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Israel’s President Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a meeting of pro –Israeli lobby group, AIPAC, today. President Obama addressed the group yesterday. He sought to clarify his remarks concerning the pre 1967 borders for a possible Palestinian state,a premise conservative Israelis rejected wholeheartedly. Join us for a conversation on the latest U.S. Israeli tensions as the U.S. seeks to chart a course amid ongoing political uprisings and crackdowns in North Africa and the Middle East.
- Hisham Melhem Washington bureau chief for Al-Arabiya TV, and Washington correspondent for "An-Nahar."
- Jeremy Ben-Ami president, J Street author of "New Voice for Israel, Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation" to be published July, 2011
- Lisa Anderson president, The American University in Cairo
- David Sanger chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In Washington today, it's Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's turn. He'll address the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC. On Thursday and, again, yesterday, President Obama laid out what he saw as conditions for restarting Middle East peace negotiations, conditions the Israeli prime minister has rejected.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about U.S.-Israeli relations and the evolving Obama doctrine, Lisa Anderson, she's president of The American University in Cairo, Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief for Al-Arabiya TV, Jeremy Ben-Ami, he's president of J Street, and David Sanger, he's chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMThroughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing your calls. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning and welcome to all of you.
MR. HISHAM MELHEMGood morning, Diane.
MR. JEREMY BEN-AMIGood morning.
MR. DAVID SANGERGood morning.
REHMJeremy, if I could start with you, how did you read President Obama's speech yesterday? Did he soften his stance?
BEN-AMIWell, I think he actually reiterated the essential principle from Thursday with perhaps a little bit more exposition. Nobody who is serious about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has any illusion about where the ultimate line between these two states needs to be. It's going to be based on 1967 with some form of adjustment. And whether it's President Clinton or President Bush or now President Obama, that's been American policy, and it's been the consensus of international opinion.
REHMBut, David Sanger, why was there even such an outcry if, in fact, as Jeremy says, people know that that's going to be the end result?
SANGERJeremy is absolutely right. It -- President Clinton has always said since the Camp David meeting in 2000 that people know about where the lines are going to be within 5 or 10 percent, probably less than that. What President Obama did was make explicit something that's been U.S. policy for 12 or 13 years, and he said as much.
SANGERI thought what was interesting in the difference between the Thursday speech at the State Department -- and I was there for that one -- and then what he said at AIPAC on Sunday, was that at AIPAC, he included a paragraph that I bet he wishes he had done on Thursday, which is simply to say this has been the position. It has not been explained by a U.S. president with the words 1967 lines, with swaps, but that has clearly been the issue. And the screaming was...
SANGERWith swaps. And I think that they probably didn't emphasize the, with swaps, part enough. Now, part of that is that when you ask Americans what percentage you think of the territory is going to have to be swapped, you get a very different answer than if you asked Prime Minister Netanyahu's office. But I thought that that was probably the explanation he should have given.
SANGEROne other thing that we noticed sitting at the State Department, the prime minister's office began tweeting critiques of the speech while the president was still at the podium. They were sort of coming through on our BlackBerries as we were sitting there. I thought that was pretty remarkable. I had not seen that before.
REHMAnd, Hisham Melhem, then Prime Minister Netanyahu proceeded to lecture...
MELHEMThat's the right word.
REHM...President Obama in -- as all these reporters were around. Why did he take him on on that '67 border question?
MELHEMLook, this is Netanyahu. We know where Netanyahu comes from. He has a long history. This is not the first time he is a prime minister. In the mid-1990s, he infuriated then-President Bill Clinton who famously said in a meeting with his top aides -- and, in fact, he used the F-word when he said, who is this guy who thinks and he acts as if he is the leader of the superpower and not us? So Netanyahu has a history and has a point of view.
MELHEMAnd even when he said last year, under pressure, that he will accept the sovereign Palestinian state, he doesn't mean it's really sovereign. I'm not sure he doesn't mean a contiguous state. He wants Israeli forces to be deployed in the Jordan Valley. He wants the Israeli forces to be deployed in the high areas in the West Bank. The so-called indefensible borders that he's talking about, it has nothing with to do with the settlements. It has a lot to do with Israeli military presence in other parts of the West Bank.
