U.S.-Israel Relations

U.S.-Israel Relations

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Robert D. Blackwill, CFR’s Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy, and CFR Senior Fellow Philip H. Gordon discuss their recently released Council Special Report, Repairing the U.S.-Israel Relationship, and what the U.S. and Israeli governments can do to reframe and revive the countries’ relationship, as part of CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call series. 

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Speakers

Robert D. Blackwill

Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations

Philip H. Gordon

Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Presiders

Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Thank you for joining us. We are delighted to have CFR national members and participants in CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Initiative on the call today. As a reminder, the discussion is on the record, and the audio and transcript will be available on our website, www.cfr.org.

We’re delighted to have Robert Blackwill and Philip Gordon with us to talk about what the U.S. and Israeli governments can do to reframe and rewrite the countries’ relationship. Ambassador Blackwill and Dr. Gordon recently released a Council special report entitled “Repairing the U.S.-Israel Relationship,” which we sent out a link to in the confirmation for this call, and you can also access it on CFR’s website.

Bob Blackwill is the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at CFR, previously a deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for strategic planning under President George W. Bush. Ambassador Blackwill was responsible for governmentwide policy planning to help develop the mid- and long-term direction of U.S. foreign policy. He also served as presidential envoy to Iraq and was the administration’s coordinator for U.S. policies regarding Afghanistan and Iran.

Philip Gordon is a senior fellow at CFR. From 2013 to 2015, he was special assistant to the president and White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region. As the most senior White House official focused on the Greater Middle East, he worked closely with the president, secretary of state, and national security adviser. Prior to joining the NSC staff, Dr. Gordon served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

So thank you both for being with us. I thought we could begin with you, Phil, to give us the background and analysis of your Council special report, and then we would turn to Bob to talk about the policy recommendations that you made.

GORDON: Great, Irina. Thanks very much, and thanks to everyone for joining the call. Bob and I agreed we would do this briefly to summarize the report even though, hopefully, some of you have had the chance to already look at at least some of it on the web, but we want to make sure we leave plenty of time for your comments and questions. So I will kick it off with just a couple of words of background and a summary of the analysis, and then Bob will conclude with our recommendations.

And just the first word of background is just that this report emerges from a study group that Bob and I chaired last year in New York, which we set up to look at the U.S.-Israel relationship, because we had a sort of feeling that it was headed in the wrong direction. There were fundamental challenges and tensions, and we wanted to take some time with some experts and think that through. So that’s what we did. I want to make clear that the writing of the report was us alone and not the group, but we learned a lot from it and we benefited from it. And I would say it confirmed our suspicions or instincts that there were some fundamental changes and—changes going on and challenges to the relationship, and that’s what we’ll describe for you here.

The other word of background, just to be clear, about that, as you’ll see, if and when you read it, this is not an analysis of the Trump administration and Israel. Indeed, our starting point was that the problems and challenges in this relationship were not a question of individuals or the particular leaders that are in place right now, but the result of some more fundamental trends in the national interests of the two sides and some of the political culture and demographic developments that affect the relationship. So don’t expect it to be particularly tied to any administration or another. These are our—this is our analysis of these fundamental trends. And similarly, our prescriptions are what we think. And, you know, we can have a separate conversation about what this administration is likely to do, but this is what we think should be done in the name of this important relationship.

The basic thesis of our report starts in the very first page, where we say that the U.S.-Israel relationship is in trouble, and that the cause of the difficulty is not the lack of chemistry between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, and nor can it be reduced to a single policy difference, such as the big debate we had over the Iran deal. Rather, serious differences on a long list of policy issues and significant demographic political changes on both sides are pushing the two countries apart and making it harder for those of us who care about the relationship to maintain it. And we describe—we note that a growing number of Israelis support policies that are likely to exacerbate these differences with the United States, and they’re increasingly questioning their ability to count on Washington, while an increasing number of Americans, including some of Israel’s traditional supporters, are concerned about Israel’s domestic and foreign policy path. And that’s why we conclude that without a deliberate and sustained effort by policymakers and opinion leaders—goes to societies as well as leaders—on both sides, that the relationship will continue to deteriorate. And that’s why we set out to try to understand the factors behind this and make some recommendations about what should be done.

