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Transcript of March 24, 2010 Forum
"Israeli-Palestinian Peace"

Photos of forum here.


PAUL SUROVELL:

Welcome to our meeting. our forum. We have a really exciting meeting ahead. I'm not going to take much time because we want to have as much time available to our three wonderful speakers, so I am just going to do a few introductions. First of all my name is Paul Surovell. I am the Chairperson of South Mountain Peace Action, which is the sponsor of this meeting. Thank you.

We first conceived of this event back in December. And the idea then was that we really had an opportunity to do something about the Israeli-Palestine issue in particular not only because it is an important issue but because the Obama administration had a clear policy for making headway, making progress, on that problem, and so we began to think about the meeting, and we defined it as "Israeli-Palestinian Peace" and subtitled it "The Obama-Clinton Solution for a Two State Solution and How We Can Support it."

And I think it has become pretty clear in the last two weeks that there is in fact a very definite program that the President and his administration are working on and pushing forward and that it is having a major impact on the state of negotiations and the prospects for peace. So we are very gratified to see that are our work is making some difference locally but that the issue is being promoted on a national and an international level in a very positive fashion;

Now we phrased and framed the meeting -- as how we can support the Obama-Clinton program for a two state solution and Chris Black one of our members actually wrote a wonderful piece that is in today's New York Times Local Edition about this meeting and the background. Chris is just going to come up and make a few suggestions about what we can do to follow up this meeting.

CHRIS BLACK:

Good evening everybody, I'd to thank everybody for coming and especially our speakers for taking the time to come out with us tonight. I don't want to take up any time but I do want to remind everybody that is here … we're going to learn a lot but really what is important is what we do after tonight. And so I have prepared a little list of things that be done for advocacy. Which whatever you take away from this meeting, pass it along so that we can move the process forward. That's the purpose of having this meeting, as the purpose of all the meetings we have. So I am going to pass these out now and there is a place where you can write some notes down as you get some ideas during the course of the program for advocacy -- write them down, take them home and move forward from there. OK. Thanks.

PAUL SUROVELL:

So here is the order of business. We are going to start off with Ori Nir. Ori Nir is sitting on the far right. Ori is the national spokesperson for Americans for Peace Now which is the sister organization of the peace Now peace movement in Israel. Ori is a former journalist. He worked for Haaretz for many years. I believe he worked on the West Bank for a good part of that time. Hussein Ibish is the senior fellow at the Arab-American Task Force on Palestine. Hussein was previously communications director for the Arab-American Anti Discrimination Committee which is the largest Arab-American organization in the country. Hussein actually has an op-ed piece in today's Guardian and you can find it on the internet -- it's a wonderful assessment of where the negotiations and the peace process have reached at this time. And last we have Debbie Schlossberg who is the central New Jersey representative of the J Street organization. J Street is now in the process of organizing on a local basis across the country and she represents central Jersey.

So without further ado I'd like to introduce Ori Nir

ORI NIR:

Thank you very much. I want to cover a lot of ground, so I will try to speed things up a little bit. Before I do though I want to thank the organizers, Paul, Debbie, and I want to thank you all for coming here. It is really exciting to see so many people here. I also wanted to recognize Hussein not only because he is a friend but also because our two organizations have been cooperating in Washington and beyond in recent years and really showing that Israeli Palestinian cooperation, Israeli Palestinian common ground is possible. We have been doing that with various programs, one of the most exciting programs that we did is a joint internship program where interns worked both at APN and ATF at the same time and did some interesting projects together. I can tell you a little more about that later.

So I'm really honored to be sharing the podium with Hussein.

Today is a special day. It's a day of drama. It's A day of drama that can really give us hope. And I will explain why. I wanted to start with the issues of the day because what we have in past 24 hours is something that may very well be a turning point in the efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. What we have quite clearly is the United States, the American government asserting itself in the peace process in a way that we haven't seen before, particularly with Israel. Yesterday Prime Minister Netanyahu came to the White House. He had an hour and a half meeting with President Obama, came out of the meeting, went back into another meeting for another 30 minutes with the President and then today the teams of the 2 leaders were trying to hammer out some kind of a joint statement.

Having not listened to the news in the past couple of hours, I don't know what came out of it. But what is clear that did happen in the White House, if you follow Israeli press reports and so on, is that the United States -- not the United States, the American President -- demanded from Israel, which is the main actor, the main player in the peace process, some answers, some commitments in the way it's going pursue peace with the Palestinians. And it seems to me that this ... the content, of what I think was the content of those demands is something that has never been uttered before, at least not in such a way and that gives a great deal of hope that finally the United States is going to find its mojo, if you will, in the peace process. And really assert itself in a way that would bring about some progress.

I came back from a visit in Israel a week ago. It was our -- Peace Now's annual fact-finding trip, and it was tough. I have to say, before I start that what I want to do today is point to the sources of the reasons for hope, but before I do that I have to say that the situation is not very promising.

If you talk with Palestinians and Israelis the general mood is pretty grim and the situation on the ground is pretty grim. My eyes are open. I am not Pollyanna-ish about the situation, so before I tell you why we may be optimistic to a certain extent, there are quite a few reasons to be pessimistic. Many people in Israel and in Palestine have given up on the peace process. The positions of the parties are very much apart. You have weak leaders you have a public, both on the Palestinian side and on the Israeli side that has grown a great deal of scar tissue and has turned its back to a large extent to the idea of a peaceful relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. You have an Obama administration that has made quite a few mistakes in the past year. And you have a situation on the ground that is getting more and more severe in terms of settlement activity, in terms of violence. in terms of what is happening in Jerusalem, which we can talk a little bit more later. However, we also have some things that gave us hope and I want to focus on those tonight.

One thing that I think is maybe the most important source for hope is that still today among both Israelis and Palestinians there is a solid majority for a two state solution. The publics on both sides have not given up on that. There is a majority if you look at the polls, it's pretty constant, somewhere between 65 and 75%, it's a solid majority. The downside of this is that the same proportion, somewhere between two-thirds and three-fourths of both Israelis and Palestinians will tell you that they don't see the chances of the two-state solution being applied, they don't think it's viable in the foreseeable future. But still they support it, they think it's the right way to go.

Furthermore there is a majority, both among Palestinians and Israelis who support the general outlines of what most probably is what the solution will be when there is finally a two-state solution which are to the people who know them, the Clinton parameters. The overall understanding that the border between Israel and Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza, will be somewhere along the lines of the 1967 borders with some land swaps, that the issue of the refugees will be resolved without a mass return of Palestinians into Israel proper, Jerusalem will be divided and so on and so forth.

We spoke with pollsters who participated in a really interesting exercise of trying to present Israelis and Palestinians with that kind of formula. The results were pretty good. There was a majority. Not a very large majority, but still a majority for the formula that we all think will be the final outcome of negotiations. Another reason for hope is that in the Israel public, the notion, the recognition that the status quo is untenable, as Secretary Clinton pointed out in her speech to AIPAC a couple of days ago, the notion that the status quo is untenable is beginning to gain momentum. More and more Israelis are becoming convinced that Israel cannot remain Jewish and democratic if it holds on to the West Bank long term. And this notion that there is a creeping process of Israel turning into what it doesn't want to be is something that more and more Israelis are realizing and recognizing, a minority still, but a growing minority feel there is an urgency to take action.

There is another component which I pointed out earlier which may be the most decisive one, and the one that I draw the most hope from, and that is the Obama administration, despite some of the mistakes it made earlier, is devising a real strategy for the peace negotiations, is beginning to explore the leverages, the levers it has on both parties, not only on Israelis but also on Palestinians and on the Arab governments which are an essential part of this process, and beginning to understand how it can effectively use those levers. That's something that is extremely important. The resolve that we've heard from American leaders the past few days, Secretary Clinton, Vice President Biden and others is very promising I think and shows a good prospect for hope.

Another thing that I think is important which I want to point out is the growing antipathy for most Israelis to the settlers, and as a result of that to the whole settlement project, the settlement enterprise. There are more and more Israelis, this is something by the way that is not new, but is a growing sentiment I think among Israelis that the settlers and the settlement enterprise is detrimental to again Israel's future as a Jewish democracy, something that is beginning to gain more and more recognition among the Israeli public.

There's another component, there's a phenomenon that I must point to which I think really goes both ways. It is definitely, for the most part, negative, but I think that it also has a silver lining. and I will explain what I mean by that. Most Israelis are pretty, how would I put it? Most Israelis have ceased to really care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is something that they don't feel is really pertinent or relevant to their daily lives. I know that for many of you, maybe most of you, it sounds strange. How could it be? Here is the occupation that is burdening Israel, here is the issue that Israelis have discussed over and over again for so many years, the Israel-Palestine conflict.

