The Current Israeli-Palestinian Crisis: Possibilities for New Junctures or a Return to Status Quo?

Friday, May 21, 2021
Ammar Awad/REUTERS

Associate Professor, Africana Studies and the Program in Criminal Justice, Rutgers University; Cofounding Editor, Jadaliyya; Editorial Committee Member, Journal of Palestine Studies; Author, Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine

Distinguished Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; Former U.S. Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations (20132014); Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel (19951997; 20002001); @Martin_Indyk


International Correspondent, NPR; CFR Member

Panelists discuss the Biden administration's response to the crisis in Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank, including next steps beyond the ceasefire.

AMOS: Thank you so much. This is one of those meetings that you have to have. Everybody has been watching this story and we have two marvelous guests to talk about it. First, there's Martin Indyk, he's a distinguished fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, former U.S. envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and a former U.S. ambassador to Israel. We have Noura Erakat, associate professor, Africana studies and the program in criminal justice at Rutgers University, and cofounding editor of Jadaliyya, an editorial committee member, Journal of Palestine Studies, and the author of Justice For Some: Law and the Question of Palestine. We have a name for our talk today, "Current Israeli-Palestinian Crisis: Possibility for New Junctures or a Return to Status Quo?" I think whatever we call it, we are in some uncharted territories. I'm Deborah Amos, I'm an international correspondent for NPR. We have three hundred people who are with us today. So we'll try to get to your questions about halfway through.


I want to start by asking both of our guests—report today of clashes at Al-Aqsa mosque, also reports today of the first humanitarian convoy that got to Shifa hospital from Anera. Nouri, are we in a ceasefire that lasts? Is this the beginning of a new phase?


ERAKAT: Thank you so much, Deborah, and to the Council on Foreign Relations. I think that's an excellent question. What we should recognize as the declaration of a ceasefire is the cessation of aerial bombardment and tank artillery shells from the perimeter of this besieged Gaza Strip, but not a cessation of violence that governs and regulates Palestinian lives. Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, the East Jerusalem community that has been marked for removal, along with the Palestinians in Silwan and Isawiya, who have also been marked for removal, are still struggling to stay in their home. Palestinians who are citizens of the state of Israel and have been telling us for decades that they do not enjoy equality in a state that describes itself as a state not for its citizens, but for its Jewish.


Nationals have been attacked and continued to be attacked by Jewish Zionist mobs who are protected by Israeli police. One Israeli Palestinian said very clearly, "I'm a taxpayer in Israel and I can't even call anyone to protect me because they are protecting the mobs that are attacking us." And Palestinians throughout the West Bank, who have been shot with sniper fire, are still not enjoying a cessation of violence. This is a structural form of violence where there is no parity, but where there is a deep power imbalance that subjects Palestinians to a regime of racial domination that Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem have described as apartheid. And we're constantly marked for removal and concentration into smaller enclaves of land as Israel expands its territorial takings. So I applaud the cessation of aerial strikes, which have been devastating, but want to urge those who care about violence that there is no cessation until they end the nature and structure of violence that is the root of this. What you have all described as a "conflict," what Palestinians have described as a "freedom struggle."


AMOS: Martin, do you see that we are in a new era? In a new ceasefire that is different than other times in the region? I mean, last time this happened was seven years ago. Are we in a new cycle or is this something different?


INDYK: I think it's too early to tell, but it could be. I think that there are a lot of factors and interests in restoring the status quo ante, which would essentially involve a ceasefire settling down to a relationship of what Prime Minister Netanyahu calls "quiet for quiet." Where Hamas rules in Gaza, Palestinian Authority rules in 40 percent of the West Bank, in civil affairs responsible for 90 percent of the Palestinians who live in the West Bank in that 40 percent of the territory. And Israel's occupation of the West Bank continues, its control over what goods flow into and out of Gaza continues, runs that kind of blockade together with Egypt, and both sides kind of go back to preparing for the next round. As you said, it lasted for seven years last time. The Israeli army's estimate is that they've set Hamas back its infrastructure, its leadership, and so on, by some five years. So certainly on the Israeli side, there's an expectation that this is just a restoration of the status quo for five years or so.


