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The democracy movements spreading across the Arab world have placed the region in turmoil. But they have also created an opening for a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. That’s what President Obama suggested after meeting this week with Israeli President Shimon Peres. “He and I both share a belief that this is both a challenge and an opportunity,” Obama said, “that with the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it’s more urgent than ever that we try to seize the opportunity to create a peaceful solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis.” Many Middle East analysts are highly skeptical. We’ll talk about the challenges for Israel and the U.S. in resolving the long-standing Palestinian conflict in a changing Middle East.
- Greg Myre senior editor, NPR's Morning Edition; co-author of "This Burning Land."
- James Zogby president of the Arab American Institute; author "Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us, and Why it Matters."
- Aaron David Miller a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and former adviser to Republican and Democratic secretaries of state; author of the forthcoming book "Can America Have Another Great President?"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The democracy movements spreading across the Arab world have placed the region in turmoil, but they've also created an opportunity for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. That's what President Obama suggested after meeting this week with the Israeli President Shimon Peres. But many Middle East analysts are highly skeptical. We talk about the challenges for Israel and the U.S. in resolving the Palestinian conflict and a changing Middle East. Here in the studio with me, Aaron David Miller of the Wilson International Center, Greg Myre of NPR and James Zogby of the Arab American Institute. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, gentlemen.
MR. AARON DAVID MILLERGood morning, Diane.
MR. GREG MYREGood morning.
MR. JAMES ZOGBYGood morning, Diane.
REHMAaron David Miller, tell us what we know about this meeting between President Obama and Shimon Peres on Tuesday.
MILLERI think the context is clear. Peres carries tremendous weight here. He's viewed as a positive force on Arab-Israeli issues as well as a progressive. He enjoys tremendous respect. We tend to overestimate his influence, particularly in Israeli politics. He's the president of the country. And I think he came on a rogue reconnaissance tour to try to find out just how bad the relationship between Benjamin Netanyahu and the president is when it comes to Arab-Israeli peacemaking, to share his own ideas if the meeting was for eyes -- and I don't know if that was, in fact, the case -- and to get some sense of how the administration wants to proceed in the wake of these transformative developments in the Arab spring and the Arab winter.
REHMGreg Myre, what was your impression of what came out of that meeting?
MYREWell, I think, as part of this diplomatic offensive the Israelis are going on, the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Europe right now. And I think the Israelis are getting a little concerned about what they see as a big diplomatic push by the Palestinians to go -- the Palestinians are beginning support from Latin American countries that want to recognize the state of Palestine. They're talking about a United Nations' proposal that would come in September. So the Israelis want to make sure that they can count on the United States and on Europe not to side with the Palestinians or not to show good, strong support for Israel.
REHMJames Zogby, how do you see it?
ZOGBYWell, I think Aaron is right. This was a reconnaissance trip. The interesting thing is the last time Peres did this, he came back with good news, and Netanyahu literally walked into a wall when he got to Washington. And there was a showdown here. Clearly -- and I think Greg is right, too, that the Israelis are nervous and they're pinning a lot on Netanyahu's work leading up to his coming to the United States in an effort to kind of steer traffic away from the Palestinian momentum, which is growing in not just Latin American but also in Europe where they ought to be the lead, I think, on this resolution that's coming up on recognizing a Palestinian state.
ZOGBYThey're feeling diplomatically isolated. And Peres is the one front face they can put forward that kind of has some respect in legitimacy. The prime minister, at this point, does not.
REHMJames Zogby, he's president of the Arab American Institute and author of a book titled "Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us, and Why it Matters." Greg Myre is senior editor at NPR's "Morning Edition" and co-author of "This Burning Land." Aaron David Miller is at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. He's a former adviser to Republican and Democratic secretaries of state and author of the forthcoming book, "Can America Have Another Great President?" I look forward to hearing your questions and comments. Do join us. James Zogby, how has what's going on in the broader Arab world affected not only how the Palestinians themselves feel but the opportunity for peace with the Israelis?
ZOGBYWell, it's been a transformative moment in the Arab world. And I think one of the things that has happened is that we, here in America, are becoming aware of the need to -- and I'm not here hawking a book -- but to listen to Arab voices. The question is what people in Arab public opinion are saying, now, is beginning to matter to us as we sort of catch up on the fact that the governments alone aren't going to be driving traffic, but that public opinion will be. At the same time, Arab governments are learning that they're going to have to listen to their own people so that President Mubarak, who could get away with supporting the U.S. in Iraq or supporting the U.S. in closing off Gaza, simply alienated his own folks.
