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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace


Town Hall Conference Call with Amjad Atallah

Behind the Headlines: An Insider's Guide to the Crisis in Gaza

On Thursday, May 31, 2007, Amjad Atallah, founder and President of Strategic Assessments Initiative, discussed the crisis in Gaza, and the current violence between the Israelis and Palestinians, and Fatah and Hamas, and provided analysis of the role of the US and the international community as well as Israel and the Palestinians in bringing an end to the violence.

Hello everyone…The title of this talk could have been, ‘the latest crisis in Gaza’, or ‘the latest eruption of violence.’ How many nails in the coffin of the peace process are there? There were so many opportunities over the last six years, so many [offers] that have been nailed shut to prevent any opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to stop the conflict. The death spiral of the peace process may continue for another year and a half as long as this administration remains in office. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. There are some openings that you can exploit, and that you should exploit when you are here in Washington in a few weeks for Advocacy Days, and I’ll talk about those too. First I’ll give my own personal analysis of what is happening among the Palestinians. I’ve recently come back from the Middle East and I want to share some insights with you.

What we see now in Gaza is the direct result of a plan put in motion upon Hamas’ victory a year ago and four months ago.  At that time everyone had to figure out what they were going to do. Everyone had a plan and some of those plans are beginning to come to fruition now or are reaching their logical conclusion. It’s probably good to discuss the different plans and where they are headed, and what the people who came up with them are hoping for. First we’ll talk about Hamas’ plan since Hamas is the major power on the ground besides Israel and is the largest grassroots movement among Palestinians. It’s the most disciplined and has the most effective party structure, and of course is the political party that won the elections.

Hamas has been in a self-imposed transition from when it began as a militant movement to becoming a political party, and this process started four or five years ago when they started consulting various revolutionary movements that had been successful, and they began asking for advice on how those movements converted from an active military struggle to politics and negotiations. That’s what led Hamas to believe after Arafat’s death that it could better pursue the means of leading the Palestinian national movement through elections than through continued armed struggle and violence against civilians.

Now that was their plan. The assumption they made was that the Israeli government did not want peace.  And I think they made the right analysis of the situation.  The Israeli government since it came to power has not sought a negotiated solution despite rhetoric to the contrary. So they were right about that. But then they also thought that Israel did want security.  So they thought that Israel wouldn’t want a peace agreement, wouldn’t want a two state solution, but would want a security agreement that would give Israel security. So they thought the unilateral separation plan would actually serve to advance their interests, that Israel would get out of the Gaza strip and much of the West Bank, and Hamas would be happy to accept less than all of the West Bank in exchange for not actually giving up any of the Palestinian rights or demands for final status. They called for a hundred year ceasefire and they said the Palestinian right of return would never be compromised - however Hamas would not be the one to implement the right of return, that would have to be left to future Muslim generations. When they said statements like that to their own audience and their own constituency, they were in effect preparing them to say we can work out a deal with Israel, where Israel will stay on its side of the wall and we’ll stay on our side, and we’ll keep the peace and we’ll build the society that we want to build here, and animosity toward Israel will be left to future generations.

That’s where they were really wrong. They didn’t realize that the Israeli government would choose insecurity over security, rather than engage in a deal with Hamas. And they didn’t count on the United States, because the assumption they made there was really simplistic. They have a savvy understanding of Israeli politics but they don’t have a savvy understanding of American politics. The assumption they made was that the United States would do what was necessary in order to promote some sort of stability in the region in order to compensate for some of the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they assumed that since Israel was the one that wanted security, it would tell the United States what to do on this matter according to the stereotype of Israel controlling American foreign policy. They were wrong on this count as well.

It turned out that the U.S. was more opposed to a security agreement than Israel was. There was a big debate in Israel immediately after Hamas’ election whether the Israeli government should deal with Hamas pragmatically, and I think almost 50% of the Israeli public in polls showed they wouldn’t mind that if it translated into security. However the balance was tilted and the door slammed shut when the U.S. said no, we’re not going down that road.