I would like to share a story about this. About a year and a half ago my brother-in-law died in Israel and I went to to sit shiva with my sister. As you know during the shiva people come and go. There are conversations, the conversations are usually are about mundane issues, about the issues of the day. There were hundreds, hundreds of conversations that went during those 7 days at my sister's home. Not one of them, and I was serving coffee, and just going around listening to what was going on, not one of these conversations -- one -- dealt with what we used to refer to in Israel as "hamatzav" -- "the situation," always being the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians -- not even once. And I thought this was very telling.

Polls show that by the way, that Israelis have for the most part, have ceased to care. Now that is very negative, it's terrible, particularly for our sister organization in Israel, for Peace Now, it is a huge challenge to try to shake people up from its apathy to get them involved. But there is also some sort of a silver lining to that and, if you like later I can talk about what I see as the reasons for that, why I think Israelis have become so apathetic toward this issue.

The silver lining, however, is that because Israelis don't care that much about this issue because it has become a lower priority issue on people's minds, it will be easier, I think, to turn Israelis on a dime once there is a real credible peace process going and there is a real initiative coming from an Israeli leader who's seen as credible.

And I have to say that the current prime minister, whose popularity ratings have gone down in recent months still is pretty popular. If Prime Minister Netanyahu somehow finds it within him and somehow finds the right coalition to harness to this kind of process and really decides to go hand in hand with the US administration and launch a real credible peace initiative, the Israeli public will follow They really will follow. So that's something that I think also gives me some hope.

One last thing, I that know Hussein will elaborate on, but I do feel that I would like to mention is what is happening on the West bank in recent months and recent years. Under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, two Palestinian leaders who are the real thing.

They are the real partners for peace for Israel and Israel will have a chance there to cooperate with them and to actually push things forward. Prime Minister Fayyad has been doing incredible things in the fields of economy and security and Hussein will talk about it later so I will not elaborate on that.

The key to introducing change to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not so much the dynamic between Israelis and Palestinians really, but the dynamic between an American leadership and an Israeli leadership. This is where the power is, this is where the levers are, through where the initiative will come from. And since you are talking about two democratic countries, the United States and Israel, the pressure, the political pressure that comes from within the public is of incredible importance and what I'd like to talk about in the time I have left is what the public, both here and in Israel -- the public who cares, people like you -- do and can do more of to try to bring about a peaceful resolution.

In Israel, as I said, the main challenge of the peace movement in Israel is to shake people out of their apathy and to convince them of two things, mainly. One is that a peaceful resolution along the lines of a two-state solution is possible and the second is to convince them that such a resolution is needed urgently and that it's vital to Israel's future, that without such a resolution Israel does not really have a future.

As I said before, most Israelis support that notion but they don't think that it's viable in the foreseeable future because of various reasons that I won't go into now. And that is the kind of a public mood that really serves the current government, the Netanyahu government which I think has not yet decided to take the right steps toward peace. And I have some polling data that I can share with you later to show how this plays out but let me -- I'll skip that for the benefit of time and other comments that I wanted to make.

One thing that we don't have in Israel at the moment is a viable parliamentary opposition. The right is in power. The right controls the parliament, controls the Knesset, and when you look left of center what you find is a party, the Kadima Party, which is some kind of a rag-tag party that does not speak with one clear voice that supports an aggressive, assertive peace process. Left of Kadima it's tough. It is really tough. Meretz, if you are familiar, has shrunken into a 3 member party and even there you find it's very difficult to find people who are really committed to the issue and are willing to stir up opposition in an effective manner.

What happens therefore because there's no viable parliamentary opposition, is that non-partisan, extra-parliamentary organizations are filling the void and Peace Now is now, I think, leading the effort in doing that. At least on the Zionist side of the political spectrum. It is the chief peace organization in Israel and it is definitely the authority bar none in the world in terms of following the issue of settlements and I can tell you more about it. APN, Americans for Peace Now, the sister organization of Peace Now here in the United States, tries to influence the US scene. We're trying to both have impact within the pro-Israel community in the United States and at the same time to make it clear to the political establishment in the US in Washington that most of Israel's supporters in the US do actually support security through peace for Israel, peace through security, and a pragmatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Really quickly to tell you a little about Americans for Peace Now and what we do: We work in three main realms. One is the political scene in Washington. We have the best, leading analyst, lobbyist in Washington in the arena of Israel-Arab relations. Her name is Lara Friedman. You can read her stuff on our web site, peacenow.org. She has a really interesting, unique -- no one does it but her report on what is happening on Capitol Hill every week in terms of Israel-Palestine, Israel-Arab issues and US policy in the middle east. She has reports on settlements and then she has a lot of interesting analysis on her blog which again you can find on our web site

Another scene, another realm in which we work is political activism on the grass roots level. Now we're not chapter-based unlike J Street which now has chapters across the United States, APN is not a chapter based organization, but we do have a lot of supporters and our main way of communicating with them is electronically, through internet based action, action alerts and things like that. I would urge you to join our list.

And the third realm in which we're active is the media which is what I do for APN. One very important scene or realm in which we work is the organized Jewish community in the United States. We are a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, or the Conference of Presidents as it's known. We're active there, we're pretty lonely as a kind of a kind of a lefty organization, as a pro peace organization that tries to voice and influence within the Conference of Presidents, and I think we are having some impact trying to effect from within. The last thing that I want to say, which I was requested to touch upon and I will do it here really quickly is what people can do. What can we do to really support this administration. That goes into a really really difficult phase of trying to attempt to twist hands, twist arms rather. There is a multiplicity of things people can do -- getting involved through organizations such as Hussein's or mine or Debbie's is something that is really important and has a great deal of impact. If you send letters to your representatives through us that has an impact. If you write letters to the editor, not through us, if you do not want to associate yourself with a particular organization but do that as a private citizen, that has a great deal of impact. Any kind of action alert that we sponsor or that we are calling for has an impact and we see it, we actually hear about it from people in Congress that we're in touch with, so any kind of such thing that you can do would have a great deal of impact, and I think this administration needs all the help that it can get in order to really assert itself now in what may be the decisive push for effective negotiations for peace. I'll end here and I'll be very happy to answer your questions later on. Thank you.

PAUL SUROVELL:

Just a program note. After the speakers have completed their presentations we are going to open up the floor. I hope we can fit everybody in. We will allow each person one minute either to make a comment or ask a question and you will be able to address your questions to the speakers or if you don't have a question but just want to make a statement, that's fine as well. Hussein Ibish.

HUSSEIN IBISH:

Thanks very much. It's really a pleasure to be here and I'd like to thank all the organizers -- everyone who helped put this together. A word of background first about the American Task Force on Palestine. ATFP was founded in 2003 in order to be a Palestinian-American non-partisan organization dedicated to a very simple proposition, and our mission can be summed up in a single statement which is: The goal of ATFP is to advocate that a negotiated end of conflict agreement that allows two states -- Israel and Palestine -- to live side by side in peace and security is in the American national interest. In other words, that's our point -- that this is in the American national interest. Now I'd like to, like Ori, I'd like to talk a little bit about the present crisis I think he described it rather well. It is really an historic thing for an Israeli Prime Minister to come to the White House, meet with the President, retreat to a private meeting with his own advisors, request an additional meeting with the President and have both sides saying to the press and the world -- nothing. I mean Nothing. No photo op, no joint statement no press conference. I think they said it was -- the only statement that I saw until we got on the train together, it was the early afternoon -- it was a good atmosphere. I'm sure it was. I'm sure it was a fine atmosphere. Who said what to whom about what. I mean this is extraordinary and today Prime Minister Netanyahu actually cancelled all of his public events in order to try to deal with this situation because it's so pressing and so unusual.

Now I also agree with Ori that it's a great opportunity for the Obama administration, for Palestinians, for everyone who's interested in pushing the ball forward on peace. And if he wants to go in that direction, for Prime Minister Netanyahu as well.

I want to just look back a bit and see how did we get here? What happened? President Obama during the campaign was very clear. That he was going to prioritize this issue and he said he wouldn't wait until the end of his second term or the end of his first term, an implicit criticism of George W Bush's belated effort halfheartedly under Condoleeza Rice. He didn't get anywhere and also President Clinton's last year of his 8-year effort as well. And so, it's really interesting how quickly President Obama got into it.

He was inaugurated and he went to the White House and he got to the Oval Office and after ten minutes he picked up the phone and he made his first phone call and he called Ramallah and he talked to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, that's pretty extraordinary.

On the second day in office he appointed George Mitchell to be the Special Envoy for the Peace so he really lived up to his word, he didn't waste any time, he got stuck in it right away. Now during the year that's intervened, slightly more, there have been a pretty extraordinary series of false starts and setbacks and what have you, but what's really interesting is that the Obama administration, Secretary Clinton, Special Envoy Mitchell and others haven't given up on the issue. Haven't thrown up their hands and walked away. And what I'd like to suggest is that this is a logical consequence of the idea that President Obama was expressing during the campaign that you can't wait for your last year because it's not going to take a year, or two, or three -- you need all four to eight years to try to get there. So it's not, you know, given his own set of expectations, implicitly in that idea that you start on day one in your first ten minutes with your first phone call in order to hope to get somewhere on this -- is an idea that -- they might be disappointed that they haven't gotten further, but I'm sure they can't be surprised, given that sort of agenda.