ZOGBYAnd you now have all the presidential candidates in Egypt saying, if Israel attacks Gaza, we're going to attack back, or we will now be more sensitive to where our own public opinion is and that is that we can't be complicitous in this behavior. So I think that it does create, as President Obama says, an urgency. The fact is that the situation is not going to get any easier for peace. Every day is another day wasted, and some momentum is necessary. Some resolution of the Palestinian issue becomes critical, although, I think, it does become harder and is going to continue to get harder as Israel continues to sink itself into the West Bank and make life more difficult.
REHMAn urgency, Greg.
MYREWell, yes. That would be -- I think that could come out of this. But I think we're going to see friction here. The Israelis are very uncertain about what is happening, and they don't want to move right now. They want to see what happens in Egypt, in particular. I think that's the biggest Israeli concern. But they want the region to settle down. They want the dust to clear. Meanwhile, the Palestinians are feeling this is a time to make a big push. How come all this stuff is happening in other Arab countries? We've been pushing for decades without any resolution to our grievances, our demands. So I think the Israelis are going to say -- want things to move slowly. The Palestinians are going to want things to move very quickly. And there's going to be friction there.
REHMIs there a real opportunity here, Aaron, for peace?
MILLERYou know, I've been so annoyingly negative, Diane, in the subject since I left government. But I remember Groucho Marx who said, who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes? I mean, I see what I see. And, yes, when you have transformation like this, things move, the tectonic plates move. And there's a great deal excitement and enthusiasm to see whether or not you can take advantage of these changes to fundamentally push other things forward. The real question we have to ask ourselves is, do we have the horses to pull the wagon? That's the real question.
REHMBut James Zogby raised the point about the uprising of the people themselves. The Palestinians have been waiting and pushing and waiting and hoping. Is what's happened in the Arab world going to give them the opening they need to push further?
MILLERI don't think so because, I think, it's a leaderless -- as transformative these changes are, it's a leaderless revolution. You've got the Arabs who we knew -- Mubarak gone, Ben Ali gone, or under great pressure, King Abdullah of Jordan, for example -- and you're going to need an Arab consensus. You're going to need leaders to stand up, as Mubarak had on occasion, to host signing ceremonies, to push and support the Palestinians at the same time and to push and support the Israelis. We have tremendous change in the Arab world.
MILLERBut for the short term, it's hard to see how you actually harness that change. And I think Greg is right. The Israelis -- and there is the inclination among this -- the Israeli prime minister, to wait and to be very withholding and very careful and cautious. The tendency there will be to wait. The real question is whether the United States, now in the middle of this mix, will try to compensate for the absence of real leadership in the Arab world among the Israelis and in the Palestinian community, to stand up and try to prime the pump, break the ice jam. That's the core question.
ZOGBYYou know, I don't think waiting is an option in the sense that it's not really just waiting. New settlements being announced all the time and behaviors that are becoming quite disruptive and hurtful, I think, on both sides. So the issue here is -- I agree with Aaron, that we've got a situation where we don't have leadership on any side able to move this forward. That's absolutely clear. But what is also clear is that the dynamic that's unfolding in the region is not going to be a positive one if we don't move in the right direction on this issue.
ZOGBYAnd for those who suggest that Arabs are now so preoccupied, Palestine is irrelevant -- uh-uh. This is -- it remains the open wound. It remains an existential defining issue in the Arab world. And the minute there is any disruptive act, the Israelis doing Gaza again or some action in the Israelis in Lebanon or something, you will see an enormous eruption of support in the Arab world.
MYREWell, I think what you -- it will create an opening. In a sense, it'll force reevaluation or looking at this issue again. But over the past decade, the physical and psychological landscape between the Israelis and Palestinians has changed quite dramatically. There was always this notion that the Israeli leadership and the Palestinian leadership -- defined by Yasser Arafat -- if they could do a deal, Arafat could keep the Palestinians under control and Israeli leader could build a consensus on the Israeli side.
MYRENow, you still have this two-headed Palestinian leadership with Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. So it's -- this sort of classics notion of sitting down and negotiating with -- in the same old manner has not worked. It's hard to see how it will be working in the next -- in the short term. I think what we can hope for, though, is it will force a reevaluation of new ways to approach this, in the Palestinians, for example, looking for more international support.