And Fatah didn’t have a plan. Fatah doesn’t exist as a political party anymore; it’s a movement, it’s a collection of individuals. Among the leaders of Fatah, the idea was, ‘ok, let’s bide our time; let’s give Hamas the reins of all the stuff that we should never have agreed to do ourselves: picking up garbage, collecting taxes, doing all the stupid things under occupation that Israel as the occupying power had the responsibility to do in the first place. Let Hamas do those things, but let us maintain responsibility for negotiating a final status peace deal. And that’s where we can show our strength. In the meantime we can engage in grassroots building and rebuild Fatah without a lot of the old guard anchors holding us back.  But these mid-level leaders of Fatah don’t have the guns, or even the inclination to use them if they had them, and they don’t have the money that is still with the traditional leaders of the movement.

Those leaders at the top, those with the guns and money, were pointed in another more immediate and practical direction.  Knowing that any reorganization and rebuilding of Fatah would not include the majority of them, they concentrated on working with those external actors who wanted to defeat Hamas by any means necessary. 

But those leaders would oppose Hamas for what purpose?  Most do not believe that Israel is willing to create a real Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, so their only raison d’etre is to preserve the PA.  If we don’t administer the occupation we have no function. We have to overthrow Hamas to take back that function. From the very first days there were discussions, which they declined to follow up on, about how to overthrow Hamas. Discussions on whether they [Fatah] should declare a coup, or whether they should declare a state of emergency and attempt to have martial law on the streets. The idea of the Palestinians administering authority under the occupation, administering martial law in an Israeli occupation context is so ironic and absurd that its amazing that they even considered it. But they did. And the reasoning of those who considered it was that, ‘we must confront Hamas and defeat them, and we have to find some way, legal or extra legal, to assume control.’ That is where the rebuilding of the Palestinian security services came in, and that goes into the U.S. plan.

The United States’ plan was contra. ‘We will use Fatah as the contra forces. We will use them beat up and batter Hamas; we will have sanctions on Hamas; we will starve the Palestinian population into submission, and then we will give them a choice: either vote again for Hamas and continue this deprivation and horror that you’re going through, or vote for these guys and we’ll lift the sanctions.’ You’ll notice that nowhere in there is a two state deal. Nowhere in there is a peace agreement.

And the Israelis, for the first time probably in my memory, didn’t have a plan. The Israeli government didn’t know how to respond to this and was dominated by the pressures of a very strong willed United States, which felt very strongly about what Israel should do. There was a weak [Israeli] government that didn’t have a clear position anymore on where to go, and what you ended up with was an Israel that sometimes vacillated in one direction, sometime vacillated in another, and that in some cases created possibilities for the Palestinians; in most cases the Palestinians maintained their concentration on their own internal struggle.

Then came the Saudis and some of the other Arabs who recognized that Fatah was not in a position to win a civil war with Hamas right now. And they were very concerned that Gaza and the West Bank would become like Iraq and Afghanistan and so they wanted to forge some kind of unity government for at least a period of time so Fatah could rebuild their security services and rebuild their ability to confront Hamas at a later date. For some people in Fatah the question about a unity government was only, ‘for how long?’ And it doesn’t seem that it was very long for some of them. And for Hamas the question was, ‘well, we predicated our entire entry into politics on the assumption that Israel wanted security.’ However, it appears that the amount of insecurity provided by Hamas is intended to induce Israel into a hudna style ceasefire or agreement, so what exactly is the Hamas strategy for improving the lives of Palestinians? There is no belief that a two state solution is possible and [Hamas] believes very cynically that it can encourage Abu Mazen to humiliate himself through negotiations with Israelis because those negotiations will never result in an agreement, but what is its strategy? How does it get out of this box?

