Mr. Khaled Elgindy, Ms. Leila Hilal and Mr. Josh Ruebner
Transcript No. 370 (12 July 2012)
12 July 2012
The Palestine Center
Mr. Khaled Elgindy:
Thank you, [Palestine Center intern] Marion [Messmer], and thank you to the Palestine Center for having us. I think this is a very timely topic. It’s one that, unfortunately, given events around the region I think it’s not getting it’s due attention, specifically in this city [Washington,DC], but we’ll try to remedy that to the extent that we can on some level. Before I get into the substance of my talk, [I have] just a couple points by way of framing the issue at least as I see it. I think it’s important to make a couple distinctions between concepts that are often used interchangeably, particularly by U.S. policy makers and sometimes activists. But there is a distinction between (and it’s intuitive, it’s obvious), sometimes they’re used interchangeably, the peace process is a term we’re all familiar with, negotiations, and the two-state solution. These are not necessarily equal. They theoretically ought to be complementary and working in unison, but I think at least in my presentation I’ll be pointing out that’s not actually the case.
The peace process is, to put it in succinct terms, the negotiation infrastructure. It’s the policies and procedures and mechanisms that go, again, ostensibly in support of a negotiations process between Israelis and Palestinians. And of course the two-state solution is the goal of both the “peace process” and the negotiations. That said, the failure of the peace process, I think has serious implications. So they’re not all the same thing, but clearly the failure of the peace process I think has implications for the two-state solution itself.
So I’m going to take a bit of a broad view of this thing called the peace process and try to pick apart why I think it has failed and probably was destined to fail from the outset, just by its very structure. But before getting into what I see as the reasons for its failure, just to start with some misperceptions or myths.
The first myth that is prevalent around Washington is that the Arab Spring killed the peace process. The Arab Spring didn’t kill the peace process; the peace process was already dead. If it wasn’t already dead, then it was at least brain-dead and comatose for a very long time. What the Arab Spring did, I’ll get into that maybe at the end of my presentation.
The second myth you hear around Washington, particularly from policy makers, is “we can’t want it more than the parties do.” Implicit in that statement is a notion that somehow the parties can do it on their own. And that is simply not the case. If the parties can do it on their own, clearly they would have. But we have obviously a vast power imbalance as well as other circumstances that don’t allow the parties to do it on their own; in a way that’s a cop out.
And lastly what is a partial myth, or at least is an exaggeration, is that, in my view this is probably the most controversial of the three points, is that the gaps simply are too wide. Frankly, on this I think that the jury is still out. I think you could make a very compelling argument that the gaps are too wide, that it’s, in other words, impossible to negotiate a two-state solution because the minimal Palestinian demands simply don’t meet the maximum Israeli capacity to meet those demands. So, there is that argument, but I think it’s probably overstated. I think it’s theoretically possible to arrive at a two-state solution. My own view is that the problems of the peace process have less to do with substance than they have to do with the process itself.
So, getting into the actual reasons, I think that these will be intuitive but I’ll break them down in explicit terms. The first, which I already referenced, is the huge imbalance in power. Clearly, you have two parties that are not equals, one is the occupier, one is the occupied; one has vast diplomatic, military, strategic resources at its disposal, the other lacks those same resources and assets. So clearly a negotiations process needs outside intervention to help level the playing field on some level- at least that’s the theory.
And that’s why Palestinians of course have always preferred internationalization of the conflict, and within that, Arabization, relying on Egypt, relying on other powers in the region to make up for that imbalance in power. But the reality that we’ve seen, for example if you take the [Middle East] Quartet, the group that includes the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, that it’s supposed to represent the international community, the international consensus on arriving at a diplomatic process. What the Quartet is in reality is fake multilateralism. It’s not a genuine multilateral approach. It is like [the] Oslo [Accords]…I would say the Madrid process before Oslo was close to being genuinely multilateral but of course it had its flaws.