Let me quickly or briefly say about that, before anyone wants to jump in and say, you know, crises are nothing new in the U.S.-Israel relationship. Obviously, we know that very well. As we remind people in the report, between us, Bob and I have served in every U.S. administration since the Nixon administration, and we’ve seen a lot of these crises up close. But our point here is that there is some new strategic and political and demographic factors that mean that we shouldn’t—it would be complacent to just assume that because the relationship has survived crises before that it will be naturally as robust as in the past.

So in the report we describe some of these policy differences. I won’t belabor the point now. I think people on this call are very familiar with, among other things, the huge dispute the United States had with Israel over the Iran nuclear agreement—probably the biggest crisis in the relationship on a policy level maybe since the Suez crisis—and also on the Palestinian issue, where the U.S. administration and the Israeli government had significant differences over the approach to the Palestinians and the consequences of that approach for both Israel and its security and future and the relationship with the United States. Again, I won’t belabor the details of those difference, though obviously we can come back to them in the discussion.

But beyond the policy gaps that we have identified and are worried about them getting worse, we look at demographic, political, and cultural differences that underpin this relationship, and those led us to some concerns as well. And there I would just summarize, again, without going into all of the details, at the very high level, attitudes and opinions are actually still pretty strong. Even during the Iran dispute in 2015, 81 percent of Israelis had a positive view of the United States, and 79 percent of Americans viewed Israel as an ally or a country friendly to the United States. So at the top level, and just similarly governments continue to profess their devotion to the other side and their commitment to the other side, our legislatures in both countries as well, so broadly speaking, the relationship in terms of mutual views is healthy.

But underneath or within that overall picture, there are some troubling trends that we identify as on the Israeli side a population that is becoming more religious, nationalistic, and conservative, which exacerbate differences with Washington a whole range of issues, from the state of liberalism and democracy in Israel to policy towards the Palestinians, and Iran. And we look at the numbers in terms of the settler population in Israel and the Haredi population, and the political trends—it’s the most conservative government in Israel’s history, arguably, and one where for the first time ever you have a majority of the Cabinet not committed to a two-state solution—those trends are pushing it away from the United States on a range of issues.

And on the United States side, again, at the top level, the relationship is strong and the mutual feelings are positive, but in the United States, the factors we identify as worth attention are a youth population that seems less sympathetic to Israel than its older counterparts—and you look at a lot of the numbers on there and it’s quite distinct that younger Americans are less committed to the relationship with Israel than their older counterparts—demographic trends that are likely to give more political power to groups that are less traditionally supportive of Israel—obviously the rising African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic American population is changing politics in the United States, and those groups are less traditionally supportive of Israel; and increasingly divided U.S. Jewish community; and then finally, and quite troublingly, a growing and unprecedented partisan gap over Israel. In years past or decades past, Democrats tended to be slightly more pro-Israel than Republicans. That has not only now turned around, but dramatically so. In a number of issues, you get deeper and deeper Republican alignment behind Israel, or at least the policies of the current Israeli government, and increasing Democratic skepticism. Not surprisingly, obviously, that correlates to the demographic trends that I also just described.

And again, the report goes into some detail of all the various things which I won’t do on this call, but we think they are worthy of attention and that all of them point to concerns about the future of the relationship, which is why we then set out to say, OK, if that’s true and the relationship is important and you’re as committed to it as we are, what would you do on the policy sense in order to sustain and promote this relationship for the future. And that’s what we’ll turn to now, and Bob will summarize that piece of the report.

BLACKWILL: Good.

FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you.

BLACKWILL: And I will precede. Thank to you all again for joining the conversation, and look forward to your comments and suggestions.