Now the idea that the Obama administration first had was that there could be reciprocal gestures, right. The roadmap was set up for a first phase that would include the tradeoff of Palestinian action on security and Israeli action on settlements. And by all accounts, including Israeli accounts, the PA and its new security services have been doing a great deal to enhance security on the West Bank and I'll talk about that in a little more. On that side of the ledger there's quite to point to. On the Israeli side of the ledger there wasn't much to point to because settlement building was going on apace. So the Obama administration asked the Israelis for a complete settlement freeze and they made a big deal about it in the summer and early fall and they asked the Palestinians to crack down on incitement which is a bit of a throw away because they kind of are and they could be doing more but it's not their central mandate. Their central mandate is security and they're kind of doing that.

What they added to the list and it was an interesting idea, was to bring the Arab states in. The Arab states should begin to operationalize the Arab Peace Initiative and at least start to restore some of the diplomatic links that some Arab states had with Israel, subdiplomatic relations, trade missions, special representative offices and what have you in some of the Gulf countries and some other places and this really didn't go very far because I think that what the Obama administration failed to understand and appreciate fully were the domestic political dynamics in Israel, among the Palestinians and in some Arab states like Saudi Arabia. So none of the parties felt that they could fully accommodate what the Obama administration was asking for and this was most dramatically obviously expressed in the question of the settlement freeze.

The Obama administration asked for a complete settlement freeze. It's there in the road map. Israel accepts the road map. What about the settlement freeze? It's a conundrum. I think what the Obama administration did not appreciate was that Prime Minister Netanyahu was not operating on his own. He was in a crazy quilt coalition with some very right wing organizations that have a very hard time with the idea of a settlement freeze, and even within the rubric of what he ultimately came up with -- a partial limited moratorium that doesn't include dozens of things including Jerusalem, among many others, even within that rubric, the settlements and the bureaucracy are not really sticking to it. So, he's a little bit hemmed by his own political considerations.

There is, I think, a legitimate concern that if he were to have accepted a complete settlement freeze his coalition wouldn't have survived and you can't really ask a politician to kind of give up power like that -- for an abstract principal. Having discovered this though, the administration created a terrible problem on the Palestinian side because they had made a big deal publicly about the need for a complete and total settlement freeze. It's much easier for the United States to back away from that -- saying well, we didn't get it, but -- than for the Palestinians. The Palestinians can't be less concerned about Israeli settlements than the Americans.

And this is exactly the problem, the conundrum that President Abbas was put in. He was led out to this position: A full settlement freeze was necessary from Israel and then left there and what happened was that the Obama administration, or President Obama himself, at the UN in October met with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas and said well, alright, we are not satisfied with what the Israelis have said on settlements -- this partial, temporary moratorium, it's not okay, and we keep the issue in the air, and we really give the Israaelis a little credit for that and they continue to insist that settlement building was illegitimate but now we're going to prioritize something else. Now we're going to prioritize getting back to talks, and that's going to be the priority. Well, I think at that point what became obvious was that Prime Minister Netanyahu had managed to triangulate very definitely between his right wing coalition parties on the one hand and Americans expectations on the other hand by giving just enough. Just enough to get Congress especially and also the White House to see him as the one who was coming forward and making concessions by his Bar Ilan speech in which he gave a very tepid and attenuated endorsement of the two state idea. That really wasn't that convincing and by the temporary partial moratorium freeze that looks more and more iffy with every passing day. But that was just barely enough to get him out of the weeds with Congress and the White House, especially with the Congress and to put the onus on the Palestinians to come back to negotiations.

But for the Palestinians there were a series of body blows to their political standing that made it extremely hard for the leadership to justify going back into negotiations. First of all there was a settlement freeze issue -- they had told everyone, everyone had said they were going have one, there wasn't one ... it doesn't play very well domestically even though returning to negotiations is very important for the Palestinian national interest. Second thing was the fiasco over the Goldstone Report. If you want to talk more about that during the Q&A I'd be happy to but let's put it this way: Simply put, the Palestinians were always going to pay a price about the Goldstone Report.

What ended up happening was the idea of proximity talks which is really a throwback most unfortunate through back to the eighties and people don't sit in the same room -- it's almost childish running from one hotel room to the other it's silly, but it tenuates, it appeals to the Palestinians at this point because it makes the cost much less. You don't have the photo ops and you can say you haven't actually met the other side. So it just makes it more palatable. The other thing they did that was an even worse throwback to not only the '80s but the '70s and beyond was they asked the Arab League for permission and they got it as a political cover. And that is really harkening back to the very very bad old days when Palestinian decision-making was kind of subordinate to Arab decision-making, a disastrous situation which took decades to correct. But that was sufficient to lead up to a situation that where they were very very reluctant to go back into proximity talks but they were willing to do it under these circumstances but really really concerned about a key problem which is that once the talks became the main issue in the fall the question then became talks about what? Not just what kind of talks -- you get proximity talks -- but what are you talking about? That's always a crucial issue. Do we have clear terms of reference? Do we have a clear agenda? Is it just talking about the weather or whatever we feel like talking about or do we have a list of topics that are prioritized and structured.

The Israeli position was: Keep it vague. And the reason for this is I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is extremely concerned about gettting into negotiations with Palestinians on the question of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a bigger trip wire for him than settlements for his coalition partners. And the even greater danger, is that there's this rather gigantic gap between the present Israeli government's perception of the role of Jerusalem not only in peace but in negotiations and that of the Obama administration, whose view is much closer to the Palestinians' view that this is a core permanent status issue that needs to be discussed right away and that I think clearly that Israel's going to have to make some serious compromises on Jerusalem in the same way that Palestinians have to make some serious compromises on refugees on return and whatnot and there are some politically painful things that are going to have to happen here.

This is really what sets the stage I think for the crisis that emerged with the Biden visit and with the one that's going on today. Which is that when Vice President Biden arrived in Israel and whoever it was who decided to announce the 1600 new settlement units in Ramat Shlomo -- made that decision it was a crisis that was waiting to happen because of this huge division of opinion between the Israeli government and the United States over settlements. And the United States, interestingly and the United States accordingly didn't back down. And people are looking at the situation and they're saying that well, Netanyahu defied the United States successfully and therefore he has won.

No, I mean I think not at all. The level of outrage coming out of the White House and from people around the White House was palpable. And it's pretty clear that the Israelis had to engage in a climb-down before the White House agreed that Obama would greet Netanyahu in the White House. There was a series of conversations and apparently there was a written document that we haven't seen. But what we understand is in there is that the Israelis climbed down, but not on settlements but on rather on the real issues at hand which were terms of reference for the proximity talks. And it would appear that Netanyahu has agreed that everything including Jerusalem will be on the table in the proximity talks. This is a huge win for the Obama administration and a huge win for the Palestinians and it's in Israel's interests as well for the long run. It is very significant. Apparently there was some kind of agreement to ease the blockade of Gaza but it's not clear how. And some thing that is extremely murky about Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, the Arab parts at least of East Jerusalem that has been described as don't ask don't tell. Now whether that means the Israelis go ahead and do it, and they don't tell anybody or whether it means they say they're going to do it but they don't do it, or whether it means they don't say they're going to do it and they don't do it, I think that remains to be seen. I think it's something between all three where they've told the administration they're not going to say and they're not going to do it and they're going to try to do it a little bit. But then they're going to get caught.

At any rate, the political cost for this stuff has gone up, the spot light is on and the Israelis settlement activity in occupied East Jerusalem is not just a Palestinian problem now it's a White House problem. It's taken on this level of significance. Now the crisis is really grave, because having received these assurances George Mitchell invited -- Prime Minister Netanyahu is coming here for the AIPAC conference to meet with the President in the White House and just before he's going to show up somebody issues in Israel, perhaps it's the same person, or a group of people, perhaps it's that Jerusalem planning committee, at any rate it depends on who you believe, announced that there would be 20 new housing units somewhere else in an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Well this I think is the proximate cost of this running in and out of the White House and cancelling all of your visits and really what is turning into a very very serious problem between Israel and the United States. Now I think it's very important to notice that -- actually it's not. It's not between Israel and the United States at all. It's not that at all. It's not a strategic problem between countries. The US and Israel relationship between countries is very solid, especially on military cooperation and Israel's security, things like that. It's really not going to be affected by these kinds of political disputes. What we do have is a political crisis between governments. Between Obama and his allies and Netanyahu and his allies. And it's a major crisis. And while I think there isn't going to be a long-term cost to Israel, there might be a big long-term problem for Obama -- for Netanyahu rather -- because there is a crisis of trust here between politicians. So, just to make it clear at what level it operates.