And I would say that what the Quartet has actually done, as one of the mechanisms that is designed to serve this peace process, is it’s actually, if you can imagine, exaggerated the imbalance of power. It’s actually increased the imbalance of power more than currently exists. And that’s on both levels- the diplomatic level and the level of the parties. Between Israelis and Palestinians, it exaggerated the difference, the gap, and in terms of the international community, the U.S. has always taken a leadership role, but I would say the Quartet has given the U.S. an even greater dominance over this process. So again it’s a kind of fake multilateralism.
Secondly, the purpose, the goal of the process, was distorted from a very early stage. And again, I think the Quartet is a useful model in looking at the peace process. Essentially, it took what was supposed to be a bilateral process mediating between two sides of a conflict into micromanaging the politics and affairs of one side, namely the Palestinians. So the whole purpose of third-party mediation was simply distorted.
It’s a phenomenon that I refer to as microlateralism, as opposed to bilateral or multilateralism. And it’s one of the reason why I think we’ve seen this increase in process for its own sake, as this has been a key problem with this process for a very long time, in that U.S. policy makers are focused with preserving the trappings of a process, irrespective of whether there’s any substance or any movement in that process or whether, as I would argue, in fact it is having opposite effects, that it is actually harming prospects of a negotiated settlement.
And the third point is the process has been simply too fragmented and detached from reality to, again, relate it to the process for its own sake. It’s too piecemeal, it’s too disconnected for it to have any meaning for the parties. And we see that in the classic, you know, Leila [Hilal] and I worked together on the negotiations, and we saw this ongoing dynamic; there was this desire to distinguish between day-to-day events, and day-to-day negotiations, focus on day-to-day issues, and what we call “permanent status.” Of course the two are linked. And we see this also perpetuated in distinctions made between economic progress or state-building, but no progress at the diplomatic or political level, when in fact these are all interconnected and interdependent.
And more tangibly, there’s a literal fragmentation, certainly of the West Bank, and even, certainly between the West Bank and Gaza, but even within the West Bank itself, as a territorial and demographic fragmentation that is happening on the ground. At a political level also, between Hamas and Fateh, this kind of dismantling of the constituent parts of reality. I mean, the process has actually contributed to this disaggregation and incoherence of the current reality.
An analogy that I often make with American and other policy makers is it’s like disassembling the parts of an engine and then wondering why the car doesn’t work. You know, [we’ve] taken apart all the pieces and lay them out on the side and now we can analyze them and clean them, but why does the car not move? And it’s not an exact one-to-one analogy, but I think it’s useful.
There are, of course, many, many examples of this imbalance and these three issues are interconnected. All you have to do is look at, for example, the “road map” [for peace], the treatment of the “road map” versus the so-called Quartet Principles. The “road map” is the official plan of the Quartet and the international community; it was enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution and it was completely neglected and thrown by the wayside almost at the very moment that it was produced. And then you take this other Quartet utterance that they made in response to an event, an event that they condoned by the way, a Palestinian election, and it has become kind of sacrosanct; it has become virtually scripture in terms of how it is appealed.
So, again you see the imbalance of how it is applied from one side to the other. The idea of a settlement freeze, which was in the road map, that was completely forgotten, but that Hamas has to observe these three conditions- we’re going to adhere to that to the letter. So there is a clear imbalance.
An interesting concept, I think especially in the context of the Arab Spring is all of the lessons of the Arab Spring that are being internalized by American policy makers and by Europeans and others: that we can’t control the affairs, that we can’t determine outcomes of elections, we can’t micromanage the affairs of these countries. All of the infantilizing, micromanaging approach to the Arab world has been set aside, with the exception of the Palestinian case, where you see a perpetuation and a deepening of this kind of a mindset, of what I refer to as microlateralism.