So we came up with six policy recommendations to reframe the relationship, given the concerns that Phil just expressed. And I’ll go through them very briefly, and just to repeat and to stress—to stress that these were not proposals that took into account who was going to be the next American president. Rather, they are what we think the administration should do and the Israeli government should do to reverse these worrisome trends.

So, first, we hope that the president-elect, when he is president, will invite the Israeli prime minister to Camp David in the first few months of the administration for extended talks to discuss where they agree and where they find differences. From our side, we think that the new administration should stress that the United States is in the Middle East to stay and that this means that it will use its formidable power and influence in the Middle East in all dimensions to more directly confront and defeat Iran’s hegemonic designs in the region; to increase resources to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and Libya; to work trilaterally with Israel and Egypt on regional security; to reassure the Arab monarchies and Egypt that their internal stability is of paramount importance to the United States; to increase U.S. economic and security assistance to Jordan; and to weaken burgeoning Russian influence across the area. So that’s first, and we think all of those issues are ripe for a discussion between the president and the prime minister.

Second, to extend and expand defense cooperation with Israel, and in the report we say in some detail how that should be done. The essence of our conviction is that it’s critical that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge over any combination of potential adversaries, and we go through and describe how we think that should be done.

Third, to focus on making the Iran nuclear deal work. And there, of course, this is highly controversial. It was controversial when it was negotiated, when it was over, and to this day. But we think—Phil and I think from opposite sides of the aisle—that whatever one thought of that agreement in the past, it’s now been agreed to the P-5 plus one, formally endorsed by the Security Council, backed by nearly all major U.S. international partners and all of our allies except for Israel, and that group brought Israel to this—sorry, brought Iran to the negotiating table through encompassing sanctions. And we think that walking away from the agreement in 2017 would isolate the United States and Israel, allow Iran a convenient excuse to resume its enrichment plutonium production programs, and make it impossible to restore effective international sanctions. So we recommend that the agreement go forward, that the United States not leave it for the reasons I just said, and go into some detail about how we can strengthen that agreement, working with the Israelis and other regional partners.

Fourth, contain Iran’s regional designs, and we go into detail about how that should be done. But in the aftermath of the agreement, as an unavoidable perhaps consequence of the nuclear deal, Iran has become more aggressive in the region, and the United States needs to stand up to that in a much more comprehensive and vigorous way than in the past—and we talk about how.

Fifth, to implement steps, we think to improve Palestinian daily life, and preserve prospects for a negotiated peace. And here we precede from the view that there’s no better solution to the problem between Israel and the Palestinians than the two-state solution. Indeed, there’s no other policy prescription that is nearly as good as the two-state solution. So our discussion of the Palestinian-Israeli issue is based on our desire to keep the two-state solution as a viable policy prospect. We say that even though we recognize that there’s very little hope for any near-term progress on the issue. But we discuss in some detail our concern that Israel’s settlement policies are gradually eroding the possibility of a two-state solution. And as I said, we can’t think of any other policy outcome that would be nearly as good as the two-state solution—although as you know, you all who were listening and follow this, there are folks in the Israeli cabinet who believe that annexation is the answer. Phil and I think that would be a disaster for Israel. So we go through more than a dozen ways in which Israel could ease the life of the Palestinians while of course protecting its security.

And we conclude by saying that if Israel agrees to take these steps, we would have the administration stress that the United States will continue to do everything possible to protect Israel against efforts to isolate it internationally. But if Israel chooses not to take steps, including constraining their settlement activity, we, Phil and I, believe that the United States should tell the Israeli government that our capacity to protect them in international settings will be substantially diminished. And we could pursue a new approach, the U.S., putting forth its own proposals for addressing the Israeli-Palestinian dispute unilaterally at the U.N. or in other international groupings. We could support Security Council anti-settlement resolutions that are consistent with longstanding U.S. policy. We might not systematically oppose or lobby against Palestinian membership in the U.N. or other international bodies. This of course is not our preference, but we also think the U.S. government should not stand passive if Israel continues to reduce the practical prospects for a two-state solution.

