#Tomorrow13 Should we initiate or should we wait until the Middle East sorts itself out?
I walked into this session as Itamar Rabinovich was speaking and now Dore Gold is up. Gold says that before we talk about what we should do, we have to recognize what has happened and where we stand. He says that we don't have an option for a permanent status agreement with the 'Palestinians' and lots of weapons on our borders and therefore we have to adopt the position of dispensable borders. Leaving the Jordan Valley would be a national disaster.
Dore Gold says that Hassan Rohani is a master of taqiyya and is the star of the first chapter of Gold's book on the Iranian nuclear threat. Rohani bragged in 2004 about how they completed their nuclear program because of his negotiations. Rohani is not a dove but a fox.
Dan Kurtzer now speaking. Kurtzer wants to talk about the ostrich and the eagle. Kurtzer says that ostrich exposes a certain part of its anatomy that might be exposed to shrapnel by burying its head in the ground. Israel has limited ability to influence change in Arab world, and is mostly affected by what Israel says and not by what it does. Response to Arab spring so far has been enlightened.
Kurtzer found out over the last few days that he's a solutionist and he believes that there's a solution to our dispute with the 'Palestinians.' Gap has been narrowed significantly but no final settlement has been reached. He thinks Israeli initiative which shows it understands that fire in its own house must be put out would be smart. That must include secure, recognized and defensible borders. Both peace treaties with Arab neighbors have provided us with security because they gave us peace partners who were responsible to implement the treaty just like we were. He says borders have to be negotiated. Starting with defined borders may be a way back into the 'peace process.'
Kurtzer says there's a major debate in the US over intervention in Syria. Israelis know better than anyone that conflict fatigue has affected the US - troops on the ground here for the last 12 years. To what degree are concrete achievable American needs at stake? American people aren't sure. Is a devil we know better than what will emerge from the outcome?
Meir Dagan up next. Says he's not a prophet. Says we should not fear worst case scenario. Says our interest and those of the Gulf countries, Egypt and maybe even the 'Palestinians' all have the same interest. All of us fear the open conflict between Shiite and Sunni, and that this creates opportunities for Israel to create different alliances.
Says Saudi plan a starting point and vital for us to discuss it even though he doesn't like all of it either. There are things for which we need the support of other Arab countries to reach an arrangement with the 'Palestinians.' Problems are complicated. Lists other issues in Iran aside from nuclear issue.
If Assad doesn't win in Syria, we can shut down Hezbullah. There are more opportunities here and we should take initiative with Arab world. Says the Muslim Brotherhood took over in Egypt because they were very well organized. New regimes in Tunisia and Libya may not survive - they are criticized daily. The same is true in Egypt. Morsy trying his best not to touch agreement with Israel because he is dependent on money he receives from the United States. King Abdullah has been ruling Jordan longer than any Prime Minister of Israel or any President of the United States. We took a risk with Jordan and it paid off. We have to prepare ourselves for the worst but take every opportunity and chance that we get.
20 minutes of panel debate and then short questions.
Sima Shine says she agrees with Dagan because he was her boss.... She wants to talk about the Iranian election. Where is Iran really going? She doesn't have an answer yet. Rohani is only becoming President in August. What does it mean that he was elected with more than 50% in the first round? She says that the public in Iran sees Rohani as stepping into Moussavi's shoes from 2009. Have to look at his internal agenda - is talking about lifting censorship and giving women more freedom. But the economy is terrible. In July there will be more sanctions. You cannot disconnect the economy from sanctions and the nuclear project and therefore he cannot improve the economy without coming to terms over the nuclear program. The Iranians want sanctions removed which is impossible.
She says that there is no doubt that Israel must initiate. The question is whether Israel has a good answer to all its problems and are they all connected. Will doing something about the 'Palestinians' change the situations in Syria and Iran? She says yes (I say no).
Itamar Rabinovich says that the problem is that no Israeli leader will put Olmert's 2008 proposal on the table, but that Abu Mazen won't accept anything else. So how to find a way to move forward? Offering them $4 billion as a bribe is not the best way forward. Saudi plan (now known as Arab peace initiative) may not be the best way forward. It talks about return to 1967 borders. That includes Syria and obviously no one is going to do that today. So need to open a dialogue with the Saudis but cannot put five lines on the table and say 'take it or leave it.'
Dore Gold says he agrees with Rabinovich that time is not ripe for a full final status agreement. He says that he also agrees with much of what Dagan said. In the '90's the entire approach was economic. The Middle East we have today has two common threats - the Iranians and the Muslim Brotherhood. That should help us to build dialogue with some Sunni Arab countries, but that dialogue has to be quiet.
Rabinovich says that 'two-state solution' is not dead and criticizes senior Israeli officials for saying that it's dead. For a senior minister in the cabinet to say that the 'two-state solution' is dead is damaging.