On the Palestinian side, and I think what you're hearing from Noura is a very good example of the shift. She didn't talk about national rights. She, of course, will speak for herself, but I think, in listening to her, interpreting what I'm hearing, it's a different tune. It's about rights. Human rights, it's not about national rights. I don't think that we are hearing from the Palestinians, we have to wait to see what the leadership of Hamas and the Palestinian president says, and now what his objectives are, but it seems that the running is being done by a spokesman who are focused on human rights issues for the Palestinians who are in the West Bank and Gaza, and equal rights for Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, within Israel proper. That's a very different discourse. Engagement, it's something that has been talked about for a long time, but it will be interesting to see whether this crisis has now caused a kind of coalescence. You do see a new manifestation in the United States on the progressive wing of the Democratic party, which is focused on these issues of rights, and it's beginning to creep into the rhetoric of the Biden administration. With the president yesterday, in the short remarks he made after the ceasefire was agreed on, talking about, for the first time--I tend to be an aficionado of the language of U.S. policy--for the first time, we have the president of the United States talking about "equal." That the Palestinians and Israelis should enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, dignity, and so on. That word equal for me, is a signpost that the argument about rights, rather than about a two-state solution, is what is emerging from this crisis.


AMOS: Sounds like a one-state solution, Martin.


ERAKAT: Deborah, do you mind if I jump in?


AMOS: Certainly, certainly.


ERAKAT: I just want to point out that, with all due respect, it's so rare to have Palestinians speak for themselves that I would just like to be able to speak for myself and unfiltered. I appreciate the gesture to try to translate me to the rest of the audience, but one of the reasons we haven't been heard in these fora and elsewhere is because of punishment and censor. People like Angela Davis have had rewards revoked, colleagues have had their tenure denied, I've been FOIA’ed three times, others have been punished severely. This is a unique opportunity.


I'd like to answer the question about that shift and the consolidation of this discourse and communicate that to the audience. For most Palestinians, including as early as the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed, it was clear then to many Palestinians who endorsed a two-state solution, as recognized by the 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence where they recognized Israel, endorsed two-for-two, endorsed partition in 181, but they did not endorse the Oslo Accords, which was a back channel agreement that surrendered all of Palestinian rights, what Edward Said eloquently described as our Versailles. If you read the documents, and I do this in my book, thinking I would translate the legalese. I found myself not having to translate it because it's apparent to anyone who's literate, there's no Palestinian state that's promised in the U.S. brokered peace process. What they promised is autonomy. What they promised is a form of derivative sovereignty, which is a reflection of the Yigal Allon Plan of 1968 and a reflection of the (inaudible) on the floor today as it's coming into fruition. The first Israeli leader to even acknowledge there might be a Palestinian state was Ehud Barak in 2000. I want to emphasize he was the last Israeli leader to even recognize that there would ever be a Palestinian state.


So since what's known as the second Palestinian Intifada between 2000 and 2005 most Palestinians have recognized the death of the peace process and the death of the two-state solution. Under its liberal veneer, Israel has been able to expand its holding, create new facts on the ground, and then ask Palestinians to be pragmatic. Settled settlers have increased from 200,000 to 600,000. The Jordan Valley is 30 percent of the West Bank under de facto annexation. The annexation wall or separation barrier, however you'd like to call it, eats up 13 percent of West Bank lands. Jerusalem has come under what Israel declares its full sovereignty, and the Gaza Strip is besieged. So the fact that the two-state solution has been dead is not merely opinion or movement, it is also reflective of empirical evidence on the ground and Palestinians have used the right space framework in order to overcome our political intransigence because we have not had capable leadership to articulate that to the world.


AMOS: Thanks, Noura. Let me get back to the current situation because we are not going to solve this one in the next hour. So here's what has been noteworthy to me to watch the coverage here. Both the New York Times and Politico had a piece by Aaron David Miller and Dan Kurtzer. Both articles suggest that Netanyahu and Hamas need each other. That they don't make any tacit agreements, but they both see the situation and play on each other. It looks like there's going to be another election. It is possible that Netanyahu will not lose his job. I'm not saying that he started this for that reason, but it works in his favor, it works in Hamas' favor. First of all, I want both of you to comment on that. This time I'll start with Martin. Do you think that that is a correct analysis of what has happened? And if it is, then how do you stop another round? Martin?


INDYK: The situation in Israel is uncertain, to say the least. There is a process underway in which the Leader of the Opposition Yair Lapid has the mandate to try to form a government. It looks unlikely that he's going to be able to do that. Netanyahu has already tried himself and failed. So the next step may be that it will go to the Knesset and under the election rules, if there's somebody in the Knesset that can get a majority then that person will form a government. But that's probably not going to happen and so as a result, we're likely to see that there's a fifth election.


