Dr. LESLIE H. GELB (President, Council on Foreign Relations): Good evening, and welcome to another in our series of what we modestly call Council Great Debates. Tonight, we’ll be talking about the Middle East negotiations, the peace process. Looking around this audience, nothing more need be said about the topic, but we do need to say something about the speakers, because they’re unusual and a very important combination for us to have here this evening.
Both Dr. Khalidi and Dr. Satloff know what they’re talking about. They are genuine experts in this subject, and on Middle East studies generally, and they follow the negotiations both with the greatest of care and they agree on very little. And when you have two truly knowledgeable people at odds like that, I think we get a good sense of what the reality of the debate has been all about.
Tonight’s session, like the other Great Debates, is on the record; everything is on the record, so there are not the usual Council rules of discretion. The procedure will be as you’ve come to be familiar with it. The presenters will each talk for five minutes, then they’ll talk to each other for two or three minutes. Then I will ask them a few questions, and then the floor turns to you, where you can ask a brief question or make a brief statement and then let the two speakers respond. But whatever you do, whether it’s question or comment, please be brief.
Our speakers tonight are Dr. Robert Satloff and Dr. Rashid Khalidi. And as I said, both of them truly know what they’re talking about. They’re accomplished scholars, both having written a number of books that are not only scholarly but well-written. Dr. Khalidi is professor of Middle East history at the University of Chicago and, also there, the director of their International Studies Center. Dr. Satloff is the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He’s also a lecturer at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Rob, will you begin?
Dr. ROBERT SATLOFF: Five minutes to discuss why the peace process is stalled, who’s responsible and what to do about it—no problem. Lots of reasons, but let me focus on the two that are most important. First, there’s not enough peace in the peace process. Oslo was a bargain. The Israelis gave the Palestinians four things: diplomatic recognition—at the time, Palestinians had it from 160 countries but not one inch of territory; the only country that mattered was Israel. They got diplomatic recognition, self-government, territorial withdrawal, and, perhaps most importantly, a process that promised them more depending on how they fulfilled their commitments. In return for these four items, the Palestinians offered an end to the arms struggle, a promise to negotiate, not fight, and a commitment to fight terrorism from their own side.
Well, the simple reality is that of all these items, the Israelis fulfilled their part; the Palestinians didn’t. In absolute terms, Israelis have died in the four years since Oslo much, much more than they died in the six years of the intifadah. In relative terms, it is true that both Israelis and Palestinians suffer at the hands of each other, but the trend lined is clear: according to the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, a group not known for its sympathies to this Likud government, the number of Palestinian deaths at the hands of Israelis since Oslo has dropped by two-thirds. The number of Israeli deaths at the hands of Palestinians has increased by 40 percent.
Now whether one likes Netanyahu or one doesn’t like Netanyahu, this fact, his election, reflects the fact that Israelis thought something was very wrong with the process in which they were being killed at an ever-increasing rate. That is the crisis of confidence that must be fixed in the peace process. That’s the first explanation: not enough peace.
The second explanation is less obvious: not enough process. Some people argue that there is too much process, that we should have a swift resolution; the United States should come in, declare its support for a Palestinian state and be done with it. Well, that’s not going to work. Some people say that we need more partnership, a spirit of friendship between Israelis and Palestinians. That’s not going to work, either, because Israelis and Palestinians look at the Oslo accords and see two different, separate things. Palestinians see the painful five-year postponement of the inevitable creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital. Israelis, to paraphrase Yitzhak Rabin, see something different. They see a series of tests of Palestinian behavior, at each step of which Israel should stop and assess and then, only then, decide whether to go forward. Nothing inevitable about that.
You can’t paper over this difference. The only thing that you can do is implement what you signed. On this account, there is little doubt that the Palestinians—I hate to say it—are far, far more frequent and are more vagrant violators of the accords than the Israelis. Now I know that in polite company, it’s distasteful to ask these questions, but I’m in New York, so it doesn’t apply. Where, where, where are all the weapons that the Palestinians promised to confiscate or to register? Where are all the terrorists that should be in Palestinian jails? I urge you to see this week’s Jerusalem Report, where an Arab journalist details exactly who has been let out of Palestinian jails. And why did the P.A. agree to complete the revision of the Palestinian charter a year ago if it said that it had already done it? Well, the answer is that it hasn’t.
Now we could argue about this all night, but instead, I’d like to offer two suggestions to solve this problem. First, the United States should insist that Palestinians and Israelis fulfill their obligations full stop. Now while the U.S. government has publicly accused the Israelis of not living up to their Oslo obligations, it has never said the same of the Palestinians. Washington goes easy on Arafat, in my view, for a very simple reason: To go tough on Arafat, in the minds of too many in Washington, might be willy-nilly to empower Hamas. After all, Arafat is weak, they say.
The Israeli side of the equation is different. After all, if one pressures Bibi, the worst one gets is Labor, Ehud Barak. Therefore, there’s an imbalance. One can pressure Arafat and worry about the implications, but you don’t have to worry about the implications of pressuring Bibi.
I say this is wrong. Demand full compliance from both. Arafat got 88 percent of the vote in his election in 1995. Bibi, for his part, got 50.1 percent of the vote, which is more, I should say, than Bill Clinton got in either of his elections. Compliance from both. Let’s be real about this.
My second suggestion, however, goes further. It goes to the heart of the matter. If there is one item on which Rashid and I do agree, it is that the difference between Labor and Likud is not as wide as one would think. But then, we quickly part company. Following the Likud election in May ‘96, Rashid wrote that the difference between Labor and Likud is that Likud provides, quote, "a bluntly ugly face to the world in place of Labor’s cosmetically perfect face, but one that hides many of the same hideous blemishes." No difference between Labor and Likud.
