Guest Host: Steve Roberts

President Obama is meeting separately with Israeli and Palestinian leaders later today in New York. It’s part of an 11th hour effort to persuade Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to drop his plan to formally apply for U-N membership Friday, a unilateral action that the U-S has said it will veto. Israelis, Palestinians, and the U-S favor a two state solution, but the Obama administration and its European allies are committed to reviving direct peace talks and hammering out a negotiated settlement. In addition, Israel faces new tensions with long time allies, Turkey and Egypt. Palestine’s bid for statehood at the U-N, what’s at stake for the U-S, Israel and the Middle East.

Guests

  • Peter David Washington DC bureau chief, The Economist
  • Ziad Asali president and founder of The American Task Force on Palestine.
  • David Makovsky senior fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and co-author with Dennis Ross of "Myths, Illusions and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East."

Transcript

  • 10:06:55

    MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. The U.S. is still hoping to forestall a Palestinian bid to bring the question of statehood up for a vote at the U.N. Palestinian unilateral move comes amid dim prospects of restarting Mid East negotiations and major political shifts in the Arab world.

  • 10:07:14

    MR. STEVE ROBERTSJoining me to discuss the issue and implications: Ziad Asali is president and founder of The American Task Force on Palestine, Peter David, Washington, D.C. bureau chief for The Economist, and from a studio at WCPN in Cleveland, David Makovsky, senior fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Welcome to you all. Good morning.

  • 10:07:40

    MR. ZIAD ASALIGood morning.

  • 10:07:41

    MR. PETER DAVIDHi.

  • 10:07:41

    ROBERTSAnd you can all join our conversation. Please do at 1-800-433-8850, as always, is our number. And, of course, our email address is drshow@wamu.org. But you can also reach us on Twitter and Facebook. And, please, be part of this conversation. Let's start, Peter David, with the latest news.

  • 10:08:03

    ROBERTSSecretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday said there was extremely intensive -- her phrase -- extremely intensive diplomatic negotiations and overtures going on at the United Nations right now. President Obama will be there later today. What's the latest we know about progress on the diplomatic front?

  • 10:08:28

    DAVIDWell, just to put this in some context, the Americans have been trying madly hard over recent weeks to fend off this bid for statehood that the Palestinians are taking to the United Nations. I suspect we will see negotiations go right up to the line, which means at least till Friday. But the likeliest outcome is going to be some form of American veto.

  • 10:08:58

    DAVIDIf the Palestinians succeed in getting majority on the Security Council for a resolution that declares that they are a member of the United Nations or a proper state, then I don't see how the president of the United States, having put himself in the position he has, can avoid casting a veto.

  • 10:09:19

    ROBERTSNow, you say Friday. That's the day when Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian authority, speaks to the United Nations. But a vote could be put off, right? I mean, there could be -- not all necessarily going to come to a head on Friday?

  • 10:09:35

    DAVIDNo. I mean, there have been reports in the Israeli press and elsewhere suggesting that there might be some sort of compromise language that the Palestinians will adopt, which will postpone things or dilute the request for statehood. But, you know, I think it's important to think -- remember that the bottom line is this, that Mahmoud Abbas has invested this occasion with great symbolic importance as people are watching him.

  • 10:09:59

    DAVIDIt'd be very difficult for him to back down or water down the bid for statehood that he's embarked on.

  • 10:10:07

    ROBERTSNow, Ziad Asali, give us a sense, from your point of view, why Abbas is moving now. Negotiations have been stalled for a long time.

  • 10:10:17

    ASALIRight.

  • 10:10:18

    ROBERTSWhat are the forces and the motivations behind this move now?

  • 10:10:22

    ASALIThere are many forces at play really. Fundamentally, is that the negotiation process has ended nowhere, and resistance, for whatever it's worth, that the Palestinians started out with 40, 50 years ago ended up also nowhere. So these two pillars of pursuit of the state have yielded nothing. It has become clear that something else has to be tried. The issue of the United Nations -- approach to the United Nations started, you know, decades ago.

  • 10:10:51

    ASALIBut it's taken steam over the course of the past year because of the political forces within Palestine and in the region in general. I think you cannot isolate what's happening here from the Arab Spring. There's been, you know, an energized youth or public movement that has, in fact, forced new pressures on leadership everywhere to be more responsive to people's demand.

  • 10:11:18

    ASALIThat is one main reason why I think -- the other is that the Palestinians have seen an opportunity, an actual opportunity to pursue something that is still use -- peaceful, is, you know, only considered unilateral by some powers in the world, but not by everybody because what they're asking for is something essentially multilateral, to have the United Nations involved.

  • 10:11:46

    ROBERTSRight.

  • 10:11:47

    ASALIAnd to show the world that they're not entirely impotent and they're very support for what they do, I think, it's a form of pressure on the United States primarily, which they believe has failed them. The president of the United States has failed them in the past, has yielded, so to speak, on the settlement expansion issue and has not applied any pressure that has helped them with the Israeli government.

  • 10:12:14

    ROBERTSNow, David Makovsky, as Peter David said, the president has vowed to veto this measure. So even if the Palestinians would get a majority of the Security Council, the permanent members do have the veto power. The president has said he would use it. If he does that, what's the point then, if everybody understands this will not pass?

