Ambassador (ret.) Warren Clark is the former Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace. Clark began his career in the Foreign Service in Aleppo, Syria and has served in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Canada, and at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Following his retirement from the State Department he worked as a private consultant and received a Master of Theological Studies degree from Virginia Theological Seminary. Clark speaks French and eastern Arabic.
ABM: I am Alon Ben-Meir, and welcome to this episode of ‘On the Issues.’ My guest today is Ambassador Warren Clark, former Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace. You can find his full bio on the page for this episode.
I think you’re terrific.
WC: I always enjoy talking to you, Alon.
ABM: The pleasure is mine. Thank you so much again for taking the time. So, go ahead, please, I didn’t mean to interrupt you about what you’re doing today.
WC: Well, just what I started to say. You talked about the enormous sea change in our politics, the gulf in the middle between these two—the growing polarization between the parties, which unfortunately is now being reflected too in foreign policy. And so many people that I know were surprised by the outcome of the election last November, a year ago.
ABM: Of course.
WC: And so I’ve asked myself, how come we’re surprised? So it’s very interesting how our politics have changed to have this, to increase our awareness of this enormous gulf in the middle, between the two political extremes in the country. And I think there are historical reasons for that, economic reasons, and it’s not all obvious, but clearly we’ve lost the kind of consensus even for foreign policy. Foreign policy used to be a more or less consensus kind of approach. And we’ve lost that, and so I’m trying to find out, or trying to read, or trying to understand, help other people understand why we’ve ended up in this very awkward situation.
ABM: So, what’s your take? I mean, just so that— I was like so many millions shocked when he was elected, and I always struggle with the one issue, and that is, we didn’t see how he managed, and by what means he made that appeal to his so-called base and was able to capitalize on it without much being talked about it before, throughout—
WC: That’s right.
ABM: Throughout the process, throughout the campaign.
WC: That’s right.
ABM: This is really is a big puzzlement for me. Please, enlighten me.
WC: Maybe this is the genius of Trump, is that he’s able to identify issues that really touched people and motivated people.
ABM: And coming from a so-called billionaire.
ABM: Appealing to the poor and the despondent and the despairing.
WC: Yes. Well, I guess part of the— I’m no expert in this area at all, but part of the understanding of Trump is that he’s not from the establishment in New York. He’s from Queens, he’s from the outside. And so he doesn’t have all of that Wall Street kind of background on these issues. So he identifies much more quickly with people who come from modest backgrounds, the so-called white workers—electricians, carpenters, plumbers, [unclear] workers of various kinds—many of whom do not have a university degree, and they have felt ignored and left out of the political process for a long time. Everybody points to the fact that wages have been stagnant for almost 30 years now for this group, and that the government programs, the appearance of government programs, Medicaid for example, helps the lower, lowest maybe 30 percent of the income distribution. But then you’ve got the next 50 percent of the income distribution that doesn’t benefit from these Medicaid and other programs for the poor. So someone mentioned the other day that part of the genius of – talking about medical issues – part the genius of Franklin Roosevelt was that he made Social Security apply to everybody. But as soon as you put on a means test such as Medicaid, then some people are going to benefit and some people are not. And if you’re just over the line, earning an income of forty-five thousand dollars or something and you get no benefit from Medicaid, you’re not happy.
ABM: Yeah. I mean this is what Senator Sanders has been saying about healthcare. That is the only way to do it. I mean, I happen to agree. I lived in England for a while. And it’s not a perfect system in terms of national healthcare, but it works.
ABM: Yes, you’re late, it takes you sometimes two, three weeks before you can get an appointment, especially for something serious. And if it’s urgent, you could end up going to a private doctor if you must, and have the means. But you also know you are safe. You have a national healthcare system that is functioning, that is working, and why is it? I mean, I’m sure you’ve looked into that. Why is it that we are not thinking in those terms? Republicans are not thinking in those terms. I think Democrats will be more inclined to go for a national healthcare system. Why do you think that?
WC: Well you know, again I’m no expert in this, but you can go kind of deep into the American character, about— Our history has given us certain values. I mean, people talk about self-reliance. They talk about the influence of the frontier on the American mentality.
WC: Where you were supposed to be independent. You were supposed to be self-sufficient. You went out and sort of fought for your land from the Native Americans. And so, it’s interesting. I lived in Canada for several years. In Canada, the government are the good guys. The government brings you services and security. When the West, Western Canada was settled, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police went first, and they established law and order. And then the settlers came, then the farmers came, and the police were there to protect them. In the West, in the American experience, of course after the civil war, it was the reverse. There was no law and order. So your gun was—
ABM: Was your law.
WC: Was your law.
WC: And it was another 10 or 20 years before there was a courthouse and a legal system that you could have any faith in. So it’s a different kind of tradition and mentality.
ABM: Culture, yeah, different kind of mentality. But 2017 was an eye-opener in so many different ways. I’ve been concentrating largely on the Middle East in terms of my thinking, writing, preaching the gospel of peace and security. But I couldn’t help it. As a result of this election, I started to tackle our domestic problem, given what Trump is doing. Incidentally, I still have a hard time to say President Trump, so— I really mean it. I cannot use the word president before his name.
WC: In our church, we have a time at our church service when we offer prayers, for people who are sick and so forth. We also offer prayers for those in authority, for the government, and for the president of the United States. And for the first time that happened after the election—no, after the inauguration—the person saying it burst into tears.
ABM: You’re kidding.
WC: To say it, she couldn’t bring herself to say President Trump, it was very difficult. So that shows how, to me, it shows how kind of out of touch we are here in this blue bubble of Washington—how out of touch we are with all those red states, all those people in other parts of the country.
ABM: Which was amazing. Whoever was able to work with him and help him to identify specifically the three states, the key, where the focus was there, when in fact Hillary Clinton just took it for granted that Pennsylvania is going to go with her, so she could seal the election. It is really amazing. To me, this is an amazing lesson—
ABM: In American domestic politics, which is really very, very interesting. When you watch, especially CNN, not that CNN is the source of the truth, the Gospel. But you have some time very interesting guests who are supporters of Trump. And to me it is absolutely puzzling that they try to justify everything. But none—they’re learned, very able. Some of them occupied very important positions in various Republican governments, administrations, but they cannot find a fault in whatever he’s doing.
WC: They’re very defensive.
ABM: How was he able—? I’m not talking now about those who are uneducated, disenchanted, unhappy, that have been left to themselves, but these people are, they know, they understand.
ABM: They’ve been congressmen and senators, all kind of people. And they put it with a straight face. They defend every single step, every single word he’s saying. How is it possible; I mean to what extent these biases have taken such deep roots, in such a short period of time?
WC: Well yes, related to that I think is that, if he says something outrageous or he does something outrageous, his base doesn’t seem to be greatly affected. Because they think ‘well, you know, OK, it’s embarrassing that he did this or he said that.’ But that he’s doing the right thing of trying to disrupt Washington, they’re trying to change the way the government works, and specific things like tax reform and immigration, he’s moving in the direction they want him to move in. And so they’re willing to tolerate a lot of kind of noise and static, that seems very, to the rest of us seems to distract very much from what he’s trying to do.
ABM: I mean for them, these lies, I mean 24 hours a day. The New York Times on this, The Washington Post actually identified that on the average, he lies three, four times a day from the time he came to office. Can you imagine? That is like 1,200 times he’s lied.
WC: I think his supporters, it doesn’t bother people. It doesn’t bother his supporters because well, you know, he often says what he kind of wishes was the case, instead of what is the case. But again, that’s kind of, on the surface it doesn’t seem to bother people because they think he’s moving in the right direction. So you know, it’ll be very interesting to see what happens this year. I think this is going to be an extremely interesting political year.
