A Half Full
By Daniel Levy
The following is an edited and abridged
transcript of the presentation delivered by Daniel Levy, a
senior fellow at the Century and New America Foundations, during
our Advocacy Days training session. See
I think there’s a story of a half full cup to be told,
and I think it’s quite a useful way of framing things. The
very existence of the Kadima Party – I think one
shouldn’t underestimate how significant it is that a group
of people with deep revisionist backgrounds, the princes and
princesses of the Likud, who formed a party predicated on the
need to get out of Gaza, the recognition that we can’t
have an Israel which is in occupation, occupying in perpetuity.
Also, the fact
that the negotiations have been resumed on permanent status
issues after such a long hiatus that what we did the Geneva
Initiative... At the time, our hope and our belief was that when
the day comes around that there would again be permanent status
negotiations, Geneva would be on the table – and I say
without hesitation that that is now the case.
People who have made that journey
from the right quite often find that going that final few yards
is the most difficult part of the journey – but
that’s what’s going to be necessary to clinch the
A second piece of good news is that the basis on which Israel
is currently negotiating with the Palestinians is far more
realistic than it was under Barak...and the third piece of good
news I think is the Gaza ceasefire, which is terribly fragile at
the moment, but it’s a moment of realism from the Israeli
But Israel still hasn’t found the political courage to
go the extra mile, to translate the realization that peace
requires two states...an end to occupation...a viable
Palestinian state neighboring Israel. In order for Israel to
continue as a democratic and Jewish state, that realization has
to be translated into: well, ok, you asked for this – tell
the truth to your public and tell the truth to yourselves.
People who have made that journey from the right quite often
find that going that final few yards is the most difficult part
of the journey – but that’s what’s going to be
necessary to clinch the deal. Unfortunately there’s still
a deep contradiction in Israeli society, so even if you have
leadership that talks the way these guys often do about
settlements – the settlements are still being expanded.
Even if you have leadership that talks about the need to
strengthen Abbas – you still basically destroyed him and
Fatah as a viable unique Palestinian leadership.
Part of why Israel is doing this the ceasefire with Hamas is
that so when, inevitably, there is a military operation in Gaza
that won’t look pretty, at least we can say to our public
and to the international community: "We tried the ceasefire
first." There are people in the Israeli side who want the
“this can’t work.” Those people who believe
that won’t want to be proven wrong.
Let’s be clear: Yes, Hamas will be preparing itself for
the eventuality that there will be another round of violence,
and I think it’s not a secret – so will Israel. On
both sides they would be crazy not to be doing that.
For those of us who have been advocating for peace, the
renewal of Israeli-Syrian talks is, I think, good news. There
isn’t any Israeli-Syrian peace deal around the corner,
I’m pretty sure of that, but I think it is doing two
things, serving a Syrian need and an Israeli need, in addition
to the hope that they will eventually set the basis for
On the Israeli side, I think there’s recognition that
calming the northern front by engaging with Syria is a valid and
worthy exercise and goal. I think it’s designed to make
things a bit more difficult for Hezbollah, and also add some
more calculations onto Hamas’s thinking and obviously to
have an effect vis-à-vis Iran. So I think those are
signals being sent.
On the Syrian side, I think the main signal the Syrians are
sending by engaging in these talks is not really the expectation
that a deal will be delivered on the Golan in the near future,
but to send a message to Washington – and to Washington in
six months, not Washington now.
I do think they have an
interest in changing the nature of their relationship with the
U.S... I do see a strong possibility for positive change, and I
think it’s an important message to convey that a future
President get on with these negotiations as well as those
between Israel and the Palestinian. I would just be careful
about being too reductionist or simplistic about it, about
thinking that if we talk to Syria immediately they will settle
all relations with Iran.
There are two sides to the
leverage coin, and I think we focus exclusively and
unintelligibly on one side of that coin.
Number one, it changes the nature of Iran’s strategic
equation in the region if Syria is at least hedging, if Syria is
talking to Israel and the Americans are still maintaining
relations with Iran.
Number two, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing if you
have actors who are involved with a multiplicity of sides in the
region. I’m not saying Syria would be an ideal channel to
Iran, but look at the role the Turks are playing. The Turks are
brokering Israel’s talks with Syria, but have also become
closer to Iran in the last year, and were one of the first who
invited the Hamas leadership after Hamas won the Palestinian
legislative elections – and yet Turkey has continued to be
a staunch ally of the U.S. and a staunch ally of NATO and of
course a great ally of Israel’s.
