What to Read on the Middle East Peace Process Steven A. Cook An annotated Foreign Affairs syllabus on the Middle East peace process.Read
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GIDEON ROSE: Thank you.
Well, welcome, everybody. This is Gideon Rose, the managing editor of Foreign Affairs. We are delighted to have with us today Ehud Yaari, who has a very interesting and provocative piece in the new issue of Foreign Affairs called “Armistice Now: An Interim Agreement for Israel and Palestine,” laying out a new option for the peace process. And as a promotional device for the issue and Ehud’s article, we arranged to have a major flap in U.S.-Israel relations just so we could sort of kick off the discussions in a — in a more aggressive and provocative way. We are lucky to have — that’s obviously a joke.
We have Ehud with us today to discuss not only his piece, but also the current mini-crisis in U.S.-Israel relations, which he has been following, not just from the Israeli side but also from the American side, where he is the Lafer International Fellow at the Washington Institute. He’s one of Israel’s most prominent journalists. His résumé extends out the door. I know all of you are familiar with it, so without further ado, let’s get right to Ehud.
Ehud, why don’t you start for a second and tell us what you think the essence of this immediate dispute is between the U.S. and Israel. Did Netanyahu know what was going to happen when Biden came? And was the dispute orchestrated on the —
EHUD YAARI: Yes, thank you, Gideon.
The prime minister and his defense minister are lending — (inaudible) — and I’m speaking to you from Jerusalem or near Jerusalem.
I can say that, number one, they were totally amazed by the reaction of Vice President Biden, the White House, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the announcement of those 1,600 additional units in one of the bigger neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
Number two, I think that the sense amongst the Israeli delegation coming back from D.C. right now is that they fell into a trap. The general sense in Israel right now is that the prime minister was sorely humiliated by President Obama. There is quite a degree of amazement the way he was treated. I think it’s fair to say that neither the prime minister nor his defense minister, Ehud Barak, were aware of the kind of reception that they were greeted with at the White House.
The reason is that they did not expect the Obama administration to insist on a freeze of all activities in East Jerusalem, including those Jewish neighborhoods built decades ago, which, as it was understood with both Presidents Clinton and Bush, would remain part of Israel in any future peace settlement.
ROSE: So is this the — so is the essence of the problem right here — because I think both sides feel blindsided a bit — is the essence of the problem what Netanyahu said at AIPAC, which was that, for the Israelis, Jerusalem is not a settlement, whereas for the Americans, East Jerusalem is still considered part of the disputed territories? Is that really what’s at heart here?
YAARI: Yes. I think that every Israeli prime minister — let’s assume the leader of the opposition Kadima Party, Tzipi Livni, was prime minister — prime minister now, she would say exactly the same, and she would not refute what I am saying now. It’s impossible for any Israeli prime minister to say that he is going to forego Jerusalem before a final status negotiations with the Palestinians for end of conflict, end of claims.
I think that what is missing here right now, and was not made clear enough by the U.S. administration, is the distinction between Jewish settlement or purchase of land or houses within the densely populated parts of East Jerusalem and further building in those Jewish neighborhoods which were build across the ’67 line but which exist there for decades, as I say.
And it was always understood between Israel and the United States, and I venture to say also between Israel and Mr. Abbas, that they were going to stay part of Israel in any future peace deal.
So the distinction here is between Israeli Jewish encroachment into the Arab parts of East Jerusalem, and the other part is the already built-up Jewish areas across the ’67 line in the capital.
ROSE: Do you think that behind this current flap and the reason the flap could have expanded so much is a fundamental difference of opinion between Washington and Jerusalem about what the possibilities are for some kind of peace deal — in other words, that some Americans — I’m not necessarily saying the administration, but some American commentators have viewed the attitudes you’re talking about with regard to East Jerusalem as part of a fundamental Israeli unwillingness to make significant compromises or concessions on the peace process to get it going and an almost sort of toleration of the status quo? And so some of the anger or some of the disappointment might be a sense that, gee, we don’t really have a partner.
You know, what the Israelis used to say about the Palestinians some Americans now feel about the Israelis, that we don’t actually have a partner for peace, whereas the Israelis seem to feel that’s sort of ridiculous and absurd and the problem is all on the Palestinian side. What would your take on that be?