Just to give you a quick quote from the State Department’s spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, last spring in response to a question about Palestinian reconciliation. And this is a quote, she says, “What matters to us and what matters to the process that we are trying to keep on track here is that [Mahmoud] Abbas remain the [Palestinian Authority] President, that [Salam] Fayyad remains the [Palestinian Authority] Prime Minister, so we’re not going to speculate on what the effect might be.” In essence she’s saying that Palestinians can do whatever they want as long as these two internal domestic political realities remain exactly as we want them. They would never do that in Egypt. They might be ambivalent about a Muslim Brotherhood member becoming president or have different views on different things, but they certainly… it’s at least one lesson that has been internalized but completely neglected on the Palestinian side.
And I think another reality is that there’s a complete disregard for Palestinian domestic needs, aspirations, and even Palestinian politics. One of the things that I often tell U.S. policy makers is that it’s a mistake to assume that the Palestinians’ ultimate goal is statehood per se, as opposed to something broader like freedom, which can be achieved in different forms. That leads them to assume they’ll expect any state, whatever shape, and I think that’s a mistake.
Another lesson that hasn’t been learned is that Palestinians, just like the leadership in Syria, just like the governments in Egypt, and Tunisia, and Bahrain, and elsewhere, also need political legitimacy, they need domestic legitimacy. And this is not an issue that a lot of American policy makers lose sleep over, but it’s something that they ought to.
And in that context, the idea that you could take a divided Palestinian leadership and somehow forge an agreement is, again, another one of these bizarre standouts vis-à-vis the rest of the region, where there’s a focus on consensus building and that there’s no one party that can make a constitution on its own, and go forward on its own. As in Egypt and Tunisia, there’s this emphasis on consensus-building, except in the Palestinian case. Palestinians are expected to make an agreement with Israel while there is this kind of huge social and political division notwithstanding the fact that for Palestinians, the idea of a final status agreement is their constitutional moment – I would say it’s even more existential than that. Constitutions can be revised but the state, once it’s negotiated with Israel, is more or less a permanent reality.
Mr. Josh Ruebner:
Well thank you very much, Palestine Center interns, for inviting me to be a part of this distinguished panel, I appreciate the opportunity. Especially, as Marion mentioned, I’m working right now on a book examining [President Barack] Obama administration’s strategy towards resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so I really appreciate the opportunity to kind of try out some of my material on an audience to see if you think I’m on the right track or not.
I want to make four brief points about the Obama administration’s strategy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One is that despite the changed rhetorical style of the Obama Administration, despite the president himself really expressing unprecedented sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people when he addressed the Muslim world from Cairo in June 2009, the reality has been that the M.O. (the Modus Operandi) of the Obama administration has been no different than [former President George H.W.] Bush I, no different than [former President Bill] Clinton, and no different than [former President George W.] Bush II in terms of how the negotiations are actually structured.
This is U.S. peace process negotiator Dennis Ross describing the process in his book “The Missing Peace: [The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace],” (that 900 page self-justifying tome of why he failed over the course of two decades to bring about Israeli-Palestinian peace). He described the process as “selling.” Here’s what he said: “Selling became part of our Modus Operandi, beginning a pattern that would characterize our approach throughout the Bush and Clinton years. We would take Israeli ideas, or ideas that the Israelis could live with, and work them over, trying to increase their attractiveness to the Arabs” – Notice the undifferentiated mass of Arabs as opposed to actual nationalities – “While trying to get the Arabs to scale back their expectations.”
Now, is it any wonder then that the United States failed so miserably in its self-declared role of being an honest broker to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process when this was their declared modus operandi? To take Israeli ideas, to work them over, and to force them on Palestinians!
Now unfortunately, what I think Palestinians have realized over the course of the Obama era is that the reality has not changed and I think that this was demonstrated most dramatically in a series of very vexatious meetings between George Mitchell and his negotiating team– George Mitchell was of course the U.S. special envoy for Middle East Peace until he resigned in shame in May 2011–and the negotiations support unit of the Palestinian negotiating team. They held two very vexatious meetings on September 16 and 17, 2009.