Now, I think because of that, once again, this will be healed because it's again going to be as it was a few days ago it's again going to be in both sides' political interest to ratchet down the tension and restore general good humor and whatnot. The goal of the administration is not focused on settlements as I say, it's focused on the talks. And so I think it's going to be just ever harder for Netanyahu and his friends to get out of the proximity talks on terms that Americans and Palestinians want that is to say with all the core issues on the table after this. So I'm pretty sure -- and since by the way Palestinians are willing to go back to proximity talks under much less advantageous conditions I'm quite sure after a lot of kicking and screaming -- you know, stuff for the public -- they will go back and they should, especially because it would be -- not to return to proximity talks or any negotiations would be the clearest way to squander these gains and not take advantage of this opportunity to redirect attention on the other party's problems and loss and get closer to the United States both of which are important things.

Now, I want to say, I'm not optimistic in the immediate term about what can come out of the proximity talks but I think it's very important to keep the diplomatic ball in the air. We can't have the diplomacy stall and we can't have a spectacular failure either. Last time we had a spectacular failure we got an intifada that was perfectly disastrous. And we can't have that. At the same time, I don't see any elements, as Ori was saying, the leaders are weak, they're far apart they don't agree on anything and they don't really have mandates to agree on huge -- and reciprocal steps are not clear. I mean they are clear, but they won't be doing any. So I think for the foreseeable future, the talks about talks will go along and in the best case scenario really is that for the next year or two, they go forward in a very gradual way.

And that would be a really bad thing if the diplomacy was the only source of momentum for peace. But it's not, because in August, the PA cabinet came up with the first really good idea on Middle East peace that anyone's had in at least 15 years, probably more than that. Which is the program of the 13th Palestinian government, it's also known as the state institutions plan, it's also called the Fayyad plan after the Prime Minister who orchestrated it, and it's basically the idea that Palestinians are unilaterally going to develop the institutions and economic and institutional infrastructural and most importantly administrative framework of their state under the occupation in order to end the occupation. Without asking Israel's permission with international support and international backing and they're going to do it to prepare for independence.

In other words what Palestinians are doing is that they're taking up the responsibilities of self-government but continuing to insist on the right of self-determination. And this is new. It's a paradigm shift for Palestinians. Because in the past the Palestinian national movement was always conceptualizing the path to liberation as a diplomatic one -- until the mid-'80s it was an armed struggle one and then it became a diplomatic one where it became top down you have negotiations you declare a state they recognize your state and then you have a state. Well someone, that is to say Prime Minister Fayyad and his cabinet colleagues realized that well, first of all it doesn't work like that in practice for various reasons largely because of the occupation and also if you got that state it has to function. And you have to have ministries and whatever. And it's perfectly easy for Palestinians to say under occupation we haven't been able to do this but also they haven't tried to do it and now they are. So, this plan calls everybody's bluff. It calls the Palestinian bluff and the Israeli bluff. Do you want to build the Palestinian state in the occupied territories. For Palestinians it means you have to forget about everything else and channel your energies into constructively building the framework of your state, rather than anything else. For Israelis it means you have to allow the Palestinians to do this. You have to get out of their way, literally and figuratively to let them breathe. You have to let them move around. You have to let them -- not prevent them from doing it. You don't have to give them money, right? You don't have to give them stuff or technical support but you do have to get out of their way. You have to coordinate with them on security and things like that in order to accomplish this.

Now in January, the PA -- two PA ministers issued a budget attached to this plan and it's extremely interesting, it's very detailed and it shows a lot of interesting projects but it also shows too many that are unfunded or underfunded or with funding pending. And it's extremely important that this thing go forward. But a lot of stuff has happened, much more than most people realize. Last year, 1,000 community development programs were done. There is now a transparent and accountable public finance system for the PA ministries that has been rated very highly by Price Waterhouse which is a big change for the Palestinians. It still has problems with the Office of the Presidency, with Fatah, with the political party but the PA ministries are cleaning up rather nicely. There are a number of public/private initiatives including the first planned city in the West Bank another planned suburb. There is the investment fund that's been established for small and medium-sizes businesses, and most importantly, the creation of something also new among Palestinians which is a professional, streamlined security force that operates like a real police department that enforces the law, equally and dispassionately and provides real security for people. They've been employed in Jenin and Nablus and other parts of the area in the West Bank and they've restored law and order to otherwise lawless places. This has facilitated Israel's withdrawal of several key checkpoints.

All of that restoration of law and order and renewed access and mobility because of the checkpoints has led to a major economic uptick. I won't call it a boom, I think that's an exaggeration, it's all at the retail level and it's limited, but the quality of life, including economically has improved a great deal in the West Bank as a consequence of this. And a lot of it has to do with security coordination and Palestinians taking up as I said responsibilities of government. Now what the Israelis are ultimately going to have to do if this is going to succeed and I do think that at the moment it is by far the best hope for serious progress in the near term, is to cede more and more attributes of sovereignty and greater and greater parts of the occupied territories to the Palestinian Authority as this plan unfolds because that's going to be the answer. Otherwise it will really die on the vine.

You know to me, it seems obvious that the present diplomatic situation is not dead, it's not moribund but it's not very promising. You'll probably get talks going again but I don't expect any major breakthrough at the moment but I do see a great deal of potential and momentum due to real palpable concrete achievements on the ground -- improving the quality of life, building the framework of a state as another form of momentum in the same direction and what we're looking for and what the PA's looking for -- looking in the long run -- three, four years, something like this -- is convergence: Convergence between a bottom-down diplomatic process that has to wake up out of its stupor and a bottom-up state institution-building approach that can come together to provide some real meaningful change. But think of this plan as the Palestinian answer to settlement building. Unilateral, concrete changes on the ground with the exception that this actually promotes peace, it is actually consistent with international law, it doesn't actually harm anybody else's human rights, or basic national interests. So what I'm suggesting in conclusion is that really, you need to support this. OK, everybody needs to support this. Because this is going to be where the action is.

We're all fixated on Bush and Obama and Netanyahu Abbas and Mitchel and Clinton and -- yeah -- very important, I'm not -- it's crucial. But there's nitty-gritty non-sexy stuff like servers for health and sewage and road maintenance and highways. And yeah it's not sexy. I agree. But yeah, that's how a state gets built. That's how people govern themselves, right? And for the first time there's a gang of Palestinians saying not only are we asking -- we're not asking for permission, we're doing it. So, support overall for the concept of a two-state solution -- crucial. But specific support for this -- where I think in the next year or two where the main action is going to be on getting there -- is crucial. We need rhetorical support. You've got to support it in writing. You've got to tell people about it.

Not enough people know about this. Some people are starting to notice this. David Ignatius, Tom Friedman the other day. They wrote a very good piece about it. Some people are getting it. But a lot of people still don't understand it or they never heard of it or they're way too skeptical about it. And they don't understand that a lot of stuff has already been done so it's not theoretical, especially if you look at the security force. If you can organize a group of people whose main task is arresting people, and doing painful difficult things that people don't like, I'm sure you can do it in other sectors as well. Like health and education and sewage and clean drinking water and highways and whatnot. So this idea that Palestinians can't do it is utterly disproven by the fact that where they started and the most success they've had is in the most difficult area imaginable -- security -- and that's security coordinated with Israel. It's incredibly difficult and also politically difficult because it lets people call them and they do "collaborators and traitors." Next -- members of Congress. There's a lot of resistance to this in Congress. There's been some support, there's been a change in attitude in Congress. Last year Congress gave $900 million to the PA. Extraordinary. Not one single dissenting vote -- not even .... Nobody voted against it. Pretty extraordinary. However, that's not enough. We need technical support and we need political protection for this from the United States. Other countries can pay. The Arabs should pay, the Europeans should pay, Japanese should pay. We can do our bit. But American political support and backing, including in Congress is really going to be necessary.

Talk to your members -- if you give money to them they like you better, but talk to them. And I think some of the Congressional people from New Jersey, they need a little work on this issue. They're not all ready to be on this just at the moment. Finally, you can certainly volunteer with groups like APN, J Street, contact us if you like, American Task Force dot org, we've got all the documents on this that you want. Again, that's American Task Force dot org. And if you're in a position to, really the best thing you can do is to invest in the West Bank. We're talking about public/private partnerships, we're talking about business, we're talking about profit-making ventures. And most of us, I'm certainly not in a position to invest in major financial matters and major ventures, but some people are. And if you're interested in peace and you have the means and you want to do some good business, that's a damned good place to start. Thanks a lot.

PAUL SUROVELL:

Debbie Schlossberg of J Street

DEBBIE SCHLOSSBERG:

Hi Good evening it's great to be back in Essex County where I grew up. I even ran into somebody who grew up on the same street as I. So I of course also want to thank Paul for giving me the opportunity to give a little J Street plug as well as giving me the opportunity to hear the presentations we've heard tonight, even though much of what you had to say had troubling elements to it, to me it's always inspiring to hear sane, thoughtful intelligent remarks by people even a decade ago we might not have been in the same room together.