Whether Netanyahu will benefit from this latest round of the conflict or not remains to be seen. Certainly with his right wing, religious base, I think that his tough line against Hamas will help him, but he hasn't, in four elections now in two years, he hasn't been able to move the needle enough to get him a majority with that right wing religious coalition. It might this time around, but I could argue the other way that Israelis are unhappy at the way that this crisis has ended, that half of them were in air raid shelters sheltering from rockets, the commercial traffic has been disrupted. The arguments that somehow Israel's achieved a great victory, which is what Netanyahu is trying to argue now is, I don't think, felt by Israelis generally. So it could actually end up hurting him rather than helping him so I just think it's very uncertain at this point how this war will play itself out in Israeli politics,


AMOS: Noura before the most recent events, Hamas was losing popularity. It looked like there would be Israeli Palestinians in the Knesset, it looked like Lapid was going to—the people who were trying to form a new government would actually bring Arab parties into the Knesset for the first time. That's off the table. Do you think that that slip is a good thing or a bad thing as one of the casualties of the most recent events?


ERAKAT: I think that Hamas' popularity has been significantly waning and they faced a significant amount of political critique from Palestinians across the political spectrum and Palestinian geographies. Palestinians also recognize that they have never been given the right to govern. That that mandate in their parliamentary victory was never recognized which is what Hamas now holds over everyone's head. And it's our collective responsibility because of that lack--give them the right to govern, let them succeed, let them fail. I think that what we've seen now is an upsurge of Hamas popularity because Palestinians see them as reminding the world and reminding Israel that you cannot just subjugate Palestinians and allow them to die quietly, which has become the status quo. We have become quite comfortable with a subjugation and what again, I'm just going to name it, apartheid, has done to Palestinian lives and the slow death that even if their life is not taken in the flesh, their possibilities of thriving, of traveling, of building families of attending schools, of sheltering their children are quite limited. That lifespan is limited of what some might call "social death." And yet the world seems to accept that form of violence. Because what the international community has supported is containing the conflict, but not resolving it and certainly not centering Palestinian life as equal in this equation.


Regarding Hamas in Israel, the greatest amount of stability or quiet, so to speak, from the Gaza Strip into Hamas has been during Israeli-Hamas ceasefires, which they have recognized, those have been destabilized. But Israel recognizes, from its own mouth, that it doesn't want to take Hamas out because it is actually providing stability and they see it as a better alternative to the other Palestinians factions who might come to take their place. So it's important to remember here that Hamas is often thrown around as the condition to lifting the siege and creating a new chapter, but that's just not true. Israel has been encircling the Gaza Strip since 1993 when they established their first militarized perimeter around it. Yitzhak Rabin has made it clear, even though he was known as the peace dove, made it clear that Gaza would be isolated, de-developed, and separated from the larger question of Palestine. I think that's become clear for people who now I see headlines that invite me on to television, Israel-Gaza conflict. It's not Israel-Gaza, it's Israel-Palestine. And this recent, what Palestinians have regarded as their uprising of unity, has reminded the world, again, that Palestinians are a singular nation being subject to a singular regime of removal and replacement.


AMOS: I wondered if you both thought this was true. People have been writing that you can no longer ignore the Israel-Palestine dynamic that the Trump administration did. Arab diplomats warn the Biden administration that the tension was uncontainable. There were articles about it that you could see. Martin, you have written in the Wall Street Journal that, you know, you certainly have been applauding the pivot that maybe it's time for the Americans to finally make that pivot to Asia. And Noura, I'll start with Martin and then go to Noura. Same question to you, which is, do you think that this is the time for the pivot? Or do the Americans have to jump back in with a record of limited success? Let's start with Martin.


INDYK: You know, the question of American interests in this conflict is what I have been trying to address. And the argument that the United States needs to focus on other interests is an argument more broadly about its interests in the Middle East, and more generally, the way in which those have changed over time, particularly with the natural gas fracking revolution and a reduction in dependence on Middle Eastern oil. On the other hand, the rise of China and the challenge that it presents to the United States and our interests in in Asia. So that the process of shifting priorities from the Middle East to Asia started under Barack Obama, he was the one who introduced the idea of the pivot. And was then pursued in a strange way, but, nevertheless, was still pursued by the Trump administration. And now the Biden administration is basically making clear that that's it priority. So its approach to the Middle East is to try to calm things down, so that it can deal with these other priorities, not just China, but climate change, Russian assertiveness, and, of course, global issues like the pandemic and nuclear proliferation, that's where they come to focus on Iran.