And then our sixth and final recommendation is to expand economic cooperation. Of course, the core of the bilateral relationship will remain strategic, but we think there’s a great opportunity here to substantially increase our economic interaction and that that, through joint projects to enhance trade investment and so forth, would also strengthen the relationship. So those are our six policy prescriptions, and we look forward to hearing your views about them and the analysis that Phil began with. Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you very much to both of you for the work that you did on this and the discussion. Let’s open it up now to questions from the group.

OPERATOR: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Our first question comes from Tereska Lynam at the University of Oxford.

LYNAM: Hi. Can you hear me? Hello?

FASKIANOS: Yes.

GORDON: Yes.

FASKIANOS: Yes, we can. Go ahead.

LYNAM: OK, great. Thanks. Fantastic. So we learned last week as kind of a nation about Russian hacking, potential hacking into the U.S. elections, which as information comes through, it seems more certain, which makes it at least an investigation into collusion with unfriendly foreign governments by at least a minimum of President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Trump—Pence, some key GOP leadership, including Mr. McConnell and some people in the FBI—a probability, hopefully. So this puts the transition of government into major question, an unprecedented question. How do you think this affects just even the questions, but how do you see this playing out with our relationship with Israel, given that we don’t really know what’s going to happen? Thank you.

BLACKWILL: Well, maybe—I’ll—I have a brief answer for you. We’re interested, during this call, in talking about our report and your view of the substance of the report. Obviously, the subject you raise is a very important one, and it’s being debated intensively around clock, as you know, here in the United States and beyond. But we’re not on this call to discuss that.

LYNAM: OK.

FASKIANOS: Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Don Smeldley with Yale.

SMEDLEY: Yes, hi. Appreciated your recommendations. I was wondering, you mentioned Egypt, though, and I was wondering what your prospects or what you think the role of Jordan might be in this, as well as the possibility of expanding some discussions to some Gulf states that—like the United Arab Emirates who might—who could become more friendly in this discussion and perhaps add leverage to move things forward.

BLACKWILL: Phil, do you want to take that one on since I got the last one?

GORDON: I can start with that.

BLACKWILL: We can alternate here.

GORDON: Sure. This is Phil Gordon. Someone may need to mute their phone. I think we hear some incoming. But it’s a good question. I’d say two things about it. Egypt is actually one of the things that we identified as a policy difference, at least heretofore with the Obama administration. There was a difference with the Israelis on Egypt in that the Israelis felt that Egypt was such a critical security partner that even though the military behind President el-Sisi intervened and overthrew an elected government, the Israelis wanted to see the United States just quickly turn the page, embrace the new leader of Egypt, and sustain that partnership. And we’re concerned about the Obama administration policy of keeping Egypt and its new leader at arm’s length, which had to do with, you know, the military taking over and the crackdown and some of their oppressive policies. So that has been a sort of thorn in the side of the relationship—one of many—but it also may be one that will not be the case moving forward to the next administration because the incoming Trump administration has certainly signaled a desire to partner as closely as possible with Egypt. I would say that already now the Obama administration largely turned the page, restored full military assistance to Egypt, and was working closely with the Egyptian government. One of the criteria outlined by the Congress and the administration for restoring military assistance to Egypt was that Egypt maintain the security cooperation with Israel and the security treaty with Israel, which it did, which allowed the United States to restore that military equipment.

But on your broader question, it’s important, and we discuss it in the report, because you rightly identify that Israel’s growing ties with some of its Arab neighbors—and you mentioned Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE, and all of those are in this category—is one of the big and could even say rare positive developments in the region and with Israel. We note in the report that that’s happening, it’s real, it’s significant, and it should be the United States’ policy to assist Israel in expanding those relationships.