To set the scene for you, this was about a week before the famous trilateral meeting at the UN between Obama, Israeli Prime Minister [Benyamin] Netanyahu, and [Palestinian Authority] (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. In these meetings, the United States revealed for the first time—by the way, this is all from Al Jazeera’s Palestine Papers—that they’ve been going behind the back of the Palestinians in order to cut a deal with Israel on the “settlement moratorium.” By this time, the United States had already given up on trying to get Israel to completely freeze settlements, as was its obligation to do so in the 2003 road map, and instead to craft a deal that the Palestinians could live with that was something less than an actual settlement freeze, which was Israel’s “moratorium.”
So here’s Mitchell’s team, which was led by David Hale, who was his deputy at the time, now his replacement, opening the meeting by trying to assuage “Palestinian misgivings” regarding the quality of the package with Israel. So from the outset, the United States understands that what their offering the Palestinians is unacceptable. But the Palestinians shouldn’t hold out for a comprehensive freeze on Israeli settlements, because after all, according to David Hale (this is a quote from the minutes of the meeting), “a freeze is a flexible concept.” Well a freeze is not a flexible concept, if you look at the road map. The road map says very clearly that Israel has to stop all settlement construction including the so-called natural growth of settlements.
And then David Hale tries to convince Palestinians that “restraints on settlements is better than unrestricted growth everywhere.” So a glass half-full is better than a glass half-empty in Hale’s mind I guess. He continues to say that “we cannot force a sovereign government to do anything. We can use persuasion and negotiations and shared interests instead.” Well Saeb Erekat, who was the head Palestinian negotiator, replies to this, “Of course you could if you wanted; how do you think this will reflect on the credibility of the United States if you can’t get this done?”, referring to a full Israeli settlement freeze.
And then this is my favorite line I think from this interaction from Dan Shapiro, who was at the time, the head of Palestinian-Israeli affairs on the National Security Council, and now the U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Shapiro tells the Palestinians not to tell them about who’s credible or not. Shapiro says, “We make the call on our own credibility.” Well, the U.S. credibility on the “peace process” is completely shot, exactly because of this M.O. of working over Israeli ideas and then trying to force them on the “Arabs.”
Point number two, during the Obama administration, there was a continuation of this notion that we should have negotiations for the sake of negotiations, or more process for the sake of process, as Khaled [Elgindy] called it. This I think was recognized, or acknowledged, most clearly by George Mitchell himself in the run-up to Israeli and Palestinian negotiations, which lasted a whole of three days, in September 2010. When he announced the resumption of negotiations on August 20, 2010, Mitchell actually threw out the window 20 years of history of U.S. involvement in the peace process by saying, “Only the parties can determine terms of reference as the basis for negotiations, and they will do so when they meet and discuss these matters.” So in other words, UN Security Council resolutions don’t matter, the history of negotiations and what was agreed to at Annapolis, as my two co-panelists can testify to, didn’t matter. What mattered was getting the negotiations underway and hoping that Israelis and Palestinians can just work it out without any terms of reference, without any reference to UN Security Council resolutions and so forth.
This was obviously a very flawed strategy on the Obama administration’s part. The day before the negotiations opened in August 31, 2010, Mitchell was asked in a press briefing “whether the long history of Israeli-Palestinian negotiation has been beneficial or harmful.” And here’s what Mitchell said: “It’s actually been both in some respect. Beneficial in the sense that this has been discussed so often that people have a good sense of what the principle issues are and how they might be resolved. Harmful in the sense that it’s created attitudes among many in the region that it’s a never ending process, that it’s gone on for a very long time and it will go on forever.”
Now to set the stage for the resumption of the negotiations, which, if you look at the documentary evidence available, not only in the Palestine Papers but in Wikileaks as well, you’ll see how the United States brow-beat the Palestinian negotiating team back to the table, even though both the United States and the Palestinians recognize that there is absolutely no chance of success for the negotiations. It was negotiations for the sake of negotiations.