REHMGreg Myre, he is senior editor of NPR's "Morning Edition," co-author of "This Burning Land." When we come back, I want to ask you all about the Palestinian economy.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about prospects for peace in the Middle East. After we have seen the Arab uprisings, we have seen the changes that are occurring in the Arab world. What does that mean for Israel and the Palestinians? Here with me, Aaron David Miller of the Wilson Center, Greg Myre of NPR, James Zogby of the Arab American Institute. There apparently is some confusion about whether the U.S. can veto any designation of statehood on Palestine.
REHMAnd there was a correction posted to a New York Times story. An earlier version incorrectly suggested that the U.S. would be unable to support Israel by blocking a U.N. General Assembly this coming September for the creation of a Palestinian state because the U.S. has no veto power on such a vote. States are admitted to membership in the United Nations by decision of the General Assembly, upon the recommendation of the Security Council, where the U.S. can cast a veto vote. So there we are, Jim Zogby, awaiting this vote in September. How do you believe it could go?
ZOGBYWell, I think that the Palestinians have already had votes of this sort -- not as formal -- and, clearly, you'll get 160, 170 countries in support despite U.S. pressure on this -- and maybe the U.S., Israel and the Marshall Islands, Micronesia. I mean that's what we've gotten in the past against it, maybe a few others abstaining. The issue is -- and I think Aaron and others will say it -- is that it's not going to create a state, but it will create a legitimacy. And it will create a bit of push for the Palestinians, and it'll be a setback for the Israelis. The question is, if the U.S. does veto -- and we have vetoed many times before -- this is such a profoundly emotional issue in the Arab world now, and more heightened by this Arab spring, that I think we do a veto at great peril.
ZOGBYAnd it will be upsetting to many in the world.
MYREYes. Often, this has been a very -- these resolutions have been -- that the U.S. has vetoed have been very specific things -- Israeli settlements or an Israeli incursion. Here, we're talking about Palestinian statehood, and U.S. presidents have spoken out in favor of Palestinian statehood. And to go against that on such an important question would, I think...
MYRE...at this moment, would be -- it would put the U.S. in a real spot.
MILLERYou know, it depends how it's framed. And it really does depend on the time, and if, in fact, it is a unilateral declaration of independence to actually create a functional state, which is virtually impossible. The Palestinians are not unified. They don't control Gaza. They don't control the majority of the West Bank. They don't even control their putative capital in Jerusalem. If that's a unilateral declaration which has legs, I think the U.S. will veto because I think the -- it is the antithesis of everything that we, rightly or wrongly, believe to be the only path to Palestinian statehood, which is not in position, not through unilateral action, but actually through a brokered negotiation on the core issues -- Jerusalem, border security and refugees. The real question, Diane, I think, is where are we in September?
MILLERThe Israelis will have their own initiative next month. There's no question of that. Peres, I think, came to preview it. It probably won't be enough. Will it be enough for the United States to push the Israelis to revise it? Maybe. If it fails, the U.S. will then be put in the position of creating its own initiative. And it is certainly not beyond the imagination that the president would lay out, in a presidential speech, American policy positions on the four core issues -- Jerusalem, border security and refugees -- in an effort to create -- and this is where it gets complicated -- a negotiation between two parties on who -- in which the gaps between them on these core issues are very, very large. So I think you're right. By September, we're going to end up with a crisis, and the U.S. will be in a very difficult position.
REHMTight place. Jim.
ZOGBYAnd one can only respond, here we go again.
REHMTen more years?
ZOGBYWe've been down this road. We've set deadline after deadline after deadline. And the point is, right now, is that all that's happened is that our behavior, American behavior, has enabled pathologies on both sides. The Israelis feel enabled, and the Palestinians are victims. And the result is, is that they've lost confidence in our ability to make a difference. Both sides have polling that we do in the Arab world today, not just among Palestinians, but across the Arab world. There was enormous hope that we would actually make a difference.
ZOGBYThat hope is gone, and people no longer feel confident that when America says we'll move this forward or that it is an urgent priority for us to resolve it, that we care enough to do it, or that we even have the capacity to do it. And I think that is an issue here that is sort of staring us in the face and hurting us in that region.
