Today’s guest is Fatou Baldeh, a survivor of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and a Gender Justice specialist with an extensive experience in gender, health and development. Over the past decade she has been a leading advocate and contributor to knowledge on women’s rights and the eradication of entrenched gender norms and practices, including eradication of FGM in The Gambia and the UK. In this episode, Alon and Fatou discuss the challenges from local communities in combatting female genital mutilation, the proposed repeal of The Gambia’s FGM ban and its consequences, and how to break the culture of silence around FGM and educate women about the effects that female genital mutilation has on their bodies.

Full bio
Fatou Baldeh is a survivor of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and a Gender Justice specialist with an extensive experience in gender, health and development. Over the past decade she has been a leading advocate and contributor to knowledge on women’s rights and the eradication of entrenched gender norms and practices, including eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in The Gambia and the UK.

To further empower and advance the agenda for gender equality, women empowerment, and rights of children, Fatou founded a Civil Society Organization (CSO) called Women In Liberation and Leadership (WILL) in 2018. Using WILL as a platform for advocacy and awareness raising, Fatou leads a group of 8 women who engage communities to raise awareness on the harm that FGM causes to women, girls, and communities at large. The organization uses initiatives such as community dialogues, women only safe spaces, and positive masculinity to raise awareness at the community level.

In recognition of her work, Fatou was honored by The Late Queen Elizabeth as a Member of The Most Excellent Order of The British Empire (MBE) in 2019. In March 2024, Fatou was awarded the prestigious Women of Courage Award by the First Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in recognition of her dedication and lifetime service to women and girls in The Gambia.

Today’s guest is Lamar Zala Gran, an Afghan activist and founder of the nonprofit organization Empowering Afghan Women, which provides online courses for high school girls in Afghanistan. She is currently a student at Berea College in Kentucky, continuing her educational journey from the American University of Afghanistan after escaping the country in 2022. In this episode, Alon and Lamar discuss her firsthand experience of the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, the status of women and young Afghans currently under Taliban rule, and what role the international community can play in alleviating the terrible human rights situation in the country.

Full bio
Lamar Zala Gran is the founder and president of the nonprofit organization, Empowering Afghan Women, which she led for a year in Kabul, Afghanistan. The organization offers online courses, and formerly offered in-person classes for high school girls in Afghanistan for three years. Empowering Afghan Women has also developed internet campaigns to raise awareness of women’s rights issues, and conducted workshops on various topics. Over the past four years, she has actively advocated for women’s rights, sharing her voice and experiences on various global platforms, including BBC News, Los Angeles Times, Al Jazeera English, La Repubblica, and Tagesspiegel.

She has been featured on global media outlets, including an interview with Secretary Hillary Clinton on BBC World News, discussing the challenges faced by Afghan women. Gran was also a columnist for the German daily Tagesspiegel, where she contributed 20 weekly diaries from Kabul over the course of six months. Her activism extends to speaking with German Parliament members and EU Parliament members.

Previously, Gran participated as a delegate in the UN Least Developed Countries conference in Doha and spoke at the UN on the refugee forum in 2022, and at the 2023 UN International Youth Conference about the human rights and women’s rights situation in Afghanistan. She is a youth advocate for Silatech and Education Above All foundation in Doha, and has participated in an advocacy video group with the HÁWAR.help organization in Berlin regarding the situation of Afghan women. She also spoke with Ambassador of US for Afghanistan in Doha and US special envoy for Afghanistan in Doha about the situation of Afghan women, and on an Australian embassy panel discussion about Afghan women, together with international donor and its ambassador as well.

Despite facing challenges and mental health struggles, she recently moved to the US from Doha after escaping Afghanistan in 2022. She is currently a student at Berea College in Kentucky, following her educational journey from the American University of Afghanistan in Doha, a summer school program at the American University of Central Asia, and Bard College in New York. She is determined to continue her activism, using her voice to bring about positive changes in her country.

Today’s guest is Gulnoza Said, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists. She is a journalist and press freedom advocate, and at CPJ, she has conducted several missions to Europe and Central Asia, and advocated for greater press freedom and the release of jailed journalists. In this episode, we discuss the state of press freedom across the world in 2023, what work CPJ does to protect journalists and advocate for press freedom, and the impact that global conflicts such as in Ukraine and Gaza have had on journalists operating on the ground.

Full bio
Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, is a journalist and press freedom advocate with over 20 years of experience in New York, Prague, Bratislava, and Tashkent. At CPJ, she has conducted several missions to countries in Europe and Central Asia, and advocated for greater press freedom and the release of jailed journalists at forums including the U.S. Congress, the United Nations, and the OSCE. Before joining CPJ in 2016, she was a journalist and covered issues including elections, politics, media, religion, and human rights with a focus on Central Asia, Russia, and Turkey. She also worked in communications for the United Nations Secretariat and the UNDP. Her op-eds, reports, and comments have appeared in CNN, the BBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, PBS, NBC, Voice of America, RFE/RL, Fergana, Eurasianet, and other outlets, and she authored the Uzbekistan chapter in a book on the study of social entrepreneurship.

Today’s guest is Ray Takeyh, senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a former senior advisor on Iran at the State Department. In this episode, Alon and Ray discuss the mindset of the Iranian regime and what the US’ understanding of it may be, the so-called ‘axis of resistance’ and Iran’s use of proxies in various regional conflicts, and how that regional involvement is impacting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the current war in Gaza.

Full bio
Ray Takeyh is Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). His area of specialization are Iran, U.S. foreign policy, and modern Middle East.

Takeyh is, most recently, the author of The Last Shah: America, Iran and the Fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty. He is the coauthor of The Pragmatic Superpower: Winning the Cold War in the Middle East and Revolution & Aftermath: Forging a New Strategy toward Iran. He is author of three previous books, Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs, Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, and The Origins of the Eisenhower Doctrine: The US, Britain and Nasser’s Egypt, 1952-1957. He has written more than three hundred articles and opinion pieces in many news outlets including Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Foreign Affairs. Takeyh has testified more than twenty times in various Congressional committees.

Prior to joining CFR he has served as a senior advisor on Iran at the State Department, fellow at the Yale University, Washington Institute of Near East Policy and Middle East Center at University of California, Berkeley. Takeyh has a doctorate in modern history from Oxford University.

Today’s guest is Marwan Muasher, vice president for studies at Carnegie and former Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan. In this episode, Alon and Marwan discuss the Israel-Hamas war – what exit strategy that can be envisioned at this time and what parameters will need to be established, what changes are needed among the Israeli, Palestinian, and American governments to enable a conducive negotiating process, and the current conflagration’s impact on Jordan.

Full bio
Marwan Muasher is vice president for studies at Carnegie, where he oversees research in Washington and Beirut on the Middle East. Muasher served as foreign minister (2002–2004) and deputy prime minister (2004–2005) of Jordan, and his career has spanned the areas of diplomacy, development, civil society, and communications.

Muasher began his career as a journalist for the Jordan Times. He then served at the Ministry of Planning, at the prime minister’s office as press adviser, and as director of the Jordan Information Bureau in Washington.

In 1995, Muasher opened Jordan’s first embassy in Israel, and in 1996 he became minister of information and the government spokesperson. From 1997 to 2002, he served in Washington again as ambassador, negotiating the first free-trade agreement between the United States and an Arab nation. He then returned to Jordan to serve as foreign minister, where he played a central role in developing the Arab Peace Initiative and the Middle East roadmap.

In 2004, he became deputy prime minister responsible for reform and government performance and led the effort to produce a ten-year plan for political, economic, and social reform. From 2006 to 2007, he was a member of the Jordanian Senate.

From 2007 to 2010, he was senior vice president of external affairs at the World Bank.

He is the author of The Arab Center: The Promise of Moderation (Yale University Press, 2008) and The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism (Yale University Press, 2014).

Today’s guest is Dov Waxman, a professor of political science and the director of the Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at UCLA. This special episode was recorded in two parts; the second part was recorded in late September, just a week and a half before Hamas’ attack on Israel, and the first part was recorded in October, two weeks after the outbreak of war and just before Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza began.

In this episode, Alon and Dov begin with an analysis of Hamas’ attack on Israel, the divide among Palestinian leadership between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and what steps all parties, including the international community, can take from here to ultimately usher in a sustainable peace plan. In the second part of the episode, Alon and Dov discuss Alon’s proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation, addressing issues such as Israeli settlements in the West Bank, security arrangements, Jerusalem, the right of return, and the demographics of the region, particularly the interspersed populations of Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel proper; and what role the international community can play in bringing about a sustainable peace for the region.

Full bio
Dov Waxman is the director of the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies. He is a Professor of Political Science and The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Chair of Israel Studies at UCLA.

An award-winning teacher, he previously was professor of political science, international affairs, and Israel studies, and the Stotsky Professor of Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies at Northeastern University. He also co-directed the university’s Middle East Center. In addition, he taught at the City University of New York and Bowdoin College. He has also been a visiting fellow at Tel Aviv University, Bar-Ilan University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Oxford University. Professor Waxman received his Ph.D. and M.A. from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, and his B.A. degree from Oxford University.

Professor Waxman’s research focuses on the conflict over Israel-Palestine, Israeli politics and foreign policy, U.S.-Israel relations, American Jewry’s relationship with Israel, Jewish politics, and anti-Semitism. He is the author of dozens of scholarly articles and four books: The Pursuit of Peace and The Crisis of Israeli Identity: Defending / Defining the Nation (Palgrave, 2006), Israel’s Palestinians: The Conflict Within (Cambridge University Press, 2011), Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel (Princeton University Press, 2016), and most recently, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2019).

He has also been published in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Atlantic Monthly, Salon, Foreign Policy, The Forward, and Ha’aretz, and he is a frequent commentator on television and radio.

Today’s guest is Yossi Alpher, a consultant and writer on Israel-related strategic issues. He is a former intelligence officer, and served as Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel in July 2000, during the Camp David talks, concentrating on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In this episode, we discuss Israel’s current response to Hamas’ attacks against Israel on October 7, various scenarios of how the response will proceed from here, an analysis of the various players in the broader conflict, including Hezbollah, and whether or not Israel can fully eliminate Hamas from Gaza, and the long-term prospects in Gaza.

Full bio
Yossi Alpher is a consultant and writer on Israel-related strategic issues. He is the author of the prize-winning Periphery: Israel’s search for Middle East allies and No End of Conflict: Rethinking Israel-Palestine (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015 and 2016, respectively). His latest book is Winners and Losers in the ‘Arab Spring’: Profiles in Chaos (Routledge, 2020), which won the Chaikin Prize in 2021.

Alpher served in the Israel Defense Forces as an intelligence officer, followed by service in the Mossad in operational and analytical roles. From 1981 to 1995 he was associated with the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, ultimately serving as director of center. From 1995 to 2000 he served as director of the American Jewish Committee’s Israel/Middle East Office in Jerusalem. In July 2000 (during the Camp David talks) he served as Special Adviser to the Prime Minister of Israel, concentrating on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. From 2001 to 2012 he was coeditor, with Ghassan Khatib (until recently vice-president of Bir Zeit University in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority) of the bitterlemons family of internet publications.

Today’s guest is Avi Shlaim, Professor Emeritus of International Relations at St. Antony’s College at the University of Oxford. His most recent book, Three Worlds: Memoirs of an Arab Jew, discusses his childhood in Baghdad and his family’s flight to Israel, interwoven with the history of the Jews in Iraq in the early 20th century. In this episode, we discuss this book, including Arab-Jewish harmony in Iraq until 1948 and both of our personal experiences of childhoods in Baghdad, the relationship between Ashkenazi and Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews in Israel in history until today, and current prospects, if any, for an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Full bio

Avi Shlaim is an Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College and a former Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 2006.

His main research interest is the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is author of Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine (1988); The Politics of Partition (1990 and 1998); War and Peace in the Middle East: A Concise History (1995); The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (2000, second edition 2014); Lion of Jordan: King Hussein’s Life in War and Peace (2007); and Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations (2009). He is co-editor of The Cold War and the Middle East (1997); The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 (2001, second edition 2007); and The 1967 Arab-Israeli War: Origins and Consequences (2012).

Professor Shlaim is a frequent contributor to the newspapers and commentator on radio and television on Middle Eastern affairs.

On the Issues Episode 106: Dr. Emily Bashah and Hon. Paul Johnson

Today’s guests are the Honorable Paul Johnson, former mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, and Dr. Emily Bashah, a clinical psychologist. Paul and Emily are the authors of the book Addictive Ideologies, where they discuss the psychology that leads to terrorism and strategies to combat extremism. In this episode, Alon, Paul, and Emily use the experience of the Jewish population of Iraq to discuss radicalized ideologies in society and how they develop and spread on an individual and societal basis, the growing polarization in the United States and around the world, and what steps can be taken to resolve the increasing divide.

Their book, Addictive Ideologies: Finding Meaning and Agency When Politics Fail You, can be found here.

Full bios
Hon. Paul E. Johnson Jr. is the host of The Optimistic American podcast, whose goal is to create space in the news media for a positive and hopeful view of America. He has a significant background in business, politics and government, and became the youngest mayor of Phoenix, Arizona at 30 years old. He has managed several state campaigns for presidential candidates and is the CEO and co-founder of Redirect Health.

Dr. Emily Bashah is an author and licensed psychologist with a private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona. An expert witness in criminal, immigration and civil courts, she has worked on high-profile cases covering issues of domestic terrorism and capital offenses, as well as first-degree murder. Dr. Bashah was awarded the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues Policy Fellowship and served within the American Psychological Association’s Public Interest Government Relations Office in Washington, D.C. A frequent expert guest in media, Dr. Bashah clinically specializes in mental illness, personal and collective trauma, addiction and grief and loss, as well as family and relationship dynamics.

Today’s guest is Koby Huberman, co-founder of the Israeli Peace Initiative, which works with Israeli leaders and decision makers in order to promote a new regional alliance with Israel and key Arab states. In this episode, Alon and Koby discuss Alon’s proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation, alongside Koby’s work on a Regional Framework for all states, leveraging past discussions and agreements toward a future resolution.

This discussion was held on July 22 as part of a new discussion series on Alon’s proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian confederation, the full video of which is posted on YouTube. You can find future events in this series on the Events page.

Full bio
Koby Huberman is a high-tech veteran, business strategist, and a leader of civil society initiatives. In 2011, he co-founded “Yisrael Yozemet,” a non-partisan Impact Group which has more than 1,800 signatories. The group works with Israeli leaders and decision makers in order to promote and validate a new strategic paradigm that includes building Israel as a regional superpower through a Regional Alliance with the key Arab states. Huberman is an experienced high-tech executive with 30 years in global technology corporations, as a strategic visionary, and business development executive.

In 2007, he founded Strategic Landscapes Ltd., a consulting firm helping leading companies develop and implement transformational growth strategies, which he owns and leads today. Huberman has a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Management, and a master’s degree in Philosophy.

Today’s guest is Azadeh Nikzadeh, an Iranian writer, director, producer, and women’s rights activist. Azadeh’s current project is a short film, inspired by the true story of Sarina Esmailzadeh, a young teenager who was brutally murdered by security forces during a women’s rights protest in September 2022, that aims to shed light on the struggles of Iranian women and their fight against state-led violence.

In this episode, Alon and Azadeh discuss the current status of women’s rights in Iran, the current protests in Iran against mandatory hijab, and what role the international community can play in the fight for democracy and freedom in Iran.

Full bio
Azadeh Nikzadeh is a Middle Eastern writer, director, producer, and women’s rights activist. Her brand is rarely-heard human rights and women empowerment stories and the misuse of religion to justify violence against women. Her films raise awareness of the plight of women’s rights in the MENA region and Iran in particular. She speaks and advocates projects on systematic and state-led violence against women and the importance of storytelling and disseminating the real-life stories of women advocates to create global solidarity. She has been a speaker at various events including the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women 67th Session, the International Religious Freedom Summit for MENA region at Washington DC, and Women Creating Change Stand Up With Her Gala at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

She wrote and directed award-winning short films such as The Girl Sitting Here, Vida, and X, and produced feature documentaries including The Left Bank and The Credible Fear. She has won multiple fellowships and awards including Women Empowerment Fellowship, Asian Film Academy Fellowship from the Busan International Film Festival, Athena Film Festival Writing Lab, and Honorable Mention at the Charlotte Film Festival Social Justice Films. Her feature script DANDELION is a Sundance Writing Lab and Austin Film Festival Second Rounder.

Azadeh is the founder of Burnt Generation Studios, an intellectual property development, and production company that develops and produces independent films with the mission to create and promote authentic narratives to build grounds for mutual understanding and shifts in the collective perspective of the audiences.

Welcome to another episode of “On the Issues with Alon Ben-Meir.” Today’s guest is Berat Buzhala, a Kosovar journalist and former Member of Parliament for the Democratic Party of Kosovo. Buzhala is the founder of the media group Nacionale, and was a co-founder of Gazeta Express. In this episode, Alon and Berat discuss the recent turmoil in northern Kosovo over the election of four Albanian mayors in Serb-majority municipalities after the election was boycotted by ethnic Serbs, the mistakes that Prime Minister Albin Kurti has taken during this crisis and beyond, and how this has impacted relations between Kosovo and the US.

Full bio
Berat Buzhala belongs to the Kosovo journalist generation that established post-war media platforms. He initially worked as an economics journalist for the two largest daily newspapers, Zeri and Koha Ditore. In 2005 he established the newspaper Express that soon became one of the most influential online media outlets in the Balkans. Buzhala currently runs the Nacionale media group and is among the most influential public figures in the Balkans. Buzhala is also a former Member of Parliament for the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), returning to journalism after serving a single term.

Today’s guest is Cemre Ulker, the UN Representative and US Director of the Journalists and Writers Foundation. Cemre is a human rights expert dedicated to the gender-sensitive implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and focuses on civil and political rights violations and issues related to violence against women and sexual violence in conflict.

In this episode focusing on the upcoming elections in Turkey on May 14, Alon and Cemre discuss the social dynamics in Turkey, the Turkish peoples’ distrust of Erdogan and his one-man authoritarian rule, the current status of the opposition, and women’s rights issues in Turkey.

Full bio
Cemre Ulker is the UN Representative and US Director of the Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF), an international civil society organization affiliated with the UN Department of Global Communications. Ms. Ulker leads JWF`s global initiatives to promote the culture of peace, human rights, and sustainable development. She is a human rights expert dedicated to the gender-sensitive implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals with a particular focus on peaceful, just institutions, and global partnerships. Ms. Ulker also provides workshops and capacity-building programs working on innovative and inclusive policy suggestions for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by facilitating participation platforms for civil society organizations in 24 different countries.

Ms. Ulker works on JWF`s civil society inputs to CEDAW, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and NGO CSW on a variety of topics including women`s leadership for the UNSCR 1325 Women, Peace and Security Agenda, protection of women refugees, combatting violations against women human rights defenders, political prisoners and highlights the role of civil society contribution for the gender-mainstreaming of the Global Goals 2030.

Cemre Ulker is also the Co-Founder of Set Them Free, a civil initiative promoting women`s rights, monitoring violations against women human rights defenders in Turkey. She is passionate to facilitate Set Them Free`s socio-economic empowerment programs for the enforced women and children migrants.

Ms. Ulker is a freelance contributor at the Kronos News covering Turkey`s human rights agenda and foreign policy projections. She is also a faculty member of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR)`s Global Diplomacy Initiative giving lectures on the “Intersectionality of Press Freedom and Human Rights: Violence Against Women Human Rights Defenders”. Cemre Ulker has a BA in Economics from the University of Maryland and completed her Master`s Degree in Human Rights at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Today’s guest is Naim Rashiti, Executive Director of the Balkans Group, a think tank dedicated to regional cooperation and peace in the Balkans. In this episode, which was recorded prior to the agreement reached between Kosovo and Serbia on March 18, Alon and Naim discuss Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, Kosovo’s challenges with corruption and other domestic issues, and the impact of Turkish and Russian influences in the Balkans.

Full bio
Naim Rashiti is the Executive Director of the Balkans Group and has almost two decades of experience in political and international affairs. His expertise spans from conflict resolution and inter-ethnic relations to EU integration and institution building. He has provided analysis and consulted for a number of international and non-governmental organisations, including the International Crisis Group (2003-2013), the UNHCR, the Local Government Initiative (LGI), the Canadian Embassy and the International Development Agency (CIDA). He holds degrees from the University of Priština (in Computers and Electronics) and University of Lausanne (in Political Science).

On the Issues Episode 100: John J. Nance

Welcome to another episode of “On the Issues with Alon Ben-Meir.” Today’s guest is John J. Nance, a decorated Air Force veteran, aviation safety expert, and New York Times bestselling author, whose latest book, “The Nine Lives of Cristal Global,” discusses the need of Saudi Arabia to modify its economic approach to succeed in the future. In this episode, Alon and John discuss human rights in Saudi Arabia and how the US should approach that issue, Saudi Arabia’s role in the oil market, and Israel’s desire to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia and how the Saudis can utilize that for peace.

Full bio
One of the key thought leaders to emerge in American Healthcare in the past decade, John J. Nance brings a rich and varied professional background to the task of helping doctors, administrators, boards, and front-line staff alike survive and prosper during the most profoundly challenging upheaval in the history of modern medicine.

As a native Texan, John grew up in Dallas, where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree and a Juris Doctor Degree from SMU and is still a licensed Texas attorney. Named Distinguished Alumni of SMU for 2002 and distinguish Alumni for Public Service of the SMU Dedman School of Law in 2010.

John is a decorated Air Force pilot, veteran of Vietnam and Operations Desert Storm/Desert Shield, and a Lt. Colonel in the USAF Reserve. He is well known for his pioneering development of Air Force human factors flight safety education, and one of the civilian pioneers of Crew Resource Management (CRM).

John has piloted a wide variety of jet aircraft, including 727s, 737s, 747s, and Air Force C-141s, and has logged over 15,000 hours of flight time since earning his first pilot license in 1965 and is still a current pilot. He was a flight officer for Braniff International Airlines and a Boeing 737 Captain for Alaska Airlines and is an internationally recognized air safety advocate, best known to North American television audiences as Aviation Analyst for ABC World News and Aviation Editor for Good Morning America. He is also an internationally recognized analyst on matters of seismic safety.

On the Issues Episode 99: Dr. Zaher Sahloul

Today’s guest is Dr. Zaher Sahloul, a Syrian-American critical care specialist and president of MedGlobal, an organization that provides medical care in disaster regions, and the founder of the American Relief Coalition for Syria and Syria Faith Initiative. Dr. Sahloul is considered one of the world’s experts on the humanitarian crisis in his homeland of Syria and applying lessons learned to other disaster responses, including COVID-19. In this episode, Alon and Dr. Sahloul discuss the Syrian Civil War and his work in providing healthcare in Syria during the war, what is currently happening on the ground in Syria, and what role the international community can play in ending the conflict.

(This episode was recorded before the terrible earthquake in Syria, which has only made the problems discussed in this episode worse.)

Full bio
Dr. Mohammed Zaher Sahloul is a medical doctor, Chicagoan, humanitarian, faith, immigrant and civic leader, and influencer. Professionally, he is a Critical Care specialist at Advocate Christ Medical Center and Saint Anthony’s hospital and Associate Professor in Clinical Medicine at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Dr. Sahloul is considered one of the world’s experts on the humanitarian crisis in his homeland Syria and applying lessons learned to other disaster responses, including COVID-19. He led the Syrian American Medical Society from 2011-2015 to play a crucial role in providing humanitarian medical aid and organizing the Syrian American diaspora. He founded the American Relief Coalition for Syria, ARCS, and Syria Faith Initiative. He has published extensively on the Syrian crisis, refugees and immigration, disaster management, and COVID-19 impact on disadvantaged communities in Chicago, and has many media appearances locally, nationally, and internationally. He was instrumental in providing medical relief to help the civilian population in his homeland of Syria and testified to the U.S. Congress and the United Nations Security Council multiple times on defending medical neutrality, the use of siege and chemical weapons, and the siege of Aleppo. He was awarded Chicagoan of the Year in 2016 for risking his life with two other American doctors to provide healthcare to the civilians in Aleppo under siege and bombardment. Dr. Sahloul sits on the advisory board of the Syrian Community Network and the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. He was a member of the Illinois Board of Health from 2009-2016. In 2020 , Dr. Sahloul was awarded the Gandhi Award for Peace for his humanitarian work in Syria and at the global level. He has also received many other awards including the “Heroes Among Us” award by American Red Cross, Dr. Robert Kirschner’s Award for Global Activism by Heartland Alliance Kovler Center 2017, the Commitment to Change Award by the National Immigration Justice Center for his commitment to human rights, and the Shine a Light on Global Refugee Crisis and annual humanitarian award by UNICEF Chicago 2017.

In this podcast episode I welcome back to the podcast David Rundell. David is a former American diplomat who served for thirty years in the Foreign Service, including fifteen in Saudi Arabia, and is widely regarded as one of America’s leading experts on Saudi Arabia. In this episode, we continue our discussion on the US-Saudi relationship, including an analysis of Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia, the decision of OPEC Plus to reduce oil production by 2 million barrels, and the changing dynamics within the US-Saudi relationship.

Full bio
David Rundell served as an American diplomat for thirty years in Washington, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. He is the author of VISION OR MIRAGE: Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads (I.B. Tauris, September 17, 2020).

Widely regarded as one America’s leading experts on Saudi Arabia, he spent fifteen years in the country where he worked at the Embassy in Riyadh as well as the Consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran. His assignments in Saudi Arabia included the Chief of Mission, Charge d’Affaires, Deputy Chief of Mission, Political Counselor, Economic Counselor, Commercial Counselor, and Commercial Attaché. He has numerous awards for his analytical reporting and participated in Operation Desert Storm, Saudi accession to the World Trade Organization and the defeat of Al Qaida’s terror campaign. After retiring from the Foreign Service he spent three years at the Boston-based consultancy Monitor Group before joining Arabia Analytica as a partner. He lives in Dubai and travels regularly to Saudi Arabia.

Today’s guest is Fadia Thabet, a Yemeni conflict analysis and peacebuilding practitioner. Fadia worked on countering violent extremism, or CVE, programs in the MENA region, focusing on Al Qaeda and ISIS movements, and gender-based violence prevention. In this episode, Alon and Fadia discuss child soldiers and child recruitment in the war in Yemen, the roles of both Saudi Arabia and Iran in the war, and the April ceasefire, which recently ended.

Full bio
Fadia Thabet is a conflict analysis and peacebuilding practitioner focused on conflict transformation initiatives design and training. Fadia worked on countering violent extremism programs (CVE) in the MENA region focusing on Al Qaeda and ISIS movements and gender-based violence prevention. Her focus is on settling Afghan refugees and asylees in the United States. In 2019, Fadia graduated with a master’s degree in Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation. She is the co-founder of Transformation Collaborative (Tcollab). She has been the keynote speaker for Harvard University, the Women’s Refugee Commission, the Nobel Women’s Initiative and the University of North Carolina. She is the 2017 Women of Courage award recipient. Fadia was recognized for her work in peacebuilding by 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Forum where she shared the stage as a panelist with the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize winner, The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet. She has appeared as a conflict analysis specialist on CNN and CBS News.

On the Issues Episode 96: Veton Surroi

In this episode, Alon and Veton discuss the current status of Kosovo-Serbia normalization efforts, the process of reconciliation, and the role of the EU and NATO in the region.

Full bio
Veton Surroi is a Kosovar publicist, politician, and former journalist. The founder and former leader of the ORA political party, Surroi served as a member of the Kosovo Assembly from 2004-2008. In 1997, Surroi established one of the biggest Kosovo Albanian daily newspapers, Koha Ditore, and was the editor-in-chief for a number of years before deciding to enter politics in Kosovo.

He graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City and worked as a journalist at the Albanian language daily “Rilindja”. He was the founder of the first opposition group in Kosovo, the local chapter of the UJDI (Association of a Yugoslav Democratic Initiative) in 1989, founder of the first Independent Trade Unions of Kosova in 1989, founder and editor in chief of the independent weekly KOHA (1990) and later of the daily KOHA Ditore (1997), president of the second strongest political party in Kosova (PPK) in the period 1991-1992, and was one of the leading members of the Kosovar Albanian negotiating groups, including at the Rambouillet and Paris talks (1999).

He received the IFJ Annual Award for Journalism in 2000, the NED Award for Democracy, and the Geunzen Award for Freedom of Holland.

On the Issues Episode 95: David Rundell

Today’s guest is David Rundell, a former American diplomat who served for thirty years in the Foreign Service, including fifteen in Saudi Arabia, and is widely regarded as one of America’s leading experts on Saudi Arabia. In this episode, we discuss Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, efforts to mend the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the death of Jamal Khashoggi, and the current state of the global oil market.

Full bio
David Rundell served as an American diplomat for thirty years in Washington, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. He is the author of VISION OR MIRAGE: Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads (I.B. Tauris, September 17, 2020).

Widely regarded as one America’s leading experts on Saudi Arabia, he spent fifteen years in the country where he worked at the Embassy in Riyadh as well as the Consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran. His assignments in Saudi Arabia included the Chief of Mission, Charge d’Affaires, Deputy Chief of Mission, Political Counselor, Economic Counselor, Commercial Counselor, and Commercial Attaché. He has numerous awards for his analytical reporting and participated in Operation Desert Storm, Saudi accession to the World Trade Organization and the defeat of Al Qaida’s terror campaign. After retiring from the Foreign Service he spent three years at the Boston-based consultancy Monitor Group before joining Arabia Analytica as a partner. He lives in Dubai and travels regularly to Saudi Arabia.

On the Issues Episode 94: Suzan Khairi Kheder

Today’s guest is Suzan Khairi Khedher, a Yazidi lawyer and activist supporting girls’ development. In this episode, we discuss the genocide of the Yazidi people and their ongoing plight, relations between the Yazidis and the central government in Iraq, and the ongoing need for support from the international community.

Full bio
Suzan Khairi Khedher is a Yazidi lawyer and activist in the supporting and development of girls. Born in 1998 in Khanasor village-Sinjar. She graduated with a BA in Political Science and Law from University of Duhok in 2018. She was the first among her classmates for four consecutive years. After graduating from college, she started working as a lawyer in Duhok Court. She is the founder and Deputy Head of Uranus NGO for Humanitarian Assistance located in Duhok.

Welcome to another episode of “On the Issues with Alon Ben-Meir.” Today’s guest is Helen Lee Bouygues, a world-renowned misinformation and critical thinking expert and President of the Reboot Foundation, which is devoted to elevating critical thinking. In this episode, Alon and Helen discuss the rise in misinformation and the role of social media in that regard, media literacy and the importance of teaching it in schools, and how to encourage the general public to be better consumers of information.

Full bio
Helen Lee Bouygues is one of the most successful women in business transformation. She has served as interim CEO, CFO, or COO for more than a dozen companies. She is the founder of the Reboot Foundation, a columnist at Forbes, and working on a book on critical thinking.