So I find inspiration in your words thank you again, Paul.

So I am as was mentioned I'm the local leader for central Jersey J Street and actually it's my hope tonight that some of you might be so inspired by what you've already heard that you might want to get more involved in J Street as a mechanism for your activism. They're working on creating a north Jersey chapter and even though I made the fatal mistake of a community organizer by not having a sign-up sheet here please if there's anyone who wants to talk to me I'll stick around as long as there are people to talk to and if you want to give me your names I'd be more than happy to put you in touch with our field director to help get you "activated."

I got involved in J Street because I used to be the chapter leader in central Jersey of an organization called Brit Tzedek v Shalom which was a large grass roots pro-Israel pro-peace organization that as of January was formally integrated into J Street. J Street is a political home for the pro-Israel pro-peace movement. It's a place where we support very very very vigorous -- basically everything you've heard -- what can I says. Vigorous involvement by our administration we also hope always to broaden the debate in the national conversation and particularly in the American Jewish community that's also a very important part of our mission. We're building this home on Capitol Hill in Jewish communities on college campuses we have 22 arms on different campuses in the United States and the goal is to make 50 by the end of the year knowing J Street, we'll do it, as well as online, in the media our communities, etc.

In addition to me there are lots of different kinds of people in J Street. Just last week I was at our leadership summit in DC where Lara Friedman spoke and truly she was excellent, wonderful. With me there were many grassroots activists like myself there were Washington insiders lots of commentators, pundits, Jewish communal professionals -- it's a pretty diverse group and it's always very pleasing to all of us to see, it's very multigenerational I think it's one of the things that gives us the feeling always that we have a lot to move forward with. What draws people to J Street I think are a bunch of different things. It's really for people who are looking for a mainstream yet progressive home for their voices. There are those who are drawn to J Street I think quite frankly because it's mainstream. We think that we represent what we call "passionate moderates."

We're trying to carve out a place in the conversation that our feeling has been monopolized in recent years or actually forever probably by loud voices that are more extreme than ours. There are those to the left who feel Israel can do no right, there are those to the right who feel Israel can do no wrong. And we really think that we represent that moderate voice in the middle which is a majority voice. People are also drawn to J Street I think because it's realistic and because in order to achieve a safe, secure Israel that's democratic and is a Jewish homeland there absolutely must be a two-state solution. There's just no other way to it or around it.

People are drawn to J Street because previously some of them have been unengaged, disaffected, I think for the reasons I mentioned before that they didn't feel that their voice, even though it's a majority voice has ever been represented in the conversation. So there are a lot of people that are coming around that we haven't been hearing from before just because they didn't know that there was a place for them. And I would also say that there are those unfortunately who come to J Street who are drawn because they are frightened and because they know that sustaining the status quo is only going to lead to more conflict, more bloodshed, more hatred. It can't get us anywhere so they recognize the urgency of the situation and find J Street a home for that .

So who are we? OK. So, you'll hear it for the seventh time tonight -- we're pro-Israel we're pro-peace. We're pro-Israel because we're committed to Israel's success and we believe that the single best way to secure that is through a negotiated two-state solution. We are Americans who believe in a very very vigorous American leadership to help us attain this two-state solution. And we're motivated by our progressive and for those of us who are Jewish -- which I should say J Street is a predominantly Jewish organization -- not exclusively we absolutely welcome the support and participation of non-Jews but our leadership and staff is Jewish and our voice is predominantly and strategically a Jewish one. So for those of us who are Jewish, we're also informed by Jewish values together with our progressive values that includes human and civil rights, free speech democracy, etc.

In concrete policy terms I could probably get off easy and say just about every thing you already said, it's pretty much what we support with maybe one or two exceptions. Number one J Street supports as I mentioned concerted sustained vigorous diplomatic engagement by the United States. People say to me sometimes "What's so different about you and all these other Jewish organizations that believe in a two-state solution? They like peace, what's so different about you? And I answer is that (a) we see a real urgency and we don't think it's something that can wait for 5 years or 10 years or for -- you mentioned 4 to 8 years -- we hope 8 but whatever -- we don't think we can wait. We see it as a very very urgent need and we are also very clear that our administration has to be bold bringing that about.

So that's number one. Number two we support an enduring relationship between Israel and the United States. We recognize and support Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people that is a democratic nation that recognizes the rights of all of its peoples. We support the creation of a viable contiguous Palestinian state side by side with Israel that's the result of a negotiated two-state solution based on '67 borders and I will say that J Street's very clear that it's got to encompass 100% -- with negotiated land swaps -- but not 95% not 97% -- 100%.

J Street supports a comprehensive regional peace that builds on the Arab Peace Initiative that was mentioned tonight.

J Street supports an American policy in the Middle East that's more broadly based on diplomacy, multilateralism (8:59). We believe in dialogue with a wide array of partners and that includes Syria and Iraq.

And I think the one thing that there's -- people like to call it "daylight" -- where there might be a little daylight between J Street and our other speakers tonight is regards to Iran sanctions. J Street now does support sanctions against Iran as a tool to help our administration keep Iran from going nuclear. The preference has always been diplomacy and we were very very and we continue to be very supportive of our administration's efforts in that regard but basically I think it's fair to say that J Street came to their own realization that too much time was passing in what they considered to be Iran rejectionism. And have signed on -- well it wasn't their job to sign on -- but supported passage of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act.

However, of course, we're opposed to any military action by the United States or Israel when it comes to Iran. So that's J Street in terms of our policies. If you like what we support if you like who we are then I'd love to hear from you, we'll take questions we'll talk afterwards, we'd love to get you involved, thank you

[Tape changed, some text lost. Paul Surovell read Statement in Congressional Record by Congressman Donald Payne]

PAUL SUROVELL:

What happened in the last week in fact in Secretary of State Clinton's speech at AIPAC is in my view historic because what she laid out was that if the United States disagrees with something that the Israeli government -- not Israel but the Israeli government does, it's going to speak its mind inequivocally. That has opened the door, really, for a whole new level of discussion and it's now kind of OK -- it's not kind of OK it is OK -- for people to say "I love Israel I want everything good for Israel. But you know what? I'm not really happy with what Netanyahu is doing about East Jerusalem." And that's OK and people can say that and the world isn't going to end. And in the end, Israel's going to be a lot better off because it's again going to be able to reclaim its place in the family of nations.

There's an excellent piece in today's online version of the New York Times called "The Opinionator." It's a whole discussion of the phrase "anti-Israel" which is basically used by a club by conservatives to shut people up so you can't be critical because if you do you know you're against the country, you're putting everbody in danger, or you're anti-semitic. And that's over, thanks to Hillary Clinton's speech and President Obama's policy, in my view. And we're going to have a much more rational and productive discussion about what should our policy be what should the United States policy be with regard to Israel and the Palestinians as a result. So with that said, who would like to ask the first question. OK, Ed.

QUESTION:

You say that Israelis have concerns or are as not supportive of the settlements. Are you able to quantify that? Do you have polls that quantify that in any way?

ORI NIR:

Sure, the question is for those who haven't heard has to do with the Israelis attitudes toward the settlers. I don't think I have any fresh polling data about this, but overall, in general there are consistent polls that show that most Israelis resent the settlers as a group, as an entity, mainly, chiefly, as a lobbying group, as a pressure group within the Israeli society. Because they really do view them as taking Israel hostage to an agenda that is really very foreign and very alien to the Israeli mainstream. A messianic kind of agenda that I won't elaborate on here. So that's the kind of ... most of the resentment to the settlers as a group and as an ideological group that asserts its ideology to divert Israel from the kind of course that most Israelis would like to see it going on.

I'd like to use the opportunity to answer the first question to say a few things that I wanted to emphasize in my comments earlier.

What we have here in the policy that we see in the Obama administration -- there are two things that are new. Two things that are almost revolutionary to me as someone who's followed this relationship between the US and Israel for many many years. One is the US saying that for now on there will be accountability for both parties or for all parties if you include the Arab governments if they don't take steps that are serving the peace process and that accountability will be public. It's not going to be private behind closed doors but the US will publicly hold people accountable. That's new.

Second thing is that the US is saying, asserting the fact that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is in the national security interest of the United States. That again is something that's been implied in the past but now it's being asserted as a major talking point of this administration. Both these things require political capital. They cost. They cost dearly. And they cost dearly particularly with the conservative Jewish organizations that are going to give hell to this administration. And that is why American citizens have to speak up and have to give their support to this administration. Brit Tzedek v'Shalom had a campaign, it's last hurrah before it became J Street, which was, "Mr. President we have your back." This is the kind of notion that should be given to -- and I saying it correctly? Something like that -- "We've got your back Mr. President." That is the kind of message that has to be asserted toward the White House. "We are with you" so when you express your opinion on this issue make the point that this is an American national security interest of peace in the Middle East will serve its overall view of the agenda in the region when it's fighting the war in Afghanistan when it's fighting the war in Iraq and when it's trying to confront Iran as a nuclear ambitions.