MILLERCan I offer a counterpoint? I think we have to get real on the limitations of American influence. I mean, look around you. We are bogged down now in three wars, where victory is measured not by can we win, but by when can we leave? The U.S. is faced with transformative revolutions from one end of this region to the next. It is not our story. We are being driven by events.
ZOGBYExcept, Aaron, we become the enablers of Israel to do what it continues to do. And so, while we may profess weakness, we use our strength diplomatically, monetarily and in a defense posture to make sure not only that Israel is not threatened, but that when they build settlements or when they engage in behavior that we disapprove of, we provide them the cover to do it. And that is what ultimately hurts. If we were truly disengaged in this issue, there might be a more level playing field. It simply is not a level playing field.
REHMAt the same time, this morning on NPR, we heard a report about the growing economic strength of the Palestinians. Talk about that, Greg.
MYREA very important distinction to make between the West Bank and Gaza right now -- and, you know, as we know, the Fatah leadership is in the West Bank, and Hamas controls Gaza. But the implications of this in terms of what's been going on at a day-to-day level in Palestinian society have been quite great. Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader in the West Bank, and Salam Fayyad, the prime minister in the West Bank, have really offered a very different vision of what was there when Yasser Arafat was in control.
MYRESalam Fayyad, in particular, has focused on developing the economy, on developing institutions there, and the Palestinian economy has been going quite -- growing quite strongly, from a very low base, mind you, and after years and years of decline. But it really has picked up. You do feel that in the bigger West Bank cities -- in Ramallah, in Nablus -- we were there a few months ago -- and you really do see it. It's dependent on foreign assistance, not a -- a limited amount of foreign investment. But there is a stability in the West Bank, an economic growth that you had not seen since the 1990s.
REHMWhat interests me is -- having covered the Middle East, as you did for The New York Times for more than a decade -- you believe that the whole system has moved backwards. What do you mean?
MYREWell, just in the way that the landscape has changed. You -- the notion that you could negotiate one party on both sides could do a deal. There was this -- when we arrived in 1999, 150,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza commuted into Israel every day to work, and then they went home in the evening. There was an interaction between these two societies. You could spend -- you could fill your days going to coexistence events with Israelis and Palestinians joining in certain sorts of events.
MYREWhen you began the peace talks back in 1993, there are about 100,000 West Bank settlers, or maybe a little more. Now, there's over 300,000. So the problem is the same or the issue is the same, but it's three times as large. So it's just, in the past decade, because of this fighting, the lack of interaction, the economic segregation, the political segregation, things have -- the problem -- same problems are still there, but they're harder to solve.
REHMJim Zogby, what do Palestinians think of Barack Obama?
ZOGBYThere was a lot of hope in the beginning. It was tempered by a wait and see. And the hope is gone, and there's a bit of cynicism at this point. What we get in our polling -- and we report on it a lot in our work -- what we get is no U.S. president can make a difference. They get a sense of -- a feeling of being let down. The speeches that were given, the promises that were made, the sense of hope that was engendered in the first couple of days of the administration has clearly been let down. And I think that it is tough to recoup down to the president's credit. I mean, he says, in his Cairo speech, a speech alone won't make a difference. But the speech alone hasn't made the difference. What it did do was create expectations, and those expectations have, in fact, been let down.
REHMAnd to what extent does the U.S. president have influence with the Israelis, Aaron?
MILLERWhen we use our relationship with the Israelis wisely and correctly -- it is to say, when we keep it as a special relationship and now allow it to become exclusive, which, in my judgment, has occurred during the last 16 years, either under Bill Clinton for whom I worked and either under George W. Bush for whom I worked partly -- when that happens, when we're not prepared to be tough and reassuring, when we don't have a strategy, then, in fact, Jim is right.
MILLERWe squander the assets, and the U.S.-Israeli relationship on Arab-Israeli peacemaking becomes a liability. The question is, can this president articulate a strategy? He doesn't have one. Going after the Israelis on settlements is -- frankly, is not a fight worth having. You want to fight with the Israelis? Fight with them on Jerusalem. Fight with them on borders. Fight with them on security. Fight with them on refugees. Fight with them on an agreement that will actually fundamentally alter the situation on the ground.
REHMWhat about Al Jazeera's revelations and the effect that they have had on the peace process? A month or so ago, Al Jazeera reported on memos revealing what the Palestinians were willing to give up. Yes.
