On the Issues Episode 35: Congressman Robert Wexler
Robert Wexler is the President of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington, DC. He served as a Democratic member of Congress from 1997 to 2010, representing Florida’s 19th district in the House of Representatives before retiring to lead the Center. Wexler was named one of the “50 Most Effective Legislators in Congress” by the influential magazine Congressional Quarterly and was named to the Forward 50 list as one of the most influential leaders in the American Jewish community.
In 2008, Congressman Wexler served as an advisor on Middle East and Israel issues to President Barack Obama during his presidential campaign. In 2012, he served on the President’s reelection Steering Committee and addressed the Democratic National Convention outlining the President’s policies related to Israel.
Throughout his tenure in Congress, Wexler was an outspoken advocate for the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel and a leading proponent of Israel’s right to self-defense and the need for a just and comprehensive resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He traveled on numerous congressional delegations to the Middle East and met with the leaders of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait, Turkey, Syria, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, and the Palestinian Authority. At President Clinton’s invitation, he was the only member of the House of Representatives present during the signing of the Wye River Peace Agreement. In addition, Wexler was one of two Congressmen to travel to the International Court of Justice at The Hague to oppose the Palestinian case against Israel’s construction of a security barrier.
Congressman Wexler served as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, a senior Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a member of the Middle East Subcommittee. Wexler worked to strengthen the transatlantic alliance, build security and economic bonds with the European Union and the nations of Europe, and help guide the economic and political development of the former Soviet States. Wexler served as an American representative to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and was the co-founder of the Caucus on U.S.-Turkish Relations, the Taiwan Caucus and the Indonesia Caucus. He was also an active member of the India Caucus. In addition, Wexler served as a senior member of the Judiciary Committee and the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property.
Born in New York, Congressman Wexler moved to South Florida with his family at age 10. He earned his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Florida and law degree from George Washington University. Before serving in Congress, he served in the Florida Senate for six years. Congressman Wexler and his wife, Laurie, have three children.
Below is a transcript of the episode, lightly edited for clarity.
Alon Ben-Meir: I’m Alon Ben-Meir, and welcome to another episode of “On the Issues.” My guest today is Congressman Robert Wexler, President of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. You can find his full bio on the page for this episode.
ABM: Why the United States is consistently supporting Israel, even though successive American administrations been saying time and again that the settlement is not helpful to the peace process. Many are saying it’s also illegal, of course. And, but no American administration really took any specific steps to penalize, to—
Robert Wexler: Right.
ABM: To pressure Israel to stop, other than the talk. Look at—I mean Obama was probably the one who put more pressure on Israel in this area than any of his predecessors.
RW: No, I would disagree.
RW: President, first President Bush.
ABM: Bush, yeah, well Bush was—
RW: Carter did more.
ABM: Carter, yeah. You’re right. Carter, going back many years, when in fact the settlements were few.
RW: And second President Bush put plenty of pressure.
ABM: Only on the connection with the—
RW: It was just a different Israeli leadership. Sharon didn’t ignore it.
ABM: Well, also most of them ignored it.
RW: Yeah, no, they continued to build, but when Bush was serious, Sharon came up with constructive solutions.
ABM: Yeah. Well, Bush held this 10 billion dollar guarantee as a crutch. But that is because Israel requested that. So you say, well, we won’t give it to you. But there was no initiative on the part of the United States to say if you don’t, we’re going to do this. So he basically did not want to give them.
RW: Ok, but Obama gave the largest security package in history. So I don’t think you can say—
ABM: That’s my point. No, but this is exactly the point.
ABM: He’s talking the talks, don’t build, don’t build, it’s bad, and then end up giving 38 billion dollars over 10 years for military aid. That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what I’m talking about.
ABM: So, because you’ve been so much involved in this and you are so pro-Israel, for good reason – me too. What do you attribute this unequivocal support of the United States to Israel? That is, I mean, obviously it has a number of sources, number of reasons. But what is your personal take on it? You know I mean, I don’t want to start my sense of it, but what it is that you think? Because it’s more than one issue. Obviously there’s half a dozen reasons why the United States continues to support Israel.