WC: You know, apart from the whole Russian investigation question, the FBI right now problem, so many women for example have seemed to be mobilized because of the president. And of course sadly a lot of women did not vote in the last election, in 2016.
ABM: I think they probably will be more inclined to vote this time around.
WC: They’ll be much more inclined to vote, and we saw that in some of the by-elections in Alabama and other places, and more women are now being urged to run for office. So I think there’s going to be a counter reaction, and a lot of it will be from women.
ABM: Yeah, yeah. And I think probably the Democrats also are going to be more energized this time around.
WC: Oh definitely.
ABM: I mean mathematically speaking it’s entirely, it’s possible for then Democrats to recapture the House as well as the Senate. I mean, that will be something to see. I think you’re right, 2018 is going to be even more than just that. It’s going to demonstrate to what extent the American public—is the American public moving, in which direction is it moving? What is moving the—I mean, the economy continues most likely to flourish.
WC: He’ll take credit for that.
ABM: So everybody—yes, he’ll take credit, he’s already taking credit for it. So everybody’s saying it’s the economy stupid, it’s the economy, it’s the economy. Well, the economy is going to be fine. Will that still be the main force that is going—
WC: Traditionally it has been. Traditionally, the economy has been the key.
ABM: You’re absolutely right, it’s been the key. Will that now remain the main force, given the fact that everything else they don’t like? And that is to me the most important thing to watch for, not to speak of course of our foreign policy, that is, his foreign policy, which to me is even more alarming than anything else that’s happening.
WC: Right. Well, on the subject that you and I are so interested in and have followed for a long time, namely the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It’s a very interesting example to see how he operates, and to try to read his mind as to how he’s approaching it. And you know, I think as most people have thought in the beginning, that well, this conflict seems to be intractable, and maybe a person like this who’s coming from the outside with fresh views. It doesn’t seem likely, but maybe it’s possible something will really happen. And I think we’ve seen that’s not the case.
ABM: Unfortunately he made things worse in my view.
WC: And then of course he gave some of the assignment to his son-in-law, who also is I’m sure a fine person but had no experience in this issue. And you can—years ago I worked for Jeane Kirkpatrick at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Jeane was a wonderful person. She was an academic intellectual, but she had no experience in government. She didn’t know how the State Department worked and how bureaucrats work, and how when you’re sending a message, you need to consult with a bunch of people to make sure that nobody is going to contradict you. But in time she kind of learned that ‘OK, this is how you do it.’ And the president doesn’t seem to have learned much about how to build consensus, or whether he should build consensus on given issues. And for example, I think the president in some ways is very interesting, his approach. He often or maybe almost always tries to leave himself an exit, a way out. And on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, especially on the Jerusalem issue. You know, his initial statement was well—on moving the embassy—well, we’re going to move the embassy to Jerusalem but we’re not taking any position about the final boundaries of the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, or the boundaries for the Palestinians. Well of course his statements that he would move the embassy changed so much, because that had been one of the few possible incentives. One of the few for the Israelis to come to an agreement, one of the few cards the Palestinians had, and he just threw that card away.
ABM: He gave it away without demanding anything in return from Netanyahu, which is sad, sad day. I mean this is one—this is such a big thing for Israel, such a big thing. He could have gotten significant concessions.
WC: I mean, everybody knows de facto West Jerusalem is the capital. That’s where the Prime Minister’s office is, that’s where the Knesset is. We all know that. But we also know that if there is ever going to be an agreement between the Palestinians and Israel, there’s got to be something motivating the Israelis to come to the table. Certainly you have this enormous asymmetry, with a very prosperous, strongly allied Israel, with a very poor Palestinian state, and the Israelis are enjoying a good prosperity for the most part, and the Palestinians are not. So that, apart from all the limitations on their livelihood, of travel restrictions and many other kind of restrictions, so that the Palestinians have very strong motives to come to an agreement to relieve these pressures. Whereas the Israelis have very little motivating them I think to come to an agreement.
ABM: Yeah, well, like exactly what you said, the fact that Israel is so prosperous, so powerful, you know economically powerful, socially, technologically, just about in every single field. The economy is thriving. So they have there no incentive to change the status quo. What is also interesting is that having been able to achieve this level of success while the continuing threat so-to-speak going back 70 years from the day of inception. So for them, actually maintaining a certain level of threat or sense of insecurity is strong motivation for all Israelis to rally around the cause. That is, we cannot trust the Palestinians. We have to continue to be, remain vigilant, very strong because— And then having been able to develop this system, the apparatus, both militarily and technologically as well as in terms of intelligence to be able to control the Palestinian. To control specifically violent resistance. There’s some violence, but there’s nothing—more Israeli people are killed on the highway every single day than what the Palestinians are killing Israelis through the whole year. So they have created a situation where they can manage. The management of the crisis becomes the norm now. That is the scary situation. In the interim, what’s happening is they’re continuing expansion of the settlements now practically with no brakes. Nobody’s telling them anymore anything. New realities are created and the two-state solution is becoming very, it’s rapidly vanishing, disappearing. And from the Israeli perspective, it’s a success story. Look what we’re doing. We don’t want a Palestinian state in the West Bank, it’s not going to happen because we’re creating new facts on the ground. On the other hand, I don’t know how many Israelis including the government itself are asking themselves the question, ‘OK we’re succeeding now, we’re controlling the situation, where are we going to be 10 years down the line?’ And there is no answer that I could find anywhere in Israel. Do you know where you’re going to be 10 years down the line? And there’s a great deal of wishful thinking. You know, Palestinians will leave because they’re putting pressure. But they don’t understand this is simply not going to happen. And then out of despair, and when you have nothing left to lose, in my view it’s going to explode, even though tens of thousands of Palestinians can get killed in the process. But for them it’s going to be a small price to pay if they can, because once there is this kind of eruption, it will no longer go back to the status quo. They would want a permanent, definitive end to the conflict. That’s—I mean that’s one end of it. And the second end, from my perspective—
WC: Excuse me, when you say an end of the conflict, are you talking about some form of a Palestinian state?
ABM: They will demand a solution.
ABM: A permanent solution. What kind of contour that’s going to be the contour of the solution, one cannot tell. But there’s no question they’re going to be demanding a Palestinian state. I mean, that is one thing. The other problem is that they themselves have been contributing to their own problem by sticking to their old, old, old narrative going back now 50 years, at least since 1967. They have never understood that you cannot simply resist. You have to come up with new ideas. Resistance to the political, occasionally it’s erupting into, becoming violent resistance. It has never really worked with the Israelis because it only galvanized the Israelis to oppose it and get better at it. And then you have Hamas on the other hand, who constantly continues to threaten Israel, continues to demand all of Palestine, rather than part of it, also playing into the hands of the Israelis. So when I speak to the Palestinians, I tell them, you are making a terrible mistake. You are now the victim. Yes, you are the one who’s been displaced. Yes, but you have to also understand you cannot defeat Israel. Your resistance, be that sometimes peaceful, political, and/or violent, did not work. You’ve got to change your strategy, you know, renounce violence. I mean, Hamas still today refuses to renounce violence, and they’re playing into the hands of Netanyahu and his bunch. And when you have an American administration that sees no wrong as far as Israel goes, simply no wrong, successive American administration from day one have basically supported Israel. Some put a little bit more pressure than the other, the greater the biggest pressure came from President Obama for awhile, to force, to halt the expansion of the settlements, but he ended up giving Israel thirty-eight billion dollars in military aid over 10 years. So there was no, the United States has never taken a single coercive, a single measure to force the Israeli hands, when in fact it’s the only country that can exact any kind of concession from Israel. And the Israelis know that, and the Israelis tell us. As long— America for us is number one two, three, four, and five. And that’s what matters to us the most, knowing also the United States is not going to put that kind of pressure in order to get any kind of concessions. That is— So, as I see it now, America here has contributed to the impasse just as much as the Israelis and the Palestinians have contributed to it.
