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Forty Years after the Six-Day War: Where Are We with Middle East Peace? [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service]

Speakers: Dennis B. Ross, Counselor and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Robert Malley, Director of International Crisis Group's Middle East/North Africa Program, and Robert E. Hunter, Senior Advisor Rand Corporation and Former Ambassador to NATO
Presider: David J. Remnick, Editor, The New Yorker
June 19, 2007
Council on Foreign Relations

DAVID J. REMNICK:  I hope that worked.  Good, it did work.  You are a magical person, Richard Haass.

MR.    :  That's why he runs the place. (Laughter.)

I'm David Remnick from The New Yorker magazine.  And today we have a panel on a subject of such mild interest with nothing to discuss.  We're going to talk about the Middle East.  And we're meeting 40 years after the Six-Day War which is still being discussed ferociously in Israel.  Recently, Tom Segev published a revisionist account of that war a year after Michael Oren, another Israeli historian, published on the same topic.  And you can read those two books side-by-side with other books and come to the same conclusion that Zhou Enlai did when he was asked about the French Revolution and what he thought of the French Revolution, as we all know, and he responded, "it's too soon to tell." 

In the Middle East, there's not quite that leisure of inquiry.  Right now we find ourselves -- the Middle East finds itself, and more particularly Israel and Palestine or what's left of Palestine in its division, finds itself at an extremely perilous moment.  And we are going to discuss that with Robert Hunter who is a senior advisor at the RAND Corporation, former U.S. ambassador to NATO -- to my left -- everybody's to my left here -- Robert Malley, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the International Crisis Group; and Dennis Ross, who's got a new book out.  And if you haven't heard him on the radio or seen him on television you just aren't watching or listening.  It's a terrific book called "Statecraft:  How to Restore America's Standing in the World."  He is at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Our discussion today will go for about a half an hour among us and then about a half an hour for questions from you.  And as usual, cell phones off.  And when the question time comes, I hope you'll restrict yourselves to questions that can be as pointed as you'd like but just not speeches and the like.

I'd like to begin with a couple of historical questions on how we got here. 

Mr. Hunter, you've written extensively on the 1967 war.  And if one reads these two books side-by-side -- the Segev book and the Oren book -- it's almost as if the state of affairs that we're in now has a feeling of inevitability to it.  I'm not asking if it felt that way at the time.  Does it feel that way now?

ROBERT E. HUNTER:  I'll tell you, one of the remarkable things is how this keeps coming back.  I coined a phrase years ago that there's a line in the Sermon on the Mount you have to remember -- blessed are the peacemakers for they shall never be unemployed.  (Laughter.)  I think the first time I debated this issue with the same kinds of arguments, same kinds of positions, same kinds of lookouts was with a friend of ours who is sitting in the audience here.  It was October 1968 -- Rita Hauser.  She was for Nixon, I was for Humphrey.  Nixon won.  Rita, you could have at least let me win the debate.  I didn't get to win the election.

Well, this keeps going on.  Well, I don't believe in inevitability.  I believe that this conflict, this crisis, this situation is so important to the people who live there, to the Israelis with whom we have a very special relationship, to the people of Palestine and to us in the United States that we have to keep from being encumbered by the history and look to ways of doing things about the situation.

For us in this country, in my judgment, this is of more consequence than it has been since that day in which Israel turned over the Sinai Desert to Egypt and brought the Egypt-Israel conflict to a halt.  From which moment, the chances of a U.S.-Soviet confrontation went to zero.  And from then on, Arab-Israeli peacemaking was no longer a matter of the United States strategically having to do it to prevent something that could be cataclysmic but something worth doing until 9/11 and until the invasion of Iraq.  Today, not just for what happens with the immediate parties but in terms of our standing in the region and our capacity to work with the allies, the United States taking an active role in helping Israel and Palestine work this out has become, for the United States, a strategic imperative.

And so we can't talk about the inevitability of crisis and conflict.  We have to talk about the requirement of our getting it right, and we're not getting it right.

REMNICK:  Is this an imperative that the Bush -- well, that's my question.  Is this an imperative that the Bush administration has taken up, even remotely, in your view?

HUNTER:  It's striking that we have gone a longer period from the moment on May the 1st, 2003 when people said this looks like the end of the Iraq war to today, a longer period than between Pearl Harbor and the U.N. Charter, and we still don't have a grand strategy for the Middle East.  We still don't have a basic commitment to the overall issues that we have to do in an intelligent way.  And frankly, we're not getting the Arab-Israeli matter right.  It's still coming out, as of today, I think, in a direction that doesn't serve American interests.

Now, I have to say, every time I speak on this issue over the last 40 years, I walk out and find out something has happened.  The president and the prime minister of Israel are meeting as we speak, so we may walk out of here and everything we say may prove to be nonsense.

REMNICK:  Don't count on it.  (Laughter.)

Mr. Malley, your name became known -- it was already quite well known -- but throughout the region upon publication of a piece in The New Yorker review of books reviewing the negotiations between the Clinton administration, Barak and Arafat at Camp David and thereafter.  And it came to be the kind of counternarrative.  The narrative against the narrative given out by the Israelis and most of the Clinton administration, which was that Arafat didn't respond.  Arafat was essentially the key reason, if not the singular reason, but the key reason for the failure to come to some conclusion in 2000, the very, very beginning of 2001.  When you review what is happening now in Gaza, the state that Gaza is in, the state that the Palestinian polity is in now, to say nothing of Israeli politics, would it really not have been better for all concerned, above all for the Palestinians, to at least have pursued that opportunity more ferociously than it did rather than reject it?

ROBERT A. MALLEY:  I think I said that.  I said that at the time.  I mean, I think it became a counternarrative not so much because I said the Palestinians weren't at fault.  I mean, we said the Palestinians were at fault for precisely the reason you gave, that Arafat, in my view, went to Camp David not in order to reach a deal but to escape what he felt was a trap.  And many of the mistakes were made by all the parties before Camp David leading up to Camp David.  Over there, I think his attitude was I want to come out of this alive.  And I said that, and I think he made a mistake.