But the overall approach to the region is to try to calm things down and because there was this sense, as it turns out, a false sense that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was in a kind of sustainable status quo. That previous administrations had argued that the status quo was not sustainable and yet, somehow, it continued to be stable. There was a sense that we could look away and not have to worry about it. We didn't appoint an ambassador to Israel, we didn't reestablish the Consul General in Jerusalem for the Palestinians, something that the President Biden had promised in his campaign. And I think that was a manifestation of the sense that we didn't need to focus on this. There was a special envoy appointed for Yemen because of the conflict there which was creating a humanitarian crisis of disastrous proportions. We appointed a special envoy for Libya because there seemed to be an opportunity to calm things down there. But on the Israeli-Palestinian front, there wasn't a feeling that it needed to be addressed. Now it's erupted and it obviously is going to have to be addressed in some more active way. But I don't think that the administration believes, and I think they're right in this, that there's a way to somehow end this conflict, somehow to restart final status negotiations and negotiate a two-state solution.


So instead, as I started to say at the beginning, the focus is inevitably going to be on a conflict management and an active conflict management approach to try to keep this calm, so that the administration can continue on its path of focusing elsewhere. That, in a sense, leaves it up to the Israelis and Palestinians to sort it out for themselves. But there will be a good deal of focus by the administration on things like what happens next in Jerusalem. And at the kind of micro level of what happens with evictions or what happens on the Haram al-Sharif Temple Mount, with the police and Muslim prayer in the Al-Aqsa mosque, whether there'll be demolitions or expansion of settlements, because all of those things now have the potential to erupt again, have the potential to give Hamas an opportunity to, again, try to show that it's the champion of the Palestinian cause. And so, I think what you're going to see is this kind of tactical approach to active conflict management.


AMOS: Noura, the Americans have said, it looks like, they're going to take over from Qatar in the rebuilding efforts. Not that Qatar did such a great job last time, and it wasn't for one of money, but it just didn't kind of work. I wondered if you thought that this conflict needs the Americans or if they're better off without them.


ERAKAT: Great question. Even asking should the Biden administration be more involved or not obscures the fact that even if Biden said nothing, the U.S. is unequivocally supporting Israel and enabling its ongoing regime of apartheid. The U.S. has, since 1946 to 2017, provided Israel with $134,776,000,709 in aid, has blocked forty-three UN Security Council resolutions aimed at resolving this conflict, aimed at holding Israel to account. So for many people who believe that this is in fact intractable are failing to recognize the U.S. is not merely a witness or somebody on the side or another country on the sidelines, but is an active player in this, in sustaining this regime of violence against Palestinians.


The U.S. has this track record, it did the same in protecting apartheid South Africa and Southwest Africa, now known as Namibia. In that case, it provided the greatest number of Security Council resolutions also protecting the apartheid regime. So when we talk about what is the Biden administration doing, the quiet isn't quiet, it's actually an active engagement and Palestinians have asked them to actually be held to account. The fact that they have called legal efforts to hold Israel to account at the International Court of Justice or at the International Criminal Court, the U.S. has called that counterproductive to peace and attacked them, have sanctioned them. Within the United States, there are forty-one out of fifty states that have targeted boycott, divestment, and sanctions, which is a nonviolent tactic that's being used, either to criminalize it or to punish those who participate in it.


And then thinking about the rest of the Middle East, right? This can't be isolated, the U.S.'s devastation of Iraq, its creation of a power vacuum, the lack of accountability for the 2003 invasion, the fact that it is actually involved in Syria, the fact that it is not holding Saudi Arabia to account for its ongoing aerial war campaign against Yemen, is all part of this singular picture. And why there have been American generals who have said, for the U.S. to continue to expand its own national interests, however those may be defined, it needs to resolve the question of Palestine. The last time the United States was even seen as an ally of the Palestinians was in 1917, when in the aftermath of the First World War Palestinians saw the Woodrow Wilson administration as a more fair mandatory power than the British or the French. And of course, that unequivocally changed since 1967, when the Lyndon B. Johnson administration inaugurated policy of providing Israel with a qualitative military edge to singularly or collectively defeat any Middle Eastern army, and the Land for Peace framework, which has framed any international law or accountability as counterproductive to peace. And so that's been consistent across Democratic and Republican administrations. What we're seeing now is a wedge between Republicans and Democrats on this issue, I think thanks to Trump. Although the Biden administration is continuing many of the policies, including maintaining the embassy in Jerusalem, including recognizing Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is completely illegal. We're seeing an even greater wedge within the progressive flank of Democrats, as it should be, this is an American issue, we cannot escape it so long as we remain the number one provider and enabler of Israel's violence against Palestinians.