MELHEMHis vision of peace, if there is such a thing for Netanyahu, is a truncated -- a more truncated Palestinian state that would look like a Bantustan in the old South Africa. And, I think, this president should have taken him on. And he did the right thing. And, by the way, Obama was not revolutionary in his speech at the State Department.
MELHEMIn fact, in February of last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used exactly, verbatim, the same formula, '67 borders with swaps. This is -- goes back to what David was talking about, not only in Camp David, but the famous "parameter speech" by Bill Clinton, where he went further, and, in fact, Ehud Olmert and Clinton went further when they talked about even shared Jerusalem. Obama did not even touch those issues.
REHMSo, Lisa Anderson, describe the reaction in the Arab world. You've heard some of it from Hisham, but it seems to be somewhat muted.
MS. LISA ANDERSONWell, first of all, from the perspective of most of the Arab world, what was interesting about the speech was not the discussion of Israel. It was what kind of support the Obama administration was going to be giving to the revolts around the region. And so this is, in some respects, an important issue, but it's also equally important to the Arab world, that there be a sense of what the American position is going to be vis-à-vis Egypt and the new government in Egypt or the uprising in Libya or the uprising in Syria and so forth.
MS. LISA ANDERSONAnd by and large, I think there was a general sense of some disappointment that the United States was not going to be as forthright in their support of these revolts, as what had been hoped in the region. Keep in mind that, from the perspective of the region, this follows on Obama's speech in Cairo in which he seemed to make a very clear set of commitments about supporting human rights, supporting accountable government and so forth and so on.
MS. LISA ANDERSONSo the question is, is this speech backtracking on that? Is life gotten so complicated that the kinds of things he promised two years ago are not going to be possible for him to be able to deliver?
REHMLisa Anderson, she is president of the American University in Cairo. If you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Backtracking, David Sanger?
SANGERI think that what we've discovered in the speech -- and I agree with Lisa. I think, in some ways, the most fascinating parts of the speech were the Arab Spring portion of it, fascinating for two reasons. First, we've discovered, what does Obama foreign policy look like in an age of austerity? And the answer to that is great rhetorical support but not much financial support. What he announced for Egypt was $1 billion in loan forgiveness, which would basically be money that would be redirected to other projects, and $1 billion in potential loans over the next few years.
SANGERSo that's $2 billion. Egypt's external debt is roughly $35 billion. Its total debt, internal and external, is about $190 billion. So we were discussing drop in the bucket. Even compared to other rebuilding efforts, the U.S. sends $3 billion a year in aid, military and non-military, to Pakistan. Obviously, we're spending, because of the military presence, over $100 billion in Afghanistan. So that gives you sort of a sense of the measure.
SANGERThe other fascinating element, I thought, of the president's speech, though, is that if you look at what he's done for the past six months, he has always been in a constant calculation between American values and American interests and usually sided on the side of interests. For example, going light on Bahrain and on the Saudis when they rolled into Bahrain, but being pretty critical in -- but Libya's case, where, of course, there's military action.
SANGERWhat he did in the speech was say, I'm now moving over to the values side. Now, the test will be what happens in action.
REHMWell, Hisham Melhem, do you think that the reason he talked about Israel in the way he did was to get out ahead of the U.N. vote, which is coming up on Palestine?
MELHEMAbsolutely. That's one of the reasons, and this was stated. Another reason, of course, was somewhat tactical and has to do with some logistics, his going to Europe and a European tour where he knows that the Palestinian issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict will come up. And it will come up by frustrated European allies of the United States, coming after the resignation of George Mitchell two-and-a-half years of really doing nothing in the Middle East.
MELHEMSo the president was dealing with a tough reality. And I think that was one way of trying to help the Israelis to stem a problem in September, where if the Palestinians realize that nothing is moving between now and September, they will go to the United Nations and get international recognition of a Palestinian state, which is something similar, by the way, to Israel. Israel was born because there was a partition agreement at the United Nations.
MELHEMSo this is going to create a lot of problems for the Israelis. It's going to create, you know, more isolations for them, probably more legal problems for them, and, I think, that's his way of trying to stem that from happening.
BEN-AMIWell, I think the president put it very well in his speech, which is to say that this isn't simply about the U.S. interest. Bear in mind, it's also the Israeli interest, you know, the dream of the Jewish people to have a national home of their own and for it to be democratic and for it to be Jewish. It requires a two-state solution. There have to be borders to the State of Israel. And so this dream that the Jewish people have will never be fulfilled if there isn't a two-state solution.