RW: There are many reasons. First and foremost is a shared set of values between the United States and Israel that cannot be underestimated. And subsequent to 9/11, that shared sense of values from an American perspective, I believe is even more pronounced, when Americans look out upon the world and they see those countries that truly share America’s commitment and passion for freedom, for civil rights, for democracy, for liberalization of the role of women in society, respect for judicial independence in the Middle East. Obviously, Israel stands far and above any other comparison. So there’s a set of values that provide a foundation. But what I also think is sometimes overlooked currently in Israel is the central role that the American Jewish community has played, both in terms of the way that it has successfully assimilated into American life in all fields over the past several decades. And the result is an increase in support between the United States and Israel by non-Jewish Americans. A familiarity, a sense of partnership, a sense of commonality – not just in values but in way of life and perspectives that undergirths the relationship. Also, outside of the Jewish community in the United States of course is the extraordinary respect that the evangelical community in America provides.
ABM: Well that’s a big, big factor, of course.
RW: Yeah. And it’s a big factor politically.
ABM: Politically, of course, domestically.
RW: Domestically in terms of communities, where often there is a very small American Jewish community. Obviously there are large evangelical communities that provide a perspective of support for American Israeli relations. It’s different than the Jewish community’s perspective.
ABM: Yeah, but I think this particular point is probably far more relevant and important to the politicians here. That is, many politicians, including the presidents, Congress, House, Senate, many of them probably would not be elected unless there’s a strong support from the evangelicals, don’t you think?
RW: Sure. But—
ABM: And the evangelicals’ support to Israel is unequivocal. I mean, that’s by extension those who do not go along and support Israel, many potentially could not make it in areas where there is overwhelming evangelical presence.
RW: Well, I think you might be overstating it a bit. It’s true that the evangelical community supports Israel wholeheartedly, and it’s a very important source of strength. But let’s not exaggerate the role that Israel plays in the domestic politics of the United States. America’s relationship with Israel – for me, for you, for certain people in the United States – is central to our thinking. But in most elections in the United States, the focus is on the economy. The focus is on local industry, on the local economy. To the extent that the focus becomes on foreign policy, it tends to be on terrorism, it tends to be on American soldiers, where American soldiers are fighting—in Iraq, in Afghanistan, wherever it may be.
ABM: This is true. But in every election, almost with no exception, very few countries are mentioned. But Israel is always mentioned.
RW: Yeah, it is.
ABM: Our support for Israel. There’s a reason for it. Why they mention Israel of all, singling out. Even the last speech, his State of the Union, one country by name was mentioned, and that is Israel.
ABM: And that is very consistent by all administrations, Israel is singled out. And there’s a message behind it, there’s no question in my mind.
ABM: There’s a message behind it. Where this message to? Not to the Israelis, and not to the Jewish community.
RW: Oh, sure it is to the Jewish community.
ABM: Well I mean—
RW: Of course it is, of course it is.
ABM: The Jewish community has always been there for Israel, there’s no question. But now, now it is waning. I think the support of the Jewish community—
RW: No, no, no, no, no. With all due respect, you’re not saying it properly. It’s not that the American Jewish community is there for Israel – which it is – the American Jewish community is profoundly engaged in American politics.
ABM: This is absolutely true.
RW: And that’s why it’s mentioned. It’s mentioned of course because of the evangelical community‘s interest in the issue. But the question is, yes it’s mentioned, yes there are reasons, yes, and I’m glad there are political consequences for affirming one’s support for the American-Israeli relationship, positive consequences. But still, Americans vote on their pocketbook issues, they vote on things important to their local communities. They vote on foreign policy issues most concentrated on the American military, on terrorism and so forth. To foist the American-Israeli relationship up into the top one, two, or three issues I think misrepresents the strength of the relationship, because then one can say, well let’s look and see what issues Americans identify as their top 10. Well, rarely will they identify Israel in that context.
ABM: But there is no question about it. By not identifying it does not mean— Can you imagine anyone running for the Senate or for the House during the campaign would be attacking American foreign policy because it’s been supporting supportive of Israel all these years?
RW: Well no, but—
ABM: What would that person—
ABM: But that is my point here.
RW: Yeah, but hold on. There actually was one man who did speak differently about America’s relationship with Israel, certainly at the beginning and through the middle of his campaign, and that was Donald Trump. And he was quite successful.
ABM: Well, but look what’s happening. I mean—
RW: I understand what’s happening. But evangelicals did not move away from Donald Trump when Donald Trump was somewhat critical in certain respects of Israel’s traditional posture. Now, he changed his tone.
ABM: Very quickly, very quickly.
RW: Yeah, very quickly. But he paid no price.