On Iran, just to make clear, APN does support sanctions on Iran. It does not support however the kind of "crippling sanctions" they're called which are asserted in the IPRS legislation. Just to make clear that we're not opposed to sanctions in general, we're opposed to very specific kinds of sanctions which are known as the crippling sanctions.

PAUL SUROVELL:

I'm going to solicit someone who wants to make a critical comment about anything that's been said up here. Yes sir.

QUESTION:

I had the pleasure and privilege of spending a couple of weeks last year in Israel and the West Bank and Jordan. Went very committed to a two-state solution came back realizing it's a physical impossibility. The hatreds are so deep, the average person's hatreds are so deep. The Israelis don't care any more, the wall is there, they're happy. Settlements -- calling them settlements is unfair. They're cities. I mean you go through some of the settlements on the West Bank and they're nicer than the cities that we have here. They're Maplewood they're Short Hills they're Fort Lee. Those are the type of places that are called settlements. Immediately next to them are little Arab villages which have no economic base whatsoever. That was the thing that upset me the most was there was no economy on the West Bank whatsoever. We went to Bethlehem there was a thriving tourist economy. Policemen, shops, restaurants, what you would expect in a tourist town. It was a pleasure. Anywhere else on the West Bank was just, didn't exist. And what was most troubling to me was that while the Israelis were "I don't care, the wall's there, leave it alone" the Palestinians haven't given up the hope of getting all of Israel back. Every store you go into there's a picture of Palestine with the entire Israel being in Palestine. Those minds are not going to change, all this nice stuff about people talking, government's talking.

PAUL SUROVELL:

I'm going to ask Hussein to answer this.

HUSSEIN IBISH:

Yeah, I mean, what year was that? Last year. This time last year. I think there's been, I mean obviously you're right in some of what you say, although I would say the interesting changes that have taken precisely during this year. So I think your contrast between Bethlehem on the one hand and Jenin and Nablus and even some extent Ramallah on the other hand are accurate but anachronistic. I think there's been really interesting change, dramatic change. People are sort of coming back from the West Bank and saying in certain cities -- only certain cities -- and saying well we haven't seen it like this in living memory. And it's precisely because law and order ...

QUESTION:

Why aren't the Arabs supporting it?

HUSSEIN IBISH:

They are supporting it. And naturally they're giving money to it, but I think it can't be just them. They're clearly supporting it both rhetorically and practically. As for this notion of maps. Yeah, I mean I don't think you're going to be able to convince most Jewish Israelis or most Palestinian Arabs to give up their national narrative. And I think that one of the most important qualities of a two-state agreement is that it precisely doesn't ask people to give up their national narrative. Most Palestinians are going to remember Mandatory Palestine as Palestine as a memory. Your national narrative is one thing. What you agree as a political solution to end the conflict so you can get on with your lives is something else. There are also a very, very large number of Israelis who are not going to feel emotionally tugged by all of these places in the West Bank that are more kind of important especially in the Biblically based Jewish narrative than a lot of parts of Israel are. So that is again something that people have to come to terms with.

But Ori's right. The polling data is clear. You've got a solid 70% on both sides that want it. Now I agree with you they're cities but there's no contradiction between it being a city and a settlement or a city and a colony. It's a legal status not a descriptive status. And I think that, however, that a land swap can accomodate a great many settlers. Other than that, I would note that, to me the argument that there's been a critical mass of administrative changes and infrastructural changes and demographic changes imposed by Israel through the occupation that has made creating Palestinian state an impossibility is not a very convincing argument because all those things are functions of political will. They are creations. They are things that have been put in place and therefore they are subject to other political will. I mean I think that there's no real way forward for the Israeli state without the creation of a Palestinian state alongside it and not only it can't be Jewish and democratic it can't live in peace and I think the present happy calm that you describe is accurate but it's a chimera because a third Intifada looms if there isn't going to be any progress and we know what will happen.

And by the way we know what it's going to look like because you can compare the end of the first Intifada with the beginning of the first Intifada and then compare the second Intifada with the end of the first Intifada. And there's your pattern. Each successive phase is more organized more militarized more brutal angry and more religious. And more religious on both sides. We're drifting towards a religious conflict. And I really think that this is completely unacceptable and I think also there's a very sizable constituency within the Israeli national security establishment right now that -- Defense Minister Barak is kind of their spokesman -- that understands this. They've understood it for a while. But they haven't seen a credible means of getting there. Now comes Saddam Fayyad and the cabinet with this plan and you could see it. At Hertsilya at the security conference in Israel a couple of months ago, he showed up he thought he was on a panel discussion, he didn't have a speech and they gave him the podium and they said 40 minutes. He did this extemporary thing that was excellent in which the logic was precise -- boom, boom, boom, this is what we're doing, this is why, and the Israeli national security elite applauded him.

ORI NIR:

The next day in the Israeli press, the headlines were "Palestinian Ben-Gurion."

HUSSEIN IBISH:

Which is what also President Peres called him Anyway, my point is that the Israelis who understand the importance of this and have been skeptical about achieving should see in this plan a real means of coming close to getting there. A necessary step in that direction and a way of making it a reality. So I'm not as pessimistic as you are.

PAUL SUROVELL:

Listen, just a few housekeeping notes. At 9:00 o'clock, the library is going to lock that door. However, we're not going to be imprisoned in here, we can stay pretty much I think really if we want to until 10:00 o'clock but one of our speakers has to leave at 9:15. So how many people want to stay beyond 9:00? Can I have just a show of hands. OK, if you want to leave before 9:00 you should probably leave within the next two or three minutes through that door. Otherwise, you can still get out, there are these exit doors on the sides. So you'll be able to get out regardless of how long you stay. But if you want to go out through the library in a more civilized fashion... One other thing. I'm going to ask our speakers to -- all right we've got a lot of questions -- but I'm going to ask our speakers to confine themselves to 1 minute answers. Is there a journalist here? Oh, OK. I don't think she has a question. Bennet.

QUESTION:

Talking about the two-state solution. There are a lot of people that are aware of the demographic and the political realities which apply and how can a democratic Jewish state survive without one but a lot of people have begun to think about whether the move should not be turning Israel into a democratic secular state that would encompass both nationalities and especially in light of the things that were referred to before with the realities on the ground and how much can change on the ground why don't you folks think that maybe that should be what we are trying to accomplish rather than what seems to be a constantly changing two-state possibility?

HUSSEIN IBISH:

That's a good question.

ORI NIR:

Hussein wrote the book

HUSSEIN IBISH:

I'm going to refer you to my last book which is called "What's Wrong with the One-State agenda?" I did not call it One-State Solution. "What's Wrong with the One-State Agenda" why peace with Israel and ending the occupation is still the Palestinian national goal. My point in it simply is that there is no chance in my estimation of a majority of Jewish Israelis or enough Jewish Israelis being convinced to dismantle the Israeli state and have a different state in which you'll have an ever increasing Palestinian majority that is empowered at the ballot box. I just think a critical mass of Jewish Israelis will oppose that but I think they'll fight it with every measure and means.

The logic behind what you just said with all due respect and the logic of the one-state argument is basically there is no way to coerce or convince Israel to give up or share 22% of the land under its control therefore the corrective to that fact is to try to get Israel to coerce or somehow convince Israel to give up or share control of 100% of the territory under its control. I think the logic is rather badly flawed. To go from a difficult project that seems like it's going to be very hard to achieve to an incredibly much more difficult project that I can't imagine possibly achieving is not to my mind sound policy. But my book is free online. American Task Force dot org you can read it in html you can read it in E Book you can read it so read it.

QUESTION:

I just want to say that I think that what might do it is that I think that if they don't get two states and there's an apartheid state I think that would repel the majority of Israelis so that they might think we've got to do a democratic secular state.

HUSSEIN IBISH:

And that would be lovely.

QUESTION:

What you just said you keep on mentioning that Israel can only be a Jewish democratic state without a two-state solution but any solution that would allow a Jewish state there would still be a lot of Arabs living in Israel as Arabs thinking they should be treated as equal and pushing a different agenda. And one more thing I wanted to say there's a lot of things we can do. Talking about the trust of the people is a major issue. I'm a writer director and part of what I'm doing in my agenda is I want to go to Israel next year and shoot a movie a narrative using Palestinians and Israelis to kind of create a small community and promote the trust with people of both sides.

ORI NIR:

Real quick on Israel as a Jewish state. The only way as we said earlier in which Israel can remain a Jewish state is divide the land and confines itself to the '67 borders with some land swaps. The issue of the Arab minority in Israel is a very serious issue. However, if you talk about the demographics that's not going to .. the demographic process there is not going to turn Israel from a Jewish state with a Jewish majority a very substantial Jewish majority into something different. The Arab population of Israel is somewhere around 17%, according to some estimates 20%. If you look at all the demographic analysis what they say is that in 25 years, 50 years they may become a quarter of the population or so, birthrates are diminishing there. Israel can live, should live, very comfortably with a very robust Arab minority inside Israel that will view the Palestinian state next door as its homeland.