I take a different view. With the signing of the Hebron accord last year, the Likud passed the historic watershed. Today, for the first time in Zionist history, every mainstream party in Israel accepts the idea of territorial compromise. Think about that. If the goal of the peace process is to determine the final disposition of the West Bank and Gaza, to define secure boundaries for Israel and thereby settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all, then all Israelis now agree that compromise, territorial compromise, is the way to go. Even Arik Sharon, of all people, supports territorial compromise and has spoken of creating a Palestinian state in the area where Israel will withdraw. We are left with but one party to these negotiations that opposes territorial compromise: the Palestinians. Instead, they reply with a mantra of a Palestinian state in all the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital. And as Rashid has, I think, honestly noted in his writings, Jerusalem, for the Palestinians, doesn’t mean some outskirts; it means the Old City if it means anything. That mantra is unattainable. And the day that Yasir Arafat states publicly his acceptance of compromise as the key component of negotiations is the day this peace process will be back on track. Thank you.
Dr. GELB: Rashid, Rob took six minutes and 45 seconds. You can have seven minutes if you give back Hebron.
Dr. RASHID KHALIDI: Can’t possibly do that. Thank you all for coming. I would argue that the short answer to the question around which this debate has been organized—Can the peace process be saved?—is, no, the Arab-Israeli peace process cannot be saved. A more complete answer would be that the peace process came to a complete grinding halt about two years ago. In the absence of dramatic efforts at resuscitation, it is and will remain dead as a doornail.
Now why has this process reached a standstill? I think there are three important reasons. The first is the policies of the Netanyahu government. The second is the weakness of the Clinton administration. The third is the ineptitude of the Palestinian Authority and the skillful exploitation of the situation by its domestic Palestinian opponents.
I’m going to go through these three points very briefly. We are much further away from peace today than we were two years ago, primarily because since May 1996, Israel has had a Likud government which rejects the core principle of U.N. Security Council resolution 242, which is land for peace, which is opposed to the basic elements of the Madrid process and the Oslo accords, which resulted from them and which rejects the terms of the why plantation understandings between Syria and Israel. It is little wonder, in light of this, that this government has refused to make any significant withdrawals from further areas of the West Bank or Gaza Strip or to implement most of its other commitments under the Oslo accords.
Given Likud’s fundamental opposition to most of the specific components of the peace process, the wonder is that anyone takes seriously their attempts to distract attention from their refusal to implement signed agreements by claiming that the Palestinian side has not kept its commitments. I will, incidentally, touch on the issue of Palestinian non-compliance in a moment.
But I think it is essential to stress the fundamental difference between the Likud government and the Palestinian Authority: one, irreconcilably opposed to the basic bargain of land for peace underlying these agreements; and the other, a signatory to them. I would also stress the enormous disparity of power between the two sides. The peace process is in a terminal state, primarily because the most powerful regional actor, which is Israel, is governed by a coalition which is more committed to settlement and annexation than it is to peace.
The second main reason for the drift away from peace and toward further conflict has been the bankruptcy of the Clinton administration’s Middle East policy. At no stage has any administration spokesperson clearly enunciated publicly the dangers inherent in the current drift toward conflict. One must conclude that they simply do not fully appreciate these dangers or the responsibility incumbent on the United States as the world’s sole superpower, as the patron of the peace process and signatory to the various accords under it. Alternatively and oppressingly, it may be the case that they do realize these risks but choose not to address them for reasons having to do with domestic politics.
The Clinton administration inherited a relatively favorable situation in the Middle East as far as peacemaking was concerned. It has proceeded to squander and dissipate this inheritance. It has failed to push the parties concerned toward agreement when they were inclined in that direction but faced difficulties. It has refused to exhibit firmness, let alone exert any meaningful pressure—and by this, I do not mean not inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to lunch—when there was willful obstruction of progress toward peace has been the case, in my view, since the Netanyahu government came into power. Always willing to lean on the hapless Palestinians or on the Arab states to go along with American wishes, this administration has failed to show any statesmanship in dealing with Israel. This was the case, I would argue, even when Israeli actions manifestly harmed U.S. interests, as has been the case during the recent, hopefully recent, hopefully past, crisis with Iraq, when it has been impossible to gain any significant Arab support for the U.S. position, in large measure because of the universal Arab perception of Israeli intransigence and American complacence.
A third factor in accelerating the drift away from peace has been the miserable performance of the Palestinian Authority. Beyond its failures in the realm of security, it has failed to establish a rule of law, respect for human rights and a proper environment for investment or to prevent corruption at the highest levels. Equally important, it has failed to negotiate intelligently with Israel and the United States and has failed to explain to public opinion in either country the desperate situation of the Palestinian people, the cruelty of Israel’s economic and security restrictions on them, and the possibility of a better future for both peoples than one of unending conflict. All of this has been ably exploited by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which helped mightily to derail the peace process with their terror bombings in Israel’s cities early in 1996.
Now the Palestinian Authority and other Palestinian actors clearly bear some responsibility for this situation, but I would argue that most of what the Likud government has said about Palestinian non-compliance is nothing more than one huge, rotten red herring. Likud fails to keep the most elementary parts of Israel’s bargain with the Palestinians. It continues to expand settlements. It refuses to withdraw from most of the West Bank. It extends its stranglehold on Jerusalem. And then it tells the Palestinian Authority that it must be the policeman for all of this. I would suggest that no Palestinian Authority, except a quisling authority, which would ultimately be repudiated by its own people, can be expected to serve for very long as enforcer for a power which insists that it’s going to maintain the occupation of most of the West Bank indefinitely while building more settlements in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.
I would suggest further that it is the manifest harm which terror against Israeli civilians has brought down on the Palestinians themselves as well as the continuing support of a large majority of Palestinians for the idea of peace, which has spared us even more senseless terror than we have already witnessed, rather than Arafat’s secret services.