REHMJeremy Ben-Ami, he's president of J Street and author of "New Voice for Israel." We'll take a short break and be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the latest developments in the Middle East, particularly in regard to Israel, the Palestinians, the president's statement on Thursday at State Department and again yesterday before AIPAC. Jeremy Ben-Ami, you're president of J Street. Tell us the fundamental differences between J Street and AIPAC.
BEN-AMIJ Street is not set up to be the counter or the anti to AIPAC. AIPAC is an organization that promotes the U.S.-Israel relationship. It lobbies for aid to Israel. It tries to ensure the -- what the president calls the unbreakable bond between the two countries. J Street is an advocacy organization that says the future of Israel depends on achieving peace with the Palestinians, that to be pro-Israel, you don't need to be anti-Palestinian.
BEN-AMIActually, we need a win-win solution. And the president and policymakers and politicians need to know that the majority of Jewish Americans hold sane and rational and moderate views on these issues and are not well-represented by the loudest 10 percent that represents the far right of our community.
REHMAnd do you include the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in that 10 percent?
BEN-AMIWell, I'm talking about the American Jewish community. Clearly, in Israeli politics, the prime minister represents probably 30 percent of Israelis who are not in favor of a true two-state solution along the lines of the deal that was outlined by President Obama. There's also overwhelming support in Israel, 70 percent support for a two-state solution, and, again, a recognition that this is an existential national security need for the State of Israel.
REHMDavid Sanger, how would you define the differences between J Street and AIPAC in terms of approach to the problem of Israelis and Palestinians?
SANGERAIPAC's role is somewhat complicated by the fact that it is such a huge fundraiser. And it's been around for so many more years than J Street has. So it has a very committed core. And, to politicians, it's a very important one because its core is also very big donors. So when you see the president show up at the AIPAC convention, as we did on Sunday -- as almost all American presidents have, Democrats and Republicans -- it is, in part, a political act because they know where the funding is coming from.
SANGERBut what, I think, is interesting about the Obama administration is when you talk to individual members of the administration -- not all of them 'cause they are obviously divided on this issue -- I think that you hear more from them of positions that you've heard from J Street than you did, say, in the Bush administration.
SANGERI think that you hear -- and you see this in the president's speech -- more of a discussion about how there has to be a solution that Palestinians can live with. And so, in that regard, that's the tension you saw on the dais yesterday when the president came up.
REHMHisham, how do you see the different approaches? And do you see more of J Street's position represented in the president's speech yesterday?
MELHEMAbsolutely. I think the president believes in these fundamental principles for a resolution that we take into account, of course, the legitimate right of the Palestinians having their own, you know, sovereign state. And I think -- I agree, also, Jeremy, that we've seen, over the years, majorities on both sides, Palestinians and Israelis, especially when you have an active peace process going that supports vision, whereby, you know, Israel and Palestine will live in peace after signing an agreement, obviously, and settling some of the outstanding issues from Jerusalem to refugees, to borders and all that.
MELHEMSo -- and I think -- but if you look at -- if you look back at the evolution of the American position, whether we're talking about George W. -- George Herbert Walker Bush's presidency and Clinton's presidency -- not so much George W. -- and Obama administration's policies, they're essentially the same. I mean, they've been calling for two-state solutions based on '67 borders, a just resolution of the question of refugees, and essentially, also, a division, some sort of -- allowing Jerusalem to be the capital of both, a future Palestinian state and an Israeli state.
MELHEMLook, the contours of peace are well-known to most people who have been involved in this issue for many years. As David was saying, you may see Palestinians and Israelis quibbling about the amount of swaps -- 2 percent to 5 percent, maybe more. I don't know. As long as it is equitable and it's done with both parties with the understanding that we are going to share historic Palestine together, and -- otherwise -- I mean, if the current Israeli policies continue, the Palestinians will go to the United Nations, and they will get that recognition.
MELHEMAnd if it doesn't work, they're going to do what the Arabs are doing in the streets of Tunis, in Cairo, in Sana'a and Damascus. And I'm surprised, to be honest with you, that the Palestinian Israelis haven't done it yet and that the Palestinians on the West Bank haven't done it yet. But, believe me, Obama senses that it is going to happen.
