A former Israeli general predicted that peace talks with the Palestinian Authority would fail. Amos Yadlin, the head of Israel’s leading strategic think tank, lauded Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to broker a peace deal, but said that “the chance of Kerry succeeding is like my chance to win the lottery if I didn’t buy a ticket.”
He made the prediction in a conversation last night with New York Times journalist Ethan Bronner at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. They were speaking at a panel convened by the Israel Policy Forum, a liberal Zionist group. Watch the event here:
Yadlin’s appearance came on the same day that the peace process seemed on the verge of collapse, as Israel announced new settlements and refused to release Palestinian citizens who are in prison for killing Israelis in terror attacks. In response, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced he was applying to join 15 international treaties.
The day’s events did not shake Yadin, though. The director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies dismissed predictions of doom for Israel, like Bronner’s assertion that there is “growing international pressure on Israel” because of the occupation. Yadlin said there is pressure, but that Israel can cope.
“So some Europeans will be upset,” he derisively said.
And he criticized people like Kerry who say the status quo is unsustainable. Yadlin said that type of talk gives the Palestinians hope that they can defeat Israel if they wait it out.
Yadlin added that the status quo is undesirable, but it’s better than giving the Palestinians a state on their own terms. Some in the audience questioned Yadlin’s apparent comfort with the current situation. One questioner said if the Palestinians decided to “sit back and make lots of babies,” the world would eventually see Israel as a South Africa on the Mediterranean due to there being more Palestinians than Jews.
But Yadlin said “the good news is the birth rate of Israelis is going up,” and European anti-Semitism would boost the Jewish population in Israel. In response, Bronner joked that “there’s hope.”
The former general added that any demography calculations should subtract Gaza, since Israel withdrew in 2005 and is not responsible for the people there, despite the international consensus that Israel retains “effective control” over Gaza and is therefore responsible.
Yadlin also reprised his plan for an Israeli withdrawal from 85 percent of the West Bank. He first voiced that proposal in January. He said Israel should withdraw to the separation barrier that cuts into the West Bank, retain large settlement blocs and continue to occupy the Jordan Valley. Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren has also advocated similar plans if peace talks fail–indicating a growing sentiment in the Israeli establishment.
The 92nd Street Y conversation, which also touched on Iran, Syria and Egypt, took place on a day when Yadlin was in the news. Mother Jones revealed that over the weekend, former Vice President Dick Cheney gave a private speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in which Cheney recounted a conversation with Yadlin. The former Israeli general is legendary for being the pilot who bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 and was a top intelligence official when Israel did the same to a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007. Cheney said that Yadlin “looked across the table over dinner, and he said, ‘Two down, one to go.’ I knew exactly what he meant.” The hawkish crowd, which included billionaire Sheldon Adelson, laughed and applauded.
I asked Yadlin for comment on Cheney’s claims, but he only said he would “never” leak a “conversation with a vice president”–though the former vice president had apparently leaked a private conversation with Yadlin. But he did have other things to say on Iran and the negotiations over its nuclear energy program.
Yadlin has been among the voices urging Israel to bomb Iran if the Islamic Republic was on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon. But Yadlin has expressed cautious support for Western diplomacy with Iran, and last night was no different.
Yadlin also said there’s no reason for Israel to freak out over the Arab Spring. Arab countries, he said, are now focused on getting their own house in order, and in Syria people are killing each other. Whereas Bronner expressed trepidation about Egypt’s brutal military regime, Yadlin expressed support for it, and said the military was better than the Muslim Brotherhood. He said he was pleased that Egypt had declared Hamas a terror organization, and that the events of last July were not a “military coup.” Instead, the military booting out Mohamed Morsi constituted a “popular coup.”