WC: There was a period I think in the early 90s, after the first Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the United States looked as though it was the sole power in the world. And Secretary of State Baker organized the conference in Madrid that led to ultimately to the Oslo Accords, and that actually moved the whole process forward quite a bit. And we recognized that the PLO, and you may remember that the PLO and Arafat signed a letter with, exchanged with Rabin on the White House lawn which explicitly not only recognized Israel—
ABM: Oh yeah.
WC: But recognized Israel’s right to exist.
ABM: Yeah, yeah.
WC: So you know it’s really very I think insidious when some years later, Netanyahu comes up with the idea well, they must recognize Israel as a Jewish state. So he never mentioned the fact that they already have recognized Israel—not only recognized Israel, but its right to exist. And if you start saying well, you [must] recognize Israel as a Jewish state, what does that mean for the non-Jewish population? What does that mean for civil rights, for human rights? That’s never made clear, and it certainly looks as though it could lay the groundwork for a long-term state where you have two sets of laws for two sets of people.
ABM: Oh, which already exists.
WC: Which already exists.
ABM: I mean Israel itself—
WC: I know it’d simply be giving legitimacy to that system a system that already exists. We don’t want to use the ‘A’ word, but you know, it’s moving in that direction.
ABM: No, but the truth of the matter is Palestinian-Israelis are discriminated against, there’s no, I mean, everybody knows that. And as far as the West Bank is concerned, there are two systems, two separate laws. One is applicable to the settlers, and one for the Palestinians. And so you don’t want to use the word apartheid, but it’s a de facto apartheid, at least now I think is becoming ever so more closely to be identified.
WC: I think we also have to recognize that the PLO and the Palestinian State really went a long way in the early 2000s, after the death of Arafat, that the Palestinian Authority, at the insistence of George W. Bush, cooperated with the United States and with Israel on security in the West Bank. Abbas has said he’s against violence. And during the three Gaza wars in ‘08, ‘12, and ‘14, the West Bank was quiet. And that’s because they were being sat on not only by the Israelis, but by—
ABM: By the Palestinians themselves.
WC: By the Palestinians themselves. So I think the Palestinians can say they have in good faith cooperated a great deal with the United States and Israel, especially on security matters. And of course they’ve got nothing in return. And Abbas, it puts Abbas in an extremely difficult position because he can say, ‘look, we’re cooperating on security. Israeli security people are all over the West Bank. But in return, we’re going to make progress towards a Palestinian state.’ And he has not been able to deliver that.
ABM: Yeah, what the Israeli argument about that, and you hear it all the time, and that is what happened in 2000, the Second Intifada. You see for the Israelis, the Second Intifada—and I’m not justifying it, you know my position, but for the Israelis, the Second Intifada was nothing short of a major turning point. That is, if there was any trust left with the Palestinians, that trust, it totally evaporated.
WC: And it killed the peace movement in Israel.
ABM: Yeah, it killed the peace movement. So when you have 130 terrorist activities that took place in 2000 alone, over one thousand Israelis got killed in these terrorist activities, it really changed, it destroyed the peace movement, exactly what you said, and it instilled serious doubt and distrust of the Palestinians, and they have not recovered from that to this day. And that is something—when I talk to the Palestinians, I say to them, you’ve got to understand the Israeli mindset. You’ve got to understand the mentality. The occupation is not acceptable, is unjustifiable. I’m totally against it, but their actions are making things considerably worse. If you made a mistake in 2000, acknowledge it. Say it was a mistake, we made a mistake. But we don’t want to make the same mistake again. Once it is acknowledged, you disarm the extremists in Israel, who continue to say we gave them, we did this. You remember before 2000, the relationship was actually, after the Oslo Accords, Israelis and Palestinians been going back and forth, Israelis go to the West Bank, they gamble, they buy, they shop, and come back to Israel. This is how coexistence is going to look like. Jerusalem in the ‘80s was incredibly peaceful. But that’s what I’m saying is, what happened is that the mistake each party has taken has been compounded, and it created a such deadlock right now, that it is impossible to unravel. Then comes Mr.—
WC: And it’s been impossible for either side to recognize the narrative of the other.
ABM: Exactly. Exactly. And then comes Trump, And he adds another measure. This is a guy who said, oh, I can resolve, you know, this is going to be the deal of the century. OK, if you are resolved to make the deal of the century, ok, what is the kind of approach, strategy you’re going to take to be able to bridge the gap, if you know anything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So he goes with Jerusalem, says well I’ll just remove the question of Jerusalem off the table and that is going to be step one. And then he freezes, because the Palestinians refused now to resume negotiations, he freezes the financial assistance to the Palestinians, which is even more outrageous. And he, you know, this is the sad, sad commentary. Expecting the Palestinians to crawl to get the money.
WC: You know, Arafat and the P.A. do have a political constituency. There were elections a long time ago. And they have to, to a degree, reflect public opinion among Palestinians in the West Bank. And of course there was there was terrible outrage about the announcement of moving the embassy, because it seemed to them that that was the end of any role of the United States as a mediator. So I think the United States is indispensable, it’s going to be absolutely necessary if anything is going to happen. It may be necessary but not sufficient to make things happen. But you know, I think the Palestinians can also say to themselves that there is no point in sitting down and negotiating anything now. That is, as you say, the distrust on both sides is very strong. But beyond that, the prime minister of Israel ran against the Oslo Accords in the mid 1990s. And in the last election, the night before the last election, he said there’s not going to be a Palestinian state while I’m prime minister.
ABM: Exactly. Exactly.
WC: So you know, what is the point of sitting down and negotiating the idea of a Palestinian state with someone who has said that this is not going to happen?
ABM: No, not under his watch, no question. But in the same token I also feel strongly that not just the Israeli government has to be different one to be able to negotiate, but you also need the fresh faces, fresh individual, a Palestinian with courage, with vision, who’s not wedded—
WC: And there seems to be nobody coming up.
ABM: Someone, we need someone who is not wedded to the past. Somebody who’s exempt, exempt himself from ok, what was, was. We have a different, we have to look at the situation somewhat differently. And there is no one in the horizon. The one who could do that is in Israeli jail, which is really most, most unfortunate. I’m talking about Marwan Barghouti.
WC: Yes, of course.
ABM: Yeah, yeah. I think to myself, what has changed since we’ve been talking about it 20 years ago. We’re only adding another layer of problems and difficulties, and the problem with delaying it right now. Now that resumption of the negotiations isn’t going to produce anything, continues Israeli entrenchment in the West Bank.
WC: Yeah, you know there was a, I don’t know how much credibility you give to it, but there was a leak I guess from Saeb Erekat about the purported Trump plan, and the administration immediately said ‘oh, well ‘ that’s not our final version of the plan.’ But they had said they were coming up with a plan. And the terms that were leaked would never be accepted, couldn’t possibly be accepted by anybody with any political credibility with the Palestinians. I mean in 2009, the two sides were rather close in a number of areas. And apparently Olmert was offering to hold onto only 6 percent, and Abbas had offered 2 percent. And the idea was well, maybe there’s a compromise in the middle. Well, this talked about Israel holding onto 10 percent of the West Bank, so they’re going absolutely in the opposite direction. And it’s hard to believe that there could ever be a deal without East Jerusalem, that the Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem being part of a Palestinian state and part of the Palestinian capital. And the talk about the capital being in Abu Dis, or—
ABM: Also Silwan, which is very close to Jerusalem.
WC: Well, Beit Hanina, Beit Hanina, which has also been mentioned. I think that’s really a nonstarter. There’s really not going to be a Palestinian state unless the Palestinians have some part of East Jerusalem.