ZOGBYTwo takes on that. One is that Al Jazeera clearly got an agenda in doing this, and they were trying to sort of become part of the story and to, in fact, hurt the Palestinian authority. They succeeded in doing that. But the second part of it is that we actually knew all of that, and Yasser Arafat himself, in an op-ed in The New York Times in 2004, actually publicly said all of that. They were compromising on the refugee issue and compromising on land swaps, et cetera.
ZOGBYAll this is in the public record, and everybody knew that a deal was going to involve some of these things. Even those who disagreed with it knew it was out there. I think it was the timing of what happened. When there is no hope for peace, when the Palestinian leadership is standing very vulnerable, when America is not in their corner and helping them out, the leadership stood exposed. And the way it was done, in the kind of soap opera fashion, made these guys look weak and, in some quarters, a joke. And the result is, is that it hurt, and it's going to make the ability of Palestinians to make a deal even harder because people now say -- see them as more vulnerable than they were before.
MYREYeah, I think that, in one hand, it was very encouraging to see that back in 2008. When these talks were going on, it was a time when you weren't hearing much publicly about the talks, and it would seem to be a very difficult period because of the -- there was a lot of friction. And yet they were discussing, or at least throwing out, ideas about very serious core issues. So on one hand, that was very encouraging. However, you don't have consensus on either side. The Israelis don't have a consensus about what they want to do, and the Palestinians don't have a consensus about what they want to do. So, I think, we still have a long way to go if we did get back to those level of talks.
REHMGreg Myre of NPR, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about Iran's strength in the region, Aaron? How has that been affected since the regime changes in Egypt and instability elsewhere?
MILLERI mean, I think the good news is that contrary to the conventional wisdom that these revolutions and transformative changes would be driven by ideological extremist, violence-prone movements, what we found is something quite to the contrary. We found largely secular, non-ideological drivers for most of these changes, with al-Qaida and the Iranians and the narrative of the jihadists as the only narrative to change autocratic authoritarian regimes and bring them down discredited. That's -- that, I think, is the good news. The bad news is if, in fact, these reformist tendencies head south and if rising expectations are not met, both politically and economically, you could see a huge opportunity for Iran and others to stir a pot that's already bubbling.
ZOGBYWell, I think I disagree with Aaron on some of that. I think we don't know all the drivers here in these uprisings that have occurred. Clearly, we know the role that youth played in Egypt and in Tunisia. There's a back story about organized labor in both countries. But the inheritors of this -- and what we're seeing already is a mobilization of some of the more hard-line religious elements in all of the countries, including not just Egypt and Yemen but -- Egypt and Tunisia, but also in Libya and in Yemen, et cetera.
ZOGBYAnd Iran has taken advantage of this opening in the Gulf. Understand -- I mean, in some ways, this is George Bush's chicken-come-home-to-roost right now. It was the Iraq war that, contrary to the goal of the administration, it was going to create a beacon of democracy that would spread throughout the region. What it did was it created turmoil, upheaval, it furthered the distance between people and their leaders, it emboldened and empowered Iran, which now became unleashed in the region, and they now have the opportunity to have entree into, not only Gulf states but in Lebanon, et cetera and beyond. And I think that we have not seen the storyline play out yet, and there are some concerns here.
REHMI want to ask you all about the Goldstone report which was issued by the U.N. in 2009 and then Goldstone's retraction. Greg, tell me about it.
MYRERight. Richard Goldstone is a South African jurist. And he did the report, or supervised the report, on Israel's massive bombing operation incursion into Gaza in December of 2008, January of 2009. About 1,400 Palestinians were killed, many of them civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed. And in his report, initially, which came out, I believe, in 2009, it did say that there was the belief that Israel intentionally killed Palestinian civilians. He...
MYREAnd erasing the issue of war crimes. He has now taken that back in an op-ed in The Washington Post this past weekend, saying he now does not believe that the Israelis intentionally killed civilians. He said the reason for that change, new information has come to light, and they -- the Israelis were not cooperating with his commission. And now that the Israelis have done their own investigation and information has come out, he's taken this new position.
ZOGBYYou know, there were crimes before Gaza's -- the Gaza War in 2008, and there have been crimes by Israel since the Gaza War in 2008. And Goldstone's retraction of one single point in this does not nullify Israel's behavior or its responsibility for what it's done to the people of Gaza.