The Reboot Foundation is devoted to elevating critical thinking. In a time of vast technological change, the Foundation aims to promote richer, more reflective forms of thought in schools, homes, and businesses.

A former partner at McKinsey & Company, Bouygues has helped transform more than 25 firms. Over the course of a twenty-year career, she has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in capital, renegotiated billions of dollars in debt, and brought dozens of companies into the black.

Bouygues has lectured around the world. She sits on multiple boards, including those of companies in the retail, manufacturing, oil and gas, renewable energy, and automotive-parts sectors. She graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University and earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School.

Today’s guest is Teuta Sahatqija. She is the former Consul General of the Republic of Kosovo in New York and previously served as a parliamentarian in Kosovo’s Assembly. An electronic engineer by training, she now works in Digital Transformation and is Smart City Advisor for the Municipality of Pristina. In this episode, we discuss the Kurti government’s performance, the status of various domestic issues in Kosovo, and the ongoing dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.

Full bio
Teuta Sahatqija is the former Consul General of the Republic of Kosovo in New York, and currently serves as Digital Transformation and Smart City Advisor for the Municipality of Pristina.

She is a well-known political activist and a former Member of Kosovo’s Parliament. She was also the President of the Cross-Party Women Parliamentary Caucus and Vice President of the Parliamentary Committee on Economic Development. She was an advisor to the former President Fatmir Sejdiu, chairwoman of the Reformist Party ORA, and a member of the Parliamentary Committees for International Affairs and Development. She was also a Founding Member of KUSA – Kosovo US Alumni.

Mrs. Sahatqija is an electrical engineer, and she has worked as a manager of a computer center in a food production company, as well as being the owner and director of a private telecommunication company in Gjakova.

Today’s guest is Stanislav Puzdriak, a cinematographer and filmmaker originally from Ukraine. In this episode, we discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine’s needs from the international community, and what could be in store for Ukraine’s future after the war.

Full bio
Stanislav Puzdriak was born on August 2nd, 1993 in Chernivtsi, Ukraine. At the age 19, he co-founded a video production studio “Boroda Cinema” and at 23, started his own company “Rebel Monkey Production”. The first movie he directed “Immigraniada” on the problem of immigration was shown in more than 10 countries all over the world. His second movie “Project Alpha or Short Instruction on Self-Realization” is a half-documentary, half-feature film, which is unique in its structure and genre. Stanislav is currently working on a documentary, “Tale of the American Dream”, which examines the concept of the American dream and attempts to answer he question, does it still exist, and did it exist at all?

Welcome to another episode of “On the Issues with Alon Ben-Meir.” Today’s guest is Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University and a historian and commentator on fascism, authoritarian leaders, and propaganda, and the threats these present to democracies. In this episode, Alon and Ruth discuss her latest book, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, Trump’s authoritarian behavior here in the United States, and what steps can be taken to reverse authoritarian trends around the world.

Full bio
Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a historian and commentator on fascism, authoritarian leaders, and propaganda — and the threats these present to democracies. As author or editor of six books, with over 100 op-eds and essays in CNN, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post, she brings historical perspective to her analyses of current events. Her insight into the authoritarian playbook has made her an expert source for television, radio, podcasts, and online events around the globe.

Ben-Ghiat is Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University and an Advisor to Protect Democracy. She is also a historical consultant for film and television productions. She is a big fan of electronic music, which is her preferred soundtrack while writing. She practices yoga several times a week.

Ben-Ghiat’s work has been supported by Fulbright, Guggenheim, and other fellowships. Her books Fascist Modernities and Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema detail what happens to societies when authoritarian governments take hold, and explore the appeal of strongmen to collaborators and followers. Growing up in Pacific Palisades, California, where many intellectuals who fled Nazism resettled, sparked her interest in the subject.

Her latest book, the #1 Amazon bestseller Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present (Norton, 2020), examines how illiberal leaders use corruption, violence, propaganda, and machismo to stay in power, and how resistance to them has unfolded over a century.

Today’s guest is Stuart Gottlieb, Adjunct Professor of International Affairs and Public Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. In this episode, we discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including the effectiveness of sanctions, international reliance on Russian oil and gas, and what Putin’s broader interests may be.

Full bio
Stuart Gottlieb is Adjunct Professor of International Affairs and Public Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, where he teaches courses on American foreign policy, counterterrorism, and international security. He also serves as Faculty Director for SIPA’s certificate program in International Relations, and is a member of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. In addition, he teaches courses for New York University’s graduate program in International Relations.

Prior to joining SIPA in 2003, Gottlieb worked for five years in the United States Senate, first as senior foreign policy adviser to Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, and subsequently as policy adviser and chief speechwriter for Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut. He has also worked on several political campaigns, including New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s reelection campaign in 1997 and presidential campaign in 2008.

Gottlieb continues to consult with political and business leaders, and regularly publishes op-eds and other policy-related articles. A second edition of his book, Debating Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Conflicting Perspectives on Causes, Contexts, and Responses (CQ Press), was published in 2014, and he is currently working on two books on U.S. foreign policy, titled Experimental Power: The Rise and Role of America in World Affairs (Yale University Press), and Founding Tensions: The Age-Old Struggles that Shape America’s Foreign Policy (Oxford University Press).

Gottlieb holds a BA in political science and journalism from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a PhD in international relations from Columbia University.

Welcome to another episode of “On the Issues with Alon Ben-Meir.” Today’s guest is Tarek Heggy, an Egyptian liberal author, political thinker and international petroleum strategist. Heggy is one of Egypt’s more prominent authors on the subject of Egypt’s need for political reform. His extensive writings advocate the values of modernity, democracy, tolerance, and women’s rights in the Middle East – advancing them as universal values essential to the region’s progress. He has lectured at universities throughout the world and various international institutions and think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

In today’s episode, Alon and Tarek discuss the impacts of Islamic extremism within the Muslim world itself, Islamophobia and Muslim immigration in the West, and what can be done in the Arab and Muslim worlds to combat terrorism and extremist thought.

Full Bio
Tarek Heggy is an Egyptian liberal author, political thinker and international petroleum strategist. Heggy is one of Egypt’s more prominent authors on the subject of Egypt’s need for political reform. His extensive writings advocate the values of modernity, democracy, tolerance, and women’s rights in the Middle East – advancing them as universal values essential to the region’s progress. He has lectured at universities throughout the world and various international institutions and think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

An attorney by training, he was associate professor of Law at Constantine University/Algeria and the University of Fes/Morocco from 1973 until 1979. Heggy is the co-Founder of the Chair of Coptic Studies at The American University in Cairo and of the Tarek Heggy Graduate Scholarship in Jewish-Muslim Relations at the University of Toronto.

He has lectured at universities throughout the world, including Oxford University, the University of Tokyo, the University of Melbourne, Sydney University, Princeton University, Columbia University, King’s College London, Colorado University, Colorado School of Mines, The Hayek Institute (Vienna), Erasmus University (The Netherlands), the American University in Cairo, and the University of California Berkeley. Additionally, he has lectured at the European University (Rome), John Cabot University (Rome), the University of Calabria, and the University of Salento (Italy), as well as Marrakesh (Morocco), Fes (Morocco), Zaytouna (Tunis) and Manouba (Tunis) universities. Due to his knowledge of the Middle East, he has been called upon to speak at various international institutions and think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the National Endowment for Democracy, the American Enterprise Institute, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2011, he was asked to speak before the British House of Commons. Because of his intellectual project advocating universal human values, he also participates in international organizations addressing the holocaust and genocide, such as Project Aladdin and the Stockholm International Forum.
Tarek Heggy’s main themes are the need for economic, political, cultural and educational reforms in Egypt and the Middle East. His liberal voice is part of the small but growing minority that calls for self-criticism and massive reforms and that frankly admits the failures of the political ideologies/dogmas dominating Egypt and the Arab world. Moreover, this voice calls the conspiracy theories and overblown rhetoric that pervade the region signs of a cultural crisis that needs resolution. Finally, Tarek Heggy advocates the imperative need to develop a fair political ending to the Arab-Israeli conflict to enable all societies in the Middle East to move towards a pro-active phase of economic and social development.

Tarek Heggy has written 19 books in Arabic, along with 15 books in English, French, and Italian.

Episode Transcript

ABM: Well, thank you, first of all, Tarek, I want to really thank you so much for taking the time. So, you know, this subject matter that you suggested – Islam, extremism, terrorism – is obviously something that’s been and continues to be the talk of the town just about everywhere we go. And there is tremendous, in my view, tremendous amount of misconception and misperception as to the root, the causes of Islamic extremism [and] how to deal with it. And many of the views taken are really based on, I would say, a rather shallow understanding of this whole phenomenon. In anticipation, of course, of this discussion, I looked at some of the statistics just to give us some idea about what’s actually happening. Between 2011 and 2017, there were nearly 71,000 terrorist attacks. Right? 61 of them happened in Arab states, 61,000 of them in Arab countries, 51,000 of that happened in the Middle East. The other interesting number, between 2015 and July 2016, there were a total of 658 Europeans and Americans killed through terrorist activities when in fact, during the same period, which is a startling number, 28,000 Muslims were killed by Muslims through terrorist activity. That was more than 50 times as many. So there is, for this reason I’m saying there is that perception in terms of, in the West in particular, you know, the whole idea, you know, the Islamophobia. How do you, because you are a scholar and second to none when it comes to this particular subject, how do you attribute that? Why is it that we in the West here feel that every act of terror is committed against the West? There’s very little discussion about how much Muslims are fact killing Muslims, or why is that? So I want you to take it from there, and then we can continue.

TH: As far as I understood you, the picture is as follows, according to what you said. That we have a problem, terrorism. But it is not, according to what you said, addressed to Western objectives only.

ABM: Yes.

TH: But [unclear] does not deny that we have a problem.

ABM: Of course.

TH: Yeah, we do have a problem that we need to tackle. But if we say it is only Islamists aiming at attacking western, no, we are wrong.

ABM: Of course.

TH: [unclear] attack more Muslims than Westerners, but this has been the case throughout history, and the two sides were Muslims. So I believe that, I buy what you said, I take it as very critical data. But it tells me only that the exaggeration is related to the target. But the act itself is with us. We do have it. We have to look into it. And being addressed to more Muslims than Westerns, in my view, does not change the problems we are facing, that we have hatred translated into acts.

ABM: That’s right.

TH: Whether the hatred is addressed to a western [or] to a Muslim. It’s very important to realize, but it doesn’t change the fact that we have a hatred that has been converted into an act.

ABM: Now my question, you know, and again, this is probably on the exaggerated level. But nevertheless, I want to ask you, do you feel? Because many again in the West, among the intellectual community, as well feel that as if there is an implied or direct connection between Islam and terrorism, as if terrorism is a byproduct of the religion, of Islam as a religion? I personally, obviously I don’t personally buy into that agreement. What’s your take on it?

TH: I mean, I lived in Egypt of the 50s and the 60s, and Muslims were more Mediterranean than anything else.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: They were very similar to Cypriots, Greek, Spanish. If in my lifetime, which is nothing in history, I saw different Islams. An Islam that looks today Arabian, nomadic and a bit violent, and Islam that looked to me in the 60s, I went to the university in the 60s, so I was a grown up and I was already a reader, a serious reader since that time. The Muslims looked to me at the time like the Israelis, like the Cypriots, like the Greeks. This tells us that we don’t have the right to fix ideas and say a Muslim is, by definition, a terrorist. History tells us that Muslims until the seventies were not, and tells us about mistakes made by the West. If you allow me to say a few things about this thing.

ABM: Well, of course, yes.

TH: In 1979, the Soviet Army entered Afghanistan. Two key players, USA under Carter’s administration and Saudi Arabia under King Khalid, agreed to create Al Mujahideen, the jihadist movement. The jihadist movement was formed, sent to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Army. What did this also produce apart from the defeat of the Soviets? It produced the Taliban and al-Qaida.

ABM: Exactly.

TH: Produced Osama bin Laden. So any simplification is wrong. OK.

ABM: Of course.

TH: We have factors. Many factors, some of them to blame the Muslims about, and some of them also to blame the West about. Do we have any doubts, because I lived half of my life in the U.K., I saw what makes me absolutely certain that the immigration was never [perfect]. In order to have cheap labor, the wrong people were allowed in. Okay.

ABM: Yes.

TH: Blaming one side is a big mistake. Can anybody say that today France has a major problem, France? The immigrants are not hundreds of thousands, they are millions.

ABM: Of course, yes.

TH: [Unclear] of them are enemies of the value system of France. Is France partly responsible? Of course! Why? They one day wanted cheap labor. So they didn’t do their homework, twice. What do I mean by twice? Number one, when they allowed the wrong immigrants to come, and number two, when they made it also very difficult for the ones who came to integrate. They live in certain parts of the cities. Is this is healthy, to have them come from North Africa or West Africa, and they live in an environment that doesn’t have anything to do with France? And then they say they are not integrated, of course they are not integrated! And this problem, by the way, it doesn’t exist that way in USA. And we have to study this.

ABM: You know, you’re right, it doesn’t exist much in the United States. But going back to the— Recently, because this is very important that you mentioned France in particular. Very recently, President Macron was talking about reforming the Muslim community, as if from his perspective that’s what it’s going to take to reduce violence, to reduce Islamism, to reduce terrorism. We’re going to have to undertake significant steps toward reforming the Muslim community. Do you buy into this argument that can you in fact reform Islam or Muslims in a given community specifically, say, living in France versus say community of Muslim living in an Arab country?

TH: It’s either mistaken or naive.

ABM: Right.

TH: One of the two. Either he’s totally mistaken, he doesn’t know, or he has good intention, but it would never work this way. If you have 50 million people from North Africa who are living miserably and looked at with very [low prospects], and looked at as machines, parts of the machine, of the production machine, so how are you going to do what he said? The best that could be done is to have what we hope is in its [unclear] plan, to integrate the young generations through education, work opportunities and life conditions, but to look back and reform what a phenomenon that took decades to exist is a dream. It is nothing but a dream. I think the best he can do is to work out a plan for the future. A plan that makes the sons and daughters of these immigrants part of the society. By the way, because I live in England and I travel a lot in Europe, the magnitude of the problem in England is less than in France.

ABM: This is true. However, do you—? When I mean, I’ve been in England, I lived, I studied in England. But also if you go to London, there you see the Arab community, Muslim communities are pretty much segregated in different parts of London; they’re all focused, located in a big area. Do you think? I agree with you that the level of integration in England is a little better than that of France. But still, nevertheless we still see significant discrimination against Muslims and Arabs in general in England as well, albeit to a lesser degree. Again, to what do you attribute that, versus what’s happening in France?

TH: Number one, I totally agree that we have the problem in France and England in different degrees.

ABM: Yes.

TH: In England it’s obviously less than, but the problem is there, and in some cities like Birmingham and Bradford, the magnitude of the problem is bigger.

ABM: That’s right.

TH: Yeah, I think we are here dealing with a cultural problem. I don’t want to be very hostile, but let me say to you what I said yesterday in an interview here. I said, when somebody who occupied all of the third world only seventy years ago and did what France did in Algeria and what Portugal did in what used to be the Congo. OK.

ABM: Yes

TH: Comes after seventy years and tries, because human rights are breached in my country. I have the full right to say please, it’s very difficult for me to believe a Western saying—here I’m not talking about individuals, I’m talking about states.

ABM: Yes.

TH: When Western states cry on human rights [unclear] in the third world, people don’t take it, by the way, seriously, people of the third world. They have the right not to take it seriously because they were doing a lot else in 1960 in Algeria and Congo. Today, you are extremely [unclear] because of human rights. I can’t believe it. We are human beings. We don’t [develop] that fast. So also in the third world, there is a big question mark about the credibility and values. For me, I find it very [strange] that values as such are doubted. But people have sometimes the right to doubt them. What would you say to an Algerian that his father was burned in 1962? That France is very sad because human rights are breached today in Algeria? Difficult to believe.

ABM: Well of course, there’s a high level of hypocrisy as far as the Algerians are concerned.

TH: Absolutely. There is a [unclear] Machiavellian use of the word, yeah, you are using it to put. I mean, like in this discussion yesterday, somebody added, how can I believe that the American deep state that dealt with the marshals of South America for decades, are today after human rights in all of these countries? So let us go back. The Western countries that welcomed immigrants to come and work simply because they needed them as workers—

ABM: As labor, yes.

TH: As labor, and we add as a cheap labor. OK. Now all to do what Macron said, hand it from this angle. If you don’t hand it from this angle, you would never be seen fair. Can they do it? Theoretically, yes. Would they do it? I’m not sure. What can I say about Belgium? Belgium might theoretically be ruled by Islamic people through democratic mechanisms. People will not have to have a coup de etat in Belgium, they will continue to grow demographically, the way they are doing—three percent per annum while the European ones are below one percent per annum.

ABM: Right.

TH: At the end, we have to see the end of this unless you do something before the end of it. Actually, I’m talking now about Europe. Europe is in a problem, yeah.

ABM: That’s right. Yeah. I mean, there is that fear and cause of concern that the growing Muslim Arab population is certainly disproportionate to the population and growth within the European community. There’s no doubt. And you know, I hear this, some of them talk bluntly about it, if we don’t do something about it, we could be overwhelmed within 50, 60, 70 years. They may not be a majority then, but they [will] have a significant percentage of the population. They will be, inevitably, they will have to be inevitably part and parcel of the political process, for the governing processes, I should say. And so there is that kind of fear. But then again, what you are saying is, the problem has been created by the French, by the British, you know, inviting laborers to come cheap, laborers to work. And they did not provide them with equal rights. And that’s today it continues. These conditions continue to exist today. Do you feel that they are now then between the hammer and the hard rock? Yes, they need to take reforms. They need to do something in order to alleviate the poverty, the pressure, the misery of these communities. Suppose they have the means to do so. I’m talking about economic, because eventually it is going to take a significant amount of money to be able to do that. Do you, if they have that, do you think they have the will or the interest in doing that? Or is there some kind of sinister thinking about what’s behind it? Would they prefer to keep them suppressed and perhaps deal with the occasional terrorist activities, or they will be prepared to open the society, give them everything they need and make sure that they stand on an equal footing with the rest of the French or the British people? Do you see that? Do you feel that governments, they are facing that kind of dilemma?

TH: Number one, it’s a brilliant question, and the answer is in the question. I mean, the way you you’ve raised the question is brilliant. I tend to believe and I hate that I think this way, but this is my most honest feeling and thinking, that they will continue in Europe to deal with it without going to the roots, and will deal with the problem on the surface. When there is a big incident, they will react. But this would not eliminate the problem. And I must say that this demographic dimension that we both touched on is extremely important. And it touches other places like Israel as well.

ABM: Oh absolutely, more so there than any other place for that matter.

TH: Yeah, absolutely. So if you now see the pattern West in Europe, which is both of the right wing parties. If this [unclear], it tells us that we are heading to confrontation, not to treatment of causes.

ABM: Exactly.

TH: And we do have this pattern, this trend of growing right. Look at the right wing in France over 50 years, in the elections, they have been growing steadily.

ABM: They have, yes.

TH: Lady, the lady there and her father before her? Yeah. And this tells us that we are headed to confrontation, not to solution. I’m not very optimistic about what you are talking about. I go to the areas you indirectly referred to, in London and Bradford and Birmingham, and see that all solutions are very on the surface, nothing fundamental.

ABM: Yeah, I absolutely agree with you. And you know, in your writing, you are suggesting that if you tackle extremism, you have to take two courses. One, to deal with the extremists with a significant level of force on the one hand, but also now you have to intellectually, you have to deal with the extremism in terms of the narrative. That is, how you approach it, how you counter their narrative on an intellectual level. So you have to take it from your perspective, you have two tracks approach, one you have to deal with first those who are basically hating, despising the West and they will do everything just to to hurt, to kill, to maim, versus actually the vast majority who are not that violent. But we need in this case to change the narrative toward them, say intellectually have a different kind of discourse to be able to change that. That is on the one side, if we want to look at it in the West, what it is that can be done in the Arab countries, that is what kind of reform, what kind of progress needs to be made in the Arab countries in order to reverberate ,will have effect of what’s happening to Muslim and Arab minorities in the European community. So two tracks to the question that I’m posing for you now.

TH: I fully agree that we should now, move from the west to the kitchen of the problem.

ABM: That’s what I, yes.

TH: It’s very important. I was thinking of this today, and I thought that you will be touching on this. In the entire area from, I would go even beyond the Arab world, from Morocco to Bangladesh. We have the two issues—the kitchen, intellectual kitchen, that produces the idea, and the application of the idea, execution. An imam in a mosque in Bangladesh or Egypt or Sudan, and also even in France or in England, that talks about jihad as the most important thing in Islam, and it is your easiest as an individual vehicle to paradise, is to practice it, and then he explains that what jihad means in terms of fighting the enemies of Islam. So we have this part and then we have the execution. I hope I am not wrong in saying that in the area I referred to, from Bangladesh to Morocco, the efforts are exerted in relation to the execution, not the kitchen of the idea.

ABM: Yeah, yeah.

TH: Very little, very little has been done. Very little is being done. And I believe that in all, this is much easier. Of course, it is easier, but not the [unclear] path. It’s much easier to arrest people and put them in jail. It is much [more] difficult to talk to people and change. So what has to be done is to make a balance between fighting the act and fighting the idea. And we agree that there’s very little being done with regard to fighting the idea. So what should be done is related to the public. You need to have a vision. We need to have a vision that states that our target is to work on the mentality of people, the collective mind of the people, and make them see that we can be in the year 2022 and meanwhile, Muslims. There is no contradiction between being a Muslim and living your age. This involves education and religious discourse. Religious discourse was a catastrophe. Because of the role of Saudi Arabia, until the recent changes in Saudi Arabia, there are [unclear], but before that, the financing of Taliban, of Osama bin Laden, of Pakistan, of Afghanistan relied to a very far extent on the Saudi money. Saudi Arabia was doing [unclear], and America was fully aware of that. It wasn’t a secret. And I don’t think that there was any attempt to stop it. We know that al-Qaida started in Sudan at the beginning and moved to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the role of Saudi Arabia of that time is impossible to deny. So, do we have a better educational system in these countries that could help us? The answer is no. Why do I say the answer is no? Let us go to numbers. Today, while we are talking, there are 25 million pupils and students in Asia in all institutions of education. Twenty per cent of them are in Islamic education; in Egypt, 20 percent of 25 million people.

ABM: Yes. Yes.

TH: Of course not. And, you know, life is very a big risk, my friend. The person who converted Al-Azhar from a religious university to a global university that has medicine, engineering, agriculture, science is Gamal Abdel Nasser. For me, I cannot understand. Nasser, with all of his defects was perceived to be secular. Like [unclear], in Al-Azhar, they look to us as secular people.

ABM: Yes, yes. Egypt has been looked upon exactly that way.

TH: But the secular president of Egypt converted Al-Azhar from a religious university to an historic educational organization that gives degrees in medicine, in engineering, in pharmaceutical studies, in agriculture, in science, in everything.

ABM: Right. Right.

TH: Look at mistakes. Look at the magnitude of the mistake. Five million Egyptians are stuck today under the word Islamic education. We don’t need that. We actually don’t need. I was many years ago, a member in the Council of Education of Abu Dhabi. And we studied many educational systems and the top three in the world, people to a far extent agree and endorse what I’m going to say. Finland. Singapore and Japan have the best curriculum curricula in the world. In these countries, twenty percent of those who enter primary schools, reach universities, 20 percent.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: In Egypt it is much more than this much, much more. Yeah, we talk about fifty percent of those who enter first year of primary school. There is no country that can succeed with this, and you will have other problems. You will not have a working class.

ABM: That’s right.

TH: You won’t have good carpenters, and, and. So we need to look at this from the educational standpoint. And there is a lot to be said, a lot, even if somebody says at the end, fanatic Islamic ideas will continue to exist, fine. We don’t mind if they continue to exist as long as they exist within one percent, not 80 percent of people.

ABM: That’s right. Then, go back to the example you cited in Egypt, and now 25 million are in education, 5 million of them are studying Islamic education. And it is under the secular government led by President Sisi, obviously. Is he concerned about that?

TH: Oh, very much.

ABM: Then, if he’s concerned, what is he doing about? What can he do about it?

TH: OK, I will say to you what he has been talking about, and it is the first time these words were used in Egypt. He said that the future of Egypt is related to تجديد الخطاب الديني (tajdiid al-khataab al-diinii ) Modernization of Religious [Discourse].

ABM: Yeah, of religion, modernization of religion. They call it here reforming religion, reforming it so—that is, religion will have to basically be separated clearly between politics and religion, as you obviously, and that’s how it should be. But reforming it so that.

TH: Religious discourse.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: OK. But let me explain to you that he has been opposed by the educational institutions as well. And they refused that there is a need for that. They refuse it. Of course, without this religious discourse, their control will diminish. There is a relationship between the magnitude of control and the religious discourse. And I believe that he knows that until this moment of time, the Egyptian street will side with Al-Azhar, not with him. I hate to say it, but—

ABM: But why do you think it’s that? Why do you think it’s that when in fact, how much are they benefitting? Let me go back for a second to the Muslim Brotherhood and the reason they were elected, came to power. By and large, because as we know from the study of Muslim Brotherhood, they’ve been basically a social institution providing health, education and economic support, and the public basically felt because that’s what they needed. They needed jobs. They needed opportunity. They need to make some money. So here an Islamic organization actually was able to provide that, when in fact the state was unable to do so. So what he can do now in order to change the dynamics?

TH: You can replace the roles, but it will take time. The Egyptian mindset has become, to a far extent, religious. If you come today and say, we want to do a— I myself called for things like family law, similar to Kemal Ataturk’s family law, OK? A family law similar to Bourguiba in Tunisia, people themselves, women themselves reject. Religion is a very dangerous tool. It makes [unclear] say to a woman, it is unfair that you take half of your brother. She defends the rule. Why? Because [of] the brainwashing. Religion is the most powerful tool to control people, making it [unclear] to the fence. When somebody in the middle of a discussion brings religion in the discussion, realize he is aiming at controlling you.

ABM: Exactly. I fully agree with you on that. Let me just go back now to, because you are one of the strong advocates. That is, education is obviously necessary to begin to change mindset. Then you need to confront those who are extraordinarily militant, they are irredeemable. Let’s call it the irredeemable ones. You’re going to have to deal with them separately. But the larger picture, obviously, is the socio-economic condition that exists in just about every Arab country, that is, why the youth are becoming radicalized. What needs to be done? That is, if they lack jobs opportunities, if they lack upward mobility, if they lack health care system, if they lack— So when they hear imams preaching the gospel, that if we do A, B, C, and D, you’re going to go in heaven and you’re going to have all you need. That is the problem that you yourself are advocating. We’ve got to deal with the core issue, that is the socio-economic condition. Where are we going with that? Is there any focus from your perspective?

TH: Number one, I totally agree. You have, if we [start to put] groups, factors, material ones and let us call it the hardware of the subject, and moral ones the software. Hardware: job, salary, hospital education; and the software: curricula of the education the culture of the society. You have to work on both of them.

ABM: Exactly.

TH: If you’d work only on the software components, it won’t work. Also, if you work on the material component, it won’t work because Osama bin Laden was not a son of a poor family.

ABM: Exactly.

TH: So it tells us that you have to make the balance between the two things: materialistic components of the society or elements or factors, and the software of society, and you have to make progress, modernization in all of them. Humanity has been paying, continues to pay a very high price. If we continue to believe that the maximum we can do is to arrest a terrorist—it is required, but totally insufficient.

ABM: Of course, it is insufficient. So, now the question is, where do we go from here? Now we obviously agree, you need to have two, three track approach. We’re talking, you know, obviously enlightenment, education is the major factor confronting the redeemable, like we’ve said before, by force, whatever means necessary. And then, of course, you have to provide in terms of opportunities. Now when I look at the Arab world and not only the Arab world, Muslim, but take like countries like Turkey, countries like Iran, what we are seeing now [is that] Islamic extremism is rather on the rise. Erdogan, you know, abandoned pretty much what Ataturk has been advocating. Today, Erdogan is as Islamic as he can be, and he is using Islam as a tool by which to, for example, revive elements of the Ottoman Empire. He is not able to provide, but he’s now using Islam as a tool, and he is not alone. So instead of receding, instead of diminishing the influence of religion and extremism, which is somehow built into the religion, we are seeing now a new rise, it is rising rather than diminishing. So how do you deal with that? Again, take Turkey as an example.

TH: Actually, this touches on a very sensitive subject to me. I was a great admirer of both the two names I mentioned, Kemal Atatürk and Habib Bourguiba in Tunisia. These people went far away in modernizing. In Tunisia, [it] is the only Muslim country, with the exception of Turkey, that it is a crime to marry more than one woman, criminalizing a marriage of more than one wife. The inheritance is like Turkey, woman is like man. I was personally in a problem seeing that these cases, I wouldn’t say failed, but collapsed, partially collapsed. When I see a prime minister in Turkey that is an Islamist, and for 10 years, the conductor in Tunisia was Ghannouchi, that was the Muslim Brothers. For me as Tarek, I feel very sad and ask myself, what went wrong? And my answer after years of thinking is that when this happens by order from above, we ended up with this partial collapse. It didn’t happen to [unclear], an upbringing of inheritance. That’s why people went to the box and elected Erdogan. OK. It was done because Kemal Ataturk wanted it to be done. It was done because Bourguiba wanted it to be done. And there is nothing wrong with that. But he shouldn’t have stopped at that. They should have worked systematically and scientifically on having a modern citizen, somebody who believes in these values of modernity. It didn’t happen, and everybody used to talk in the seventies and eighties about the difference between Istanbul and the countryside, where one of them was in the 20th century and one of them wasn’t. So what we need to learn that also, if we have a stick in our hand and tell people as of tomorrow you are all secular, we might make them secular tomorrow, but not forever. Yeah?

ABM: Exactly.

TH: The chance they have to go back. They will go back, especially if it goes with what you referred to, social conditions. In every mosque in Egypt, the Muslim Brothers were doing what you referred to. A clinic and the poor. And this is very close to the hearts of people.

ABM: Exactly, exactly.

TH: Why [unclear] children and their brains? So I believe that in Turkey, I don’t think, it will look to what Erdogan wants it to happen. He is canceling the heritage of Ataturk partially, but he didn’t do it for Turkey. And until this moment of time, he cannot ban alcoholic drinks, he cannot allow men to marry more than a wife, and so on. But if he carries on in power and a successor from the same school carries on, they will be able to have a public opinion supporting the reverse.

ABM: But I want to take this particular example of Turkey itself and now going back, next year, it’s going to be the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. Erdogan would love, wants to preside over this huge celebration as he is now the new Ataturk, so to speak. In the interim, of course, he moved Turkey, made it more and more and more Islamist. And we don’t see as of now sort of an apparent successor, so to speak. I’m hoping there will be no successor who will follow his path. We really hope so. Turkey is just one, is an example. He obviously shifted. I dealt with the Turks for many, many years, you know, until I saw the shift and I shifted my position as well. I started to write and criticized intensely what the Turkish government is doing to this very day. If he does not find a successor that will continue with his religious approach, do you think that it can be reversed, or is the AK Party is already too well entrenched into the Turkish society and Turkish mindset that they’re going to be impossible to reverse?