ABM: You see, what is very interesting, the reaction. Of course they share this information with Jordan, with Saudi Arabia, with Egypt. The relatively mute reaction from the Arab states, which was really, a year ago I would have said no, going to be a major outburst, it didn’t happen. And it didn’t happen, and this is another area where Netanyahu’s capitalizing on, and that is the closeness that has been evolving and developing between Israel and the Arab states.
WC: Right, trade and investment.
ABM: Especially with the Gulf and with Saudi Arabia in particular because of the common enemy. And so the Saudis see Israel more of an ally, even closer, more important than even the United States in the sense, this is in the forefront. That is, if anyone is going to confront Iran, it’s not going to be, more likely Israel than it’s going to be the United States. That’s how Saudis actually look at it. So what’s happening in Israel today, as they see it, the Arab States basically put the Israeli-Palestinian [conflict] on the back burner. They are no longer putting any pressure on Abbas to make a move to make concessions, anything like this. And Israel, Netanyahu is building, is capitalizing on the shifting political winds in Israel—I mean, in the Middle East—and the threat that Iran presumably is posing on the entire area. So that’s another. How would that change? So it’s not enough for Israeli and Palestinian governments to change. You’re going to need to change, have other changes, specifically any Israeli government will continue to be concerned about Iran. Could be from—
WC: And Syria, too. You’ve got Hezbollah right there on the border.
ABM: And now they have that. So changing the government is necessary, but in and of itself will not be enough. You need to resolve the question of Hezbollah, the question of Iran’s support. That is why I am saying the conflict is becoming ever more and more intractable because of the changing geostrategic conditions in the region itself. That is making things considerably more, worse than they are.
WC: But even if you have a hypothesis of a de facto alliance between Israel and the Gulf Arabs, Saudi Arabia, Egypt being more or less out of the game, there’s still a lot of tension with Hezbollah, with Syria, and through them Russia, because Russia sees Syria as a client state, it has for a long time. So they’re not particularly wedded to Assad, but they’re wedded to Syria as being a client, their little piece of turf on the Mediterranean. And so somehow that is going to be hard to come to an accommodation without figuring out how to address the Syrian conundrum, I think.
ABM: Yeah, you are right. I think there is, there’s Lebanon, there is of course Syria, even in Iraq to some extent, it is important to calm things down in Iraq. And then you have of course Iran, who is not going to settle on anything other than maintaining its position. I mean, Netanyahu just went to visit Putin.
WC: Isn’t that interesting.
ABM: A couple days ago. What was the subject matter there? Israel will not allow an Iranian base in Syria under any circumstances. And we will take action whether Russia likes it or not. And he was pleading with Putin to convince Iran not to even try, because Israel will not allow it to happen. So you have now a direct issue that needs to be resolved. Iran is determined to establish a permanent base, and Israel is determined not to allow that to happen. So where is the focus going? And that suits the Saudis very, very much, because they have their own stake in Syria. And so they want to make sure that Iran does not stay in Syria as well. So that’s another layer. Other than the nuclear threat, there’s the geostrategic threat, which concerns Israel as well as the Saudis in particular. So you have another layer to this conflict, and of course the Israelis are not sleeping well as long as Hezbollah has a hundred and fifty thousand plus rockets. And now the main concern, the second issue that concerns Israel is the factory that Iran built in Lebanon to build a new generation of missiles.
WC: Oh, they have a factory.
ABM: Yeah, two factories, and Israel has identified the location. And I think it would be only a question of time when you’re going to see—
ABM: Bombing of these facilities, these new factories, only when. But if this is going to instigate any attack by Iran, by Hezbollah against Israel using rockets, we’re talking about a massive, massive, massive conflagration between Israel and Hezbollah.
WC: But if there was prior—maybe this is pie in the sky—if there is progress towards an accommodation with Israel and the Palestinians, would that take pressure off?
ABM: Great deal.
WC: Coming from Hezbollah?
ABM: Not just Hezbollah, Iran as well. See, Iran today is saying as long as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, they have they have the reason to talk and—
WC: But if you take that conflict away—
ABM: If you take it away, you are really usurping away from them the reason to stop. What have you got against Israel. As a matter of fact, you start talking about the relationship between Persians and Jews, which was wonderful.
WC: Very old, it’s an old story.
ABM: Old, old story. But there was an excellent relationship.
WC: Yes. Yes. Under the Shah.
ABM: Throughout the centuries, under the Shah, and going back 2,000 years for that matter.
WC: Yes, yes, yes.
ABM: So that is what the Israelis just don’t understand. You want to mitigate the conflict with Iran, deal with the Palestinians. You want to mitigate the conflict with Hezbollah as well, deal with the Palestinians.
ABM: They don’t get it.
WC: You and I are completely agreed on that.
ABM: I think we’ve been agreed on everything we’ve talked about. Alright.
ABM: Thank you so much, I think we had a good time. It was fun.
WC: Thank you. I enjoyed it.
Radwan Ziadeh is the founder and director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies in Syria, and co-founder and executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Washington, DC. He is also Senior Middle East Fellow at Arab Center Washington, where he deals chiefly with issues pertaining to Syria. He has been documenting the ongoing human rights violations since the onset of the Syrian crisis and has testified before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the US Congress. He served as a visiting fellow and scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the Institute for Middle East Studies of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University, Chatham House, the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard University, and the United States Institute of Peace. He was also a Prins Global Fellow at the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University and a Reagan–Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. Dr. Ziadeh is the author of more than 20 books in English and Arabic including Power and Policy in Syria: Intelligence Services, Foreign Relations and Democracy in the Modern Middle East (2010), and Syria’s Role in a Changing Middle East: The Syrian-Israeli Peace Talks (2016). He holds a DDS in Dentistry from Damascus University, a Diploma in International Human Rights Law from American University, an MA in Democracy and Governance from Georgetown University, and a Diploma in Peace Negotiations and Conflict Studies from the University of Cyprus.
Erdoan A. Shipoli has a PhD in Political Science and International Relations and is a visiting researcher at the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in the E. Walsh School of Foreign Affairs, Georgetown University. He is working on his new book “Islam, Securitization, and US Foreign Policy” focusing on Islam in US foreign policy and security, emphasizing on democracy promotion, how Islam became a security issue for the US, and the consequences.
He has served as a co-founder and leader of multiple internationally-recognized organizations and institutes, such as the Istanbul Leadership Institute, Lobbying School, and North American Professionals and Entrepreneurs Network (recognized by FORBES). He is also the Program Director of FEBA, an organization that works with Balkan American youth to overcome challenges they might be facing.
He published a book on the “International Securitization: the case of Kosovo”, countless articles, and presented in numerous international conferences. Currently he contributes for Huffington Post (in English) and sbunker (in Albanian).
Erdoan is fluent in: Albanian, English, Bulgarian, Turkish, and Serbo-Croatian-Bosnian.
Mark Whitlock is an adjunct lecturer in Columbia University’s Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program where he teaches in the Capstone Thesis seminars. Whitlock’s research and practice examines identity-based political violence and decision-making, emphasizing operational early warning and response (EWR).
His research has specifically analyzed the theory to practice nexus, forecasting writ-large, and the prevention of mass atrocities/mass killing. He has conducted research and consulted on regional early warning architectures primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Europe with organizations including The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and The Visegrad Group. He recently coordinated research for the Africa Task Force on the Prevention of Mass Atrocities (ATF), and contributed to the development of an internal handbook on conflict prevention and decision making for UNOWAS political staff while based in Dakar, Senegal. At Columbia (SIPA and SPS) he has contributed to developing online simulations for graduate students that explore the aforementioned themes highlighting conflict analysis, communication, and decision-making.
