Mon., Feb 28 – 9:00 AM:

Plenary Session: The American Role in the Middle East

Speaker: Ambassador Dennis Ross, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Central Region

Moderator: Kate Seelye, VP of Programs and Communications, Middle East Institute

Panel: Bernard Avishai – Author and Adjunct Professor of Business at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Roger Cohen – NY Times Columnist, Daniel Levy – New America Foundation

 

Ross: What everyone thought speech would be about has obviously changed. Today a month in the Middle East seems like a lifetime. No one could have imagined a middle east without Mubarak and Ben Ali. Now is a time of uncertainty.

It became clear immediately on March 25th that things would change. An increasing dynamism from the youth was unseen – a fatal miscalculation by the Egyptian Government. Unable to open up, so they resorted to all they knew, oppression. The death of Alid Seid in June for blogging was the start, an FB page was formed with 130,000 members and later when the google exec who started it was arrested and released it was his impassioned plea that may have pushed it over the edge.

Not only us, but those who were moving towards reform from within believed it would have to be slow, that “most citizens would remain absent from political life.” The youth of the Jan 25th movement showed all Egyptians how to overcome their fear, abd they came together under unity of purpose.

The conversation between Obama an Mubarak started BEFORE Jan 25th as Obama pushed Mubarak to lift the emergency law. Now we are committed to helping in any way we can, working under the understanding that we support a government of institutions, not personalities.

 

9:15 PM:

The military now has responsibilities for which it has no training, the transition from military to civilian rule, and we are encouraged by its early communiques, including its intent to keep to the rules of the peace treaty with Israel.

Egypt leads in the region, but each country has its own differences. However the growing revolts prove that in the end suppression does not pay. Bahraini Royal Family now talking with all aspects of Bahraini society and Algeria has lifted its 19 year state of emergency, but these are just beginnings. Qaddafi has lost all legitimacy and has to leave NOW. Over the past six months the White House has had a working group on reforming the Middle East and American Policy to do so. That work has helped us to react and hopefully now guide and shape, what is occurring.

We have not lost sight through all of this on our other regional responsibilities, including our commitments to security, to an Israeli-Palestinian Peace, and containing Iran. Working on unilateral steps with the European Union to be taken in Libya. UN vote was first ever unanimous vote to refer a leader to the international criminal country.

Egypt traditionally has been a setter of behavior in the Middle East. It is important at this time to restate the Obama Administration’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security. As someone who has served in five administration there has never been a time that the pact of security between Israel and United States has been stronger than it is today.

If there is one lesson to be learned here, it is that there is a danger to beicoming stuck in the status quo. The longer the Palestinian conflict goes on, the more difficult to end. Will not speak to what is specifically being done, but will talk about the tone.

Many clocks ticking. First is the demographic clock that ticks and works against the Zionist dream of a democratic Israel state. There is also a biological clock ticking. As the old guard leaves the new guard must know that peace is a possibility despite what they have seen. Third is a technology shift, rocket technology for example will make it easier for Hamas to disrupt wuth violence.

“The only path to peace is through negotiation. There is no other.” Just as Arab governments used Israel as an excuse to not deal with internal issues, they now must step away from that to deal with those internal issues. (Author’s note: Tone implies that At the same time Israel cannot use the dangers of Palestinians to supress conversation of its own domestic problems)

Iran has tried to claim responsibility for changes in Egypt, but Egypt and the world have rejected this and see the hypocrisy in how it treats its own people. Iran’s attempts to obfuscate and resist serious negotiations will only lea to more pressure. “We reamin determined to prevent Iran from gaining Nuclear weapons and we will not be deflected from that goal.”

Complex intertwined agenda in Midle East that administration is committed to pursuing with great vigor.

9:30 PM:

Discussion with Ross and Moderator

Moderator: Isn’t it time for a new peace initiative from US.?

Ross: 1 – We have to fin a careful balance. 2 – Sec Clinton said in a speech that we would be working with each side in patrallel over time so that the US can make bridging proposals over time. We have meetings with negotiators next week.

Mod: But isnt it time to make some of these bridging proposals public?

Ross; Repeates that the status quo is unsustainable and doing the things that move in the right direction (Author’s note – not an answer)

Mod: Admin’s thinking on Palestinian recent moves towards recognition

Ross: one thing that is clear is that unilateral moves do not lead to peace unless agreed on behind the scenes. They do not address the differeces between the parties that must be resolved for peace. There is no desire to have negotiations for their own sake. Peace becomes more important in these times not less.

Mod: Expand on what we expect from Egypt re Cold Peace, Gaza, etc.?

Ross: It is a time of uncertainty. There is cooperation between Egypt and Israel is ongoing. It is in Egypt’s interest that the peace become warmer not colder. Cold peace was the result of a government that sought legitimacy through a derived fashion, such as support of Palestinian statehood. If internal changes create greater legitimacy a warmer peace becomes possible and more sensible.