So is there any hope for the peace process? I would suggest that there is only if all the parties concerned behave very differently than they have recently. The Palestinians and the Israelis are virtually locked into their current positions, but there’s nothing locking the United States into its position. There is nothing to stop the United States from shouldering its responsibilities as a signatory to these accords, particularly given the harm to U.S. interests and to regional stability which is being caused by the current drift toward conflict.
Some people claim that issues like proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have no relation to the non-resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I would suggest that only the ostrichlike among us can seriously believe that it would not be easier to tackle these issues if this conflict were on its way to resolution. It would be tragic if, some years from now, historians were to appraise the Clinton administration’s Middle East policy as an abject failure simply because of an underestimation of the basic good sense of the American people and most of the American Jewish community where Israel is concerned. This underestimation has led the administration to fear the domestic political consequences of speaking out forthrightly with all the power of the presidency about the harm which is caused by the dangerous policies of the Likud government.
I would suggest that such forthrightness would encourage governments and peoples in the Arab world to believe that there is hope for peace, which they do not have now, and to increase their willingness to take risks for it. It would force the Palestinian Authority to live up to its commitments and it would give the Palestinian people more scope to hold their government to account. Finally, it would bring the Israeli people face-to-face with the fact that their government’s foolhardy policy has endangered their country’s relations with the United States, not to speak of their only real chance for peace with security. Thank you.
Dr. GELB: Thank you very much, Rashid. I promised you great knowledge and very little common ground, and I delivered. Now we’ll give them a chance to rebut and maybe ask each other some questions, if you all would like. Rob, why don’t you begin?
Dr. SATLOFF: I’m told I have two minutes to rebut everything that Rashid just said. I’m going to agree, first of all—I will postulate that I agree with everything he said about the Palestinian Authority.
Dr. KHALIDI: If you’ll agree with what I said about Likud, we’re in business.
Dr. SATLOFF: I hold no grief for any Israeli government or for my government, for that matter, but I think it is disingenuous to say that this Israeli government rejects land for peace. What makes this Israeli government different from every other Likud government in the history of the state of Israel is that it embraced land for peace. It agreed to withdraw from the city of Hebron, the second holiest city to Jews. It agreed in negotiations over the last couple of months to withdraw from another 9 percent or so of the West Bank and it has agreed to discuss all the issues in final status negotiations. It has agreed to give up and permit the creation, perhaps even, of a Palestinian state, circumscribed in certain areas of sovereignty.
The only difference today between Labor and Likud in Israel is a difference of percentages, not a difference of principles. And if people can’t recognize that for the first time in Israel’s history, there is a national consensus about how you make peace, a broad, national consensus in which Israel is willing to withdraw from territories but not all territories; Israel insists on retaining between a third and a half of the West Bank—that is the difference. If people can’t accept that, then they don’t understand what motivates the Israeli body politic.
My second quote, because I think it’s a point that we’ll be returning to frequently in the next number of months as the Iraq situation re-emerges, is this horrible red herring about the relationship between the peace process and the Gulf. Gulf states are motivated by two things and two things only: They’re motivated by their fear of Saddam and they’re motivated by their sense of American leadership. And if American leadership, which is most important of all, is not there, they will not follow. The relationship between the peace process and the Gulf is virtually non-existent. Arab states would do nothing if Netanyahu gave up 50 percent of the West Bank tomorrow—do nothing more than they’ve done in the last month. That is a red herring, and we should just knock that right out the window.
Dr. GELB: Rashid.
Dr. KHALIDI: Thank you. I think that in this, as in so many other things, the devil is in the details, and I think that the argument that Israel has withdrawn from Hebron is an argument that some of you might want to test by actually going to Hebron. Hebron is still under occupation. It is true, there are parts of the city from which Israel agreed to withdraw under the Hebron accords, but the center of the city, the shrines in Hebron, are under Israeli military control. And this is the kind of modification, the kind of change, in signed accords which the Palestinians look at with dismay. Likud has agreed to withdraw from as much as 9 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was a clear understanding, as we understood the negotiations—I was involved in it in Washington, and as I understand the Oslo accords—that Israel would withdraw from most of the West Bank in the interim period. The interim period has been going on for years and years, ladies and gentlemen. We are now talking about 9 percent. It is not clear to me that we are going to ever see a withdrawal from any more than that 9 percent, in fact.
Let me add one other point about the issue of territorial compromise. It is true, both Labor and Likud agree on some issues with regard to territorial compromise, and both, in some degree, agree on a Palestinian state. But what will actually be that Palestinian state? What will be the content of the state which Likud is willing to give? If we read carefully what Israeli leaders say, it’s very clear that they do not intend to withdraw from most of the West Bank. It is clear that they will not just withhold some attributes of sovereignty; they basically will allow a tiny archipelago of Palestinian Bantu stands which will snake up and down the West Bank which will have large areas that are not contiguous and which will not really be, in any meaningful sense of the term, a Palestinian state, which will not be governable, which will continue to cause the kind of troubles and problems that the existing interim accords in their frozen state have caused.
Last point. I had said nothing about a link between the Gulf and Palestine. I actually edited a book on that topic. But I’m not talking about that. It will be much easier to deal with weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East as a whole—that includes Egypt, Syria, Israel, Iran and other powers—when and if this Arab-Israeli conflict is on its way to resolution. It is now harder to deal with it when this conflict is increasingly on the boil. A very, very simple point: Every power in the region looks at other powers. Every power—Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, and others—is concerned with the fact that Israel is a nuclear power, is concerned with the fact that Iraq has non-conventional potentials. They are interlinked. It is one region. It is true, many Gulf countries are much more worried, much more fearful, of Iraq or, for that matter, Iran, than they may be of Israel, but it is an interlocked regional system. The instability that is caused at the western end of the Middle East by the issues I’ve talked about necessarily and inevitably affects all issues of non-proliferation of all kinds of non-conventional weapons. Thank you.
Dr. GELB: Rashid says your red herring is a red herring.
Dr. SATLOFF: Just a very brief point and then a question to Rashid.
