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Prospects for Peace: The Year Ahead in Israeli-Palestinian Relations [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service, Inc.]

Speakers: Aaron David Miller, Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center For Scholars, and Former Senior Adviser for Arab-Israeli Negotiations, U.S. Department Of State, and Dennis B. Ross, Counselor and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Former Special Middle East Coordinator, U.S. Department Of State
Presider: Andrea Mitchell, Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, NBC News
February 3, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations Washington, DC

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Council on Foreign Relations

 

ANDREA MITCHELL: I am Andrea Mitchell from NBC News, and I am delighted to have been invited to moderate this panel. I see many friends in this audience, and so I am glad to see all of you, and look forward to your questions.

As you all know, the format here at the council is that for the first half hour we will have a discussion here, I will ask questions of Dennis and Aaron, whom I'm going to be introducing momentarily. And then microphones will be passed around and you will all have your opportunity for a half hour. I encourage you to ask questions, not make speeches. You know the drill. I'm supposed to be the enforcer, but I'm told that these two gentlemen are very experienced at enforcing as well, and they perhaps do it more diplomatically than I.

It is a tremendous privilege, as I say, to be here with Dennis and Aaron. We have enjoyed many milestones together over these years. Two guests who certainly know more about the challenges and the pitfalls of Middle East diplomacy than anyone on Earth. They have played leading roles in shaping American involvement in Middle East policy and in the peace process for more than a decade -- in fact, for two decades, in Aaron's case. They are what I think of as the Batman and Robin of Middle East diplomacy -- always available in a crisis, performing selfless miracles that many of us don't even know about -- at least didn't know about until we read Dennis's excellent, "The Missing Peace." And we eagerly await a book that Aaron is now working on as well.

As you know, Dennis served for 12 years under Presidents Bush 41 and Clinton, and Secretaries Baker, Christopher and Albright. Aaron served for more than -- well, served for two decades under six secretaries of State, I think equalled only probably by the brothers Kalb in his tenure at the State Department, most recently as the senior adviser for Arab-Israeli negotiations; and between 2003 and 2006 as the president of a non-profit organization that many of us hold dear, Seeds for Peace.

Today we want to address the broader implications for the peace process, which by necessity, of course, means talking about the stunning victory of Hamas, what it will mean, what is the impact on the internal Palestinian process, what happened, what are the consequences. And, of course, then talk about the impact in the region.

We come here today during the week of the State of the Union. We have heard the president reiterate his appeal for democracy around the world, the march of democracy, when he first articulated it in his second inaugural address. And that obviously begs the question, what kind of democracy? And if you wish for democracy, be careful what you wish for.

So let me start with you, Dennis. Does the victory of Hamas mean that the dog did catch the car? And what do we do now?

DENNIS ROSS: Well, I think that -- thank you, Andrea. It's a pleasure to be with you here, not on an airplane. And I did check my cape at the door, so I just want you to know that!

MITCHELL: Good.

ROSS: I think Hamas is actually wrestling with the very question that you're putting to me. Their strategy was a strategy of taking over the Palestinian Authority, but to do it in stages. They did not expect that they would succeed right now. And now they're confronting a whole host of dilemmas: first and foremost, number one, having made enormous promises how they're going to transform the society, remake it, there's going to be a new economic policy, a new health policy, a new industrial policy, a new agricultural policy, they're going to end corruption, they're going to bring order out of chaos -- and by the way, there are large numbers of Fatah people with guns who are not keen on taking orders from them. So they are inheriting a situation, number one, where they've raised expectations, they've made promises. They face all sorts of resistance from within.

And they also face a certain reality of having to deal with the Israelis. Israel is the one that provides electricity and water. Israel is the one that through tax receipts and through customs receipts provides about $50 million a month that pays for administration. Israel controls, with the exception of Rafah, all access into and outside the territories. So they have to contend with a reality where is Israel is very important, and yet they're hesitant to want to deal with Israel.

So how are they going to deliver on their promises if they don't extend the calm, which is one of the reasons they say they will, because they need it. How are they going to produce on their promises if they don't work out some kind of modus vivendi on the inside, especially with at least 30,000 people who have guns who are not necessarily their fans. And how are they going to perform and function if they're cut off from the rest of the world, and the rest of the world isn't prepared to deal with them unless they're prepared to alter what it is they say they believe in. These are not simple questions.

You might note that they're not rushing to try to form a government immediately. And they also contend with what Abu Mazen announced in Cairo -- he's not even going to ask them to form the government unless they meet certain conditions: one, recognize Israel's right to exist; two, accept and recognize all previous agreements that were worked out with the Israelis and that were endorsed by the international community; and three, give up on the violence. This is what he announced in Cairo. This is what was reprinted in all the Palestinian papers as conditions.

So I think that they face some daunting challenges, and I -- just to end this question -- or answer to it -- I don't think that we should make it easier for them to avoid the dilemmas or to avoid the choices. We shouldn't let them off the hook.

MITCHELL: Well, let's take it from there, Aaron, in terms of what they do next. Do they meet Abbas's requirement? Or do they say, you know, "We have the votes, we have the guns, you've proved yourself weak," and they find some way to take over without the formality of forming a government? Or are they now so invested in the political process that they try to find a way around it?

AARON DAVID MILLER: You know, unlike the secular manifestation of Palestinian nationalism, Fatah, which dominated the Palestinian national movement for the last 50 years, not terribly successfully, Fatah demonstrated a certain amount of pragmatism and practicality in the way they approached their tactics and strategy. With these guys it's something quite different. It's a set of beliefs which are deeply held and deeply entrenched. Changing those kinds of beliefs through a system of incentivizing, either on the part of the Israelis or the Americans, I think is going to prove to be a very complicated and difficult proposition.