And to convene negotiations, as Khaled mentioned, by having these negotiations, you raise hopes and when you fail at the negotiations you dash those hopes. And it was just astounding for someone as experienced a diplomat as George Mitchell, who led an end to a very attractable conflict in Northern Ireland in the 1980’s to see him convene negotiations just three weeks before Israel’s “settlement moratorium” expired, knowing that this moratorium in and of itself wasn’t sufficient to get Palestinians back to the table in the first place, and also knowing that there was no possible way that Israel would extend this so-called moratorium after it ended. Well, as anyone could have predicted, these negotiations blew up in the face of the United States just three weeks later and have been permanently stalled since then.
Point number three is what I call “peace process uber ales,” or peace process above all else. In other words, everything has to be sublimated to the “peace process” and any alternative strategy that challenges the hegemony of the peace process discourse is something to be confronted and denied and destroyed by the United States as an encroachment upon the U.S.’s sort of irrigated status to itself as the mediator to this “peace process.”
Now here’s the Bush administration back in 2004 arguing in front of the International Court of Justice why the ICJ had absolutely no jurisdiction to rule on whether Israel’s wall in the West Bank was legal or not. Here’s what the Bush administration says: “The U.S. believes that the giving of an advisory opinion in this matter risks undermining the peace process and politicizing the court.” So in other words, an international institution could not adjudicate an Israeli-Palestinian issue because of the “peace process,” and the existence of the peace process in 2004 is kind of like the existence of the peace process today, in other words non-existent.
Compare that statement from the Bush administration to what the Obama administration has been saying. Here is Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN explaining why the United States in February 2011 had to veto a resolution in the Security Council condemning Israeli settlements after the Obama administration had spent its first two years in office condemning Israeli settlements. Here’s what Rice said trying to explain this logically: “The resolution must be measured against one overriding standard: will it move the parties closer to negotiations and an agreement?” And in her mind, of course, if the Security Council weighed in on whether Israeli settlements were legal or not, and of course we’ve all been very educated over the last few days from the Levy Commission, of course, Israel’s settlements are legal after all, who knew? I didn’t. News to me. There’s no occupation either, and the earth is flat!
So Rice said that of course the United States can’t vote for this resolution because if the United Nations were to pass a resolution condemning Israeli settlements, this “risks hardening the position of both sides. It could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations” – as if there were negotiations happening then – “and if and when they did resume, to return to the Security Council whenever they hit an impasse.” Now I could pull up similar statements to why the United States opposed Palestinian UN membership, why the Obama administration opposed the recommendations of the Goldstone Report, why the United States worked to undermine the UN investigating Israel’s attack on the [Gaza] Flotilla. All of these things were rejected by the Obama administration because it didn’t fit into its peace process paradigm. And anything that didn’t fit into this paradigm undermines that so-called peace process.
Now, four, to conclude, what I think this has led to by the Palestinian negotiating team, rather belatedly, is the fact that Palestinians can never get a fair shake out of any U.S. dominated peace process. It’s simply impossible based on the political reality of the United States and therefore, there has been a very conscious decision to what I call “re-internationalize” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by taking it out of this U.S.-dominated context of failure, that we have seen for the last two decades plus, and moving it back to where the issue belongs, and that is within the UN, which is more fair than the United States, which bases its decisions on human rights standards and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law and the Fourth Geneva convention and so forth. The United States often argues that the UN is not an impartial venue to adjudicate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the opposite is true. The UN is the exact appropriate venue to impartially adjudicate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In that September 2009 very contentious set of meetings between the U.S. and the Palestinian negotiating team, Saeb Erakat, the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, said, “I’ve been doing this for 16 years; this is the last shot.” And I think it’s pretty clear from actions subsequent to the demise of the “peace process” in September 2010 that Palestinians are very serious about this was the last shot at a U.S. dominated peace process. I think for us, the challenge is to continue to undercut the claim that the United States is an honest broker and to do that is not hard, all you need to do is to look at Dennis Ross’ own declarations on the subject, and to help bring this issue back to the UN in order to create favorable circumstances for an eventual solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Ms. Leila Hilal:
Well, Josh [Reubner], it’s interesting because you’ve obviously placed a lot of responsibility and blame at the feet of the U.S., but the Palestinians, I think, also have a role to play in the current situation. And I am going to speak just a little bit about where the Palestinian strategy stands now and some of the challenges that face the Palestinians in terms of getting out of the current stalemate.