REHMLisa Anderson, do you sense that same thing?
ANDERSONI think the -- from the -- again, from the perspective of a place like Cairo or, for that matter, Damascus -- but look at Cairo. You could put all of Israel and all of Palestine in a neighborhood in Cairo. There are 20 million people in Cairo alone. There are 85 million Egyptians. They have huge preoccupations of their own. They want this problem solved because it's a distraction. It's a distraction to the United States.
ANDERSONIt's a distraction to Egypt. They have a moral commitment to peace and to the establishment of a state for the Palestinian people. But, in many respects, the preoccupations in Cairo are Egyptian issues. That's what they care about now, and that's what they would like the United States to recognize.
REHMTo recognize, but also understanding that what happens between the Israelis and the Palestinians does have an impact on what happens in Egypt, in Cairo.
ANDERSONWell, it does, in the sense that it is something that is the lens through which, say, an American administration looks at the region, and that's been true for decades and many, many administrations. But, again, from the perspective of how is Egypt going to become a prosperous country, how is it going to become democratic, how is its people going to realize their aspirations, this is not as critical, at this juncture, as the kinds of issues that David was talking about.
ANDERSONAre we going to get foreign aid? How -- what kind of aid is it going to be? How are we going to be supported in our efforts to create these kinds of institutions?
BEN-AMIWe had a wonderful moment at our J Street national conference a few months back where Mona Eltahawy said from the stage that we needed to "get over it." It wasn't about us, she was saying to the assembled American Jews, who were thinking that all that was happening in the Arab world somehow was a reflection of perspectives on Israel. And, no, it was a reflection of the desire for freedom and an end of repression in the Arab world and for us, as Jewish Americans, to understand that this isn't necessarily about us.
BEN-AMIIt's important, but equally important is to understand that a movement for freedom that is sweeping the Arab world is not going to stop at the borders of Israel and Palestine. It is going to reach those people, as Hisham has said. And it is so important for Israel and for American Jews to understand that and to get out ahead of it, so we are on the right side of history, supporting the legitimate aspirations of all people in the region for freedom.
REHMBut, David, in your piece yesterday, you wrote, watching President Obama deal with the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa is like watching the Army Corps of Engineers try to stay ahead of the Mississippi River. Totally impossible?
SANGERWell, it may well be. And I think that the administration felt that it was running as far behind on this as the Army Corps probably felt as the flooding was going on. The difference is, at some point it's going to stop raining and the flooding will end, and we're not sure where all of these protest movements will end. And I think that the president felt that he had dealt with these so country by country, that he needed to get out with some larger doctrine.
SANGERI'm not sure we've got a doctrine now. I wrote in that piece that it was more like half a doctrine because he has now said he's going to side on American values, but hasn't said how he's going to actually manage to make this work. I think the next big challenge for him, though, is going to be to see how he would handle it if, in fact, the Arab Spring slows down, as we have seen evidence that it may be.
SANGERIn Egypt, there are a lot of questions about whether or not the military in the end is going to end up being just the biggest power in the region. In Syria, it's not clear how this is going to go -- it's going to end. In Libya, there seems to be some indication that Qaddafi is beginning to bleed money and resources. But it's not clear how long that's going to end. And so, I think, the president's biggest challenge would be what happens if the Arab Spring turns into a long summer.
ANDERSONWell, I think David's right, that this is a worry, both in the region and presumably in Washington, as people try and navigate through the extent to which each successive regime realizes that they may actually be able to prevail if they dig in their heels in a way that the first several regimes actually didn't effectively do. So what do we do now? I think the interesting thing is that David's also right about a half a doctrine.
ANDERSONI think the -- right now, in Washington, there is a sense that we will not be able to reconcile our values and our interests. And so, you know, we'll sometimes be for interest and sometimes be for values. I think the interesting thing is that where Obama seems to be going is, actually, our interests in the long run will not be served unless these are healthy, vibrant political communities and societies.
ANDERSONAnd, therefore, pursuing our values is part of pursuing our interests. And he needs to get to that point to justify why it is that we will continue to support those people calling for more freedom, for more government accountability and so forth.
SANGERAnd Lisa, he said, supposedly at one point, that at -- in the short term, our -- that our interests may prevail over our values.