And here Hamas is struggling, because it does not yet have a clear vision of how to get out of this box that it’s in if they don’t have the cooperation of Fatah. Because for Hamas, the PA is actually secondary to becoming the strong factor in the Palestine Liberation Organization. Hamas wants to revamp the PLO; they are in desperate need of restructuring and reformation and all Palestinians have to be in it; it has to strive to create consensus among the Palestinians and has to have legitimacy far beyond the constituency of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip…Because of the understanding, we’re in power now, if we have elections for Fatah, we’ll lose power. No one will pick us again. So what are we going to do? If we restructure the PLO – Fatah doesn’t even exist as a political party anymore - Hamas will [lead the lot]. This is the fear. So for Fatah to be able to compete with Hamas in a legitimate fashion, the concentration falls back again and again on military confrontation. So this is a bleak picture. But the [linchpin] in this bleak picture is in fact the United States. We don’t know if Israel would have gone in the direction of a ceasefire with Hamas, but we know for sure the United States prevented them from doing it had they been willing to do it. We know Israel would have considered negotiating with Syria much sooner in a manner that would have prevented the war in Lebanon had the United States not put pressure on Israel not to negotiate with Syria in a complete role reversal of previous U.S. administrations. The United States put pressure on Israel to continue the war in Lebanon while the Israelis themselves recognized they were not going to have a military victory.

One can’t blame the United States for making the same mistake with Israel that its making with itself. United States policy has actually become in my opinion, the single greatest destabilizing factor in Israeli-Palestinian peace making. It is important to note that Fatah wouldn’t attack Hamas, it wouldn’t think that it could wage a civil war if it didn’t feel it had White House support. The United States is the key player in this respect. Now that’s good news for us, because we all happen to be Americans, and this is our country, and we have a say in it. And that’s why it’s very very important to focus our efforts on changing policy here. And we have an advantage that it’s almost become conventional wisdom: the majority of Americans believe the war in Iraq can’t be won and the majority believe in a two state solution. A recent poll by the American Arab Institute and APN shows that the majority of American Jews and the majority of Arab Americans are on the same page on the question of the two state solution, on the question of security for Israel, recognition of Israel, recognition of Palestine. So I think we are in a really good place in terms of where our two communities are on this, and I’d like to say that it’s equally important that both of our communities engage in the next year and a half on this issue in order to attempt to create more daylight between the state department and the national security council. Secretary of State Rice has become an ally of the heart. She agrees with us. She could probably go through a Brit Tzedek conference and nod her head and agree with most of what’s being said. She has no plan whatsoever to implement it. She knows not how to implement it. She does not have the support of the president and she does not have the support of the White House staff.

What’s missing from this crucial equation is the American Jewish community. In my travels everyone kept asking me, ‘when is this counter-lobby being created? If AIPAC only represents ten-percent of American Jews then where is the rest? We keep hearing stories about some lobby that’s going to be created to be some counter coalition of organizations during an election year.’ And I don’t know where this stands, but I’m going to bet that many of you on this call are part of that conversation and process. I’ll just say here that now is the time to stand up, because if it isn’t now, it’s not going to be done for the next four years, and that’s just another four years of tragedy and suffering for many lives in both Israel and Palestine. Arab Americans have to do their part as well. Muslim Americans have to do their part. But there’s no presidential candidate or staffer that I’ve met with who isn’t desperate to have the American Jewish community on their side on this issue. Everyone is desperate to have the American Jewish community on their side so that they can say what they believe and in that respect I think the candidates across the board on the democratic side, at least, and for Senator Hegel on the Republican side certainly all agree that there needs to be a two state solution and that the United States needs to take the leadership role in pushing it forward, and I think there needs to be as much noise as possible about that.

I asked somebody today who travels a lot in Lebanon whether he thought there was going to be a conflict in Lebanon again in the summer between Israel and Lebanon. And he said there was some worry at times that Israel was still readying for another military engagement. We can go down the same path as always and everybody can wave the flag and end up with blind support at the beginning of the war, and like many people did for the Lebanon war when it just started, and then when the body bags start coming back and we realize that we have achieved no positive purpose we can regret it and look back at it with shame.