HUSSEIN IBISH:

By the way I just wrote an essay on that too. You can read it online.

QUESTION:

OK, my question is that assuming that a two-state solution is the goal, I have a question about the obstacles and first of course is that there are the facts on the ground there are 400 to 500,000 settlers that make the West Bank a noncontiguous territory. Secondly the siege of Gaza. But most importantly because we're looking at American policy this issue of American willingness to use levers. Not just talk but levers. So my question to you is what levers will they use. I've thought of a few. The Arms Export Control Act which prevents us from exporting arms to any country which uses those particular arms for human rights violations. This could be used. We could think about things such as, we could have welcomed the Goldstone Report. Richard Goldstone, a committed Zionist, lover of Israel, wrote a very critical report about the Gaza siege which we chose to reject. And finally my third part of that question is how can we get any solution without also bringing Hamas into the negotiations? They are an elected government, we may not like them but we do supposedly promote democracy or say we like democracy around the world. So without willingness to use real levers and only with verbal articulation like "Gee we didn't like that we aren't too happy about what happened last week" can we really exercise any kind of influence beyond -- because I think verbal articulations aren't going to get us anywhere without some real force.

HUSSEIN IBISH:

Two points on that. First is I think those are some of the levers that can be used and there are others. There's a lot of stuff that's known in the executive level that could be called back without any Congressional approval there's a lot cooperation beneath the radar and some levers have been pushed already. Very mildly, but there's plenty of stuff that can be done. What I want to say is that a real fight between a US administration and an Israeli government is at some point going to be necessary. A real fight with the Palestinians is also going to be necessary. At some point we're going to have to knock heads together, there's no doubt about it. But I think any administration would be wise to pick the right fight at the right time. This was a minor fight. It's an ongoing minor fight because the stakes are not high enough, the situation is not ripe enough, and I think the Obama administration is playing it right.

I think the issue isn't dead. This can easily happen again. It happened in November. They said, "No it will never happen again" but it happened again and there are many other trip wires. If you get back into permanent status talks there's that other problem between the perceptions that will come up especially if the Palestinians are smart. So I think look at timing. It's more important than how. It's when. I think that's really crucial.

On Hamas. Hamas doesn't want to negotiate with Israel. It's as simple as that. And there is no doubt internationally who the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people is it's the PLO. There's no element of any other Palestinian, Arab or international document that says otherwise. Hamas's position is yes, we agree. President Abbas in his capacity as PLO chairman is the person authorized to negotiate with Israel but they say the PLO is a defunct organization needs to be restructured with themselves in charge of course, but I don't think this is a huge problem in terms of negotiations. It's going to be a problem in terms of implementation if Hamas is sitting there powerful with guns and resisting. I think they need to be put in this terrible conundrum that they may face, of the train is leaving the station -- are you really going to stay behind and become irrelevant? And then how's your constituency in Gaza really going to react? If all of this stuff starts happening in the West Bank and you're not part of it and the whole thing is enforced simply by guns? And you've got a totalitarian theocracy in this tiny little area. Well there really isn't a future of an Islamic emirate of Gaza. It's future is only with the rest of Palestine. One party is going to win. Either the PLO is going to dominate or Hamas is going to dominate. And what happens in the West Bank is going to be determinative of the future and fortunes of Hamas.

ORI NIR:

Real quick. The issue of leverage is extremely important and extremely sensitive. It's sensitive because we're dealing with an extremely important component of this whole equation, which is Israeli public opinion. And the alienation of Israeli public opinion is something into consideration as well. Because we're dealing with really short answers I won't go into our view, Americans for Peace Now's view of what kind of leverage the administration can use, there is a very interesting document we put on our website which I welcome you to look for which we call "How to Play Hardball," or something like "Playing Hardball." Where we urge the administration to play hardball with the parties and we offer some ideas of how that can be done.

QUESTION:

I have a question how "contiguous" would work. Can you give us some idea of what contiguous would look like?

HUSSEIN IBISH:

What Palestinian negotiators have in mind and what Palestinian and Israeli negotiators have come close to agreeing to in the past is 100% of Gaza, and the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- well, the West Bank, plus and minus between 3 to 4 percent to correct for anomalies in the '49 armistice line to incorporate some parts of some settlements that have very large numbers of settlers in them that Palestinians really didn't want to be part of a Palestinian state and then a deal in East Jerusalem that is complicated but that involves sovereignty for both Israel and Palestinians so that Jerusalem can be both the capital of Israel and the capital of Palestine. I think the contiguity means that the blocks that are annexed to Israel would probably be contiguous and contiguous with Israel and the rest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem would be contiguous with itself so you don't really have these islands sticking out in the middle of the West Bank.

QUESTION:

What about Gaza and the West Bank?

HUSSEIN IBISH:

Of course it will be a bifurcated state and that's it's not, I mean you know people have said Pakistan, you know Bangladesh and the Punjab, different language ... yeah, these are the same people. One of the things that has been understood -- again, this is not very controversial-- between the negotiators for a long time is a Palestinian bridge, not a physical bridge but a sovereign Palestinian crossing, it could be underground, overground above ground, there are many ways of doing it, across the Negev desert where there really isn't anything going on, in southern Israel, linking, and by the way one thing you could look at the RAND Corporation's study called "The Arc" which was about how to connect Palestine in an economically viable way, it's a very interesting document. This isn't nearly as mysterious as people think. Once Palestinians accept the principle that there are some significant parts of the West Bank that would not be part of Palestine and once the Israelis accept the principle that they're going to have to evacuate a bunch of settlements.

QUESTION:

I know the conversation tonight has focused on the political solution or the politics of the situation, but I'm a little more concerned about the people and I think most people know that a system of apartheid has been imposed on the Palestinians

VOICE:

Not true. It's not a true statement.

QUESTION:

Yes it is. A system of apartheid has been imposed on the Palestinians. Right now the Palestinians have no freedom of movement and I don't see how there's going to be any peace or any solution unless the settlements are stopped, absolutely the settlements have to be stopped and I know everybody here knows that the settlements are illegal

VOICE:

Everbody doesn't know that either

PAUL SUROVELL:

Sir, you had your chance.

QUESTION:

It's a violation of international law, UN conventions, Geneva conventions, UN resolutions it's illegal. So in order for people to have, in order for the Palestinians to have any freedom of movement or any kind of respect as human beings and to freeze the settlements. Someone here needs to leverage there has to be ... somebody has to enforce something and right now there's no enforcement so to stop the settlements there is a solution that I'd like to suggest along with other things that have been suggested here tonight. When you're lobbying Congress, I personally am saying stop the settlements altogether, so when you're lobbying Congress ask that the $3 billion a year that goes to military aid to Israel be contingent upon their recognition of human rights and we don't just give money to every country and the other countries in the world that we give military aid to without making it contingent upon enforcement and compliance with human rights. And you can do this on a quarterly basis and demand compliance with human rights.

ORI NIR

I think it's wrong to use the word apartheid. I don't use it. I think that some of the things we see in Israel are extremely troubling. I think that some of the things we see are beginning to nibble at the very robust democratic system that Israel has and I'm extremely worried about it. But what we have in the West Bank is not apartheid. In the West Bank we have a very troubling political situation that is untenable and must be dealt with.

Regarding the obstacles that have been raised, this is another obstacle. There are many obstacles there. I want us to focus not only on the obstacles but on the hope. As someone who's been covering this issue the early '80s, I started as a reporter in 1982, covering Palestinian affairs, Arab affairs, first with Israeli television then with Haaretz and so on, I've seen things that are absolutely unbelievable. I've seen Israel uproot it's whole settlement in the Sinai Peninsula. I've seen Israel uproot settlements on the West Bank, and in Gaza, in the manner of a few days. I've seen Israeli soldiers and Palestinian soldiers on joint patrols in the West Bank. I've seen them going out and fighting terrorism together. Planning together. Sharing intelligence. Israelis and Palestinians can do incredible things.

As Hussein pointed out, what the Palestinian government is doing now under Salaam Fayyad is incredible it's unbelievable. The fact that Palestinians are willing to put their necks on the line and be regarded as and absorb the criticism of being collaborators with Israel and still do it, is incredible, it's unbelievable. So unbelievable things can be done. Things that can be viewed by us as perhaps miracles. We're approaching Passover where there were quite a few miracles and we will commemorate them soon. Israel has done unbelievable things since its inception. To take a language that was dormant for 2,000 years and make it a living, vibrant language is something that people wouldn't have dreamt about. These are people who can, do, have done and know how to do incredible things. So to say it can't be done, it's all over, it's an entrenched, malignant system of apartheid of an irreversible situation, is I think, self-defeating. Because it will hold us from achieving what can still be done. We may be nearing the last moment but it can still be done. And I wouldn't be in this business if I didn't think a two-state is something that can't be done.

