The White House just issued this statement on the American Embassy in Israel:
“While President Donald J. Trump signed the waiver under the Jerusalem Embassy Act and delayed moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no one should consider this step to be in any way a retreat from the President’s strong support for Israel and for the United States-Israel alliance. President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, fulfilling his solemn obligation to defend America’s national security interests. But, as he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when.”
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.”
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.”
Ahead of the April 19 New York State Primary, the gloves came off between the two contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, at what is being called “The Brooklyn Brawl” – the Democratic Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The confrontation was the most contentious to date, but still substantive with both candidates making strong arguments on major issues.
Here are annotated highlights from the “Brooklyn Brawl” – the debate between Democratic contenders for the nomination for president, former Secretary of State and New York State Senator Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, based on a transcript provided by CNN, the news organization that hosted the debate, April 14.
Of all the issues raised during the Brooklyn debate, the only one of particular importance to the New York primary voters raised concerned US-Israel Relations. It also inspired surprising reaction from the audience.
BLITZER: Senator, let’s talk about the U.S. relationship with Israel. Senator Sanders, you maintained that Israel’s response in Gaza in 2014 was, quote, “disproportionate and led to the unnecessary loss of innocent life.” (APPLAUSE) What do you say to those who believe that Israel has a right to defend itself as it sees fit?
SANDERS: Well, as somebody who spent many months of my life when I was a kid in Israel, who has family in Israel, of course Israel has a right not only to defend themselves, but to live in peace and security without fear of terrorist attack. That is not a debate. (APPLAUSE)
“But — but what you just read, yeah, I do believe that. Israel was subjected to terrorist attacks, has every right in the world to destroy terrorism. But we had in the Gaza area — not a very large area — some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed.
“Now, if you’re asking not just me, but countries all over the world was that a disproportionate attack, the answer is that I believe it was, and let me say something else. (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING) As somebody who is 100% pro-Israel, in the long run — and this is not going to be easy, God only knows, but in the long run if we are ever going to bring peace to that region which has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity. (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING)
“So what is not to say — to say that right now in Gaza, right now in Gaza unemployment is s somewhere around 40%. You got a log of that area continues, it hasn’t been built, decimated, houses decimated health care decimated, schools decimated. I believe the United States and the rest of the world have got to work together to help the Palestinian people. That does not make me anti-Israel. That paves the way, I to an approach that works in the Middle East.” (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING)
BLITZER: Secretary Clinton, do you agree with Senator Sanders that Israel overreacts to Palestinians attacks, and that in order for there to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel must, quote, end its disproportionate responses?
CLINTON: I negotiated the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in November of 2012. I did it in concert with (APPLAUSE) President Abbas of the Palestinian authority based in Ramallah, I did it with the then Muslim Brotherhood President, Morsi, based in Cairo, working closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli cabinet. I can tell you right now I have been there with Israeli officials going back more than 25 years that they do not seek this kind of attacks. They do not invite the rockets raining down on their towns and villages. (APPLAUSE)
“They do not believe that there should be a constant incitement by Hamas aided and abetted by Iran against Israel. And, so when it came time after they had taken the incoming rockets, taken the assaults and ambushes on their soldiers and they called and told me, I was in Cambodia, that they were getting ready to have to invade Gaza again because they couldn’t find anybody to talk to tell them to stop it, I flew all night, I got there, I negotiated that.
“So, I don’t know how you run a country when you are under constant threat, terrorist tact, rockets coming at you. You have a right to defend yourself. [She said with increasing assertiveness.] (APPLAUSE)
“That does not mean — that does not mean that you don’t take appropriate precautions. And, I understand that there’s always second guessing anytime there is a war. It also does not mean that we should not continue to do everything we can to try to reach a two-state solution, which would give the Palestinians the rights and…”
BLITZER: … Thank you…
CLINTON: … just let me finish. The rights and the autonomy that they deserve. And, let me say this, if Yasser Arafat had agreed with my husband at Camp David in the Late 1990s to the offer then Prime Minister Barat put on the table, we would have had a Palestinian state for 15 years. (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING)
“…of course there have to be precautions taken but even the most independent analyst will say the way that Hamas places its weapons, the way that it often has its fighters in civilian garb, it is terrible. (AUDIENCE REACTION)
“I’m not saying it’s anything other than terrible…remember, Israel left Gaza. They took out all the Israelis. They turned the keys over to the Palestinian people. And what happened? Hamas took over Gaza.
“So instead of having a thriving economy with the kind of opportunities that the children of the Palestinians deserve, we have a terrorist haven that is getting more and more rockets shipped in from Iran and elsewhere.”
Sanders then attacked Clinton for not “discussing the needs of the Palestinian people,” in her speech to AIPAC, the American-Jewish organization that lobbies on behalf of Israel.
CLINTON: Well, if I — I want to add, you know, again describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it. And I have been involved, both as first lady with my husband’s efforts, as a senator supporting the efforts that even the Bush administration was undertaking, and as secretary of state for President Obama, I’m the person who held the last three meetings between the president of the Palestinian Authority and the prime minister of Israel.
“There were only four of us in the room, Netanyahu, Abbas, George Mitchell, and me. Three long meetings. And I was absolutely focused on what was fair and right for the Palestinians.
“I was absolutely focused on what we needed to do to make sure that the Palestinian people had the right to self-government. And I believe that as president I will be able to continue to make progress and get an agreement that will be fair both to the Israelis and the Palestinians without ever, ever undermining Israel’s security.” (APPLAUSE)
SANDERS: There comes a time — there comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.”
CLINTON: If you are from whatever perspective trying to seek peace, trying to create the conditions for peace when there is a terrorist group embedded in Gaza that does not want to see you exist, that is a very difficult challenge.
Sanders Strategist Weighs In
In the spin room after the debate, Sanders’ campaign strategist Tad Devine was asked whether Sanders’ comments about Israel could get him into trouble in New York?
“The thing about Bernie Sanders is he doesn’t give answers to seek political advantage. He says what he believes. And I think he believes sincerely – and this is from someone who is Jewish, someone who spent 6 months on a kibbutz in Israel, who has a number of family members there – he believes the best way forward for peace is the one he described tonight. I would just suggest that the answers he gives not just on that issue, but a number of issues, are not given for political calculation but are given because this is what he believes.”
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