The reason it became a counternarrative is that I also said others made mistakes.  And I think the historical record is bearing that out.  I think in terms of the number of people now speaking about it, they'd say yes, the U.S. made key mistakes in terms of how we organized it or didn't organize it.  We didn't have a fallback strategy.  I mean, for me, one factor is quite revealing that if you had questioned the six or seven members of the U.S. administration coming into Camp David -- Dennis and others -- and you asked each one of us what do you think the outcome of this negotiation will be, you would have gotten 10 different answers.  Because some of us would change our minds between morning and afternoon.  And that is a major flaw, because you can't really have a strategy if you don't know where you're going or where you want the parties to go. 

So I don't fault the decision to go to Camp David.  My own view, as I said, the Palestinians went there without the intention of reaching a deal.  They didn't want to go there.  Arafat had told us that as clearly as he could.  Barak went there thinking that as a master chess player he knew his moves but also his opponents' moves.  And if his opponents' moves didn't play the way he should, he would explain to them why they should.  And we went there thinking that we could be helpful but didn't have what in hindsight we were really lacking, which is a clear vision of what that two-state solution would look like and a process of getting the parties there.  I wish Camp David had taken place three months earlier, and it could have been more or less a dry run, and then we would have had another summit where we would have been clearer.  Because we needed to go through this, too, to know what we thought was a fair solution.  We only got to that in December, 2000.  And by that time, it was too late.

REMNICK:  Dennis, I suspect you have a different view of that.

DENNIS B. ROSS:  Yes.  (Laughter.)

REMNICK:  Maybe you could elaborate slightly on that end.

ROSS:  You know, number one, I think what Rob wrote became a counternarrative, because there were plenty of people who wanted to be able to say that the blame wasn't Arafat's.  And therefore, they seized on what was written, not to in fact reflect what Rob had actually written but to then create a whole different story.  Because I would go out, and I would -- in Europe and elsewhere -- I would explain what had happened and why I thought it had happened.  And they would say well, but Rob Malley is saying very differently, and I was talking just about the facts.  And in a sense, there was a kind of misreading of what had been written, because people didn't pay as close attention to what you had written as they should have.  You weren't questioning the facts of what had actually happened.  You were questioning what were the implications.  Yes, you raised questions about, in a sense, the mistakes that we made.  And I would say the mistakes we made were a little different.  Part of the mistakes that we made was that we went into Camp David -- and you'll recall, we actually had a series of discussions about what the fallbacks would be.  We talked about what fallbacks could be on territory.  We talked about what fallbacks could be in terms of coming out with juridical equals having two states.

One of our problems is we wouldn't stick with any strategy that we adopted, because there was a tendency to let Barak decide what he could live with and what he couldn't.  And so we backed off of things that we should have stayed with.  But my argument was even if we had played it exactly the right way, the outcome would have been the same.  Because at the end of the day, I came to the conclusion that Arafat couldn't do a deal.  He was too transformative.  It was basically someone who was defined by the cause was being asked now to give up struggle, to give up claims, to give up grievance.  In a sense, to give up the very thing that defined him.  And from his standpoint, that was too big a leap. 

REMNICK:  And how did that shape the rest of the Palestinian polity to get us to today?  What effect did that refusal have in the seven years that followed?

ROSS:  I think a couple of things flow from it.  Number one -- one of the reasons I wrote the story to explain why things evolved the way they did and in the end why I held him most responsible which was, I said at the time -- I'm not saying we didn't make mistakes.  I'm not saying that Barak didn't make mistakes.  We did, but ours were more tactical than strategic.  His, in my mind, was much more fundamental, because he couldn't confront history and mythology.  And the mythology that he created was really a mythology governed by Palestinian victimhood.  Because they were victims, they weren't accountable.  Because they were victims, they were never responsible.  Because they were victims, they never made a mistake.  Because they were victims, they never had to learn anything, they never had to adjust their behavior.

REMNICK:  Rob, do you want to reply?

MALLEY:  I'd make one point.  First of all, the person who we're now saying is the leader of the moderate Palestinians, and he well is, Mahmoud Abbas, rejected what was happening at Camp David far more strenuously than Arafat did.  So I think we have to be careful about thinking that Arafat was a person who would say no to everything and that people behind him, the moderates, would have -- the whole team -- what was presented Camp David for both domestic Palestinian reasons but also because of the substance of the deal.  And we don't need to go into it, but it was something that no Palestinian who wanted to go home and be a credible Palestinian leader could have accepted.

ROSS:  But that doesn't explain why they could not come up with a response.  That doesn't explain why they say no to something that is different than anything that had been presented before.

MALLEY:  We could take the whole hour, which maybe we shouldn't, I agree.  And I think you're asking a question about what that means for today.  I mean, one of the things that we're seeing with the Palestinians today -- what Arafat was able to do, for all the better and for all the worse, was to keep the Palestinian national movement together.  And he did that by straddling very different worlds.  On the one hand, he was a diplomat who was wined and dined at the White House.  On the other hand, he was the guy in fatigues who could say what he said.  And we know what he said to his own public.  And he managed to keep them at the price of not being able to move as boldly, certainly not alone.  Another mistake we made was not bringing in the Arabs.  He couldn't sell a compromise on Jerusalem if he didn't have the Saudis with him, and we never spoke to the Saudis about it. 

What we're seeing today is a leader who is much more adept at speaking to us but who, unfortunately, has not been able to keep the polity together.  Can we move under those circumstances?

REMNICK:  Is a two-state solution dead?  Not a two-state solution meaning West Bank-Gaza -- (laughter) -- but a two-state solution as we've been discussing it with great measures of hope alternating with desperation in the last (30 ?) years?

MR. Hunter:  There's no alternative.  There's no alternative to it if you want to have peace.  And if you want to have security for Israel being able to live within secure and recognized and defensible boundaries, and if you want to have the Palestinians able to change a fundamental perspective that altogether too many people still hold where they can live side-by-side with Israel. 