Where I see prospects for change, maybe, is on one fundamental reality, that -- and I have come to believe this as I look at the issue of success and failure -- in life, the world's most compelling ideology is not communism, nationalism, democracy or even Islam, it's success.

MITCHELL: I would say it's survival, but --

MILLER: Because success generates power and success generates constituents. And before the reality of succeeding was not as transparent as it's going to be now for them.

They "succeeded," quote, unquote, in two fundamental ways over the past several years.

Through their da'wa, their religious call, they administered social and economic assistance to one out of every six Palestinians, and they did so with great sobriety and great sense of responsibility.

And they used the gun very effectively, and the Israelis don't want to admit it, but I suspect any honest analyst would. The reason the Israelis are no longer in Gaza is because of the gun. Without the gun, the Israelis would still be there. And Hamas claims credit for that.

So it's true that they've had success, and in the elections as well. They ran a disciplined, organized, very focused campaign.

The question now, however, is, having succeeded electorally, can they now succeed in the day after and the day after that? And success is no longer measured in terms of revolutionary ideology. It's going to be measured in terms of delivery, which has been the great problem that has faced Abu Mazen.

MITCHELL: Well, how much leverage do we and the West have? And then we can get to what the divisions are. Their budget is $80 million a month, the PA. Their revenues are $10 million a month. They are completely, obviously dependent upon EU, NGO and U.S. funding, and the Israeli receipts that Dennis referred to.

Dennis, do we have the leverage to make demands about, you know, recognition of Israel? Or do we wink and nod and -- I mean, Paul Wolfowitz on Tuesday -- little noticed, because of State of the Union Day -- Paul Wolfowitz, in his new role at the World Bank, called for no cutoff of Hamas and didn't even add -- as I read it, didn't even add the, you know, sort of requirements, the boilerplate.

ROSS: Well, I certainly don't embrace that position.

MITCHELL: I know.

ROSS: Look, I think we do have leverage. I don't think we should have any illusions.

First, what Aaron said is right. This is not a secular movement. This is a religious-based movement, and their precepts are governed in faith, which means it's a lot harder for them to give up the precepts of their faith.

To be sure, there are different wings of Hamas. There are those who are more pragmatically inclined, not in terms of the ideology, but in terms of the need to respond to the daily realities, the imperatives that the daily realities of those Palestinians who actually they have to contend with on a daily basis are facing, given life in Gaza and the West Bank.

Some of the Hamas that are from the outside, if you look at Khaled Meshaal or Mousa Abu Marzook, they're much more inclined, whatever they say, to confrontation. They're backed by the Iranians, and the Iranians are quite anxious to have more confrontation, not less. Iran itself feels right now this was a great victory. And kind of -- Islamists everywhere see this as a great victory.

So we have leverage. They're going to try to get something for nothing. They're going to say they can't give up any of their beliefs. There will be some who say, "Look, let's judge them by what they do. Don't try to force them to change and say things differently, because they won't. And we don't want to drive them into a corner."

My big concern about that is severalfold. First, to the extent to which there are fissures within Hamas, you take all the pressure off those who at least think you should be more pragmatic, just given the daily realities.

Second -- and this is actually much more pernicious -- you put the Hamas belief system in a position where, over time, it becomes more acceptable. If they don't have to make any adjustments, it's the world adjusting to them, and not them adjusting to the world, their ideology becomes part of the normal discourse.

We'll find, over time, if they don't have to adjust and we let them off the hook, and we don't use our leverage -- because of what you're saying, they have to deliver, they have needs, they're going to have to have somebody provide those needs -- if we let them off the hook, we're going to find, within a relatively short period of time, concepts like binational statehood are seen as being not only legitimate but moderate, at least for part of Hamas. We cannot allow what is unacceptable to become legitimate. And if we let them off the hook, that's what will happen.

MITCHELL: So you're, Aaron, the American secretary of State, and you're dealing with the Europeans on this and with the U.N. How do you approach the problem, address the humanitarian needs and take a hard enough line to be consistent with the political and moral position that Dennis has just outlined?

MILLER: It's a very difficult set of questions to try to reconcile. And there may be no neat or easy way to square the circle here.

I guess I would offer a couple different responses. One is to create a fire wall in principle. And there's a reason to do that, another reason that deals with elections, in order to do that. The administration deserves a lot of credit for getting behind the issue of political and economic reform and democratization.

And there may be someone in the audience who can think of another precedent in which a group that has not given up the gun, who is committed to the destruction of a neighboring state, a member of the United Nations, without any sort of candidacy requirements or efforts to accept the rules of the game, actually did well, more than well, in a transparent, fair and free election. That is a very disturbing development.

And maybe we should have imposed candidacy requirements as early as August of 2002. I know NDI, in one of their initial reports, felt fairly strongly about doing that, that those candidates who compete in fair and free elections -- because Hamas's ideology is the antithesis of everything that electoral politics, competitive politics, peaceful politics stands for.

So I would build a pretty firm fire wall, and I'd lay out some fairly general performance standards and benchmarks, as the administration's already done.