Whitlock holds a graduate degree in International Affairs from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), concentrating in international security policy and conflict resolution with focus in Africa and the Middle East. Whitlock has lived, worked and traveled throughout Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, serving first as a biology teacher at Nkonya Secondary School with Peace Corps Ghana, teaching in Tunis, Tunisia, and researching political violence in Ethiopia, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Indonesia, Israel, Rwanda, Burundi, Senegal, and Côte d’Ivoire.
Tsvi Bisk is an independent futurist, social researcher, and strategy planning consultant He is the director of the Center for Strategic Futuristic Thinking and the founder and director of the Strategic Educational Planning Institute. For more than 20 years, he was a senior associate of the Beit Berl Institute (the research and education arm of the Israel Labor Movement). Bisk is the author of five books, and has published more than one hundred essays and articles in English and Hebrew in a variety of publications.
Alon Ben-Meir: I am Alon Ben-Meir, and welcome to ‘On the Issues.’ My guest today is Tsvi Bisk, director of the Center for Strategic Futurist Thinking and author of the book ‘The Suicide of the Jews’. You can find his full bio on the page for this episode.
ABM: So anyway no, I mean it’s not like a formality, but we can talk about anything you want. But let’s talk about your book. Finally I read it like I said, and let’s begin with the issue with the premise. And I think you made a very, very strong case that current Israeli policies and the Jewish experience in general that we are going through right now could lead eventually to the extermination of what you call the suicide of the Jews. And that unless something—
Tsvi Bisk: It won’t be an extermination.
ABM: No, no ex—
TB: It’ll be an erosion that is like—the centrality of Israel to the Jewish experience since the creation of the state, I think is self-evident. I mean, even the so-called anti-Zionists are anti-Zionist Jews in terms of Zionism.
TB: I mean they wouldn’t have an identity. It’s kind of ironic, but I just think that if I look at our present policy—look, I put it this way. I think that the settler movement and the settler culture and the way the settler culture has influenced Israeli political discourse and Jewish political discourse and social discourse, is more dangerous to the future of Israel than the Iranian bomb.
ABM: Yeah, I agree. I just wanted you to tell me, how do you see that? I mean, what would eventually—the settler movement certainly is going to contribute to that. How do you see that progressing in that direction? Because you are futuristic.
TB: OK. I say to people [who] say ‘we can defeat the Palestinians.’ I say, that’s what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of the Palestinians giving up. I’m afraid of the Palestinians saying, ‘OK, we no longer want a Palestinian state. We’re not going to get it.’
ABM: Well they’re already saying that.
TB: Yeah. Over 50 percent by the way are saying one state. And then if it becomes One Man, One Vote, like in South Africa, then it’s just a matter of time. We cannot fight that. We cannot say, ‘we can be a democracy,’ and deprive over half the people or half the people or even 40 percent of the people occupying the land of Israel of their civil rights. There’s no such thing. You know, Lincoln said ‘we can’t be a country half-slave and half-free. We’ll either be all-slave or all-free.’ That was why he was against slavery. You can’t be a country that’s half democratic and half non-democratic. You’re either one or the other. And that means constitutionalist protections in terms of what modern democracy means. Modern democracy—when we say democracy, we mean constitutionalist democracy.
ABM: Exactly, yeah.
TB: We don’t mean majoritarian democracy. Hitler was a majoritarian democrat—he was elected democratically, he formed his coalition democratically. You can even say that Stalin was a totalitarian democrat. Most people supported him. People forget that. Most people support Castro in Cuba. Now you could say, ‘yeah, they were brainwashed because, yeah, because they—’ If you erase [the] constitution, if [you] destroy the press, if you call the press the enemy of the people and undermine them—you’re allowed to criticize the press. [The] press is like anything else. It can be a whorehouse just like the political scene can be.
ABM: There’s no question. I mean, I agree.
TB: I think it was Thomas Jefferson that said, ‘If I had to choose between a free press and a Congress, I would choose the free press over the Congress.’
ABM: That’s right. I absolutely agree with you. I just want you to try to draw a sort of a scenario.
ABM: How do you see that evolving? I absolutely agree that the current situation – that is, where the two-state solution is losing ground, day after day.
TB: It will start in Jerusalem.
TB: We’re talking about—the unified Jerusalem. Now, to make things clear. We have to understand, something like 60 to 70 percent of so-called East Jerusalem, what we annexed, for the 3,000-year history of Jerusalem was never part of Jerusalem. It’s about 60 or 70 villages that are all slums, that were never part of Jerusalem, ever. That’s number one. But let’s say, OK we unified, ‘unified’ in inverted commas, we unified Jerusalem. By the very fact, under Israeli law, by the very fact that they are residents of Jerusalem, they can vote in the Jerusalem elections—the Arabs of East Jerusalem. Up until now they haven’t done that. Because they have this crazy thing about honor, the Arabs.
ABM: Oh yeah, yeah.
TB: They’re, ‘oh, honor.’ We’re not—you know, which is sort of a synonym for stupid. They can vote in the Jerusalem elections. Now I’m saying, OK. You’ve won. Because you have a whole new—I’m talking about, let’s say young Palestinian leadership coming up post-Abbas, post all these ancient guys—people who were born after the creation of the state, people who were born after ‘67. OK. We need a whole new—we need our rights, we have to live. You know, there’s thousands of East Jerusalem Arabs that are applying for Israeli citizenship because they want to get into universities and things like that. OK. What if they vote in the next Jerusalem elections? I think there’s something like 31 members of the Jerusalem City Council. If they vote as a bloc, they’ll get 10, 12, 13.
ABM: At least, at least.
TB: If they join with the Haredim, with the ultra-orthodox, they’re an absolute majority. Now as it is, secular and modern Orthodox Jews are leaving Jerusalem in droves because of the Haredi influence. If it’s joined to the Arabs, it’s the end of Jerusalem. It becomes—Jerusalem will be ruled by anti-Zionist parties. The capital of the Zionist state will be ruled by anti-Zionist parties. I mean, we’ll have to fly into the Knesset with helicopters. So it will start there, and that will be a psychological thing. When we have national elections, they can set up faux voting booths. And we’ll try to break them up, and that will be all over the evening news all over the world, we’re br—but we want to vote too. This is our country.
ABM: But let’s go beyond Jerusalem, though. Let’s go beyond Jerusalem. Again, I want to refer to your book. So, let’s further develop the scenario. What was going to bring to what you term the suicide of the Jews, if you were to continue with this current scenario that you started?
TB: Well it’s multifaceted. It’s not just the Palestinians, it’s the fact that because of this culture, loyalty now to the Jewish people, given the Israeli political establishment which is right-wing, is loyalty to the settlement project.
TB: For example, they [were] going to have the Italian um, what do they call it, the bicycle thing. Uh, when they have the, like, you have the French, when they have these huge bicycle races, what do they call it, that Armstrong was in?
ABM: Yeah, yeah, the—
KH: The Tours.
TB: Yeah, the Tour d’Italia, there’s the Tour d’France. OK. Well, these Tours start in other countries, like the Tour de France last time started in England. This year, they wanted to start in Israel, [the] Tour d’Italia. So they write, ‘we will start in West Jerusalem.’ Because they wrote West Jerusalem, our wonderfully sophisticated Minister of Culture said we’re not going to support it. Ok, what is my point. Loyalty to Israel is now dictated about your attitude towards Arabs and Muslims in general, which spills over into the settlements. This explains why Bibi and other Likudniks cozy up to these right-wing fascists in Eastern Europe. American Jews can’t understand what’s going on here. This guy said, the guy that was an ally of the present prime minister of—the ally of Hitler was a great patriot. Oh we don’t have a problem with that. Let him attack Soros. Soros is evil because Soros is against the settlements. This guy is good because he’s at least indifferent. So that’s that. Ok, That’s one angle. As long as we can keep the ultra-Orthodox happy, we’ll screw American Jewry. You see, [the] ultraorthodox keep us in power, and us in power, that supports the settlements. I heard a very, it can’t be proved but it’s very logical. Why it takes eight to 10 years to have a real estate project, a building project in Israel proper, and why it makes housing so expensive. It’s done purposely. They want people to move to the West Bank.
