concerned about. And we believe that that would be not in the best interest of Israel. And precisely because President Obama cares so deeply about Israel and its security, he would like to see a return to a meaningful effort to pursue peace.”
Of all the US presidents, Obama has shown the greatest empathy and respect for Israel and American Jews.
During one of the Hanukkah celebrations at the White House (which he has conducted every year), Obama said, “We recall Hanukkah’s many lessons: How a small group can make a big difference. That’s the story of the Maccabees’ unlikely military victory, and of great moral movements around the globe and across time. How a little bit can go a long way, like the small measure of oil that outlasted every expectation. It reminds us that even when our resources seem limited, our faith can help us make the most of what little we have. The small State of Israel and the relatively small Jewish population of this country have punched far above their weight in their contributions to the world. So the Festival of Lights is also a reminder of how Isaiah saw the Jewish people, as a light unto the nations.”
As we mark the passing of Shimon Peres, the former President of Israel, who New York Times in its obituary called A Pillar of Israel, From Its Founding to the Oslo Accords, I reflect back on what was very possibly the closest Israel and Palestine ever came to forging a true peace, and it came during the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative, when Peres sat next to Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, on a panel with President Bill Clinton and Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa and provided a roadmap to cooperation. Here’s my column from that panel, on September 21, 2010:
Israel, Palestine Leaders Offer Vision of Peace – and It Looks Real
Prayers for peace in the Middle East are a ritual in Great Neck, and for one hour last week at the Clinton Global Initiative, a vision for peace seemed less than a perennial dream, and took the shape of a real prospect.
During a special session at the Clinton Global Initiative, which brings together world leaders, business moguls, philanthropists and do-gooders who labor at nongovernmental organizations, the President of Israel and the Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority painted their vision of what peace would look like: a vast economic region with joint projects including a water pipeline crossing the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, modern irrigation techniques that could make the Palestinian desert bloom as it does in Israel, even a regional electric grid, and an economic boom that could snuff out the anger that fuels terrorism. There would even be equality for women.
And for that hour, it all seemed within grasp, with the Bahrainian Crown Prince giving his imprimatur to how the whole region would benefit from a peace “dividend.”
But just days after, the expiration of Israel’s 10-month moratorium on settlement building in the disputed territory of the West Bank which brought out jubilant and triumphant settlers who released white-and-blue balloons, has burst that bubble of optimism over whether the Palestinian Authority will follow through on its threat to pull out of this latest effort at peace negotiations.
Still, the Palestinians seemed to hang in there as the Obama Administration – Sec. Hillary Clinton and special envoy George Mitchell – were frantically trying to keep things together.
Here’s why this time might be different: the leaders were able to specify the economic and social benefits.
What is more, the body language looked good.
Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority and Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel shook hands, genuinely, then took seats next to each other, rather than bookending President Bill Clinton and HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Kingdom of Bahrain. Seated elbow to elbow, Fayad and Peres looked straight into each other’s faces when the other was speaking. Mostly.
President Clinton posed the question to the Prime Minister first: “Assume that the parties come together, and don’t want to wait another decade, what would peace look like?”
Fayyad, offered his vision of what peace would look like in the state of Palestine, but when I heard him say “Jerusalem as its capital” I thought the session would end as quickly as it began, or veer off. But Peres never addressed the remark; his body language did not change.
But Fayyad continued: “What the region might look like minus the conflict? The vast economic potential – the region looks like a single economic space. ..vast growth potential, that can be exploited by dealing with elements that impeded commerce across state lines…That’s the kind of region that I believe can emerge after so many decades of conflict, with obvious benefits – for Arabs, Israelis and the rest of the Arab world.
“Amongst the possibilities: infrastructure improvements that cut across borders. Several have been on the drawing board – one is [close to] the heart of Shimon Peres – a project intended to link the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, to deal with ever shrinking [water supplies] that threatens to make it even more dead than it is. That’s one project that could happen..even before the conflict over. Something that could prepare for a better future. There are a lot of projects of direct benefit, cutting across boundaries in the region – in the area of energy, electricity, regional power grid….
“We could devote more energy, time and resources to bring about development –economic, socially, culturally. [Peace] would remove all the obstacles to interact with the rest of humanity on the basis of shared values, equal opportunity, no discrimination against women… ”
Women’s rights, Fayyad said “is something that unfortunately has caused us a lot of problems in region and around the world. The problem has to be addressed not only because of vast potential if women are afforded opportunity, but because it’s the right thing to do… ”
Then to Peres, Clinton said, “Suppose peace was made 3 or 4 days ago. What does Israel want out of it, what can Israel do to make sure it takes hold In order to make sustainable peace? [Particularly in the area of food production]… Today you can produce food not by size or land but science and technology. There is almost no water, yet [Israel’s] agriculture produces eight times more from same acre than 50 years ago.”