I think you meant that the Palestinians have clearly intended to internationalize their strategy, but I don’t think it’s that clear. I think in the past year and a half, the Palestinians have been pursuing three directions, one of which is negotiations with Israel. We had negotiations or some kind of talks between Palestinians and Israelis that was sponsored by the Jordanians in January. We’ve had some direct talking between Palestinians, between Saeb Erekat and different Israeli officials, that have not been claimed as talks, but somehow they are meeting and they are discussing something. I think there is still a semblance of a negotiation track underway. There is also a direction of internal political reconciliation with Hamas that the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] has stated its commitment to. And then the third one is this international diplomatic effort to advance Palestinian statehood at the UN. But I think with each of these strands of processes or efforts, we haven’t seen the Palestinians wholeheartedly commit to any of them, nor have we seen an explanation, nor do we have an understanding of how these three strands fit together.
We have to understand that the Palestinian leadership chose to go to the UN Security Council rather than the UN General Assembly. And in doing that, they knew that they would get a clear veto from the U.S., that it would be a dead end. So why is it that they didn’t go to the General Assembly? Was it strategic in the sense that they were leaving different options open for the future? Was it that there was an effort to sort of engage public opinion? Or was it an attempt to internationalize the strategy? And there isn’t real clarity on that. And I think that the Palestinians have had some success in gaining statehood status at UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], which is significant. But the International Criminal Court rejected the Palestinian petition for state status and the ability to approach the court because the ICC said that Palestine is a non-member state at the UN. And that is a very decisive opinion that stands on the record that the Palestinians have not been able to clear this hurdle of admission to the UN as a full state.
Now Hamas is another player in the game. And what is Hamas’s direction? Well Hamas has stated its own commitment to reconciliation, but is also seemingly playing games. It’s just recently defied the electoral commission in saying that they are not going to participate and allow the commission to register for national elections. So Hamas has also backed away from reconciliation, as has the PLO. And its primary approach seems to entrench its control in Gaza, perhaps waiting out to see what happens with the Arab Spring. But, it’s not pursuing violence, but it hasn’t presented another strategy.
Civil society is the third player on the Palestinian scene. While the political factions are sort of treading water, Palestinian civil society activism and intellectual elites are trying to move forward with different initiatives such as support for Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) vis a vis Israel’s civil disobedience, nonviolent struggle, and widening questions and criticisms of the two-state solution. But yet, we’ve had no major significant third Palestinian force emerge. So, we are quite in a strategic stalemate on the Palestinian side.
And I think for the past two decades, the Palestinian leadership has sort of based the prospect of political settlement on the notion that if we say that we will put forward the minimal demands on permanent status, and the Israelis will then see it in their self-interest to preserve the Jewish state, and the U.S. will be motivated by everyone’s pragmatisms to push forward toward the two-state solution. So, Palestinians say that they will give up the right of return in order for the 1967 borders and this is a minimal equation that meets Israeli practical interests in saving the Jewish democratic state.
But this equation has failed to produce progress. And I think now the Palestinians really are in a quagmire, because they have invested quite a lot in another sort of strategic strand, which is state building. And again drawing on this notion of pragmatism and convincing the U.S. and other international sponsors to push the process forward, the Palestinians instead said, “We will build our state institutions and we will show that we are ready for statehood, and this will convince the international community to push Israel to end its occupation, or scale it back significantly.”