Well rather than looking back at it with shame I think now is the time to stand up and begin making as much noise as possible. If there are people who are shamelessly lobbying in Washington DC for the United States to be able to unilaterally attack Iran which I think is just insane, but for those who know it is a disaster for the United States we have to wonder about their political intentions, but the fact that that’s being openly advocated and pushed hard here in Washington means that it’s being pushed in part in order to keep the debate off of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When you have Secretary Rice say two days ago, I believe, to Israel, ‘ok, you can talk to Syria but don’t drop the ball on the Israel-Palestine conflict; you have to negotiate that and that is the core issue of the regional problems.’ For her to say that is a huge deal. To admit that directly contradicts what the White House believes. She needs support. She needs as much support as we can possibly give her.

Q&A

How would you encourage us to communicate to American Jews about Hamas?

I’ll tell you how I put it forward because of how I feel and if you find it useful in your own community is for you to decide. I don’t want to color over Hamas or put them in a better light than they are; it’s just simply that Hamas has moderated from when it was blowing up buses and bars and discos in Tel Aviv. It hasn’t admitted that it was wrong for doing those things, and that’s too bad and it may choose to admit that it was wrong one day, but what’s important is that it’s not doing it. The language Hamas has used of long term hudna and the right of return as inviolable but can’t be implemented by Hamas, their calls for Fatah to negotiate with Israel, and if there is a peace agreement it will be put up for referendum, and even if Hamas doesn’t agree with the peace agreement if it passes the referendum it will implement it as the ruling government. These are important statements based on decisions of the Hamas politburo and are a measure of party discipline. My argument is that Hamas has to be co-opted and moderated into the system. It may or may not ever happen. They’ve already shown much more pragmatism than Fatah, as seen in Fatah’s constant pursuit of negotiations with Israel when it’s very clear that the Israeli government has no incentive to implement a two state agreement. In order for Hamas to be co-opted into something actually greater than it, there needs to be something greater than Hamas on the ground and that has to be the idea of a secular nationalist movement; that has to be the idea of a Palestinian state for all Palestinians. Fatah has to be put into the position of rising up to that challenge. In the meantime we need stability and we need security. Hamas is in as good a position if not better than Fatah ever was to deliver on that, if not because Hamas was the primary spoiler in the past. Whether you call Hamas a terrorist organization or not is irrelevant. What doesn’t change is that Hamas is the one you have to deal with. We’re doing it in Iraq. In Iraq we’re sitting down with people who are killing American soldiers in order to talk to them how can we stop doing this. And Hamas is nowhere near like what the Iraq insurgency is, especially those linked with Al-Qaida. And what happens when it [Al-Qaida] hits Hamas? We’ve already seen the rise of ultra Wahabi-like Salafist organizations in Gaza and Hamas has done a really good job shutting out these types of groups. Because Hamas is weak in Lebanon it has been unable to send these groups out of the Palestinian camps.

If you were Abbas, what would you say to Olmert in their upcoming meeting?              

I would say look, if you don’t want a two-state deal there’s no reason for us to keep meeting…[inaudible] I know we can achieve an agreement in two or three months. And I know we can begin and finish implementation within one year. So we don’t need to have a hundred meetings in which my own political capital in my own constituency is going to be utterly destroyed because I look so weakened. Every time I meet with you I have nothing to show for it. I know and you know that you have never released a political prisoner. It’s always been an exchange for Israeli prisoners; it’s always been an exchange for Israeli bodies. You and I both know you’ve never exited an inch of Palestinian, Egyptian, Lebanese territory without military pressure or might working as a deterrent against you. If you’re prepared to create a new precedent for Israel and for the cause of peace be able to work to create two  states, then we’ll have a marathon: I’ll do everything I can to help make that possible. If you’re not willing to do it, I have some trouble back home that I have to take care of, and I’m going to concentrate on rebuilding the Palestinian national movement so that in the future we’ll find some way of pressuring you to do what you need to do. And then I would walk out. I would not expect an answer from him. I would not expect any answer he gave to be implementable by him and I would concentrate on working things from the Palestinian side and creating facts on the ground, learning from the Israelis.