I would be very smart, however, and very patient on the issue of tailoring and calibrating our tactics, because it may be months -- Dennis mentioned this, and he's probably right -- it may be months before the political situation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas sorts itself out. Are we going to be dealing with a government of technocrats, with front men, some of whom may be very eager to play a new role? All life because with the personal, and it seems to me it's not beyond the realm of possibility that credible figures in Palestinian politics, without a history, reputation of violence and terror, would agree to be part of this new coalition. Are you going to be faced with a double government in which the Palestinian Authority, a weak executive, according to their basic laws, coexists, cohabits with a Palestinian Legislative Council? Or will Hamas simply figure out a way to form the next government and appoint one of its own as prime minister? None of this is clear.

So build the fire wall in principle. Be very tough. Try to coordinate a response with the Europeans, the Arabs and the U.N. and others. But be very smart and very patient with respect to calibrating tactics, because the truth is, you don't have to. As long as there's a caretaker government, we don't have to stop the assistance that we provided, largely not directly to the PA but through nongovernmental organizations, monitored by USAID and contract --

MITCHELL: Which may in fact be in the best interest of Hamas as it gets its bearing. A senior Arab diplomat said to me the day after the elections, "We thought they were smart enough to get just under 50 percent." (Laughter.)

Let's say that -- is Israel's worst nightmare Hamas choosing Fayyad as prime minister, Dahlan for security, and creating a technocrat cabinet that would be very appealing to the West?

ROSS: Well, look. Let's stipulate right now that we won't have the easy choice. The easy choice would be that Zohar is the prime minister and we see -- or Haniya is, you know, the foreign minister, whatever; we see unmistakable, undisguised Hamas officials as the leaders of this government. Then it's easy, because they don't change at all and you cut them off. No ties, no assistance. They bear the consequences of their behavior. They are too smart to confront us with an easy choice. So we're going to see something that is in fact much more designed to create credible people as a front, as Aaron said, to put people out front who are technicians, who are independent.

Now, even here it seems to me that there still are some things that can be done. The first thing that needs to be done is to create a standard with regard to what the platform of that government is, what it has to meet. Abu Mazen is trying to do that right now. We shouldn't underestimate the fact that even though he's not exactly been someone who's made strong decisions during his tenure as the head of the Palestinian Authority -- I say that advisedly -- the fact is right now he's much more directly challenged than ever before. One thing about Abu Mazen; he may not be someone who makes decisions in the normal course of things, but he does tend to make decisions when he's personally challenged, when it becomes a case of his own personal dignity. To the extent to which he is now being challenged, this is different than before. And in addition to that, we should make it clear that the Palestinian Legislative Council has to, obviously, vote or confirm this prime minister and this Cabinet, and they have to confirm the platform.

And so the clearer we can be, the more -- the stronger we can be in terms of supporting what it is Abu Mazen himself is outlining as the conditions, which happen to be the conditions that we embrace, this is one way to ensure that they can't have front people who themselves feel one thing but the Legislative Council, that is dominated by Hamas, hasn't had to go on record. We want them to have to go on record. We want there to be the conditions that Abu Mazen is talking about.

We need -- getting back to the question you asked Aaron -- we need to have a very active diplomacy right now. It isn't enough to get one day's statement from the Quartet, because you will see that eroded over time on a day-to-day basis. The administration has to work all the members of the Quartet consistently.

I mean, President Putin has already suggested, regardless of the Quartet statement, that assistance should not be broken. It's not as if the Russians are going to be providing much assistance to the Palestinians, by the way. But if the Russians want to be part of the Quartet, then also they have to stick to the lines of the Quartet. The Japanese are hinting that they might not cut off assistance. We should be working with the Japanese.

We should be very active right now in the Gulf states. I don't expect them to provide direct assistance to Hamas, but up until 2003, most of the money that came to Hamas came from the private charities in the Gulf. A lot of that, at least in Saudi Arabia, has been cut off since they had their 9/11 in May of 2003. But I'm quite concerned that we're going to see a reemergence of that right now. So you're going to have to be very active working day by day with the Gulf states to prevent that.

We need to find ways to reinforce what Abu Mazen is saying. We may need to find ways to reinforce Abu Mazen's position even financially, with the right kind of transparency, so that you in fact recognize there are two power centers there. He was elected with 62 percent of the vote. He was elected on a platform of nonviolence. If he's going to become more assertive now, then we have to find ways to reinforce that.

The Legislative Council cannot pass legislation if he opposes it without a two-thirds override. Hamas does not have a two-thirds vote in the Legislative Council. So before we despair about how they can control everything and they dominate everything, we should realize there are limitations on what they can do, and we have to focus on how you build up the firewall -- to use Aaron's terminology -- not just rhetorically but practically against what they may want.

MITCHELL: Now, what about the broader context in the Middle East? You've got Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a senior official traveling with the secretary of State on her last visit there acknowledged that it was a good thing that the Hezbollah ministers did not include her counterpart; that they could be ignored as long as they were in the social services, but how long will that last. And that interview that Ignatius writes about today, with Nazrallah, is fascinating. That is an incredible column, for those of you who haven't had a chance to read David's excellent column today in The Washington Post. You've got the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

One of the cornerstones of the administration's policy since Afghanistan has been the role of women in these parties. Just look at the New York Times story today about the mother of martyrs who's now one of the Hamas legislators.

What is the message that is now going out in the region, both Shi'a and Sunni, in terms of radical forces becoming really the standard for those involved in the political process? Is it a good thing? Is it something that we can take advantage of in some way?