Dr. GELB: Alright.
Dr. SATLOFF: This is the Oslo interim accords. It is 307 pages long. Nowhere in here does it say the Israelis are supposed to withdraw from half of the West Bank or anything like it. And if the Palestinians couldn’t get it in 305 pages, then I don’t know why a private understanding, understood maybe between the words, between the lines, in the corridors over the coffee machine, is something that this Israeli government or the United States should take seriously.
Dr. KHALIDI: Should I answer that one? Dr. Satloff is absolutely right. Those numbers, those terms, are not in the agreement. This was the Palestinian understanding. This was the previous Labor government’s understanding. It is not in the agreement, there is no question. The Likud government has good lawyers, and they are holding an appalling agreement to the letter, I agree. I was very unhappy with that agreement. I was an adviser to a delegation that was engaged in negotiating what I think would have been a better agreement than that.
But I don’t think it can be denied that this is a government which, again and again and again, has put settlement and expansion—what I describe as the stranglehold on Jerusalem—ahead of confidence-building measures with the Palestinians.
Dr. SATLOFF: Here I can only go back to Rashid’s and mine area of joint agreement; namely, Labor and Likud, on this issue, are of the same mind. The Likud government has done almost exactly the same as the Labor government in the settlement of Israelis in the West Bank, in the non-increase in the number of settlements; there are no new settlements in the West Bank—there are settlers, but not settlements—and in what they’ve done in Jerusalem. So...
Dr. KHALIDI: Let me say...
Dr. SATLOFF: ...I don’t see a distinction at all between Rabin and Netanyahu, despite the fact that Netanyahu has a government made up of many people who would like to take it all.
Dr. KHALIDI: You were right in quoting me in the differences and lack of differences between Labor and Likud, but on this point, there really is a difference. I was living in Jerusalem for a large part of 1993 and 1994. Under the Labor government, there were no subsidies to settlers. A lot of things were cut, which have, in the past, under the Shamir government, encouraged settlers and which, under this government, are again encouraging settlers. It is true, no formally titled new settlements have been established, but there are bulldozers working all over the West Bank. I mean, they drove all over the place. I was there a week ago. There has been a major expansion of settlements, a major expansion of roads connecting settlements, a major expansion of the sphere in which Israel has complete and total control by control of the land.
Moreover, in Jerusalem, the stranglehold—by which I describe a blockade of the city preventing Palestinians from the West Bank from coming into it—has been maintained and increased. Under the Labor government, there was an understanding that Palestinian institutions would be allowed to operate. There was an understanding that the expansion of Jewish housing in Arab neighborhoods would be restricted and, in fact, it was. There was much less tension in Jerusalem under the Labor government. There was much less concern about settlement in the rest of the West Bank under Labor. I have many criticisms of Labor, but it has to be said, on those two issues about which there was no formal agreement, I understand, but where there was an understanding, Labor kept to the understanding, and the degree of Palestinian concern was, therefore, much lower.
Dr. SATLOFF: I could only say we’ve come back now to the same point: Understandings behind closed doors, never written down, never an agreement that you can sign and say to the people, ‘This is an agreement.’ Well, this is an agreement, and it would be very nice if both sides lived up, equally and fully, to everything written in this agreement. And I think that any detached observer would look at the case in the West Bank and Israel today and say, ‘By and large, the Israelis have lived up to their side of this agreement and, by and large, Palestinians haven’t.’ And that, I think—and even more than me, the best judge of this was the Israeli electorate. Do you think that they wanted to vote against the government that gave them the handshake on the lawn and the hope for peace? No. They voted against this government out of despair, not because they love Benjamin Netanyahu, but because they thought that the track was either moving too fast or was going slightly off course, and they wanted a change. That’s the public opinion that has to be changed by the actions of the P.A.
Dr. KHALIDI: I’ll say one word, and then I’ll let you-all have your say. I wouldn’t dream of disputing Dr. Satloff as far as the Israeli electorate is concerned, but I would submit that there were a couple of other factors, like the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, the arrival in power of a prime minister who had never won an election, Shimon Peres, and does not have and has never had the trust of the Israeli electorate, and the bombs that went off that Hamas and Islamic Jihad set off. There were many, many reasons that Israelis voted by a razor-thin margin to put this government in office. And I’m not entirely sure that the only reason—in fact, that a major reason—was the one that he said.
Dr. GELB: Let me ask you each a question before opening to the floor.
Rashid, you’ve been arguing that you had problems with the Oslo accords all along. But they are the basis of agreement now between the two sides. Are you saying that in some cases, the terms are so unacceptable to the Palestinians today that they ought to be changed or ignored? For example, the alterations of Palestinian charter on the question of acceptance of the state of Israel. If that is such a problem to the Palestinians today, should that provision in the Oslo accords be forgotten?
Dr. KHALIDI: The Oslo accords are not unacceptable to the Palestinians. I have problems with them, but I am not speaking for the Palestinians or anybody else; I’m speaking for myself. Policy and public opinion is still supportive of these accords by every poll that’s been taken since they were signed up to this day, by a large majority. I would say, as far as the specific—and the Palestinian Authority seems committed to these accords as well, at least verbally. I would say that as far as the specific provision you’ve mentioned, the Palestinian Authority has eliminated those clauses by vote of the PNC, which are objectionable. It has not rewritten the charter. And as far as I’m concerned, they probably should rewrite the charter.
But I frankly don’t think this is a terribly important issue. They have done, technically, what they were asked to do, which is to eliminate those clauses—they’ve now specified them—which, presumably, were found offensive and are incompatible with the commitment to peace. They have not yet rewritten it, but I don’t really see that this is, (A), very important or, (B), anybody’s business.
As long as they have removed those elements, that language, in the document which is incompatible with the spirit of their agreements with Israel, which, as I understand it, is what they were supposed to do. They have certainly not, it’s true, rewritten the document yet.