AMOS: I want to thank you both and now I'm going to open it up to questions from the audience, we have a fulsome group here. Kayla, I'm going to ask you to help out with selecting those questions and calling on people, so over to you, Kayla.


STAFF:  (Gives queueing instructions.) We'll take our first question from Barbara Slavin.


Q: Hi, thank you so much. I'm Barbara Slavin, I work on Iran at the Atlantic Council, but the Israeli-Palestinian issue is also something I've dealt with for many, many years. Continuing with the apartheid South Africa analogy, a question to Ms. Erakat. And, may I say, it's a great pleasure to see a young Palestinian woman expressing the case. There is a prisoner in Israeli jail, Marwan Barghouti, who has been there for a very, very long time. Someone who is respected, as far as I know, by all Palestinians, West Bank, Gaza, etc. Should the United States and the international community urge the Israeli government to release him and let him stand for election in long overdue Palestinian elections or at least participate in some way in a resumed peace process? Discussion about one, state two state, however this is going to go. Thank you.


ERAKAT: Thank you, Barbara. I want to point out that I appear young but there are much younger Palestinians now who are leading me, including (unintelligible) Mohammed El-Kurd, Mariam Barghouti, we are many. It also indicates that we have been able to continue to keep the Palestinian struggle alive to unite in a general strike with the absence of any formal leadership. Can you imagine that? We are decentralized, we are unfunded, we are under attack, and yet still breaking through significant barriers in order to reach you and to be able to have you hear us express these basic facts. So thank you for uplifting that.


In regard to Marwan Barghouti. I mean, I think it would be remarkable, I think it would be paradigm shifting to release him, and to allow him to run for office. He was trying to run for office now within prison. But I want to emphasize something, that the reason and this connects to the first point about our young leadership and its decentralized form. And yet, Mahmoud Abbas is now with an illegitimate mandate to govern because he has not been elected into office and continues to run on executive action that is coercive in nature is because it is tremendous to expect a people under occupation who are policed, who are arrested without due process, who are placed in administrative detention, who are assassinated, who are exiled, to also under those conditions to produce a legitimate and robust leadership. When I go, and I was as a human rights advocate prior to my career now as an academic, used to lobby UN Security members in New York or used to lobby the State Department. The language I would constantly hear is, "You represent human rights organizations, but we are beholden to the Palestinian political leadership." So we do not have anyone's ear, we do not have the financial support, we do not have the legitimacy to be able to build a robust leadership and yet that is constantly being demanded in us, which I want to highlight to the listeners is excessive and surreal. So, yes, it would be phenomenal to release Marwan Barghouti and allow him to run for office but would be really amazing is if we were able to govern without being in an open air prison because any governance in those conditions is basically giving us the authority to choose how to decorate our prison cells, but not allowing us to be free.


INDYK: Can I just make one comment? A quick one. Neither Barbara nor Noura mentioned that he is in prison because he's convicted on five separate charges of terrorism related to the Intifada. And while we have, we the United States, in various formats, sought his release, the fact that Marwan Barghouti is convicted on those five charges has made it impossible to do so.


ERAKAT: And just to be clear to the audience, also, Marwan Barghouti was convicted in an Israeli military court which has a 99.9 percent conviction rate of Palestinians, where there are no witnesses, where there is no evidence against children and adults alike. I also want to tell the audience a very personal story. My cousin Ahmed Erakat, twenty-seven years old, was traveling between two Palestinian cities, Abu Dis and Bethlehem, to decorate his sister's car last summer, was shot six times above the waist with his hands up unarmed when his car went out of control. He was immediately declared a terrorist without any trial and his body continues to be held in a refrigerator at Tel Aviv University to punish his family. So we are in a condition where there are charges made against us, against our intentions, and against our humanity without a fair hearing. So I would just put that out there as well.


INDYK: The two are not the same. And I agree—


ERAKAT: But the 99.9 percent conviction rate stands on its own.


INDYK: --I agree with you completely the treatment of your cousin is unacceptable—


ERAKAT: And I hope you join the chorus asking for his release.


INDYK: —But that's not the case with Marwan Barghouti. And Marwan Barghouti himself doesn't contest that he was involved in these terrorist attacks that killed innocent Israeli civilians.


AMOS: Kayla, let's have another question.


STAFF: We'll take our next question from Peter Galbraith.


Q: Thank you. And thank you, particularly to Professor Erakat, for a presentation that has the kind of passion that is not usual in Council events, but certainly appreciate it. My question, though, is to Martin, and also thank you for your interesting thoughts. But the question is this, does the shift in the Democratic party with an increasing number of people no longer automatically taking the Israeli side, does that worry the Israelis at all as they look to the future? Are there people who are concerned that getting in bed with the American right and with people like Trump may not actually be in the best long-term interest of Israel?