MILLER: The administration is an administration of very big ideas, and they think very strategically. The last concern on their minds right now is what is going to happen to the Israeli-Palestinian or the Arab-Israeli peace process. I think that they have pushed very hard, and I think they deserve an enormous amount of credit for this, because most of the administrations that the two of us worked for did not take seriously or even at all the notion of political reform. We chased Mr. Arafat and Palestinians around for 15 years in search of agreements without paying any attention at all to the way he was governing, the issues of political and economic reform. And it wasn't that there weren't people out there telling us to take this issue of human rights, rule of law, domination of the security services more seriously. Now we're understanding the consequences and implications of that.

There are a couple realities here, I think, which are kind of contradictory. Number one, when fair and free elections are held in the Arab and Muslim world, there's a pattern, and it's an obvious one. Islamist groups do extremely well. In Iraq, in Egypt, and now in Palestine. There are all kinds of reasons for that, but it's a reality that people have to accept and face.

The question is, will the ideology of success temper and moderate their views? It's an untested proposition. Again, it's success and pragmatism versus a belief system that is deeply entrenched. I really don't know the answer to that question.

The other issue is, this is a post-9/11 problem. It would be one thing if this didn't happen in the context of a generational challenge that this country confronts from those who want to do us great harm. But the ideologies -- and I'm not suggesting for a moment that al Qaeda is -- that Hamas is going to invite al Qaeda back to Gaza. I don't think that would serve their interests at all. But we have to take this seriously -- ideology, violence and terror and the legitimization of these instruments -- much more seriously now in the wake of 9/11 than we ever did before.

And then there's the issue of Iran. I don't know what the Egyptians and the Jordanians really think about this. I was in Davos last weekend. The reaction is incredible. Every Israeli I talk to believes that the end of the world is upon us. Every Arab and Palestinian says to me, "Look, you're getting too excited about this. Take a deep breath. Sit down. It won't come out as nearly as badly as you think." But when you're Hosni Mubarak and Abdullah, presiding over a reasonably precarious political situation, and Hamas has just scored an impressive victory in Gaza, one of Egypt's kidneys, as a Palestinian described it to me, people have to be concerned, and so does the administration.

ROSS: Can I just follow up on this? Because I think this is actually a very big issue from a couple of dimensions.

First, elections don't make a democracy. We have democratic forums that are being seized by anti-democratic forces to empower themselves. And one of the problems that we face -- and this is what Aaron was implying but didn't say -- one of the problems we face is if you're going to put a premium on having elections when there are only two alternatives -- one alternative are regimes that are corrupt, exclusive and despised versus Islamist groups that are organized, disciplined, noncorrupt -- well, guess who's going to win every time?

MITCHELL: Well, Dennis, in the State of the Union, for the first time, the president articulated that elections are not enough, that rule of law is a pre-requirement. But that's the first time he has really phrased it that way.

Does the administration bear some responsibility in placing such a premium on the electoral process but not what precedes it?

ROSS: I think the administration would do very well -- as it promotes democracy, which is a legitimate objective -- it would do very well to understand that we're not talking about an event. We're talking about a process. By definition, as the president said, democracy is institutions. It's civil society. It's the rule of law. It's an independent judiciary. It's a culture of accommodation. It's respect for minority rights. It is not an event where you hold an election where the environment creates two alternatives without liberal, secular, moderate alternatives because in many cases, those liberal, secular, moderate alternatives had been thrown in jail, so they don't have the possibility of organizing. We are right to identify the importance of creating change internally and promoting what will be governments that are inclusive and create a sense of participation.

We would also be smart to focus on how you turn these governments or these regimes into regimes that can actually deliver services. Why does Hezbollah do well? Well, because guess what -- they deliver services. Why did Hamas build its whole strategy around the da'wa? Because it was built on creating on a social base. You don't have secular alternatives that have been allowed to emerge that way, and so the process of developing democracy is democratization. It is a process, as I said, not an event.

I would add to this -- I think, by the way, whatever you heard in Davos from the Arabs who were there -- that the ones that I have talked to since that time, Aaron, I've heard the opposite of what you heard. I've heard Israelis saying, "You know what? Look, if Hamas wants to deal with themselves, maybe, you know, this is not an Israeli issue as much as it's the rest of the region." And what I'm hearing from the Arabs is, "This is a disaster. You know have Islamists who are able to take one of the animating grievances of the Middle East" -- meaning the Palestinian issue -- "and they have the whip hand on it now. That's never been the case before."

So we, in answer to your question, I think, have to look at the whole issue of democracy promotion in a more strategic way, meaning not just as a slogan, but as something that has embodied in it a direction, a set of tactics. And then focus on how you begin to develop your natural allies in the area, focus on how you help promote democrats -- with a small d -- who happen to be in the area, listen to them more than we talk so that maybe they can advise us on what's the best way to proceed and recognize that this is a cutting edge issue right now for the region as a whole. And because of that, we don't want to put Hamas in a position where it can easily avoid choices. If it's going to be successful, it's going to be successful because it has to change itself. If it's going to be successful because it doesn't have to change itself, we're all going to lose.

MITCHELL: With that, I think we need to -- we want to open it to all of you, and talk also -- I encourage -- somebody asked the question that I was about to ask at some point about -- (laughter ) -- what does Israel do, I mean, literally, in terms of the peace process?

So, Hattie, you were just -- Hattie Babbitt was just there with President Carter observing the elections, so since your hand is up, I'm going to impose upon you to --

QUESTIONER: Well, there were a number -- no, there are a number of people in the audience who were also a part of the NDI-Carter delegation.

I wanted to go to the issue of leverage because I'm less convinced than ever that when we think we're applying leverage, we're getting the result we intended.