TH: I believe that after Erdogan, Turkey will recover a great part of Ataturk’s heritage.

ABM You mean of a secular state. Yeah.

TH: But this has to do with other things. Their relationship with Europe, with the U.S.A, they’re a NATO member, yeah, they were aimed at being part of the EU, and I always thought that this is a very tricky area of thinking, yeah? Is it good to see Turkey part of the EU or not? It’s a very puzzling subject, you know.

ABM: I don’t think that’s going to ever happen, as far as I’m concerned.

TH: Exactly.

ABM: It will never happen.

TH: Exactly. And for cultural reasons, before economic reasons.

ABM: I mean, it’s a different kind of conversation in terms of Turkey’s EU relationship and all of that. I mean, there’s tremendous tension between Turkey and the European community nowadays, even within the NATO itself, whether in fact Turkey should belong to NATO. But I want to shift back to your area, that is, you write so eloquently about it, and specifically in your book as well on this subject. Now we have this issue, the phenomenon of terrorism. It is linked directly and sometime indirectly, of course, to Islam, and it is growing rather than diminishing, which is unfortunate. What would you do today? What would you suggest to any Arab government? You have to do A, B, C, and D that it is realistic, not a suggestion that is not going to go necessarily anywhere. But if you were to ask by any of these governments, this is what you need to do, and from this perspective. What sort of advice would you give them in order to mitigate extremism, to reduce the level of terrorism, which is in fact Muslim killing Muslims like we have said in these statistics than any other places? And shouldn’t that come to some kind of slow or gradual end in 10, 15, 20 years or else we get to see the continuing trend today, which is escalating rather than diminishing?

TH: I wrote about that extensively last year. And I wrote an open letter to President Sisi, saying to him that you are focusing on the, what I call the hardware of the society, doing a lot of work in modernizing the villages, the infrastructure, the roads, the city. There’s a lot of work that was done on this side, including the move of hundreds of thousands of people from very miserable living conditions, to modern buildings. But I said all of this, though great, is totally insufficient. We have two things that we did little on: modern education and religious discourse. I need the religious, the educational curricula to help us to have a secular society. But let me look at the other one, the religious discourse. Egypt has 210,000 mosques. 2000, let’s say. Let me say it again. Two hundred thousand mosques.

ABM: Yes.

TH: If we multiply 200,000 by the number of the weeks, we have two [unclear]. So we end up with a number between 10 and 11 million.

ABM: Yes.

TH: Ten and 11 million what? [Unclear], and from there discourse.

ABM: That’s right.

TH: How can I compete to this with my articles and TV programs?

ABM: That’s the point. That is exactly the point.

TH: Unless these people themselves join me, I’m wasting my time. 11 million per year discourses. Yeah.

ABM: And that’s 11 million sermons given every single week, consistently and very with quite limited— As far as I know, it’s not imams, pretty much they still say pretty much what they want to say, a little bit careful, but they’re still preaching what they want to preach.

TH: They are still preaching the rules of beating your wife.

ABM: Yes, yes.

TH: Yeah, the transplantation of organs is halal, allowed or not. Things, I mean, take, to be precise, taking us to the mentality of the seventh century, ok.

ABM: I mean, exactly. Like you said, Al Azhar refused to allow divorce, verbal divorce. That is, to this day it still continues to exist even in Egypt. So how do you change that, given what you just said, 11 million sermons are given every single week? How do you compete with that? When we when we talk about reform, when we talk about intellectual discourse?

TH: In order that people understand what we are saying, 11 million events, each of them to a number between 200 and 1,000.

ABM: Exactly. Exactly.

TH: Unless Sisi succeeds in modernizing the religious speeches and the religious education, we are wasting our time. The volume is too much.

ABM: Exactly.

TH: I mean, when the TV screen shows me two meetings, one in Ramallah and one in Gaza, although I’m not that happy with Ramallah, but it looks like being in the 21st century.

ABM: It’s a big difference. I agree, 100 percent.

TH: The other one, as if I am taken to the 16th century.

ABM: Yes, yes.

TH: That’s what happens when you have a different discourse. Yeah.

ABM: Right.

TH: And we can do a lot in the short term through education and, more importantly, religious discourse. I mean, the whole idea of— Let me give you another example. In Egypt, for the 25 million pupils and students that go through primary, preparatory, and secondary school and then university, they give them novels to read. Can you imagine until recently, all the novels were Islamic?

ABM: Oh yes. It’s amazing.

TH: Yet you have a history like ancient Egypt. You don’t teach them anything related to the Middle Kingdom. Kings like Ramses, like Seti. No, you teach them [unclear], who conquered North Africa. So we are shooting our own foot, as the English say. When we allow the Egyptian students to read about Khalid ibn Al Walid, and not about Ramses II, what happened to your identity? What happened to our identity is very, very clear. I am an Egyptian who was born 1950. If you addressed me in 1969, when I was at the third school at the university, as an Arab, I would have explained to you that I am not.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: It goes without saying. The whole name is Arab Republic of Egypt.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: So look at what happened to identity in a very short time. For me in 1970, the word Arab means somebody from Arabia. OK.

ABM: Yes. Yeah.

TH: I went to the Hilton Hotel. I found many Arabs. He meant Saudis.

ABM: Yes.

TH: So today, it is not so. Identity has been changed. A lot of work is required. But even if it looks impossible, it is much honorable to work on it. Whether it will work or not, we can’t surrender.

ABM: We are not surrendering, but I always look for the reality, there’s no question you have to [unclear]. But what is the prospect? Egypt is a good example. What is the prospect or take Morocco, take many of these countries. What is the prospect in fact that you can introduce this kind of change that is going to change the fate, the future of Egypt, which used to be the foremost secular, going back now many, many years now, several decades? What is it going to take? And yes, you need to make the effort, but do you think Egypt will succeed, with the best of intention?

TH: I have no doubt that one, if there is a vision, if there is a will to make Egyptians feel that they are [unclear]. And I keep saying when somebody to say to me, but we are Muslims, we are Arabs, I say, no, no, no. Listen to what [unclear] said in 1938. He said we have an Islamic dimension, but we are not the same like Bangladesh, for instance.

ABM: Yes.

TH: We have a common factor with the Arabs, which is the language. But Egypt and Yemen are not identical. Yeah, we are in Africa. Literally, we are in Africa. [unclear] of Zimbabwe. Okay. So what Taha Hussein said that I would make it the spine and the core of the campaign, that we are a product of our geographic location. We are Mediterranean, we speak Arabic, but not we are fully Arabs. We have Muslims, but we are not 100 percent Islamic. So what are we? We are Egyptians. This is what [unclear] said in 1938.

ABM: Well, this has all been a clear distinction over the years, over the centuries. No question, I agree with you.

TH: You can work, not on it, not by words, by education. Make people feel proud. Teach them the kings of ancient Egypt. Teach them that Egypt 5000 years ago had geometry and engineering that was extremely perfect and sophisticated, make them proud of it. But people are not proud of it. Why they were not happy to be proud of it, and they are instead proud of something else. They call what happened to Egypt in the year 642, when the first Arabs, the Muslims invaded Egypt? They call it [unclear], not the equation.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: So [unclear] is a Muslim word, yeah? No, it was an invasion, and [unclear] of it is to call it invasion.

ABM: Right.

TH: [Unclear] means something positive.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: So I believe that a lot can be done, providing that there is a vision. Where do you want to go. do you want to be part of the Islamic world or the Mediterranean? For me, if I have the authority, I say we are part of the Mediterranean. Our history is part of the Mediterranean. Our culture is Mediterranean and we will make everything to serve this purpose. And we are in the year 2022. We are not in the year 700 and we are part of humanity and we want to be linked to humanity. This sounds very difficult in some ears, but I don’t think it is. Do you know for me what rescued Tunisia from Ghannouchi? The women of Tunisia.

ABM: Yes. Yeah. Yes.

TH: [unclear] Bourguiba, yeah? I used to go to Tunisia a lot and speak at their university.

ABM: Yeah.

TH: And I tell you the women of Tunisia are much more advanced than the women of Egypt or any other Arabic speaking country. Why? Because they were given the right curriculum, and these are the ones who made it difficult for Ghannouchi to turn it into a Pakistan or a Bangladesh.

ABM: Exactly, yeah. The question today, and I can continue this discussion with you for days, not hours, but just a final thought from your perspective. So we are seeing now, on the one hand, you mentioned Saudi Arabia trying to reform. Tunisia is a good example of that. On the other hand, you have countries like Turkey, like Iran, and there’s these competing forces on both sides. To me, the reformers are not winning as yet. Do you agree with that premise?

TH: They are not winning. Absolutely, you are absolutely right.

ABM: They are not winning. And so, what? Again, just final thought on your part. What, is there anything that dramatic, significant that can be said, can be done to begin to change that, to change the trend that is happening today?

TH: We need to see the efforts that are made to fight terrorist acts, equal efforts made to fight terrorist ideas. Very little is done, very little. And I’m sure that the international community is concerned. There is a degree of concern, but insufficient. I mean, I’m sure that with good work from America and from Europe, regimes of the third world could be directed to, instead of making all of your efforts to counteract terrorist activities, do half of it to counter ideas. And furthest from general to particularly, I mean, too general, yeah, we need to convert this to policies. What do we have to do to counteract the mentality that produces the terrorists? The terrorist that goes from Manchester to Syria to kill people is not more dangerous than the imam who educated him.

ABM: I agree with you, you know, you very well distinguish between those who advocate and those who follow. And to advocate you have to deal with them on their level and to follow, you need to deal with it by improving the socioeconomic conditions in order to make it unnecessary and undesirable for that matter to follow the preaching of those who advocate extremism and terrorism. Tarek, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time, and I do really hope that we do it one more, talk again about this and different subjects. And more than that, I’m very hopeful to see you in person. And inshallah, shufak. Soon, sooner than later.

TH: God bless you, my dear friend.

On the Issues Episode 87: Wiola Rębecka

Today’s guest is Wiola Rębecka, a psychoanalyst, human rights activist, founder of “Rape: A History of Shame” project, and author of the book Rape: A History of Shame, Diary of the Survivors. A credentialed psychoanalyst, she has over 23 years’ clinical experience working with trauma, PTSD, War Rape Survivors Syndrome, and transgenerational trauma, and has conducted field work on the consequences of sexual violence during war in Rwanda, Congo, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

In this episode, we discuss transgenerational trauma, particularly in relation to sexual violence, societal reactions to rape and rape victims, the difficulties of sharing experiences on a personal and cultural level, and her family’s personal experience with sexual violence and transgenerational trauma stemming from her grandmother’s experience during the Holocaust.

Full bio
Wiola Rębecka is a credentialed psychoanalyst IPA, alumna member of Women’s Therapy Center Institute NYC, and author of the project and book Rape: A History of Shame. She is a therapist with over 23 years of clinical experience working with trauma, PTSD, War Rape Survivors Syndrome, and Transgenerational Trauma. Her research and focuses on the theories of cultural and psychoanalytic development in many regions all over the world. She is interested in understanding different societies and people, using available psychological tools. Her area of interest is related to sexual abuse and its trauma-related consequences. Currently, she is a clinical director of the Residential HANAC program, a rape counselor at the emergency room of Presbyterian Methodist Hospital, and a private practice therapist working with and for war rape survivors.

Her current project, Rape: A History of Shame, is her dedication to understanding the consequences of rape/war/trauma. She has conducted field work on the consequences of sexual violence during war in Rwanda, Congo, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Her family is her most significant influence and inspiration with their history of the Holocaust and her work in the field with war rape survivors—Wiola’s grandmother was imprisoned in Ravensbrück camp and was one of the Rabbits of Ravensbrück; during the camp’s liberation, Russian soldiers raped her. Wiola Rębecka is the third generation of Holocaust survivors. Her variety of experiences working with people are being utilized for the creative development of humanitarian organizations, workshops, classrooms, and non-profit organizations. Her knowledge of foreign languages allows her to understand people and their cultural backgrounds – she speaks English, Polish, Russian, Swahili, and French.

On the Issues Episode 86: David Ottaway

Today’s guest is David Ottaway, Middle East Fellow at the Wilson Center. He received a BA from Harvard, magna cum laude, in 1962 and a PhD from Columbia University in 1972. He worked 35 years for The Washington Post as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, Africa and Southern Europe and later as a national security and investigative reporter in Washington before retiring in 2006. He has won numerous awards for his reporting at home and abroad and was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Ottaway was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in 1979-80 and again in 2005-06 and is currently a Middle East Fellow. He just released a book about contemporary Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman: The Icarus of Saudi Arabia? His book before that, co-authored with his wife, Marina, is A Tale of four Worlds: the Arab Region After the Uprising, published by Oxford University Press in 2019.

In today’s episode, we discuss the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel, both countries’ concerns over Iran, US interests in the Gulf, and evolving US-Saudi relations. 

On the Issues Episode 85: Ibrahim Anli

Today’s guest is Ibrahim Anli, Executive Director of the Rumi Forum, which works toward strengthening a culture of peace, pluralism, and social harmony among faith communities and individuals of diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and ethnicities. In today’s episode, Alon and Ibrahim discuss the current state of affairs in Turkey, including the Turkish people’s dissatisfaction with Erdogan, the ongoing economic crisis, the demise of free media, and Erdogan’s continued quest to revive elements of the Ottoman Empire.

Ibrahim Anli is a civic entrepreneur and a researcher with a career record that bridges nonprofit and academic experience. Ibrahim was a visiting researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2007-08. He joined the Journalists and Writers Foundation’s (JWF) Ankara office as the diplomacy coordinator in 2010. In 2013, he became the secretary general of Abant Platform, JWF’s Istanbul based forum of intellectuals. He was a full-time lecturer and acting chair at the International Relations and Diplomacy Department of Tishk University in Erbil in 2016-17.

Ibrahim was a regular contributor to the online edition of English daily Today’s Zaman, writes opinions in his independent blog, and has published peer reviewed book chapters and articles. He holds a B.A. in Economics from Istanbul University, an M.A. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from Sabanci University, and a certificate in Strategic Management for Leaders of NGOs from Harvard University.

On the Issues Episode 84: Qendrim Gashi

Today’s guest is Qendrim Gashi, former Ambassador of Kosovo to France. Prior to his posting in Paris, Ambassador Gashi served as Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of Kosovo, and Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of Prishtina, a position he has resumed since ending his diplomatic service.

In today’s episode, we discuss the dialogue process between Kosovo and Serbia, and what progress, if any, has been made over the past few years. In addition, we discuss the EU’s role in the dialogue, as well as the EU’s relationship with the broader Western Balkans region.

On the Issues Episode 83: Nicholas Sambanis

Today’s guest is Nicholas Sambanis, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Identity and Conflict Lab at the University of Pennsylvania. He writes on conflict processes with a focus on civil wars and other forms of inter-group conflict, and founded the Identity and Conflict Lab at Penn, which works on a broad range of topics related to inter-group conflict, both violent and non-violent forms of conflict.

In today’s episode, Alon and Nicholas discuss his latest book which will be published later this year, coauthored with Danny Choi and Mathias Poertner, examining bias and discrimination against immigrants, using Germany as a case study.

Full bio

Nicholas Sambanis is a Presidential Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Director of the Identity & Conflict Lab at the University of Pennsylvania. He writes on conflict processes with a focus on civil wars and other forms of inter-group conflict. Published work in these research areas has appeared in several journals, including the American Political Science Review, International Organization, American Journal of Political Science, World Politics, Science, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. With Michael Doyle, he co-authored Making War and Building Peace (Princeton University Press, 2006), the first book to analyze the impact of United Nations peace operations in post-conflict transitions; with Paul Collier and other colleagues, he co-authored Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy, one of the first quantitative studies of the causes of civil war around the world. In a two-volume book project, Understanding Civil War: Evidence and Analysis, he developed a nested, mixed-methods research design for the analysis of causes of civil war onset in a systematic comparative analysis of over 20 cases of civil war.

Sambanis has taught at Yale and Penn. At Penn, he founded the Identity & Conflict Lab (PIC Lab), an inter-disciplinary lab working on a broad range of topics related to inter-group conflict. PIC Lab covers topics ranging from violent to non-violent forms of conflict in different regions of the world. Topics of current interest are the effects of external intervention on peace-building after ethnic war; the analysis of violent escalation of separatist movements; conflict between native and immigrant populations; and strategies to mitigate bias and discrimination against minority groups. He studies these questions with a focus on the connection between identity politics and conflict processes drawing on social psychology, behavioral economics, and the comparative politics and international relations literatures in political science. Ongoing projects include research on the long-term legacies of violence exposure; the sources of ethnic and national identification among minority groups; the effects of integrative institutions in overcoming ethnic conflict; and on strategies to reduce bias and discrimination toward immigrants and refugees.

On the Issues Episode 82: Igballe (Igo) Rogova

Welcome to another episode of “On the Issues with Alon Ben-Meir.” Today’s guest is Igballe Rogova, an internationally renowned women’s rights advocate and co-founder and Executive Director of the Kosovo Women’s Network. She was also behind the founding of the Women’s Peace Coalition and the Regional Women’s Lobby for Peace, Security and Justice in South East Europe, bringing women’s priorities and political preferences into the regional peace-making process. Igo was also a member of the High-level Advisory Group on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and served on the NATO Civil Society Advisory Panel on Women, Peace and Security.

In today’s episode, Alon and Igo discuss her work as a women’s rights advocate, the UN and NATO’s interference in this work in the post-war period, the progress (or lack thereof) that has been made in Kosovo and across the Balkans in regards to women’s rights, and what the future looks like in this regard.

Full bio

Igballe Rogova is an internationally renowned women’s rights advocate. In 1989, she co-founded the first women’s organization in Kosovo, Motrat Qiriazi, which she later directed. The organization focused on educating rural women, community development, and supported networking among activists. She was a recipient of the Women of the Year Award from the International Network of Women’s Organizations and the Lydia Sklevicky Prize for her innovative work with women’s groups, awarded by Mamacash.

In 2000, she co-founded the Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN), where she continues to serve as Executive Director. KWN supports, protects, and promotes women’s rights and interests throughout Kosovo. An early advocate for the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security in Kosovo, immediately after the Resolution’s passage, Igballe often challenged the approach of UN missions and development initiatives in her region. She has worked tirelessly to document and share these stories with high-ranking officials and women’s rights activists in other countries, so they may learn from the mistakes made in Kosovo (e.g., through the widely read 1325 Facts & Fables).

She was a motor behind the Women’s Peace Coalition (WPC), founded in 2006, and the Regional Women’s Lobby for Peace, Security and Justice in South East Europe (RWL), which joins women leaders from politics and civil society in advocating for peace and justice in the region. WPC and RWL have been the only voices bringing women’s priorities and political preferences into regional peace-making processes.
In 2014-2015, she was a member of the High-level Advisory Group for the UN Global Study on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. She also served on the NATO Civil Society Advisory Panel on Women, Peace and Security.

On the Issues Episode 81: Hanna Siniora

Today’s podcast guest is Hanna Siniora, former co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information and publisher of the Jerusalem Times. Siniora has been a member of the Palestinian National Council since 1990; he has officially represented the Palestine Liberation Organization in several negotiations. A Palestinian Christian living in East Jerusalem, he served as editor-in-chief of Al Fajr, an East Jerusalem Arabic language daily, from 1973-93, and was the founding editor of the English language Al Fajr Weekly. Since 1989 he has been Chairman of the European Palestinian Chamber of Commerce and from 1998-2003 was chairman of the Palestinian American Chamber of Commerce. In 2007 Siniora was awarded the Peace Prize of Honor from the Order of the Knights of Malta in recognition of his commitment to Palestinian-Israeli peace. He was also awarded the Papal Silver Olive Branch for Peace.

In this episode, we discuss the concept of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation from a Palestinian perspective, including the aspects of security, both Israeli and Palestinian and the status of Palestinian refugees. We also discuss the Palestinian political environment, including the Palestinian people’s loss of confidence in Abbas and who could emerge among younger Palestinians as a trustworthy leader.

On the Issues Episode 80: Moshe Ma’oz

I am pleased to welcome back to the podcast Moshe Ma’oz, Professor Emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a previous Director of the university’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace. Professor Ma’oz is renowned for his expertise in Arab and Middle East affairs, and has published extensively on Islam and on the history and politics of the Middle East. He is a leading expert on Syria. Professor Ma’oz has been a visiting professor, scholar, and fellow at many leading universities and institutions around the world. He has served as an advisor on Arab Affairs for Israel’s Knesset, and was a member of official advisory committees that counseled the late Prime Ministers Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.

In this episode, we discuss the new Israeli government and the prospects for any advancement of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations under this coalition, as well as what role the Biden administration can play, if any, in such a process. In addition, we discuss the concept of a confederation as a potential solution to the conflict, including the issue of settlements, Jerusalem, national security, and the role of Jordan in such a solution.

On the Issues Episode 79: Daniel Bar-Tal

Today I am happy to have back on the podcast Dr. Daniel Bar-Tal, Professor Emeritus at the School of Education, Tel Aviv University. Dr. Bar-Tal is a noted psychologist, who since the early eighties has focused on political psychology and the study of the socio-psychological foundations of intractable conflicts and peacebuilding, including reconciliation. In this episode, we discuss the concept of an Israeli-Palestinian confederation, including the current status quo, mitigating the entrenched psychological perspectives among both Israelis and Palestinians, the ongoing occupation and its effects, and what forces or political changes would need to be seen on every side in order to create an environment where peace is possible.

Full bio

Dr. Daniel Bar-Tal is Professor Emeritus at the School of Education, Tel Aviv University.

Dr. Bar-Tal received his graduate training in social psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, and completed his doctoral thesis in 1974. He previously served as a Director of the Walter Lebach Research Institute for Jewish-Arab Coexistence through Education, Tel Aviv University and as President of the International Society of Political Psychology, and was Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Palestine Israel Journal. He has won numerous awards, including the Alexander George Award of the International Society of Political Psychology, Nevitt Sanford Award of the International Society of Political Psychology, and Morton Deutsch Conflict Resolution Award of the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence. He was awarded the Golestan Fellowship at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences in 2000-2001, and in 2013 received honorary membership in the Polish Society of Social Psychology.

Since the early eighties his interest has shifted to political psychology and the study of the socio-psychological foundations of intractable conflicts and peace building, including reconciliation. In the latter area, he studied the evolvement of the socio-psychological infrastructure in times of intractable conflict that consists of shared societal beliefs of ethos of conflict, collective memory, and emotional collective orientations. He also studied socio-psychological barriers to peacemaking and ways to overcome them, and acquisition of the conflict repertoire by children and adolescents.

Within this scope of studies he developed with his collaborators theoretical frameworks for concepts like siege mentality, intractable conflict, delegitimization, collective victimhood, socio-psychological infrastructure, culture of conflict, effects of lasting occupation, barriers to peace making, construction and struggle over conflict supporting narratives, acquisition of intergroup psychological repertoire, early development of the ethos of conflict, transitional context, collective identity, and peace education, among many others.

The work in these areas has resulted in books, Group Beliefs (1990), Shared Beliefs in a Society (2000), Stereotypes and Prejudice in Conflict: Representations of Arabs in Israeli Jewish Society (2005), Living with the conflict (2007), and Intractable conflicts: Socio-psychological foundations and dynamics (2013). He co-edited a wide variety of volumes, and in addition has published over two hundred articles and chapters in major journals, books and encyclopedias.

Of special importance in his professional life is founding and leading a “learning community” of 10-15 graduate (mostly doctoral) students, who come from different disciplines and universities, to carry their studies about conflict and their resolution. The learning community serves as a framework for learning, reflecting, debating, and developing; carrying conceptual and empirical studies; socialization for academic career and societal involvement; and for social support.

Through the years he has lectured widely on his work, and worked as Visiting Professor at Vanderbilt University, Brandeis University, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, University of Muenster, University of Maryland College Park, Polish Academy of Science, University of Palermo, and Australian National University.

He retired in 2015 and decided to devote his second career to political activism. He founded a peace movement Save Israel-Stop the Occupation with the goal to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and establish the Palestinian state. SISO’s website can be found here: www.siso.org.il/.

On the Issues Episode 78: Donika Emini

Today’s guest is Donika Emini, Executive Director of the Civikos Platform, a cooperative of over 250 civil society organizations in Kosovo. In this episode, Alon and Donika discuss the relatively new administration of Albin Kurti, including his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in Kosovo and his campaign pledges of reform. In addition, they discuss the status of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, international support for Kosovo, and the role of civil society in resolving these many issues.

Full bio
Donika Emini serves as Executive Director of the Civikos Platform. Mrs. Emini is PhD candidate at the University of Westmisnter in London. She completed her Masters studies at the University of Erfurt – Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, with a specialization in Public and Non-Profit Management and International Relations.

Mrs. Emini has been an active member of civil society for the past ten years. From 2013 – 2019 she worked as researcher at the Kosovar Center for Security Studies (KCSS). Her previous experience includes working as research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) in Paris, Transparency International Secretariat in Berlin, Balkan Policy Institute (IPOL), and the General Consulate of the Republic of Kosovo in New York.

Mrs. Emini is a member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advocacy Group (BiEPAG), and member of the SEEThinkNet platform which converse the Berlin Process of the Western Balkans.

She has actively covered the EU integration process of the Western Balkans, Regional Cooperation in the Western Balkans, the EU-facilitated Dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, and the Berlin Process.

Today’s guest is Niloofar Rahmani. Niloofar is the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghani Air Force, earning her wings in 2012, and the first female pilot in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. In 2015, she was awarded the US Department of State’s International Women of Courage award for her dedication to her career and commitment to encouraging other young women to join the Air Force, all in the face of death threats against herself and her family. Her book, “Open Skies: My Life as Afghanistan’s First Female Pilot”, was just published in early July.

In this episode, we discuss her journey to become a pilot in Afghanistan, the challenges she faced as a woman fighting for her dreams in her home country, the death threats she and her family faced due to her career, and her quest for asylum in the United States. We also discuss the changes to her career since moving to the US, and what the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will mean for her family and for all Afghanis.

On the Issues Episode 76: Erwan Fouéré

Today’s guest is Erwan Fouéré, Associate Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies. After having pursued a career spanning 38 years with the EU institutions, during which he assumed various responsibilities both at Headquarters and more particularly in the EU’s External Service, Erwan Fouéré joined CEPS as an Associate Senior Research Fellow.

His area of research is on the EU’s role in the Balkans, seen from various angles (security & stability, enlargement, domestic politics), with a specific focus on Macedonia. More generally, he will also assess the impact of the Lisbon Treaty on the EU’s performance, with specific reference to the role of EU Special Representatives.

Prior to joining CEPS, Erwan Fouéré’s most recent appointment was as Special Representative for the Irish 2012 Chairmanship of the OSCE, with special responsibility for the Transdniestrian settlement process. He was the first to assume joint responsibilities of EU Special Representative and Head of Delegation in the EU External Service when he was appointed in this double capacity in Macedonia (2005), where he served for five years up to his retirement from the EU Institutions. Before that, he was Head of Delegation in Slovenia leading to accession, the first Head of Delegation in South Africa (1994) and the first Head of EC Delegations in Mexico and Cuba (1989). He was also Deputy Head of the Delegation for Relations with Latin America based in Caracas (1984). At headquarters, he worked successively on the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and relations with East European Countries, on international relations in the field of the environment, and on EU relations with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

He was a post graduate research assistant at the Max Kohnstamm Institute for European Affairs (1970-72), and a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution (1983). He has lectured at several European universities on EU Foreign and Security Policy, and was a regular contributor to EU Masters Course of Human Rights (2000-2010).

In this episode, we discuss a multitude of issues surrounding the European Union and the Western Balkans region, including the enlargement of the EU, particularly in relation to the Western Balkans, and the lack of consistency within EU foreign policy regarding enlargement. In addition, we examine the impediments to progress within the EU itself: the unanimity rule and what steps can be taken to mitigate its negative impacts, and what can be done about member states such as Poland and Hungary, which are departing from democratic governance and the values of the EU itself. 

Episode Transcript

Alon Ben-Meir: Well, thank you. First of all, I really want to thank you so much for taking the time. And I can’t think of anyone else who has more knowledge and expertise and has the insight into what’s going on at the EU, specifically in connection with the integration of some of the Balkan states. I would like to begin with, to hear your views on the internal combustion within the EU in terms of, for example, the differences between President Macron, Merkel and others in connection with the enlargement of the EU and how that specifically is affecting the Balkan states. So what is the internal discussion that’s taking place now that is preventing the EU from moving forward in the process of integration of some of the Balkan states?

Erwan Fouéré: Yes, thank you. Well, it’s a very complex situation and there’s a big difference between the theory and the reality. The theory has always been in the last years, that the European perspective for the Western Balkans is very clear, that once they have fulfilled all the conditions and criteria for accession, they will become members of the European Union. The reality, unfortunately, is that there has been one delay after another, one commitment after another, which has not been respected by the European Union side. And what you see is a gradual, I would say, increased nationalization of the enlargement process, meaning that the commission’s prerogative, the European Commission’s prerogative in this process of enlargement to include other member countries, has been undermined more and more over the last years. And probably the most recent and the worst illustration of that is the current standoff between Bulgaria and Macedonia.

ABM: North Macedonia, yeah. Yeah. That is, like exactly what you said, the promises made in the past to the various countries in the Balkans. And obviously that is instigating nationalism within these states for sure. And also they are becoming extremely more disappointed. But in the interim, needless to say, Russia, China, and Turkey are taking full advantage of the fact that the EU has not moved swiftly enough, and they are trying to entrench themselves in the Balkan states. And needless to say, of course, there is a concern among the EU that there’s got to be an effort, a greater effort made in order not to allow these three countries to further entrench themselves so much so. And also giving the disappointment of this country is the slowness of the process, we could possibly get to a point where it might be, I don’t [want to] say too late, but it’s going to be much more difficult for these states to change gears specifically when they are under such a pressure, sometimes the assistance that these countries are providing precisely because they want to distance them from the EU.

EF: That is very true. The problem is that for quite a number of years now, the European Union has taken the Western Balkans for granted. In other words, the accession process is there, is under way, and negotiations with Montenegro and Serbia are going along, however slowly. But really deep down, the European Union is more interested in security issues, making sure that border management is properly controlled in order to offset any danger of another repeat of the migrant crisis of 2015-2016. And so they really underestimated the increasing problems within the Western Balkan region itself. And this lack of visibility and lack of attention on the part of the European Union has left a huge vacuum, which, of course, has been taken advantage of by the actors you mentioned—by Russia, China, and Turkey. But if you look at the reality of the economic ties, over 70 percent of trade of the Western Balkans is with the European Union. So from the economic point of view, the role of Russia and China is fairly limited, except possibly in the latter case, China, where the investment of China under the so-called Road and Belt Initiative has increased considerably over the past years with a huge number of projects in some 16 East European countries, including the Western Balkans. But these are all loans, so this is tying the economies of the Western Balkan region in a matter which is not healthy in the long run, because it will mean the economies, these countries will have to service this debt over many, many years. So there are many fault lines that are increasing so long as the European Union’s commitment to the Western Balkans is not maintained, is not kept. And the longer the delays, the more uncertainty there is in the enlargement perspective. In the European perspective for the Western Balkans, the greater the danger that you mention of this vacuum being taken advantage of by these other actors who have other interests at stake, which have nothing to do with the real interests of the Western Balkan region.