Mod: Do you see such changes in the P.A.?

Ross: Yes, the PA has taken concrete steps towards building institutions and that is helping to change how their own people look at them.

9:45 PM, Panel Discussion on Obama Aministration’s handling of the Peace Process and Ross’ speech:

Seelya (to Cohen): Have written that parties have come really close but were relying on bridging proposals. How do you feel about what Ross said in that context?

Cohen: Ross said negotiation is the only way. That is partially true. “We need a little more Dr. Kissinger and a little less Dr. Phil.” There is no way for the US gov’t to win over midle eastern youth without seeming to help the Palestinians, and if so are bilateral negotiations the best way to produce it? If you look at what has happened over 5 administrations it is “misguided” to believe that relying JUST on negotiations will produce a settlement. Ithink that the chances that they alone will produce are real are NIL. However, the results of ANY good negotiation is “No”. The elements of the deal are “no”, so the question is why is the administration not embracing the ideas that are rejected publically. The US needs to give a “political horizon” to the Arab and Israeli streets. Obamadoes not have to win a diplomatic victory by getting both sides to accept it’s proposals, but rather by getting world opinion to rally around those proposals.

Admin thinks it’s purpose is to get the parties to yes. That is not true. The US place is to organize an international position on the need for a palestinian state and Israeli support. Create an international pressure by forming international opinio – THAT is a diplomatic victory for the U.S. As long as we try to deal with direct negotiations we will continue to not propose things just because we know Netenyahu will reject them

Dan Levi: Let’s focus on the sentence “The status quo is unsustainable”. But you have to define WHAT about the status quo is unsustainable to build confidence 18 years after Oslo between an occupying people and an occupied people that we an simply say that is not real. We need to find a new language. Lieberman is the demon child of a language that looks at this issue purely in terms of demographics. What part of our relationship with Israel is showing them reality and how much is showing them that what they are doing is not supportable and sustainable. The Egyptian peace model was a cold peace between security apparatuses sustained by US $$$, not between two governments and peoples. You cannot be on the side of Arab Freedom if you are NOT on the side of Palestinian Freedom. We are not going to get a school of progressivism to burst forth overnight in Israel, but we have seen from the Knesset members here that we are seeing a school of realism bloom. Now the question is what signal do WE send – is it the wake up call or the suicidal continuation of the status quo.” Sometimes we DO have to make life harder by dealing with the facts?” I we want a two state model there are going to be some difficult things for Israel to rap it’s head around, but it has too. Examples: 1 – Land trades. It is easy to talk about %s in the West Bank, but without a defensibly designed border it is meaningless. 2 – Security – If we are going to have a real Palestinian state that does not include a continued desire for Israeli territory they MUST have real borders under their own control. Finally, the plan must not be a plan with just the PA even though he believes in strength of our partners it ony works if all of Fatah, the Palestinian people and yes, Gaza, are part of the process.

10:10 PM:

Moderator to Avishai: Your take?

Avishai: A new Middle East requires a new Israel. Ross talks about the need for change in the region, but not about how we have supported the old regimes. This is an opportunity for us to align our policies with our ideals by truly working with these new democracies. This is the first time in ages that people have a place to meet in private other than a mosque (note: speaker was in Tahir Square for the revolution). these people for the first time in their lives feel their lives have value and do NOT feel dependent on others. Al Qaeda notably sat all of this out. Fayyad’s moves to make a state are promising, and Israel’s knee jerk rejection of that process is a serous mistake. Israel must be ushered away from this seige mentality that cannot SEE the glimmer of possibility. The word “process'” makes him die a little inside. What do great leaders do? They seize a moment! That is what is happening. We have been told that this was an age of authoritarianism, but it has proven not to be. Ross said we are in a period of uncertainty, but in reality we are in a period of HOPE. Ben Simon asked him this morning why has the President not yet gone to Israel. Now, he thinks Obama is doing a good ob, but can do better, It is time for Obama to go to Jerusalem, put Israelis at ease about US support, but also usher them to see the possibilities of Peace. What could be more radicalizing and push us back again more than another war? It is in our interests in the whole region to make sure violence does not break out in the territories. There has to be a quid-pro-quo. Israel HAS to give something in response to Fayyad’s work to build institutions. Also, the UN Veto was odd in that we essentially vetoed what we have stated as our belief – we vetoed our own words.

 

10:25 PM:

Moderator to Avishai: With elections coming up in Palestine and these other deadlines, how do we move these things forward.