MELHEMBut he was honest enough to admit that you -- we're going to see a situation where our values are not going to be in total sync with our interests. And this is the problem that faces every country, particularly the superpower with tremendous interest in the region. Look, this is as -- we used to say when we were studying philosophy, terra incognita. I mean, there is no neat -- and there can't be a neat doctrine for this because this is a very complex Arab world.
MELHEMWe don't call it the Arab world for nothing. It is populated by different people with ethnicities and cultural differences, tribal differences and whatnot. And that's why to use one yardstick in Egypt and in Yemen doesn't work. And I think the president realizes that. And I was critical of certain policies and pronouncement by the administration, but I was also sympathetic because they are really dealing with a very complex issue.
MELHEMHe cannot be way ahead of certain -- of the population there, and he cannot be too far behind. And it's difficult to deal with entrenched interests, even in a place like Egypt. It is the easiest thing to get rid of the political leadership, and we've done -- and they've done that in Tunisia and in Egypt. It is extremely difficult to do away with the structure, the political, economic, even cultural structure that allowed these autocrats to rule for decades.
MELHEMAnd you have to chip away at these things, and it's going to take a long time. And the United States cannot do it. It can influence events. But this is an Arab drama, and the Arabs themselves have to settle it with some support from the outside world.
REHMHisham Melhem, he's Washington bureau chief for Al-Arabiya TV, Washington correspondent for An-Nahar. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jeremy, how closely linked is U.S. credibility with the ability to deal with the Palestinian-Israeli situation?
BEN-AMII think that's been another major advance in the language of this administration. Just as the president made clear what's been said privately about the endgame of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and saying it's going to be '67 lines with swaps, he's also the first president who has publicly articulated that the resolution of the conflict is a fundamental national security interest of the United States.
BEN-AMIThat's a line of thinking that's been prevalent for quite some time in Washington, but it's now explicitly been articulated by the president, National Security advisers of -- both Jim Jones as well as the current, and by Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state. So it is absolutely a fundamental American interest in order to maintain not only credibility in the region but, really, globally.
BEN-AMIAnd that gets back to his trip to Europe this week and how he's going to be perceived as the leader of the world's sole superpower if this conflict where we have incredible leverage can't be resolved.
REHMDo you see this conflict being resolved in my lifetime, David Sanger?
SANGERWell, we're assuming, Diane, that you're going to be living for a long, long time...
SANGER...and staying on the air during that. You know, I think that one of the sub-themes of the president's speech was this conflict can't be ended in an all-or-nothing agreement. And, you know, he had -- basically was making the case -- at least the way I heard the speech, and I'd be interested to know whether this is a widely shared interpretation on our panel -- that if you tried to resolve the '67 lines and the swaps and Jerusalem and the right of return as an all-or-nothing deal, you're going to end up with nothing.
SANGERSo he was basically saying, let's start with '67 lines and swaps and then move on to these next issues. And the Israeli view, I think, has been you can't do that without resolving Jerusalem.
REHMAnd, Jeremy, describe, explicitly, what those swaps mean.
BEN-AMISure. The swaps are the built-up settlement areas, primarily right around Jerusalem that actually have about 70 to 80 percent of the settlers who live over the Green Line. You can keep them and the places where they live within a future State of Israel if you swap about 5 percent of the land on the West Bank. And there is land that has been identified that is currently within Israel's Green Line that you could then give to a new State of Palestine.
BEN-AMISo you can work out a one-for-one swap. I would also -- just want to add on to what David said, which is that one of the differences between Sunday's speech and Thursday's speech was the inclusion of a line about the end of conflict and the end of claims, and that wasn't in the Thursday speech. I agree, he has adopted a phased sort of borders-and-security-first approach that actually J Street has been advocating for quite a while now.
BEN-AMIBut he did include in the Sunday speech that this has to lead towards an end of claims. And I think that Israelis and Jewish-Americans want to know that this conflict, in fact, does come to an end at some point and that the Palestinians and the Israelis will both say, this is it. We've now reached the end of conflict.
REHMAnd when you say end of claims, what precisely do you mean?
BEN-AMIIt specifically means that you don't just set a temporary border and agree on these swaps and have some security provisions, but have hanging out there the notion that those who were -- had to leave their homes in 1948 are still going to say that they want to come back into the State of Israel proper and reclaim their property and their lives.