ABM: Yeah, and there it takes less than a year.
TB: Less than a year, a year.
ABM: Less than a year.
TB: And half the price for the same house.
ABM: Yeah, yeah.
TB: So you have what you call the bourgeois settlements, not the ideological settlements.
ABM: That’s right.
TB: People who are young couples who couldn’t afford housing.
ABM: They have better housing, better views, cleaner air, and cheaper. Much cheaper.
TB: And if you live there, it’s easy to get government jobs. In other words, everything is focused to that one thing. When I talk about the settler culture influencing politics, I’m talking about that. So right now we’re alienating Diaspora Jewry, especially American Jewry, with utter contempt. I blame American Jews for this, that they’ve put up with it. You know, I mean the Israelis have been peeing on American Jews for years, and American Jews open up umbrellas and thank God for rain. You know, no, the Israelis are peeing on us. I think it’s about time the American Jews woke up and said, you’re peeing on us. We’re not going to take it anymore.
ABM: I think they started to know, they started to feel that.
TB: It’s a bit late, it’s a bit late.
ABM: And then also it manifests itself with less and less younger American Jews are coming to Israel, and those who come, many of them are getting disillusioned rather quickly and go back, which is really a very interesting phenomenon. It didn’t happen—
TB: Well there’s another interesting phenomenon now. The millennials of the evangelicals, of the under 35 evangelicals, support for Israel is less and less; it’s about equally support for Palestinians. In other words, these Israelis [say]—we can give up American Jews because we’ve got the evangelicals, and there are 40, 50 million and they’re really, you know, really pro-Israel. History happens, and history matters, and history evolves. People forget that before 1967, Israel’s special relationship was with France and the European left. The European Socialists, who when they were arguing with them they’d say, if you’re socialist you’re for Stalin. They say no. Look at the kibbutz, look at the Histadrut. Now, our special relationship is with the United States and the evangelicals.
ABM: That’s right.
TB: But that too can change.
ABM: And I think it’s changing.
TB: It is changing.
ABM: It is changing already. Absolutely.
TB: First of all, there’s a lot of evangelicals that are people of color and Hispanic, and they have a different view of things. And then you have the younger evangelicals who might even have a university education, who might be a little more sophisticated – still support Israel, but not uncritically. And if it comes to a One Man, One Vote, and if the Palestinians are smart enough to read about Martin Luther King and Gandhi and change their whole thing into a non-violent thing, we’re done. We’re done.
ABM: But you say we’re done. We’re done say politically because of demographics. That is, Israel cannot have it both ways. it cannot have a democracy and cannot—
ABM: It just cannot. OK. How would that now evolve into the much more severe scenario that you are developing?
TB: Well, the same thing that we talked about. This would be, in my opinion would alienate 70, 80 percent of world Jewry, would alienate a huge number of the elites of Israel.
ABM: What would happen to Israel itself? What will happen to the Jews here? What will happen here?
TB: That I don’t know. I think a lot would leave. See, what they—also, the other thing that Israelis don’t is—we brag about startup nation, you know high tech and everything. What they don’t understand, these people, it’s that startup nation can get on an airplane and leave the country tomorrow. It’s not like you have steel and coal and automobiles and factories and stuff. It’s all brains. These guys could export their entire company as an attachment to an email. Could put it on a flash drive and put it in their pocket and get on a plane and go to America, plug it into a computer and they have their—now, they would still have the brains here, but believe me, any country in the world would make it easier for these kind[s] of brains to immigrate. I tell people I could bring Israel to its knees by taking one or 2,000 people out of the country. The top people. Civilizations are always run by elites. It’s snobby to say that, but it’s true. What, America wouldn’t let these people in? Canada wouldn’t let these people in? Australia wouldn’t let these people in? England won’t let these people in?
ABM: No, they are trying to—
TB: They’re trying to get them anyway.
ABM: They want them, they want them badly. Of course, of course. I mean we see this already.
TB: I mean, you see Silicon Valley, I read somewhere that 50 percent of the Ph.D.s in Silicon Valley were born in China or in India. You add on the Israelis, the French, and the, it’s like, so America, you know, all these people that are against immigration in America, I said, believe me, you could trade Kentucky and Montana, and it wouldn’t be half of what Silicon Valley is worth in terms of economics.
ABM: No, I mean, it is very—
TB: These people can go anywhere; they’re mobile.
ABM: I mean it’s already happening. I saw some statistics that suggest nearly 700,000 Israelis are in New York, in the states.
TB: In the states.
ABM: And the majority of them are in New York City, state.
TB: LA is really big.
ABM: L.A., [unclear], yeah, but vast majority of them are also all in New York.
TB: You know, the ironic thing is Zionism wanted to create this rooted, earthbound Jew, not the mobile Jew, the wandering Jew. The young Israeli who served in the army and went to university is probably the most cosmopolitan young person on the face of the planet Earth. That’s the irony of it. You drop him—you know, they serve in the army. They’re already 22 years old before they’re freshmen in university. They’ve been officers, they’ve been in charge of millions of dollars’ worth of equipment, they’ve controlled and organized stuff. Then they take a trip around the world.
TB: Crazy stuff. They go to places nobody in the world goes. I mean, you go to places like in South America, and they say the Israelis are crazier even than the Australians – and the Australians are pretty crazy it seems. You know, they go to places nobody goes. And they come back, and they’re not afraid to fail. Israelis have no shame in failing. They try, fail, OK try again.
ABM: They get up again, try again.
TB: Try again.
ABM: That’s right.
TB: They don’t care, which is great for a modern economy. Risk means nothing to them. These are the kind of people that can go anywhere. They speak fairly good English compared to the rest of the non-English speaking world, and they’re fairly sophisticated, and you drop them anywhere, they live. In other words, I can’t be specific about what’s going to happen, but if I was a Palestinian strategist, I could tell you what I would do.
ABM: I will tell you the Palestinians, wait a minute, so to speak. Wait. I mean, time is against Israel 100 percent.
TB: Oh, a lot of them are saying that.
ABM: Yes, wait. You don’t need another intifada.
TB: It might not happen in my lifetime, but my grandkids, in another 100 years, it’ll be. And they have that attitude. Jews are impatient. Arabs are very patient. That’s a temperamental thing. I know people say, ‘well that’s not politically correct because you’re making stereotypes and this, that, the other.’ But I think certain cultures are impatient and certain cultures are patient. Jewish culture is impatient. That’s why Jews are always like at the forefront of stuff, of new entrepreneurial things and new social things and more active in this, they’re impatient. Jews are impatient.
ABM: Yeah, I mean this also comes—
TB: In general.
ABM: I agree, this comes also from a sense of perpetual insecurity.
TB: Yes. No, what it comes from. Yeah, I agree, yeah.
ABM: And so they try to sort of focus on more than one thing at a time. This is very true. So, let’s take it further. And then what?
TB: Look, I was just in the hospital. About 50 to 60 percent of the staff in the hospital are Arabs. Doctors, nurses, male and female. Four doctors saw me, only one was Jewish. You know, this is another thing. The stereotypes have been turned upside down in Israel. There’s a higher percentage of Arab doctors to the population than Jewish doctors to the population in Israel. And why? Because Jews are impatient. It’s, what, I’m gonna study 10, 12 years and then try to make a living? The Arabs are more patient. Not only that, medicine is one of the only places in Israel where there’s not the structural discrimination.