ABM: Well he paid no, but because he changed his tone so early in the campaign. I mean, it wasn’t like his tactic.
RW: We agree. We agree.
ABM: Oh, I mean, let’s— No, I’m not here to argue with you.
RW: Yeah, no, but we agree. We agree.
ABM: My point is, I’m really, I’m learning, I’m not here to. I want to hear—I’m actually writing a work on this now. And I have obviously some different take on what you’ve basically— I agree with you, the American Jewish community has an influence. I agree, certainly the evangelical. I probably apply more relevance, more importance to that than you do.
RW: Well, it depends. You need to divide it up in a partisan sense and so forth. Obviously within the Democratic Party, the influence of the American Jewish community would be more pronounced than would be the influence of the evangelical Christian community, although in the state of Iowa, or in the state of Ohio in the south, or in different parts of the Midwest or different rural communities, even where it might be a Democratic representative, the influence of the evangelical community will be significant. But even in the Republican Party, where obviously the voter impact of the evangelical community will be disproportionately higher, the influence of prominent Jewish Americans in the Republican Party has grown substantially over the last 20 years. Look at the people most involved in the Republican National Committee on the finance side, on the policy side, on many of the different attributes. And there are prominent Jewish Americans—
ABM: No doubt. This is true. I just want to go into more into nuance here in terms of, do you believe. I mean, I see this happening. Do you believe that there is still erosion? That is, many Americans are now looking at Israel and looking at the occupation and the values we talking about before this. See, we have similar values, Israel is a democracy, equal rights, respect for the judiciary and all of that. This is all true, but there is now an erosion in terms of what’s happening in say the last five, six years, in particular since the formation of the last government, when you have Shaked trying to tamper with the judiciary, trying to appoint judges who are not going to be favoring really being a judge and go with issues, but those who are going to look at the Palestinian issues differently. The occupation itself is causing serious—many American Jews are very concerned. That is, the degradation of Israel’s moral principle, which we sort of take and say well, we support Israel because here’s, the Jews, democracy, freedom, and all of that. That is also eroding. Do you see that erosion taking place among the Jewish community, and certainly among the larger American community?
RW: Certainly there is an erosion as you describe it in terms of identity and affinity between Jewish-Americans and Israel, particularly when you look at it from the perspective of younger Americans. I think it’s possibly a simplification to simply point to Israel’s policies regarding the West Bank and settlement building to say, oh that’s the reason Israel has been, as you well know—
ABM: No, no, that’s one of them.
RW: Has been building settlements for decades. And they’ve built settlements under left-of-center governments, Labor-led governments, and they build them today under right-of-center governments led by the Likud. So, while certainly increased focus on settlements does create a division and adds to that division, I think it’s broader than that. And when I say broader, what I mean is there’s a perspective and I don’t think it’s necessarily 100 percent correct. But there’s a perspective amongst younger Jewish Americans as they adopt a more liberalized approach to life and to ethics and to the different issues that motivate them. They look at Israel and at times see possibly a different direction, although that’s not entirely fair in terms of the rights of the different communities in Israel, whether it be gay rights or the liberalization in terms of adoptions and things of that nature for same-sex couples, Israel is a leader in many respects. So while yes, it is true that there is a growing division and certainly an increased focus on expanded settlements, it doesn’t help and probably hurts. And yes, questions particularly in the Jewish community when there is a rigidity with respect to conversions and the rights of women to pray in certain ways at the Kotel. I mean, that got a lot more play—
RW: The Kotel than settlements did for many years. And so if that’s an indicator of the emotions of the American Jewish community, I think that would support a different hypothesis. Meaning that it’s the social issues, that when they create a division it causes a bigger divide than necessarily the settlement policies. I would argue it’s an accumulation.