REHMJeremy Ben-Ami, he's president of J Street. When we come back, time to open the phones. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd as we talk about the ongoing struggle to find peace in the Middle East, let's open the phones now to Indianapolis. Let's go to Benjamin. Good morning. You're on the air.
BENJAMINHello. I'd like to ask about the elephant in the room that doesn't get discussed often. What are we going to do about the hatred that's being taught, even at a very young age, to the Palestinians and perhaps even the Israelis? Because I don't think that you're going to have peace if you have the easiest desire of a population to destroy the other population.
MELHEMWell, I mean, this is a real issue. There's a great deal of alienation, obviously. And when you have the dichotomy of the occupied and the occupier, you're going to have all sorts of stereotypical images of both sides. And we've seen politicians on both sides, unfortunately, engage in the acts of demonization of the other side. So this is a long process, and it's going to take a long time to solve it, and -- but you're not going to solve it unless you have peace.
REHMLisa, here's an email from Ryan in Baltimore, Md. He says, "Can someone, please, explain how the prime minister of a country, absolutely reliant on the U.S. for financial and military support, can get away with lecturing the U.S. president on worldwide television? I expect such things from Iran or Korea. But from a country that could not survive without U.S. support, if Israel wants to push the U.S. away because they don't like our quite reasonable pronouncements, why are we propping up the government?
REHM"My question for you is, how do you think the Arab world reacted to that worldwide television broadcast of the prime minister lecturing the president?"
ANDERSONUnfortunately, I think it feeds into a sort of stereotype about the extent to which the United States is weaker, or behaves as if it's weaker, than it really is and doesn't take strong stands and doesn't actually pursue its own interests effectively and so forth. So, I mean, I think one could argue back, of course, that the Americans are prepared to have free and frank discussions with everyone.
ANDERSONTypically those happen in private offices, not in public, but everybody has arguments. Nobody -- no American diplomat or a president expects everyone to agree with them, and, you know, that's more ordinary. But I think it is true. Within the context of the Arab world, no Arab president or prime minister would ever do that.
REHMJeremy, how do you think the Israeli parliament reacted to that scene?
BEN-AMIWell, the Israeli parliament is about as divided as the Israeli people. And so you had those in the opposition -- Tzipi Livni, who's the head of the Kadima Party and others that are in the Labor Party -- who have spoken out very strongly against the way the prime minister behaved and are very concerned that the Israeli interest in a U.S.-Israel relationship is damaged when the prime minister behaves that way.
BEN-AMIOf course, you have others on the right of the prime minister who are thinking that he held back. And you had some views expressed in The New York Times on Thursday, further to the right, saying it's time to just annex the West Bank. So it's a range of opinion all across the spectrum.
REHMAnd, David Sanger, here's a tweet. "I'm curious," it says. "What would Netanyahu's ideal solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue look like?"
SANGERWell, I think the big question is would his ideal be a maintenance of the status quo as it is right now? And I think one of the most interesting things that you heard from President Obama was his insistence in both speeches that the status quo right now, A, can't remain and, B, isn't in the long-term security interest of Israel.
SANGERWhereas, I think, if you got to the bottom-line truth with Prime Minster Netanyahu, I think, he would probably say that the status quo would be preferable to almost any of the solutions that President Obama has laid out and that he believes that it probably would be sustainable for some longer period of time, particularly now that Hamas and Fatah have unified, at least in theory, if not in practice, because he's going to make the argument and has made the argument, how can you negotiate with a party that calls for the destruction of your country?
REHMAnd here's an email, which says, "Everyone knows Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel. What country can negotiate with a partner who wants them destroyed?" Hisham.
MELHEMLook, we didn't have peace when Hamas was not in power. So while I disagree with Hamas' ideology and point of view and everything it represents, Hamas, now, is not going to negotiate with the Israelis. Hamas will not be in the new government when it is formed, that Fatah, which is the main base for the PA, reach an agreement toward -- with Hamas because everybody says, or at least many Israelis will tell the Palestinians or the PA or Mahmoud Abbas that you don't represent all the Palestinians.
MELHEMTherefore, we cannot negotiate with you. You cannot have it both ways. There are Israeli leaders who called publicly for the transfer "of Palestinians" from where they lived for centuries. And that's a nice word or euphemism for ethnic cleansing, if you want to. And yet one of them is Avigdor Lieberman, is the foreign minister of Israel, who was not even born in Israel, who comes to the Palestine -- to Israel and tells the Palestinians who have been living there for centuries what to do and what not to do.