My fault on Camp David -- and I have the virtue of not having been there, so I can just pontificate like any other op-ed writer -- is it came too late.  One of the fundamentals in all of this is that everybody in the region looked to American power.  The Israelis looked to it.  The Arabs looked to it.  And the president of the United States' mandate was, at that point, disappearing.  The Clinton parameters -- which I guess, Dennis, you wrote and maybe Rob, I don't know if he was still there then -- I think are still the best framework for moving forward.  But they came 10 days or so before the president left office.  We in this country then have a minimum six months' hiatus, sometimes even longer, before you could pick it up, even if you have a president who wants to.

One of the illustrations I think is that it's never a good time.  It's always a bad time, right?  It's never a good time, but the United States cannot abstain from a role.  And the United States has to do it in the full flush of the power of an administration.  Now, whether this administration can still do it I don't know.  But we don't have just two years plus six months to sit around and do nothing and hope the situation will not have become catastrophically worse for them and for us.

REMNICK:  I'm glad you brought the subject to that.  What can the United States possibly do at this point?  The United States which has not covered itself in glory to say the least in the Middle East in the last six-plus years, which shows no sign of a grand strategy in Israel and Palestine, what can it possibly do and what must it do, Rob?

MALLEY:  Well, for me, the first precept is do no harm, and I think we've done an enormous amount of harm over the last seven years.  Not simply because we weren't engaged.  We weren't engaged in peacemaking, but we were engaged in many other things that unfortunately, in my view, created harm, both in terms of trying to meddle in Palestinian politics, what we've done in Iraq, what we've done elsewhere.  So I think it's a mixture of engagement and non-engagement that's created the harm.  So do no harm means let's not try today, in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to play internal Palestinian politics dividing the West Bank from Gaza, dividing Fatah from Hamas.  It won't work.  It simply won't work.  And I think history and current reality, whether it's in Lebanon or elsewhere tells us -- or Iraq -- that a divided polity is not one with which you can make peace.  So I think that's the --

REMNICK:  So doing no harm would mean what in terms of aid?  It would be what in terms of having a relationship with Abbas and --

MALLEY:  Listen, I'm all in favor -- and I know the constraints of our own political system.  So I'm all in favor of helping Abbas.  And I think the president -- he hasn't done it quite today -- but over the weekend and the next few days might well announce more help for Abbas, a political peace process going on with Olmert.  And all that is fine.  It comes very late, and I'm somewhat skeptical but all in favor of it.  But don't do that and think that you could maintain the kind of division that currently exists between Fatah and Hamas and have any success.  The West Bank will turn into the chaos that it already is.  Gaza -- we may want to leave Gaza.  Gaza won't leave us.  We may want to ignore Hamas.  Hamas won't ignore us.

So as we proceed, we have to bear in mind, number one, that we should not be telling Abbas don't stop flirting with Hamas again, because he's going to have to for his own good and for the good of the peace process and stability.  And number two, if they do start getting together again, we shouldn't say well, at this point we cut aid, we're stopping the peace process.  The two things can move together.  In fact, the best way Abbas can move on a peace process is if he has the support of both Palestinian organizations, Hamas and Fatah -- Fatah overtly and Hamas in an implicit way.

REMNICK:  What is Hamas in your view?  We've just lived through a week-plus of reading about terrible atrocities that seem to resemble more armed gangs than anything else.  Is this a political entity, a military entity or is it even worse than that, a kind of chaotic, leaderless entity?  And how are we supposed to have a relationship to it and with it?  There was a very interesting piece in The New Republic this morning online by Gadi Taub, who's an academic at Hebrew University, saying in fact Israel must engage Hamas somehow.  Because to have a stable enemy is a lot better than having one that is chaotic the way it is that we've seen in the last few weeks.  How can that possibly be done?  What are the mechanisms of diplomacy that are open to the United States and to Israel where Hamas is concerned?

MR. Malley:  Well, again, to the United States, there are legal and political constraints which are going to make it impossible probably to do, to engage.  What it means that we shouldn't stop others from engaging which we've tried to do.  We've tried to dissuade, discourage others.  You ask what Hamas is.  What is Fatah?  I mean, all these movements, they're a mixture of the military, of the ideological, of the nationalistic, of the chaotic, of gangs.  Hamas is more structured than Fatah certainly today than Fatah is today.  Hamas which has shown that it is both more coherent but undergoing real strains right now between those who would say that they wanted to pursue the political path of elections and those who are saying this has been a setup. 

We participated in elections, we're losing popularity on the ground, and I've had Hamas leaders the last two weeks have acknowledged to me that they're losing popularity on the ground.  That the people who told them from the beginning if we go into this political path, the international community won't talk to us.  We won't get money.  We won't be able to govern.  We're going to start dirtying our hands.  And Fatah's getting strong military by the day.  So why don't we react now?  And they were telling me we're beginning to lose the debate.  And if things continue -- this was before what happened in Gaza -- we will lose the debate, and they may well have lost it.  But what my view is third parties -- the Europeans, the U.N. -- I think the U.N. of all entities has made the biggest mistake, because they had no restriction to talking to anyone.  Their role is to speak to everyone.  To talk to Hamas and to give them more realistic things that they should be doing -- imposing a cease-fire and empowering Abbas to negotiate with Israel.  If they would do those two things, then we could start having some kind of -- we, the international community maybe minus the U.S. -- could have some relationship with them.  They're not going to go from zero to 100, even if one wants to be very kind to them.  I'm skeptical.  I don't know what their intentions are.  But they're not going to go from their position today to recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting past resolutions simply because they're asked to do so. 

REMNICK:  It seems hard to imagine, Dennis, that suddenly rocket fire will cease coming out of Gaza to Sderot and beyond.  There's a new defense minister in Israel, a familiar one, Ehud Barak.  The English press just carried a piece about how Barak is already drawing up contingency plans for sending in a force into Gaza.  Toward what end it seems unclear.  What do you think would be effective Israeli and American policy vis-a-vis Gaza?

ROSS:  Well, statecraft which is something I've been talking about lately requires that you have a pretty clear objective and you relate your objective to your means.  Now, Rob is right.  The U.S. isn't going to be able to deal directly with Hamas regardless.  The interesting question is going to be, what is Israel going to do?  You look at someone like Barak, and Barak is now the defense minister, and he's going to focus very heavily on how he restores his credibility in the eyes of the Israeli public.  If rocket fire continues out of Gaza and hits Sderot or worse -- because now they have they're smuggling in rockets that have a longer range.  You start hitting Ashkelon, Israel doesn't have a choice.  They go in to Gaza under those circumstances.