ABM: So I guess part of the delay is also connected with the EU’s requirement to some extent that the conflict within the Balkan states, that is territorial and otherwise, needs to also be somewhat mitigated. That is, the EU, albeit they are not making this a precondition, but the conflicting issues within the various Balkans states obviously has an impact in terms of the integration process. To what extent [do] you see the effect of that as far as the future is concerned, in terms of the integration that is taking, that’s supposed to have taken place, but it’s not happening?

EF: You are right in highlighting the fact that in the Western Balkan region, there are many, many bilateral issues, bilateral disputes, border, minority issues that have yet to be dealt with. And the EU’s position has been fairly consistent all along. It’s probably one of the few consistent aspects of the EU’s enlargement policy, and that is that bilateral issues must be resolved prior to accession. Basically, the EU doesn’t want to [have] a repeat of the Cyprus scenario. So, I mean, to a certain extent it has worked. As we have seen, North Macedonia and Greece were able to resolve the issue of the name dispute. It was very difficult, a long-standing dispute. And, of course, it required very heavy sacrifices and compromises, particularly on the part of North Macedonia. But they did this on the understanding that this will open the door for EU accession to move forward.

Unfortunately, the reality is that barely had the ink dried on this agreement between Greece and North Macedonia that Bulgaria raised its own issues and has basically imposed its veto. So for me, this underlies two things. One is that the European Union has really underestimated the weight of history in the Western Balkan region and has shown a lack of appreciation of the complexities of Western Balkan politics. And instead of trying to deploy its various instruments of diplomacy that it has at its disposal to help in resolving some of these disputes, for example, you have the special envoy of the European Union that [is] mediating the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia for normalization of those relations. But it hasn’t done this in the other context. And what we are faced with now is that you have one member state, Bulgaria, introducing notions of history and identity, which are rather undermining the criteria and conditionality principles of the enlargement process—

ABM: Process, yes.

EF: —of the European Union. So this creates a very, very serious precedent. And I don’t know if you recall that at last December’s European Council, where there should have been a green light for the opening of accession negotiations with both Albania and North Macedonia, it was Bulgaria which refused the green light. And then they attempted to introduce into the draft conclusions of the of the meeting of the heads of state in December, the notion of misinterpretation of history. And it was thanks to the Czech and Slovak governments that at the end this was prevented. And they issued a statement, and I quote, because I think it’s very revealing, “we will not allow that the European Union be the judge of our shared history, how we identify ourselves or the language we use. These issues belong to the parties concerned, and we are here to support them with the experience of our own healing process.” And it’s a shame, really, that no other member state joined in that statement publicly. So you have a situation where the Bulgarian position on history and identity and its own version of that history and identity is on the table. And apart from the Czech and Slovak governments, none of the others are doing anything to try to help move the process forward. And as I have said before, if we were to follow the Bulgarian logic regarding history, shared history, neither Ireland nor Britain would ever have joined the European Union and Community, as it then was in 1973. Fifty years on, we are still debating our shared history, but we are doing it in a nonconfrontational manner in a shared institutional setting. And this is what Bulgaria needs to understand. It’s not by vetoes that it will resolve the bilateral disputes.

ABM: Yes, but I think from our experience, that is reconciling the historical narrative, it’s critical. That is, for example, Germany would have not been able at all to become an EU member had it not very early on recognized the atrocities it committed during World War II. So it has had to face the historical record, admit to what has taken place. And that meant today Germany is one of the, the, probably the leaders within the EU member states. If we take, for example, the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, here again, you have Serbia, who still to this day refuses to admit the atrocities that it committed against the Kosovars in the war between the two sides. That is, as long as some of these countries might say, well, this is our problem. We have to deal with it ourselves, and you have no business getting involved in this. We can straighten out our conflicts and our dispute. Nevertheless, given the fact that they still want to become a member of the EU, and given the fact that the EU is making this its precondition, you need to settle your differences before we can begin in serious, in earnest the integration process. So here, that’s where the EU is standing. And they are also taking a different position. How do you then reconcile between the two, from your perspective?

EF: Yes, it’s a very difficult dilemma, unfortunately. The Franco-German example is probably one of the best. But there are also other examples of joint history projects, and it emphasizes the critical importance of promoting projects on history teaching in the Western Balkan region. And the European Union has a lot of experience in that. If one just looks at the Northern Ireland case, where President Delors, Jacques Delors, instituted the Peace Fund in 1995 precisely to help in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. And with financial support, it has organized many joint projects between both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland in helping to overcome the prejudices of the past. And I think this perhaps is one area where the EU needs to do more in the Western Balkans to help in dealing with these prejudices, which are very deeply entrenched. And I think it highlights the fact that the weight of history is so strong in a region which, as has often been said, produces more history than it can absorb, and it has yet to find what our Irish President Michael D. Higgins has defined as an ethics of narrative hospitality. In other words, finding a mechanism which can help to address the entrenchments and the prejudices of the past.

ABM: That’s right, and I certainly agree with you, that probably the EU needs to play a greater role in this kind of process of reconciliation, without necessarily appearing to be interfering in it. That is, mitigating, with good will, obviously is different than interfering and imposing a certain requirement. And I think the Balkans would be right to suggest you can’t impose on us how we go about to reconcile our differences. But certainly they could use the support of the EU in terms in mitigating those kinds of differences. Having said that though, given the fact that we are talking to some extent about the time element here—I mentioned Russia, Turkey, Turkey in particular in this case, and China are moving ahead, trying to do everything they can to influence the internal affairs, Turkey in particular, within these Balkan states, specifically the countries that have a Muslim majority.

EF: Yes.

ABM: Wouldn’t it be wiser on the part of the EU in this case to begin a process— That is, there are so many chapters that each of these countries will have to go through to be qualified to become a member of the EU. So on the one hand, we have countries within the EU who are objecting, like you mentioned, Hungary versus Macedonia, for example. So wouldn’t it be wiser on the part of the EU to start a process, while in the meantime, asking that these countries continue to undertake the kind of reform necessary, including reconciliation with other countries, so that the process begins and gives them hope that the EU is not going to wait until everything is now is in order and proper so that they are totally qualified to become a member. But they begin to see we’re moving ahead while now we’re correcting, while we’re also dealing with our internal issues, including socio-economic and political reforms.

EF: Absolutely. The logic would underline that approach is the correct approach. The problem is that the European Union’s enlargement policy is very much weighed and undermined by the internal procedural rules of the European Union, whereby any decision relating to enlargement must be taken by unanimity. And so you had a situation last year, in March of 2020, when there was a decision by the European Council to formally open accession negotiations. Then the next process was the European Commission submitting the framework of the negotiating strategy, which was presented to the member states. And unfortunately, instead of allowing the commission to carry on with the job, there the member states are able to again impose a veto. And this is what happened with Bulgaria. And so you have, again, the unanimity rule interfering. And this heavy weight of procedure has been a huge problem for the enlargement agenda and has prevented the negotiation to actually start. At the same time, the countries in the region are proceeding with their reform agenda. I mean, North Macedonia has demonstrated in the various assessments made by the European Commission over the last years, particularly the last year itself, have shown that they have really fulfilled all the criteria and all the reforms that have been asked of them. So there is no reason to delay the opening of negotiations. But unfortunately, we have now the situation of the Bulgarian veto preventing that to move forward. And the logic would be, as you say, that we should allow the negotiations to proceed and in parallel, try to resolve these bilateral disputes. And Bulgaria seems not to understand that you cannot resolve issues of history in a year, in two years or three years. I mean, as I said, the Northern Ireland case. Ireland and Britain are still debating our shared history 100 years down the road, and we will carry on, but we’re doing it in a nonconfrontational way, whereas the Bulgarian approach is extremely nationalistic and is not resolving the problem at all.

ABM: Yes, and that’s exactly what I wanted to go back to, and that is the internal problems within the EU, that is, unanimity that you mentioned. In a way, it has some positive elements. That is, all EU members need to have a certain, say, foreign policy, which is necessary to have some kind of unanimity to some extent. But on the other hand, that impedes and slow the decision-making process within the EU community. And that is, when you allow any country for that matter to have a veto on any major issue, then to some extent it paralyzed the EU from acting swiftly on matters that need to be taken care of without waiting for every single country to agree to whatever necessary steps to be taken. That is something that has been impeding the EU effort, not just in connection with the Balkans from my perspective, but in dealing with other countries as well.

EF: Absolutely.

ABM: For example, Brexit. My understanding from speaking to many people in Britain is that one of the reasons, one of many, but one of the main reasons is, for example, for Cyprus to have the right to veto something that may concern say Britain, and for the British government to be subjected to this kind of scrutiny, this kind of consensus made it very difficult for Britain to stay within the EU. I mean, again, there were many, many other reasons. But this is one of the reasons, that is the unanimity required that has made it very difficult for especially major countries like France, like Britain, like Germany, albeit Germany is much more co-operative, to be able to continue to support the EU’s overall agenda. But the fact remains that the decision-making process, which is slow and can be stopped, vetoed by even the smallest member state, has been a problem and probably will continue to be a problem. How do you see this from your perspective? How can the EU actually deal with this, which has been affecting its performance for years?

EF: Yes, I am afraid the only solution will be to reduce the areas where decisions have to be taken by unanimity, because if the European Union really wants to be a global player – and it should be based on its economic weight and the development assistance, etc. that it provides – it will have to have a less burdensome decision-making process. You mentioned Brexit, but just last week we had another example where the EU foreign ministers were debating a statement to criticize the Chinese treatment of the Uyghurs and also the situation in Hong Kong. But because Hungary claims it has a close relationship with China, it blocked that statement just for the purely personal political agenda of Prime Minister Orbán. And you can see, unfortunately, a growing tendency of some member states like Hungary, like Poland, also now Slovenia, to undermine the broad principle of consensus which served the EU well in the past. I mean, the EU’s role has been very, very important on human rights issues, etc. But increasingly, the EU is becoming more and more burdened because of these conflicting debates inside the EU and the failure of the institutions to function properly.

The EU, the Commission should have come out much more rapidly when it saw the rule of law issues being undermined in Poland with the attack on the independence of the judiciary, also in Hungary. It belayed that, trying to find consensus, but as we can see, if there is no firm implementation of the treaties of the European Union, and if a member state is seen not to be fully respecting the basic fundamental values of the European Union, it should be sanctioned. But unfortunately there, the institutions of the European Union have been quite weak. And more and more we will see, I’m afraid, instances where instead of taking strong decisions, the EU will have very weak decisions and in foreign policy. And I think that is undermining the whole prospect of the European integration in that area. So reducing the issues to be decided by unanimity and increasing the possibility for decisions to be taken by majority voting, I think this would help considerably.

ABM: Yeah. You know, this reminds me, of course, for example, countries where they have a coalition government, Israel is a good example of that, where you have so many parties in a single government, to some extent similar say to the EU, to some extent. What you have there, when they discuss major significant issues, they end up with the lowest denominator. That is, the issue is watered down so much so that the effectiveness has basically evaporated to some extent. So this brings me to Macron. Wouldn’t you say then Macron is correct to say that we do not want, we should not be now enlarged, but focus on our internal—that is the EU itself has issues within itself in terms of, and needs some reform. And do you think Macron is correct to say, let’s just focus on ourselves first. Let’s do the kind of reform necessary before we go out and further enlarge the EU, when in fact we have significant internal problems that need to be addressed, which has many of these issues do relate to further integration, to further expansion of the EU.

EF: Yes. Well, this has been a recurring debate over the years, a deepening versus enlarging. And I recall in 2004 when you had the so-called Big Bang, when ten new countries joined the European Union, it was an extraordinary development when you consider where we had come from, you know, and helping to eliminate the dividing lines in Europe and bringing in all these new emerging democracies. There was, after 2004, a debate about how complicated this is going to make decision-making and that we need now to pause the enlargement process. But at the same time, you had the continuing of the enlargement in that same period in 2003, you had the formal decision to confirm the European perspective for the Western Balkans, saying that the Western Balkans are part of Europe. We must bring them into the European Union as full members. And so there did not appear to be at that time this contradiction between deepening versus enlarging. You could do both at the same time. And as you recall, as the enlargement process continued, Romania, Bulgaria joined in 2007 and then negotiations were opened with Croatia. Croatia became the next member, and so on. And we also had the Lisbon Treaty, which was negotiated and giving new powers to the EU institutions—a new method of foreign policy with the External Action Service, a new high representative like EU Foreign Minister, et cetera, et cetera.

But it’s true that now it seems that the situation has become much more complicated and complex because of this growing nationalism, populist narrative within the EU itself which is in a way hijacking this debate and is criticizing the enlargement process. The president, Macron, has not been that consistent himself, because I remember in 2018 when North Macedonia and Greece were negotiating their agreement, he was pushing North Macedonia to say, really, you must compromise, you must find an agreement because your future lies with us in the European Union. And then the following year, he blocked the start of accession negotiations because he said that the methodology for negotiation needed to be overhauled. OK, but why in that sense, in the same breath block the start of negotiations? So it’s demonstrated that there has been a lack of consistency within the European Union on its foreign policy agenda relating to enlargement, despite the fact that it is arguably the most successful foreign policy that the EU has ever had. And I think President Macron is, in a sense, a symbol of that lack of consistency. One day is good, yes, we must carry on negotiating, and then the next day, no, it’s not right. And the problem is that public opinion is also a factor. And there are several countries where the public opinion on enlargement is lukewarm, whether it is France, Netherlands, and you have populist voices who tend to equate further enlargement with further immigration, free movement, et cetera. So this populist narrative is not helping the overall debate at the moment. And we may see again this coming up next year when you have the presidential elections in France, with probably the same scenario of the right-wing Le Pen facing Macron in the final debate, a final round up.

ABM: Yeah, well, I’m not sure. I’m sure you know a lot, much more about this, but I mean, the prospect of Le Pen actually defeating Macron. That to me, doesn’t seem, she has a very good prospect. I mean, do you share that view? I know this is not related to the Balkans.

EF: Yeah, yes. Absolutely I do. I believe that in the end in the last analysis, President Macron will win over. But the fact of the matter is that you have just those two competing forces at play demonstrates, you know, the level of discussion at the moment in in the EU. And so the populist narrative, unfortunately, is still there. And so long as it is there, it will be used to delay, to offset any possibilities for continuing the enlargement negotiations with the Western Balkans. And then in addition to that, then you have the Bulgarian situation, which in a sense is also a symptom or a reflection of a very nationalist narrative on issues separating these neighboring countries.

ABM: Right. So when we look today [at] the EU, when we talk in terms, you know, Macron talking about reform, you indicated, and rightfully so, for example, the question of consistency: there is no consistency, which is impeding some of the efforts of the EU in terms of foreign policy, certainly in connection with enlargement. We have the question of the shortcomings of unanimity, which is very difficult. And again, it waters down any kind of resolution that the EU might want to undertake. Then you have the question of small countries, like you mentioned Bulgaria, [which] does not want to condemn China because it has its own interests. And that is impacting, of course, on the overall interest of the EU itself. Macron also mentioned, methodology, albeit I don’t know if he elaborated on that, what kind of change we need to reach out or to engage into the integration process.

And then you have the issue of the growing rising nationalism within various countries that want to become a member of the EU, and within the EU itself, for example, what’s happening in Poland, what’s happening in Hungary, you know. That is, we also see democracy itself, even within the EU, to some extent, it’s in retreat by allowing certain member states to actually become almost dictatorial and they are still members of the EU. So all of these issues are there. And would you say then Macron would be correct to say, well, let’s have an overhaul of EU, albeit he’s not elaborating. But the EU itself ought to be looking at internally and say, well, now all these plethora of problems, we’re going to have to address them. From your perspective, if the EU were to ask, and I’m sure they ask you, what sort of reforms need to be done immediately to streamline the operation of the EU in terms of external policy, domestic economics, integration, all of that. What sort of, if you can mention three, four specific reforms that you think it might be necessary to undertake as soon as possible?

EF: Within the EU?

ABM: Within the EU.

EF: Yes. Well, as you know, the conference on the future of Europe has just been launched. This is a one-year process which is supposed to give an opportunity to all the countries, citizens throughout the European Union to come forward with ideas on how to improve the decision-making process, the structure of the European Union. This is fine, you know, but I’m not very optimistic that they will come up with some major reforms. I mean, the best reform that I can think of that should be done immediately is to reduce the areas where unanimity is required and to bring in a rule of majority voting. And in my view, I think this would strengthen the EU’s decision-making process, strengthen also its voice on international issues, and would allow it to be much more functional and operational than it is now. So this would be my first priority. And I do believe that also the enlargement agenda, the enlargement policy should also come as a majority decision-making rather than unanimity rule in order to offset another precedent of Bulgaria or other countries wanting to impose its own domestic agenda on the enlargement policy. Because there are many other problems, bilateral problems, where, for example, Croatia might also voice its concern down the road. So this for me is some key reforms which will be extremely beneficial. And we mustn’t forget that the Western Balkans to come back to them. We’re not talking about billions of people. It’s a community of just 18 million people. It’s about [unclear] of the European Union.

ABM: That’s right, compared to the nearly 450 million, I suppose. Am I right?

EF: Yes.

ABM: Because the combined population of the EU. You know, what you mentioned obviously is very important. That is, I think a majority rule makes sense, that even if you can say super majority, would still make it much more functional as far as the EU is concerned, if it’s not 50/50, for example, they can say 60/40, you need 60 percent of the EU members to vote in favor of some resolution. But nevertheless, this will make it entirely possible for the EU to a) accelerate any kind of decision-making process in connection with any issues. There’s another thing I want to ask if you have a few more minutes.

EF: Yes.

ABM: And that is, those countries that eventually go astray and basically are no longer adhering fully to the rules, norms of the EU. Is there any effort, for example, [being] made by the EU to rein in, say, Poland, where the human rights violations are rampant? I haven’t seen any significant effort made by EU leadership to say to Poland, this is not the culture, this is not the purpose, these are not the policies that, you know, departing from democratic form of government is not acceptable to us. What effort is being made to impede this movement of nationalism within the EU to begin with, such as, say, Poland and Hungary, not to speak, of course, outside the EU?

EF: Yes, well, the treaties provide for mechanisms precisely to deal with these sorts of situations where a member country would be seen to contravene the fundamental principles or the rule of law on which the European Union is based, and the rule of law has been one of its greatest strengths. The trouble is that the European Commission, which is the one which has the authority to launch proceedings against such a member state, has been very slow. It started, they have done it with regard to Poland on the judicial reforms which the current Polish government introduced, which have undermined the independence of the judiciary to such an extent that even the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has issued judgments and as well as the European Court of the European Union, which highlights the undermining of the independence of the judiciary. And similarly, proceedings have been brought against Hungary. But what is the finality of these proceedings? Well, it gives an opportunity to the accused member country to put forward its opinions, et cetera, etc. But at the end of the day, the sanction, which is the lifting of voting rights, has to be taken by unanimity of the EU. So there again, you have a situation where a procedure launched by the European Union to ensure full respect of the basic principles of the European Union in its finality, it cannot be undertaken because the unanimity rule means that all the member states minus, of course, the accused one, must conform with that sanction. And Hungary and Poland have made very clear that they will support each other against any such sanction.

So again, we are faced with unanimity and where a qualified majority would be a much more effective system. So we have an institutional arrangement, but the implementation remains very weak. And contrary to that, the interesting is that the EU has a much stronger authority to impose the full respect of the basic principles for future member countries, and saying if you don’t adopt this reform, we will stop the negotiations basically. But for the internal, it’s a much weaker procedure.

ABM: Yeah, I mean, you can obviously make it a precondition that new members will have to meet all the requirements, all the reforms necessary, et cetera, et cetera, but an existing member who is violating the rules and regulations and the values of the EU. And there is still no mechanism because exactly what you are mentioning, unanimity is required to punish a country that is moving away from these principles that the EU upholds so high. And there’s also, unless, please correct me if I’m wrong, obviously, there is no provision where the EU can decide to expel a member state for having deviated so much so from the culture and the rules and regulations and the purpose of the EU itself. So we don’t have that as well, so just like NATO, there’s no mechanism to kick a country out of NATO.

EF: Yes.

ABM: You have the same similar situation within the EU. So how do you overcome that when basically the EU gets stuck with member states who are not adhering to the culture of the EU, and then they are protected by the fact that there is unanimity and nobody can do much about it? So the long term impact on the EU is going to be, in my view, significant because it is losing its thrust, it is losing the cohesiveness necessary for the EU to project the kind of power they need to project, especially now that there’s a significant effort on the part of Russia to weaken the EU as much as possible. And they’re doing everything they can in that respect.

EF: Yes, I am afraid I share your concern, because even though, as I said, you have the institutional mechanisms that are there to deal with errant member states or member states who go totally off track and you have what’s called the nuclear option, whereby the voting rights of a given country can be suspended. And you’ve had this big debate during the negotiations for what’s called a financial perspective over the coming seven years, whereby there was a push to try to make sure that all the financial support that the EU provides to member states, particularly countries like Poland and Hungary, would be conditioned on full respect of rule of law. But this was a huge debate. And there’s some very general wording in the financial arrangements, but they have yet to be tested. And I think the only solution is for the institutions to be tougher when it comes to those wayward countries and to make sure that they will conform. Otherwise, you are opening the floodgates to other countries that will just follow the example of, in this case, Poland and Hungary. And if there’s no really strong sanction, it can just escalate and get worse. And I think this would be a terrible denial of the EU integration process itself.

ABM: No question, I mean, as long as they can do so with impunity, I mean, that’s where the danger lies. That is, among the efforts to reform, I think this also should be one of the main issues. That is, there is some mechanism, but there’s lack of implementation, which is happening. You know, I would love to continue this with you for another hour. Thank you so much. I wanted to ask you about Turkey’s prospects, which in my view, is practically zero, of becoming a member of the EU, especially [with] what Erdogan’s been doing for the last nearly eight, nine years now. So perhaps we’ll have a discussion on that some other time.

EF: Yes, yes. With pleasure.

ABM: But thank you so much. Thank you. And I hope you allow me hopefully next, [in the] future to have another conversation with you, specifically in relation with the EU, the United States, Turkey, and all of that, which would be something that I would love to hear your views on.

EF: With great pleasure.

ABM: Thank you. I thank you so much.

EF: Thank you very much. Thank you. All the best, bye.

Today’s guest is Artan Grubi, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Political System and Relations Between Communities in North Macedonia.

Artan Grubi was born in Skopje on June 7, 1977. He completed his primary and secondary education in Skopje, while he completed his higher education at the Faculty of Law “Justinian I” where he received the title of Journalist. He completed his postgraduate studies in Media and Communications at the Faculty of Law at the University “Cyril and Methodius” on the topic “The role of new media in societies in transition.”

Grubi is a doctoral student at the State University in Tirana, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, and is defending a paper on the topic: “The role of the media in civic participation in socio-political change.” At the State University of Tetova, Grubi teaches at the Faculty of Journalism in Theory and Communication, Media and Conflict, Interpersonal Communication and Public Relations. In the Parliamentary Elections in 2014, Grubi was elected a Member of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia. Grubi was re-elected Member of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia in the 2016 Parliamentary Elections.

Previously, Artan Grubi has four years of experience with international organizations in Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, the Netherlands and Kosovo, at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Skopje, NATO, The Hague Tribunal and US Assistance Agencies with various operational obligations. Artan Grubi has excellent knowledge of English, Macedonian, knowledge of French and elementary knowledge of Dutch, as well as the languages of the countries of the region.

In this episode, we discuss the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on North Macedonia, youth engagement, and the country’s accession process with the European Union.

Today’s guest is Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where she teaches in the Program in International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution and is Faculty Director of the Initiative on Religion, Law, and Diplomacy.

She is non-resident Senior Fellow and Co-Chair of the Working Group on Christians and Religious Pluralism in the Middle East, at the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, and was non-resident Senior Fellow in National Security and the Middle East, at the Center for American Progress. She is a Co-President of Religions for Peace. Prodromou served as Vice Chair and Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (2004-2012) and was a member of the U.S. Secretary of State’s Religion & Foreign Policy Working Group (2011-2015).

Her research interests focus on geopolitics and religion, with particular focus on the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Southeastern Europe. Her current research projects concentrate on cultural heritage and institutional religious freedom in Turkey and comparative context, as well as Eastern Orthodox Christianity and global public engagement. She is the faculty director for Fletcher’s executive education program for faith-based leadership. The author of multiple edited volumes and many publications in scholarly and policy journals, Prodromou is a frequent commentator and contributor in US and international media.

She holds a Ph.D. and an S.M. in political science from MIT, an M.A.L.D. in international relations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), and a B.A. in history and international relations from Tufts University.

In this episode, we discuss Turkey’s efforts to expand its influence in the Middle East and the Balkans, Turkey’s relationship with NATO and the West, and increasing authoritarianism in Turkey under Erdogan’s leadership. Please note this episode was recorded before the outbreak of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh.

My guest today is Anna Di Lellio, a sociologist and policy analyst with a broad range of interests and experience, from American politics and culture to nationalism, security and state building in the Balkans.

Her research and publications focus on Kosovo, where she worked for years, as spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Program during the 1999 NATO intervention; Media Commissioner under the aegis of the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); research analyst and advisor on the Kosovo Liberation Army program of reintegration for the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Mission in Kosovo; and political adviser to the Prime Minister. She is also the co-founder of the Kosovo Oral History Initiative (KOHI) in cooperation with the Kosova Women’s Network and she coordinates the project. KOHI is a multi- lingual and multi-media virtual archive of Kosovo history that is easily accessible to the public. It focuses on individual life stories that, since Kosovo’s history has either been unrecorded or trapped in ideological narratives, provide the micro-knowledge that maps and demystifies the construction of mythologizing identities that support those narratives. In January 2015, KOHI has been awarded a grant by the National Endowment for Democracy in support of the Initiative’s work on strengthening inter-ethnic understanding and cooperation, as well as promoting human rights education.

Professor Di Lellio teaches in New York at the Graduate Program in International Relations, The New School for Public Engagement, and at the International Relations Program of New York University. She is the editor of The Case for Kosova: Passage to Independence (Anthem, 2006), and the author of The Battle of Kosovo 1389: An Albanian Epic (I.B. Tauris, 2009). In 2015 she was awarded the Kosovo Presidential Medal of Merit by President Atifete Jahjaga for her contributions to the nation in the field of culture.

In this episode, we discuss the Kosovo-Serbia conflict: what the background of the conflict is, what could potentially come out of the US-brokered negotiations scheduled for later this week, and the prospect of both countries for joining the European Union.

Visar Duriqi is an investigative journalist from Kosovo. Born in 1987, he finished studies in Mass Communication at AAB University (2010). He has been working as a journalist since January of 2009, first with “Infopress” newspaper, then with “Zeri” newspaper, afterword with Kosovo Center for Investigative Journalism (Preportr.com), then with Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN/“Prishtina Insight”), and from 2014 with GazetaExpress.com, the biggest news portal in the Balkans, a liberal orientated media.

At GazetaExpress.com, he focused on investigating religious extremist groups and corruption.
At Zeri Newspaper, he focused on investigating stories related to the health system and also reported about the economy.

As part of Kosovo Center for Investigative Journalism, which is a project of Çohu!, an anticorruption NGO, he investigated public procurement, corruption going on in the energy sector, relations between donors to political campaigns and the public budget as well as reporting about the radicalization of Islam at a time when other media were not reporting on this topic.

At the BIRN and Pristina Insight, he published articles related to the economy and health system as well as organized crime and corruption, which involves groups and individuals related to politics. He also wrote articles related to religion, not necessary about radicalization but also covering some issues inside the Islamic community of Kosovo, such as the elections and the manipulation of this institution by a handful of people surrounding the Mufti of Kosovo, Mr. Naim Tërnava.

From March of 2015 to February of 2016, he was a guest of the Hamburg Foundation for Politically Persecuted People in Germany. During this time he also got a degree from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) in Security Governance and Conflict Resolution.

Since 2018 he has hosted a show called InDoks, which is produced by Insajderi LLC. In this show, he has investigated mostly organized crime and groups who on trial, but also has uncovered cases way before the justice system began any investigation against them, such as the case of Ismet Osmani (known as Curri, the guy with a half ear). Almost a year after InDoks broadcast a documentary about him, he was arrested for usury and InDoks produced another more detailed documentary about “Curri”, named “The Albanian Mob”.

Many of the shows broadcast by InDoks contain also information to expose corruption within the Kosovo Police and its relation to corruption and organized crime, as well as the involvement of some police officers in morbid crimes such as raping children, killing, and abuse of power.

The almost 100 shows broadcast by InDoks include documentaries about war crimes, misuses of trust by religious people through practicing exorcism, as well as investigating cases of people who were put in prison without evidence, or in some cases where evidence shows that they are completely innocent.

One of the cases where InDoks started to investigate way before the issue become a national debate is misuses in the process to verify veterans of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Six months before the indictment from the Prosecutor’s Office, which concluded that at least 20,000 Kosovars were listed as veterans of KLA without being veterans, InDoks broadcast the documentary named “Crime and Shame”, which came to this figure through an independent investigation.

InDoks has aired profiles of politicians, including a profile of Albin Kurti, the current Prime Minister of Kosovo, to show how much he has changed from an Idealist to a Machiavellist.

Lately, InDoks has focused on covering the pandemic situation in Kosovo caused by COVID19, where some of the shows have brought to the public’s attention the public budget being misused to make people rich in the name of buying medical supplies.

On the Issues Episode 71: Melissa J. Wilde

Melissa J. Wilde is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Her first book, Vatican II, won the Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Although most of Wilde’s research has focused on religious change, her most recent research—which she describes as the study of “complex religion”—focuses on what has not changed within American religion, in particular, the enduring ways that it intersects with race, class, and gender today. Her latest book is Birth Control Battles: How Race and Class Divided American Religion.

On the Issues Episode 70: Ahmet S. Yayla

Dr. Ahmet S. Yayla is Assistant Professor and Director of the Center for Homeland Security at DeSales University, where he teaches courses in cybercrime, homeland security, and terrorism and counterterrorism. He formerly served as a full professor and the chair of the Department of Sociology at Harran University in Turkey. He is a 20-year veteran of the counterterrorism and operations department in the Turkish National Police and served as the chief of counterterrorism in Sanliurfa, Turkey between 2010 and 2013. He has an MS in criminal justice and a Ph.D. in information science and criminal justice from the University of North Texas. Dr. Yayla’s unique position in counterterrorism rests upon his demonstrated mastery of policy, field operations and academic theory. He is an experienced practitioner in law enforcement and has advised senior government officials around the world during his career in counterterrorism and academia. Dr. Yayla has published both scholarly works and written or co-written numerous articles on mainstream news platforms related to counterterrorism and homeland security.