So one thing we add, though—I think it’s important to stress is we believe it is wrong to suppose that that’s going to unlock and resolve the Palestinian issue. It is an important piece, and obviously Israel will need the support and cooperation of those regimes for any sort of progress on the Palestinian issue, but it is a fantasy to imagine that relations have gotten to the point where somehow those states have either the willingness or ability to push the Palestinians in—to get in front of the Palestinians in terms of a deal. And that’s why we say Israel’s growing ties with Arab states is important, it’s positive, we should support it, but it doesn’t change the reality that different things need to be done on the direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian issue.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Mel Levine with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

LEVINE: Hi, gentlemen. Thank you very much for this excellent work. I know that you did this anticipating a different result a month ago. I’m interested in your view as to what the long-term consequences are and how one explains them to our friends in Israel if as a result of the election in the U.S. some of the more hardline forces in Jerusalem line up with some of the more hardline assumptions of the new administration, leading to actions that will compromise the prospects of a two-state solution.

BLACKWILL: Well, let me chime in. First of all, we didn’t write this anticipating any particular outcome. And when you get a chance to read it, you’ll see that, because some of the things we recommend would not have been congenial to a Clinton administration and some of them may not be congenial to a Trump administration. So this is what we think, not anticipating who was going to be the president, the secretary of state, and so forth.

Second, I am cautious here about predicting what the new administration will do. I’ve gone myself personally through deep involvement in three transitions, and sometimes there’s not only very little relationship between what candidates say during a campaign and what they do in office, but there’s sometimes not so much connection between what the transition recommendations and what candidates say. So on the issue of what the administration will do and how it would perhaps interact with domestic political forces inside Israel, I’m not going to predict that. But what we do say, what we do say is that we’re—in the relationship, we’re in a difficult period, and we’re worried about it because both Phil and I have been devoted to the U.S.-Israel relationship for decades, and so here’s what we think should be done. And for example, we don’t think, as we’ve said explicitly, that we should—the United States should abandon the nuclear agreement. Now, the Israeli prime minister’s already spoken on the subject and hopes that the United States will. So all we can do as analysts and policy prescribers is say what we think should be done.

I want to though on your question take it one step further and raise just one issue because we think it’s important, but it’s not in the report, and that is moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. We believe, Phil and I—though it’s not in the report—that this would be a very serious mistake and could ignite violence, substantial violence in the occupied territories and against Israel, and also could have very negative consequences for the U.S. and for Israel in the Middle East. So we certainly hope that won’t happen.

LEVINE: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thanks. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Jay Kansara with Hindu American Foundation.

KANSARA: Hello. Can you hear me?

FASKIANOS: We can.

BLACWILL: Yes.

KANSARA: Oh, hi. So I just visited Israel last month on behalf of HAF, but I ask this question of personal capacity, so please keep that in mind. My question is, I noticed in your report that you didn’t mention anything about multilateral approaches to this, and with a burgeoning relationship with—between Israel and India and with a very strong diaspora population of Indian-Americans that are ever increasingly becoming more powerful in U.S. politics, how do you—how can we leverage these two factors to enhance a U.S.-Israel relationship, if you believe we can at all? Thank you.

BLACKWILL: Let me start that, if I might, just because I was U.S. ambassador, as you know, to India, and Mother India is never very far from my preoccupations. In fact, I’m going to India right after the first of the year to present at the Jaipur Literature Festival. So let me just say one of the positive developments for Israel in the last decade, as you know—you’ve just been there—has been the development of the India-Israel relationship, and it’s now going full tilt, especially on the security side, and that’s all to the good for both countries.

However—and then I’ll let Phil chime in on the other multilateral dimensions—but let me just say—and again, you said you were speaking personally. So am I and so is Phil. I myself think that India, the Indian government will be very hesitant to involve itself in the disputes regarding the Palestinians that we’ve been discussing. With this very, very large Muslim population inside India, I just don’t think that India will imagine it’s in its interest to—while it’s strengthening the bilateral relationship with Israel, is going to want to get into the very disputatious parts of Israel’s relationship either with the Palestinians or more broadly in the region.

Phil, over to you.

GORDON: Thanks, Bob. So here’s what I would add. As noted already, we think it is a good thing and a true thing that Israel is expanding its relationships with a lot of countries all over the world—India is one—but with a bunch of African countries, already mentioned Arab countries. That’s all to the good. But I agree with Bob that that’s not going to make a significant difference on the question of negotiating with the Palestinians.