ABM: OK. I mean there is accumulation, but let me, if you ask most Israelis today, and I’m sure you heard this and seen this, they will tell you what matters to them as far as countries around the world are concerned, including the EU, United States is the most important ally, bar none, and second to none. So for most Israelis, United States matters the most obviously. Now think about it in those terms. As a result of this, since the United States albeit criticize Israel occasionally here and there about, up with some pressure, minimal pressure really. In my view, if the situation today it is what it is, and we are on the verge basically last vestiges of what’s left of this two-state solution, I feel very strongly that United States become the enabler. That is, the United States’ policy toward Israel made it possible for the Israelis to get to this point where the prospect for real peace based on a two-state solution practically has diminished, if not dead already. That is what I see happening, is a continuing of this policy. Is it good for Israel? My feeling is that with the best of intentions of the successive administrations, with the best intentions of the Jewish community, with the affinity and love, affiliation, Israeli values, American values. What we have done here basically enable the Israelis to continue with this path both from the left and center, right-of-center, left-of-center, pretty much maybe with the exception of Meretz, pretty much continue exactly what you said, to build the settlement. We got to a point we have created now irreversible facts. As a matter of fact, in my view on the ground, who is going to evacuate 500,000 or two hundred thou-, or even 100,000. That’s what I feel where America has been very shortsighted. In the name of loving Israel, protecting Israel, and taking care of Israel, we also enabled Israel to get into this terrible spot today, and the Israelis themselves seem to think well, we are where we are. We are, from Netanyahu’s perspective, they’ve achieved a great deal. And Trump came in, gave them the biggest prize historic in its dimension. And so here you have the problem that is, out of love – no, there was no, if it was tough love is one thing, but it wasn’t tough love.
RW: I would respectfully differ a bit in terms of the totality of the perspective. Certainly you’re correct that America has as you say enabled certain Israeli policies. But I think you’re only focusing on part of the equation of both the relationship and the consequences of the relationship. For instance, I think you would agree that any Israeli government, whether it’s right-of-center or left-of-center, can only, would only be able to effectuate a realistic offer with respect to a negotiated two-state outcome if it felt secure enough, strong enough, in terms of its defensive capability to make such an offer. And without American support throughout the decades, that level of Israeli confidence never would have been realized. Only with Israel maintaining, preserving, and even pushing ahead with its qualitative military advantage does it allow Israel to be in a political posture to engage seriously with respect to a negotiated two-state outcome. So you’ve got to give America credit for that.
ABM: Well this is true, but we have to separate now between providing the kind of security and the support from a security perspective, versus what Israel is doing in the territories.
RW: Well yes you can, but what you suggested, which certainly there is a level of truth to, which is the settlement policies are the ones that are undermining the possibility of a two-state solution. And surely that is part of the equation. But also part of the equation is that in order to effectuate a two-state solution, Israel must be secure and must have its defensive capabilities at an all-time high.
ABM: Provided you leave an opening. But you have to also leave an opening for a prospective solution to the Israeli-Palestinian.
RW: Of course.
ABM: But that opening was closing while the United States has been doing nothing, practically nothing to prevent that from happening. That’s what I am saying.
RW: Ok. Well that’s also where I think your description is a bit unfair. Yes, American policies thankfully have largely not been punitive with respect to Israel. But on the other hand, it was President Clinton, along with Prime Minister Barak and then Arafat, who all but negotiated an end to the conflict only to have it not be successful, at least disproportionately decisions made by the Palestinian leadership. Again, Olmert and Abbas, with the engagement of the United States, brought the level of negotiation even further. Olmert’s offer was more generous than was Barak’s in certain respects.
ABM: Oh no, no, I agree with you. I am not actually suggesting that the Palestinians were right.
RW: I know you’re not.
ABM: No, not at all.
RW: I know you’re not.
ABM: I think they were their own worst enemy, their own worst enemy. So from a perspective of negotiation, I absolutely have no problem with that.
RW: OK. So, but how can—
ABM: But one has nothing to do with the other.
RW: No, but that’s where I would differ. How can one say America is an enabler of Israeli settlement policy, but not recognize at least that however you describe America’s role in terms of its support for Israel, the totality of its role, it also enabled America to bring Prime Minister Barak to where he got to in terms of his offer to the Palestinians, which was unfortunately rejected and allowed America or enabled America to help bring Prime Minister Olmert to the offer that he made. It’s two-sided.
ABM: Yeah, but again, this is all true, this is all true. The question is, if you look today, what is the biggest stumbling block? Of course you don’t have leadership among the Palestinians who are willing, able to make the kind of concession necessary to make peace. I grant you that, there’s no question. I don’t think anything is going to happen unless there’s visionary, strong, powerful leadership. Knowing the Palestinians, Abbas isn’t going to deliver peace. This is dead on arrival as far as I’m concerned. He can’t, nor can Netanyahu for that matter, because he’s wedded. Netanyahu is not interested in two-state solution, period. He said it himself. It is not going to happen under his watch. What I’m saying is the combination of all of this put together has created now a situation where we started, you and I at the very beginning, it’s as gloomy as it can be. That’s what I’m saying. Which means, not exclusively, America was a partner, a party to the enablement of Israel. But Israel’s policy was the right policy, of course not. Was the Palestinian did the right thing? Of course not. Olmert would have been able to achieve peace had Abbas was smart enough to think, well, because there the stumbling, really main, big problem was the land swap, the percentages – you know, what Olmert demanded, versus what Abbas. But I think had this been the only problem, it could have been resolved. But that is not the only problem. On the surface that was a disagreement, yeah.