Now, if he's in that position, he looks at all right, I have a military options vis-a-visa Gaza.  And it's probably not great, because I can't guarantee even if I go in I'm going to have a decisive outcome.  And what I don't need is to have a replay in Gaza of last summer.  So he doesn't want to be driven to a position where he has to use force, although he'll be ready to. 

On the other hand, Israel actually has enormous amounts of leverage over Hamas.  Hamas and Gaza right now, they've achieved one thing, but one thing they've achieved is they now have a poison pill.  You have a place that has at least 47 different militias.  If their control was so total, it would be very interesting to explain why is it that they're calling for the release of the BBC reporter and it's not happening.  They have a society that is completely impoverished.  It is basically a lawless society.  They're going to need enormous help from the outside.  Now, can Hamas get enormous help from the outside if it engages in what I would describe as completely irresponsible behavior?  Israel, ironically, is in a position where it can make life easier for Hamas within Gaza, or it can make it a whole lot harder.  If Hamas chooses to ensure that rockets keep coming out of Gaza into Israel, well then Israel at some point will go in.  But they have no stake in making life easier. 

From our standpoint, I think the administration is right, and I support the idea we should provide humanitarian assistance.  We do not want to create a humanitarian disaster within Gaza.  But whether there should be assistance that goes beyond humanitarian, that depends upon Hamas.  Hamas has the responsibility to govern right now.  They have nobody to hide behind.  They can't blame it on Fatah.  They can't blame it on Israel.  They can't blame it on the international community.  They're there now.  What are they going to do to make life better?

Rob was saying that Hamas knew that their standing was dropping.  One of the reasons their standing was dropping in Gaza, in particular, was because they were there, and they made all sorts of promises before the election.  They didn't deliver on any of their promises.  So their standing is dropping --

REMNICK:  But they could tell their public that they couldn't deliver on those promises, because they were cut off from aid. 

ROSS:  You know what?  That worked in the West Bank; it didn't work in Gaza, because they were more dominant there.  Now they're clearly more dominant than anybody else.  They've vanquished Fatah, so you can't blame it on Fatah any longer. 

So we're in an interesting position where I wouldn't be completely surprised to see the Israelis through Barak find some way of communicating to Hamas in Gaza, you know, a, you don't stop the rocket fire you don't reach a real understanding on what a cease-fire is, not something that's really implicit.  Well, we got lots of leverage.  We provide electricity.  We provide water.  We don't have to do that.  We have forces on the border.  We'll be prepared to use it.  Don't test us.  On the other hand, if you're prepared to act responsibly, then maybe there's a way to reach some kind of understanding.  I don't rule that out at all. 

REMNICK:  Mr. Hunter.

HUNTER:  Well, I think that's a cycle that we've lived with for 40 years in which the people who want to destroy anything positive don't have to do a lot to make it happen.  They don't even have to work for the particular people in power.  Leon Klinghoffer was pushed off the ship in order to kill an opening that Shimon Peres was having towards the Jordanians, and it worked.  That happens all the time. 

Now, two years ago at the Munich international security conference, I got up and I proposed -- I said Ariel Sharon is getting out of Gaza.  We need to show that this can work and to validate it.  I said, I propose -- I'm a Democrat, I'm always giving away people's money -- a $6 billion immediate investment program in Gaza to show people their lives can be improved -- 2 billion (dollars) U.S., 2 billion (dollars) EU, 2 billion (dollars) Arab countries.  Javier Solana was in the chair.  He said, I like the idea.  I've got my 2 billion (dollars) in the bank if the others will match it.  The United States through the Congress put up chump change -- about $150 million -- that never really reached anybody.  Well, if Karl Rove or Dick Daley had been in charge, there would have been money for Muhammad Abbas, and he might have won that election.  Then what happens afterwards?  Are we freezed out again?  So Hamas is the only one out there providing social services for people.  Are we going to go through that again?

We agreed yesterday -- Condi Rice -- to humanitarian aid for Gaza -- $40 million, $20 a person, $86 million to help train security forces in the West Bank.  That's chump change.  If you want to actually campaign to give people an alternative to Hamas, you've got to get serious about it.  And on top of that, I believe you should talk to just about everybody.  We isolate ourselves more than the people we don't like.

REMNICK:  Anybody want to respond to that?  And then we'll take questions.

ROSS:  Could I just make one point?

REMNICK:  Yes, please.

ROSS:  I'm not against the idea in principle of talking to Hamas at some point if Hamas is prepared to change its behavior.  But right now, when Hamas is just engaged in what can only be described as a strategic calculation.  You know, if you think that they just did this over the last couple of weeks -- I may be the only person in this room who's been in the preventive security headquarters in Gaza.  That was a fortress.  They built a tunnel underneath it.  That wasn't done in a week, two weeks, three weeks.  That was done over the last four or five months.  This was a very deep calculation on their part.  My own guess is they did it not because they thought that Abu Mazen would declare an emergency and fire Haniya, they did it because they thought it would give them leverage on Abu Mazen, who they thought in the end would basically cave, and he would go along with the idea that they should have what they wanted in terms of governance, and they should have the access, because they want to take over the PLO.  Mecca -- one of the elements of the deal was that in fact they would get a certain representation within the PLO, and there hadn't been discussions of that.  They want to do the same thing in the PNC.  This is a very deliberate calculation. 

When Rob says that Hamas is many things, he's right.  But I would boil it down to two.  It has been a movement and it has been a government.  Whenever there's been a conflict between the movement and the government, the movement always dominates.  And I wouldn't underestimate the significance of the ideology of the movement. 

MALLEY:  But if I could just add something -- I think that's right, but one of the reasons the movement dominates is because the government has had nothing to show for it.  Now again, this is not a matter of wanting to engage Hamas or wanting to be more sympathetic or not.  But I mean, I've been meeting with them now since the elections, and their message has been very consistent on this.  I summarize in one sentence -- let us govern or watch us fight.  And they're very open about it, about the fact that they felt that it was a bargain to be had.  And we may not like the bargain, but we have to be open-eyed about what the consequences are.  Their bargain was let us govern, either alone or in a national unity government, take steps so that we are part of the Palestinian, you know, polity in terms of joining the PLO, and we will enforce the cease-fire.  We have to see whether they can do it.  And we'll let Abbas negotiate.  We would have had to test it to see whether they really meant it.  