I would add on your broader multilateral point, of course there is a role for multilateralism on that issue. We don’t, however, think that the time is ripe for a big multilateral negotiation that would lead to a comprehensive piece. Obviously, we’d love to see that, but let’s—we have to be honest—and we’re honest in the report—that conditions are not ripe. And so neither the Quartet—you know, the institutions that are involved in this issue—nor the U.N., nor the Arab partners are going to do that. And that’s why if you look carefully, our recommendations on this issue are really things that Israel can—we think Israel can and should do unilaterally. Again, we would love to see, you know, as soon as possible a comprehensive negotiation that leads to a two-state solution. That’s what we think would be the ultimate necessary result. But short of that, and until that is possible, what we spell out is a list of things that Israel can and should do in its own interests, not as part of multilateralism, not even part of a comprehensive solution, but because it is in Israel’s interest to do. And that’s what we think this needs to start with and that’s what we hope, frankly, Israelis will take seriously, you know, with hopefully support from the U.S. and the administration, the measures that are in its own hands to proceed with. That would demonstrate that it genuinely is committed to a two-state solution, that it cares about Palestinians’ lives on a daily basis, and that it’s, you know, interested in Israel’s long-term future as a democratic and Jewish state.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from John Pawlikowski with Catholic Theology Union.

PAWLIKOWSKI: Hello. I was just wondering, in your report you proposed that the new administration should invite Prime Minister Netanyahu to Camp David for an extensive discussion. But you don’t seem to indicate any desire to establish a more in-depth discussion with Palestinian leadership, and I was wondering if you feel that that also is important and how while it might not be an invitation to Camp David, but that there would be a more structured conversation trying to ascertain what the Palestinian viewpoint would be in some of these questions.

BLACKWILL: Phil, you want to take that one?

GORDON: Sure, I’m happy to pick that up. I mean, understand this is a report about the U.S.-Israel relationship, so, you know, the absence of any reference to how we deal with the Palestinians shouldn’t be taken as overlooking that. We’re talking about strengthening the U.S. relationship and we make the case as to why it would be useful for the new administration to invite the Israeli prime minister, you know, putting aside the baggage that has built up on these differences over the years, underscoring the importance of the relationship, and really getting down to a very honest and frank conversation about how the two sides can bolster the relationship. And Bob spelled that all out for you, and we actually think it needs to be followed up institutionally with a strategic dialogue among the top people on both sides because this relationship requires so much attention, but just to stress that by no means suggests ignoring the Palestinian side of the equation. Again, this report about Israel—Israel-Palestinian, Israel-Iran, Israel in the region, bilateral, economic—so that was the focus of the report. But in terms of the Palestinian issue, of course the United States needs to engage. They are probably on the verge of a leadership transition, and we need to be in close touch with that so that when the time is right we are able to help facilitate the bilateral steps in the negotiations that we think ultimately will be necessary. But the United States also has interests in supporting, working with the Palestinians, and obviously needs to be part of our diplomacy as well.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Michelle Bentsman with Harvard Divinity School.

BENTSMAN: Hi, thanks for your talk. Can you hear me?

BLACKWILL: Yes, hear you fine.

BENTSMAN: OK, great. I’m curious about your recommendation to weaken the burgeoning Russian influence. In your report, you note that Jerusalem is moving towards better relations with Moscow. And given this recent news in Aleppo and Trump’s appointment for secretary of state, I’m wondering how this policy recommendation can express itself right now, and more broadly, how important is this.