  • 10:12:41

    MR. DAVID MAKOVSKYWell, I think, you know, you raised a good question, which is, you know, where is this all leading? And, right now, it looks kind of anticlimactic. I think there was kind of an implicit assumption between analysts following this that they would -- that Abbas was going to pivot in one of three directions after his speech on Friday.

  • 10:12:59

    MR. DAVID MAKOVSKYHe would either go to move it to the U.N. General Assembly, where the United States does not have a veto, try to get some status, like the Vatican, of a non-member state, or he would try to pivot even to a -- to the direct talks idea, that the quartet -- that's the U.S., European Union, Russia and the U.N. -- want to put out there.

  • 10:13:25

    MR. DAVID MAKOVSKYOr he might want to purposely draw veto in order to kind of whip up enthusiasm in -- among the Palestinians, to play off it in the Arab world. But what's -- I think, looks like it's going to merge, is that none of these three pivots seem to be happening so soon, and that this could go on for many months.

  • 10:13:47

    MR. DAVID MAKOVSKYBecause, to go through Security Council, there's all sorts of procedural moves on committees and advisory opinions, and I think a lot of the momentum might dissipate. You also have the U.S. very frantically, along with other countries, working some of the members of the Security Council behind the scenes.

  • 10:14:08

    MR. DAVID MAKOVSKYIt looks like Nigeria said that it would abstain. Bosnia, which kind of owes the United States, is also considering. There's Gabon -- and you need at least nine states. Even if you say this was not going to reach ahead for several months, that you're going to need nine states to support it, what, I think, the U.S. is trying to do is to try to be in a situation where they don't even have to exercise the veto.

  • 10:14:31

    MR. DAVID MAKOVSKYAnd this is either lost in committee, or there's not the requisite nine. Now, what does Abbas get out of it? It's unclear to me, frankly. I mean, he's -- I think he's just so boxed himself in on the Security Council that he's not able to pivot off of it right now. And I just think the readers, the listeners, are going to be confused in America 'cause I think this is going to be very anticlimactic.

  • 10:14:53

    ROBERTSWell, let me bring in Mr. Asali here. How would you answer the question of -- the veto threat is out there. The resolution is not going to pass. We know that. It may not get a majority. Even if does, there is the veto. What does Mahmoud Abbas get out of this, and what does he hope to achieve?

  • 10:15:11

    ASALIActually, there is a debit and credit aspects of this. What he achieves is that he stands up for the Palestinians against the United States and the Israel and the occupation...

  • 10:15:24

    ROBERTSSo it's a symbolic achievement?

  • 10:15:25

    ASALIIt's a symbolic in the highest order that he did not buckle under. The fact that he fails is not going to shock anybody, even at home. Although the expectations, actually -- I agree with David -- expectations have been pushed so high that a lot of people over there think that they will have a state in a few days. So that is one thing that he would achieve.

  • 10:15:49

    ASALIThe counterpart to that is that it is precisely the expectations of the people that will be dashed and the day-after effects that may fall upon Palestinians, either from a Congress that is so committed to freezing all kinds of support and to an Israel that is leaning further and further to the right with the view of punishing the Palestinians.

  • 10:16:16

    ASALIAnd that is impacting on the day-to-day life of the Palestinians and affecting the achievements that they already got over the last couple of years.

  • 10:16:27

    ROBERTSNow, Peter David, so every player in this has a lot at stake, including the president of the United States, who is in a situation where, if he vetoes, his long-standing campaign to encourage and improve relations with the Muslim world could be damaged. He's made this a major part of his foreign policy, spoken in Cairo, Istanbul, Jakarta about this.

  • 10:16:52

    ROBERTSBut at the same time, he's under political pressures where Republicans -- this week, Rick Perry said he's following a policy of appeasement in the Middle East. So he's really -- pressure's from both sides.

  • 10:17:05

    DAVIDYes. He's really in a most difficult position. And as you say, he's worked terribly hard, not just on trying to move the peace process forward so that the Palestinians advance to statehood, but also to position the United States in what you might call the right side of the Arab Spring, the democratic awakening.

  • 10:17:25

    ROBERTSHe was doing this one before the Arab Spring, though.

  • 10:17:27

    DAVIDHe was? Well, he certainly -- he went -- as you said, he told the Muslim world. He made a particularly strong speech in Cairo in 2009, where he more or less promised that he would work very hard to give the Palestinians their state. And, indeed, he said about a year ago that by this time, there ought to be a state.

  • 10:17:48

    DAVIDSo, you know, he is a president who's gone out of his way in his first term to move the Palestinians to statehood. That's such a pretty commendable effort by comparison, with plenty of previous presidents such as, George W. Bush, who had other stuff on his plate and he sort of pushed this to one side and never really picked it up properly.

  • 10:18:08

    DAVIDBut the truth of the matter is he has precious little to show for all his efforts. And in Arab eyes, he's a president who picked a fight with the Israelis over settlements and then backed down, not once, but twice when Bibi Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, pushed back. So he looks weak to the Arabs, and, of course, he's opened up this flank of attack from the Republican Party that he's not a proper friend of Israel.