TB: And also it’s a status job, and they’re an honor society. They go into medicine. Jews want to go into high tech. If a Jew’s good in science or math, he goes into high tech. Arabs go into medicine. I don’t know, it depends on what they feel. Because what’s happening with the young Arabs in this country is interesting too. I don’t think they identify with what’s going on in the Arab world, but I can’t speak for them. You know, they—would they like to live in a country that’s totally Judenrein and be taken be another Arab country like Jordan or Lebanon or whatever? I’m not so sure.
ABM: So what, are you suggesting that what you are seeing it’s continuing attrition of Jews leaving this country, getting disenchanted?
TB: Even the ones that stay. Ok, look at this way. I was in the Israeli army, I was in the American army, had an honorable discharge from the American army, I came here, was drafted here and then I served in the Israeli army and I did about 15 years of reserves. If you are the kind of officer that’s very good at the occupation, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good officer fighting the Syrian commandos. It’s a different kind of talent, ‘talent’ in inverted commas.
ABM: Yeah, yeah, of course.
TB: It’s a different kind of personality. When I started my—I was drafted in ‘71, fought in the Yom Kippur war ‘73. When I first was doing my first real reserve duty, I was doing maybe a total of 30 days a year, which was divided as five days a year of exercises, military exercises where you imitate warfare—really, the Israeli army really does this by the way, it’s not playing games—and 20 days doing guard duty at various settlements and stuff like that. By the time I finally got out of the army of active duty in ‘83, it was the last time actually, we were doing 40 days a year and doing two or three days of exercise every other year. So what happens in the Lebanese war? Give you an example, an anecdote. We did all our training at night. There’s something about fighting at night which empowers the person who’s initiating, and makes the people who are being attacked fearful. So they go into Lebanon. And this tank unit gets an order to go attack this village at night. Five minutes, the guy comes back and says, ‘We can’t do that.’ He says, ‘why not?’ He said, ‘we didn’t do any training at night.’ So there’s also this great wonderful Israeli army that pound for pound is the greatest army in the world. If that’s how you’re splitting up your time, guarding the settlements and, and doing [in Hebrew], what do you call [in Hebrew]?
ABM: Yeah, Barriers.
TB: Barricades and making night raids at 2:00, 3:00 in the morning in the villages and stuff like that. When it comes to a pitched battle, you’re not going to be too good at it. You follow what I’m saying? In other words, it’s an erosion of quality all along the line.
ABM: Absolutely. You know, during this war in 2006 which lasted 50 days, we were then questioning what the heck is going on. What is it that’s taking place that Israel could not wind this up in a week or two? Because you know.
TB: Well I’ll tell you what the right-wing will say. Because we’re not ruthless enough.
ABM: Yeah, Yeah.
TB: We take into consideration too much civilian casualties.
ABM: This is baloney. But in the end there was an investigation as you well know, and exactly confirming what you just said. That there was a mess.
TB: It’s a mess.
ABM: Yeah. And finally they had to send different kind of units in order to clean up and finish the war.
TB: They also sent units in, and people got killed because they had the wrong equipment. Wars are won by logistics. If you give people the wrong equipment, they’re gonna get killed.
ABM: To your best knowledge, has this changed now somewhat?
TB: It probably has, but still at the immediate level, approximate level, at the Army level per se, it’s probably much better now. But in the general cultural level—look, both my boys were asked to go to officer school. And both declined. They do not want to be officers. Why?
ABM: Are they still in the army, or are they out?
TB: No, they’re out of the army, and they get out of reserves as much as they can. And by the way, awful lot of—and nobody is ever brought up on charges for getting out of reserves anymore, ‘cause they’d have to put half the country in jail.
ABM: I’m sorry, come again?
TB: They try to get, when they used to be called every year.
TB: They don’t go.
ABM: And there’s no repercussion?
TB: No, no. None. So they’re not the only ones. Very few people who are educated and have any kind of I would call democratic decency don’t feel great about serving. Look at the officer corps now. It’s disproportionately religious, and disproportionately settler. So you get the settler culture and everything. You’ve got one person on the Supreme Court who is a settler. So you have this erosion of what I would call enlightenment values that were part and parcel of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which sort of acknowledged the Universal Declaration of Human Rights kind of thing. You know, everybody’s got rights and—I remember some years ago they wanted to make the Declaration of Independence a Basic Law of the country, and the religious and the right-wing were against it. Because there’s a couple of paragraphs in there that serve almost as a kind of Bill of Rights, equivalent of—you know, we don’t have a written constitution, but if it is, a Basic Law is our Constitution. And if this was adopted, it would like limit half the stuff that they do when they do ‘legally’ in inverted commas. Not particularly constitutionally, but certainly legally in the present situation. So that’s it. You know, if your one judge of loyalty is—for example, they’re introducing a law now that if I come out and say I’m not going to buy any products from the settlements, I can go to jail for three years if I say that. Or I can be sued by a settler, up to 500,000 shekels or something, I don’t know, some crazy amount. And he doesn’t have to prove damages. Just the very fact that I say that. That’s what they’re pushing. Those are the kinds of laws they’re pushing.
ABM: Yeah. There’s another law they’re pushing now about the power of the police.
TB: Oh yeah.
ABM: Limiting the power to investigate corruption.
TB: Not only the police, the state comptroller. They want to limit the power of the state comptroller, that he doesn’t release things at the time that he discovers [them]. In other words, he only releases them when it’s too late, when this money’s already been stolen. It’s a lot of things. And everything is because if it’s good for the settlements. There’s two visions of Zionism. One is Zionism, we’re going to come back to our ancestral homeland to recreate the past, and that is the view that is dominant today. The view that appealed to me, and which was the view of the founding fathers of Israel—and that is Ben-Gurion and Weitzman and I would even say Jabotinsky—I think Jabotinsky would be turning in his grave today, what the people are in his name are doing, because he was a constitutionalist. He believed in full rights for the Arabs, by the way, no d— He was more of a constitutionalist than Ben-Gurion in that respect. No. The purpose of Zionism is to create alternative future options for the Jewish people. Options, plural.
ABM: Yeah, yeah.
TB: So we can create a new future. But the past has a voice, but not a veto.
ABM: Absolutely. It’s a guide, it’s a guide.
TB: It’s an inspiration but it’s not a diktat. And we’re not dictated to by the past. I don’t care if Abraham, Father Abraham, took a nap on this hill. I really don’t care.
TB: Even if he existed, didn’t exist, makes no difference. I don’t care if King David did this here. There’s a story about Ben-Gurion having an argument with a Bundist. A Bundist is, people who don’t know, is somebody who advocated the Yiddish language and the Yiddish culture, which Ben-Gurion really hated. And the Bundist got so exasperated [and] says ‘what, a thousand years of history isn’t important?’ And Ben-Gurion very calmly said ‘Yes. The next thousand years is more important.’
TB: Not the past, but the future. And you look at all the great civilizations in the world, all the great cultures in the world, and they’re future-oriented. America is the perfect example, the United States of America. That’s like the total future civilization.
ABM: I mean, do you really see a sort of slow demise of Israel as we know it?
TB: Not in my lifetime. Look, Israel’s very robust. Israel—you look at things other than the settler thing. I’ll give you a—I came in 1967.
ABM: No, no, but given everything you’re saying, the attrition, the erosion.
TB: It will take much longer than a lot of people on the left think, in my opinion. It won’t be in my lifetime and maybe not in the lifetime of my kids, but by the end of the century— Look, in my book I say by 2048, you know like one hund— I did this thing. 100 years, founded in 48, 2048, maybe 20, 30, 40 years, I don’t know. It’s a—but Israel’s very s—
ABM: What would be then, [in] 20, 30, 40 years?