RW: Prime Minister Olmert essentially offered 6 percent in terms of a land swap; President Abbas’s position was 2 percent.
ABM: Yeah, even less, 1.8.
RW: Ok, 1.8, 1.9. And there are a series of maps, both at the time and developed subsequently that would certainly allow for what would appear to be a reasonable conclusion for both sides, a roughly 3.8 or 4.0 that would allow about 80 percent of the Jewish Israelis that live beyond the 1967 lines, east of the 67 lines, to be incorporated into Israel’s new internationally recognized borders. So I don’t think that while I differ and oppose Israel’s settlement policies as they go out further into the West Bank, I think it is responsible to identify the difference between those settlements that would logically impede the negotiation success of a two-state solution, and those that do not.
ABM: Oh no question, no question.
RW: And so just broad generalizations I think don’t get us anywhere.
ABM: No, no, and I’m the last one—
RW: I know you don’t, I’m just saying in general.
ABM: I mean as a matter of fact, the three blocks of settlements, plus perhaps a few others, they will be under any circumstances part and parcel of Israel, have nearly 80 percent of the settlers. So it’s not like all these, spread all over the West Bank have various, relatively speaking only 20 percent really of the settlers. The majority of them are in the area where Israel is—
ABM: Yeah. So having said that nevertheless, what you have today now comes Trump—I hate to call him president, I’m not used to calling him president.
RW: Well, he is the president. He is the president.
ABM: Comes Trump. Now he said one state, two state, it doesn’t matter. What kind of signal did that give to the Israelis, as well to the Palestinians?
RW: No it’s a terrible signal, terrible.
ABM: So he now added another layer of confusion, of difficulties.
ABM: To the whole process. Where do we go from here? You know, we may differ on some of the numbers and the details and the causes behind what happened, but I think you and I agree, the accumulative impact of the mistakes by all parties involved, United States has contributed to the impasse. That’s how I see it. Contributor, not the main contributor.
ABM: But certainly contributed to the impasse.
ABM: And now it’s even getting worse, under this administration.
RW: American policy for the last several days has no doubt contributed to the impasse. But I would not conclude, however, that in terms of the size of that contribution that that it is a meaningful discussion at this point. The focus should be on the requirements of both the Israelis and the Palestinians to exercise their right of self-determination in a manner that is consistent with their historical narrative with respects to their security interests. And at the same time, recognizes that while they may not agree with the narrative, the historical narrative of the other side, that it is a legitimate narrative that must be honored, that must be respected and accommodated in a political sense. And I think American administrations, Republican and Democratic alike, have acted in accordance with that principle. So yeah, thank goodness American administrations and the American Congress has been so supportive of Israel that we do not act in a punitive way. Because you know why, and I think you would agree, there have been so many punitive actors throughout history towards both the state of Israel and the Jewish people that America, thank goodness, and Americans, the vast majority of them, do not want to participate in that type of a historical war.
ABM: Well when we say punitive action, obviously we’re not talking about imposing sanctions or things of this sort. America has so many levers to use, to exert the kind of influence—
ABM: I mean, pressure that—
RW: OK, but let’s give America some credit. Why?
ABM: Oh no, no question.
RW: But hold on. Why is the E1 corridor to date still not built upon by successive Israeli governments? Why is at least East Jerusalem still connected to the West Bank, so that if a negotiated two-state outcome were to occur, it would still be possible theoretically for a Palestinian state, a newly created Palestinian state, to be contiguous, to be connected from Jerusalem to the West Bank. It’s because of the positions of Republican and Democratic administrations for the last 25 years who have stood in the way. Now, whether President Trump’s administration will do the same is a question mark.
ABM: Well that’s the point. That’s the point. I mean, it’s been deteriorating and now we are at a point almost of no return if he continues with the current policy, and if Netanyahu god forbid is re-elected.
RW: Yes. Those are legitimate questions.