  • 10:18:36

    ROBERTSUSA Today quoted one Middle East expert this week of saying, "Obama has angered all sides and earned accolades on none." And this is...

  • 10:18:44

    DAVIDWell, you might say that, you know, that is the fate of any would-be peacemaker in this region.

  • 10:18:50

    ROBERTSWe're going to be right back with your comments and your phone calls, so stay with us. More on the Middle East peace process and the U.N. debate.

  • 10:20:03

    ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in for Diane. Our subject this hour is the debate at the United Nations. President Obama will be there later today. And the Palestinian Authority has announced that, on Friday, it will seek resolution at the Security Council, granting statehood to Palestine.

  • 10:20:21

    ROBERTSAnd we've been discussing this with Ziad Asali, who is the president and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, Peter David, bureau chief for The Economist in Washington, David Makovsky, on the phone from Cleveland, who is at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. David, Mr. Asali was starting to talk about some of the potential fallout from this.

  • 10:20:43

    ROBERTSAnd one of the dimensions here is American aid to the Palestinian Authority, which, by one account, is $600 million a year. Republicans on the Hill see an opening here, politically, to attack the Obama administration. What's your best read about what could happen in terms of American aid?

  • 10:21:10

    MAKOVSKYWell, it's a serious question. I should disclose that I testified last week in the House Foreign Affairs Committee with Elliott Abrams, who served in the Bush administration. We don't always agree on every single point. But we both agreed that it would be a terrible mistake to withhold the aid because it could lead to a collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

  • 10:21:32

    MAKOVSKYAnd, in fact, the last four years, the security cooperation has been excellent between Israel and the United States and -- I should say, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. You've had 9.3 percent growth in the West Bank at a time of a worldwide recession. And there's been a lot of improvements on the ground.

  • 10:21:54

    MAKOVSKYA lot of that is really to the credit of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and the Israelis, who have worked very nicely together, below the radar, at a time, diplomatically, where not much has been going on at all on the ground. Things have been better. And I think it would be a terrible mistake to lead to a collapse.

  • 10:22:15

    MAKOVSKYI opened The New York Times this morning, and I saw an article of -- that Netanyahu pleaded with Republican members of Congress who were visiting -- I think some 81 members were there over the summer -- to not to cut off aid. It was in the case of $50 million that have been outstanding. And I think the Israeli view is let's -- don't make any hasty decisions.

  • 10:22:42

    MAKOVSKYOf course, if the Palestinians resort to violence on the ground, then it's a different story. Then I could imagine an aid cut off. But I don't see Abbas having that interest at all. That is not his record. So I think that, you know, there'll be -- if there's ways of displeasure to seek, it could be sought in different ways.

  • 10:23:02

    MAKOVSKYBut I think it would be a big mistake to lead to a collapse of the authority, where things are actually, on the ground, better than ever in terms of the West Bank. Gaza is always a separate issue, but we could discuss that.

  • 10:23:15

    ROBERTSBut at the same time, Peter David, that President Netanyahu has cooperated, as David has described, with the security forces, and there's also the question, however, of expanding settlements. And under Netanyahu, settlements have tripled to 5-, 600,000 Israelis in what was in the occupied territories. And so what's your best read about how -- is Netanyahu, as always, playing both sides of this?

  • 10:23:46

    DAVIDWell, first of all, let me make a general point in response to that question. I mean, one -- and this is that -- there is a paradox here, which is that when things are quiet in the region and on the -- you know, in the West Bank, when the Palestinian quality of life is improving, when the security forces are cooperating, this is great for both sides, in one sense.

  • 10:24:08

    DAVIDBut in another sense, it's very bad for the Palestinians because it removes all the incentive for the Israelis to move forward on the political front. And on the political front, Mr. Netanyahu is incredibly boxed in.

  • 10:24:22

    DAVIDEven if you give him the benefit of the doubt, which I don't, and believe that he would really like to move to a two-state solution, he is running a coalition government where there are plenty of people on the right of him who have no intention ever of agreeing to a two-state solution, and who are promoting the settlement activity very fast.

  • 10:24:41

    DAVIDAnd the Palestinians rightly say that this is like, you know, two men arguing about sharing out a pizza while one of them gobbles it all up. So I think -- you know, I wouldn't give the Israelis too much of a free pass on this. They like the quiet. The quiet is good for the Palestinians, better than violence, but it means that the situation is locked.

  • 10:25:04

    ROBERTSZiad Asali, you were nodding your head at that comment there.

  • 10:25:07

    ASALIYes, yes, yes. Clearly, there is this major argument about the erosion of the potential area that is available for the Palestinians to put their state on while the negotiations wind along without any progress, whatever progress is made on the ground. This is important, I think, to define the conflict. I believe this conflict is about two things: real estate and dignity.

  • 10:25:29

    ASALIYou have to make progress on both and lead to a resolution, which is a two-state solution, 'cause there are no other solutions. There are many other options, none of which would be a conflict-ending solution. So if the -- if both parties do not find ways to work during the days of quiet and even prosperity, and during the days of conflict, to actually aim and plan to reach to that end, then the whole system will fall apart. I fear this is what's at stake now.