If Syria had a peace treaty with Israel and a density of
relations with the U.S. – including economic and trade
relations – and yet Iran maintained its current posture
vis-à-vis the U.S., well, something would have to give.
And if the Syrian interest would be in the new relationships
that it was building... then I think that would be the way to
change that whole relationship.
About Iran... I think there is an interesting point of
departure in the things that Secretary of Defense Gates and
General Petraeus have said. Gates gave a talk to retired
diplomats where he discussed engagement. And in his speech what
Gates said, and what Petraues echoed at his confirmation
hearings was: “There is more chance of a constructive
outcome to engagement if we increase our leverage
vis-à-vis Iran in advance of that engagement.”
There are two sides to the leverage coin, and I think we
focus exclusively and unintelligibly on one side of that coin.
One is the punitive – the sanctions that everyone is
trying to move forward. These address how you begin to blunt and
neutralize Iran’s own leverage. Iran has all kinds of
instruments right now that it can try to deploy in the region.
But if there were other
things we could do to blunt that, then you also have a new
element of leverage. The Hamas ceasefire is one. You know if
Hamas is locked into a ceasefire and tomorrow Iran turns around
and says “OK guys we don’t care that the people of
Gaza are now eating more, launch some rockets” – I
think if Hamas has an interest in not doing that, Hamas will act
as an Iranian proxy.
We need to recognize that the
moment of a unipolar world, and unchallenged and untrammeled
American leadership isn’t going to last.
Finally, in Israel and the U.S., I think there is a space
being opened in the discourse that hasn’t been there in
previous years and in part, it’s a result of your work and
others’ work, and in part a result of the unfortunate
circumstances in which we live, and the unfortunate developments
in American policy in the Middle East.
Lately, we’ve had leading pro-Israeli commentators
openly writing about their concerns that America is sometimes
not a tough enough friend to Israel, and we’ve seen a
presidential candidate of a major party go to AIPAC, and sure,
threw some red meat, but also give something that would be
considered very counterintuitive to where that organization was
going last year – to go to that conference and explain why
the Iraq war is not only bad for America and American national
interests, but also why it’s bad for Israel and Israeli
interests... and explain that this is something we need to be
thinking about as friends of Israel. And he further said
that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has to be a priority
at the beginning of an administration, not in year seven... I
think this is demonstrative of a new narrative, a narrative that
is far more mainstream than it was in the past. Which I think
means there is a new receptivity to our message, to your
However, we need to recognize that the moment of a unipolar
world, and unchallenged and untrammeled American leadership
isn’t going to last. The decline was dramatically
accelerated by the Bush administration, but it can be slowed.
Israel has a tremendous, I would say essential, interest in
getting its final borders defined, getting them... accepted by
its neighbors and by the broader Arab and Muslim world, while we
still have an America that is powerful enough to help drive that
kind of thing to resolution.
Something we want to encourage then, is that the current
administration continue its efforts, and hand them over to the
Levy is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Prospects for
Peace Initiative at The Century Foundation and a Senior
Fellow and Director of the Middle East Initiative at the New America
During the Barak Government, he worked in the Prime
Minister's Office as special adviser and head of the Jerusalem
Affairs unit under Minister Haim Ramon. He also worked as senior
policy adviser to former Israeli Minister of Justice, Yossi
Beilin. He was a member of the official Israeli delegation to
the Taba negotiations with the Palestinians in January 2001, and
previously served on the negotiating team to the “Oslo
B” Agreement from May to September 1995, under Prime
Minister Rabin. In 2003, he worked as an analyst for the
International Crisis Group Middle East Program. Daniel was the
lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative and prior to
joining The Century Foundation and New America Foundation was
directing policy planning and international relations at the
Geneva Campaign Headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Levy received a Bachelors and Masters with Honors from
King’s College, Cambridge; he was awarded prizes in Social
and Political Science and was Scholar of the College. He served
as World Chairman of the World Union of Jewish Students in
Jerusalem from 1991 to 1994 and as Projects Director for the
Economic Co-operation Foundation, a policy planning think-tank
in Tel Aviv. He has published extensively in a broad range of
publications including Ha’aretz, The Jerusalem Post, The
Boston Globe, United Press International, The American Prospect,
The Washington Monthly, The International Herald Tribune, and
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