And I'll give an example and then ask you for your comments. I met with a moderate Palestinian friend after the election, and she said, "Look, when the administration said, 'you know, we can't deal with a Cabinet that has Hamas members in it,' it inspired Palestinians to vote for Hamas." She said, "My Christian friends voted for Hamas."

I really would like for you all to flesh out some -- this issue of leverage, and what works and what doesn't.

ROSS: How do you want us --

MITCHELL: Aaron, you want to --

MILLER: This is a -- you're quite right to question our either in-government or out-of-government notions of how to apply leverage with the intended results because we're not very good at it. We're not great at incentivizing things. We're not great, frankly, at -- and pressure -- and pressuring either. And it gets to the core problem which is, what I would describe, is the great power-small tribes problem.

The reality is we're wandering around out there with a set of basic interests, distanced, detached, the most powerful nation in the international system today, economically, militarily, technologically; and yet fashioning a region the way we want it to be is beyond our capacity. Iraq may be a cautionary tale here, but it's certainly is the case with the Israeli-Palestinian issue. As Dennis and I have known for many years of trying, there are certain realities that we will not be able to change.

Why are we where we are? We are going to explore this issue. Why did this happen? If you look at why it happened, it seems to me, maybe we could draw some lessons as to what we need to do.

There was a perfect storm. Fatah proved dysfunctional, incapable of delivering either governance or the end of the Israeli occupation for 50 years. Arafat's demise, physical removal from the scene, hastened and accelerated the collapse of what was essentially an illusion. Abu Mazen could not manipulate the symbols. He didn't have the legitimacy, and this started to fragment. That's one.

Number two, Hamas got very smart. They realized that the Israelis have confronted them with an existential dilemma. They were literally eliminating their leaders week after week, and Hamas read the realities that the Palestinian public wanted an end to the violence. And they were organized. They got smart. And finally, I would argue, we, including the Israelis, missed a very important opportunity in the wake of Arafat's demise. We prayed for something, and then it came true, and we weren't prepared to deal with it, which is how to actually empower Abu Mazen beginning in the fall of `04 to perhaps ensure that this outcome didn't take place.

So I -- I mean, we can create our performance standards and our benchmarks. We can withhold aid with a view towards pressuring. I don't believe ultimately in the end we will have the key or the power to recreate Palestinian politics in the image that we want, and that is -- I think that kind of humility is a very important point of departure. What do we want to achieve? We want good governance for Palestinians, and we want a monopoly -- some Palestinian groups have a monopoly over the forces of violence within Palestinian society -- to make many guns one gun, and then to negotiate with the Israelis some, arguably, conflict-ending agreement that will put the Palestinian-Israeli issue to rest. I'm not sure that's going to be possible.

But those are our objectives. Do we have the power to carry them out? I don't think so.

MITCHELL: All right. Let's go to this side. Thank you. Let me ask you to stand and identify yourself.

QUESTIONER: David Apgar, Corporate Executive Board. A quick question for Aaron and a quick question for Dennis, if I may.

Aaron, how beholden do Hamas leaders currently feel themselves toward Iran? And are there practical ways, if necessary, to drive a wedge between Iran and Hamas?

And Dennis, is there some way that we can simplify your message about democracy? I can't imagine the president making himself understood with all the nuance -- (laughter) -- that was in your statement without everyone thinking that he's just saying we're for elections unless they turn -- unless the results are against what we want. An example of a simpler message without much hope of it being a good solution would be: Sure it is all about elections, but not the last election. It's about the next elections, and if at any time Hamas starts to insulate itself from continuing popular criticism and control, we have to cut them off. Isn't there some simplification of the democracy message that we can try to articulate?

ROSS: All right. I'll start with that. Well, first, I think if you say that democracy is about a process and not an event, that's not too complicated. I mean, I think it is possible to talk about this issue and talk about it intelligently. Not everything has to be reduced entirely to a slogan. I think one thing that would actually help the administration is to spend more time explaining. If it explains, it helps itself internally and it also helps itself in the region. That's point one.

Point two, I think your point is very good. Democracy is -- to the extent it is about accountability. Elections are important. That's part of the accountability process, but that has -- but there has to be not elections only one time. There has to be the next election.

But number three, I would also say it is important for us -- and Heather, this is where I get back to your point. You know, the way we talk about things before elections is very important. We have to condition an environment. There was nothing wrong with us making certain very clear points before the elections. I would have done it a little differently with same basic message, but a little differently. I would have said it is the Palestinians absolute right to choose whomever they want. That's their choice, and we'll respect it, but they also have to respect us. We are not going to subsidize those who believe in everything we reject and who embrace everything that is anti-democratic. So if you think that we will respond to Hamas if they get elected, you should at least understand we will not, because they reject peace, they promote violence, and in truth, they're not democratic. You can choose whom you want. You have the right to make that choice. We have the right to choose who we will deal with, and they have to be people who are responsible.

So I would have a message that is related to the character of the process of democracy on the one hand, but also, on the other, do a lot more conditioning in advance of elections so that we don't then get accused of double standards afterwards. We then get accused of: Gee, you like elections, but you don't like the results unless they're your people. If you don't do the right kind of conditioning afterwards, you set yourself up for that response.

MITCHELL: And Iran?

MILLER: On Iran, we're not having much success, I don't think, on the nuclear nonproliferation issue. And I doubt we're going to have much success in this, either. It doesn't take a lot of money in Palestine to get a lot done. The Iranians understand that. They may be more careful these days because we'll be looking at the money trail, the intel people will be looking at operational change of command -- Damascus as well as Tehran -- to local Hamas cells. All that will be under scrutiny and perhaps they'll draw back.