  • 10:26:01

    ROBERTSOne other key variable here, David Makovsky, you mentioned that this whole process, U.N. could be dragged on for a long time.

  • 10:26:09

    ROBERTSBut one of the potential options here, if the resolution of the Security Council fails -- and it almost surely will, either by vote or by veto -- there is this other option open to the Palestinians of going to the General Assembly and asking, as you pointed out earlier, to have their status changed to a non-member status, an upgrade from their current status of observer, equivalent, say, to the Vatican.

  • 10:26:31

    ROBERTSNow, that -- if that status were to be changed by a majority vote -- and it does appear to be majority in favor of that in the General Assembly -- then the Palestinian Authority would be able to belong to a number of U.N. organizations and would have the right to bring actions in the International Criminal Court. And I gather this is something that really worries Israel deeply.

  • 10:26:53

    MAKOVSKYYou're right, Steve. I mean, this is their concern, that because the Palestinian Authority justice minister went to The Hague in January of 2009 -- you can go to the ICC, the criminal court's website, and it'll show you the PDF file of the application -- that if they get an upgraded status, that they will be able to start hauling Israeli military officials to The Hague about the intifada, the second intifada of 2000-2004, the Gaza war of 2008-2009.

  • 10:27:25

    MAKOVSKYInstead of trying to solve differences around the table, it will just be litigated in the courtroom. Some people call this legal warfare or lawfare. So that's clearly one of their concerns.

  • 10:27:37

    MAKOVSKYI do believe the U.S. and the Europeans would craft something behind the scenes that would try to take out some of these poison pills and to try to reshape a resolution that's more aspirational and maybe would jumpstart the talks that have long been stalled, which are really needed on the territorial issue.

  • 10:28:00

    MAKOVSKYIf I just may add, 'cause I've -- as Ziad knows very well, and, I think, Peter does too -- I've spent a lot of time on maps and of how would you get to President Obama's peace ideas. And I do believe it's possible, whatever one might say about the settlements. I wouldn't use the word gobbling. I would say nibbling. But it's -- 80 percent of the settlers live near the old border.

  • 10:28:24

    MAKOVSKYAnd there would be what we call land swaps, which are land exchanges, that if Israel would keep that 5 percent of the West Bank, they would yield a different 5 percent that would be contiguous. And so I don't think people should give up on the two-state solution, and there's not been new settlements every day, the way some people made it out to be. Most of the settlers live in an area that the Palestinians concede will be Israel.

  • 10:28:49

    MAKOVSKYBut because there's no deal, there's a perception out there that's strong. I'm not saying there are not scattered settlements all over the place, but it's not evenly distributed.

  • 10:28:59

    ROBERTSBut it is true that...

  • 10:28:59

    MAKOVSKYAnd therefore President Obama's ideas are important, that there is a way, still, to reach a two-state solution based on fairness and equal land swaps or land exchanges.

  • 10:29:09

    ROBERTSBut as Peter David was saying, the role of the settlers is not just a question of real estate. It's also a question of political pressure. And they are an important force within the Israeli community and within the Israel government -- aren't they? -- in terms of limiting the flexibility of Netanyahu.

  • 10:29:27

    MAKOVSKYAbsolutely. But that makes the importance of reaching a territorial deal so much more important because that would make the settlement issue moot. If you had a border, then those 80 percent of the people who live in that 5 percent, largely adjacent to the old pre-'67 boundary, they would be part of Israel. They -- and their interests are different than the remaining 20 percent, no matter how you gerrymander this.

  • 10:29:51

    MAKOVSKYSo I think it makes the -- more of an imperative to try to reach a territorial solution that would give dignity to both sides.

  • 10:30:00

    ROBERTSLet me read some emails from some of our listeners. And a lot of people want to get in on this conversation. This first one is from Peter in Winchester, N.H. He writes, "It is important to realize, since this will probably become a campaign issue in the next American election, that American Jews are not of one mind on this issue.

  • 10:30:17

    ROBERTS"Many of us recognize that there is a good deal about this problem that can be laid to Israeli intransigence as well as Palestinian disorder. It proves, once again, the dangers involved when religion is married to politics." Peter David.

  • 10:30:30

    DAVIDWell, I think that's a good point about American Jews. I mean, the opinion in the community here is very divided. There is an organization, J Street, which is trying to challenge the dominant view of AIPAC which has, for a long time, been the voice of American friends of Israel.

  • 10:30:50

    ROBERTSWhich is the American Israel Political Action Committee. Yes.

  • 10:30:51

    DAVIDExactly. However, I do think that this talk about the Jewish votes, if we're going to talk about the election, is sometimes a little bit overblown. I mean, in general, Jews are Democrats. And their votes tend to be cast for the reasons that other Americans have for casting their votes. They care about Israel.

  • 10:31:11

    DAVIDBut I don't believe, except in a very few places, that the Jewish vote, as influenced by what's happening on the Palestinian front, is likely to be decisive. Perhaps, what's more worrying to the Democratic Party is reports that some Jewish donors to the party, big donors to the party are unhappy with the president's approach.