What are your views of the current presidential candidates of the United States and what effect might any of them have on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

I heard overseas that the Republicans had their debate so I missed that scene when the reporter asked ‘how many of you don’t believe in evolution?’ and three republican candidates raised their hand. I was told about it over and over again in all the countries. I don’t know too much about all of the Republican candidates, but we’ve heard from foreign policy advisors from almost all of them and I think that many of them don’t actually know or have a policy. They know the stuff that AIPAC hands them. They should follow along with it; don’t say or do anything to irritate. Most of them believe attacking Iran would be a disaster for the United States so they’re trying to figure out how to walk that line. The two candidates with the most foreign policy experience and who probably have the most sincere desire to push forward a major multi-lateral diplomatic agenda that would be to Israel’s benefit as well as to the region’s because it serves the American national interest is Senator Hegel and Governor Bill Richardson. And it’s because of their diplomatic histories and because they see the world in a very multifaceted way and they connect the dots. They know for example, how dealing with Iran means also dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. And they know how dealing with Iraq means dealing with Afghanistan. And they know how Lebanon and Syria both have interests an influence in the Gaza Strip. And that’s something the other candidates don’t really get. Somebody has to explain it to them. Edwards gave that famous Herzeliyya speech but then got hit by his own constituents so he started nuancing his message there. We know some of them have good ideas, some of them have good intentions, but in terms of the policies any of them would implement if they became president, I think that is just up for grabs. And again I think this is just the time where it is very important for those of us who believe that peace is possible and peace is in everybody’s interest, America’s interest first and foremost, as well as Israel’s interest and Palestinians and all the people of the region, then I think we need to put out a new conventional wisdom, and the Baker-Hamilton report tried to do that, and I don’t think we’ve pushed hard enough on it. 

What do you think about developments within the Israeli Labor party?

I would like to think that Barak has learned from his mistakes and I don’t think that his only mistake was that people didn’t like him. I think he had some fundamental misconceptions about Arabs in terms of how he viewed them and how he had to deal with them. He didn’t accomplish any of his objectives. So I would hope he wouldn’t try to go down that route one more time. As for Ami Ayalon, it’s very curious; he’s given some interviews in which he didn’t seem to believe in the Ayalon-Nusseibeh plan anymore. But it would be great if he did.

What role can Brit Tzedek play in terms of alliance building to assist in the rebuilding of the Palestinian national movement?