But those people who are arguing that at a minimum you have to say they had nothing to show for it.  And maybe it was the right choice, but let's not today say, as if the external actors had nothing to do with it, that Hamas always intended to go this way.  I think Hamas is an organization, as I said, that is both coherent but has different strains, has divisions.  And I think we've played them in the worst way to strengthen those within Hamas who precisely have been planning and who could say this has been a farce from the beginning.  We have the guns.  If we want to negotiate a different deal or if we want to do away with deals altogether, the best way is to act the way we did in Gaza.  I think everyone is a loser because of that. 

And I would just, in terms of what Bob said, I think one of the main fallacies of our diplomacy has been who we choose not to talk to.  We don't talk to Hamas, we don't talk to Hezbollah, we don't talk to Iran, we don't talk to Syria -- the four actors who have created the greatest problems for us.  I'm not sure how we are advanced in that respect.

ROSS:  I wouldn't equate all of them in terms of how you decide who to talk with and who you don't decide to talk with.  They're not all equal.  They're not all the same.

MALLEY:  Choose a few then.  Talk to some.

ROSS:  I'm not -- look, the fact is I'm not against talking to Syria, and I'm not against talking to Iran.  I am against talking in circumstances where you go in in a context where you impress them that they have all the leverage and you have none.  And when Condi, the week before the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, came out publicly several times and said she really hoped that the Iranian foreign minister would come at a time when the Iranians had said they were coming, they were communicating only on the level.  The message you send in that circumstance is we need you more than you need us.  Ahmadinejad announces that the Americans approached us 41 times.  You want to negotiate?  I'm all for negotiating.  But when you negotiate, don't create circumstances where you convince the other side they have all the leverage and you have none. 

MR.     :  You know, I'd --

REMNICK:  I'm going to cut you off particularly because I do want to get questions from the audience.

Yes, sir.  And as they say, state your affiliation.

QUESTIONER:  My name is Kenneth Bialkin. 

A question directed to Mr. Hunter but to the rest.  You said, you asserted that it is a vital American interest to resolve the problem between the Arabs and Israel.  And my question is a two-part question.  A, why do you assert that it is an American interest to resolve that conflict when there are so many things going on in the world, which fairly looked at have nothing to do with that conflict?  But as to the resolution of that conflict, we all know now that the fundamental basis of that conflict is the refusal of parts of the Arab world to accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state in the Middle East or anywhere else.  Now, if --

REMNICK:  Sir --

QUESTIONER:  My question is, how do you propose to resolve the issue of the refusal of a large part of the Arab world, the Muslim world, to accept Israel's right to exist?

HUNTER:  Well, first, I didn't say vital interest to resolve.  I said we have a strategic imperative to work on trying to resolve it, and that's a different thing.  But that should lead in that direction. 

Life isn't fair.  I think it is clear that if the Arab-Israeli conflict were resolved, we'd still have a lot of problems elsewhere.  But while it continues, under the circumstances in watching the way we do things there, not only do we have more difficulty dealing with our European allies -- ask any one of them -- not only does it get exploited by terrorists who don't give a damn for the Palestinians -- they are able to exploit it in a recruiting matter.  That doesn't mean the United States comes in and does things to Israel.  It means we come in and work with our Israeli allies to try to get them what they've always dreamed for.  And at the same time say to those Arabs who so far -- those Arabs who don't accept Israel's right to exist -- that they have to change that fundamental position if they're going to be part of our long-range, strategic perspective.  We've been with this for 40 years, but we are at a time now that if we don't play the role that everybody out there expects us to, we will continue to suffer for it.  Do it with Israel, not against it. 

REMNICK:  And something that hasn't been mentioned much today that there actually is a Palestinian grievance as well, no?  I mean -- back over here.

QUESTIONER:  My name is Roland Paul.  I'm a lawyer.  I'd address this to either Mr. Malley or Mr. Ross.

Some of us have always thought for some time that the pathway to peace was for the Israelis to get out of the settlements east of A-Line -- the fence or something -- either by a bilateral agreement or if not unilaterally.  Now, I know things have gotten suspended because Olmert screwed up when he attacked Hezbollah, and that kind of threw the plan up.  But is there any vitality left in that now or not?

MALLEY:  Just quickly on the other question.  I think as you were saying Arab's position is a problem.  We haven't really even mentioned, I don't think -- any one of us -- Israeli occupation.  It is somewhat of an obstacle at this point to Israeli-Palestinian peace.  But on the Arab position, I mean, you do have an Arab peace initiative in which all 22 Arab states, including at the time Saddam Hussein's Iraq still -- beside Syria saying that they would recognize Israel if there were a peace deal based on '67.  Now, does that mean that in their heart of hearts the Arabs -- any -- I don't know that I know a handful of them who say that they accept the legitimacy of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.  No, I suspect most of them still think and will think for many generations, perhaps forever, that this was an historical injustice.  But if that's what we're looking for, for that acceptance before we reach a peace, we're going to wait forever.  What we want is for the Arabs to say they're prepared to live in peace with Israel, whether they think it was legitimate or not, and that they will have normal relations with them.

Bilateralism, unilateralism -- I actually think that the notion of an Israeli unilateral withdrawal or with convergence or whatever it's going to be called with the Palestinians may well be back now that you have the different situation on the West Bank.  I think people are thinking about it again.  My own view about this is that you're going to have to find a smarter way to marry three concepts -- multilateralism, bilateralism and unilateralism.  There's some steps Israelis could take on their own.  They want to leave parts of the West Bank, and the Palestinians want them out.  Some steps you're going to have to negotiate with the Palestinians also with the Syrians, who we haven't spoken about, if you want to stabilize the region.

But this is only going to work if you have a multilateral setting where the Arabs could come in and they give both cover to the Palestinians to sell their compromises and they give to the Israelis what they want, which is recognition and acceptance by the Arab world as a whole. 