Dr. GELB: Rob, you were saying that Netanyahu has been at least as good and fair and compliant with these terms as virtually any Labor leader could be expected to be, but don’t you think that Netanyahu has the kind of government that really wouldn’t support any serious progress in these negotiations; that whatever his own beliefs, he is more or less locked in by a government that doesn’t want to see further progress in the peace talks?
Dr. SATLOFF: Les, let’s see what happens in negotiations. There’s only one clear date in the agreement that the Israelis signed with the Palestinians last year, and that was that final status negotiations were to begin two months from the signing of that agreement. Well, we’re now almost a year after that. Maybe he has a Cabinet that’s too tightly bound about him and maybe he doesn’t. We don’t know until we negotiate. And the Palestinians refuse to sit down to talk about these final status issues.
Now here is the point I agree with Rashid on. Rashid has written quite eloquently of the need to move to final status talks. Let’s talk about Jerusalem, about settlements, about borders, about statehood. Fine. Who is opposing this? This is Yasir Arafat.
Dr. KHALIDI: Because the interim agreement hasn’t been implemented, which was supposed to be implemented before final status begins.
Dr. SATLOFF: That’s actually not correct. The final status was supposed to start negotiating in March of 1996, in April 1996, and it was supposed to again start up two months after the Hebron accord, and it didn’t. So there is no time linkage between these two here. There’s an end linkage. Everything is supposed to be neatly sewn up in a book in May 1999, and the process is supposed to go simultaneously, not sequentially.
Dr. KHALIDI: But the accords specify three withdrawals. There has been one.
Dr. SATLOFF: And those withdrawals...
Dr. KHALIDI: And Israel is now arguing that it will only make one more and then will go immediately to final status, so this is a change in the Oslo accords. I was against an interim period in the first place. I think these issues should have been negotiated from the beginning. But having signed that agreement to make three withdrawals, which should, by the understandings at that time, have led to withdrawal from most of the West Bank, Israel is the one that’s in violation.
Dr. GELB: Well, for fear that if I let them talk to each other longer, they would develop common ground, let me turn to you-all. When you’re recognized, wait for the microphone, please, identify yourself and, again, please be brief. Questions.
QUESTIONER: My name is Kenneth Bialkin. I’d like to ask Professor Khalidi a question. I’d like to ask you to look ahead. Let’s assume that you are correct, which I don't agree with, but let’s assume that you’re correct; this peace process is dead-ended and writhing around in its final agony. You suggest as the only solution that the United States should become proactive and impose upon the parties some solution or order them to act. Let’s assume for the moment that the U.S. does not do that—for whatever reason, it doesn’t—and that the parties then are left to their own devices. They have, at that point, heeded the obligation to speak to each other directly or to initiate violence. I’d like you to look ahead, and speculate as to the consequences of this end, and the initiation either of dialogue or of violence. And if there’s violence, and the violence is endorsed, as he has announced it would be, if, in fact, the process is ended, should not Israel then arrest him and imprison him as a terrorist for fomenting that violence while preaching at the end of the negotiations?
Dr. KHALIDI: Well, I’m a historian. I’m not required to talk about the future, so I will just say a few things about the present and you can draw your own conclusions. I said nothing about the United States imposing a solution. I don’t think the United States can or should impose a solution. I think the United States should just utter a few home truths, like say who is in non-compliance, for example, with signed agreements; suggest, perhaps, some things that might happen and suggest that if this or that actor acts with impunity against U.S. interests, the United States won’t be happy. I think that that would be a very powerful message for all sides concerned.
If violence occurs, if violence breaks out? There is violence going on. I mean, Rob gave us statistics. In fact, even though the proportions he stated were correct, he didn’t give you the numbers, because many more Palestinians are still being killed by Israelis than Israelis are being killed by Palestinians. There’s violence going on all the time. Thank God it’s not greater than it has been at some times in the past. But if, heaven forbid, it were to escalate, I don’t think that would be something that either of those two leaderships would be very happy with, certainly not the Palestinian Authority, whatever Arafat may have said. If Israel were to choose to arrest him, which it perhaps could do, Israel would be right back where it started from when it initiated this process. It would be back in occupation of all instead of most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and we’d have to figure out what it’s going to do with over two million Palestinians who want an independent state of their own, don’t want to live under Israeli military occupation. The problem would not be solved, in my view.
Dr. SATLOFF: Just one word. Like Rashid, I’m a historian, and I see the peace process moving in a very positive direction, over time. I think we are almost there in historical terms. Now it may not happen tomorrow and it may not happen the week after tomorrow, but we’re now talking about a defined piece of territory in which almost all the parties agree on what the solution is: repartition. Actually, the only party that disagrees should have a territorial compromise in the West Bank and Gaza is the PLO.
Dr. KHALIDI: That’s actually not true, Rob, I mean, the—the Beilin Abu-Mazin agreement, admittedly only an understanding, clearly involved cession of territory by the Palestinians, and I see nothing to indicate that the Palestinian Authority or the PLO is not willing to give up part of the West Bank if Israel makes compensations elsewhere for that.
Dr. SATLOFF: The most important thing about Beilin Abu-Mazin accord, this private accord between an Israeli legislator and a Palestinian negotiator, is that the Palestinian negotiator...
Dr. KHALIDI: Vice foreign minister.
Dr. SATLOFF: Right. The most important thing about it is that the Palestinian denies it and refuses to accept it, refuses to say, ‘Yes, I made this accord with the Israeli,’ because as of this date, there is not a single Palestinian leader, in the P.A. or outside, who has said that territorial compromise from the claim of 100 percent to the West Bank and Gaza, including East Jerusalem, is something that they can negotiate.
Dr. KHALIDI: And that’s a correct position in international law and as a bargaining position, in my view.
Dr. GELB: Well, it turns out they only need one question. Jonathan Paris.