We’re so far from that happening. We have traditional friends of the Palestinians, like the Irish, and the South Africans, and Non-Aligned movement. So many people have had successful movements and successful revolutions and who have developed independent movements that have gone on to become independent political parties, and I think they are the first people the Palestinians should be asking for advice. In fact many of them are lined up trying desperately to give advice but there’s nobody left in Fatah to listen. In the Diaspora the Palestinians are so disgusted with what’s happening overseas that its very difficult to organize people and mobilize them. And then there’s the question, if we were an [issue] that nobody cared about, we might actually be able to start at the grassroots and build something up. The problem is that there’s so much money – the Palestinians are starving but there’s a billion dollars going into the territories – so how do people who want to create grassroots movements and grassroots constituencies compete against patronage at that level? It’s a very complex problem. At the end of the day the Palestinians will have to decide internally enough is enough and they’re going to have to do what we have to do to rebuild the Palestinian national movement. Or the Palestinians will lose. Israel will not win in the sense of having peace with security but the Palestinians will lose in the sense of not having freedom. Freedom is not inevitable. I know sometimes Palestinian leaders give speeches saying ‘whoever has justice on their side is guaranteed to win, no people have remained oppressed forever.’ That’s not true. That’s just historically inaccurate. Horrible things have happened. Entire peoples have been wiped off the face of the earth. The Jewish people were almost wiped out of Europe completely. People with just causes can lose. What lets you win isn’t the justice of your cause. What lets you win is being able to mobilize and utilize the justice of your cause. The Palestinians have to start doing what every other successful movement has done. In anticipation of not being a successful movement that’s when you ask for third party intervention. The Palestinians stopped trying on their own to liberate Palestine a long time ago. They’ve asked for international intervention, and monitors, and observers, and they’ve done so even before I joined the negotiations team in 2000. So its something the Palestinians have to sort out. The Diaspora has to figure out how it can help. What the American Jewish, American Arab, and American Muslim constituencies can do is work together to create a broader coalition of pro-peace constituents. The evangelical movement in the United States has been effectively maligned in the same way the American Jewish community has been maligned. The American Jewish community has been associated with AIPAC despite the fact that the majority of American Jews have views that are anathema to AIPAC. The same happens with the right evangelical groups, that are desperate for Armageddon to come about so Jesus can slaughter all the Jews who don’t convert…[inaudible] people assume outside of the United States that these people speak for all evangelicals where that’s not the case; they speak for a very small minority. So I think it is very important for all of the silent majorities from all of our communities to be working together to reclaim that space because together here we can have much more of an impact on policy. To be frank, if you throw a rock in a pond you see the ripples go off all over the place. The United States throws boulders in ponds. It’s time for us as activists who support peace to start running around telling people where the rocks need to go or which rocks don’t need to be picked up.    

The IDF has used the Qassam attacks from Gaza on the Jewish town of Sderot as its reason for resuming targeted killings and for raids into Palestine. Many in the Jewish community unfortunately see this as a warranted response. How do you think we should answer them and how should Israel respond to these attacks?

There’s not a military solution. It’d be nice if there was a military solution to everything. The reason we are a democracy is because we don’t believe military solutions are the answer to everything. The attacks by Hamas on Sderot are actually an attempt to draw Israel into the conflict in order to show Palestinians that Israel and Fatah are fighting on the same side against Hamas. And you’ll notice that Fatah started the fight with Hamas, and then Hamas did what everybody knew Hamas would do when that happened, which was attack Israel, and then Israel attacked back against Hamas and started trying to decimate Hamas’ leadership and then Fatah stopped fighting. Difficult pattern. It happens over and over again. And so Fatah stands back hoping they don’t get implicated in the killing but letting Israel do it and probably quietly encouraging Israel to do it because it’s actually taking out Fatah’s enemy. At the same time, Hamas’ own strategy is to say, ‘ok, we’re still popular with the people. They realize Israel and Fatah are on the same side, but how does that benefit us?’ Again, I think Hamas is gambling with its assumption that Israel wants security and they’re still trying to figure out what to do if Israel wants neither peace nor security. And I don’t think they know what to do with themselves in that kind of scenario.

Are there specific steps the Bush administration could do right now before the end of its term?

This is a long shot I admit, but Dr. Rice believes she can create a Palestinian state by the end of Bush’s term. She wants to, and she tells everyone that she wants to and she believes it’s possible. She’d rather that Rumsfeld pick up the legacy for Iraq and Cheney pick up the legacy for Iran but she wants the legacy for doing this. That’s great. And it’s possible too. It is technically possible. All it takes is for Bush to put his mind behind it in the same way he did in trying to get us into war with Iraq. There’s no doubt he could do it because the majority of Israelis and the majority of Palestinians, the moment they saw that kind of American resolve, the silent majority, the peace camps in both communities that are hiding in their houses right now, they would rise up. They would fill Rabin Square, they would fill Ramallah, they would do whatever they had to do to make sure this happened, and they would get rid of anyone who stood in the way in their own political establishments. Nobody has the ability to convince President Bush to do that except Americans.  I don’t know who and why and what but I think that’s what we should be advocating for and arguing for, and to step into it so that he can’t say that nobody told him, especially since his secretary of state is telling him.   