ROSS:  I basically agree with what Rob just said about the interrelationship at least of multilateralism and bilateralism.  I'm less enthusiastic about unilateralism.  I think we've learned something about unilateralism.  Every time Israel takes a unilateral step, it's interpreted by many in the Arab world as a sign of weakness.  Hezbollah took credit for the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in the year 2000.  Hamas took credit for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in the year 2005.  We haven't had one day since Israel got out of Gaza when rocket fire didn't stop -- not one day.  Maybe sometimes it was very few, maybe sometimes it didn't hit anything, but the narrative has been occupation creates violence.  So the logic should be end occupation, violence stops.  All right.  I understand Israel didn't get out of the West Bank.  But the fact is not for one day.

Now, Abu Mazen would say it was the wrong thing to do, but nobody acted to prevent it.  The idea that you would once again unilaterally withdraw from parts of the West Bank, it's a nonstarter, because in the West Bank, everything is closer to all the major Israeli communities.  If Israel got out of the West Bank tomorrow, does anybody think that you wouldn't have rocket fire into the main Israeli communities?  I think it's a given that you would.  That's why the truth is you have to have reciprocal obligations or coordinated unilateralism. 

I wrote an article in The Jerusalem Post after Prime Minister Sharon announced his disengagement plan.  And I said, make it coordinated unilateralism.  It's okay, but don't have something where you're just getting out of Gaza.  Pave the way for how you do it so you're not simply throwing the keys over the fence and hoping for the best.  Don't let Hamas be the one who takes credit for this.  Make sure you're dealing with Abu Mazen and the people around him so they get credit for it.  Make sure that they have obligations as well.  The same thing is going to apply here.  The notion that you're going to have unilateralism and it isn't going to produce what we've seen already I think just belies the reality.  So I would say the concept of the Israelis getting out is the right concept.  The question is, how are you going to do it in a way that doesn't guarantee you get a replay of what we've seen in Gaza?

REMNICK:  Bill.

QUESTIONER:  Bill Drozdiak.

Just to follow up on your point, Dennis.  Isn't there some merit in the notion that in order to show or reward or encourage Abu Mazen that if the Israelis eased up on some of the checkpoints, made life better for the Palestinian population on the West Bank that that would then be perceived as a successful avenue for the future and thus be perceived by the people in Gaza that the Palestinians in the West Bank are getting somewhere by taking a more cooperative approach with Israel?

ROSS:  Look, I'm all for that.  I mean, I wrote something today in The Wall Street Journal where I was making the point we do want to create a model of success.  But you're not going to create a model of success by simply providing money to Fatah the way we have in the past.  They'll simply spend it the way they have in the past.  The Palestinians on the street will see the same people getting the money and the public not getting it.  So you're going to have to create a structure, a concept and some criteria.  I want to help them immediately, but I would tie additional assistance to a set of criteria.  Which by the way would strengthen the hand of people like Fayad who wants those kind of transparency measures, number one.  Number two, it's very good.  And the Israelis are out there saying look, we want to help Abu Mazen.  But I promise you, if they liberalize movement, they lift all sorts of checkpoints and then bombs start going off in Israel, all that stops.  So when they do it, there's going to have to be some kind of very careful coordination with Fatah.  Maybe the Jordanians play more of a role.

One of the most interesting things I heard and something I didn't expect to hear when I was out there a couple of weeks ago and speaking to a very large number of Palestinians of all the different generations was that they were talking about the connection to Jordan.  I mean, I haven't heard talk about a connection to Jordan, with one exception, in quite a long time.  And certainly not from Palestinians.  Now, I don't know what kind of a role the Jordanians would really begin to play there.  I don't have high expectations to be honest.  But I can tell you to do what you suggested is the right way to proceed, but it has to be worked out in a way that also increases the likelihood that in fact there will be security on the ground, and you're not going to start having lots of bombs going off in Israel, because nothing's been sustainable.

MR.     :  Which is why Hamas can't be ignored by the way.

HUNTER:  I think that's too much tactics.  If you wait for Fatah to be squeaky clean, nothing is going to happen.  It's not beyond the wit of Syria's people to be able to get lots of money into the hands of people whose lives will be better off without any fingerprints of Fatah or Hamas or anybody else on it.  It's the idea that we aren't even talking in the magnitudes that are required to help the good guys win over the bad guys.  And all we're talking about now, as Dennis just said, is to repeat the mistake of the last two years.

ROSS:  I don't want to do that.  I want us to be able to invest in a serious way but do it smartly. 

HUNTER:  That we agree on.

ROSS:  Well then I won't fight that.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.  Rita Hauser.  I don't know who should answer this -- anybody there.

I'm struck by the fact that the U.S. always like to picks the people it likes to deal with rather than the people that are selected from within the region.  We decided on Chalabi, because we liked him.  That he had no relationship to life in Iraq was another matter.  We got rid of Arafat and picked Abu Mazen.  Those of us who know Abu Mazen know a lovely gentleman with no capability to do this show.  Condi fell in love with Dahlan, maybe because he wears (Gucci poochie ?) and so on.  But when the Hamas broke into his house this week in Gaza, they found all kinds of opulence, all kinds of cash, all kinds of stuff.  Everybody knew he was a crook.  Why don't we deal with the people that the Palestinians select?  Don't we have some validity to their own choices?

MALLEY:  I couldn't agree more.  I think this is more than simply Palestinian.  I think it's a region-wide phenomenon -- as you said, Chalabi.  It's true throughout the region we speak to those who we like to hear from.  And we speak to those who look like us, speak like us and who could, you know, who could be in this meeting, and nobody would know the difference.  The problem is these days they're not the people who have the most resonance on the ground.  They may never have had it.  But the people who have resonance on the ground, in many cases, are the Islamists and they are people who we're going to have to learn to deal with one way or another.  We're talking to ourselves when we talk to them.  And by the way, they become -- I don't think we help them.  Because then their main credibility, their main credit line comes from the outside, and they're viewed that way by their constituents.  If their one line of support really is from the outside and they always have to think what do I need to do to please the Americans, they're not going to act in ways that are going to be viewed as responsive to or consistent with the interests of their own people.  I think we're making a mistake region-wide. 