That process has failed, but in the meantime, the PA is more entrenched and simultaneously more dependent on Israel, more dependent on international donors. So, its political flexibility to challenge the status quo has been narrowed. Going to the UN was met with U.S. punitive action when the congress withheld develop assistance funds, or put a hold on it. Subsequently that hold has been lifted, but the Palestinians were told that “if you challenge the status quo of stalemate, of process for process without outcome, we will withdraw our external assistance.” And so that locks the Palestinians in. Dependence on Israel for the tax revenue (Israel is collecting the customs revenue, which is a major source of revenue for the PA) is forcing the Palestinians to continue cooperating with Israel, again narrowing the political space for Palestinian strategic movement.
The regional uncertainty right now has put the Palestinians in a very difficult position. There is very little international leverage right now for the Palestinians as the world looks on to other conflicts. And presumably, Hamas is also waiting out the situation as Islamists rise to power in Tunisia and Egypt. And the U.S. warns Islamists, “Is there perhaps a new opening for Hamas?” So, there is a bit of playing a waiting game.
I think the PA has also, through the years of negotiating, sidelined civil society. Because of their premise of minimal asks, they have not really reached out to civil society. Rather, they have been afraid of engaging them because they see potential for civil society to challenge this premise. So when the PA went to the Security Council and applied for statehood in September 2011, they sought to draw up street support. The public square in Ramallah [West Bank, Palestine,] was filled with people cheering on Mahmoud Abbas as he gave this very emotional speech in the General Assembly, so there was an effort and a response to public opinion at that point.
I think reconciliation has also been a response, or the effort to achieve reconciliation has been a response to public opinion. But, in fact, the PA, the PLO, is disconnected from the masses and civil society is similarly disconnected. So, there isn’t a mass to draw on to generate pressure and movement and momentum in one particular direction. This impasse is entrenched on the Palestinian side. I think there is a large question about the role and the continuing existence of the PA, and what this role plays in preventing the Palestinians from developing a strategy that would draw on international law and international legitimacy.
So there is a question of how can you balance this commitment to diplomacy with a need to leverage international law? What are the options for the PA and the Palestinians? I mean, a lot of people are dependent on the PA’s salaries and a lot of people are invested in the relative stability and quiet that comes through PA-Israeli cooperation. The PA is a service provider in the Territories, so you cannot simply withdraw the PA, you need to look at solutions how to get the Palestinians out of the box that they have found themselves in, in terms of dependency on Israel and the international community. What are the specific asks for the U.S., for other donor countries, the BRIC states [Brazil, Russia, India and China]? Are there other states that can play a role if the U.S. is not able to? And what role could they play? What to ask of the emerging Arab countries? And then, finally, is this two-state outcome realistic, or do we need to think of alternative strategies and paradigms?
Khaled Elgindy is a researcher and analyst on United States policy in the Middle East. He is currently a visiting fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. From 2004 to 2009, he served with the Negotiations Support Unit in Ramallah as an advisor to the Palestinian leadership on permanent status negotiations with Israel. He was a key participant in the most recent round of negotiations launched at Annapolis in November 2007. Mr. Elgindy received his M.A. from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.
Leila Hilal is a widely published consultant on conflict mediation policies in the Middle East. She is currently the director of the New America Foundation Middle East Task Force. From 2002 to 2007, she served as a legal adviser to the Palestinian Negotiations Department and acted as an external adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team as part of the Annapolis bi-lateral peace talks of 2008. Hilal obtained her J.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School and LL.M. from Harvard Law School.
Josh Ruebner is a political activist and frequent speaker on Palestinian issues. He is currently the National Advocacy Director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and a former analyst in Middle East Affairs at the Congressional Research Service. He is the author of the forthcoming book tentatively entitled “Shattered Hopes: Obama and the Quest for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.” Mr. Ruebner received his M.A. in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.