In this episode, they discuss corruption under Erdogan, Turkey’s role in Syria and the broader region, and Turkey’s prospects for the future.

On the Issues Episode 69: Sean Yom

Today’s guest is Sean Yom, Associate Professor of Political Science at Temple University and Senior Fellow in the Middle East Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He is a specialist on regimes and governance in the Middle East, especially in Arab monarchies like Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco. In this episode, they discuss the advantages and disadvantages of monarchies versus liberal democracies, American foreign policy in the Middle East, and the United States’ relationship with Israel.

Sean Yom is Associate Professor of Political Science at Temple University and Senior Fellow in the Middle East Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He is a specialist on regimes and governance in the Middle East, especially in Arab monarchies like Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco. His research engages topics of authoritarian politics, democratic reforms, institutional stability, and economic development in these countries, as well as their implications for US foreign policy. His publications include the books From Resilience to Revolution: How Foreign Interventions Destabilize the Middle East (Columbia University Press, 2016), as well as Government and Politics of the Middle East and North Africa, 9th edition (Routledge, 2020); articles in print journals like Comparative Political Studies, European Journal of International Relations, Studies in Comparative International Development, and Journal of Democracy; and contributions in online venues like Foreign Affairs, Middle East Eye, and the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage. He also advises country-level work with international NGOs, law firms, and sovereign clients. Education: A.B., Brown University (2003); PhD., Harvard University (2009).

On the Issues Episode 68: Sıtkı Özcan

Today’s guest is Sıtkı Özcan, a Turkish journalist based in the United States, where he writes for Kronos Haber. He is the former US Bureau Chief of Zaman Amerika, which was unable to remain open after the seizure of its sister publication Zaman in Turkey.

In this episode, we discuss the bilateral relations between the United States and Turkey, Turkey’s relations with its regional neighbors, and Turkish President Erdogan – his politics, his standing in Turkey, and his relations with other foreign leaders.

On the Issues Episode 67: Aaron David Miller

Today’s guest is Aaron David Miller, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and former State Department Middle East analyst and negotiator in Republican and Democratic administrations. In this episode, we discuss Gulliver’s Troubles—the assassination of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani, US involvement in Iraq and the broader Middle East, and the American role in Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Full Bio

Aaron David Miller is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, focusing on U.S. foreign policy. He has written five books, including his most recent, The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President (Palgrave, 2014) and The Much Too Promised Land: America’s Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace (Bantam, 2008). He received his PhD in Middle East and U.S. diplomatic history from the University of Michigan in 1977.

Between 1978 and 2003, Miller served at the State Department as an historian, analyst, negotiator, and advisor to Republican and Democratic secretaries of state, where he helped formulate U.S. policy on the Middle East and the Arab-Israel peace process, most recently as the senior advisor for Arab-Israeli negotiations. He also served as the deputy special Middle East coordinator for Arab-Israeli negotiations, senior member of the State Department’s policy planning staff, in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and in the office of the historian. He has received the department’s Distinguished, Superior, and Meritorious Honor Awards.

Miller is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and formerly served as resident scholar at the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies. He has been a featured presenter at the World Economic Forum and leading U.S. universities. Between 2003 and 2006 he served as president of Seeds of Peace, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering young leaders from regions of conflict with the leadership skills required to advance reconciliation and coexistence. From 2006 to 2019, Miller was a public policy scholar; vice president for new initiatives, and director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Miller is a global affairs analyst for CNN. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, Foreign Policy, USAToday, and CNN.com. He is a frequent commentator on NPR, BBC, and Sirius XM radio.

On the Issues Episode 66: Abdülhamit Bilici


Alon Ben-Meir:I am Alon Ben-Meir, and welcome to another episode of “On the Issues.” My guest today is Abdülhamit Bilici, a journalist and editor-in-chief of the Zaman newspaper until its seizure in 2016 by the Turkish government. In this episode, we discuss Erdogan’s initial rise to power and his current political prospects, the direction of Turkey under Erdogan, and what Turkey’s political future could look like.

You know, you’ve been in the thicket of the events going on in Turkey now under Erdogan. Where do you see this going?

Abdülhamit Bilici: Where Turkey is going?

ABM: Yeah, while he is still in power.

AB: I think his popularity and his power is declining. And of course, he did a lot of damage to democracy and to the society, to rule of law, press freedom. But he is not able to convince more and more people. So, the brutality and oppression is the only thing that he can depend to survive. And in addition to that, due to oppression, the economy is not doing well.

ABM: Yeah, yeah.

AB: So the oppression and economic failure makes him unpopular.

ABM: That’s right.

AB: And this gives an important chance for the opposition and for the people to see that the guy is not an option. Indeed, it is a recipe for failure. So because of these things, because of the oppression, because of the economic failures, he lost two very important cities.

ABM: In the last election, yeah.

AB: And now, because of that, his very important partners once are now separating from him and establishing their own parties. Both the former Prime Minister—

ABM: Yeah, Davutoglu.

AB: And Foreign Minister Davutoglu.

ABM: Yes.

AB: And the Finance Minister, Babacan, very prominent people of AKP; and Abdullah Gül not nominally, but behind the scenes. He also supports especially Babacan, as far as I know. So it shows that his damage, also huge, will be limited. So he will not shape the future of the country. This is how I see it.

ABM: Yeah. You know, the economy of course, was his strong, what really kept him going and kept him in power. And I agree with you, the weaker economy is his biggest problem. But as you see it, what’s the prospect for the Turkish economy to recover? I mean, what he’s doing now, he’s going all over, spending more money, he’s in Libya. He’s in the Balkans. He’s all over building mosques. And he is, I mean, the country, Turkey does not have the capital that he actually— So what’s the prospect for the economy to recover any time soon?

AB: So I think there is no way out without turning back to democracy, without turning back to rule of law. So with that, this is oppression, more authoritarianism, and more poverty. So Turkey is not like Russia or like Qatar, or Iran that has immense natural resources that you can build your authoritarianism or your autocracy on it.

ABM: Yeah.

AB: So this is a very important blessing for Turkey. If Turkey was rich in terms of oil and gas resources, this will be maybe very simple for Erdogan to establish a dictatorship, an authoritarian regime.

ABM: But he already established that.

AB: But—

ABM: I mean, not in name, but he’s a de facto authoritarian dictator. I mean, as far as we can see.

AB: Yeah. I mean, he— The most important thing that he is successful at is his ability to form alliances. So now he survives not because of his popularity, but because of his ability of forming alliances. You know, he formed an alliance with his ultimate enemies, the former deep state and some ultranationalists are indeed the brain of Erdogan. So when I see—I mean, he can continue for a while with building such coalitions, such alliances, and I don’t think that Erdogan has any ideology. His only ideology is to perpetuate himself in power. And he knows that he did a lot of crimes during especially his last six, seven years.

ABM: Yeah.

AB: So a peaceful transfer of power for him is not an option, which is very bad, the worst thing for a country and for Turkey. So which means, I mean, Turkey missed the opportunity of a peaceful transfer of power. It was, the last time it was in 2015, and then there was an election. And it was a just and free and fair election. And Erdogan’s party lost its majority.

ABM: Majority, and he called—

AB: And there was the possibility of forming a coalition. So this was the last time that Turkey could change democratically for the better. So Turkey lost that chance, and all the options are on the table. So a full-fledged dictatorship, I mean, a full-fledged internal conflict, a kind of explosion or implosion. So a lot of bad alternatives there, but not economically successful, prosperous. I mean, internationally respected way is not an option. This is this is how I see it.

ABM: Yes, so, in the next election is in 2023, I think. Right? That’s the presidential election. Do you see within the AK Party, those who still support him in the AK Party, does he have any successor? Some obvious person who might step in?

AB: Not, not—

ABM: He’s planning to run again in 2023. What do you think?

AB: Many people think that he prepares his son-in-law, who is now responsible for the economy. But he is one of the least popular figures in Turkey and even in AK Party.

ABM: Yes.

AB: So I don’t think that this is a legitimate way for Erdogan to feel secure. So, I mean, the most important way for Erdogan would be, when Abdullah Gül’s time was up as president, to swap the positions, so that would be the most secure way and a legitimate way for Erdogan to survive. But he missed that opportunity.

ABM: To swap, what position to swap?

AB: So he could go to a presidency and he could give the prime ministry to Gül. So this was the idea of Gül. Because of that, Gül did not object [to] a lot of his bad policies and I mean, accepted a lot of the worst things that he did. But this could be, I guess, the best option for Erdogan to continue and not to be touched, to secure his family. But he’s losing all those options. Now, his immediate friends are forming a party, and he’s behaving very badly against them. Look at what he’s doing to Davutoglu. Davutoglu had a university, I mean, he was one of the founders of this university, which is called Sehir University in Istanbul. Erdogan appointed trustees to the board and transferred the university to a public state university. And just this week, they appointed trustees to a foundation which was again founded by Davutoglu, who was very famous with these scholarly efforts and nothing to do with politics – so even the Erdogan-appointed trustees to the board of that little foundation. And so this means that Erdogan is not open to any option that he is out, but he could accept any transfer of power. So the situation for such a country is not that promising, of course. It’s not, it doesn’t make me optimistic.

ABM: Yeah, I mean, I’m still puzzled as to why he made this shift going back now five, six years ago when he undertook so many reforms, wonderful reforms, economic, social, political, move toward integration into the EU. I mean, we thought like what you’ve been saying all along, that Turkey would present a model of Islamic democracy, especially in the wake of the Arab Spring, and then everything turned. So what do you think his motivation was? Other than being just being a dictator, just being authoritarian, is there anything else from what you understand, of your understanding of what’s happening there?

AB: You know, as a political scientist, I’m a student of political science. I had not studied journalism, but political science. I know that there are a few rules in political science. One of them is power dynamics.

ABM: Yes, of course.

AB: So power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So it’s still, I am also trying to answer that return from a democratic path to an autocratic, dictatorial way. Why Erdogan did that? I mean, one of the very important reasons is the power. When you stay in power a long time, you lose your sense of self-control. So this is a very important dynamic. And when you stay in power, you get corrupted. So I think the main reason for Erdogan to switch from a democratic way to an authoritarian path is he is getting too corrupt to survive in a democratic free society. So there’s a very, very important and a good friend of mine who is also in jail now, Ahmet Altan. Ahmed Altan had a very nice elaborate one sentence summarizing this, the answer to your question. He said Erdogan decided or preferred to be billionaire. I mean, together to collect wealth and money to himself and to his family, to becoming a model leader of a Muslim democracy. So he preferred to obtain a lot of wealth, to be a nice, exemplary leader for the whole Muslim world. And when he preferred that way—so when you are corrupt, you don’t like to have an independent media. You don’t like to have an independent judiciary, and you don’t like a full-fledged democracy. So you need to protect yourself. So when we go to 2013, the corruption investigation, Erdogan in that day had two options: either to go to court and respond allegations. If he is guilty, go to jail. If not, continue. But the second option was to destroy democracy, the judiciary and free media, to sustain himself in power. So Erdogan picked the second option. But the core is the corruption. So when you are not corrupt, that corruption investigation would not happen, and you would not have those two dire options, you know, either to pick a democratic way or to go to jail.

ABM: So.

AB: So this is, I mean, so on top of them, you could have this ideological camouflage, ideological color of Islamism. I don’t think that Erdogan is interested sincerely in the idea of Islamism. So all the things are colored in my view.

ABM: Yeah, he’s basically using Islam as a tool by which to promote his agenda.

AB: Exactly. To fool people, especially the conservative people in Turkey and around the Muslim world.

ABM: Yeah.

AB: So that is the purpose of his all-Islamist agenda.

ABM: Yeah, you know, in the same token though, he’s still trying to push Turkey, you know, trying to as I see it, reviving elements of the Ottoman. That’s, you know, Davutoglu told me, I keep saying this going back more, a couple of years ago, more, he said you will see in 2023—before he left, more than three years ago, that Turkey will have the same influence as the Ottoman Empire had by 2023. So do you feel that Erdogan is actually seeking to further expand? He obviously is seeking to expand the influence of Turkey. How is that consistent with his personal ambition in terms of—?

AB: I think his foreign policy steps are very much related to his domestic politics. So his incursion to Syria is the result of his new alliance with the ultranationalists. His fight against Kurds is part of that, a result of that alliance. So his agenda of Ottomanism is also very similar to his misuse of Islam. You know, the idea, the Ottoman history is really popular in the minds of common Turkish people. So whoever says positive things about the revival of Ottoman Empire, or going back to these glorious days, you would get some credit for that. So Erdogan, I don’t think that is, has any idea or utopia of expanding Turkey’s influence. So he is using those steps for his domestic popularity. And when you look at the results, you’ll see that at the end, Turkey gains nothing but only loses. Look at, you know, Erdoğan promised to conquer Syria. So when we look at objectively what we had at the end of five, six, seven years, now, Erdogan, the whole Turkish policy in Syria is dependent on Russia.

ABM: Of course.

AB: And now Turkey was trying to get rid of the Assad regime. Now he became, Erdogan became the strongest ally of Assad’s allies. Turkey is standing with Russia and Iran.

ABM: And Iran, of course.

AB: Which is not a success. You know, when you make the full circle switch from the position that you had in the beginning to the opposite position, this is not a success.

ABM: Well, I mean, obviously, you know, he used to be very close with Bashar al-Assad. And then when—

AB: And what else Turkey got? Turkey got four million Syrian refugees and a lot of economic, I mean, opportunities. And that started from the day that Turkey, that Erdogan and Davutoglu indeed made the decision using Turkey’s soft power, from using Turkey’s soft power to Turkey’s hard power. You know, when Turkey was transforming economically, democratically, it was an important source of inspiration for the whole Muslim world.

ABM: That’s right.

AB: And it was really positive among the people and among the regimes. So look what happened when Turkey got away from this policy. Instead of that, focused on changing regimes, using military, supporting jihadis, et cetera, and taking sides in the internal conflicts of the Middle East. So from that day onward, Turkey is losing its popularity, losing its wealth, and losing its prestige. So this is, I don’t know. But since Erdoğan controls the media, 90 percent, 95 percent of the media, Erdogan is able to portray, to sell these great failures as if he is conquering the Middle East, as if he’s the sultan of the Middle East. So this is the problem. So, I mean, if there is a real media, they will show the Turkish people that the whole Syrian effort is a total catastrophe, not a success. And so the idea of going to Libya is just repeating the same failure.

ABM: Yeah, yeah. In Somalia, in Libya.

AB: In Somalia, everywhere. So, I believe that Turkey has an important role to play in the Middle East. It has a huge history. I am proud of, with a lot of parts of that history. But this is not the way. I mean, Turkey should first focus on its own transformation to make peace with itself, with the Kurds, with Alawites—

ABM: Of course.

AB: To be a good democracy and to be a successful economy, and then could have a positive impact on the region.

ABM: One final question, unfortunately, because we’re running a little late, where do you see this going? Like, if you were to project for the next two, three, four years, where do you see Turkey going?

AB: Yeah, I am very sure that there is no exit for that Turkey under that kind of an administration. So domestically, politically, economically, socially, everything will go and crash to a wall. I don’t know when this crash will happen, but there is no way out. So I hope that Turkey corrects this way and goes back to normal before it is too late and before a lot of destruction.

ABM: But who is going to do that?

AB: So, I mean, this is what makes me a little optimistic. The opposition is getting—

ABM: Getting strong.

AB: Getting stronger.

ABM: Yes.

AB: And the support to Erdogan is not increasing from 40 percent to 50 percent, from 50 percent to 60 percent. Erdogan never was able to convince 50 percent of the society. And his very stable 50 percent is decreasing every day because of these mistakes.

ABM: Yes.

AB: So Turkey, Turkish people will never accept a full-fledged dictatorship because Turkey had a huge experience of democracy, you know, for 200 years of modernization, westernization. So I think the economy will not help Erdogan. Turkey doesn’t have as I said, resources to finance a dictatorship. So finally, I think common sense will prevail. And a lot of those problems that we are witnessing in Turkey now, from economy to diplomacy, will be solved easily. If we turn from one-man rule to a legitimate rule of law and legitimate democracy, most of the problems will be solved easily. But, I am, I don’t think that Turkey is a hopeless and lost case.

ABM: No, I don’t think it’s hopeless, but it’s going to be a while. I mean, unless he loses, hopefully, the election in 2023. I mean, still at least there is an election. I mean, that’s what might save Turkey in 2023, if the opposition parties get stronger and be able to muster more than 50 percent.

AB: But the most important thing is to understand the dynamic that for the western world, for democratic world to support Turkey, Turkey’s democracy is not just a humanitarian cause. It is also a strategic cause. As Turkey loses, as Turkey drifts from democracy, it gets away from the democratic world. It gets away from NATO. It gets closer to Russia, closer to Iran and China.

ABM: But this is already happening.

AB: S-, but the important thing is to understand that the Turkish people still aspire for democracy, for human rights, for rule of law, for free press. And that should be supported not just for humanitarian reasons, but for strategic reasons as well. So there is an overlap of humanitarian causes and strategic causes. So Turkey should be a democracy in order for it to stay as a NATO member, as part of the European alliance, as part of the democratic world.

ABM: No, this is a given. The question is, how do you bring this about as long as he is in power? That’s not going to happen. And then unless you have a fair and free election, whenever that election is going to happen, 2023, whatever.

AB: So, I mean, at least the Western capitals should not continue legitimizing a brutal leader who is oppressing his people.

ABM: Well that’s a different subject because you know, the European community needs Turkey for different reasons. It’s the hub of energy, much of the energy from the Middle East is going through Turkey. I mean, this is a bridge. He’s got cards to play with.

AB: Yeah, Turkey is a good ticket.

ABM: And then he’s got the refugees. He can unleash them whenever, you know, if he wants to.

AB: But that that way of thinking brought us here.

ABM: Yeah.

AB: It doesn’t help.

ABM: No, I know, but this is—

AB: So Turkey was better five years ago, in terms of its international standing.

ABM: Of course.

AB: Today it’s worse. So that way of thinking is not correct, and that started by Obama and Merkel and it did not help.

ABM: You know, he obviously cannot live forever. So the changes are going to happen. The question is—

AB: And the change should be coming from within.

ABM: From within. That’s my point. So he’s not the outside, you know. He’s basically not paying any attention to the EU, is not paying— He needs the EU. He’s utilizing his, for example, membership in NATO, closeness of the EU, he’s utilizing it for his personal adv-, for Turkey’s advantages. But this is not going to last. I mean, the relationship today is broken. Every European person I speak with, they feel Turkey is pretty much a hopeless case unless Erdogan leaves first.

AB: Erdogan is using Turkey as a ticket for his survival.

ABM: Yeah. Yeah. Anyway, I wish we could continue this. But it was a great. I really think what you said was very important.

On the Issues Episode 65: Mehnaz Afridi

My guest today is Mehnaz M. Afridi, the director of Manhattan College Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center. The goal of the center is to “help eradicate human suffering, prejudice, and racism through education.” She is also an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College where she teaches Islam and the Holocaust. Her research primarily focuses on Islam and contemporary literature. She is also works on the intersections of Judaism and Islam. Her recent work has been on the Holocaust and the role of Muslims, antisemitism and Islamophobia. Mehnaz has taught at Antioch University, National University, American Intercontinental University and Loyola Marymount University. She received her PhD in Islam and Religious Studies from the University of South Africa and master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Syracuse University.3 In 2006, she taught in Rome and participated in a seminar sponsored by the National Endowment of Humanities on how Muslims and Jews influenced and Italian Culture in Venice, Italy. She has been invited by the University of Munich to present her work on Egypt: A Nexus of Anti-Semitism and has published an article entitled Sacred Tropes: The Qur’an Cruel or Compassionate, published by Brill. She is the author of The Shoah Through Muslim Eyes.

In today’s episode, we discuss the misperception of the relationship between Jews and Muslims, what approaches can be taken to create reconciliation between Israelis and Arabs, the rise of antisemitism in the United States, and the future of religious coexistence.

On the Issues Episode 64: David Makovsky

David Makovsky is the Ziegler distinguished fellow at The Washington Institute and director of the Project on Arab-Israel Relations. He is also an adjunct professor in Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). In 2013-2014, he worked in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of State, serving as a senior advisor to the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations.

Author of numerous Washington Institute monographs and essays on issues related to the Middle East Peace Process and the Arab-Israeli conflict, he is also coauthor, with Dennis Ross, of the 2019 book Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny (PublicAffairs) and the 2009 Washington Post bestseller Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East (Viking/Penguin). His 2017 interactive mapping project, “Settlements and Solutions,” is designed to help users discover for themselves whether a two-state solution is still viable. His 2011 maps on alternative territorial solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were reprinted by the New York Times in the paper’s first interactive treatment of an op-ed. His widely acclaimed September 2012 New Yorker essay, “The Silent Strike,” focused on the U.S.-Israel dynamics leading up to the 2007 Israeli attack on Syrian nuclear facilities. He is also the host of the Washington Institute’s podcast Decision Points: The U.S.-Israel Relationship. The podcast is both a history lesson, a biography of the key Israelis and Americans that shaped the modern bond between the two nations, and a quest to understand how these decision points continue to reverberate today.

Mr. Makovsky is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. His commentary on the peace process and the Arab-Israeli conflict has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, Chicago Tribune, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and National Interest. He appears frequently in the media to comment on Arab-Israeli affairs, including PBS NewsHour.

He has testified before the full U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the full U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, and on multiple occasions before the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Middle East Subcommittee.

In last several years, he has made over 120 visits to American college campuses to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has done a TEDx talk on this issue for the college audience.

Before joining The Washington Institute, Mr. Makovsky was an award-winning journalist who covered the peace process from 1989 to 2000. He is the former executive editor of the Jerusalem Post, was diplomatic correspondent for Israel’s leading daily, Haaretz, and is a former contributing editor to U.S. News and World Report. He served for eleven years as that magazine’s special Jerusalem correspondent. He was awarded the National Press Club’s 1994 Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence for a cover story on PLO finances that he cowrote for the magazine.

In July 1994, as a result of personal intervention by then Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Mr. Makovsky became the first journalist writing for an Israeli publication to visit Damascus. In total, he has made five trips to Syria, the most recent in December 1999 when he accompanied then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In March 1995, with assistance from U.S. officials, Mr. Makovsky was given unprecedented permission to file reports from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for an Israeli publication.

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Mr. Makovsky received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and a master’s degree in Middle East studies from Harvard University.

On the Issues Episode 63: Elie Friedman

Dr. Elie Friedman is Director of the Center for Strategic Dialogue at Netanya Academic College and a researcher of communications and discourse with an emphasis on conflict studies and public diplomacy. Through his various roles at the center, he has a wealth of experience managing the various projects, including grant writing, reporting, budget management, and coordination with strategic partners and international participants in our events. Dr. Friedman completed his doctorate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Communications department and a post-doctorate at Lancaster University. He has published widely in numerous academic journals and recently published his first monograph at Routledge Academic Press, along with Prof. Dalia Gavriely-Nuri, entitled Israeli Discourse and the West Bank: Dialectics of Normalization and Estrangement.

In today’s episode, we discuss the upcoming Israeli elections and the potential for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On the Issues Episode 62: Govind Dwivedi

Today’s guest is Govind Dwivedi. Major General G G Dwivedi retired as an Assistant Chief Integrated Defence Staff (strategic) in 2009, after 38 years of distinguished service in the Indian Army (Infantry). A Veteran of the Bangladesh War in 1971, he later commanded unit/formations in intense operational environment; as well as held important staff, instructional and foreign assignments.

A graduate of National Defence Academy Kharkvasla, he holds M Sc, MBA, M.Phil (double) in Defence & Strategic Studies from Madras University and a Ph.D. in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Besides Interpretership in Chinese from the School of Foreign Languages, he obtained ‘Art & Practice of Leadership Development’ and Senior Executives Programme in National/International Security from Harvard Kennedy School, USA. An alumnus of National Defence College, he has been faculty at Indian Military Academy Dehradun and Defence Services Staff College Wellington; served as Defence Attaché in China, Mongolia, and North Korea. He was instrumental in the formulation of numerous concept papers and doctrines as the Head of Doctrine/Strategic Branches.

From 2013-17, he was a Professor of International Relations at Aligarh University, a central university, and was instrumental in establishing the new Faculty of International Studies. Currently he is a Visiting Faculty at Foreign Services Institute Delhi, Panjab University Chandigarh and North Cap University, Gurgaon, and is a resource person for UGC HRD Centers of Leading Central Universities.

He has authored/edited five books; published over 50 articles including book chapters on Geo Strategy, National Security and Leadership, and over 70 short pieces in the leading professional journals and national dailies. A member of renowned think tanks, he regularly guest speaks at premier ‘Centers of Excellence’ both in India and abroad and appears frequently on national television as a panelist.

In today’s episode, we discuss relations between India and China, Kashmir, and the conflict between India and Pakistan over that region.


ABM:I am Alon Ben-Meir, and welcome to another episode of “On the Issues”. My guest today is Govind Dwivedi, a retired Major General in the Indian Army and a professor of International Relations. In today’s episode, we discuss relations between India and China, Kashmir, and the conflict between India and Pakistan over that region. First of all, thank you for taking the time, and I know this was somewhat a surprise.

GD: That’s ok.

ABM: But we were talking before a little bit about China and India. And my question to you was about what sort of bilateral relations they have. And you indicated a number of conflicts between the two sides. Not necessarily, obviously they are not violent conflicts, but nevertheless, they have a number of conflicts. Can you tell me what how do you, what are these conflicts, and perhaps we can take it from there and see how they may impact or are impacting the region, and what is the prospect for the future.

GD: Firstly, it’s my pleasure to be on the podcast and share some of my perceptions on India-China relations. Let me start with first a very simple statement, that the relations between India and China are very complex and they cannot be seen or visualized from one single lens. You have to view the relations from multiple lenses. Firstly, I’d like to go back a little bit into history. Historically, what the Chinese scholars say is that in the last 2,000 years or two millenniums, India and China had conflict, relations for a very small timeframe, a few years out of these two millenniums. And I’d like to bring to your notice something very interesting. You know Henry Kissinger, he had written a book, a very fine book on China, and he starts his first chapter of it in narration of Mao Zedong talking to his generals just before the ‘62 war. And he says that India and China have fought two wars before this, and one was sometime during Tang Dynasty in the seventh century A.D., the year about 648. At that time there was a king in India, King Harsha, and when he died there was a pure sense that one of the Chinese generals got humiliated. And he along with Nepalese forces then sat like this, you know the successor of Harsha, who was a renegade sort-of a personality. And the second time was seven hundred years later, when Timurlane ransacked Delhi and killed more than a hundred thousand people. So historically, India and China has never had a conflict, until Tibet got annexed by China, and China and India got the border— I mean, they became neighbors. Otherwise, Tibet was always the buffer.

ABM: That’s right.

GD: So that is one historical factor which led to the territorial dispute. So this is the historical part. Now we come to political part. India got independence in 1947, and Chinese revolution thirty-five in 1949. It’s just two years separation.

ABM: Two years apart. Yes.

GD: But the whole, you know, you can say the genesis and the political system that emerged are totally diametrically opposite.

ABM: The opposite, yes.

GD: Yeah. One is the communists. And second is the secular democratic country. And along with that came the personalities. Because when you see India-China relations, you cannot wish away the personalities. And to start with, the initial two decades were dominated by Mao Zedong and Nehru. And they somehow had the personality issue and that was one of the arenas which led to the ‘62 conflict. And of course you know Mao was under tremendous pressure after the Great Leap Forward went awry, and he had to divert attention outside the inner homeland. And therefore, one of the ways we could do that was to lock horns with India. So this is the political spectrum. Now third, let’s come to the national interest. Chinese national interests I think have been very well articulated in very clear terms, especially by the present leader Xi Jinping. He expects China to be a superpower by 2049 or 2050. And superpower means that they may be at best willing to share power with America, like so it could be in some, bipolar world. Preferably they’d like to be the unipolar world, at the same time they like to have a unipolar Asia. In Asia they’d like, I mean the Chinese will not like any rival, either Japan or India. So it is a bipolar world, unipolar Asia. Now that is one of their interests. Secondly, a strategic interest, the same space. Indian Ocean, Indo-Pacific, sea lanes, resources, markets. They are all, you know, there’s a sort of competition for these resources. And finally, I would say that border dispute somehow has overshadowed a lot of other things. But surprisingly, the trade has not gotten [unclear] because of these disputes. Today India-China trade is about 80 billion dollars, or it is grossly in favor of China. I mean, India had a deficit trade deficit of 40 to 50 billion dollars. So if I summarize, I think India-China relations are very complex and they all end up moving between two spectrums – conflict and cooperation. So between this broadband, how you are able to manage the relationship is actually the political acumen of leadership on both sides.

ABM: Yeah, so basically, absolutely. I mean, I think they know that it is going to be very difficult if possible at all to resolve any of these conflicts. Perhaps we can talk a little bit about the trade, but certainly territorial conflict is there and may very well be there for a long time, because both have, they feel they have a very legitimate claim.

GD: Right.

ABM: This, but they are not prepared however to go to war in order to resolve any political, territorial conflicts, nor are they prepared to go to war to reconcile their political differences. One is a democracy, the other one is a dictatorship, and they basically agree to reconcile with one another on this particular issue. Then comes as you mentioned the trade. There is a trade deficit. We have a similar situation now with the United States versus China. That is, Trump also complained that we have a deficit of some over a couple hundred billion dollars in trade with China, and that may be— Now, how do you see that? I want to go to the fourth point, that is a geostrategic concern, interest. Certainly China has greater ambition in terms of geostrategic control over that entire region. I don’t think India has the same kind of ambition. Do you agree with me on that?

GD: Well I think gradually India is enlarging its strategic space. If not a global power, India would like to be a regional power, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. It would like to have its own area, first place.

ABM: But it doesn’t have the ambition to control other countries in the region.

GD: Absolutely, it doesn’t have any hegemonic ambition.

ABM: The hegemonic ambition. That’s my point. But China does.

GD: Yes, absolutely.

ABM: China does, and that is a big difference between the two. But I think even that may not end up in a violent conflict, because they know that there is no solution can be achieved through war. They have settled on that, no matter how profound these conflicts are. Do you agree that they have settled on one thing? War is never going to provide a solution to any of this, so you might as well manage the conflict.

GD: Absolutely. As a military man I can sort of say with a certain degree of authority that we go to war for a certain specific aim and objective. And wars are fought for victory. You never fight a war to get into stalemate or not achieve your objectives. In this case, the balance of forces is such that decisive victory is not possible.

ABM: Exactly. Exactly.

GD: And therefore, fighting a war will be futile. But at the same time I’ll have it, I like to flag one caveat: the small skirmishes now cannot be ruled out, like a standoff like Doklam.

ABM: Yeah, yeah.