ROSS:  Let me just ask, are there no criteria?  So when you helped to try to create a dialogue with the PLO, weren't there conditions?

QUESTIONER:  No.

ROSS:  Really?

QUESTIONER:  In the end, they had to recognize (Israel ?) --

ROSS:  Well, that's what I mean, yeah.

QUESTIONER:  But that didn't prevent starting to talk to them.

HUNTER:  Let me make a suggestion.  This goes all the way back at least to the Chi coms -- if you remember, the Chinese communists.  We are, as far as I know, maybe the only country in the world that sees talking to somebody as a reward, and we're always getting ourselves tied up.  If we don't talk to them today, what are the criteria for talking to them tomorrow?  Instead of like most countries doing it the other way around, we got some folks we won't talk to.  I wouldn't talk to al Qaeda, but I'd talk to just about everybody else, and then it doesn't become a big deal.  And you have a chance to get a reality rather than having people to pass a certain litmus test before we deal with the reality.

REMNICK:  There are two women in the back.  That's the first one -- yes.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.  Nomi Bar-Yaakov.

I would like to know whether the U.S. administration may be thinking about learning some lessons and letting Hamas govern.  Because surely they must realize that they set the bar too high after they won the elections with the four Quartet conditions that they insisted on.  And surely Hamas isn't, at present, in no position to actually recognize the rights of Israel in the way that the Quartet, led by the U.S., would like them to.  Is there some thinking in the administration that in order to resolve the situation one needs to see how to integrate Hamas rather than how to isolate Hamas?  And aren't people seeing that the alternative to Hamas in Gaza is not Fatah but it's Iran and al Qaeda and further splinter groups, clans?  I mean, more of what we're seeing but far more chaos which is far more dangerous to the region.  That's my first question.

The second --

REMNICK:  One's enough.  We have 10 -- no, no, no.  One's enough.

QUESTIONER:  No problem.  Thank you.

REMNICK:  Thanks.

MR. MALLEY:  I mean, there are so many assumptions to what you said that are so divorced from how this administration seems to be working -- learning lessons being one of them.  (Laughter.)  But beyond that, the notion that -- they think -- the lesson they would have learned from this is that you should let Hamas govern, you shouldn't isolate it.  I think it's the exact opposite.  My fear is that they think that what's happened is a vindication of their view that Hamas was always an organization that was devoted to what it's done.  And therefore, those of us -- myself included -- who have been arguing for a more pragmatic -- I would consider more pragmatic -- policy of setting realistic benchmarks and conditions, that those people were wrong because look, Hamas is a bunch of savage people who don't respect anything.  And therefore, why deal with them?  So I'm afraid that if they've learned any lesson, they've learned the wrong one. 

ROSS:  I agree with Rob that that's the way the administration sees it.  I also am obviously a lot more hesitant than some up here to be talking to them.  I guess where I part company is that I wouldn't have us begin to talk to Hamas right now.  I would think that would convince them that everything they're doing is right.  That said, Gaza is a reality right now.  And when I was talking before about what Barak would probably do vis-a-vis Hamas, it reflects a certain reality.  Israel doesn't want to have to go back in there.  We have to find a way to provide some subsistence.  There is leverage, because they have to govern.  Now, because they have to govern, they're going to have to behave a certain way.  That's my point.  I don't want them to think they don't have to change one iota and they still get everything.  That's a mistake.  But I also feel that if there's a possibility of forging a comprehensive cease-fire, because they have their own interest in it, I would look for that possibility.  But they don't get it on the cheap which is where Hamas has been by the way.  In 2003, 2005 they say we as an organization we observe the cease-fire, the hudna, the tahadiya.  We observe it.  Of course, their constituent members, if they're on the popular resistance committees, they can carry out an attack, that's okay.  They didn't try to stop an attack.  They never sought at one point to ever say any attack was wrong.  On the contrary.  When there was a bombing in Tel Aviv, you had members of the government after they had been elected saying this was a legitimate act of resistance.  So you know, the fact is if they now have to govern in Gaza -- and I have this notion that somehow we have to ignore that reality. 

It takes me back to what I say in my book.  The problem with the administration has been they're governed by faith-based assessments, not reality-based assessments.  All right, a reality-based assessment says do everything you can to build up Fatah in the West Bank.  We should, because we want to show they can be successful.  But they won't be successful if they don't begin to remake themselves.  Would I pour a lot of money in there?  You bet I'd pour a lot of money in there, but you also have to coordinate it.  You have to create some structure to do it.  You have to have some criteria. 

When it comes to the idea of comprehensive cease-fire, I would pursue that as well, but Hamas has to understand not on the cheap.  They have responsibilities, they have to enforce it.  Now in return, they get things from the Israelis as well.  I don't rule that out as a possibility, because I think Hamas now knowing they have to govern, they have to show something, has a stake in that.  So that's one way to recognize the reality.  But I wouldn't have us then immediately rush after them.

REMNICK:  Yes, ma'am, then over here.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  I'm Vivian Salama.   I'm a freelance Middle East correspondent.  My question relates to something Mr. Ross said earlier, although the question is for all of you. 

With regard to Egypt and Jordan, I'm curious what you think the role they play is for kind of keeping the peace, maybe mediating, finding a solution to this whole debacle, maybe even Saudi Arabia as well.  It certainly goes along with the Six-Day War theme.  Do you think they can play any role in making sense of all of this?

REMNICK:  Robert, in the interest of sort of cramming a couple of last questions in here, why don't you answer that one?

HUNTER:  I think they are more likely to play a role we want.  When they see the United States with an overall policy towards the Middle East and all of the dimensions we're talking about that shows a clear sense of American power and purpose and commitment and an understanding of what's going on out there, if they see that to help them with their problems of Islamism, et cetera, then they're more likely to cooperate with us on the tactical issues.  Otherwise, I think you'll find them taking a dive and a powder -- I guess is the thing -- like they have in the past.

REMNICK:  Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER:  Richard Murphy.

What I heard was nobody's really ready to start talking to Hamas this afternoon.

MALLEY:  I am.