REHMJames Zogby, he is president of the Arab American Institute and author of a book titled "Arab Voices." Short break and we'll be back for your calls.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to Catonsville, Md. Good morning, Mike. You're on the air.
MIKEGood morning, Diane. What I want to say was the U.S. needs to look at how all this mess in the Middle East started and how Israel was created. Now, I really wish you would, you know, even do a show on this one day. I mean, the U.S. has been Israel's enabler through its weapons, money and its blatant one-sided support, which has enraged the Muslims. And if you go back and look at the history of Israel, you know, Jewish terrorists were the ones who originally started terrorizing the Palestinians and the British. If you go back and look at the history, look at the Stern Gang, Haganah and Irgun back in the '30s and '40s...
REHMOkay. Let's not -- let's try not to go back too far, but instead to concentrate on what we can do to move forward. Did you have a suggestion, Mike?
MIKEYeah, okay. I have a suggestion. I just think that the U.S. should just stop financially supporting Israel, stop giving them weapons. And I think that they will be much more agreeable to try to come to some sort of peace...
REHMOkay. I get your message. Aaron.
MILLERYou know, it was Faulkner who wrote in "Requiem for a Nun," that the past is never past. It's never even over. And I think every time I come on the show, we are -- we're fighting the past. Look, U.S. is...
REHMNot going to do that today.
MILLERThat's right. The U.S.-Israeli relationship is complex. It's imperfect. At times, Israel is a liability, at times, an asset. But it remains one of the most salient relationships that the United States has for all kinds of reasons -- moral, political, ideological reasons. Again, when we use our relationship with the Israelis correctly, when we're reassuring and tough, we can actually achieve goals that benefit both countries. When we don't, the U.S.-Israeli relationship becomes a burden.
REHMYou cannot get past the fact that the U.S. gives billions of dollars to Israel?
MILLERNo. And those billions flow from the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. And even though we've reduced our economic assistance to Egypt, we also give billions to the Egyptians, which flow -- which are basically commitments from the Camp David Entitlement. So do we have a special relationship with Israel? Are we biased in favor of Israel? You betcha.
REHMIs that going to change, Greg?
MYRENo. It's not going to change dramatically overnight. But Israel very much feels this diplomatically challenged right now, in the sense of it's not only in the Arab world but in Europe. I've heard Israeli diplomats talking about something in the past year. They keep talking about BDS. And what is BDS? It's boycotts, divestments and sanctions. And so, Israeli diplomats, this is the message they're trying to battle and combat, and they're feeling this pressure.
ZOGBYBad behavior has consequences, and the consequence is a certain degree of isolation that Israel is experiencing in the world. But let me say, I think that the issue here is that the U.S. has had a relationship with Israel. They have not balanced that with an understanding of the Palestinian narrative, of Palestinian needs and, therefore, have not been able to be a force for reconciliation and for peace. That, I think, we've had brief moments in our history when -- Aaron knows from the past -- where American presidents and American secretaries of state have actually taken a strong stand -- Secretary Baker was one who did -- but they've been few and far between.
ZOGBYAnd I think that we simply stand vulnerable on this, and the president -- I think President Obama knows that. He knows that the degree to which Israel is isolated and the anger at Israel in much of the world, not just in the Arab world, and the American support for Israel makes America weak and vulnerable in the world, too.
REHMWith the 2012 election approaching, how much maneuverability does President Obama have?
MYREVery, very little, and the Israelis understand this. And I think that's why they're going to play a waiting game. They know that a U.S. president doesn't want to go into election year with such a volatile issue, an issue that requires so much time and effort and has such a high potential for failure and a limited chance for success.
REHMAll right. To Smithfield, R.I. Good morning, Chris.
CHRISGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
CHRISOkay. Diane and gentlemen, you're all missing the point. There is no political solution to this. It's religious. We got to get the radical religious people, call them out, get the moderate of the Jews, Christians and Muslims and say, we all worship the God of Abraham, we've all messed up, beg his forgiveness. Now, let's sit down and talk about how we can get out of this mess we have dug ourselves in.
REHMIs it religious, Greg?
MYREIt is one factor, but not the only factor. There's land. There is religion. There is history -- all of these elements. And I think you have to deal with them all comprehensively. You can't just say it's one element. But you do -- you get down to, like, the core issue in Jerusalem and then the most sensitive spot, the Temple Mount, Noble Sanctuary. You're not going to get a solution until you address that issue, and you have to bring religious leaders in to bless any sort of agreement that you have.