Technology has unleashed economic development throughout the developing world, and can do its magic in the Middle East, as well. Sharing Israel’s innovations with the Palestinian state would be a key benefit of the peace dividend, Peres offered.
“One thing both of us agree – not just governmental intervention but private initiative…we all are ready to accept high tech in their countries- that has nothing to do with territory… it’s global,” Peres said. “The two young boys that created Google didn’t hurt anyone…[technology] can build an economy, and I think that should be the first…. We are ready in Israel to share what we have. Our high tech started with agriculture. You can have it the next morning, and provide food to the children. That’s number one, after peace. Number two is health. ..There is no hospital in Israel where you don’t have Arab doctors and Arab patients…. If we can live in peace in hospital, why can’t we live in peace out of hospital?
“Next: Education. The moment we have peace is the moment we can provide for education.
“Other things: Tourism. Tourism accounts for 17% of world economy, and we have everything to attract the largest amount of tourists but peace. If we shall make peace – with the Palestinians and the Jordanians, have enough points of attraction to promote ..
“Water. We are saving half of the water that is being used elsewhere. By irrigation, by recycling, by introducing vegetation that don’t drink so much water, using electronic controls. All of this is available.
“Now when it comes to electricity – the choice is that everyone will build a nuclear reactor for electricity… The greatest nuclear reactor in the world is the sun. The sun is democratic, open to everyone. We know already how to produce solar energy, but not to produce it in a competitive way. We believe by [marshalling] solar energy…. it would enable us to be natural, would be cheaper…and give the people water and electricity..
“We introduced ‘drip irrigation,’ now we have ‘drip electricity’ – we can move electricity from one place to another without physical connection.” [Israeli companies have developed a technology that transmits electricity the same way, over the same architecture, as wireless voice communications.]
“We can send electricity 2-4 miles away, and it can reach the target. It is quite revolutionary,” he said.
“I believe that the future, that the most sensational 10 years in human life will occur because of the level of computerization.”
President Clinton noted that even in this economic downturn, Israel has done well, “and most certainly will be the first to have 100,000 electric cars on the road.”
Israel and Palestine have a lot to gain from a peace dividend, but how might countries in the region like Bahrain benefit? Will there be a regional economy, and what does that mean for you? President Clinton posed to Prince Salman.
“Our region is caught between the rule of the gun and the rule of Koran, captive market and capitalist markets, pluralism and plutocrats,” Prince Salman said. “The region has been held back by the negative. In every choice, people have singled out their fear, mistrust, disappointment, in the ability of governments to achieve the dignity they [deserve]. We must achieve this peace – because the future is very bright.”
He said that the region represents a $1 trillion market, and by 2020 will be a $2 trillion market…”It grew at 70% in the last 8 years, 40% [of exports] go to the region, so you can start to see that regional economic cooperation is a reality… and if we can build on what President Peres said about science… that the world in 15-20 years will be fundamentally different, then the future will be bright, whether agriculture, medicine, productivity. I am very optimistic…. the ease by which we can communicate, the productivity we have gained… in the development of human history, this is a flash, a spike.
“We will be cooperating, the dislocations that shake us, to our core, will be absent. ….It is a future I see very much in a positive way…. That I will dedicate myself to, to come true, and one in which all of us have a role to play.
“The private sector in US., government in Middle East. We must all believe in this process, make the hard choices that need to be made, and when the process looks shaky, that we are there to support it. Thank you Mr. President, for getting us here today, and even though I am on the periphery and not a direct negotiator, my life, my children’s lives will be immeasurably better.”
Giving a vision of hope, Peres suggested it might finally be time. “In Europe, if someone would have stood up in 1943 that in 30-40 years, Europe would be united, people would laugh. It took generations for French, Germans, British to come together. The young people, anyway, live in a different world. They are connected personally. The world is more connected, and the younger you are, the more connected.
“Today the greatest choice before the Middle East is either to be a Middle East of independent states or fall under the spell of Iranians,” Peres said. “This is the greatest danger. Under the spell of Iranians is also terror. We have a common menace, if not a common enemy, so we have a common purpose.
But Clinton noted, “If the vision [for peace and regional cooperation] you are sketching out takes hold, the Iranians would have a very different choice than they do today. It would maximize that the current fears we have can be resolved in a peaceful way, and maximize the risk if they choose not to do that.”
“I think [peace] would be better for everyone,” said Fayyad. “People throughout the region could interact more freely – in peace, security. We could focus on doing things better, governing better, providing services more effectively. Our economy is only 4% the size of the Israeli economy – that alone, even if you don’t factor in what this means in regional cooperation, and better access to rest of region — simply by virtue of sitting alongside such a huge economy, that is Israel. When you begin to factor in other benefits – tranquility, civility in the region, you can see how the benefits would begin to spread. That would happen on the strength of having some serious partnerships here.”