  • 10:31:35

    ROBERTSAlthough in that district in New York, which received a lot of attention, a heavily Democratic district with a large Jewish population, just in the last week or two, has voted in a Republican member of Congress. And that got a lot of people's attention.

  • 10:31:47

    DAVIDThat's right. And, you know, former Mayor Ed Koch was very much a part of that. But, I mean, what I don't want to minimize is the fact that, you know, the president -- I mean, President Obama has a problem in -- if he is perceived as being, you know, unfriendly to Israel, not only with Jews but with evangelicals and others.

  • 10:32:11

    ROBERTSZiad, do you want to...

  • 10:32:12

    ASALIYes, of course. This is a very important point for us. I think it is as wrong to talk about a Jewish position on this as it is to talk about a Palestinian or Arab position. People are divided into many points of views and orientations. It is particularly significant, I think, that 70 percent of the American Jewish population is for a two-state solution.

  • 10:32:37

    ASALIAnd we make it a point to seek out relations with those in particular because they have a common stake in solving this problem. And I think it is important for people like us not to enter into intra-Jewish fights about this, and that's exactly what we do.

  • 10:32:56

    ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Another email here from Harriett in Arlington, Va., a question. "If Palestine becomes a member of the United Nations, won't that mean that it and Israel will be held more accountable for their respective actions against one another, which, I think, would be a very good thing?"

  • 10:33:15

    ROBERTSShe adds, "I feel that opposing this will increase the hatred against the U.S. in the Middle East. We cannot afford for that to happen." David?

  • 10:33:23

    MAKOVSKYWell, I think we all want this tragedy to end. And the question is, which is the best way to accomplish that? And I think it is through negotiations. I think it probably should be on the basis of President Obama's speeches, and that's important. I'm not so sure the U.N. -- you know, many in the U.N. will lead to greater accountability because the U.N. has been, sadly to say, rather reflexive in its criticism of Israel, and it is not viewed as an arbiter at all.

  • 10:33:53

    MAKOVSKYSo it's more a political body. And it's a shame that, in terms of its moral authority, it is so eroded. But I think I share the -- you know, the reader's -- her sentiment that there's a need to end this tragedy. And I think we could give these talks direction, focus, structure by focusing on these practical issues, borders and security, mutual recognition.

  • 10:34:20

    ROBERTSWhat about her second comment that we talked about just briefly, that if the United States can't diplomatically avoid a showdown and it's forced to issue a veto, this will only further diminish American influence and reputation in the Middle East?

  • 10:34:34

    MAKOVSKYWell, we don't -- you know, we have to be careful in making grand predictions, only because that was what people said in February when there was a Security Council vote on the settlements issue. And, no, everyone was so worried, and it -- nothing happened. Because, in the year 2011, for the Arabs, it seems much more the focus is inward about their own countries, about, you know, the -- all the turmoil in their respective countries.

  • 10:34:58

    MAKOVSKYAnd if you look at the -- all the placards of the Arab Spring, they weren't against Israel. They weren't against the United States. They were about personal empowerment and dignity, economic advancement. And I think that that is much more the spirit of the times.

  • 10:35:13

    ROBERTSLet me turn to some of our other callers 'cause a lot of people want to get in on this. We'll start with Daniel in Little Rock, Ark. Daniel, you're on the air. Welcome.

  • 10:35:21

    DANIELHi. Thank you, Steve, so much. My question is -- we already know what Israel is. We have, you know, 100 percent is Israel. We know what 100 percent of the territory is Palestine. And then we have that gray area that's in dispute. Why can't we go ahead and give statehood to what we already know and continue to discuss the issue of the disputed territories?

  • 10:35:47

    DANIELAnd in doing so, we're at least going to globally enfranchise to the United Nations the Palestinian state. Why can't we just get that hammered out and continue to work on the disputed territories?

  • 10:36:01

    ROBERTSZiad Asali.

  • 10:36:02

    ASALIYes. I think the Palestinians have traditionally -- and I think rightly -- been opposed to any idea about a provisional government on a sub-segment of the land because they understand the balance of power too well and understand that, once they get established in a certain place, their chances of expanding to what they think is a reasonable general agreement around -- based on '67 solution will not be achieved.

  • 10:36:27

    ASALIThat, in this case, would include something exceptionally significant, which is Jerusalem itself. And, now, Jerusalem has been an issue with that is way beyond the Palestinians and the Israelis. It's an international issue of symbolic significance to many people on Earth, and it is important to have that part of the final agreement anyway.

  • 10:36:49

    ASALIAnd you cannot just lead up to it and then living during which period you live with an undefined status quo, which has never worked in the favor of the Palestinians.

  • 10:36:59

    ROBERTSQuickly, your organization favors a two-state solution.

  • 10:37:02

    ASALIYes.

  • 10:37:03

    ROBERTSSo does the Palestinian authority. They've have agreed to that, and also in other places.

  • 10:37:04

    ASALIMm hmm. Right.

  • 10:37:07

    ROBERTSBut you also have Hamas, which rules Gaza, which has not signed on to that idea.