REHMAll right. To Sherman, Texas. Good morning, Lander.
LANDERGood morning. I think it's often the case that people tend to demonize one side or the other in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And what I have discovered is that it's not a matter of choosing between saints and sinners. Both sides have committed wrongs and continue to do so. And I think the future of Israel and its security depends upon the security and good future of a Palestinian state. And to further the point that your guests are making so well, I think, without connections on both sides, we will not move ahead.
MILLERI think this is a critically important point. It really is. And the Arab-Israeli conflict has never been, is not now and will never be a morality play between the forces of goodness on one hand and the forces of darkness and evil on the other. We tend to believe it is -- some of us -- because of the -- in the inherent asymmetry of power, which is clearly running against the Palestinians and in favor of the Israelis, that asymmetry of power, however, is also very illusive because it pits the power of the strong -- Israel -- that can pose settlements, bypass roads, land confiscation, curfews, against the power of the weak -- the Palestinians -- who can take away from the Israelis the one thing they need more than anything else, which is security. And we've seen this with respect to confrontations, past, present and future.
MILLERSo the question to me is very simple. Is there a way to satisfy the core needs and requirements of both sides on the four core issues -- Jerusalem, borders, security and refugees?
REHMHow would you respond, Jim?
ZOGBYThere is no adult supervision right now. The United States is absent, and I think Europe sees itself as weak and doesn't play a role. And the result is, is that we have these pathologies playing out on both sides. That has become an enormous difficulty and doesn't make me confident that we're going to see anything change anytime soon.
REHMWould you agree, Greg?
MYREGenerally, yes. And one quick observation on that. When Bill Clinton was president, Yasser Arafat visited the White House more frequently than any other foreign leader. When Bill Clinton went to Gaza in 1998, he was regarded as a hero. You saw the U.S. influence and the expectations that the U.S. raised and the ability of the U.S. to play such a leading role. Now, his wife, Hillary Clinton, can't even go to the Gaza Strip because of the situation there. So there's been this dramatic change, I think, in waning of U.S. influence and the role that the U.S. needs to play but is -- has having a more difficult time doing.
MYREI was with Clinton on that trip, and what I thought was so striking and makes the point, actually, that Aaron has been making is that Bill Clinton called out both sides. As he spoke in Gaza, he challenged Palestinians, but he showed them enormous compassion and understanding. They responded affirmatively. When he went to Israel, he spoke over the head of the Prime Minister Netanyahu, and he challenged him directly and dramatically, and the Israelis responded affirmatively.
MYREAn American president with strength and with conviction can go over the heads of leaders and make a deal. Clinton wasted that moment by not presenting something and putting it on the table and leaving it up to both sides to try to work it out. But America can make a difference. But it has to have strength, conviction, and it has to use it.
REHMTo Grants Pass, Ore. Good morning, John. You're on the air.
JOHNDiane, we can -- we have an opportunity to demonstrate the fact that we are interested in justice. Take the money that we are giving to Israel, and one year give it to the Palestinians, one year give it to the Israelis, but do not give either side money. Give them products or services so that our treasury cannot be misused to buy weapons or fences.
MILLERYou know, U.S. has a complex relationship with Arabs and Israelis. Over time, we provided financial support, economic assistance, technical support, military support. And, by and large, those are the conventional instruments of diplomacy, and those, by and large, are not going to change.
REHMTo you, Greg.
MYREYou know, one of the things, when I was working with the vice president in the '90s, looking at the budget and where it goes, you would find not just to aid Israel in terms of military assistance and in economic assistance, but almost every departmental budget -- education, commerce, agriculture -- has a line item for a program that goes to Israel. And the Arabs don't see that. When we were doing a water project in the West Bank to deal with, you know, arid land, it went through a grant that had been given to southwestern U.S. universities. But it was administered by an Israeli university, and they were sitting at the head of the table running the program. And the Palestinians said, that's not what we want.
MYRESo I think that, you know, there is a problem here in how we administer the aid. And the caller is right. We give it in a block grant to Israel, but we micromanage it to the Palestinians. And it hasn't always been as helpful.
REHMTo New York City. Good morning, John. John.
JOHNHi, good -- Hi. Good morning, Diane.