QUESTIONER: Thanks. Jonathan Paris, fellow of the U.S. Middle East Project. I direct a question to Dr. Satloff. I go back to your opening remarks, where you say there’s not enough process and you talk about those who want to call for a Palestinian state and do away with the process. Two distinct questions. One is, is it incompatible for America to declare that at the end of the road there might be a Palestinian state and still promote process? In other words, if you give the Palestinians an implicit understanding that there is light at the end of the tunnel, they might go along with the incremental process and it might reinvigorate the process that stalled right now.
Dr. SATLOFF: I think that’s a terrible idea. This is the idea that the United States should change the terms of the bargain from being process, self-government, withdrawal, and negotiations from the Israelis for security from the Palestinians. They should change that to statehood for security. The Palestinians haven’t done security under the old terms. Why should they be rewarded with a new set of incentives to do what they haven’t done already? The United States, I think, should not get out ahead of the parties. We should instead be supportive of what they have signed and be insistent on what they have signed, but never be out ahead. That, I think, is a wrong idea.
Dr. KHALIDI: Well, let me just say something about security, because I’ve already criticized the Palestinian Authority on this grounds. But I think it’s worth noting that during the time of the Labor government, the Labor government agreed, and most external observers, except the Likud Party, agreed, that for all its failures, the Palestinian Authority was trying to deal with terrorists. It failed, as did the Labor government, as did the Israeli security services, again and again. But there was a good-faith effort, or at least there was an effort.
I think that a lot can be criticized in what the Palestinian Authority did as far as abuses of human rights, as far as failure to really crack down in some respects and as far as respect for political formations while going after people who are carrying out criminal or terrorist acts. But I think that the argument that in a situation where Palestinians see what the Israeli government is doing—and they don’t see it the way you do, Rob, I’m afraid—and see that it is settling and pouring concrete and taking over land, expecting the Authority to act as policemen for this is to expect them to do something which, under Labor, they actually were willing to do; they were willing to serve as policemen for Israel in a situation where they expected that Israel would end the occupation, get off their backs and give them something that would lead to a state.
They do not believe that this government is going to give them that. They do not believe it’ll end the occupation. They do not believe it’ll give up settlements. They do not believe it’ll even stop expanding settlements, and they do not believe that they will get anything that looks like a meaningful state at the end of the process. The crisis of confidence is the lack of Palestinian confidence in this Israeli government, among many other things.
Dr. SATLOFF: I appreciate Rashid’s honesty when he says that the Palestinians today aren’t fulfilling their security requirements, which is what he just said, and I agree with it. So another point for you, Les.
Dr. GELB: Question right over here, please. Was there a question right over here?
QUESTIONER: I’m Michael Meyer of the N.Y. Civil Rights Coalition. My question is directed to the professor. Your views of the Oslo accord is very, very clear, and the process for making changes in the Oslo accords were also very, very, clear. But I’m not clear on your views on the charter—the PLO charter. You said they’ve eliminated offensive clauses. But why not rewrite the charter entirely? What’s taking so long? And what’s the deal with that?
Dr. KHALIDI: I think they should rewrite the charter. I think the charter is an outmoded document. I have to tell you something. I mean, I’ve lived in the Arab world for about half of my life. Nobody in the Arab world pays attention to this document as much as audiences in New York and Miami Beach and L.A. do. I promise you, 95 percent of Palestinians don’t know what’s in it and don’t care. It is an issue, and because it’s become an issue, I think it should be addressed by the Palestinian Authority. I think they’ve done their usual inept job of dealing with the issue. They have technically fulfilled the requirements, which were to eliminate...
Dr. GELB: But, Rashid, let’s be specific about it.
Dr. KHALIDI: Yes.
Dr. GELB: Would you rewrite it to include acceptance of the state of Israel as a Jewish state?
Dr. KHALIDI: Absolutely. There’s an agreement between the PLO and Israel. And they, the Palestinians, have accepted Security Council resolution 242, which calls for the right of all nations to live in peace, including Israel. So, yes, absolutely. That’s not the problem, I think. The problem is a domestic political problem, which Arafat has not so much with the people under his governance, who actually voted for him in the numbers that Rob cited, but the fact that he is head of the PLO, which is the nominal representative of six million Palestinians, four million of whom are outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip; one million live in Israel, over three million live elsewhere. And a lot of these people are deeply alienated from these agreements, because these agreements do not address any of their grievances, and their grievances have been deferred indefinitely.
That is a problem. It’s a political problem which, frankly, I don’t know how it could be handled. If I were Arafat, I might try and handle it, but I’m not, and who knows.
Dr. GELB: Identify yourself, Dick.
QUESTIONER: Dick Murphy, Council on Foreign Relations. The multilateral talks on arms control stalled out at least two years ago. I don’t think the committee’s even met. Do you see, (A), any possibility and, (B), advantage to the peace process were the United States by itself and in company of others move at the United Nations to start separately from the peace process arms control talks for the broader area to include Iraq, Iran, possibly Libya. Would that contribute to the peace process? Is it possible? Is it advantageous?
Dr. KHALIDI: Both of them?
Dr. SATLOFF: I think that if I were an Israeli—if I’m an American, for that factor, if someone were to come to me and suggest, based on the experience of the Iraq model, ‘Let’s now apply arms control negotiations to the Arab-Israeli arena,’ I’d say, ‘No way,’ that the best way to do this is to try to invigorate the multilaterals, which were impeded because of an Egyptian-Israeli disagreement over the prioritization of Israel’s nuclear capability in those talks. I would not want this to be a U.N. affair. I think bringing Iraq and Iran in at this stage would only complicate matters. It is much better to have a smaller group of countries begin to talk about issues that they might be able to agree on than having a wider group of countries which would have no chance of agreement on this set of issues.
