Yesterday afternoon, NPR’s All Things Considered aired a remarkable exchange about Israel-Palestine. It came during a foreign-policy roundtable hosted by Guy Raz and featuring Richard Perle, Jane Harman, and Stephen Walt. The exchange was remarkable for several reasons: In addition to the neoconservative Perle and the rightwing Jane Harman, it included Walt, the realist co-author of The Israel Lobby; and host Guy Raz seemed to bend over backwards to convey Walt’s view. You will see that Walt calls Perle’s view of the peace process “nonsense,” and Perle gets no comeback. Also notice that Jane Harman understands that the Jewish state is at risk. Excerpts:
RAZ: So what can the next president realistically do on the Israel-Palestine front? What do you think they can do and should do?
WALT: It is not a promising time to pursue Israeli-Palestinian peace… I don’t think, therefore, you’re likely to see a big push similar to the one that Obama made in the first year. I don’t think that’s going to happen under a Romney administration. And the result of which, the possibility of a two-state solution will recede further and further into the distance, which, I think, threatens Israel’s long-term future, which is deeply tragic…
RAZ: I just read a statistic today that the population – the Israeli population on the West Bank of settlers has grown at a much, much faster rate than the overall Israeli population over the past five years. Jane Harman, did you want to chime in there?
HARMAN: I did. I think there’s an urgency to resolving this problem. I think there’s an urgency for Israel, there’s an urgency for Palestine, there’s an urgency for us. And frankly, as the clock ticks, the ability to protect Israel as a Jewish state declines because of the huge youth bulge in the Arab populations. It’s unsustainable.
And I have been disappointed, frankly, in our administration and in the governments in both sides in the region in not making this a higher priority. They, you know, they always bring the baggage of we will talk, but this, that, and the other thing has to be resolved. I think the moment was better a year ago, perhaps, but it’s good enough now.
And Bibi Netanyahu, if he’s re-elected by a wide margin, which is what most people expect, could form a coalition in his government that would enable him to take some braver steps for peace. And I think the Palestinian leadership has to resolve this issue with Hamas, which is weakened in light of Syria, in particular. And maybe there’s a unity government that could be formed there that would give up its bellicose conversation about Israel and become a partner for peace on that side.
I mean, all the people in the region would win if this could happen. And I do think that Israel’s survival as a Jewish state is very dicey if this doesn’t happen and also because of other challenges from a neighborhood that’s in turmoil.
RAZ: Richard Perle, the clock is ticking down, as Jane Harman said. Why shouldn’t the next president push a settlement, impose a final status agreement on these two sides?
PERLE: Well, I don’t think he would succeed any more than the temptation to do that, which was hedged a bit from time to time as happened over many years. Some problems can’t be solved, or at least they can’t be solved under existing conditions. And the existing condition that seems to be the most important is the unwillingness of the Palestinians, with all the baggage they carry from the rest of the Arab world, to accept the existence of the Jewish state. They’ve never really done so.
And to this day, under the diplomatic surface, there continues a set of attitudes that I believe make peace impossible. For example, just a few days ago, a suicide bomber who had killed 21 people received the highest honor that could be bestowed by the Palestine Committee of Arab Lawyers. That attitude runs very deep, and it runs unopposed, largely. I have not heard this president or, for that matter, his predecessors say much about the chronic celebration of suicide bombers in the Palestinian territories. Until you begin to change the mentality, you’re not going to see much of a change on the diplomatic surface.
RAZ: I want to give Stephen Walt the last word or two on this issue. Do you think that what Richard Perle has just talked about is a serious obstacle to come into a peace agreement?
WALT: Frankly, I think most of what Richard just said is nonsense. There’s certainly attitudes within the Palestinian community that are rejectionist, but the Palestinian authority has said for over a decade now that it is eager to have a two-state solution. The problem is it’s continuing to watch the Israeli government expand settlements throughout the West Bank and essentially gobble up what should be the territory of a Palestinian state in the future.
This is a case where if the United States were able to bring pressure to bear on both sides, not just one, we might have some hope of getting a diplomatic solution. But given that the United States is not willing to do that, I think we’re going to see the situation that Jane Harman, I think, most fears – and correctly fears – namely, a two-state solution disappears as a possibility and Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state is imperiled largely because the United States was unable to act as a good friend to its various friends in the region – Israel, most of all.
The best moment in this exchange is when Harman says that the future of the Jewish state is “dicey.” She packages her concern in the usual racist language — talk about an Arab youth bulge, as if describing an Arab woman’s pregnant belly — but notice that she is saying we are losing our ability to protect Israel from that future. I.e., the lobby can’t do this heavy lifting much longer. She’s a realist at heart. She is hinting that when push comes to shove, even the liberal American Zionists are going to have to side with democracy.
Though they won’t give up without a fight. And the fascination of the exchange is just what I have always predicted: that the lib/center Zionists need a coalition with realists to make anything happen: J Street needs Scowcroft, Harman needs Walt. Which means that if Obama wins, they are going to mount a last-gasp two state solution push, which will fail, partly because so many realists have stopped believing in it.
Lastly, let me note that three out of the four participants in this exchange are Jewish–another sign of the prominence we have in the Establishment. We are not outsiders.