TB: No idea. Either no Jews, or just some kind of mediocre Middle Eastern state. Nothing qualitative about it, nothing special about it. Impoverished.
ABM: And because of what? Because—
TB: Because a lot of the elites will leave. By the way, a lot of the Arab elites will leave too.
ABM: They are leaving.
TB: They’ll leave too. They don’t want to put up with this stuff.
ABM: They are getting sick and tired of it, yeah.
TB: Yeah, you think they don’t know that the Palestinian Authority is one of the most corrupt things on the face of the planet Earth? Did you know the Palestinians have received four times the amount of aid per individual than the Europeans received under the Marshall Plan? And they’re still in the toilet.
ABM: No, you’re right. You know, I had a group just recently in Brussels before I came here. Palestinians, Israelis; and several of the Palestinians said to me ‘if I had an opportunity to leave, I’d leave tomorrow. If I could get a visa tomorrow to the United States, Britain, anywhere in the EU, I would leave tomorrow. There’s no prospect for me anymore.’ So many Israelis who were with the same group, a few of them said the same thing.
TB: My son, my youngest son, he has a friend, a woman, an Arab-Palestinian from East Jerusalem. He’s trying to help her get a job in Haifa. She’s a scientist, she’s very qualified. She doesn’t want to live with these people. Her people.
TB: Her people.
ABM: So do you think there is anything [that] can be done, should be done, if you were to reverse this trend?
TB: Yeah, if I’m—
ABM: No, but practically speaking, in practical terms.
TB: Yeah. I, look. I think looking for the big deal that Trump brags about, oh, he’s going to make the greatest deal in the world in the Middle East, it’s nonsense. The greatest deal in the world was on the table in 2000 at Camp David, and it was turned down by Arafat.
ABM: OK, well that’s gone, that’s what I say.
TB: So I talk about mitigating rather than resolving. I don’t think you can resolve this situation in the near future. When I say near future, I mean the next 20, 30, 40 years, but you could certainly mitigate it. And what do I mean? Let’s look at the present opportunity that Israel has, that had some kind of vision and courage in its political class. The Sunni Arab world is dying to make peace with Israel. Not because they love us, but because they’re scared to death of Shiite Iran. And they’re more scared of Iran than we are, and justifiably. We shouldn’t be that scared of Iran, by the way, that’s really exaggerated in my opinion.
ABM: Oh I know, I know, I agree.
TB: But they are. But they say what we need [is] some kind of progress on the Palestinian front. So I look at the West Bank. Eighteen percent Area A, 30-some percent Area B, and 50 percent Area C. Area A is total control by the Palestinian Authority, Area B has mutual control, Area C is total control by us, by Israel. Go to Saudi Arabia, go to [the] king of Morocco, whoever you go to, [and] say, ‘listen. We’re willing to go from 18 percent to 30 percent in Area A, make 30 percent of the West Bank Area A. We want five or six Arab countries to establish diplomatic relations with us. Set up an embassy, like Egypt and Jordan.’
ABM: But do you think they’ll go for that [on] an incremental base?
TB: That’s the only game in town, in my opinion. If they don’t go for that, then there’s no hope for anything. No hope for anything. I think so.
ABM: I mean if there’s a—
TB: I know, but say, this is not a final thing. Then we’ll go from 30 percent to 40 percent for another three or four.
ABM: I know. If you want to do that in stages, provided there is some kind of framework that is being presented in advance. I mean, they need to see the ultimate picture of what that’s going to look like, and they’ll probably be prepared to go in stages to do exactly what you’re saying.
TB: Ultimate visions that are too detailed can be a barrier, because then people begin to argue on the details.
ABM: No, the opposite, of just a vision of how it’s going to look like.
TB: Ok, The Camp David division. I said in general, the Camp David vision with minor changes.
TB: We’re still willing to go to that.
ABM: And then do it incrementally, along the lines of what you say.
TB: To do it incrementally, and build mutual confidence along the way, that gives the Israeli public more confidence, gives the Palestinians more confidence that they can compromise here without worrying about being screwed. Yeah. That’s the only game I would—and I would go to the Europeans, I would say to the Europeans ‘listen, we’re going to have a problem about land swaps. We’re going to keep the land within the barrier but we’ll give—’ that’s not going to happen. So why don’t you build islands off of Gaza, like they build in Qatar and all these places. Islands, you know. Using islands of the same land area that—and let us, as an interim stage, annex this area within the barrier. Make it part of Israel. That’s not occupied anymore. That’s now Israel. But they get the equivalent.
ABM: Well what’s wrong with [a] land swap?
TB: Because where [are] you going to give it?
ABM: We won’t?
TB: Where [are] you going to give it?
ABM: Who or to where?
TB: Where [are] you going to take it from?
ABM: Well I mean they’ve been talking about, I mean.
TB: I know, but nobody’s been specific when you think about it.
ABM: Maps and maps.
TB: I know, but when you think about it specifically, it’s not going to happen.
ABM: Yeah, specifically I mean no, there were actually specific maps that—
TB: Yeah, I know, but it’s not going to happen. There’s psychological things about this and there’s practical things. If you’re going to expand Gaza, you have to take down 20 Israeli settlements that are within Israel proper.
ABM: I’m not talking about Gaza. I’m talking about [the] West Bank.
TB: Well that’s where land swaps are going to go.
ABM: I’m talking about the West Bank.
TB: We—land swaps is, we keep part of the West Bank and give part of Israel proper.
ABM: Yeah, but Israel proper there’s basically south, you know south uh, east of—
TB: Whatever. I’m saying, this is something I would say to the Europeans. And you give them an international airport on these islands, like you have in Hong Kong, [an] international port. We’re willing to do that. Tit for tat, tit for tat, throw things out. Get them in the conversation, get them to say, this is interesting. Maybe it can’t be done. I say the peace process per se is Israel’s greatest strategic asset. Whenever there’s a vigorous process, we’re the flavor of the month.
ABM: Yeah, but they are not using it, that’s a problem. And the process just remains in name, there’s no progress in this process, and no one—
TB: So make the peace process substantive.
ABM: Yeah, yeah.
TB: Make it sort of a reverse erosion. Look, we don’t want to be there anyway. You talk to the average Jewish mother in Israel, oh, you want your kid to be guarding a settlement? Are you kidding?
ABM: No, of course not. Of course not.
TB: Are you kidding? Scared to death.
ABM: In conclusion.
TB: Yeah. In conclusion, the racist canard that Jews are smarter than other people has been totally disproven by the Zionist project. Give us power and we’re just as stupid as everybody else.
ABM: I’d say amen to that. OK well thank you.
Alon Liel has served the Israeli Foreign Ministry in various positions: the head of the Israeli mission in Turkey (1981-1983), the Foreign Ministry spokesman and the member of the Israeli negotiating team at the Taba talks with Egypt (1985–1987), Ambassador to South Africa in (1992-1994), Director General of the Ministry of Economy and Planning (1994-1996), Foreign Policy Advisor to Ehud Barak (1997-1999), Director General of the Foreign Ministry (2000-2001).
Liel is the author of several books, namely Turkey in the Middle East – Oil, Islam and Politics (1993), Black Justice – The South African Upheaval (1999), Turkey – The Military, Islam and Politics (1999), Turkey in the Middle East (2001), Demo Islam, Turkey’s New Regime (2003). He has taught courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University on Turkey and the Middle East politics.
Liel was the board member of Gazit Inc. (biggest real estate company in Israel). He was the chairman of the Israel-Turkey Business Council between 2002-2006, and is the chairman of the Global Code Ltd.
Liel was the president of the Jewish-Arab soccer club, Abu Gosh-Mevaseret. He is also the founder and the chairman of the Israel-Syria Peace Society.