INDYK: I think that there are many Israelis who are concerned about it but not Prime Minister Netanyahu. Because he made a deliberate bet on the Republicans and on the evangelicals, to the extent even of downgrading the importance of the American Jewish community and their interests which he disregarded when it came to such things as who is a Jew and prayer at the Western Wall, and these kinds of issues that American Jews cared about greatly. So I don't think that he's bothered about it, except for the fact that the Democrats happen to be in power for the time being. Many of the people who criticized his approach pointed out that the pendulum would swing and the Democrats would come back. So the chickens are coming home to roost for him.


It manifests itself very clearly in this crisis, where we see the progressive wing of the Democratic Party speaking out strongly in support of Palestinian rights and, I think, amplifying the case that Noura Erakat is making. That's a new phenomenon. It's been developing over the last four years since Rashida Tlaib and AOC and "the Squad", so called, who have been making this point about Palestinian rights for the last four years. But it reflects something else that's going on in the Democratic party that is manifesting itself in this crisis, which is that as support for Israel in the Democratic party, amongst Democratic voters, has been dropping steadily over the last ten years, to the point that there is now like a forty-point gap between Democratic support for Israel and Republican support for Israel. That was bound to manifest itself eventually in congressional opinion, but it took quite some time, there was a lag factor. Now it is there very clearly. And what's interesting about that is that it is finding expression among not just the progressives that I mentioned but amongst Jewish members of Congress who are traditionally the strongest supporters of Israel, like Adam Schiff, or Jerry Nadler, and also others, like Bob Menendez. Senator Menendez, the strongest advocate of Israel in the Senate, has also come out and criticized Israel's actions during this crisis. So I think that within the Democratic Party, what we've seen, is a very clear shift. It's described as a kind of division or fraction, but I actually see it as a trend and a shift more in the direction of support for Palestinian rights and criticism of Israel.


In the past, Israel has been able to deal with this by arguing that it is making peace and it is trying to resolve the problem through the peace process. But that is no longer an argument that can be made since there is no viable peace process and no attempt to try to resurrect one. So in that kind of vacuum, you can't beat something with nothing, especially in Washington. I think that there is much greater room for the arguments that Noura is making here on behalf of the Palestinians than would normally be the case.


ERAKAT: If I can jump in, I just want to add a few things which is to highlight. Thank you, Peter, if I may, for the question. And also to highlight that the former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer recently noted this shift especially amongst American Jews, and said that he advises Israel to create greater inroads with evangelicals who are more committed to Israel than are American Jews. I think that raises for us the critical question, is combating anti-Semitism the same thing as protecting Israel? For many of us who have been a part of an intersectional justice movement, we do not think so. And for most of the American Jewish comrades who are in struggle with us, they don't identify it as such. Especially for those who identify the Jewish tradition as a justice tradition and have now been formatively shaped by the greatest justice movements of our time in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the movement in Standing Rock against greater expansion of the Keystone oil pipeline.


In identifying with those movements and finding that in those grassroots configurations, Palestine has been central to that question because it brings within the scope that the United States’ domestic policy is a reflection of its foreign policy as well. And that the circuits of repression, or that the distribution of weapons is connected to what the U.S. does abroad. So the 1033 program within the Pentagon of distributing excess military weapons to local precincts, is harming Black communities at the same time that it is wrapped up in the harm to Palestinian communities. So yes, I do think, whether we describe it as a division or a shift, it does reflect a generational shift of how we define justice and what our commitment to justice for all people is. Not to the exclusion of any and central to that, obviously, is a commitment to combat anti-Semitism looks like.


AMOS: Kayla?


STAFF: We'll take our next question from Maurice Sonnenberg.


Q: Can you see me now? Hear me? Yeah.


AMOS: We can.


Q: Martin, you may want to get into this. I got on this call about ten minutes late. I'd like to know a little more about Iran in this whole situation. And I say that because whether it's Yemen, or more so, even more important what's happening in Lebanon. My Lebanese friends, frankly, are going through hell, Hezbollah, as you know, is controlling Lebanon, basically. My Lebanese friends can't get there. And I didn't mean to get off the topic of Palestine. But the question then is, and you know the situation in Lebanon and Iran and Hezbollah and what's going on. So my question is, how deep and where does this fit in? Alright, some of the rockets, I understand that they came from Iran. But more than that, the political aspects of my Arab friends who come from the Gulf states, who unfortunately. Look, to the lady, I understand what you're saying. They’re not so sympathetic to Palestine, even now, and that's partly in their mind of what's going on in Lebanon and other places and Iran's involvement. Now, maybe either one of you want to get into it.