ABM: And that is my concern. So, you’ve been active politically. You have been an adviser. And I think, as far as I know about you, you’ve done an amazing job. What would you recommend today if President Trump came to you and said, ‘tell me, what should we do in order to advance the—’ and I’m not being facetious.
RW: No, I know you’re not.
ABM: I really am not.
RW: I would say to President Trump that he has an enormous swell of goodwill that he has built up with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and equally important with the Israeli people. He has developed a degree of confidence in terms of average Israelis in his performance, in his commitment to the state of Israel and its security, to use that degree of goodwill as a negotiating tool to help facilitate the goals and objectives that he sought to build when he made his first trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel. Meaning, President Trump rightly identified the emerging, very strong dynamic of the Sunni Arab states, moderate states in the Gulf, that have a coherence of interests with the state of Israel and with the United States in countering Iran. And what I would advise President Trump is, use that accumulation of goodwill, continue his effort to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. He’s announced that he will insist upon a renegotiation of the Iran nuclear agreement. Work, I would suggest to President Trump with the French president, President Macron, who played a very constructive role – the French did – in terms of America and its negotiation with Iran. Ask President Macron to work with the Iranians and bring along the European bloc to extend the sunset provision on the Iranian nuclear agreement. Include in ballistic missiles and their destructive approach to the region into outside understandings. Doesn’t need to be in the nuclear agreement, just additional agreements. And make certain that Iran’s treacherous behavior in the region becomes more addressed than it is today. And at the same time, if that is successful, legitimately be able to argue to the Israeli leadership and to the Israeli people that America has constructively laid out a dynamic in the region that allows Israel the space in which to resolve its issue with the Palestinians in both a way that increases its security and the likelihood that extremist groups and regional war cannot break out to Israel’s benefit, for Israel to maybe take a more generous approach. Not an approach that in any way de-emphasizes its security needs, but a more generous approach in terms of allowing Palestinian dignity. Palestinians should have their capital of their new state in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. That is of no or little consequence to the state of Israel in terms of its security or the sanctity of Jewish holy sites. Give Palestinians a sense of dignity by honoring their right of return, but make that honor apply to the new state of Palestine, not to the state of Israel, and ensure once and for all that Israel has internationally recognized borders. And at the same time, President Trump can usher in an era in which Israel enjoys economic benefits with the neighboring states that it has never enjoyed before in the open, that can flourish, that can bring in increases in gross domestic and national product, that are unforeseen in terms of their tremendous potential, and allow the energy finds that are very important but shouldn’t be overemphasized both in Israel and Egypt and possibly off of what would be the Gaza coast, to enable a regional approach to these increased energy finds, and maybe a way to bring in Cyprus and possibly Turkey, which is a whole other story. But the most lucrative or most economical routes usually go through Turkey. And to do all that in the next two or three years, because the urgency for a two-state solution is real, and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has gotten to a point where it will have dramatic negative consequences, both [to] the Israelis and to the Palestinians. And if President Trump doesn’t do all this or at least make an attempt, I would respectfully suggest to him he’s not taking advantage of the extraordinary steps he has taken so far to develop this degree of goodwill with the Israelis.
ABM: Yeah, I think you’re right. The only, there’s a lot of if obviously, that’s—
RW: Of course.
ABM: That’s my concern here, this is, if, and if. And I’m not undermining what you are saying, and I think this scenario is plausible, but we have to deal with the ifs. That is an open question. Let me tell you the Israelis, what they say—those who are, not necessarily feel the same way in connection with all of these issues. Economically speaking, they are dealing now with open markets in India and China, which by far will exceed anything they can do with the Arab states. Again, not saying they are right. But this is thinking in those terms. The lack of peace with the Palestinians, they see that as an advantage in the sense that they can continue to claim concern over security, security, security, and the United States has fallen for that trap for a long time. And there’s no reason to change course at this point. As far as Iran is concerned, many Israelis will tell you this is hoax, the whole thing. Iran would never ever dare to challenge Israel militarily because it will be wiped out. And as far as Turkey, now as far as Cyprus and the gas between the two sides, the deals are being made there’s, they don’t need America’s help. They don’t need anybody’s help for that matter. And it’s already taking place. What would then going to give that urgency for the Israelis even to listen to Trump, because he too is not going to put his foot down. That is what I’m talking about.
RW: No, those are fair points. And your observations in terms of Iran—in terms of India—well, in terms of Iran too. But your observations in terms of the openness and the potential of the volume of trade—
ABM: This is only two. So many others—Africa everywhere, Latin America.