Kurtzer asks why isn't this the time to try for a final status agreement. He thinks this is a time to try for it. He says that we cannot look at the Arab peace initiative through its details but we have to understand the context and that it represents a victory for Zionism because it shows that the Arab world has given up on trying to destroy Israel. In 2002, Arab world threw up its hands and said that Israel is here to stay (if only... CiJ).
Kurtzer says that if we don't agree with him, we shouldn't keep digging the hole deeper with 'settlements.' He says it's just exacerbating the problem every day. People are moving into these houses with no expectation of being a bargaining chip and complicating the agreement that Israel says its seeks with the Arab world. Says people are looking at details instead of looking at eagle's perspective. Dagan pointed out unexpected benefits of Morsy government which has done more to stop Hamas tunnels than anyone else. Egypt working with Israel on strategic issues. Kurtzer says it's time for final status agreement but at least don't make the situation worse.
Dore Gold says that the problem with the Arab peace initiative is that it's 'take it or leave it.' You can't even keep the 'refugees' in Lebanon. It's not a basis for sitting down to talk. Unfortunately, it's take it or leave it.
Meir Dagan disagrees. He says that Israel has to start a serious dialogue with the 'Palestinians.' Saying that there's no way to reach an agreement is damaging to Israel. He knows we cannot reach a final agreement with the 'Palestinians' now but we have to talk to them seriously. He says that we have to take seriously the Arab League's willingness to accept the existence of the State of Israel.
Dagan says he agrees with Kurtzer. Asks rhetorically if we should wait for Hamas to take over in the 'West Bank.' At least the 'Palestinian Authority' has a goal of establishing a 'Palestinian state.' Says Hamas would win election and that is worst case scenario for Israel.
Now taking questions from the audience. First questioner asks Dore Gold why Israel doesn't just call the 'Palestinians' bluff by offering six-month 'settlement freeze.' (Because we did already - CiJ). Gold says just what I said. We did this. It may not have been perfect but the US recognized it was a real freeze. Maybe Mahmoud Abbas doesn't want a negotiation right now. Mubarak would help him in the old days but now Hamas' sponsors are in control in Cairo. Gold says that in a NY Times interview a few years ago, Abbas said that 'settlements' constitute 1.2% of 'West Bank' and Abbas offered 1.9% swap. Arafat signed Oslo without a 'settlement freeze.' There are far more important issues.
Itamar Rabinovich talks about 'settlement products' in Europe. Says Europeans ask why we don't want them to take a more active role. He says just think of what happened a few weeks ago and how the Austrians ran away from the Golan Heights (remember EUBAM? CiJ). BDS gaining in Europe. Rabinovich says don't expand 'settlements.' Improve our hasbara (public relations). Put 20 spokesmen on networks and it won't help if a minister gets up and says that Bibi doesn't want a 'two-state solution.'
Next questioner asks Dan Kurtzer what we're going to do about the Russians holding all the cards in Syria. Kurtzer says that you have to be careful what you say publicly (implies that Obama spoke too quickly on Syrian use of chemical weapons). US trying to weigh all factors carefully. What happens if Assad stays in power? Who will come to power if he leaves? If US believed that there would be a liberal democratic regime in Syria, there would be US bombers in Syria today. But that's not going to happen and the civil war is likely to continue even if Assad leaves. Russia has significant interests in that context. US and Russia trying to align their interests in a way that provides for a reasonable transition in Syria. It hasn't happened yet.
Meir Dagan disagrees with Dore Gold - says that the IDF can protect Israel from any border that the government decides. Withdrawing from Jordan Valley not a disaster according to Dagan. In 1967 we were on different borders and we prevailed militarily. Using security for political issues is a mistake according to Dagan.
Dore Gold cites Yitzchak Rabin's last speech to the Knesset in which he said that Israel had to retain the Jordan Valley in the widest sense possible. Ariel Sharon said the same and so did Gold when he prepared the IDF's interest map for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Gold and Dagan are going back and forth on this.
Dagan claims that Jordan Valley was only important until 1991. Iraq, Syria and Jordan were a threat until 1991 - called Eastern front. Claims it's no longer an issue (Really? Weapons smuggling to 'Palestinians' in Judea and Samaria? CiJ) because Iraq has no military and Abdullah won't join an eastern front. Says have to prevent terrorists from coming in but don't need direct military presence to do that if you have good cooperation with the Jordanians. Says he's not presenting a political approach. IDF can protect Israel from different borders.
Sima Shine agrees with Dagan (again - why is she on this panel?) about the Arab peace initiative even though we don't like the details and even though we don't know who will rule Syria. You have to take into account that the Arab peace initiative now is mostly Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf and maybe Syria.
End of session.