MELHEMI mean, look, you're going to have people on both sides who are extremists. And unless you engage in serious negotiations that will take into account all the principles that we've been talking about here, you're going to have these people hijacking the debate and the political discourse. If the Israelis don't withdraw and allow Palestinian state, in 20 years -- let me tell you something in terms of demography -- the majority of people who live in what is today Jordan, what is today West Bank and Gaza and Israel itself will be Palestinians.
MELHEMSo you can kiss your Jewish state goodbye in that sense. It's going to be ipso facto bi-national state, whether you like it or not. And engaging in ethnic cleansing today is not going to be easy.
BEN-AMIWell, the thrust of what Hisham is saying is exactly why this is such a priority for J Street and for those of us in the American Jewish community who want to see a resolution of this conflict now. And I know you asked earlier, will we see it in your lifetime? But the alternative is, if we don't see it, what will happen? And, I think, that's what motivates me, it's what motivates our movement, that this is a conflict that it may feel like can't be resolved.
BEN-AMIBut if we don't resolve it, we are going to lose the concept of a State of Israel. And that's, to all of us in J Street, a very scary prospect.
REHMAll right. To Eugene, Ore. Good morning, Al. You're on the air.
ALThanks. You know, the United States or, I guess, the U.S. government has the monopoly of making peace in the Middle East since Sadat's announcement of 99 percent of the (unintelligible) of the United States. And what did come out of that? The settlers, from 120,000 to half a million. Today, like one of your guests mentioned -- today -- actually, the latest census has mentioned 5.5 million Palestinian live in the West Bank and Gaza, a third from Palestine and 5.7 million Jews.
ALBy the year 2014, there will be more Palestinian than Jews, so there would be exactly the copy of old South Africa. You know, like, Clinton -- basically, what Clinton did in his (unintelligible) is making was to kill Oslo. Bush was -- his roadmap actually eventually giving Sharon that Jerusalem won't be divided and all those settlement would be added. Obama, basically, what he's going to do, he's going to kill the aspiration of the Palestinian to have a state, which is going to be voted in, I think, in a month or two.
ALYou know, the illegal settlement that the United States considered illegal for so long, now, they've become (word?) in the ground.
REHMAll right, I'm going to stop you right there. You've raised lots of points. David Sanger, do you want to comment?
SANGERWell, I think that this demographic clock is a really fascinating issue, and it's one that the president raised in the speech. And I could be failing to remember the right speeches here, but I do not believe it was raised very often by President Bush, at least when I would travel with him in the region and elsewhere. And I think that, looking at these numbers, President Obama is trying to make his case to the Israeli public, sort of over the head of the prime minister, that this is why the status quo simply won't work.
REHMDo you agree with that, Hisham, going over the head of Israeli leaders?
MELHEMThis particular Israeli leader. Other Israeli leaders understood the demographic problems. Olmert and others understood that, and I think Tzipi Livni and others understand it, especially on the Labor -- or what's left of the Labor Party. There are many thoughtful Israelis, who, when they look down the, you know, future, 10 years from now, 20, 25 years from now, and anybody who had a sense of history, that you cannot maintain the status quo.
MELHEMAnd that's what Obama's simple message, the current situation is untenable. And you don't need an American president to tell you that. All you have to do is just look. But many Israeli politicians, they are as bad as the Arab politicians. They look only at the immediacy of what they have in front of them, and nobody looks ahead to the future. And, today, because of the changing nature of Israeli politics and the Israeli polity, you have today -- most Israeli prime minister are hostages to small, religious, right wing, fanatic parties.
MELHEMThe old days of Labor and Likud and all that and left and right, that we've known is gone. And that's why part of what Netanyahu was engaging, not -- this is part of DNA to be rough and to be obtuse, but part of it, too, was he was addressing domestic audience, too. And most of governments in Israel -- you know, the last real Israeli leader was Yitzhak Rabin, and he was killed by a lunatic young Israeli man. And since then, you rarely find an Israeli government that finished four years in power, so they have a problem also.