Dr. KHALIDI: I’ll just briefly say, I think what I said, which is that I think the progress on regional arms control will only be possible when there has been progress on this Arab-Israeli conflict. But having achieved such progress, which hasn’t happened and I don’t think will, I don’t think that would necessarily be a bad idea, because these are interlinked issues. It’s not just the countries involved in the multilateral negotiations which have or fear the non-conventional weapons capabilities of others. And I think that if Israel’s nuclear capability and other capabilities that we may not know about are not laid on the table and discussed—nobody’s going to make Israel give them up unless and until it’s satisfied.
But if they’re not laid on the table and negotiated, I do not see an—and others, too, because everybody’s not scared of Israel. Some are more scared of Iraq; some are more scared of Iran and so on and so forth. It’s all sooner or later, in one way or another, not laid on the table. You can’t deal with it. It’s not a bipolar issue; it’s a multipolar issue. And simply dealing with Israel and the Arab states is, in the long run, not sufficient.
Dr. SATLOFF: Can I make a brief suggestion just on this point? Because if there’s one thing I think the U.S. can do to build upon the common interests that Arabs and Israelis do have in this regional security matter, it is to try to take the Israeli Arrow program, which we fund a considerable part of—this is an anti-tactical ballistic missile defense—make it an American program and invite neighboring Arab states to join—when the Jordanians and the Saudis have as much to fear from Iraqi missiles as the Israelis do. But they won’t join if it’s an Israeli program. Make it an American program and have them participate as well.
Dr. GELB: Questions? Front.
QUESTIONER: My name’s Allen Hyman. You were very critical of Yasir Arafat on several accounts, ranging from civil rights violations to the ineptitude in negotiations. And recently, we’ve seen images of Palestinians rallying before Saddam to go off to the West Bank and the Gaza. Do you think there’s widespread lack of confidence in Yasir, or would it be better if he were replaced to carry on negotiations?
Dr. KHALIDI: There is lack of confidence, but unfortunately, or fortunately, among a relatively limited strata. A lot of intellectuals don’t like him and the Islamic opposition doesn’t like him. The polls that I see, by the Nablus Institute and the other institutes, indicate he still has support of a considerable majority of Palestinians. It’s a very difficult situation, because he’s not as well as he was. He’s getting older and older. He’s getting tireder and tireder. And the group around him—in my view, the advisers he has are not extremely competent.
He’s still a very good politician domestically. He still has the legislative chamber in a situation that President Clinton or any elected president would just love to be in. He has them wound around his little finger. I find that sad. I think that if a basic law, a constitution, is not passed and a rule of law is not established, something tragic will have happened. But in terms of the struggle between executive and legislature, the executive is winning, you know, hands down, and that is terribly unfortunate.
The other unfortunate thing is that to a large measure, at the instigation of our country and of Israel as well as because of his own inclinations, a security state is being built up. It would be equally tragic if, as a result of this process, in order to meet Israel’s security desiderata, Arafat’s dictatorial inclinations and American pressures, another Arab police-state dictatorship were created at the end of the Palestinians’ miserable 50 years of suffering. That would truly be sad. We’re not there yet. A friend of mine said to me—I was in Jerusalem last week. He said, ‘It’s not yet a police state. What the students argue about, it’s not really there, and it could perhaps be prevented.’
I hope our country will help to prevent it. I accept that convincing public opinion in Israel that the Palestinian Authority can help give them security is a vital need of the peace process, but it is an equally vital need that a Democratic regime respecting human rights be established in Palestine, or it will be for naught. We will just have another jackboot military dictatorship in the Arab world. And we will not have security for Israel. Israel tried jackboot military tactics for 30 years in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I don’t think anybody noticed that there was any diminution of terrorism. It caused terrorism, that kind of repression. If Arafat ends up going in that direction, it will not solve either Israel’s problems or anybody else’s.
Dr. GELB: Rob, did you want to say something?
Dr. SATLOFF: I’m not sure if I heard you correctly. I assume you didn’t use the word ‘jackboot.’
Dr. KHALIDI: Jackboot. Jackboot military dictatorship, is what I said.
Dr. SATLOFF: I’m not even going to comment on how inappropriate I think that term is in this context. I would say about Arafat’s longevity, first of all, I think he’s immortal. I think almost all these Middle Eastern leaders are going to outlive us all.
Dr. KHALIDI: Indeed.
Dr. SATLOFF: Assad, Arafat, fell out of a plane, knocked his head. Everybody died; he lives. Assad’s got heart disease, whatever. He’ll live forever. But I do think, however—to be serious for a moment, I think he could bring his people to the Promised Land, but not bring them to peace. It’s one thing for Arafat to be able to be the historic leader to get to this point, but nobody should assume that he has to be the person that can make what needs to happen, which is the grand compromise. So far, the Palestinians haven’t compromised on substance; they’ve compromised on time. ‘We’ll postpone what we want until later. We’ll wait. We’ll wait.’ I admit that. But they haven’t yet compromised on substance. And I’m not sure and I sincerely doubt that Arafat is the leader who can compromise on substance, on land, and that, in the end, is what this is all about.
Dr. GELB: Do you agree, Rashid?
Dr. KHALIDI: Yeah, very briefly. The two Palestinian leaders—it may be that another generation can do not necessarily what Rob is saying but what is necessary to achieve peace, and it may be that Arafat’s leadership will not be able to do that. I don’t know. As I say, I’m a simple historian. But I will tell you that two of the Palestinian leaders, historic leaders of the Palestinian national movement, who probably could have done it, perhaps with more success than Arafat, are both dead because they were assassinated by Israel. Well, Abu Iyyad was not assassinated by Israel. We don’t know who assassinated him. Abu Ziad was.
A whole cohort of Palestinian leaders, many of whom were committed opponents of Israel until the peace process began, when they became the most powerful apostles of a peaceful resolution of this conflict, were assassinated, very late in the conflict. I’m not talking about people killed back in the ‘70s or even in the early ‘80s. And it is sad but true that we may have to wait for somebody from another generation, because the people who remain from that original founding generation of people who, back in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, found that the modern policy and national movement are, most of them, less capable than Arafat himself, unfortunately, in my view.
