Chris Hayes had a great show Saturday morning with guests Rashid Khalidi, Noura Erakat, Jeremy Ben-Ami and Ann Lewis.
Hayes has been doing fantastic episodes. He knows the issues, asks all the right questions and goes right to the heart of the matter, even mentions those dreaded words, one state, and acknowledges that some on the American left are against Zionism. Khalidi and Erakat are like clear water in a desert; speaking truth about the conflict on mainstream television!
Khalidi drives home the point that negotiations were “designed to prevent Palestinian statehood and sovereignty…It’s not like the United States comes into the room and is a mediator. The United States coordinates its position with Israel always.”
Erakat: “We need to internationalize this issue and that’s the Palestinian responsibility..don’t think diplomacy is the way to go, we’ve done it for 20 years.”
I found Ben-Ami disappointing, particularly when he talks about back channel diplomacy, working behind-the-scenes with Netanyahu. It seems like the old Dennis Ross model, and how far has that gotten anyone?
Shorter Ann Lewis: ‘Let’s cheer our successes!’
Hayes: You’ve made the argument in your new book that basically the U.S. has played a destructive role in the peace process because it’s simultaneously tried to be Israeli’s closest ally and then hold itself out as essentially a neutral broker between the two parties.
Khalidi: Right. There’s a sort of Orwellian narrative in Washington and the media, unfortunately, some of it, buys into it that the United States has been engaged, earnestly in a peace process. Well there’s been a process. If you go back over the last couple of decades of it, it has not produced peace and it cannot produce peace. I try to analysis in the book why that is and I really think that this is like giving more methadone to an addict. This process was designed to produce the outcome it’s produced over several decades; occupation has gotten more intensive and stronger, settlement has expanded, those are the results. Palestinians are cooped up much more than 20 years ago. When I was living in Jerusalem Palestinians could go anywhere. They are all now –
Hayes: But let me just say this. The peace process has produced..i mean peace with Egypt is a big deal.
Khalidi: I’m talking about Palestine. When the United States wants something as it wanted peace with Egypt because it was important in the cold war the United States gets it over Israeli objections.
Lewis: My perspective goes back to the Clinton administration because I was working for President Clinton in the second term. He was clearly personally dedicated to peace, he reached out. I think we got close, he got close at Camp David. It does show the United States in that example can be both Israel’s ally and the broker who brings everybody together and, by the way, we would be talking later if you look at I don’t think peace with Jordan, for example had much of a cold war significance. I think we really have tried to encourage –
Khalidi: But anybody could have gotten that any time. That was an easy deal.
Lewis: I’m not sure it was that easy but you want happened. Let’s just cheer our successes when they do. There are some examples where Israel has been able to make peace with its neighbors. It’s a good thing.
Hayes: Here’s my question. I think this is an interesting point because if you move in the circles of basically kind of center left over right, which people who are liberal Zionists, who love Israel but want a two state solution all the way to people that are, don’t agree with Zionism or believe in a one state solution and a full democracy in the land west of the Jordan river. That there’s this sense of the U.S. has to play the role, they have to, the U.S. has to lead on peace. You’re making the argument maybe benign neglect from the U.S. would be better? Would it be better if there was not U.S. leadership?
Ben Ami: That’s the question, what’s the alternative? I think that benign neglect would be terrible. To let this fester would be bad for the United States, it would be a black mark against its leadership in the world. I agree with you that there’s been no results, that I absolutely agree. But to say that the process has been designed in order to facilitate occupation I think is an overstatement.
Khalidi: You actually have to go and look at the archaeology of all the deals that have been signed including what President Clinton worked on. All of these things really go back to ideas that are generated by Menachem Begin back in 1978. We are still within a framework of the autonomy agreement that President Carter, in 1978, made as part of the Israel- Egypt peace treaty. That is the framework in which Prime Minister Rabin negotiated, that is the framework in which President Clinton negotiated, and that is designed to prevent Palestinian statehood and sovereignty.
Ben Ami: But that’s not the American policy.
Khalidi: It has become American policy.
Ben Ami: It isn’t.
Khalidi: Under people like Dennis Ross who also worked for President Clinton.
Erakat: If you look just at Olso in 1993, we don’t even have to go back to 1978, but just looking at terms of Oslo, right? Where there are no terms of reference to international law, there is no definition of settlements or the prohibition of settlements as war crimes. Instead 54% of the settlers at the time of the signing of Oslo were considered living in Jewish neighborhoods. So that the expansion of that settler population is completely legal under Oslo which the U.S. is completely in support of and illegal under international law.
Hayes: Right but part of that is a concession in the context of negotiated framework. I mean, you can’t say “well they’re making this concession” i mean, that’s what a peace process is, right?
Erakat: Well that wasn’t supposed to be a concession, the Palestinian delegation fought hard to keep that out, but lost. But lost and then the definition..of [ed note: not clear “statutory integrity was underminded”]
Hayes: Here’s my question.
Ben Ami: The framework since at least the road map, if not back into Camp David, has been two states for two people. It has not been some form of occupation, not been settlement expansion. The idea is to get two states living side-by-side.
Hayes: Right but the argument they’ve been making is that fundamentally it’s a bad faith project that basically has been pursuing the goal — my question for you if it is a bad faith project and i don’t want to stipulate that it is but if it were, but if it were a bad faith project then what would you like to see the U.S. do?
Erekat: Great, because I think there are alternatives. If the U.S. provides $3 billion to Israel and it’s vetoed 43 out of the 79 vetoes in the U.N. security council for accountability it’s unable and unwilling to take us to the finish line. And I think we need to internationalize this issue and that’s the Palestinian responsibility, to internationalize it. Obviously there’s clear support in the U.N. General Assembly to do more and to do better than the U.S. has been able to do.