JOHNHi. My question is specifically for Jim. And, you know, Jim, I know you polled extensively throughout the Middle East, and I picked up your latest work, "Arab Voices," which I think tells an important story about Arabs and -- that we don't really readily hear in the United States. And I'm wondering, in your book and through your polls, were you able to foresee the upheavals in the Middle East? And, additionally, what do your polls tell you about Arab attitudes toward Israel?
ZOGBYLet me start with the last part. Three-quarters of Arabs think that a two-state solution is the answer and support it, but about half don't believe it'll ever happen. They don't think Israel will make the concessions or the U.S. will help move that forward. But what it tells us -- I forgot the first part of the question.
JOHNOh, I was referring specifically to your polls. Were you able to kind of foresee the upheavals...
ZOGBYNo. You embarrass me. No. Not only were we not able to foresee it, but I think that the folks in Tahrir Square couldn't foresee it either. I mean, I think they were probably surprised the second and third day and said, oh, my God, this is going to work. But what our polls did show are what the issues are that are of concern that define an agenda moving forward. Yes, we saw frustration in Egypt over corruption and nepotism. Yes, we saw a need for jobs and for improving the economy, but seeing all that does not necessarily constitute a revolution.
REHMJames Zogby, he's president of the Arab American Institute and author of "Arab Voices: What They are Saying to Us, and Why it Matters." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Alexandria, Va. Zahir, good morning.
ZAHIRGood morning, and thanks to Jim. America cannot get any more moderate Arab Americans, and he -- that he is playing the great role in this society. Now, I want to ask him what is the problem that all the years you've been trying to build bridges in America between the Arabs and the right wing Americans or the religious America, that there's still -- there is a lot of confusion in the air? Many Americans say that this is a cause between Muslims and Jews and because of the Jews' closeness to the Christianity that they have -- that some Americans have to side with as right.
ZAHIRNow, they don't know there are lots of Christians in the Arab world, in Palestine, in Syria, in Lebanon. This is a cause for freedom, to free Palestinians from occupation. Also, it is a cause for the Americans now that they are wasting billions of dollars...
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for your call.
ZOGBYYou know, the caller raises just one issue that I want to focus on, and that is the Christians in the Middle East. I mean, the Iraqi Christian community has been destroyed practically, most living either in refugee status or internally displaced and can't go back. The community in the West Bank Gaza and in Israel proper, the Arab -- the Christian community, similarly, has been more than decimated and under stress everywhere else. In Egypt, it's difficult for the Coptic Christian community. And I think that we've not paid enough attention to that, and we've not paid enough attention to the political issues that would ultimately ease the tensions down on the religious level.
ZOGBYInstead, even when we do, we focus on the religious side. And we accuse one side versus the other instead of transforming the conditions on the ground that would make this kind of coexistence more possible.
MYREJust to pick up on that, when I was living in Jerusalem for seven years, you could go to Bethlehem, and it was palpable, the exodus of Christians there. Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus, was 90 percent Christian in 1948. At the beginning of -- right around 2000, it's still 50 percent, and now it's less than a third Christian. And it's for -- the Christians...
MYRE...are multiple reasons. There's no individual reason. But it just shows us dramatic decline of Christians throughout the Middle East.
REHMSo, briefly, where we go from here, Aaron? What happens in September?
MILLERI think of barring some miraculous intervention that none of us can foresee or predict right now. The Palestinians will mount an effort through what I call the three Rs -- resolution, rhetoric and recognition -- in an effort to create some measure of virtual Palestinian statehood, posing the Israelis and the United States with very difficult choices.
ZOGBYIt's the last tool they have in their toolbox, and we dare not take it from them. This is the last diplomatic tool and non-violent, peaceful tool Palestinians feel they have.
MYREI'll try hard to sound positive here. I think the Israelis have built themself up in a way to prevent a major attack from the Palestinians aside from rockets, and I think the Palestinians have learned from their past intifada. And so, I think, the battleground will be more diplomatic than with bullets.
REHMGreg Myre, he's senior editor at NPR's "Morning Edition," author of "This Burning Land." James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute, author of "Arab Voices: What They Are Saying to Us, and Why it Matters." Aaron David Miller is at the Wilson International Center, author of the forthcoming book, "Can America Have Another Great President?" Thank you all so much.
MYREThank you, Diane.
MILLERThanks. Thank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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