BLACKWILL: Well, again, this is not a report about U.S.-Russian relations, but our view is that the Russian interaction in the last 18 months, its dramatic entry, the first time really since the 1970s into the high diplomacy of the Middle East, has been nearly entirely negative. And so the question is what can the United States do. And we understand that Israel will have a different perspective on this than the United States, which has global responsibilities. And of course, Israel is preoccupied with its formidable regional challenges. But we think that—I mean, we’re not going to here, I think, policy prescribe, but obviously the United States, if it continues—and I don’t know if you’ve been out in the region recently, but there is a perception—Phil and I have both been out there—in the Arab Middle East, and there is a perception of American withdrawal. I won’t now do the merits of the case, but there’s certainly a very strong perception of American withdrawal from the region. You’ll recall that one of our recommendations is that the new president disabuse the Israeli prime minister and all our friends and partners in the region that we are withdrawing; and then, second, to build up leverage so that Russia will be more influenced by our policy preferences in the region. You’ve just seen this terrible tragedy in Aleppo with the most brutal sort of Russian behavior, and we think the United States shouldn’t continue to stand passive while Russia acts in such a deeply uncivilized way. But, again, to conclude, this is not a report about U.S.-Russian relations, which of course has many dimensions really across Eurasia and in the Middle East.

Phil, I don’t know whether you want to chime in.

GORDON: No, I think that’s good, and I think it covers it. Thanks.

FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to try to squeeze in one last question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our last question comes from Peter Vander Meulen with Christian Reformed Church.

VANDER MEULEN: Yeah, you mentioned that you believe that there’s no better solution than the two-state solution, and I’m wondering if you could just outline maybe a couple of reasons for dismissing the possibility of the one-state solution.

BLACKWILL: Phil, why don’t you take it away?

GORDON: I’ll start with that, sure. We just don’t imagine, given the demographics of the situation and the Palestinian aspiration for statehood and sovereignty and dignity and freedom of movement, a scenario in which you have a greater Israeli with a majority Arab Palestinian population in one area, dominant in the West Bank, and a Jewish majority population on the other wide somehow fusing into one state, just because if it becomes a—you know, if it’s a democratic state and everybody is enfranchised and gets a vote, can you really imagine, you know, a majority government treating and tolerating the minority population well given the deep and profound differences they have over territory, law, and everything else? So you would have to presumably make a choice between a democratic country where the minority would live in fear of domination at the governmental level if there was, you know, one vote per person, or a nondemocratic country.

And that’s—you know, for some—people, there’s different versions of one-state solution. For the Palestinians who support it, they basically support it because they say, well, ultimately they’ll have a majority, and then it will be a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority and then they can rule their land. It doesn’t appear to us that that would work out very well. And then there’s an Israeli version of one-state solution, but that is a greater Israel, where Israel is a Jewish state, and it seems the only way it could be maintained would be a nondemocratic and illiberal Israel, where the Palestinian population wouldn’t have a full voice.

So, you know, as Bob mentioned, we’ve—because a two-state solution doesn’t seem around the corner and there are enormous obstacles to it, we all need to be open to all sorts of possibilities, and we have thought them through, but have yet to hear a case for a one-state solution that would lead to stability and security and the preservation of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state, which has been a U.S. interest for a long time. So, you know, if someone can come up with one, it is worthy of debate. But we don’t see it, and therefore think that where U.S. policy has been for more two decades, which is trying to produce a democratic and secure Jewish state of Israel living side by side and in peace with a sovereign Palestinian state, remains the most viable and most necessary outcome.

FASKIANOS: Bob, any closing words?

BLACKWILL: No, except thanks, everybody, for participating.

FASKIANOS: Well, I—yes.

GORDON: Yeah, thanks, everybody.

FASKIANOS: And thanks to both of you, to Ambassador Robert Blackwill and Dr. Philip Gordon, for sharing your report with us and your analysis. We appreciate it. Thanks to all of you for your excellent questions and comments. We encourage you to visit CFR’s website regularly at CFR.org and also follow our Religion and Foreign Policy Initiative on Twitter, @CFR_Religion, about upcoming events and information about the latest CFR resources. So thank you all again. We look forward to your participation in future conversations, and I wish you a very happy holiday season.

GORDON: Thanks, Irina. Thanks, everybody.

BLACKWILL: Thanks, everybody. Bye-bye.

(END)

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