Hayes: But this a perfect example of the dual role. The position of direct negotiations is the position of the Netanyahu government right now which would like to have a negotiated peace process while they have doubled subsidies for settlements while they continue to expand settlements. The president says ‘here I am as your neutral arbiter. We believe the aspiration and determination of each child is fully equal.’ To then say ‘yes fully equal but we should start direct negotiations’, which also happens to be the position of the Netanyahu government, that seems to me exactly the problem.
Ben-Ami: There’s a big distance between direct negotiations and active American role. I think there’s long term research into conflict resolution that shows you don’t put two parties in a long running conflict into the same room and say work it out. It’s like a bad divorce, you don’t say to the husband and wife go into a room and figure it out. You have a mediator and maybe the husband and wife never meet . Sadat and Begin never met at Camp David before that agreement was negotiated. The role the U.S. has to play is far more active then just saying it’s time for direct talks and that’s a fundamental distinction.
Erakat: They played a big role, they played a big role.
Khalidi: Chris pointed to something which actually has between case for decades. It’s not like the United States comes into the room and is a mediator. The United States coordinates its position with Israel always, every time; in the administration you worked for and in everyone I looked at and in this administration as well.
Hayes: In some ways, let me just say, if they didn’t…
Khalidi: so you have two (inaudible) Israeli position at the table.
Hayes: Right. if it didn’t do that let’s be clear if it didn’t do that that would fail the expectations of people –
Khalidi: There would be hell to pay.
Hayes: I mean but this isn’t just some sort of conspiracy theory, there are many people in America who thinks that’s exactly what the U.S. should do, it should coordinate position with Israel because it’s our greatest ally.
Khalidi: Technically there is a letter that an American president sent to an Israeli prime minister, saying the United States is obligated to do that. It’s a Memorandum of Understanding sent in ’75 by Kissinger on behalf of the president and I believe the United States has been faithful on that memorandum. It does not put forward anything on Palestinian issues without running it by the Israelis first.
Hayes: You’re having negotiations about a border and building on one side of the border, those don’t strike me as particularly good faith negotiations. That seems to be the problem. If the thing is…the subject of the negotiations is land. And while the subject of the negotiation, the proposition on the table is how this land is going to be divided and one entity is able to build wherever, whenever with whatever resources? Negotiations are about leverage right? So if that’s the leverage on one side, what’s the leverage on the other side?
Khalidi: It’s like we’re negotiating about a pie and one side is gobbling up the pie. It’s something we realized in ’91-’93 when I was an adviser to the Palestinian delegation and we went back to Tunis (I wasn’t part of the group that went) and they told the PLO leadership, “the Americans gave us assurances this wouldn’t happen and it’s happening. How can we negotiate when their pulling the rug out from under our feet?” And this has now been going on for decades and decades whence the Palestinian demand for a settlement freeze.
Hayes: So ok settlement freeze, it didn’t happen. Now we’re talking about building in this section of Jerusalem called EI which would essentially making it impossible to have a contiguous state between East Jerusalem and a Palestinian West Bank.
Khalidi: There were several such bands of settlements that were designed just to serve that purpose; to prevent continuity to prevent a Palestinian state.
Hayes: I sat on a hill in East Jerusalem I looked out across E1 and had Danny Seidemann who knows Jerusalem as well as anyone, he points out, you guys have probably all been on that same trip and he takes you up there; “That’s where the peace process dies,” he points to the settlement area because it would make it just impossible from a geographic perspective and so my question is..okay, they are talking about doing that? The president goes to Israel, clearly was a successful trip from a political perspective, I think there’s no question about that from a political perspective, domestic political politics vis-à-vis Israel and Israeli leadership. What next? What comes out of this? Is there anything that comes out of it in a substinate way.
Ben Ami: Absolutely, I mean the first thing that you see is that John Kerry back in the region right now, he went right back to meet with Abbas and to meet with Netanyahu, probably the best thing that can happen for the next few months is we don’t see any large summits, convenings, public displays and there’s hard work of diplomacy going on behind-the-scenes with a sustained and ongoing commitment. And I think John Kerry is putting this at the top of his agenda for his tenure as secretary of state and I think the president has given him the political push to do it and I think if we don’t read or see big public displays then quiet diplomacy behind-the-scenes is exactly what should be going on.
Hayes: ….Mahmoud Abbas basically saying, you know, so the idea is how can we restart negotiations. Right now the Netanyahu government says “We should begin direct negotiations right now, forget about settlements let’s talk.” The PA’s position is there has to be a settlement freeze. One of the talking points is “The Israeli government can pledge to you secretly he’ll stop settlement activities during the period of negotiations,” one talking point referring to Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. “(He doesn’t have to announce it.)” as a kind of way as essentially threading the needle, right? His political base will go crazy if he announces a settlement freeze, a settlement freeze is the necessary pre-condition from the perspective of the P.A. to talks. What do you think about that?
Erakat: My opinion is I don’t think diplomacy is the way to go. We’ve done it for 20 years and it’s been disastrous; Palestinians are ghettoized in Gaza; within the West Bank several times; Palestinians do not have equal rights within Israel. And so at this point I have more faith, and I’m looking forward to, the Palestinian leaders on the ground, the Gandhi’s who are leading movements, to internationalize this issue. When President Obama got there there were a group of young Palestinians who had set up a camp called Bab al-Shams. Basically, The Eye of the Sun to protest the expansion (inaudible) and we didn’t give them any attention in our news media and I think that’s where we need to start looking.