ERAKAT: I just want to highlight, Maurice, my name is at the bottom of the window. My name is Noura Erakat. I'm an associate professor at Rutgers. I understand you missed the beginning. Hello. You called me lady. I just thought I'd share. Thank you.


INDYK: Introduce yourself. Fair enough.


ERAKAT: Martin, if you want to answer first, I'll go after you.


INDYK: Thank you. So Iran does support Hamas, it gives financial and military support as helping to smuggle weapons into Gaza. But its real support goes to the Palestine Islamic Jihad, which is kind of a junior partner to Hamas and is pretty much a wholly owned subsidiary of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. And what is interesting about the current ceasefire, is that Palestine Islamic Jihad is going along with it. That is not always the case. Certainly, during the Intifada we witnessed a situation where Hamas, at times, was ready for a ceasefire and Palestine Islamic Jihad would go ahead and launch another terrorist raid or suicide bombing or so on that would cause Israeli retaliation and then Hamas would respond to that, and we'd be off to the races again. That hasn't happened this time.


And apropos of Lebanon, where I agree the situation is terrible there, but some rockets were fired at the beginning of this current crisis from Lebanon by some Palestinian faction. Hezbollah was very quick to dissociate itself from it, say they had nothing to do with it. And even though they're sitting there with 150,000 rockets, and they, too, would like to be able to say that they are the defenders of Jerusalem, as Hamas is doing now, they've stayed very quiet. I think that the explanation for this is that Iran has a bigger interest at stake in the negotiations that are going on in Vienna, where they seem to be making some progress on an arrangement that will be what's called compliance for compliance. Where the Iranians will come back into compliance with its obligations under the nuclear accord, JCPOA, and the United States will lift the sanctions related to that. I think that that's what they're focused on and the fact that the PIJ is going along with Hamas in this ceasefire is, I think, a reflection of their interest in not stirring things up when it comes to their higher interest in getting sanctions lifted.


AMOS: Noura, there's an interesting question on the table, which is, the Gulf Arabs, they were quiet. I am told behind the scenes, the Biden administration actually wanted them to say something, it would have strengthened their hand when they were asking, when Biden was saying, "We need the ceasefire today." How much of a shift is that and what does that mean to Palestinians as they watch that?


ERAKAT: Yeah, no. Maurice is right to point out this shift, and it's been a shift long ongoing that also reflects the U.S.'s interest in the region. In the invasion of Iraq in 2003, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made clear that that warfare and the humanitarian cries that we were hearing, the Iraqi children who were—

generations who were decimated, were the birth pangs of a new Middle East. And what we've seen is a regional reconfiguration in terms of geopolitical alignment that has made this far more of a sectarian issue aligned Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah as the opposition, an axis of opposition towards the regimes like the UAE, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Sisi's Egypt, and before that Mubarak's Egypt, as well as Israel in a sphere of U.S. influence that continues to mark the Middle East.


But what I want to emphasize here, though, is that the Iranian rule is overstated. Yes, I think that it explains a lot in terms of the regional politics. I think that that's precisely why we didn't hear from Gulf Arabs who are aligned with Israel and actually sabotaging a nuclear agreement being written up again, who have made this into a sectarian issue within the middle east of Shia versus Sunni to the detriment of the peoples. That was also reflected in the Abraham Accords. I want to remind people that the normalization with Israel was set as a precondition in UN Security Council 242 in the Land for Peace framework, that Israel could achieve permanent peace with Middle Eastern countries in exchange for returning territories to their rightful people. And yet here we see these Arab regimes entering into these normalization agreements without exacting a single enduring concession for Palestinians, not even a humanitarian concession in the form of easing the siege and what the people on the ground in the UAE, in Bahrain, in the Sudan where it was the military that negotiated the normalization agreement and not the civilian government. Is that this is actually entrenching their authoritarian regimes, who are repressing their freedom movements through the prism of what then gets sold to the world as furthering peace in the region. It aligns with the people on the ground, but as we've seen, that's not tenable. We saw that in the Arab uprisings in 2010, and now in the counter revolutions that are crushing those freedom movements. But these are untenable, you cannot oppress the people and subjugate them indefinitely, it's just not possible and that's as true in the Arab world and in the Middle East as it is true in the United States and all over the world.