ANDERSONI actually think that this is a dynamic throughout the region, the sense that the support of the status quo -- whatever it is, wherever it is -- is actually corrosive. That the status quo, whether it's authoritarian regimes in the Arab world, whether it's the failure to address the Palestinian issue, so forth and so on, does jeopardize future generations. And the interesting thing about the revolts is that people in the region themselves have taken up the cause of saying somebody has to change this.
ANDERSONWe can't simply sacrifice our children because we're too frightened, we're too, you know, caught up in the moment. Whatever the rationale for not doing anything -- not doing anything is doing something. And we, in the region -- and we would love to see the United States agree that things have to change. So let's try and manage that change in a productive direction.
REHMJeremy, do you agree with Hisham Melhem's forecast, or perhaps it's simply his own view, that eventually Palestinians and Israelis are going to stand up in protest?
BEN-AMII hope that that's going to happen. I've seen in the past few months in Israel a growing movement of Israeli generals and business leaders and academics, who have started to take out ads and hold marches and have movements.
BEN-AMISaying that it is in Israel's interest to recognize a Palestinian state based on the 1967 border. It kind of includes land swaps and includes all of the things we've been discussing. But this growing movement from the ground up -- and it's ex-security officials. It's people who've won Israel's most prestigious prizes. It is the leaders of Israeli civil society. And if that begins to build over the coming months, particularly as we head into the September U.N. vote, I think, that's the kind of movement we need to change the dynamic.
REHMBut you say that Netanyahu represents about 30 percent of the thinking there in Israel.
BEN-AMIAnd you've got a parliamentary system, as Hisham was saying, that creates coalitions that are dependent on, generally speaking, right of center, ultra religious parties. So the moderate majority of Israelis who recognize the sane end of this conflict need to come together, and they need to have a voice.
REHMJeremy Ben-Ami of J Street. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Chicago, Ill. Good morning, Christopher.
CHRISTOPHERHow are you doing?
REHMGood. Thanks. Go right ahead.
CHRISTOPHERI was wondering, like, you know, in the end, it just seems like Palestinians are the ultimate losers, regardless of the negotiations or whatever because of so much favoritism or bias towards Israel, like, why -- I mean, international law clearly states that the West Bank is occupied territory and belongs to the Palestinians, yet the Palestinians must negotiate to Israel to get out of their settlement, that are themselves illegal.
CHRISTOPHERIt's crazy to me. And why should the Palestinians be forced to recognize Israel before Israel even recognizes Palestine?
ANDERSONI think the -- at this point, there is, again, a general consensus in the region, that there -- you negotiate with your enemies. You don't negotiate with your friends. And people are going to have to be prepared to sit and talk about all of these kinds of issues when they're talking to people, whether it's the Palestinians talking to the right wing of the Israeli political spectrum, whether it's the Israelis looking at talking to Hamas.
ANDERSONThere are people on both ends of those spectra who are terrifying to their opposite number. There isn't any other way of getting to a resolution, but to say these fears that we have of each other will resolve themselves as we get pragmatic and practical and on the ground. And, honestly, as I said before, I think one of the things that's interesting is the extent to which comparable kinds of debates are going on in Tunisia and Egypt about who's going to be allowed to run for election.
ANDERSONYou don't run against somebody who agrees with you. You run against somebody who disagrees with you. And we in the region, we as Americans, need to support and be prepared to explain and have people understand that contested elections are a contest. Negotiations are between people who don't agree. And everyone, whether it's in domestic politics or whether it's regional politics, are going to have to get much more comfortable and agile and adept at talking to people they don't agree with.
REHMAnd here's a final word from Miles in Baltimore, who says, "Who else is sick and tired of these two countries refusing to come to an agreement? I feel like patience for this situation is running out. What happens when public opinion turns against both countries and the world decides to wash their hands of the problem?" David Sanger, in very few seconds.
SANGERWell, I thought it was interesting that the president himself made that argument in the speech. He basically said the U.S. and Israel and the Palestinians can't afford another 10 or 15 years of no progress. And I think that it is, in part, the argument that he made for why Israel is feeling increasingly isolated now. I mean, he said, you know, now, that may not be a fair view of Israel in this. But he did make the case that you can't just sit on the status quo.
REHMDavid Sanger of The New York Times, Lisa Anderson, president of The American University in Cairo, Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief for Al-Arabiya TV, Washington correspondent for An-Nahar, and Jeremy Ben-Ami -- he's president of J Street -- thank you all so much.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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