  • 10:37:09

    ASALIYes. Yes. Yes. Hamas is in a separate problem. It -- actually, in many ways, it argues in actions for people to conclude that any kind of a negotiation or an agreement in the meantime is not in its benefit. And it perpetuates the status quo, which means the occupation.

  • 10:37:32

    ROBERTSThat's Ziad Asali. He is from the American Task Force on Palestine. Peter David from The Economist, David Makovsky from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in for Diane. We'll be back with more of your phone calls. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:03

    ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. She's at -- in a public radio conference and will be back on Monday. And our subject this hour is the debate at the United Nations over the intentions of Palestinian authority on Friday to seek resolution at the national -- at the Security Council to declare Palestinian statehood. And the president -- President Obama is speaking as we are on the air at the U.N. General Assembly.

  • 10:40:29

    ROBERTSAnd we have -- I want to read the panel a quote from the president and get your reactions. He just said this a few minutes ago. He refers back to his earlier remarks at the General Assembly, and he says, "I believe then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves."

  • 10:40:52

    ROBERTS"Peace will not come to statements and resolutions at the U.N. If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now." What's your reaction to that, Peter?

  • 10:41:00

    DAVIDWell, my reaction is that the president is probably wrong when he says that peace can only come in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians themselves. You could argue that the history of the last 20 years, if not longer, shows that Israelis and the Palestinians, on their own, cannot agree to peace. There had been plenty of talks over the years. The negotiations have burrowed down into all the details.

  • 10:41:26

    DAVIDAnd everything has been discussed over and again. And the two sides hold pretty irreconcilable positions about the demarcation of the borders, about the fate of the Palestinian refugees and about the status of Jerusalem and so on. It will take some powerful outside country or body, preferably the United States, in my view, to intervene in a muscular way into this conflict in order to resolve it. So I disagree with what the president just said.

  • 10:41:54

    ROBERTSAnd, David Makovsky, hasn't the United States been trying to do exactly that for many years?

  • 10:41:59

    MAKOVSKYWell, look, I think it's one thing to say you need to have active U.S. mediation. I would agree with Peter on that. But that's very different by saying, by U.N., by fiat, there should be some sort of an imposed solution of sorts. Look, the United States has had times where it's been more successful and less successful. But, often, if you look, there has to be the will of the parties themselves.

  • 10:42:27

    MAKOVSKYThe Oslo Accord of 1993 was that the parties did this in Norway without the United States. They came for a handshake on the White House lawn with Bill Clinton, but it was the parties themselves. In 2008, Ehud Olmert agreed to the internationalization of the parts of Jerusalem, agreed to this idea of a one-for-one land exchange, and, still, there was no deal. So there have been times it's worked with the U.S.

  • 10:42:53

    MAKOVSKYThere have been times it's worked without the U.S. But I think that, for the most part, you know, there had been moments where it looked very tantalizingly close. And I -- you know, I, you know, I don't want to get into the recriminations of the past.

  • 10:43:08

    ROBERTSRight. I know. I want to bring in Ziad Asali here, your reactions to the president's remarks this morning.

  • 10:43:14

    ASALIMy reaction is as follows: the two -- the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis are necessary but insufficient to resolve the issue. There is a scandalous imbalance of power between the Palestinians and the Israelis. But there is no way that this process can move forward without active negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. So that's necessary.

  • 10:43:35

    ASALIHowever, there are other parties that have an interest in the outcome or resolution of this issue -- the United States has an -- its own interest to protect, and it is the indispensable partner to these two minor partners in order to move this process forward, not just to facilitate it, to facilitate the understanding, the ideas, the -- and eventually to bring about the wherewithal to make whatever agreements applicable and amend them.

  • 10:44:01

    ASALIThe history of the last 20 years, indeed, has been, you know, on and off negotiations between the Palestinians. And it has not yielded much. So we need to keep that in mind. However, to dismiss, you know, the other players would mean, unfortunately, a possibility of continuation of the status quo, which is continuation of occupation, which means the absence of Palestinian state, which means the absence of peace.

  • 10:44:28

    ROBERTSLet me go to some of our callers here who've been waiting patiently. Mary from Bristol, Ind., is it?

  • 10:44:35

    MARYYes.

  • 10:44:36

    ROBERTSOkay. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show". What's on your mind this morning?

  • 10:44:40

    MARYWell, I'm not -- I cannot understand why the president would take the position he does, why we have over the -- taking position we have on this issue -- the Arab Spring, the democratic concerns throughout -- in other situations. But when it comes to Palestinians, we pretty much, in the end, let Israel do as they please, and we...

  • 10:45:18

    ROBERTSOkay, Mary. I'm afraid we're having trouble hearing you because of your phone line. I think we've got the point of your call. David Makovsky.

  • 10:45:26

    MAKOVSKYWell, I think if you look at U.S. aid to the Palestinians, it's, per capita, probably as high as also it is to Israel, which has also been very generous. The United States has devoted a huge amount of diplomatic effort on this issue. I can't imagine another conflict in the world that the U.S. has put in as much effort. So I, you know, it's easy to beat up on America, but America has, at least, been trying. It's had some successes.