But for those elements in the regime, this is a strategic victory because it offers -- not only do they have -- not only can they jump over the Syrian Hezbollahi issue, they can plant themselves directly in the middle of the Palestinian issue, which for elements in the Iranian regime who believe in an adventurous -- (word inaudible) -- ideological foreign policy, is a big achievement.

ROSS: Just one footnote on that. I was -- I just came back from the region, and I happened to meet a Japanese journalist who had just come from Tehran. And this was -- he was there before the election, and he'd been there right after Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader in Damascus, had been to Tehran. And what he was told is Khaled Meshaal said, "Look, you should give us" -- Hamas -- "as much as you give Hezbollah." About $150 million a year. Before the election he was told, well, we'll do more for you; we're not going to do as much for you as we do for Hezbollah. I suspect, given what Aaron just said, which I think is right, they're going to be prepared to give a lot more.

MITCHELL: And just parenthetically, for those of you who left your office more than, you know, an hour ago, the IAEA delayed until tomorrow the vote on reporting to the Security Council because they are having difficulties on the language. There are still plenty of issues there. So this nonproliferation issue with Iran is --

MILLER: It only reinforces Ahmadinejad.

MITCHELL: -- still fraught with difficulty. Exactly. Yes, sir? Just wait for the microphone.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Henry Owen. I'd like to ask you a question, a longer-term question. Suppose the hard line prevails and we cut off all aid to the Hamas, then presumably there's disintegration in the Palestinian area, they can't pay the civil servants, the economy goes to pot. What do we do then? Our object is a strong Palestinian entity which can negotiate with Israel and establish two independent, equal states. How do we get from that condition to our goal?

MILLER: It's a very good question. And disintegration and fragmentation of Palestinian society is certainly a possibility, as is tensions and violence between Hamas and Fatah.

I don't think it's going to come to that, I really don't. I think of the three usual government options -- breakthrough, break down and muddle through -- the middle option will be the one that probably pertains.

There's another issue here and that involves the Israelis. And Andrea raised this question. You know, the Israelis and the Palestinians have one basic problem, they have a proximity problem with one another. That proximity problem cuts through ideology in a very fundamental way. You know, either it was Mark Twain or Ben Franklin, one of them said that proximity breeds contempt and children. (Laughter.) But the reality is -- the reality is that Israelis and Palestinians are locked together into a perpetual state of neighborliness. There's no way to deny that, unless one community can extinguish or supplant the other, and neither of those options are possible. Both sides will find a way over time -- I guarantee you Shin Bet right now is identifying who their contacts are in the Islamist community and trying to figure out what they're going to do about security cooperation and border control.

And I think Dennis is right, I think the hysterical reaction at Davos on the part of Israelis is being replaced by the realities of what it's like to be a small tribe competing for survival, existential survival and identity in this very dangerous neighborhood. And the Israelis will probably bring themselves to be able to do things that we at this stage wouldn't dare consider doing publicly.

Now, that said, I mean, that kind of fragmentism will exist at -- in a narrow, localized way to solve discrete problems. I'm not suggesting that the Israelis will accommodate themselves in any way, shape or form, certainly, not between now and March 28th, which is the other reality that we have to keep in mind. We should do -- the administration wants to see Ehud Olmert elected as the next prime minister of Israel. There's no question about that, and interfering in Israeli domestic politics -- which we never did of course -- (laughter) -- not --

ROSS: Not well. (Laughter.)

MILLER: Not withstanding --

MITCHELL: (Inaudible) -- entirely different standards.

MILLER: -- suggest that Olmert's going to have to be very tough, and we -- the administration is going to have to make sure that it commits no -- commits itself to no policies that either embarrass the Israeli prime minister or give the opposition grounds to increase its electoral advantage.

So I suspect, again, over time that between success of the world's most compelling ideology, the proximity problem and the Israeli-Palestinian need to find a way to muddle through, that you probably will be able to avoid disaster.

One final point. Where I am completely despairing and forlorned however is on the issue of directing this situation to anything that remotely resembles a conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. I didn't believe that was likely before these elections, and without some fundamental change, I can't -- I cannot see that. And that poses another long-term problem for our interests in the region.

MITCHELL: Yes, Bernie. If you want to stand --

QUESTIONER: Yeah.

MITCHELL: Bernard Kalb.

QUESTIONER: Bernard Kalb. There seems to be a suggestion that unless some sort of accommodation is reached and Hamas gets aid from the West, that you might have to write an obituary for Hamas. Cannot -- is it axiomatic? Is it automatic that Hamas goes down in flames if it doesn't get aid from the West, or can Hamas drain off enough aid -- you talked about an increase and possible aid from the Iranians and by terror activities and threats, the way the Saudis bribed many of the terrorist groups in the Middle East -- isn't it possible for Hamas to extract enough money to say, "Nuts to the West. We're staying with our convictions," and hope for a repercussion of response -- positive response throughout the Arab world?

MITCHELL: Dennis?

ROSS: I'm dubious if they can do it over time. I'm not dubious if they can get certain kinds of stop-gap capabilities. That's why I say I think our fundamental principle ought to be: create the reality that either they transform themselves or they fail, because maybe we'll go through a cycle where Fatah failed and then Hamas will fail, and then you'll have something after that that gives you a greater possibility.