Dr. GELB: Thank you. Last question, right here in the middle, please.
QUESTIONER: Frank Savage, Alliance Capital. Mr. Satloff, I’d like to ask you a question about public opinion in Israel. You reminded us that Benjamin Netanyahu won by what you called a razor-thin margin. I’m just wondering, what is your sense of the feeling of Israeli public opinion now vis a vis him. He has been declared dead a couple of times and he’s come back. What is the feeling of the Israeli people about his management of the peace process? If an election were held today, would he win?
Dr. SATLOFF: Good question. First, one point of history. Rashid brought up a number of reasons why Netanyahu may have won the ‘96 election. What most people fail to forget is that the week before Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated—the week before—Netanyahu outpolled Rabin in public-opinion polls in Israel. Now this is not to say that everything else didn’t matter, but it wasn’t only the bombs and only Shimon Peres. Even head on head, Netanyahu had a good chance of winning. I don’t know if he would have won.
If there was an election tomorrow, well, the most recent public opinion polls in Israel show that Labor and Likud are in a dead heat among Israeli Jews. When you throw in Israeli Arabs, and most public opinion polls don’t include Israeli Arabs, for reasons beyond me—they should—if you throw in Israeli Arabs, then the polls go to Barak. What the polls also show is that there is a very large undecided vote, and historically in Israel, the undecided vote goes heavily to the Likud. Mostly these are either Russian immigrants or ultraorthodox who don’t trust anybody who calls them up and says, ‘Who you going to vote for?’ They believe it’s the KGB.
So if I had to bet, I would say that the outcome of an election, if it were held tomorrow, would be either the same or .2 percentage points different than the outcome two years ago; namely, either Bibi wins by a whisker or Bibi loses by a whisker. That’s what Israeli politics dictate.
Dr. GELB: Thank you, Rob. One last question to both of you, which you can use as a basis of your two-minute summation. What should the United States do now? Rashid, will you begin?
Dr. KHALIDI: Thank you, Les. I’ve said what I thought the United States should do, and I still think the United States should do it. I think the United States has a major responsibility, which it has not fulfilled, to push this process along. It is the responsibility not only with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli negotiation, which has been stalled for over two years, but to other negotiations, as between Lebanon and Israel, as between Syria and Israel. I do not think this administration has given this problem the kind of serious presidential attention that it requires. I do not think that this administration has honestly confronted the fact that it can, in fact, take a much tougher stand on whatever a given party is doing without fear of domestic repercussions. I do not think that this administration has treated this foreign-policy issue as a primarily foreign-policy issue. As in so many things, I think it’s been looking with at least one eye at domestic concerns. This is tragic and unfortunate.
I have deep reservations about the agreements that were reached in ‘93, ‘94 and ‘95, but those agreements and the understanding with Syria and the general mood in the region in the early ‘90s were, overall, positive in many, many ways. They did not please many Palestinians. They did not please many Israelis. They were flawed. But they offered a much better prospect for the future than what we have today. What we have today is lawyering by the Israeli government. What we have today is, in my view, an enormous farrago game, in which they claim that this or that small detail is the problem when I would argue the problem is something quite different. This is a government which is not committed to do many of the things that the Labor government was willing to do. This is a government which is not committed to do things which I think the United States, if it honestly looks at its national interests and what is required for peace, would agree have to be done. I don’t think the United States should impose a settlement and I really don’t think the United States can force the Israelis to do anything, but it can make clear to Israeli public opinion, as the Bush administration did to Israeli public opinion under Shamir, that ‘We don’t agree with you,’ very simply. ‘Go your own way.’
Israel has the capability of doing a lot of things without American support, but I think the Israeli domestic constituency understands that, in Washington, there are people who are willing to say, ‘What you are doing is wrong and stupid for Israel’s interests, for American interests and in the interest of world peace.’ Simply say that, out loud, from a presidential podium; that can have an effect.
I have said and I will say again, there are leaders in the Middle East who have failed—Netanyahu, Arafat and others—to do what they should do to achieve peace. I’ve been particularly critical of Netanyahu and Arafat, but I could say similar things about others. But we are the superpower, not them. They are stuck. We are not really stuck on this issue. In fact, it is as much in the American national interest as it is in the national interest of these countries that the United States should take a much more active role in peacemaking in the Middle East.
Dr. GELB: Thank you, Rashid.
Dr. KHALIDI: Thank you, Les.
Dr. GELB: Rob.
Dr. SATLOFF: The peace process is a means. It’s not an end. What is the end? The first and foremost end, why we got into this to begin with, is gone, and that was the Soviets. The Soviet doubt resolved local conflict that had a prospect of escalating to superpower confrontation. What’s left? Why are we in this? To help Israel achieve peace and security, recognized borders. That’s why we’re in it.
The Palestinians we have a relationship with solely as a function of their role in the peace process. Let’s remember, we have no huge set of relationships with the Palestinians. The United States doesn’t care who governs Jenin. The United States could care less who governs Ramallah. We have no national interest in this. We have a national interest in the security and survival of Israel and in creating a process which helps them achieve secure and recognized borders.
Now I think what we need to do is defend that process. That process is real; that process is written; it is signed. We ought to say something about that process. We ought to be clear and public about what each side needs to do. But we should not (audio loss) pressure an ally or outline a vision of an end which would isolate that ally without keeping the bigger picture in mind. And the picture is, despite all the wonderful things that have happened in the last decade, we still know that the Middle East is a very dangerous neighborhood, and that is the reality that we must keep in mind whenever an American president says anything about Israel or the peace process. Thank you.
Dr. GELB: Perhaps you will agree with me after hearing Professor Khalidi and Professor Satloff tonight that both of them belong on the United States negotiating team. Please join me in thanking them.