  • 10:45:54

    MAKOVSKYLike I said, I think there's a way. I thought President Obama deserved a lot of credit for a speech where he said, look, let's resume talks, but with a structure. And that, I think, would give these talks some direction. If I would fault the administration on one issue, I tend to believe that we played a huge card of tough love, so to speak, when it came to Israel in May.

  • 10:46:18

    MAKOVSKYBut we did not extract anything in response from the Europeans who have been, generally, the patrons of the Palestinians in giving a European corollary speech of tough love, which would also would have helped these talks a lot.

  • 10:46:34

    ROBERTSOkay. Let me turn to Mark in Cleveland, Ohio. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Mark.

  • 10:46:39

    MARKHi, Steve.

  • 10:46:40

    ROBERTSPlease go ahead.

  • 10:46:40

    MARKMy point is similar -- yes. My point is similar to Mary's. To me, it is unthinkable, you know, that this country, which professes to believe in human liberty, would deny the Palestinian people their opportunity -- it's not even a guarantee -- their opportunity for statehood. I -- and my -- I guess, my only question is a short rhetorical question. It may come across rather simplistic.

  • 10:47:12

    MARKBut how do we believe that there will ever be peace in the Middle East if the needs of the Palestinian people are thwarted? Well, that's -- those are my thoughts, and I think the president is embarking down the wrong path and apparently for his own political gain.

  • 10:47:37

    ROBERTSOkay. Thank you, Mark. We appreciate your call. Peter.

  • 10:47:41

    DAVIDWell, I hear the underlying sentiment. But, I mean, the devil is in the details. Yes, of course, I think everyone can agree that the Palestinians deserve their own state just as much as the Israelis do. The question is the borders. The question is, on what terms?

  • 10:47:57

    ROBERTSThe president said that today. He did repeat that in his remarks, you know.

  • 10:48:01

    DAVIDQuite so. So, you know, I think if the president could wave a wand, he would like to create a state of Palestine. It would serve him well, actually, in America's general standing throughout the Muslim world, indeed, throughout the world. But, you know, there are some Palestinians who make maximal demands, those in Hamas, for example. There are difficult and deep arguments to resolve, so I'm afraid it's not just as simple as giving the nod.

  • 10:48:28

    ASALIYeah, I think the two-state solution is the policy of the United States as it is of Israel and Palestine, indeed the whole world, which is the quartet. But what stands between us, between policy and implementation is politics. So there's the politics for the United States. There's politics of the Palestinians, and there's politics of the Israelis.

  • 10:48:46

    ASALIAnd what we need, in fact, is to establish bridges, political bridges, between Palestinian and Israeli forces who really can work together and help each other and empower each other to create a political constituency in both places for a two-state solution and have the support of the United States behind that venture. I think this is one model that can get us out of these politics always trumping policy.

  • 10:49:15

    ROBERTSNow, let's turn to Zach in San Antonio, Texas. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Zach.

  • 10:49:20

    ZACHHello. I want to say that, for the longest time, the Arabs refused to recognize Israel. The push was for the longest time. And so Egypt and Jordan decided to sign the peace treaty with them. Why is it not now recognizing the Palestinians as a human rights issue? What I'm trying to say right here is your hosts who are here, they're taking middle grounds to discuss the issue. Why don't they come out and say it like it is? Thank you very much.

  • 10:50:04

    ROBERTSAny reaction?

  • 10:50:05

    MAKOVSKYI just say that the way that the peace was done with the Egypt and Jordan was through negotiations. In the case of Sadat, he actually made a historic trip to Jerusalem in 1977. He got every inch of his land back. And Jordan, there was also a peace treaty based on talks with King Hussein in Israel. The president said that, I understand this morning at the U.N., there's no shortcuts here.

  • 10:50:29

    MAKOVSKYAnd it's not about politics. It's about trying to, you know, what Peter said that the devil is in the details. I do think Olmert's offer in 2008, that's what, ultimately, it's going to be. And it's a shame that that offer was not taken up 'cause it was all the basis of what the Palestinians wanted essentially.

  • 10:50:47

    ROBERTSLet -- I'm glad you brought up the subject of Egypt and also Turkey as well. These have been two of the more stalwart Muslim countries in terms of their relations. You mentioned the historic trip of Anwar Sadat, the enduring peace agreement with Egypt. But the Israeli embassy was attacked in Cairo, deteriorating relations with Turkey, which has been an important ally in the Muslim world.

  • 10:51:08

    ROBERTSWhat part, David, is -- are those developments playing in what we're seeing in New York?

  • 10:51:16

    MAKOVSKYWell, I, you know, I don't know if immediately in New York we're going to see it. But I think -- Steve, you raise some important issues, which is, you know, at this time of -- like, the lid has come off these Arab societies. We pray for these people that they will exercise their democratic rights. But until we get there, it is probably going to mean a boost for some of these Islamist parties, whether it's the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis and others.

  • 10:51:42

    MAKOVSKYAnd they will play off the paralysis on this issue. I don't know what it will be in New York. But I do think that the populism and the radicalism of some of these groups make it even more of an imperative that these parties sort out their differences. In the old days, Israel could have peace with leaders. Now, it's got to have peace with peoples.