GD: These sort of standoffs like can take place, but definitely they will not mushroom into a major conflict. They’ll be very, very localized, tactical actions which is not, they may have.

ABM: But it is limited to local areas, and a decision made by low-level, low-ranking individuals that— That is not a national policy, that is—

GD: Yeah. They may have a strategy competition [unclear], but it will be very restricted and very localized.

ABM: Outside this, I want ask this question. Now there is, the Chinese are persecuting much of the Muslim community in China in recent weeks, in recent months. And there’s also a significant Muslim community in India as well. Some 80 million Muslims in India? Or more like 100?

GD: India has 14 percent population of Muslims and that—

ABM: So that translates to 150 million.

GD: Yeah, about 160, 150 million.

ABM: So it’s very significant.

GD: India has the second-highest population of Muslim after Indonesia.

ABM: After Indonesia. Well that’s, this is amazing. Now tell me. I know there is a higher level of tolerance of Indian toward the Muslim than the Chinese toward the Muslims. Am I right about that?

GD: Well there’s no comparison because India is a secular country. And you’ll be surprised; when India got partitioned, Pakistan was created on one principle that as a Muslim nation—

ABM: Yes.

GD: —they can always prosper and try better than in a secular country. And that time, all this large population of Muslims did not go to Pakistan. They chose to stay in India.

ABM: They chose to stay in India, yes.

GD: Voluntarily. And in India, every religion has equal rights. You’d be surprised that we had two Muslim presidents of our country who were Muslims, as presidents. So therefore, there’s no prosecution of minorities, in fact in India minorities are given even greater opportunity than majority [unclear].

ABM: Yeah. No, I agree with you.

GD: So India is a secular country. Now China is an authoritarian and a communist country, which does not tolerate any religion.

ABM: My question. Yeah.

GD: Yeah. So therefore I’m coming to that, coming to your pointed question. Today if you see China’s threat, China’s threats are more internal than external. Externally Chinese have no threats, really speaking.

ABM: That is true.

GD: Unless they actually want to actually buy one. But internally, China has lot of problems. And some of the problems are internal unrest. Chinese do not, you know Chinese leadership does not tolerate any unrest, any defiance, or even religious freedom. Even the Christians, they have to go and pray in very well designated churches or areas.

ABM: Yeah.

GD: And the Chinese threat today, internal threat is, there are three outlying regions with the perceived threat: Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia. Now Tibet, they have been able to somehow control it well because Buddhists basically are passive people and the Dalai Lama is outside. But Xinjiang, they have not been able to really get control despite the fact that they have built, had good relations with Pakistan to ensure that no follower of Muslim radicals or Muslim terrorism comes in. They created the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to put all the Turkistan movement spilling over to Xinjiang. So therefore, it is seen as a security threat, that this can be a separatist movement or this can be a movement which will, can seek independence. And as I said, Chinese internal threat, the Chinese leadership are very sensitive. So they are seeing Uighur or Xinjiang as an internal threat, and because of that they have tried to steamroll, their policy is steamroll policy that puts down all dissent with a heavy hand, and therefore they have gone into a number of measures they are taking. They have gone into re-education programs, they have gone into separating the radical people from the normal people, they have almost quarantined the complete region.

ABM: Right.

GD: And so these are the measures. If you see, they are basically followed of Chinese fear of psychosis, of separatism breeding in Xinjiang.

ABM: But initially, what I wanted to ask you, that is, what I wanted to know from your perspective. Here you have two Muslim communities, basically neighbors. One is in India, which like you said there is hardly any discrimination against Muslims in India. Whereas China has basically, it’s cracking down on the Muslim community.

GD: Because religion is not actually part of the—

ABM: Does that difference between the two sides, does that have any effect on one or the other? Or it’s a completely separate issue?

GD: Well there are two things you can look at in a way. Like if India has given, refused to the Dalai Lama to practice religion. Now that is not being seen as a very positive act by Chinese, because in their perception, religion has no place in Communist ideology. So if you see from the religion point of view, well there’ll be a difference. But the Chinese are also worried about terrorism. Now when it comes to terrorism, they view these Uighurs as terrorists, but then they have also their own perception of terrorism. While they may not view you know, let’s say Jaesh al-Muhammad as a terrorist organization in the same lens as they view Uighur. That’s why when [unclear] had to be declared as a terrorist, they kept on putting the technical hold four times in the U.N. So therefore they are worried about the word terrorism as it relates, and as it affects their internal stability.

ABM: I see. Now how do you see the future for both India and China, given the four different areas of conflict that you talked about? There is this—no one is expecting to go to war against one another. That is a given. Now, given this fact that neither wants a war, what sort of geostrategic approaches are they taking in order each to improve their position, short of going to war because war does not serve either side’s interest whatsoever. Not now, not in the foreseeable future. But certainly they want to improve their position vis-à-vis one another. Let’s take it back to the trade. India has suffered from 50, like you said, 48 to 50 billion dollars of trade. To what extent, what effort is being made to rectify that?

GD: I think India-China relations cannot be seen as I said from the one lens. They’ll be issue based. Like—

ABM: Well this is one issue based.

GD: Yeah. So they’ll be issue-based. There the issues, they have convergence. They like to cooperate, issues where there are divergence. They could be in confrontation mode. Right. So now where their interests are not coinciding, let’s say that today if America is predominantly in the Indian Ocean region, China would like to view India so that India does not go into the [unclear], you know.

ABM: Yes, yes

GD: Right? So they like to balance it out, and the Chinese are very good at it, let me tell you. If you see the Western Pacific, they have already showed that Japan, Korea, and the USA are never on the same page. They’ll always throw a spanner in such a way that they don’t have one integrated. Even in the G7 today, Italy has gone with Xi Jinping on the BRI. So even in G7, they have been able to bring any crack. So I think how Chinese will play out and how India will play out, I’ll give you two perceptions. Chinese efforts will always be that if India is not friendly, it should never be an enemy.

ABM: Yeah, that’s the motto. Absolutely, yeah.

GD: So they’ll not like to have a hostile India if not a friendly India – that is, India joining the [quad], or India joining an Opposite camp, India getting into Alliance. They will not like to do that so they’ll only balance out, that let India be either neutral or friendly, but not hostile. First point. Second point is, they will pursue their interest only to that extent which does not hurt India too deeply, that India is forced to go into the other side.

ABM: To react, yes.

GD: They’ll always keep it, you know, in a manageable limit. But yet they’ll always keep India under pressure. But there, the Chinese policy is that adversaries should be always kept on the tenterhooks, and that’s how their philosophy works. As far as India is concerned, India also feels that being hostile to China doesn’t serve its purpose, because if it cannot be friend, we should not be enemy.

ABM: Enemies, that’s right, yeah.

GD: And if we cannot have very healthy relations, at least we should be able to manage our relations, have a functional relationship. And I would call it cooperative competition.

ABM: Yeah but isn’t this, the way I see it is that there is a deliberate effort by China, deliberate effort by China not to resolve these issues. That is, they want to maintain that kind of level of—

GD: Pressure, as I said.

ABM: Of tension and pressure.

GD: Yes.

ABM: Because it serves their domestic purposes.

GD: Absolutely, because—

ABM: And that’s the point.

GD: That they would like to keep this pot boiling.

ABM: Yeah.

GD: But yet not busted.

ABM: Not busted.

GD: Yeah.

ABM: That’s right. Because that’s, yeah.

GD: Yeah. Because the main Chinese issue is basically Tibet. Tibet is related to the Dalai Lama. Chinese, one of the grouses [over the] Dalai Lama, having refuge in India. Secondly of course is the territorial dispute. Now that dispute now primarily [is related to a natural] position Tibet largely what China wanted in the northern area, the [unclear] area they have taken, because they would build a Western highway. So they are no more interested in any territory. And Tibet is very important for China for the water resources. Tibet is the like water tank of the world. All the major rivers are emanating from it. It has such a large glaciated coverage. And China has a deficit in water, especially in northern China. And therefore they like to have full control of the water resources, and also as I said, the China very, very important periphery, whether Xinjiang or Tibet or Inner Mongolia, because that is their sign of instability and the Chinese communist government cannot actually accept any kind of instability or any kind of threat to communism.

ABM: Now to what extent do you feel that China is working hard to— You see, the relationship between the— bilateral relationship between India and the United States has been improving in the last 10, 15 years.

GD: Sure, last two decades.

ABM: Yeah, last two decades it’s been improving. And obviously geo-strategically speaking it isn’t, China does not want to see India to be too closely aligned with the United States.

GD: Right.

ABM: And from, as you see it, are they doing anything to impede further closeness between India and the United States?

GD: Absolutely.

ABM: What, can you give me a few examples?

GD: I’ll give you a couple of examples.

ABM: Yes.

GD: Firstly, Shanghai Cooperation Organization. They have India for membership along with Pakistan. So they’re the one only forum where actually the Chinese are predominantly controlling this organization, like so we are into that, some kind of organization, you know, spectrum along with China. Secondly, you know after Doklam they had Wuhan Summit that was a bilateral between Mr. Xi, Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi. So this, I mean this one on one—

ABM: Right.

GD: Which is not actually very common with the Chinese. And they spent almost 36 hours and had six meetings. And right now at a SCO meeting at Bishkek, the Chinese president has accepted to come to India for a similar bilateral summit in India. So therefore, these types of dialogue between the two, topmost leaders also gives an indication that their desire to have a bilateral functional relationship that resolves conflict, build up personal bonhomie and you know, as personalities count a lot. Xi Jinping is lifelong president and I’m sure he is going to bat through, till about 2035 if not later. And Mr. Modi also got another five years. This means ten years of their interaction. Definitely will be certain moral foundation. And I’m sure it’ll lead to at least managing relations from not actually wading into conflict, but more into the cooperation mode.

ABM: Yeah, greater, I think you’re right. There’d be greater cooperation because it does – I mean they both now obviously are benefiting from the current condition.

GD: Right.

ABM: If you improve it up to a point, but not solve the problem completely.

GD: Manage the problem—

ABM: Manage it.

GD: But not solve it.

ABM: Manage it, and try to improve it without necessarily solving it.

GD: Absolutely.

ABM: I want to just to switch for a moment to the Kashmir, India-Kashmir conflict. Well this has been going from the time India and Pakistan got their independence.

GD: Right.

ABM: In the wake of the British withdrawal. And to this day there is no solution in sight to the Kashmir problem. Where do you see that going?

GD: Actually again, a little historical background that India was, it is sort of a, you could say not a nation state but it was an entity with a number of rulers, then kingdoms. So they’ll all be given choice to join one or the other. And the Kashmir king, who was a Hindu king, he acceded to India. Now that’s where the start point is. But it is not acceptable to Pakistan because Kashmir was a Muslim-predominant state. So they tried to grab it and they sent the forces, and that’s where the problem started. Now Kashmir issue also, there is some other ignorance about this. Jammu and Kashmir has three parts. One is Jammu region, which is predominantly Hindu. Second is Kashmir Valley, which is predominantly Muslim. And third is Ladakh, which is predominantly Buddhist. So when you look at Jammu and Kashmir as a state, there’s no problem in Hindu region, that is Jammu region. There’s no problem in Ladakh region, Buddhist region. There’s only problem in Kashmir region, valley region. The Valley has six districts, and in those six districts also the problem is in three districts or two and half distinct. So when we talk of Kashmir problem, the problem is within two and half districts. It’s not in the whole of Kashmir. There are Jammu and Kashmir, which is 22 districts, and India has 640 districts. So the problem is in two and half districts. It’s a very, very small local area which has a problem. And this problem primarily was more of a political problem, because within the political parties they wanted to actually have their own way, and therefore this led to a lot of unrest among the young people. And Pakistan took advantage to start a proxy war by trying to lure the young people, all the people who are dissatisfied with the political set up. And that’s where the problems started. But the problem basically is in two and half districts. And Pakistan has got defeated four times against India. So they found this proxy war or cross-border terrorism as one of the strategies to keep India engaged, bleed India, that what they call it, bleeding by a thousand cuts.

ABM: Yeah, but they have not really been successful.

GD: But they have not been successful. And in fact today, Pakistan is a victim of its own deeds because all these people from Taliban, al-Qaida, now they are actually causing more problems within Pakistan—

ABM: Right.

GD: Than Pakistan is able to cause to India. And lastly, last instance which happened in Pulwama, when Jaesh al-Muhammad, you know, they killed 40 of us, RPF paramilitary forces, and then India hit at Balakot. After that Pakistan got shaken up. A lot of pressure came on Pakistan from America, from Saudi Arabia, from the United Arab Emirates, that you, please tone down, because this can blow up, this can lead to a serious situation. And Mr. Modi’s policy had been that there’ll be no tolerance towards terrorism. So far, we have been only fighting terrorism within our own territory. But he said no, we’ll now fight it across. So after that I think Pakistan is on cautious mode. And to my mind, this problem cannot be resolved for a simple reason that it is at the heart of Pakistan identity that all Muslim areas should be with Pakistan. And the second very important point is that Pakistan sees India as a rival. Kashmir is one of the areas where they can have a situation going. But otherwise, Pakistan is hand tied with India. Their whole mindset is against India and they see India as their rival, as a threat. But that is only a virtual reality. It’s not the actual reality.

ABM: Yeah, I mean because what is a prospect in fact that Pakistan can prevail, and now especially in the wake of developing their nuclear weapons? So by and lar-, I mean, since that, all these conventional wars that took place, three times?

GD: Four.

ABM: Four times since they both declared or acquired nuclear weapons, there was no—

GD: Well, we had a Kargil conflict, but that was limited.

ABM: But not, it was very limited because they were concerned that it could escalate. But now given that both are nuclear powers, the dispute over Kashmir remains the same thing. Where that’s going to go at this point?

GD: Well, there are three possible options. One is the status quo is maintained and Pakistan stops cross-border terrorism.

ABM: Stop here for a second. Is the status quo from your perspective beneficial to whom? To either or both or none?

GD: Yeah. The status quo for the time being is beneficial to both because it’ll tone down the tension.


GD: It’ll bring down the level of animosity.

ABM: Okay.

GD: And so if you freeze the issue for the time being and make the line of control more peaceful, that is their interim solution.

ABM: OK, going—

GD: The second solution is, Pakistan continues with what it is doing. Now that is going to be responded to very strongly because the cross-border terrorism is not going to work out, at least with the new government. And the third possible solution is the long term solution where the certain give and take is done and the border is resolved, means that once the sort of thought is, with little adjustment, what is Pakistan remains with Pakistan, what is with India remains with India.

ABM: But is there a clear delineation, demographically speaking in Kashmir, where you can take part of Kashmir which is predominantly Muslim to become part of Pakistan.

GD: No, but as I said, Kashmir has 22 districts and only six districts are where the Muslim predomination is there. Jammu region is Hindu—

ABM: But is it a contiguous landmass?

GD: Yeah.

ABM: Is it contiguous?

GD: Entirely contiguous.

ABM: And it is adjacent to Pakistan?

GD: Yeah, yes.

ABM: So was there any discussion, because to my knowledge there were some discussions in the past about getting this district to become part of Pakistan.

GD: I’m not aware of that, because what Pakistan had claimed is the whole region. And what India claims is Pakistan occupied Kashmir, and there is a line of control which actually divides the two sides. But I have an understanding that at some point of time there was aloud thinking when Musharraf had come to India for the Agra summit that well, you can maintain the status quo and then have a loose type of border where the India can be greater interaction between the two sides. And—

ABM: And was there any discussion of allowing say Pakistan to become non-aligned independent state from either side?

GD: No, no, no. Pakistan has no such. Pakistan had been harping on, that there should be plebiscite, but that conditions are no more there because that was when—

ABM: So the discussion that we’ve been hearing before about potentially getting Kashmir to become an independent state from both sides, it’s not in the cards anymore.

GD: It is never. India [unclear] that Kashmir is our part because it acceded to India, and Pakistan grabbed it by force. India claims the full Kashmir. Well Pakistan is hopping on the plebiscite because that doesn’t hold good the condition where that both sides should withdraw and the same status should be maintained. Now there’s so many demographic changes that are taking place that that doesn’t hold good. And one of the possible solutions was that we can make the line of control a de facto border. But that has not been India’s stand as yet. India’s stand is that Kashmir is part of India because it acceded, and that was how the Indian state was created, when all the kingdoms and all the princes and states, they decided to join one or the other.

ABM: Yeah. Well we’re going to have to live I guess with that conflict for a while.

GD: Yeah, I think there’s no near-term solution to that. The only thing is, it can be managed and the level of animosity can be decreased by cooling off the line of control and hope wisdom prevails on Pakistan to stop this cross-border terrorism, and that can actually bring some kind of semblance of normalcy for the time being.

ABM: Now, just a final question. Is there any kind of peaceful bilateral relations between Pakistan and India on any other level?

GD: Well, we have normal diplomatic relations.

ABM: There is diplomatic relations.

GD: We have embassies, we have an ambassador. That type of—but there has been no dialogue between the heads of the state after this Pulwama and Balakot, because the present government has stated that terrorism and talks cannot go together.

ABM: Yeah. Well I mean this is obviously, this kind of status quo is not limited to Kashmir. I think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not d-, many people are now thinking that the conflict between the two sides cannot be resolved, and they are going to have to live with some kind of managing the conflict. And but you see Kashmir.

GD: Because again, the Palestine issue is totally a different issue.

ABM: Completely different, in terms of no solution.

GD: No.

ABM: That is no, neither. Many Israelis today believe there is no solution. And so I’m saying you see that the same situation in Kashmir—

GD: No, solution is a—

ABM: Between the two sides.

GD: Solution, as I said that firstly, the problem can be managed, provided Pakistan stops cross-border terrorism and then comes for the talks. But if they keep terrorism on one end and try to talk at the other end, that is not acceptable. That is, this condition, which I think the Indian government has laid. Now you stop terrorism and we’ll come to talk and get some solution. And secondly, our stance is that the solution is only through talking and negotiation, and war is not the option.

ABM: Yeah, but when you, I just want to verify this: when you talk, let’s talk; talk about what?

GD: You talk about the number of things that can be talked about. Firstly is to stabilize the line of control, bring more normalcy, stop shooting across the line of control like what we call it the—

ABM: But the area, still Kashmir is still there.

GD: Yeah. But confidence-building measures between the two sides, you know that is the prelude to any sort of talks that you set a stage, you make the environment conducive. But it cannot happen that when one side is pushing terrorism, one side is engaged in proxy war. You have to accept this stage. So I think the prelude is bringing normalcy around the line of control, confidence-building measures, and then the political process can also start. And then there can be a number of ways which again can be talked through. And solutions to such problems has to be out-of-the-box. Generally, there are no stated positions for any solution.

ABM: Well thank you. I mean, we can continue this conversation for a while. I appreciate that.

On the Issues Episode 61: Marc Pierini

Marc Pierini is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, where his research focuses on developments in the Middle East and Turkey from a European perspective.

Pierini was a career EU diplomat from December 1976 to April 2012. He was EU ambassador and head of delegation to Turkey (2006–2011) and ambassador to Tunisia and Libya (2002–2006), Syria (1998–2002), and Morocco (1991–1995). He also served as the first coordinator for the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, or the Barcelona Process, from 1995 to 1998 and was the main negotiator for the release of the Bulgarian hostages from Libya from 2004 to 2007.

Pierini served as counselor in the cabinet of two European commissioners: Claude Cheysson, from 1979 to 1981, and Abel Matutes, from 1989 to 1991. He has published three essays in French: “Le prix de la liberté,” “Télégrammes diplomatiques,” and “Où va la Turquie?.”

Pierini is a member of the International Council of the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations in Marseille.

In this episode, we go in-depth on Turkey, Erdogan’s political future, Turkey’s relations with Europe and the West, and the future of Turkey within NATO.

On the Issues Episode 60: Uk Lushi

Uk Lushi is an Albanian-American author and investor. He has worked for several global corporations and investment companies such as General Electric, Dynamic Credit Partners and IntTra Group.

His articles and opinions have been published in the US, Germany, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania. Lushi holds a BA in Mathematics and Economics from Columbia University in New York City.

On the Issues Episode 59: Maha Hosain Aziz

Dr Maha Hosain Aziz is an NYU professor (MA IR Program), blogger and consultant focused on global risk & prediction. She has been called a “global thinker to watch” by Dr Nouriel Roubini for her first book Future World Order; Dr Ian Bremmer and Kishore Mahbubani call her book a “must-read.” Dr Aziz is also a visiting fellow at the LSE’s Institute of Global Affairs and a cartoonist who created the award-winning 2016 political comic book, The Global Kid (all sales to education nonprofits), which is being adapted into a political graphic novel. She is a Jordanian-born Pakistani who grew up in the Middle East (Jordan, Saudi Arabia), Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia), Europe (UK, Greece) and the US. And she is a social scientist trained at Brown (BA), Columbia (MA) and the LSE (MSc, PhD).

In this episode, we discuss the global rise of nationalism, citizen-led movements, and the changing nature of global leadership.

On the Issues Episode 58: William Rosenberg

William L. Rosenberg, PhD, is a Professor of Political Science at Drexel University.

Rosenberg is the author of over 80 articles, papers and technical reports. He is a co-author of two books related to public opinion and public policy, “News Verdicts, the Debates and Presidential Campaigns” and “The Politics of Disenchantment: Bush, Clinton, Perot and the Press.” He is a well known expert in the presidential election process as well public opinion and media related to the campaigns.

In addition, Rosenberg has served as Principal Investigator on a number of large-scale multi-year evaluation studies for various government agencies at both the state and national level. He has also served on a variety of National Advisory Panels for the Department of HHS. In addition to his evaluation research, he has been active in conducting opinion research on immigration related issues. He is an expert in conducting both quantitative and qualitative studies using telephone, web, mail, intercept, and in-person surveys as well as focus group techniques. Rosenberg was the Founder and Director of the Drexel University Survey Research Center for 20 years.

He has taught applied research methods techniques at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. As a member of Mid-West Association of Public Opinion Researchers (MAPOR) for over 20 years, he has been a regular presenter and chair at the annual conferences as well as a member of its Executive Board. He has also served as President of MAPOR. He has also served on the Ethics and Standards Committee of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).

Rosenberg has been a research consultant for a variety of public and private organizations within the city, region and nation. He is also a regular analyst for television, radio, and newspapers. He served as a campaign analyst for CNN and the BBC during the 2008 Presidential election. In addition to these appearances, Rosenberg served as the debate analyst for POTUS XM Channel 130 after the Democratic and Republican debates in 2008 and 2012, as well as through the presidential elections. He continues to serve there as well other media outlets as a political analyst.

Most recently, Dr. Rosenberg served as an International Expert for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). His work, conducted in Albania, was designed to assist their government in the training of public administrators in the area of anti-corruption.

In this episode, we discuss corruption in the Balkans and processes for combating that behavior.

On the Issues Episode 57: Ian Lustick

On the Issues Episode 56: Brendan O’Leary

My guest for this episode is Brendan O’Leary, Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He has served as a political and constitutional advisor to the United Nations, the European Union, the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, and the governments of the UK and Ireland. In this episode, we discuss Kurdish autonomy and the war in Iraq, and the effect of the civil war in Syria on Iraqi Kurdistan.


Brendan O’Leary is an Irish, European Union, and US citizen, and since 2003 has been the Lauder Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author, co-author, and co-editor of 26 books; and the author or co-author of hundreds of articles or chapters in peer-reviewed journals and university presses, encyclopedia articles, and numerous other forms of publication. His latest publications include a three-volume study called A Treatise on Northern Ireland, that will be published in April 2019 by Oxford University Press, and a research report entitled Northern Ireland and the UK’s Exit from the EU: What Do People Think? Evidence from Two Investigations: A Survey and a Deliberative Forum (PI: Garry, J., McNicholl, K., O’Leary, B., & Pow, J., Belfast, Queen’s University Belfast, 2018 sponsored by the UK’s Economic and Research Council.)

Professor O’Leary was the inaugural winner of the Juan Linz prize of the International Political Science Association for contributions to the study of multinational societies, federalism and power-sharing, and in 2016 he was elected an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy, principally because of his contributions to the field of power-sharing. In addition to his scholarly work, O’Leary has been a political and constitutional advisor to the United Nations, the European Union, the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, the Governments of the UK and Ireland, and to the British Labour Party (before and during the Irish peace process).

O’Leary was born in Cork, Ireland. His early childhood was mostly spent in Nigeria. He grew up between the ages 8 and 18 in Northern Ireland and the Sudan. He attended the Northern Irish grammar school, St MacNissi’s College, Garron Tower, 1969-76. He received the Irish Times/Trinity College Dublin all-Ireland best individual speaker prize in school debating in 1975, and the Joint Association of Classical Teachers prize for first place in Advanced level Ancient History in 1976. He won an open scholarship to Keble College Oxford in 1977, where he was tutored by Larry Siedentop, the scholar of Tocqueville and the European Union, and by the economist Paul Collier. O’Leary graduated with BA honors from the University of Oxford in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (1981, first class), and wrote his PhD thesis at the London School of Economics & Political Science. Supervised by the late Professor T.J. Nossiter, it was examined by Professors Ernest Gellner and Nicos Mouzelis. It won the Robert McKenzie Memorial Prize for the best PhD at LSE presented in 1988, and was subsequently published as The Asiatic Mode of Production: Oriental Despotism, Historical Materialism and Indian History, with a Foreword by the late Ernest Gellner. In 2001 this book was elected one of 202 central works of sociology in the 20th century in the digest Schlüsselwerke der Soziologie, eds. S. Papcke & G.W. Oesterdiekhoff (eds.) (Berlin: Westdesutscher Verlag, 2001, pp. 372-4).

Between 1983 and 2003, O’Leary was on the faculty of the London School of Economics & Political Science, where he was successively Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader, and Professor of Political Science; the first elected head of the LSE Government Department (1998-2001); and an elected Academic Governor (2000-1). He has been a visiting professor of political science at Uppsala University, the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and at Queen’s University Belfast, and a Moore fellow at the National University of Ireland-Galway.

Brendan O’Leary was a political advisor to the British Labour Shadow Cabinet on Northern Ireland between 1987-8 and 1996-7, advising the late Kevin McNamara and the late Marjorie (“Mo”) Mowlam, shadow Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland. He advised Irish, British, and American ministers and officials, and the Irish-American Morrison delegation during the Northern Ireland peace process, appeared as an expert witness before the US Congress, and was a guest at the White House in 1994, 1995 and 1998. His work with John McGarry on police reform was singled out in the press for influencing the independent commission on police reform which reported in 1999.

O’Leary has been a constitutional advisor for the European Union and the United Nations in the promotion of the confederal and federal re-building of Somalia, and for the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development in consultancies on power-sharing in coalition governments in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa, and in Nepal.

For the United Nations O’Leary was a contributing consultant to its 2004 United Nations Human Development Report on Culture and Liberty, co-edited by Amartya Sen. In 2009-2010 he was seconded to the UN as the Senior Advisor on Power-Sharing in the Standby Team of the Mediation Support Unit of the Department of Political Affairs. In that capacity he had field experience in numerous conflict-sites, including in Sudan, South Sudan, Nepal and Kyrgyzstan.

Since 2003 O’Leary has regularly been an international constitutional advisor to the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, assisting in the negotiation of the Transitional Administrative Law (2004); electoral systems design (2004-5); the Constitution of Iraq (2005); the draft Constitution of the Kurdistan Region (2005-); and in monitoring violations of the Constitution of Iraq by its federal government. He has also been an expert witness on Iraq and Kurdistan to branches of the US Government, and to the United Kingdom’s Iraq Commission.

On the Issues Episode 55: Artan Haraqija

Artan Haraqija is an investigative journalist with 20 years’ experience covering organized crime, corruption, radical religious groups and the European Union Integration in the Balkans, and international media organizations. He has a Master’s Degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Westminster in London, UK.

In this episode, we discuss radicalization in Kosovo, the increased religious influence from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the lack of protection for journalists, corruption, and what hope the people of Kosovo can have towards their future.

On the Issues Episode 54: Thanassis Cambanis

Thanassis Cambanis is an author, journalist and fellow at The Century Foundation, who specializes in the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy. He is co-director of TCF’s “Arab Politics beyond the Uprisings.” His most recent book, Once Upon A Revolution: An Egyptian Story (Simon and Schuster: 2015), chronicles Egyptian efforts to create a new political order. His first book, A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel, was published in 2010. He writes “The Internationalist” column for The Boston Globe Ideas, and regularly contributes to The Atlantic, Foreign Policy and The New York Times.

He has taught at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and as a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. He lives in Beirut. See more of his writing at thanassiscambanis.com.

On the Issues Episode 53: Mary Beth Altier

In this episode, I speak with Dr. Mary Beth Altier about statebuilding and political violence, using the example of Northern Ireland as a way to examine conflicts and political violence in the Middle East, particularly by way of ISIS and al-Qaeda.


Dr. Mary Beth Altier is a Clinical Assistant Professor at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. She received her Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University in 2011 and then worked as a post-doctoral research fellow at the Pennsylvania State University on a U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.K. government funded project on terrorist disengagement, re-engagement, and recidivism. She also worked as a postdoctoral researcher on a project on civil war and democratization based at Nuffield College, University of Oxford.

Dr. Altier’s research interests are in international security, foreign policy, political violence, and political behavior. Her recent work centers on the reasons why individuals support the use of political violence in developed and developing democracies as well as why they participate in acts of political violence, especially terrorism. She is also interested in the disengagement and rehabilitation of ex-combatants and identifying empirically based methods for assessing risk of re-engagement. Dr. Altier is preparing a book manuscript based upon her dissertation, which won the 2013 American Political Science Association’s Ernst B. Haas award, and she is also the 2015 recipient of the American Political Science Association’s Organized Section on European Politics and Society’s Best Paper Award. Her research has been featured in the Journal of Peace Research, Security Studies, Terrorism and Political Violence, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, and Journal of Strategic Security and she serves on the editorial board of Studies in Conflict and Terrorism and Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression.

Professor Altier teaches courses on Transnational Security, Transnational Terrorism, Security Sector Governance and the Rule of Law, and Analytic Skills. In 2017, she received the NYU SPS Excellence in Teaching Award.

You can follow Professor Altier on Twitter @marybethaltier and NYU CGA’s Initiative for the Study of Emerging Threats @ISETNYU.

On the Issues Episode 52: Adrian Shtuni

Adrian Shtuni is a Washington, D.C.-based foreign policy and security analyst with a regional focus on the Western Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. He consults on countering violent extremism (CVE), counterterrorism, political risk, irregular migration, and other transnational threats. He also designs and implements CVE trainings and programs, and regularly presents at national and international conferences, summits, and symposiums. He holds a M.Sc. in Foreign Service with a concentration in International Relations and Security from Georgetown University.

On the Issues Episode 51: Pierre Vimont

Pierre Vimont is a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe. His research focuses on the European Neighborhood Policy, transatlantic relations, and French foreign policy.

From March 2016 to January 2017, Vimont served as the special envoy for the French initiative for a Middle East Peace Conference. Previously, he had been nominated the personal envoy of the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, to lead preparations for the Valletta Conference between EU and African countries to tackle the causes of illegal migration and combat human smuggling and trafficking.