Avishai: How do we push past the 32% of Israeli “Judeans” that everyone living on the coast don’t want to confront over Jerusalem. This is why many Israelis need a US plan, because those who believe in GLOBAL Israel don’t want to confront those who believe in GREATER ISRAEL, and think they don’t have to because US has it’s back. If US presents a blueprint that makes it clear that it supports GLOBAL Israel and that the people who believe in that HAVE to act o put pressure on that happening or they will lose that US help, and that Tipni Livni is the conduit to that, then the change will happen.

Levy: We talk about consequences, but Israelis wake up every day to the status quo with no consequences. The removal of the fear of Israel’s own existence can only happen if they stop building walls and are no longer the occupiers. What does friendship mean? If Israel is to make hard decision then her friends have to make hard decisions.

Moderator to COhen: What about Iran’s gains out of all of this?

Cohen: This is an old, tired regime. There is not one in these new revolutions who are inspired by the Iranian regime, which is incompetent. The idea that Israel should not pursue piece with Palestinians because of an existential threat from Iran is absurd.

 

Now on to a iscussion about the 800 lb guerilla in the room; Hamas, more ina few!

 

10:50 AM:

Panel: What About Hamas?

Chair: Stephen McInerney – E.D., Project on Middle East Democracy

Moderator: Robert Malley, Director, Middle East and North Africa Program of International Crisis Group

Panel: Ron Pundak – Director General of Perse Center for Peace, H.E. Jean-Daniel Ruch – Special Rep for the middle East for the Swiss Confederation, Marwan Bishara – Sr. Political Analyst for Al Jazeera


McInerney: All assumptions now have to be questioned now, including assumptions about Hamas, some of which are wrong in the first place. First question to Bishara. How does Egypt impact Israel an Hamas?

Birshawa: General Strokes – If we continue on assumption that freedom is sweeping through the region, then Palestine will not be exempt, and if democracy is sweeping, the same is true. I cannot see Egypt under these circumstances maintaining the siege. The Muslim Brotherhood will have an official political arm in Egypt. This is a challenge for underground movements to have to present its programs and processes. Hamas will gain strength, Abbas will be weakened, and spotlight will be on Israel. Hamas said in 2007 that it would allow PLO to negotiate for them and will honor PLO agreements in place subject to new agreements being voted on.

Mod: Same question to Pudak.

Pudak: Disagrees, see NO connection between what is happening in the rest of the Middle East and Hamas. The PLO in the 80s was a NATIONAL movement who did not like but accepted the Fait accompli of Israel when it moved towards peace. Hamas, on the other hand, is a RELIGIOUS movement. The intifadah was not the beginning of a process of peace but a process by which by 2027 Israel will dissappear. THIS is the long term vision of Hamas. They are not interested in peace. You cannot ignore Hamas writings because they say so. When Hamas says it wil work with PLO it is a step towards taking over and dominate PLO and move it in another direction. HAMAS is very pragmatic organization, they moved INTO terrorism when it was popular and moved out of it when it lost popularity. They respond to their followers, they are much more sophisticated. We see the pragmatism in the Nekab agreement (2007), bending within the situation is not acceptanc, it is bending yourself to fit into a situation so you can change it. The change has to happen amongst Hamas SUPPORTERS, because that could trickle up. For now, HAMAS acceptance of a Palestinian State is NOT the same as aceptance of an Israeli state. Perhaps if between now and 2027 we have a Palestinian state we will have the time to do that and work them into a political process. Disagrees with Dennis Ross that integration is needed before agreement. He thinks agreement must come before reconciliation for Hamas to live side by side with Israel.

Mod: to Pundak for later – why would Hamas go along with an agreement before reconciliation, but first to RUch, what role do you see?

Ruch – We believe Hamas is an actor because we recognize the results of the 2006 elections. The question still remains how do you bring them into the process? Hamas has said it will cease violence as soon as the occupation ended, and will accept the 67 borders. But once ou start discussing security internally or East Jerusalem they still have no internal debate going on that they need because they are not part of the peace process. (Author’s note: That is a poor excuse). Hamas had a main driving force to try to be recognized by West until Israel – Lebanon and US-Iraq there was less of a line towards that, thus less of a need to moderate. Thus do not feel a need to make any moves. For this to happen west neds to make real moves – which means reognize democratic process incluing a unity government resulting from free and fair palestinian elections and have a reconciled gov’t because than peace can happen. Also, we need to discuss Syria, but what risk do we take by taking Hamas at its word? Do we take risk by letting themino the elections. The problem is that looking at their leadership in West Bank may not be in align with what their Palestinian peoples want. The Access Restrictions have provoked hardship without weakening Hamas, so the access restrictions must be waived to some degree and take initiative to have a controlled opening of borders with third party monitoring to keep out weapons and do not oppose the moves towards inter-palestinian relations within the palestinian camp.

Mod: to Pundak, idea that you need to negotiate peace with parties with broad support. How do you do that and who talks with whom?