AMOS: It reminds me when I covered the first Intifada and got to Gaza, and everybody said, "Oh, we knew this was coming because Palestinians stopped taking the taujihi, the test you have to take if you want to go to college. They just stopped, all of them." It's like, uh oh, something's going to happen. It's that hopelessness.


Let me see if we can get in one more. We have four minutes. So if everybody can be quick, we'll have one more question.


STAFF: We'll take our next question from Sarah Leah Whitson.


Q: Hi, there. Saved by the last question. Martin, about your article, I guess, a series of articles, about calling for U.S. retrenchment or withdrawal or shift, which I agree with Noura is problematic because it assumes that the status quo without a peace process is not actually engagement and involvement. By the logic of your own argument, do you therefore also agree that the U.S. should end its military support for Israel as a necessary part of its pivot and shift, as well as its military aid to Egypt and Jordan? Because a lot of times when people talk about American retrenchment or withdrawal from the Middle East, they fail to include these elements. And with respect to the diagnosis of a shift to a rights-based framework, do you believe that Israel should be a state where all of the people under its sovereignty have equal rights? Or do you think that Israel's existence depends on sort of ethno-national supremacy laws built into the mix to make it a Jewish state and a state for Jews? Even if that means inequality for Palestinians and other non-Jewish populations? And—


AMOS: Let me have you leave it there. We got three minutes. So we got just about enough time to answer coherently. Let's start with Martin and then we'll go to Noura for the last words.


INDYK: Okay. So it's not possible to answer all of that and I want to give Noura a chance to speak as well. So let me just say, number one, as we retrench from the region, we need to be concerned about who fills the vacuum. We see Russia, Turkey, Iran seeking to fill that vacuum and countries like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel, need to, as it was, step up as we're stepping down. So there's a role for security assistance in overall maintaining the balance in favor of kind of stability in strategic terms. Now, as far as Israel is concerned, I think it's important, and I draw a distinction, I don't think Noura does, but I do draw a distinction between Arab citizens of Israel who have equal rights under the law and I do strongly believe that they should be given equal rights, that the discrimination that has been there for a long time should be addressed, and if this crisis, and the way in which it has revealed this problem that's been there for a long time. At the same time, as Arab parties are moving into the mainstream of Israeli politics and potentially serving in government, that there is a real opportunity to address the issue of discrimination in Israel through simply the application of equal rights. When it comes to Palestinians under occupation, then I think that there is a lot that needs to be done by Israel, particularly in Jerusalem, and we don't have time to get into that.


But I think it's important to draw a distinction. Israel is as an occupying power has obligations as an occupying power and it should be held to those obligations. But I do not see a situation and wouldn't have support, I don't see there's any likelihood that it would come about, that the Palestinians who are under occupation in the West Bank will have equal rights under Israeli jurisdiction. Have the right to vote, those kinds of things, I think that is just not going to happen, it's not a practical approach.


AMOS: Okay, Noura, you get the last word.


ERAKAT: Yeah, I don't have a lot of time. I just want to emphasize, I'm sorry if I said about Iran that it's a sectarian issue, it's clearly a political issue, and about contest over regional hegemony.


As to this issue, let me just let Palestinians who are citizens of Israel speak for themselves, who have told us over and over again this week, including Aida Toma, who just published an article yesterday and is a member of Knesset, who reminds us that there is no equality. Israel has no constitution, does not uphold equality as a basic principle, has bifurcated Jewish nationality from Israeli citizenship in order to allow privileges of the state, whether it be employment, housing, land, citizenship, flow through nationality, even while it says that everybody is an Israeli citizen. There is ongoing removal and settlement within cities such as Lod that are "mixed cities." And Palestinians have reminded us, as have Israeli human rights organizations, like B'Tselem, who have reminded us that the central organizing principle of Israeli government, within Israel and beyond, is the principle of Jewish supremacy. And so I disagree with this last point, but I also acknowledge that this is the work that we're doing to highlight this and to highlight that our futures are not mutually exclusive, and that we will find ways in order to forge better futures with one another.


AMOS: I'd like to thank both of you for being with us for this virtual meeting. Martin Indyk, Noura Erakat, and everybody who joined us we have all been watching with great interest and now we are in some new phase, and I don't know if we actually defined it, but we tried.


Please note that the video and the transcript of today's meeting will be posted on the CFR website. Thanks, Kayla. Thanks all the technical crew for getting us up and intelligible for an hour in these Zoom times, and I hope everybody has a fabulous rest of the afternoon. Thank you.



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