RW: That’s right. These are all very fair and justified points. I would come back to one of your earlier points though, and that is still I think there is a recognition in Israel, correctly so, that the most precious asset that it holds is its relationship with the United States. And yes, you’re right. And Israelis are right to take advantage of the new opportunities in India. And Prime Minister Netanyahu’s trip to India was as I understand it largely successful. And the Chinese approach will value their economic relationship with Israel without compromising its political or strategic interests, although it will still favor the Palestinians in terms of the UN and things of that nature. There’s also a tremendous opportunity. However, I do think that the Jewish people understand still, this is a planet of what, five billion people? I mean, how many billions are on the planet now, 5 billion?
ABM: More, it’s approaching 8.
RW: Is it 8?
ABM: 7 plus, 7 plus.
RW: I’m showing my lack of knowledge, ok. In a planet of 7 plus billion people, with how many Jewish people, 18 million Jewish people?
ABM: Just about, just about.
RW: Yeah. That—
ABM: But we make noise more than two billion people, so.
RW: OK. It’s still important for this small state of roughly 8 million to have an incredibly unbreakably strong bond with the United States of America.
ABM: Oh, I think it’s very important, it’s very critical. I’m not in the least suggest that that should be tampered with. I’m just saying, the asset that the United States, which you so eloquently suggested, that is, will the United States use the levers in a constructive way in order to change the dynamics on the ground?
RW: That’s right.
ABM: And that’s what hasn’t taken place.
RW: Correct. And let’s hope that President Trump uses that.
ABM: And there’s just one other point I wanted to mention to you, to see what your thoughts on it, and that is what’s happening inside Israel itself in terms of the process. What we are seeing is a movement from left to the right, steadily growing. That is, right is a growing, settlement movement is becoming far stronger than ever before. They have direct input to just about every coalition government. In fact, Israel cannot form a coalition government where some element, some parties that’s represent the settlement is not going to be in that government. So what you have now, it’s a movement from the left to the right, which is growing on a day-to-day basis. And the opposition become really extraordinarily weak, extraordinarily weak. Today I don’t see any prospect of somebody from the left—not, I don’t mean left-left, I mean just left-of-center slightly, or even from the center—to emerge as a leader and say, ‘well we are going the wrong direction. We’ve got to have some correction made here.’ I think that is probably the biggest dan-, another major danger that Israel is facing, because we don’t have that kind of, I don’t see one. Do you see one coming now?
RW: Well, the demographics of Israel are what they are. And in terms of the prognosis for center or center-left political campaigns, the formula for their success as you rightfully essentially suggest is not to generate more interest on the left, but they need to take votes from people who would ordinarily find the center-right more attractive. And so in doing that type of a political strategy, you’re probably going to see the center shift a little bit to the right. It already has, and the center-left even shifted a little closer to the center. The other dynamic of course is non-secular versus secular. And I was at a conference this week in Israel and the polling, if I remember correctly, essentially said that 80 percent of those Israelis, Jewish Israelis, who identify themselves as religious oppose a negotiated two-state outcome. Now, whether the numbers are exactly right or not aren’t even the point. Four out of five.
ABM: And they are always, yeah, they are always in the government almost continuously from day of inception, with the exception of a couple of coalitions where they did not participate.
RW: So either Israelis with the help of Americans and others will persuade those people who identify themselves as religious to take a different point of view, or maybe offer them other things so that they will not stand in the way. These are the questions that the Israeli people will have to decide.
ABM: And the nationalists as well. I mean, you’re talking about Bennett and Lieberman. These are not necessarily religious, but they are nationalist.
RW: Yeah, I don’t think it’s fair in the context of what we’re talking about to put Bennett and Lieberman in the same category. I mean, Lieberman is shown to be pragmatic in certain respects in terms of negotiation with the Palestinians. He doesn’t have a religious zeal for the land.
ABM: No, no, I’m not saying neither of them does. I mean, Bennett a little bit more. But Lieberman—
RW: But isn’t what you’re really saying, it’s a question of the unity of the land versus the unity of the people, or how does the unity of the land and the unity of the people coexist.
ABM: That’s the problem.
ABM: And there is, there is a gap.
RW: Yes, no question.
ABM: This is a big, big gap. And that is that is the biggest problem that Israel faces today. You’re terrific as always.
RW: No, my pleasure. My pleasure.