Pundak: Rabin and Arafat exchanged letters recognizing each other an recognizing PLO as speaking for Palestinian people, so PLO is the “address” and whoever appears at that “address” is whom we have to talk with. We want to end the conflict with the Palestinians,but Abbas today is very much representative. We believe that if their was an election tonight for President, Abbas would win, we know it. If their are elections and Hamas boycotts they lose meaning, but Hamas is a one election party. They partook in the last elections to seize power – they are not interested in democracy. We also know that Hamas people in Gaza, in a way Israel still are occupiers in Gaza, go before the Arab League as it is becoming will be in support. Hamas does have to be a part of it, but cannot be allowed to be a spiler (Author’s note: It’s not my typing, his answer was all over the place).

Birshawa: You can quote Hamas Charter, Likud Charter, Shas charter. This linear debate has been going on for years and is boring. How do we frame this question? Everything lse falls from that. “Is this a question of Israeli existence or of Palestinian dispossession? Is this a question of Israeli Security or Palestinian Independence?” How you frame these questions. The first 20 years between 67 and 87, both Israelis and Palestinians lived better than they do today. This has not been a peace process, it has been a war process. It is this framework, is this a zero-sum game? Is this Israel at any cost? We condemn Hamas for being an Islamist movement when Israelis even the atheists see it as a Jewish state, democratic second. These people need to negotiate how they can live together in one state IF THEY CHOOSE. Thanks to Likud behavior, separating them in two states is becoming impossible. How do you get all of these people to move. That time is running out. The other choice is that Israel through occupation cannot maintain democracy and may also be swept away. i think Israel can have peace without more of the same peace process.

12:15 PM:

Sorry, was waiting on line to wait to ask a question, Namely about trust. How is trust built when both sides say things in contrary to what they do, when Hamas says they will stop violence when the occupation ends, putting a cease fire AFTER peace and Israel says settlements are on the table but keep spending on Settlements.

Pundak: Trust requires the leaders of both sides to make bold statements as to what they are committed to so they show they can manage those who will try to spoil it. We ned a bold statement from the leaders.

Ruch: I trust no side – I trust the system, and we need a real system for peace. As for a cease fire, Hamas has kept its word in the past on cease fires so I trust them on that (Author’s note: If it is not obvious to you by now that the “neutral” Swiss are very supportive of Hamas then I need to become a better writer.)

Q: How do you respond to Statements from Hamas that Israel will dissolve?

Q: Are the settlements violation of the Geneva Convention?

Q: (From a holocaust survivor) We tried to enter Gaza bringing toys for children, water cleaning machines, harmonicas, etc., and when we showed this to the (arab) navy an they through the harmonicas in the water. When do we learn the way that we make pecae is to make our enemies into friends?

Birshawa:On first point. I think Hamas an Fatah can reconcile. As one Palestinian would say, “If only Israelis unerstood how much we fear their fear”.

Pundak: Question of Settlements and Geneva is beside the point, Settlements have to end.

Q: Did Israel bite itself in the foot by not making peace with Syria?

Q: Palestinian friend says Abbas would not win. How do you negotiate with a Palestinian govt that is not legitimate?

Q: How do Palestinians trust Israelis when they can’t even by a house in a Jewish neighborhood.

Ruch: A – Yes, they made a mistake with Syria. B – Can’t hold fair electons now. C- Both shell firings and settlements violate international law an the solution must run aroud that.

Birshawa: When one looks at the balance sheet Israel did not miss a chance to miss a chance at Peace in the last 50 years. Maybe we could imagine that if the region does flourish to be more democratic than the arab initiative will be back on the table, and that once Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan come to the table with an Israeli partner capable of taking risks and dealing with the larger question not from fear or a cynical view but from seizing an opportunity that could be the key to real peace.

Pundak: Let us hope that the good will win, that those who want to see peace from both sides will prevail, and let us remember that it is the responsibility of all of us to make this happen.

 

As people are leaving the Holocaust Survivor is playing Shalom Aleichem on one of the harmonicas he spoke of. Very touching moment.

Now to a press conference with Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J- Street. I may not be able to blog from it. If I can’t I will report on it after.

12:30 PM:

At the press conference and recording it. Will post with notes right after.

1:00 PM:

I came into the Press Conference  partway through due to the location and the other session running long. After he played Shalom Aleichem the Holocaust Survivor (sorry, I did not get his name) played a Palestinian song. Again pretty special.

So I walked in on an answer that I did not record, but it is worth mentioning even without the question. Ben – Ami was stating that the one and only political litmus test for speaking here was that you believed in Israel’s right to exist.¬†¬† I will be editing the sound file later, as it is too big to upload, and will post tonight as it’s own blog peace.

Next up is training for lobbying tomorrow, which I will NOT be blogging from. Next post should be around 3:00.

Shalom!