Is there anything Syria could do to influence to the better what’s going on in Gaza, and do you see the ability for progress on the Syrian track in the next period of time?

Yes, and I think the Syrian deal is one of those deals that everyone knows what it will look like, give or take a few symbols. It’s just a question of whether Israel is prepared to do it or not. And if Israel is ready Syria would sit down both Hezbollah and Hamas and cease their ability to function on Syrian territory.

What kind of reception did the Saudi plan receive recently from Fatah and Hamas?

They basically support it. It seems like conventional wisdom to most Palestinians. But there’s a lack of confidence it will happen. There’s a fear – and this goes for Hamas in particular - there’s a fear that the Arab League plan isn’t a plan but a promise, saying ‘you make peace with the Palestinians, Lebanese, and Syrians and we’ll all make peace with you.’ And it doesn’t matter what the peace deal is, as long as you conclude a peace deal with those three countries. And Israel now is trying to say, ‘well, ok, what are you going to give me before that?’ And Hamas in particular is concerned that the Arabs will start giving things in advance but the end result will never happen. So relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel may start up but there won’t be any state.

Do you think Israelis believe withdrawing from Gaza was a mistake or that withdrawing unilaterally was a mistake? And from a Palestinian perspective, do you think that Palestinians are worse off now than they were before the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza?

Palestinians have been worse off year after year consistently since the year 2000. The disengagement didn’t change that. I would hope the Israeli public is feeling the latter, that unilateral withdrawal without negotiations, without concluding an agreement is a bad idea. Even the unilateral disengagement from Gaza could have been made to work better if it had been reconciled with the fact that you knew you were leaving territory that was controlled by Hamas.  You can’t leave southern Lebanon and then be shocked when Hezbollah takes charge there. You can’t leave Gaza and then say ‘oh my God, look, there’s Palestinians there!’ Israel can withdraw in a way that strengthens its friends, and it can withdraw in a way that strengthens its enemies. And it has consistently withdrawn in a way that has strengthened its enemies. I don’t know why, but it has consistently done so.  Arafat died before the disengagement. Israel had one year, almost one year, to transform the unilateral disengagement from Gaza into a negotiation with Abu Mazen that would have strengthened Fatah and made Palestinians believe this was a real result of a peace process.   And they explicitly went out of their way to make sure that Palestinians did not think that.

Any words of summary?

I don’t mean to be preachy, and I say this to any group I’m speaking to whether they’re American Arabs or Jews or Americans of any affiliation – and that is, we have a responsibility. We cannot say we are citizens of this country and are not responsible for actions this government takes. Right now the United States is the single greatest destabilizing force in the world, in Somalia, in Lebanon, in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and these are problems that are causing ripple effects all over the world. We have an opportunity to start on a new track. It would be unfair to wish that a new democratic president that came to power will be able to immediately address the Arab-Israeli conflict, when there’s going to be Iraq, and there’s going to be Afghanistan, and there’s going to be all the other problems. The person who can maybe save his soul with this is maybe President Bush. And we have every responsibility to try to convince him in every way possible that he’s got to do this, he’s got to set the stage so that the next administration that comes to power has some stable footing from which to work from. An Arab-Israeli peace agreement, in which all the Arab states are at peace with Israel, in which Israel is finally living in security and in which Palestinians are finally living in freedom and dignity, that would be a proud stable foundation for the next administration to begin repairing the damage to American security interests worldwide. I think each of us as an individual American and regardless of the organization you work with or through, have a moral responsibility and patriotic duty to do everything possible to convince this administration what it needs to do and if it doesn’t then have an emergency plan of what the next administration needs to do.

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