Prior to joining Carnegie, Vimont was the first executive secretary-general of the European External Action Service (EEAS), from December 2010 to March 2015. During his thirty-eight-year diplomatic career with the French foreign service, he served as ambassador to the United States from 2007 to 2010, ambassador to the European Union from 1999 to 2002, and chief of staff to three former French foreign ministers. He holds the title, Ambassador of France, a dignity bestowed for life to only a few French career diplomats.

Vimont speaks French, English, and Spanish and is a knight of the French National Order of Merit. He holds a degree in law from Pantheon-Sorbonne University, and is a graduate of the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) and the National School of Administration (ENA).

Below is a full transcript of the podcast episode, lightly edited for clarity.

Alon Ben-Meir: That’s great. Well again, I want to thank you to begin with, really, for taking the time. So anyway, this is what I wanted to talk about, these four subjects, because your input is really, very unique and I’d love to hear it, about the Balkans and the prospect of accession of some of the Balkan states to the EU. Now given the situation today in the European Union, in the wake of Brexit and this, to extend the turmoil that has been caused. You don’t feel that the EU is ready right now to proceed expeditiously or faster in the process of accession of some of the Balkans countries?

Pierre Vimont: No, I think you’re right, I don’t think we’re ready for that. You remember that when the current president of the European Commission came in, Jean-Claude Juncker, he said that during his term of office, his five years of office, there will be no new enlargement. I don’t know what the next president of the European Commission will say, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he would say something of the same kind, because we think— First of all on our current agenda, we have still many issues to deal with – the consolidation of the Eurozone, the whole migration issue, to think more about the future of the European Union, how to reorganize ourselves, the whole issue of the rule of law in Poland and Hungary. So I think everyone agrees that those enlargement perspectives with regard to the West Balkans are still there. We want to allow this country to become a member of the European Union, but it’s a question of deadline, it’s a question of timing. And we think that if we go too quickly and would allow these countries or some of those that will be ready to come in too quickly, then we would have a lot of problems in our own current European Union. As you know in some of these European member states, there is a need for a referendum.

ABM: Yes.

PV: Some of those can go through the Parliament. But in many of the European Union member states there is a need for a referendum, and the risk is that you could lose that referendum.

ABM: Would you say, Pierre, that that the enlargement of the EU was too fast to begin with, and as a result of that, the EU is experiencing some of the difficulties that they are experiencing today?

PV: With hindsight this is the general agreement, that maybe we have gone too fast or brought too many countries at the same time into the European Union. But if you look at it from where we were at the time, at the end of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Soviet Union, there was this urgency to bring all these countries aboard. And look at it from an economic perspective; this was a success. We managed in a very few years to bring back all these countries to the free market economy, to consolidate their economy and their political position. And that was really one of the major achievements of the European Union. So today to go back and to say ‘it was a mistake, we shouldn’t have allowed them in’, as I can hear not only in France but also in Germany, where there is a lot of concern and even complaints about the enlargement. I think this is to some extent in my opinion the wrong perception and wrong judgment. I think we were right in getting them in. I think we all made mistakes in keeping this sort of division between the West and the East of the European Union. We haven’t reached out from the West side, we haven’t reached out enough to the new East and Central European partners. And they on their side, Central and East European countries have remained somewhat aloof, far away, distant, being very critical, not bringing their own input into construction of the European project. I think this is where we need to work more together, to try to bridge the gap that is still there.

ABM: So, along with what you’ve said, in hindsight they felt ‘well, maybe we have moved too fast,’ but that nevertheless does influence today’s decision of the EU. Who else to allow access, that is, slowing the process. Wouldn’t you say it came as a result of the fact that some think it was enlarged too fast?

PV: Yeah. You have to make a distinction between those countries, namely the West Balkan countries to which we have committed ourselves. All the other members of the European Union have said, ‘you have a right and a vocation to become a member.’ And this was agreed. So the principle is there. They can become [members]. With the other new candidates for membership, namely Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, there for the time being we haven’t made a firm commitment. But in both cases, I think what we are saying is that we need more time, because first of all we need to put our own house in order. And I think that’s really the message we want, to bring you closer to us, and then one day to get you on board. But for the time being, we have our own problems and you must allow us some more time to put the house in order, and then we will come back to you. I think that’s really what we’re trying to push as the kind of narrative.

ABM: I want to mention a couple of countries, one is, we mentioned before is Serbia, the other one is Turkey, and Macedonia, to the extent to which the EU moved probably closer to Macedonia. Do you agree with that, in terms of accessibility?

PV: Macedonia certainly, if they manage to get a final agreement on the change of the name of the country.

ABM: Of the name, yeah, well.

PV: Because that was the real stumbling block.

ABM: So, I want to just ask you about Turkey. From my perspective, I don’t think Turkey has a slight chance of ever becoming a member. I’d like to hear your views on it.

PV: Now a difficult question, because Turkey has been there looming in the horizon.

ABM: For years.

PV: For many years. I think for the time being, what I would say is that more or less everyone is happy with the kind of status quo we have, [which] is that we still keep this commitment that one day Turkey could become a member, but for the time being it’s not possible. And Turkey on its side, it’s rather happy to have this commitment, this political commitment there, because I think it’s important for their own credibility. But they’re very happy with the current situation, because the whole process of accession, alignment, on the European legislation has reinforced the Turkish economy and has been very helpful for Erdogan in the last years to bring up the Turkish economy, the business sector, everything, to a level of strong competition with the outside world. So that has been rather useful. Now for the time being, because of the many contentious issues we have with Turkey, I don’t see any prospect, at least for the moment, of any accession. I think the only point President Erdogan would like to push forward is to improve the current situation of the Customs Union. He would like to improve the deal we’ve passed with Turkey about 15 years ago, and would like to have better provisions, improved arrangements with the Customs Union. This I think we should go along with, but at the moment the 28 member states have not been in agreement between themselves to start that negotiation, precisely because of the political situation in Turkey – the whole issue about human rights, about imprisonment, etc.

ABM: Yeah, I mean the setbacks, if you go back five, six years ago, he championed reforms and [they] were social, economic, certainly political. And then everything has been reversed, and now Turkey is experiencing also terrible economic problems on top of everything else. I mean, when I initially sounded categorical about, I don’t think there is any prospect—

PV: No.

ABM: Maintaining the so-called in something in the future is good, I agree with you 100 percent. Erdogan, I don’t believe that Erdogan is interested in EU membership, because he would have to restore all the reforms—human rights, freedom of press, I mean, he’s got 200 journalists in jail right now. So he’s not interested, and he’s also trying to push his Islamic agenda, which is totally inconsistent with the EU’s political and social culture. That’s not going to happen. I mean that’s why I feel.

PV: No, but you may be right that in the end there will never be a Turkish accession. But it seems to me that this may be linked to the whole overall evolution of the European Union as such, and that maybe the European Union will morph into something that will be somewhat different from what it is today. In other words, we may find ourselves as times go by and some countries are ready to go into enhanced integration, while others are not exactly on the same line, that we will start to see a more flexible Europe, with a first group of countries ready to go for more political, economic, even social integration, and others that will prefer to stay in a sort-of second circle, and maybe even in a third circle, I don’t know. And it is maybe there that you will see some kind of alignment of Turkey with maybe one of these two or three circles, and maybe all things will shape in a different way. It won’t be any more a question of whether you become a member of the whole European Union, or maybe you’ll become a member of only part of the European Union, and this may be the case for Turkey as it may be for other candidates. It may be the case also tomorrow for Ukraine or for Georgia, for many reasons. One of them we alluded to a few minutes ago, would be also the way Russia is looking at all these evolutions, and the need to take into account Russian concerns.

ABM: So going back, given that this is Russian concern, going back to Serbia. Now based on what I know, I think Russia is going to fight to resist or to prevent specifically Serbia of all the Balkans not to join the EU. Do you think— Of course there’s also the Serbia problem with Kosovo, which has not been settled down, and the EU would like to have that been settled before they seriously consider Serbia’s accession to the EU. This is one problem. And of course the other problem is Russia itself. Do you feel that at any point in time actually Serbia will have a reasonable prospect of accession, as long as Russia continues to oppose that?

PV: I think we have to face this dilemma more and more in the European Union. On one side, we shouldn’t be under any kind of Russian veto, and I think even Russia wouldn’t dare to say so publicly that they are against Serbia’s accession. But at the other side, we need to look at the geopolitical reality of Europe in a more realistic way than we have done before. I think one of the reasons why we have been facing this whole issue of the confrontation between Ukraine and Russia was precisely because the European Union went maybe to some extent too far or too quickly with the Association Agreement with Ukraine, and that we should have found ways of alleviating the concerns of the Russian leadership and explaining to them what we were doing, and maybe looking altogether with Russia and others about the kind of economic cooperation – even more so security cooperation – between all the different parts of the European continent to look at this from a regional perspective. Because one of the major concerns I guess of Russia with regard to the European Union is if we go on enlarging and having new member states moving in, we’ll show once more that the European model of economic assistance, of economic development, works much better than the Russian model. If you look at Poland and Ukraine before Polish accession to the European Union, Poland and Ukraine had more or less the same level of prosperity, the same level of GDP. Ten years after Polish accession, the difference is from 1 to 7. That’s the result of Polish accession to the European Union. This is the real challenge for Russia when it wants to convince Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, or Belarus to stay inside the influence zone of Russia.

ABM: But do you feel that? I mean my sense is that Putin, not Russia per se but Putin, because we don’t know who’s going to follow Putin, is trying to revive elements of the Soviet Union. That is, other than concerns over how fast Europeans [are] moving to Russian shores so to speak, that he not only he wants to stop that, but he wants to reinstate, reconstitute elements of the Soviet sphere of influence.

PV: It could be, it’s very difficult to say. I think his main purpose was to be seen and perceived once again as a major global power, not only in Europe but all over the Middle East and probably in other parts of the world. His most recent outreach to Venezuela for me is quite interesting, all the more so as I’m not so sure Russia has enough financial resources to take care of all those countries who are left behind, like Venezuela, Nicaragua, or others. But let’s put this aside. With regard to Europe as such, I agree with you that I think he still wants to keep some sphere of influence, zone of influence, around Russia with the fear that if he doesn’t do that, he would be progressively encircled by Europe and free market countries that he wants to push back as much as possible. So the risk there is that if we are not able to reach out to Putin and try to find some sort of common ground, the confrontation that we have witnessed in Ukraine and even recently in the Sea of Azov, this kind of confrontation will come out more and more. So we I think if we want to have a strong and imaginative and innovative diplomacy with regard to Russia, we have to take Russian concerns into consideration. Not to abide by it, this is not what I’m saying, but we shouldn’t be naive and think we can move forward without any problem. There is a problem with Russia, no doubt about it, and we need to face it and to try to find the right answer to that challenge, that is about how to alleviate Russian concerns.

ABM: I absolutely agree. Do you think, and I’m coming from a background of conflict resolution— In my mind right now as I see it, the recent development with the Russian seizure of a Ukrainian ship and all of that, shouldn’t that provide some opening along the lines of what you’re saying? Not only deal with this issue, but take it further and open an open-ended dialogue with Russia and perhaps France or Germany, the leading European Union [states], should begin that kind of process, especially given that you cannot rely on this president here to really take any significant—and he can’t. I mean, come January he’s going to be almost a lame duck, because he’s going to be constantly under pressure from Congress. But do you think that conflict currently now between the Ukraine and Russia might provide that opening that you just talked about?

PV: Let’s hope it could. I think the problem of the relationship between the European Union and Russia has been one of missed opportunities. In the beginning of 2000 and the years that followed, there was a window of opportunity to try to develop with Russia a whole new idea about what I would call the new architecture for the European continent from the point of view of security, of economic development, and prosperity. There was a real possibility to do that, and maybe Europe missed that point. Russia maybe also in its part—but Russia came up with some interesting, well interesting, their own proposals that are not acceptable to us. But rather than being dismissive as we were at the time, rather listen to them and try to see how we could work together, would have been much preferable to the position we took. We have to recreate that kind of opportunity with Russia in my opinion and start some sort of dialogue with them, taking into account the whole European region, and see how we could work together. I recognize it’s very difficult to do at the moment, because of the Ukrainian crisis, because of the sanctions we have taken with them. So how to re-initiate a dialogue with Russia? Real geopolitical dialogue may be difficult, but I think this is really what the Europeans should start thinking about.

ABM: Yeah, I mean because, Russia is going to be there, European Union’s going to be there. And I think given the tense situation right now, it’s possibly, as a matter of fact, it might be an opportunity to say well listen, these problems [are] going to fester. Let’s talk, let’s deal with it now and then take it into the next step, the next step. You see, as I see it, of course Putin feels emboldened by this president here.

PV: You’re right.

ABM: This is the problem. And right now, he doesn’t have the incentive to sit down actually and start serious negotiations with the EU. But in the final analysis, the sanctions are biting, the economy in Russia is not doing great at all. So he still might have that kind of incentive to still say, ‘let’s solve these problems.’ I don’t know. I mean, one country back channel of sort to begin that kind of process.

PV: Yeah. It could be, I still think if the Europeans could find the beginning of a solution on Ukraine, that would be very helpful. We have as all too often started a process in Ukraine and we just now have sit back and let the process go along without much result. We should bring back some momentum into that process and try to find ways of moving out of the kind of deadlock where we are at the moment.

ABM: Especially you might say given the position of Trump, who might find European intervention more palatable than he himself going against [Putin]. Would you say that?

PV: I guess we have to wait for, first of all for the next presidential election in Ukraine. But with a new Ukrainian president, whoever it will be, whether it will be Poroshenko being renewed or another one, we will have maybe there a bit new energy on which we could try to rebound and build a new stage for that dialogue and for this peace process there. And if we manage to do that, it could open the way for a sort of incremental process with Russia, where we could start really a new dialogue with them. It may sound once again very unrealistic at the moment, but for me it’s a sort of obligation, if we want.

ABM: I agree with you. It’s not unrealistic, I mean [it] really ought to be done. If there’s any implications that may be negative, it’s the fact that say, are we as the European Union negotiating from a position of weakness? Why should we take the initiative when in fact it was Russia that committed this transgression? And Russia ought to begin to improve the relationship first. But I think well, you are a diplomat you know better than anybody else, there’s so many different channels that you can go around about to begin some kind of dialogue. It doesn’t have to be formal to begin with.

PV: Absolutely. And the reality is that if we don’t do that all together, every European member states will go on its own, and they’re already doing that. They’re all visiting on a bilateral basis; they’re all visiting Moscow. And of course Putin is playing with that and creating divisions among the Europeans. So we better get a united position and try to bring this new dialogue again into motion.

ABM: Great. Well, now we solved the problem of the Ukraine, of Russia.

PV: We can go to the Middle East, easy.

ABM: No, I really appreciate your take on this very much so. I know you’ve been a veteran diplomat in the Middle East as well. You are all over, and you do amazing things. But as far as the Middle East goes, I just want to talk to you about the current few conflicts. Let me begin with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Well, many people resigned now themselves to the fact that there will be no two-state solution, and the only possible, other outcome [is a] one-state solution, which in my view is totally unacceptable, will never be accepted by Israel. Or the other one is maintaining the status quo, which is explosive. It’s a question only of when. Let me begin with this premise. Do you a) agree with this premise, and take it from there.

PV: No, no I totally agree with you. I recognize as I think you do yourself that the two-state solution has more or less backtracked in recent years, and that’s the sort of gridlock where we are at the moment. It hasn’t helped, of course. So a lot of people are telling us time and again, the two-state solution has become totally unrealistic. Nobody trusts or believes in it anymore. So let’s put it aside and start thinking about something else. But what I have always found out discussing this whole peace process is, whatever other solution is being put on the table has at least as many problems as the two-state solution today. So why not stick to the two-state solution, even if I agree for the time being that there is not much prospect of this being delivered soon. But I think we should keep it as the final goal and try it from there to start, exactly as we were saying before, to start moving in that direction, with small steps if possible, and with a bit of political goodwill on both sides, which is I fear is what is missing the most at the moment.

ABM: My take on it, in addition to that, and you’re absolutely right, is that— And I’ve been singing the song, I feel I keep singing the same song, but because I still believe the tune of the song still resonates with me a lot more than anything else. And that is the current leadership in my view, be that Netanyahu [or] Abbas, are not and will not make the kind of concessions necessary to make peace. I begin with that point. The second thing, going to your point, is we need – and you remember we’re talking about a process of reconciliation, finally. Former Secretary of State Kerry, Dennis Ross, and many others who’ve involved with these negotiations were saying, we made a terrible mistake. We were sitting and negotiating and negotiating, but the street remained the same thing. The hatred, the animosity between the two sides did not change. And if we came up with a solution even, how will the two sides accept it, if the concession has to be so considerable that people are not ready to make that kind of concession, or the process of reconciliation so to speak was missing all along, which has to precede any serious peace talk. But the third point, I feel that the commitment to really reach an agreement was never there. I mean, I’m prepared to go back 15, 20 years even in Camp David. They came very close in 2008 and 9, they came very close, 2013 14. What happened? Why has [it] not been completed? I don’t think that commitment— I mean, do you agree? That’s really what I [want to] hear you your take on it. That is, if I am committed to do something 100 percent, you and I agree we’re going to have to cross the street no matter how horrible the traffic is, no matter how difficult it is, no matter how the weather is, we will find a way to cross the street. That kind of commitment to reach an agreement was never there in my view. Which, hence, no significant efforts were made to prepare the ground for the inevitable, which is, it’s got to be a solution. And as long as that commitment did not exist, means and avenues were never exhausted to reach an agreement.

PV: No, I would agree with you. I would start from maybe a different point, but I come to the same conclusion. My point is that both sides have, after awhile, felt very comfortable with the status quo, be it the Israeli side with this idea that we have this occupying power status with which we can take a lot of from, which we can take a lot of benefits, extending settlements and creating a de facto situation, a fait accompli as we say in France, which is very comfortable for us. At some point there was maybe some security problem, but we have faced it, we have overcome that, and we control the situation. And on the other side, I sense that to some extent the Palestinian Authority is rather comfortable with the current status quo also, because they have this ruling over a very small part of the territory, Ramallah and a few other parts. They considered itself as a de facto state which has a status of observer in the U.N., can play with it. And because of all the divisions inside and the different factions inside the Palestinian Authority, rather than trying to overcome and finding some unity, they preferred to stay there. So I don’t feel that is there is any eagerness on either side to move away from the present situation.

ABM: But the question is, is it sustainable?

PV: Exactly.

ABM: That’s my concern. That is, there are currently, there’s no motivation, certainly not in Israel; and among the Palestinians, the division you talked about is absolutely valid. Not [between] just Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, but within the Palestinian Authority, and within Hamas. You have groupings and sub-groupings and they have never reached a consensus. And I think that was the plight of the Palestinian people. There was really never a unity of purpose. Let’s get together, let’s— And then of course they fell so terribly behind, by instead of focusing on building the foundations of statehood, they were occupied by trying to push Israel out. And that’s still the case to a great extent, especially say in Gaza and elsewhere. So they have been playing into the Israeli hands all of these years, and never changed their narrative, never changed their approach. But the current situation cannot be sustained once—Abbas is going to go in one form or another. Netanyahu is going to go. There is no visible, strong Israeli leader that can come to the fore and say let’s solve— In fact, all the Israeli opposition parties never even talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anymore. So you are so right in suggesting the status quo, they’re happy with the current situation, but I think it is explosive. At one point or another it’s going to explode because it’s not sustainable. Do you agree with that?

PV: I would agree, but I’m quite struck and somewhat interested by the kind of narrative I detect in what the current U.S. administration is trying to do, this so-called peace plan of the century that’s going to come out. Because what I can gather, what I have gathered so far from bits and pieces we hear about that plan, is that there is a sort of gamble on the next generation of Palestinians and Israelis who will not be interested anymore in this pursuit for this political goal of two states, or a Palestinian state, but will be much more interested in the relative situation of economic prosperity, and looking for better living. And therefore, these people will be ready, the next generation will be ready to leave aside the prospect of a full-fledged Palestinian state in favor of economic prosperity, which I think is at the heart of what Jared Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt are looking for. Can this work? I doubt it personally, and I think you will doubt it also.

ABM: I agree with you.

PV: But I think it’s interesting that they’re trying that way, because it’s maybe another way of looking at the whole issue. I personally think that the Palestinian cause has become too much of a political goal that you just can’t let aside.

ABM: I absolutely agree with you. I think economic development can be used only as a means by which to eventually get to the ultimate agreement, a two-state solution of sort, but it cannot be in and of itself the ultimate objective. National movement, historically speaking, you can correct me on that I’m sure, the Palestinian national movement never subsided and died only because they have now attained a better economic condition. Yeah, they like that, but they don’t give up the hope and the dream of having independence. I mean, when I go to the West Bank. I hear this time and again and again and again, we may be making a living, but our hope and expectation is somewhere along the line. And they understand Abbas is pretty much useless; Netanyahu is hardcore, waiting for him to either leave or [be] indicted or go to prison hopefully, as some of his predecessors. And that’s the problem with the Israelis. I think it’s a sad, sad commentary on both Israelis and the Palestinians to get to this point, that [they are] thinking they are sitting on something that can be held onto and sustained, when in fact it doesn’t really have strong legs to stand on in the long term.

PV: No, I agree. And I think we should be careful. We diplomats tend to live in a bubble and think that the situation can go on. But when you go on the ground and watch what’s going on—I’m not even talking about Gaza, because Gaza is—

ABM: Is awful.

PV: Is awful. But [in] the West Bank there is a lot of frustration. Resignation, trafficking of all sorts is taking place, which means that for me this place is very unstable and risks an explosion at all moments.

ABM: I think so.

PV: And this sort of ongoing hubris on the Israeli side, that through security they control everything and that no bad surprise can occur, seems to me a bit shortsighted.

ABM: Very, very, very shortsighted, especially given the conditions in the Middle East altogether, which—the situation in Lebanon with Hezbollah, the situation in Iran, which take me now—Let’s go to Syria, take a ride to Syria. Syria created a completely new dimension to various conflicts. I mean, I think there is some kind of connection of sorts obviously between all of these conflicts, and the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could eventually impact on the Israeli-Iranian relationship, so to speak. But let’s go back, your take on Syria is very important. What is your take, given that now people talk about coming very close to the ending of the civil war? There’s a question still, the city of Idlib is still pending. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We know that Russia is entrenched to the hilt. Iran does not want to leave. Israel has locked horns with Iran as far as Syria goes, and on and on. Where do you go with this?

PV: I’m not sure I know myself where we’re going. I would say two things on the military side of the problem. It’s true that we are witnessing a new stage in the conflict, where Syria supported by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah has gained ground and is moving in towards an increased control of the whole Syrian territory. But I would put immediately a caveat there, is that I’m quite struck by the fact that in large, in many parts of the country where the Syrian National Army has managed to get in, with the support of Russia and others and is regaining control, there is still fighting going on.

ABM: Yes.

PV: They don’t get rid of those opposition armed groups. Even Daesh, ISIS, has not totally disappeared. It’s not any more the sort of structured organization that was in charge of a large part of Eastern Syria, but it’s still there, it’s still fighting. So what we are witnessing is maybe a situation where the high intensity conflict is slowly moving out of the picture, but something different may be appearing, which will still be a conflict, low intensity terrorist attacks, whatever. I’m not sure that we’re back to full-fledged military security and stability as Damascus may be expecting.

ABM: I agree 100 percent. Yeah.

PV: That’s one point. The second point is that maybe because of that military situation, I don’t see any political solution here. Not only because the opposition will go on fighting as long as they can, and because the political and economic reality in many parts of the country now is made of warlords a little bit everywhere, who are playing their own game. But also because in Damascus I don’t think that in any way Bashar al-Assad is ready to give up any of his power. And when we are all expecting, with the help of the U.N., that we’re going to be able to set up a constitutional committee that will draft a new constitution, I personally think that Bashar al-Assad doesn’t want any of this to happen, and that as far as one can see, neither Russia nor Iran have the necessary leverage to impose this upon him. If only they were willing to do so, which I’m not sure. So I unfortunately think that we may be facing the kind of situation we have now in Syria going on and on for a while. Which brings about the whole question of, what should the West do in those conditions, which is not easy.

ABM: So, along the lines of what you’re saying, really you have the internal combustion that is still going on and will continue to go on, the population is segmented, you have different groups – Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, and so forth – and they each have their own particular interest and want to guard it at all costs. And then you have external players like Russia, Iran, of course Saudi Arabia indirectly, the Israelis are there, the Americans are there; that’s another layer. So to satisfy all of these players, to find a solution that can meet and satisfy all these players, to me it is practically almost impossible. So do you agree that the dynamics inside Syria ought first to be changed before you can get all this, better than a dozen significant players inside and outside the country, to come up with some kind of consensus with which they can live? Do you see that happening?

PV: No, because first of all I very much agree with you that the internal dynamic is still very much there. And if you look for instance back at the unfortunate experience of Lebanon in the 70s and the 80s, it was the regional actors that at some point were able to come in. Saudi Arabia, if only to name one of these regional actors who at some point understood that time was ripe to step into Lebanon and to convince the different parties to stop fighting each other, because there was a lot of war fatigue between all of them at some point. I’m not sure we have reached that point yet in Syria. And secondly, unfortunately the main regional actors are fighting each other by proxy through Syria. So it seems to me that I don’t expect neither Russia nor the United States nor the U.N. nor the Western countries to be able to impose a solution, because they’re not part of that region and it never works when you come from outside. I think it’s for the actors in the region at the end of the day to be able to find a solution. And I think that at the moment, because they’re fighting at each other, we haven’t yet a solution there for the time being, unfortunately.

ABM: Yeah, definitely. I mean when you think in terms of political solutions in particular, or what sort of— We go always to these countries like cowboys with two guns ready to go. We have a system you ought to emulate. We have a democratic form of government. Just follow that, go to elections, and everything is going to be fine. Well, it was never fine anywhere in the Arab world so far. And it’s not going to be fine in Syria, specifically in Syria. So I mean it is sad, sad, sad, sad commentary, that nearly 600,000 people died, half the country is refugees or internally displaced.

PV: The only glimmer of hope or optimism I have with Syria is that under this fractured, under the surface of this fractured country today, it seems that at the local level there is something appearing of new local powers here or there that could be interesting to watch and to support to some extent. Of course, the risk is that if you support some of those local authorities that are emerging there, you go even further into fragmentation of the country. But maybe with the necessary degree of control and self control, you could start seeing or emerging a more decentralized Libya that could help—

ABM: You mean Syria.

PV: Syria, sorry. That could help set up a new type of government in due course.

ABM: Yeah, well, that’s going to take awhile.

PV: It takes a while.

ABM: That’s going to take a long while.

PV: It will be rather than the top-down approach, it would be a bottom-up.

ABM: Bottom-up. You’re going to need to need a bottom-up. I absolutely agree that is probably the only thing that will save Syria. But, this in my view is years ahead, is not going to happen any time soon. So I want to move to Yemen. That is another heart wrenching tragedy. I wrote so much about it, and every time I write about it I really, I want to cry. I really mean it. I feel, especially when it comes to kids, when you hear about a million kids infected by cholera. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands are dying from starvation. And then we, the United States, continue to support the Saudis, providing the ammunition they need and all of that, providing [them] with the killing machine. And recently I wrote a piece about, as a consequence of the killing and the dismemberment of Khashoggi, shouldn’t that provide us with some opening? Well, what’s going on now in the Senate, with the hearing, what happened, you know this better than anyone else.

[Note: at the time of recording, the Senate was debating a proposal condemning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the death of Jamal Khashoggi; it has since passed unanimously.]

To what extent do you feel, and given of course the madness of this president, who is so—I mean for him who cares, Khashoggi, no Khashoggi, we want to sell them arms, we want to buy this, and thank you Saudi Arabia. Can you imagine? I mean, I get the chills when I hear something like that. But given this situation here, and now the revelation as of yesterday, when the director of the CIA [briefed Congressional members about the situation]— What do you do to bring an end to this horrifying, horrifying war that no one is going to absolutely— I think at the end of the day, nobody is going to come victorious at all. That has to end somehow, and everybody going back to where they were before. That’s how I see it.

PV: No, I totally agree with your description of the situation there. If I take up your question about what can we do and how to move forward, I would take up the point you made about the humanitarian situation. At least let’s try to bring some positive moves with regard to the humanitarian situation. In other words, get from both sides an agreement that allows humanitarian assistance to get in, a free flow of humanitarian support, at least 4 to 6 months ahead to try to alleviate some of the difficulties the population is facing. Even that so far has been impossible to reach because both sides are so hooked on this idea that they’re not going to let any opening happen with their current infighting. This has made any humanitarian breakthrough impossible. So I think we should seize this opportunity of the Congress being maybe more aggressive in the next few months on this, but also putting pressure on some of the Western countries. My own country, Britain, which so far has been very supportive of the Saudi offensive and the Emirati offensive, to try to make them change their position. Personally, I expect more maybe from the Emiratis, who seem now to wobble.

ABM: You mean, talking specifically about Abu Dhabi. I mean, the United Arab Emirates?

PV: The Emirates, exactly, who seem to wobble a little bit. Now with their Yemen implication, I’m less convinced that on the Saudi side the crown prince is ready to be more flexible than he has been before. At least we have now this conversation starting in Stockholm. Let’s see how it goes. But if at least it could come out with one agreement on humanitarian assistance, that would be a first step, I think. One additional observation – the Europeans, at least the three Europeans who are part of the Iranian nuclear deal plus Italy, have as you know started a political dialogue with Iran, and one of the few issues on which they had perceived a little bit of flexibility from Iran was precisely Yemen.

ABM: Yes.

PV: And I think we should try to make the best out of this. I don’t think, contrary to what I hear from my former colleagues in the State Department or other circles in Washington, that Iran is totally invested in supporting the Houthis against Saudi Arabia. I’m not so sure about that.

ABM: I agree with you.

PV: Of course they’re using that opportunity against Saudi Arabia.

ABM: Well of course, because they’re also, not profusely bleeding, but they don’t see an outcome where they can emerge really with any significant, durable gain. They don’t. That’s how I see it. I don’t think they see that. They see that this is a war, it’s consuming a lot of resources. They’re under tremendous pressure, there’s renewed sanctions and all of that, and then there’s of course the Iran deal. And so a solution to Yemen, I like your view on it. A solution to Yemen from the Iranian perspective, and perhaps this is the reason why they’re showing a little bit more flexibility about Yemen, is to try. Also if there is a solution there, it could open or pave the way, at least provide a small opening to dealing with a larger regional issue, particularly concerning the conflict between the United States, Israel, and Iran. Would you think that?

PV: It seems to me that the only solution to the current confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is growing by the day. I mean, they’re getting more and more aggressive, one against each other. It’s not to think about some sort of regional security pact, of course it would be great, but we’re too far away from this.

ABM: No, I’m talking about—

PV: Talking about small steps.