There is a high probability of, as Aaron just said, of a muddling-through option. I would suggest that the possibility after March 28th of a defacto relationship between the Israelis and the -- Hamas -- not acknowledged, not explicit, but defacto -- is quite high, because there's a convergence of interest at least in terms of calm. In the case of Hamas, they need the calm for their reasons. They need it more than the Israelis do, because of everything they've promised. And the Israelis, obviously, prefer having calm. I mean, who doesn't prefer being able to have their people go to cafes and ride buses?

But the issue won't be so easy because the fact is Hamas will want calm on its terms. The definition of calm on its terms is they can still amass Kassam rockets. They can still have bomb-making labs. They can still smuggle in weapons. They can turn a blind eye. They'll observe the calm, but when Islamic jihad carries out an attack, well, that's Islamic jihad or the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. And the Israelis are not likely to allow that kind of a calm to prevail, because it's a calm on Hamas's terms.

You're going to end up with, I would say, Palestinians who have very good relations with Hamas, and the Israelis being the go-between. I don't think the Israelis -- I think -- one thing I would differ with Aaron on, and it's probably not a difference -- Israel already knows who are the Hamas types that they would have -- who would have a more pragmatic instinct, and they also know who are the Palestinians who will be the go-between between them. I mean, I'm not going to say who they are here because we agreed this is on the record, but I can give you -- I could give you a list of at least a couple of dozen Palestinians who have ties with both and who will try to be the brokers of something. It will not be easy. It will not be smooth. But it will evolve in some kind of defacto way.

I would simply say that shouldn't be used as an excuse on the outside to say, "Well, look, if there's some kind of defacto relationship, then we should have it too," because, again, that will make it easier for Hamas to avoid choices. We don't want it easier for Hamas to avoid choices both because of the fissures that exist within Hamas and that will become more pronounced because of Aaron's criteria of the success factor, because Fatah will learn its own lessons, because you can create pressure -- (audio break from source).

MITCHELL: (Audio break from source) -- and let me just ask parenthetically, because obviously this is a rolling issue in terms of the Israeli politics, what if the Israeli counterpart is, because things change between now and March 28th, a Bibi Netanyahu government? How does that change the equation?

ROSS: What's quite interesting is that for all of Bibi Netanyahu's talk about how tough he would be, when he was the prime minister, there were a number of occasions -- I can think of one in particular -- when one of the leading Hamas fugitives died in what was seen as an accident, and he was the first one out of the box to say, "We didn't have anything to do with it." And it happened that Jibril Rajoub came out and said, "He blew himself up by accident," which was an interesting way of letting, you know, the Israelis off the hook, in Palestinian terms.

My point here -- I'm not -- it's not a critical observation; it's simply an observation that the desire for calm is a pretty strong desire when you're responsible in government.

Now you're not going to buy off on something that basically creates an ongoing problem anyway and doesn't really produce calm for you. That was point about -- it isn't going to be the calm as Hamas defines it, because, for one thing, it wouldn't sustain itself. Every time Israel would be going in to preempt against a possible attack, when they get information, that would put Hamas on the spot. So you'd find it difficult to sustain it, which is why, if you're really going to have a de facto relationship, they'll have to have some kind of understandings of what each side does and doesn't do.

MITCHELL: Let me throw out one other quick question. If it's a de facto relationship, can it lead to a peace process?

ROSS: No, because here is -- I think what you're getting is -- you're getting kind of parallelism. Understand that in Israel today, you have the strongest single consensus covering the broadest scope of the public since David Ben-Gurion's time, as it relates to Palestinians.

Before the election, I was out there. Two days before the election, there was a poll in Israel that showed 77 percent of the Israeli public believed there was not a Palestinian partner for peace. Now that was before Hamas won the election. You can imagine what it is today.

The consensus is based on a premise that there isn't a partner, but we Israelis want to shape our own future and not have it held hostage to either Palestinian dysfunction or outright opposition.

So the impulse towards separation, disengagement, is driven from within, driven by a demographic issue, which, by the way, would have led to the disengagement from Gaza even without the gun, because of Israel's need to deal with the demographic reality and because Israelis want to basically shape their own future and not hold it hostage to the unknowns of what Palestinians will do.

MILLER: Can I just add one thing? There's another reason why the notion of a peace process seems wholly incomprehensible to me right now, and that is because Ariel Sharon may be out of Israeli politics, but the legacy that he has left is going to shape the next chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle for years to come.

And I've thought a lot about this. There -- he left two realities. On one hand, he, more than anyone who had been associated with the idea of Greater Israel, has been the single Israeli leader most responsible for the death of Greater Israel. The idea that Israel can now control the West Bank and Gaza in perpetuity is dead, psychologically, politically and economically. That's the first Sharon legacy.

But it's the second Sharon legacy, with a lot of help from the Palestinians, that is the counterpart. And that is, so is the idea deader than a doornail of a conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palestinians which resolves Jerusalem, borders and refugees.

It is between those two parameters that the next chapter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is going to be written, whether it's bilaterally or unilaterally. And that is -- that may well be in line with Hamas's objectives. They're not interested in negotiated solution. The Palestinians have made their last compromise. Twenty-two percent of historic Palestine is what remains for a Palestinian state. That's all the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. They've made their fundamental compromise even before negotiations began. The rest is about delivery from the Israelis.

ROSS: But that's not Hamas's view.

MILLER: No, Hamas wants it all.

ROSS: They want it all.

MILLER: Right.