  • 10:52:02

    MAKOVSKYThat's much harder to do when -- whether it's in Ankara, whether it's in Cairo, wherever it is, these more Islamist parties are playing off the paralysis of this issue. So, I think, it makes it vitally important that the talks are resumed and that they make progress. You know, the -- each side has got their reason why there's no talks. Netanyahu will say, you've only met me for two weeks in two-and-a-half years. Give it a chance.

  • 10:52:32

    MAKOVSKYAnd, you know, Abbas will say, no, 'cause I don't believe we'd reach a deal. So they have to sit down, and there has to be a basis for these talks because I think the regional context now is changing. And this is going to be a much more dangerous Middle East in the short term as we hopefully get to a better long term of democratic Middle East states. So I think it's an imperative to work something out on the ground...

  • 10:52:57

    ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts...

  • 10:52:58

    MAKOVSKY...at the table.

  • 10:52:59

    ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have an email from Jim in Brick, N.J. He says, "Could the panel comment on whatever inside conversations are probably being had between Secretary Hillary Clinton and President Obama about the statehood question?" Peter David, do you have any insight to that?

  • 10:53:14

    DAVIDI don't. I'm afraid I haven't been eavesdropping. But I guess, you know, what is really at stake here is, you know, American prestige and influence on the one hand and some domestic political calculations on the other.

  • 10:53:26

    ROBERTSAnd -- yes, Ziad.

  • 10:53:27

    ASALII think America is trying to avoid a veto. And this is, again, a question about the national interest of the United States in resolving this issue and avoiding getting exactly at the wrong side of history as the Arab Spring unfolds and the empowerment of the people is now a positive thing for America. Now, this brings us back to what David was saying.

  • 10:53:45

    ASALIIsrael has to understand that this is going to have to be peace with the people in the region, not with leaders who come and go. And, clearly, it's easier for these leaders to go these days. So the -- coming to peace with the Palestinian people means agreeing in principle, as a matter of policy and a mater of implementation to make peace about achieving and implementing a state of Palestine rather than talking about this as an objective.

  • 10:54:12

    ROBERTSOkay. We only have a few minutes left. And all of you have agreed that the major players, with a possible exception of Hamas, agree a two-state solution is the only enduring answer, and that there are forces within the United States, within Israel, within the Palestine who all support this. And yet, as you've all agreed, politics has been in the way here. I want each of you to talk about the obstacles within different countries.

  • 10:54:38

    ROBERTSAnd, Peter, start with the United States. What are the obstacles within the United States toward moving forward here, the political obstacles?

  • 10:54:45

    DAVIDWell, I think we've seen that the Republicans have grabbed this issue. And, therefore, I very much doubt that between now and the American election in November next year, we will see any pressure from the United States applied to the Israelis. And I'm afraid that if Bibi Netanyahu remains prime minister of the coalition he heads, that that means we will have deadlock for the coming year.

  • 10:55:10

    ROBERTSZiad, tell me about the Palestinian picture -- the politics of the Palestinian picture.

  • 10:55:14

    ASALIYeah, there are -- the known differences between Hamas and Fatah, or his group, which physically means two functional governments. And there is a difference between the people who support the concept of resistance, standing up to the Israelis and United States, and those who want to negotiate.

  • 10:55:32

    ASALIEven those who negotiate, there is a split amongst those who want to make negotiations with the basis of an understanding and close relations, strategically, with the United States and then with Israel, rather than those who say, you know, we want to oppose the United States and have alliances within the region, whatever forces there are with the global, you know, emerging support for the Palestinians.

  • 10:55:56

    ROBERTSI thought it was interesting that Abbas went out of his way in his speech to say we're not talking about delegitimizing Israel. We're talking about delegitimizing the occupation.

  • 10:56:05

    ASALIYes.

  • 10:56:06

    ROBERTSAnd this is not a point of view shared by Hamas?

  • 10:56:09

    ASALINo. Of course not. Of course, this is fundamentally not a point of view shared by Hamas. And I think he clearly understands the limitations of the Palestinian power, that he cannot really go against the Israel to delegitimize it and go against the United States also at the same time.

  • 10:56:23

    ROBERTSFinal word, David, the politics of Israel.

  • 10:56:27

    MAKOVSKYThey're -- you know, you have 70 percent of the Israeli public that says they accept a two-state solution. But then the next question the polls say, does the other side accept a two-state solution? And then the number is 30 percent. And I think you see a kind of a mirror imaging on the Palestinian public opinion. You use to have constituencies on the political spectrum of an active peace camp. Certainly, in Israel, you'd see huge peace rallies.

  • 10:56:55

    MAKOVSKYBut what's happened is with all the violence and Israel getting out of Gaza and Lebanon and facing rockets, is that that peace camp has been decimated. What you need to do is reconfigure the governments on Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni of the Kadima centrist party, that they sit together and really optimize this 70 percent and rebuild these constituencies for peace that have been there and have been dormant.

  • 10:57:18

    ROBERTSDavid Makovsky, Ziad Asali and Peter David, thank you so much for being with us this morning. Thanks for our listeners and all of the emails and calls we've gotten. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. She's at a public radio conference and will be back on Monday. Thanks very much for listening.

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