QUESTION:

I want to bring up the concept of language and how values are imparted by language. So for instance language can divide us it can unite us. Bring discord and bring peace. It can invalidate it can validate. So my question is two-fold. Tonight a major thrust has been trying to get us to bring popular pressure to try and support the administration in what they're trying to do in these efforts. But color me skeptical I think a majority unfortunately a lot of people in this country don't necessarily know the history of this situation don't necessarily -- have enough on their plate and you know saying, "Why I should I be concerned with this?" Other than us, you know, we have a personal connection to this, or ethical or what have you.

So the first question is: Is there a language to speak that is universal, that maybe cuts across race that cuts across religion and cuts across nationality or whatever have you that kind of speaks to values that all humans have and connect with that person that doesn't feel that they have any connection to these issues and say "Hey oh wow, maybe I should be concerned about those issues in this region." How can we speak to those people who may be indifferent? And then my second question, and this one is shorter, again, in terms of language, how do we speak in a way that validates the diverse sentiment and feelings that are out there? So how do we speak a language towards peace that validates those Israelis that are concerned with their safety, concerned with terrorism? At the same time, how do we speak the language that validates those Palestinians who are suffering under these conditions? How do we speak a language that speaks to the grievances that are very real on both sides and work toward peace, is there a way to speak of human values?

HUSSEIN IBISH:

Sure there is. Sure there is. Well to start, just in terms of Americans, what Americans can unite around is a very simple concept, that is both, that speaks to everybody that is national security. We will suffer. Our troops in the Middle East will possibly be threatened by the lack of a peace agreement. Enemies of the United States are greatly emboldened and strengthened by the ongoing conflict, it's exhibit A in the litany, the bill of the particulars against the United States, its Arab allies, against Israel, against the West, by all different extremist groups and organizations. They always deal with this it's very emotive.

So the concept of national security, especially when the President is telling us this is not only in the national security of the United States it's an international security priority and a new discourse on the Middle East that is more holistic than the Bush era we say well you know there's this problem and that problem in Iraq, problem in Iran, problem in Afghanistan, problem Palestine, problem Syria -- we'll deal with them all separately. Now we have an administration with a much more sophisticated understanding that sees the Middle East kalaidescope as a pattern when every item is moved the whole pattern changes and they have correctly identified the issue of Palestine as the center because it is at the center of people's consciousness and it colors perceptions of international relations across the board, so that's the first thing. There is a piece of language people could unite around.

More internationally, there's a question of peace and can we have a language that talks -- I think you heard a language today from all three of us that recognized Palestinian national rights and recognized Israeli security concerns and recognized Israeli national rights and I spoke specifically about validating both narratives through a two-state agreement that would provide for two states through which these narratives could be defined that would live side by side in peace and security. I don't think there's much of a chance of bringing these narratives together but I think there is a chance of having them living in peace next door to each other. And we have that all over the world. So I say, Yes, Yes.

DEBBIE SCHLOSSBERG:

Could I just add something real quick? Not as eloquent but thinking of language, I grew up as a Zionist. One thing that I neglected to mention was that I lived in Israel for a very long time. My children were born in Israel, I worked in Israel as a community worker and you know, we're back and forth to Israel all the time.

I grew up as a Zionist, reading Zionist writings, really assimilating the feeling, the hope in the heart. And when I became an adult and I began to explore Palestinian writings, if I didn't know who the author was, it's the same stuff. So I think on a real human level to address what you're saying, the language of longing is something that really speaks to everbody. And I would also add that this is something that Ori mentioned, but also I think more at the political level when he was talking about the role of NGOs in Israel specifically trying to take over some of the political vacuum that exists there among the leadership but both in Israel and in Palestine and in the United States there is a plethora of initiatives around dialogue. There are many, many opportunities for youth, for adults for everbody whether they're filmmakers whether they're writers, whether they're teenagers whether they're -- you name it, and what these dialogue groups foster and emphasize and teach is language, how to listen how to hear. So there are ways to learn that language.

QUESTION:

Ori was referring to Israeli apathy. You know there was a certain segment of society that was expressing or manifesting a sense of apathy and speaking to language and narrative I was thinking about trauma because I work with trauma. And I think the narrative for both is that each society has been nationally traumatized. And as a result of those national traumas, people represent certain defensive mechanisms. One of them is apathy. The antidote to apathy is empathy. And I think we're talking about now those groups in terms of dialoguing and being able to experience empathy and I think it's very difficult because I think there's so much fear and so much defense. But I think without empathy you can't have a basis to really being able to build something that's coexistent.

HUSSEIN IBISH:

I agree.

PAUL SUROVELL:

How many people have questions? Just one more. This will be the last question. Yeah, Maya.

QUESTION:

Yes, I would like to answer to the young man who was talking about language. So the common language is actually Hebrew and Arabic. So when you say "Shalom" it's "Salaam." The same thing. And when I created what I call "Bead for Peace" in Hebrew and Arabic it's exactly the same thing. Kharos means to bead Karos means to bead Karo means to connect and it means also to rhyme. So when I speak to my friends who are Muslims they completely understand what I'm saying. And this is the bottom line. What I would like to ask is two very brief questions. One is about gender equality and the other one, the Palestinians and the Israelis will be very very much in love if they can do it alone. What about the neighboring countries. Because the neighboring countries, those are the ones that have been at war. We did not fight against the Palestinians. The war was against Jordan, against Egypt and against Syria and against Lebanon.

HUSSEIN IBISH:

I'm used to giving talks sitting down. Yeah, gender equality is extremely important and it's really important to all societies. I don't think any society's solved the problem. Parts of the Arab world have some of the most difficult challenges with regard to gender equality in the world and not necessarily the worst, but among the worst. And there are different parts of the Arab world where it's a greater problem than others and I think probably Palestine is probably somewhere right in the middle of the Arab world in terms of you know clearly not one of the places that has gone furthest, but clearly not one of the places that has farthest to go. Compared to Saudi Arabia for example. And it hasn't achieved what Lebanon has or to some extent some other countries. But it's an internal transformation -- very very briefly, one of the reasons for paralysis of the Arab world right now is that there are two things that need to happen independently and simultaneously and people have to support both at the same time and most people support either one or the other but not both and that leads to paralysis.

I'm talking here about peace and reform. A lot of people who are deeply interested in reform -- far left, far right, Islamists, you know, people who want to get into power, they're really interested in reform. And interested in elections and interested -- they're completely hostile to peace. OK, and then you've got a lot of people who are very very interested in peace -- governments, mainstream society, people with a big stake in the status quo, they're really interested in promoting peace with Israel and overall regional peace. But they want nothing to do with reform. And absolutely not. They're in power and they don't want any of these horrible communists and Islamists and these awful people coming in and taking their power away. So you've got this division and they cancel each other out.

Gender issues are a very central aspect of the reform agenda. Except that a lot of the people who are pushing so-called reform come from the religious right and they're not interested in that. So it becomes doubly problematic. But it's something that can't be put off. And it's something the Arabs are going to have to do for themselves. Because any society that excludes half of its people from the outset from any meaningful participation in business or politics or intellectual life is chopping off one of its legs and you'll never get anywhere. And it's crazy.

And I think there's a growing recognition of this, but it's going to take a while. And I think there has to be a giant push back against the religious right in order to achieve this as well as traditions of more normal kinds of conservative impulses.

As for -- what was your second question? Oh yes, the Arab states. The Arab states are crucial. The Arab states are absolutely crucial and it's not true that President Obama got nothing from Saudi Arabia when he went to see them. He didn't get what he wanted. He wanted them to agree to some kind of gestures towards Israel in exchange for a whole settlement freeze. He didn't get a whole settlement freeze from Israel, he didn't get any gestures from the Saudis. Mutual recalcitrance. But the Saudis did give him a couple of things. They sent $200 million in cash to the PA for urgently needed stuff which the Americans requested and they didn't want to do it but they did do it because they'd given a bunch before and the other thing is they let it be known they would not oppose other Arab states resuming the sub-diplomatic relations, diplomatic ties they had -- the UAE, Qatar, or Kenya etc, they said we're not going to punish anybody for that. It's going to be baby steps. But the end result of all of this can be simply an Israeli-Palestinian peace. It has to be the normalization of Israel and the entire region.

QUESTION:

What about Mubarak?

HUSSEIN IBISH:

Well what about him? Well I think it would be very hard to make him part of the negotiations as such because there is already a peace treaty that has held very well, it's a cold peace it's not as warm as possible, but that's really because of the ongoing Palestinian issue, but I think that Egypt has played an interesting and generally constructive role vis a vis Hamas.

PAUL SUROVELL:

Thanks everybody for coming and we look forward to seeing you again.


 
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