REMNICK:  Bob's on his way over.

QUESTIONER:  A crushing minority in that case. 

MALLEY:  I've wanted to talk to them for two years.

QUESTIONER:  I think you all have glossed over the situation with the Europeans and the U.N.  We just read the report, which was supposed to be confidential, of Alvaro deSoto, saying that we leaned very hard -- and that wasn't a revelation, because it's been in the press for the last year -- to get the Europeans to cut all aid, to keep them from giving out aid.  So it's not just a matter of talking about a big mistake of theirs not to talk.  We used real pressure on them to keep them from talking.  And what do you think of the prospects for our changing that?

MALLEY:  Richard, I thought I said that in that at least if we're not going to talk to them -- and I say for legal reasons we may not -- but if we don't, at the very least let's not discourage others from doing what they should do.  I think the prospects, unfortunately at this point, of either the U.N. or the EU changing that policy are quite slim, despite what Mr. deSoto wrote.  And in a way, one of the casualties of what I suspect is going to be a new American push to move forward in the West Bank is that they're going to say to their partners in the Quartet one of the conditions for us moving forward is that you retain the strangle hold on Hamas that we've asked you to do in the past.  And that's a quid pro quo.  And I expect that dutifully the EU and the U.N. will follow suit. 

I mean, I think, Dennis, nobody's talking about running after Hamas and giving them something on the cheap.  I think that's a little bit of a straw man.  The argument is, can you get anything that you spoke about in terms of a cease-fire if you don't talk to them and you tell them this is what you have to do, this is what we have to do?  They're not going to start cracking down.  I don't know if they ever will, but they certainly won't on this assumption well, if we do it.  Because the one thing Hamas is -- you asked me what they were -- the one thing they are more than anything else are the anti-Fatah.  In other words, they'll do everything that Fatah did in reverse.  Fatah gave commitments before they got anything in return as Hamas sees it.  Hamas won't do anything until they're sure that it's going to be reciprocated.

REMNICK:  Dennis, do you want to respond?

ROSS:  Yeah, I do.

REMNICK:  Then we have time for one last question.

ROSS:  I do -- I mean, two points here.  They're no so much the anti-Fatah.  They do patronage exactly the way Fatah does it.  They basically are putting money only for their own purposes exactly the way Fatah did it.  They may be the anti-Fatah in terms of how they present themselves but not in terms of how they operate, number one.  Number two, I think -- I have favored, as you know, the notion of a comprehensive cease-fire for some time.  And I felt that and I believe this is the case -- and I think you said it earlier -- it's only a matter of time before Abu Mazen will start talking to Hamas.  Anybody who thinks that he's not going to talk to Hamas is in a dream world.  We've already seen the Saudis and others calling for reconciliation.  He will talk to Hamas.  You can have an Israeli-Palestinian -- meaning Olmert, his office, or Barak -- dealing with Abu Mazen and the people around him, and they will deal with Hamas.  That's how you'll be able to have what amounts to an indirect discussion.  That's how I would start it.  And if Hamas is prepared to respond, you have something.  If they're not prepared to respond, you also understand something. 

REMNICK:  Last question.

QUESTIONER:  Frank Ferrari -- (inaudible).

I'd ask Robert Malley, how would you comment -- would you comment on a position of the Saudis right now in terms of this issue given the fact that they broke at the Mecca agreement?  And how would you characterize the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia?

MALLEY:  Let me take the first one.  Maybe somebody else wants to take the broader question.  I mean, I think the Saudis showed in Mecca that they're very good at reaching agreement but not particularly good at following through.  And in hindsight, Mecca was simply their effort to show that they were intervening to avoid a civil war between Palestinians, but then they basically washed their hands of it.  And I don't think they're looking particularly good.  I don't know how much they're going to want to reinvest in this effort, even though they've called for Abbas and -- (inaudible) -- to talk again.

REMNICK:  Quick answer.

MALLEY:  I think what they wanted to do -- show that they can do something and then walk away.

REMNICK:  A last word from you both.

HUNTER:  Well, one thing I want to see us do with Saudi Arabia is finally hold them to account to their being the largest state supporter of terrorism.  We give them too much of a free ride on that.  These countries are going to do more of what we want in this issue of Arab-Israeli when we demonstrate a quality of American leadership and competence and commitment and to have a broader grand strategy that makes some kind of sense in the region within which we will be able to protect Israel's interest to help it get peace and finally help the Palestinians get something as well.

REMNICK:  Dennis.

ROSS:  I would -- one word -- I think the relationship right now is not so hot, because basically whatever we're asking they're basically saying no to.  There are areas where we have converging interests, and we should focus on that.  They won't do something because we ask.  They'll do something because it's in their interest.  Right now it's in their interest to put a whole lot more pressure on the Europeans when it comes to economic sanctions against Iran, because they don't want an Iran with nuclear weapons.  So think about how you can orchestrate that in a common way.  And I would say also focus on the fact that one thing we haven't said -- maybe it's because we have a somewhat different point of view.  But I think the real issue for this administration between now and the end of its term is, what's the soul and identity of the Palestinians going to be? 

If the conflict becomes transformed into a religious conflict, we're out of the conflict-resolution peacemaking business.  If it remains a national conflict, as hard as it is to resolve it, at least you can resolve it.  So we have to focus on effecting that competition between Hamas and Fatah, but we have to be, in a sense, smart enough to know how to do it.  And if we try to do it only by pouring a lot of money into Fatah without creating some criteria and conditionality, that won't work.  And if we try to do it without talking to the Saudis to get them to invest in those who believe, in a sense, in coexistence, that's not going to work.  And if, in a sense, we cut off Gaza in a way that once again gives Hamas excuses or, by the way, something we didn't mention -- if Hamas does really badly in Gaza, guess what?  To divert attention away from their failings, they'll start launching a whole lot more against Israel.  And when they do that and Israel goes in -- we saw rockets come out of southern Lebanon on Sunday -- don't think that we might not face a war that involves Israel with Gaza and a northern front as well.  So we ought to keep our eye on the ball.  I'm not sure we have it right now.

REMNICK:  Gentlemen, thank you very much. 

And thank you.

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