ROSS: I mean, I would -- anyone who hasn't seen this -- and this is why -- for all those people sort of looking, as Andrea said to us earlier, coming in, for the tea leaves, don't look for the subtle hints. You know, all these ambiguous statements -- Mousa Abu Marzook says, "Well, we'll negotiate with the Israelis," but of course he doesn't say the next thing, about what. Take a look at the interview with Mahmoud Zohar after the election -- it's actually on January 31st -- on Al-Manar. And his statements aren't subtle. They leave nothing to doubt. There is no circumstance under which they are prepared to recognize Israel's right to exist. Israel doesn't have a right to even one inch of territory. You know, we'll lay -- in a sense, make adjustments for the time being, yes, but not on that basis.

And what they want to do is they want to take over -- you know, with the new government they want to be the ones who are shaping education, social policy; they want to be educating on the future. They want their precepts and ideology to shape the society. And they're very much focused on that. So we shouldn't have any illusions about who Hamas is.

MITCHELL: We have only five minutes left, so let's get a couple of quick questions. In the back on the right-hand side.

QUESTIONER: If I could, I'm a little confused -- Bill Clark. The talk was that Hamas did not think they were going to win this election. Now, it seems to me that Hamas is not going to say to Abu Mazen, "Oh, we'll do what you ask. Why don't we just stay in opposition, even though we're the majority. You go ahead and try and do what you're going to do, and we're going to continue to whittle away at your authority and see what happens in the end."

Seems to me a reasonable scenario.

ROSS: Well, Bill, that certainly was their scenario in advance of the election. Now they have a problem. They have 76 seats out of 132. So they have to -- they now have to contend with the consequences of their own success.

That said, Abu Mazen announced, as I said, yesterday, he won't ask them to form the government if they don't meet his terms. So it's conceivable that they will have to figure out how to contend with that. Right now what you're seeing with them more than anything else, they're having all sorts of discussions, and for one reason; they're trying to figure out what they should do. They've created a set of expectations -- again, pay close attention to everything they're saying about what they're going to change. But how do they actually do that given the realities of power, their limitations, their needs, remains to be seen.

MITCHELL: Sort of analogous to Robert Redford in "The Candidate" -- "Now what do we do?"

Another question?

ROSS: I preferred him.

MITCHELL: Yes?

QUESTIONER: Fred Seibold. Wouldn't we improve the situation in the area generally and our consistency quotient if we insisted that the Israelis stop building new settlements and taking more land? Land has been a fundamental issue in this whole scenario for the last 20 years, and for those 20 years, the Israelis have created facts on the ground, as they call them.

MITCHELL: Aaron?

MILLER: The answer is absolutely. The issue now, even if you humored me, is not about a permanent status agreement, it's about, arguably, creating an environment in which serious permanent status negotiations are possible. And Dennis, I know, agrees with this, that one of the mistakes that we have made consistently is not to take seriously the behavior of the parties -- plural -- not just the Israelis -- on the ground.

I couldn't have imagined a worse moment to go to a conflict-ending agreement summit, Camp David, given the mistrust that Israelis and Palestinians had for one another in July of 2000, with Mr. Arafat acquiescing -- continuing to acquiesce in acts of terror and violence on the part of Fatah and other groups, including Hamas; and Mr. Barak continuing, for political reasons, to undertake all kinds of unilateral actions on the ground.

So the answer is yes, for American interests -- forget the peace process. For American interests and credibility, we should be extremely tough with the Israelis with respect to settlement activity, even after Gaza withdrawal. And I know the argument. We withdrew settlers and settlements. What do you care about hilltop outposts or Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank? Well, we care because the issue right now for any administration has got to be protecting the possibility and the option that at some point a conflict-ending agreement is going to be possible. And the more facts on the ground that are created, the less that's going to be.

ROSS: I would agree with that. I do agree with that. I think one of the mistakes we made was on the whole issue of settlement policy, precisely because it created the impression that the Palestinians were powerless to stop what the Israelis wanted to do.

But I would note something else at the same time. If we look at who's actually doing things that are difficult for them, we're not seeing any of that on the Palestinian side; we see it only on the Israeli side. Israel withdrew from Gaza, notwithstanding the opposition they had to face to do it. Israel is confronting today settlers in what was a pitched battle in taking apart unauthorized settler outposts.

So there's going to come a point, if we're ever going to have a resolution of this conflict, where Palestinians have to be accountable, Palestinians have to take on those within their midst who reject the idea of coexistence. When the Israelis did that in Gaza, it should have been an interesting model for the Palestinians. Peace is not going to come until Palestinians also are prepared to take on those in their own society who reject peace.

MITCHELL: We have time for one more question. There was one all the way in the back. Yes, sir? Could you wait for the microphone? Thank you.

QUESTIONER: (Inaudible.) A scant but nevertheless meaningful minority of observers in the Middle East are saying that ironically, the emergence of Hamas with its, hopefully, slightly modified policies could prove to be in the best interest of the United States. They cite three primary reasons. First, Hamas was never set up to fight or hurt the United States, it was primarily set up to resist Israeli occupation; second, this new development is an opportunity for the United States to prove that it genuinely believes in democracy in theory and practice, particularly given its continued and intensified program of promoting democracy in the Middle East; and the third, it is going to be, hopefully, easier for the United States to make any of the future peace agreements more enforceable now given the cooperation -- hopeful -- cooperation of Hamas, and its blessing.

MITCHELL: Dennis? Quickly.

ROSS: Well, when Hamas makes the kind of transition that you're implying, then something will become possible. But if they reject the very idea of peace, if their whole purpose is to carry on violence, it's very hard to see how this could be positive in any sense.

MITCHELL: We're out of time, but I want to thank Aaron and Dennis for bringing their extraordinary experience and wisdom and insights to this what to me was a wonderful conversation. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Thank you all.

 

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