ABM: Saudi Arabia, yeah, Saudi Arabia and Iran, ending that war.

PV: Exactly.

ABM: Could provide openings, that’s what I’m saying. I don’t think you can go over.

PV: But that’s my point. I think you’re absolutely right, is that by going by a step-by-step approach that we can start, it’s what we usually call confidence-building measures. And there’s a total lack of confidence at the moment. So it’s about restarting a process that will slowly build confidence again between all these different nations. And you have to start somewhere. Why not start with Yemen?

ABM: Also within that, exactly what you said starting with Yemen, but the first step is to begin with humanitarian steps, in order to alleviate the horrifying conditions that exist right now in Yemen. And I think both Iran and Saudi Arabia may be open to this, now that the crown prince is under this kind of pressure. If Congress is going to pass most likely a resolution, they have a veto-proof consensus now, that they may pass it today or tomorrow, that compels the president to stop supplying the kind of weapons the Saudis need. [Note: this was passed after recording, on December 13 in the Senate, 56-41.] That is going to also send a clear picture. But I feel very strongly, concurrently with that, I would have liked to see a delegation going immediately to Saudi Arabia and saying, ‘look, you have made a horrible mistake. This is not going to go away so easy. But try to show some signs of humanitarian signs and say we’re going to do this and this in Yemen, we’re going to…’ That is going to also improve their—

PV: I see your point.

ABM: Global, improve their position on the global stage because of Khashoggi. I mean, I see that the Khashoggi situation provided perhaps that opportunity. But are we going to capitalize on it, or from your perspective do you think the Europeans should do something, specifically the British and others, France?

PV: I think maybe the British would be the one who could do it. I’m still hesitant about the ability of the European Union as such, as an entity, to be a real global actor at the moment. It’s more individual member states which have a stake into the matter. Britain for instance, Germany to some extent, France, maybe one or two others. These are the ones who can maybe help broker a deal at some point. But Europe as such is too much divided, with some of the member states still very reluctant to be seen in any way opposing President Trump. So I sense that if you want to do something quickly in an urgent way, as a sort of a priority, it should be maybe one or another of the member states in Europe that could try that. Britain has been trying that, as you know right now at the moment in the U.N. Security Council. France has never been very active in Yemen, they sell arms to Saudi Arabia. At some point they have tried to be part of a small informal group of diplomats from different European countries and non-European countries who tried in the past to broker a peace deal between the Yemeni government and the Houthis, but it didn’t go very far. I’m more trustful to some extent of a country like Oman as the one who could come back into the game and play a useful role of honest broker, maybe because they have good relations with Iran. They can talk to Saudi Arabia and they may be the ones who could help bridge some sort of a go-between move between the different parties. Of course you have the U.N. also which is there, and the special envoy is someone who knows well the region and has been very effective in the past, so this could also help. I think the best contribution from the European side, coming back to what I was saying earlier, is their ability to talk directly to Tehran.

ABM: I think so. And I also think, I mean you’re talking about the United Nations. I mean there is full coordination between Britain and the United States in the Security Council. I’m not sure the Russians don’t have much say about the situation in Yemen. There is this kind of, and there is a resolution, but does really the United States need a U.N. resolution to deal with Saudi Arabia, or Britain for that matter? So, I think the focus should be now directly on the Saudis, and give the crown prince an opportunity to put a better face by stopping this horrible, by saying let’s begin a major humanitarian project to deal with that end of it. Don’t you think that would be?

PV: I think this is certainly what we should do and keep on doing. And I agree with you, with the relative weakness at the moment of the U.N. system. This I agree. Where I have my doubts is on the attitude of the crown prince in Saudi Arabia. It seems to me that out of the Khashoggi affair, he has come down to some extent by doubling down on his position, on being even stronger and firmer in his stance regarding Yemen, regarding Iran. And this is where I think we will need a lot of pressure to be able to do that.

ABM: Unless, that is, I agree with you, unless the United States acts, and I think now he’s also watching what the Senate is going to be doing. And if the resolution passes – and it will pass, based on the numbers that we are looking at – that means no supplies. So there is a leverage right now. So he maybe doubled down on, thinking I’m going to do this, this is my problem, my prerogative. He’s going to feel the pain sooner than later. And that is if the Senate sticks to its guns, and takes that kind of measure and sends a clear message to him, ‘Hey Mister, you’d better listen or else, there’ll be even worse consequences.’ Don’t you think that this potentially could happen?

PV: It’s true. It can work. It can work. But what are the levers of the Congress? It will be arms sale.

ABM: They have, yeah, they can prevent the president [Note: under the War Powers Act, which checks’ the president’s power to engage in armed conflict without the consent of Congress] from shipping any kind of ammunition, and actually they are – for example, they can stop the president from refueling these planes. The munitions they are using to kill people, they can stop that. So they can stop all of this. Basically, they can put a halt to the offensive the Saudis have been conducting for the last three, four years. The Senate can do that. And if it’s veto-proof, over 60 [votes], there isn’t much the president can do about it. They’ll have to adhere to it. [Note: This measure passed the Senate 56-41 on December 13] So we can only hope of course, which takes us to our easiest problem to solve, which is Iran. Are you OK with it?

PV: Cherry on top of the cake.

ABM: I know Iran is a—

PV: Iran is a big piece to swallow.

ABM: I feel—please correct me, because this is my take. There is of course the nuclear problem. There is the Israeli play and game position on this, which is I think way too exaggerated than what the Israelis claim. I don’t feel that Iran, even if it eventually acquires a nuclear weapon, is going to use it, knowing that it could be annihilated in return. I think this is all more of political posturing on the part of Israel. I think the deeper conflict is more like the Sunni-Shiite conflict today in the Middle East, and with Saudi Arabia and Iran trying to position themselves in a manner so that they will be the anchor of the region, representing the two brands of Islam. And the two countries that have a say on that specifically, is Iran and Saudi Arabia. And that is the backdrop as I see it, of some of what’s going on even in Syria. Needless to say in Syria there was also proxy war to a great extent between Iran and Saudi Arabia. And now there’s new sanctions on Iran, the economy is hurting, like you just said, the Europeans are dealing with Iran, trying to find out better ways—where is this all going to lead to?

PV: Easy question.

ABM: I thought I’d give you little hard time toward the end.

PV: I very much agree with your assessment. I have personally, for having lived in this region at some point, I’ve always been struck by – leaving Turkey aside – the confrontation between Saudi Arabia on one hand and Iran on the other hand was an obvious one that was there for all to see, and with – in my opinion, I may be wrong – real important assets on the Iranian side, a strong population, larger than Saudi Arabia.

ABM: Three times.

PV: High quality of education of their young people, which means great expertise in many issues, and a vibrant society which has survived and has remained very vibrant in spite of the regime.

ABM: Yeah, to a great extent it remains Western oriented.

PV: Yes, yes.

ABM: There’s no question about it, and you are so absolutely right. I mean, they are a proud people. Historically speaking, culturally speaking, the numbers talk. As far as they’re concerned, there are more Shiites in the Middle East than there are Sunnis [in the] Gulf or in Jordan, including Iraq and all of that, there’s still more Shiites in that region. So from their perspective, we are the power and we have inherent rights. So, I’m sorry to interrupt you.

PV: No, no, no, but you’re absolutely right. And furthermore, if you pretend to become one of the major regional powers and you look around you and you see that all your neighbors have the capacity, the nuclear military capacity, like India, Pakistan, and Israel on the other side, you just want to have the same leverage. And of course by doing that, you trigger Saudi Arabia’s reaction, which wants also its own nuclear military capacity. So this is the natural road to instability confrontation, and things are getting more and more dangerous as we move along. So the whole point is for me two-fold. One is, let’s stop talking all the time about regime change in Iran, because this is really what it’s all about from the U.S. side. We will never be able to start any sort of dialogue if the sort-of precondition is regime change, and it will go nowhere. This is why I think, whatever we may think about the nuclear deal with all its shortcomings, it was better to have this deal than not to have it.

ABM: Absolutely, absolutely.

PV: This was a first step towards something that could be helpful in the future. So I think at some point we have to go back to that, how can we convince the present US administration to go back to a more rational approach towards Iran. This I don’t know, and I’m not sure we can expect anything there for some time. So for the time being, we have to convince our American partners that by going on discussing, having this dialogue with Iran, we are moving in the right direction and that they better look at what we’re trying to do. We – the Europeans – Russia, China, and others, India, Japan, and that maybe they should slowly come back to a more rational and peaceful course with regard to Iran. That in my opinion would help, also maybe to support the moderates inside the regime and to be on that side of the political spectrum in Iran, comforting those who are looking for a progressive opening towards the west, so on and so forth. Now we have a major difference with—and this would be my second point. We have a major difference with the U.S. administration, [which] is that they just don’t believe in the kind of assessment we’re making about the Iranian regime. When we’re talking about a distinction between moderates and radicals, they tell us in strong words that we are naïve, that this is one united political regime and they’re playing with us this game of moderates against radical. But nothing of that kind exists in Iran, it’s one obsessed regime with aggressing the West and refusing any kind of compromise at the end of the day. Once again, I don’t want to be naïve. We know about some of those radical moves inside the regime, the terrorist attacks that we have been the victims of here and there, but in our opinion that should not prevent us from keeping on dialogue with Tehran, because that would be for the benefit of all.

ABM: There’s no doubt. I think the whole effort, in which country at least in recent decades, where we attempted regime change was [not] successful. In Iran itself, go back to 1953; we actually forced the regime change and [it] came back to haunt us in 1979. I mean, any regime change, I think the Obama approach to Iran was much more practical by far. First of all, he openly said we are not looking for regime change. He moved to get the Iran deal done. And the whole idea was that you have that deal, exactly what you said, and from that moment on, you move and build on it. I mean, certainly Iran has a security concern. Forget even Israel, or forget Saudi Arabia, they have security concerns from the other side. They have to deal with Pakistan, they have Afghanistan, they have all of these countries, and there’s no stability there. So they are basically surrounded with countries who are either hostile, or at best certainly not friendly in any which way. So they have security concerns, and I think what you said is absolutely necessary. It’s a pipe dream to think that you’re going to get a regime change in Iran. They seem to be holding to power very strongly. We don’t sense, I don’t know if you sense any internal threat to the regime. I don’t, no matter who we look at and we talk, they don’t sense any impending.

PV: This is a country, a nation with a very strong nationalistic streak, because of their long historical legacy of Russian interference, British interference, U.S.-CIA with the Mossadegh government. So this has been kept very much alive in their memory. When I was posted in that country many years ago, memories of Mosaddegh were coming back all the time; they were talking to me all the time about this. So I think there is, it seems to me to be a little bit of a pipe dream to think that this regime will fall easily just by putting on it economic sanctions.

ABM: I mean, the regime is not exactly ignoring the public consensus. They are paying a lot of attention to how the public is reacting. And as a matter of fact, because of what the United States has done under this administration, the public is angry at America—not at the regime, because they feel the regime is fulfilling its obligation. It’s been doing the right thing. They agreed to the agreement and the United States came in and revoked the whole thing. And that’s why I don’t see any disturbances within Iran itself, because they more they see more eye-to-eye with the regime than they have seen before, so exactly [the] opposite of what Trump is trying to achieve. He thinks that the economic sanctions are going to cause tremendous domestic dislocation, economic dislocation. It does to some extent. But don’t you feel that the Iranians are not – even though they may be suffering more economically – they’re not prepared to take it against the regime?

PV: I agree with you. Even if I would say social unrest has been increasing in Iran in recent months, even in recent years. But interestingly enough, the regime is very much aware of that. Five years ago, you wouldn’t have heard in Iran the kind of statements you get from the Supreme Leader or from the President Rouhani, saying that they understand the social uneasiness and they want to do something about it. And I think it’s interesting to hear those statements, which for me are rather new in the Iranian context, which shows that they are aware that something needs to be done—

ABM: Something needs to be done, yeah.

PV: To alleviate some of those social concerns. How far can they go amidst all these new sanctions regime, we’ll have to see. But contrary to the previous sanction regime where we were all united, I mean the international community, here you are in a situation where as far as possible, most of [the] Iranian partners are trying to see how they can find a way through, in spite of the U.S. sanctions.

ABM: Yeah, and they feel encouraged. I mean they feel that. I mean, that’s why probably it is not as widespread. But I think you’re absolutely right. These demonstrations were not geared against the regime per se. We want regime change, no such thing. It’s, we want better conditions. Don’t you—I mean, that was a sentiment. Nobody was saying ‘regime is this, there is corruption, there is this, there is that.’ They’re mostly talking about their own economic, mostly economic conditions, yeah. But as far as Iran’s nuclear ambition, so far they have adhered, continue to adhere to the Iran deal. That’s what we understand. The European community has been saying they have been adhering, nothing has changed, and if I take, not a wild guess but thinking the way the Iranians are thinking, I don’t think they have any plan necessarily to withdraw from the deal at this point or any time in the near future, because what would that do? That would be very much to their disadvantage, where now they can play Europe versus the United States. They are still dealing with Russia, they’re dealing with China, they’re still buying their oil. China is not concerned with that. So they have no real motivation to withdraw from the deal. And they have patience. They’ve had 4,000 years of continuing historic existence; for them 10 years, 15 years from now is a very short period of time.

PV: No you’re right, I agree with you. Their interest for the moment is for a certainly, the current situation is US being isolated. Many of the Iranian economic partners [are] trying to find ways to circumvent sanctions, so on and so forth. Whereas if they decided to just get out of the nuclear deal, then I guess the whole international community would have to set up new sanctions that would have a universal dimension, and that would be much more difficult for them. So I think the point at the moment is certainly for them in this kind of very difficult domestic balance of power between the different elements of the regime. This is more or less the tipping point of that balance. But one has to be cautious, because you see that still inside the regime, the radical faction seems to be going on with its terrorist attack against opposition in Europe. We have seen plans for terrorist attacks of that sort, and that is not very good of course because it forces the Europeans to start looking again at the possibility at least of personal sanctions against some people of the regime. So there is a risk there of this current attitude from the European side to slowly crumble in, as we face continuing attacks from the radical part of the regime against the Western world.

ABM: Yeah, but, I suppose, I mean, I take it that Western diplomats are actually, should be conveying this message – that is, you want us to stick to the sanctions, to stick to the deal. You better watch what you’re doing. I mean, I suppose these messages [are] being conveyed to the—

PV: Absolutely, they have been conveyed.

ABM: To the Iranians.

PV: Now we have to watch and observe very closely what will be the outcome.

ABM: And then finally, I think one point [is] that they may stick to the deal still for a while. I think they see what’s happening here in the United States. Like myself and many others hope that Trump is not going to be reelected. Or if he—hopefully he won’t last to 2020 anyway, and that the political dynamic is going to change if there’s a new president. I think they have enough patience to wait and see what’s going to happen here in the United States. And on that note—

PV: Optimistic of note, you would say.

ABM: I can’t thank you enough for taking so much time; I took a lot of time, like more than an hour and a half. Again so much, thank you so much.

PV: Thank you Alon, it was a pleasure to host both of you.

On the Issues Episode 50: Nathan J. Brown

In today’s episode, I talk with Nathan J. Brown, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, about Israel, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority, and the challenges of coming to a peace agreement.

Nathan J. Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, is a distinguished scholar and author of six well-received books on Arab politics. Brown brings his special expertise on Islamist movements, Egyptian politics, Palestinian politics, and Arab law and constitutionalism to Carnegie. Brown’s latest book, Arguing Islam After the Revival of Arab Politics, was published by Oxford University Press in 2016, and his previous book, When Victory Is Not an Option: Islamist Movements in Arab Politics, was published by Cornell University Press in early 2012. His current work focuses on religion, law, and politics in the Arab world.

In 2013, Brown was named a Guggenheim Fellow; four years earlier, he was named a Carnegie scholar by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. For the 2009–2010 academic year, he was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. In addition to his academic work, Brown serves on the Middle East and North Africa advisory committee for Human Rights Watch and the board of trustees at the American University in Cairo. He has previously served as an advisor for the committee drafting the Palestinian constitution, USAID, the United Nations Development Program, and several NGOs. For 2013-2015 he is president of the Middle East Studies Association, the academic association for scholars studying the region.

Brown is the author of Between Religion and Politics (with Amr Hamzawy, Carnegie 2010); Resuming Arab Palestine (University of California Press, 2003); Constitutions in a Non-Constitutional World: Arab Basic Laws and Prospects for Accountable Government(SUNY Press, 2001); and The Rule of Law in the Arab World: Courts in Egypt and the Arab States of the Gulf (Cambridge University Press, 1997). He also edited The Dynamics of Democratization (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).

On the Issues Episode 49: Daniel Serwer

Professor Daniel Serwer (Ph.D., Princeton) directs the Conflict Management Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He is also a Senior Fellow at its Center for Transatlantic Relations and affiliated as a Scholar with the Middle East Institute. His current interests focus on the civilian instruments needed to protect U.S. national security as well as transition and state-building in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans. His book, Righting the Balance: How You Can Help Protect America, was published in November 2013 by Potomac Books.

Formerly vice president for centers of peacebuilding innovation at the United States Institute of Peace, he led teams there working on rule of law, religion, economics, media, technology, security sector governance, and gender. He was also vice president for peace and stability operations at USIP, where he led its peacebuilding work in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, and the Balkans and served as Executive Director of the Hamilton/Baker Iraq Study Group. Serwer has worked on preventing inter-ethnic and sectarian conflict in Iraq and has facilitated dialogue between Serbs and Albanians in the Balkans.

As a minister-counselor at the U.S. Department of State, Serwer directed the European office of intelligence and research and served as U.S. special envoy and coordinator for the Bosnian Federation, mediating between Croats and Muslims and negotiating the first agreement reached at the Dayton peace talks. From 1990 to 1993, he was deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, leading a major diplomatic mission through the end of the Cold War and the first Gulf War.

On the Issues Episode 48: Khaled Elgindy

Khaled Elgindy is a fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings and a founding board member of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association. He previously served as an advisor to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on permanent status negotiations with Israel from 2004 to 2009, and was a key participant in the Annapolis negotiations held throughout 2008. He is a co-author of “The Arab Awakening: America and the Transformation of the Middle East” (Brookings Institution Press, 2011).

Prior to that, Elgindy spent nine years in various political and policy-related positions in Washington, D.C., both inside and outside the federal government, including as a professional staff member on the House International Relations Committee in 2002 and as a policy analyst for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom from 2000 to 2002. He served as the political action coordinator for the Arab American Institute from 1998 to 2000 and as Middle East program officer for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs from 1995 to 1997.

Elgindy holds a master’s in Arab studies from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s in political science from Indiana University.

On the Issues Episode 47: Michele Dunne

Michele Dunne is the director and a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Middle East Program, where her research focuses on political and economic change in Arab countries, particularly Egypt, as well as U.S. policy in the Middle East. She was the founding director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council from 2011 to 2013 and was a senior associate and editor of the Arab Reform Bulletin at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace from 2006 to 2011.

Dunne was a Middle East specialist at the U.S. Department of State from 1986 to 2003, where she served in assignments that included the National Security Council, the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff, the U.S. embassy in Cairo, the U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem, and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. She also served as a visiting professor of Arabic language and Arab studies at Georgetown from 2003 to 2006.

On the Issues Episode 46: James Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the author of Arab Voices (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) and the founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington, D.C.-based organization, which serves as the political and policy research arm of the Arab American community. Additionally, Dr. Zogby is Managing Director of Zogby Research Services, LLC (ZRS), specializing in research and communications.

During his four decade long career, Zogby also co-founded and directed the Palestine Human Rights Campaign, The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and Save Lebanon, Inc.
In 1993, he was asked by Vice President Al Gore to lead Builders for Peace, a private sector committee to promote U.S. business investment in the West Bank and Gaza. In this capacity, Zogby worked with a number of U.S. agencies to promote and support Palestinian economic development, including AID, OPIC, USTDA, and the Departments of State and Commerce.

Dr. Zogby has been personally active in U.S. politics for many years, he currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and is Co-Chair of the DNC’s Resolutions Committee.

A lecturer and scholar on Middle East issues, U.S.-Arab relations, and the history of the Arab American community, he has an extensive media profile in the United States and across the Arab World. Since 1992, Dr. Zogby has written Washington Watch, a weekly column on U.S. politics that is currently published in 14 Arab and South Asian countries.

In addition to Arab Voices, he has authored a number of other books including What Ethnic Americans Really Think and What Arabs Think: Values, Beliefs and Concerns, based on polling he conducted together with his brother John Zogby.

In 1975, Dr. Zogby received his doctorate from Temple University’s Department of Religion, where he studied under the Islamic scholar Dr. Ismail al-Faruqi. He was a National Endowment for the Humanities Post-Doctoral Fellow at Princeton University. He is the recipient of a number of honorary degrees and teaching fellowships.

On the Issues Episode 45: Arbana Xharra

Arbana Xharra is an investigative journalist from Kosovo. She authored a series of investigative reports on religious extremists and Turkey’s Islamic agenda operating in the Balkans. She has won numerous awards for her reporting, and was a 2015 recipient of the International Women of Courage Award from the US State Department.

On the Issues Episode 44: Robert Lapiner

My guest today is Robert Lapiner, Professor of Humanities and Dean Emeritus of the School for Professional Studies at New York University.

From 2011-2013, Robert Lapiner served as the Associate Vice Chancellor for Global Continuing Education at New York University, which would eventually become the School of Professional Studies. Prior to that, Lapiner was the Dean of the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies, where he remains a member of the faculty.

Lapiner joined NYU after serving as the Dean of Continuing Education and UCLA Extension, and faculty associate at the UCLA Center for International Development Education. Before his position at the University of California, Los Angeles, he was based in Paris and New York, as Deputy Executive Director/Director for Europe for the Council on International Educational Exchange. His international experience began with his appointment as a career diplomat in cultural and educational affairs with the US Foreign Service.

Lapiner earned his B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of California, Los Angeles. He earned both his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Lapiner is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society and a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. While at Harvard he was named a Graduate Prize Fellow.

While on assignment to the Democratic Republic of Congo with the U.S. Foreign Service, Lapiner earned the Meritorious Honor Award for special achievement. He has also earned commendations for exceptional educational public service, by the City and the County of Los Angeles.

Additionally, Lapiner earned the Award of Excellence for Innovative Programming from UPCEA.

On the Issues Episode 43: Alexander Cooley

Alexander Cooley is the Claire Tow Professor of Political Science at Barnard College and Director of Columbia University’s Harriman Institute (2016-18).

Professor Cooley’s research examines how external actors have shaped the development and sovereignty of the former Soviet states, with a focus on Central Asia and the Caucasus. He is author and/or editor of six academic books. His most recent book Dictators without Borders explores the rise of “extraterriorial authoritarianism” and how Western professionals support the transnational networks of Central Asian elites.

In addition to his academic research, Professor Cooley serves on several international advisory boards and has testified for the United States Congress and the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Cooley’s opinion pieces have appeared in New York Times, Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs and his research has been supported by fellowships and grants from the Open Society Foundations, Carnegie Corporation, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States, among others. Cooley earned both his MA and Ph.D. from Columbia University.

On the Issues Episode 42: Yossef Ben-Meir

On the Issues Episode 41: Ahmed Zohny

My guest today is Ahmed Zohny, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at Coppin State University. Zohny served as a Senior Adviser to the United States Department of State/ USAID project of technical assistance to the government of Egypt (2005-2007). He advised the World Bank Institute on a wide variety of issues, including quality of graduate and professional programs worldwide. He served as an adviser and leadership trainer on issues of Public Policy Development, Implementation & Evaluation, Governance, Human Capital Management and Development for Senior Government Managers from the Middle East at the Economic Development Institute of the World Bank.

Zohny is also an international development and transactional lawyer whose practice focuses on International Marketing, International Trade, Intellectual Property, Trademark, Patent, Trade Secret / Unfair Completion, Anti-Piracy, Copyright, Right of Publicity / Right of Privacy, Agency, Franchising, Distributorship and International Arbitration with Egypt and the Arab countries.

Dr. Zohny is fluent in both Arabic and English with extensive knowledge of Islamic Banking and Finance and experience in identifying, investigating and deterring fraud and corrupt practices in international banking in the Arab countries’ setting; structuring complex financial transactions, including security arrangements, developing risk mitigation strategies, formation of Joint Ventures and Strategic Alliances.

On the Issues Episode 40: Anthony Oberschall

On the Issues Episode 39: William Morris

On this episode, I speak with William Morris, Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, about the role of the UN in global humanitarian crises, the Syrian civil war, and the broader situation in the Middle East.


William Morris is Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, as well as being a broadcaster. He has worked as a farmer, miner and publisher, and for the past 20 years has worked extensively within the area of conflict resolution, principally in the Middle East. William was awarded an honorary doctorate in law by the Earl of St Andrews, Chancellor of the University of Bolton, in 2017 for his services to peace.

As a student, William travelled extensively in the Middle East with his father, a Cornish journalist with a strong interest in the region. As a direct result of this unique experience, in 1991 William was invited to be special advisor to the deputy Prime Minister of the Sultanate of Oman and set up a publishing and printing unit at Sultan Qaboos University.

In 1996 William returned to his home in the West Country with his family. Shortly after his return to Cornwall he was appointed Secretary General of The Next Century Foundation, an organization whose founders included the Lord Weinstock and Andrew Cavendish, the 11th Duke of Devonshire. The then-Crown Prince, now Emir, of Qatar was also particularly supportive. In this role, at the behest of Derek Fatchett MP (then-Minister at the Foreign Office), William Morris produced an important report on Kashmir in consultation with the Mirpuri community in Britain. In October 2000, he helped set up a war avoidance team to carry messages between the then-Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr Peter Hain, and Iraqi Minister Mr Tariq Aziz. In May 2003, William was appointed Chairman of the International Media Council (now a part of the International Council for Press and Broadcasting) based in London. In this capacity he has led press delegations to Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Egypt and Syria. The goal of the Media Council is to counter xenophobia and disinformation in the press of the Middle East and the West. William is a trustee of Sanghata Global, a charity for transformational change that designs and implements breakthrough conceptual models focused on serving humanity. He is also a core member of the personal development charity, Initiatives of Change.

On the Issues Episode 38: Chuck Freilich

I sit down with Chuck Freilich, former Israeli deputy national security adviser and senior fellow at the Belfer Center, to discuss Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Israel’s national security. Chuck’s latest book is available now from Oxford University Press; as a courtesy to my listeners, use the discount code ‘asflyq6’ for 30 percent off, only on Oxford’s website: global.oup.com/academic/product/…32?cc=us&lang=en&


Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, is a senior fellow at the Belfer Center and the author of Zion’s Dilemmas: How Israel Makes National Security Policy (Cornell University Press, November 2012), Israeli National Security: A New Strategy for an Era of Change (Oxford University Press, 2018), and Israel and the Cyber-Threat (forthcoming late 2018).

Chuck’s primary areas of expertise are the Middle East, U.S.-Middle East policy, and Israeli national security strategy and decision-making. He has taught political science at Harvard, NYU, and Columbia in the United States, and at Tel Aviv University and IDC Herzliya in Israel.

Chuck has appeared as a commentator for NBC, ABC, CNN, NPR, Al Jazeera, and various U.S. and Israeli radio and TV stations. He has published numerous academic articles and op-eds, including in the New York Times, Haaretz, and other leading newspapers.

Chuck was a senior analyst at the Israel Ministry of Defense, focusing on strategic affairs, policy adviser to a cabinet minister, and a delegate at the Israeli Mission to the United Nations. He was the executive director of two nonprofit organizations and served in the Israel Defense Forces for five years. Chuck earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University. Born in New York, he immigrated to Israel in his teens.

On the Issues Episode 37: Harry Verhoeven

I sit down with Harry Verhoeven, professor at the School of Foreign Service in Qatar, Georgetown University, to discuss the current geopolitical situation in the Gulf, and Qatar’s role in the region and beyond.


Professor Harry Verhoeven teaches at the School of Foreign Service in Qatar, Georgetown University. He is also editor of the Cambridge University Press series on Intelligence and National Security in Africa & the Middle East and an Associate Member of the Department of Politics and International Relations of the University of Oxford. His research focuses on elite politics, ideology and international relations. He was founder of the the Oxford University China-Africa Network (OUCAN) in 2008-2009 and remains a Co-Convenor of OUCAN. In 2016-2017, he served as a Visiting Scholar at Cambridge University.

Harry Verhoeven completed a doctorate at the University of Oxford, where he was a postdoctoral fellow from 2012 to 2014 and a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College from 2013 to 2014. He was a founder of the Oxford Central Africa Forum (OCAF). Outside academia, he has worked in Northern Uganda, Sudan, India and Democratic Republic of Congo. He has provided consultancy services to and collaborated with the World Bank, UNDP Sudan, Chatham House, Small Arms Survey and several governments. His work has been funded by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Qatar National Research Fund and the Volkswagen Foundation.

On the Issues Episode 36: Hillel Schenker

I recently sat down with Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, to discuss recent events in Gaza.

Hillel Schenker is co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, a Jerusalem-based independent English-language quarterly, initiated and maintained by a group of prominent Israeli and Palestinian academics and journalists. It aims to shed light on, and analyze freely and critically, the complex issues dividing Israelis and Palestinians. Schenker served for 13 years as editor of New Outlook, the Israeli peace monthly founded in the spirit of Martin Buber’s philosophy of dialogue, that served as a vehicle for understanding Israeli-Arab affairs and as a catalyst for dialogue and initiatives for peace. He has written for The Nation, Los Angeles Times, L.A. Weekly, Tikkun, Israel Horizons, In These Times, the Israeli-Hebrew-language press and many other print and electronic outlets. He was an activist and co-founder of the Peace Now movement and has served for many years as spokesperson for the Israeli branch of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. He is an International Advisory Board member of the Global Majority center for non-violent conflict resolution based at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Below is the full transcript of the episode, lightly edited for clarity.

Alon Ben-Meir: I am Alon Ben-Meir, and welcome to “On the Issues.” My guest today is Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, a Jerusalem-based independent English-language quarterly. You can find his full bio on the page for this episode.

Anyway, so I thought—this is not question and answers, this is a conversation. We’re going to talk I think about Hamas, what do you think?

Hillel Schenker: We can talk about Hamas and about what is happening right now in Gaza. I think we cannot avoid talking about this.

ABM: It’s about exactly what’s happening in Gaza, you know. And I wrote a piece, I don’t know if you had a chance to see it, about the situation.

HS: Yeah, I saw it. This is the latest piece that you just wrote.

ABM: The latest piece, yeah. Well, you know more or less my position on it. So, you read my take on it, and my take is basically, I always call it facing the inevitable, or facing reality. That you can’t change short of catastrophic events. Gaza is Gaza, is by and large pretty independent, its own territory, basically its own governing authority. Notwithstanding the effort to unite with the PA, all of these efforts failed miserably in the past. The question that— So my focus is Israel versus Hamas. And here the situation in Gaza, what to do about it, given the reality on the ground.

HS: Yeah.

ABM: And so all of these disturbances and the demonstration near the fence in the border, it’s no surprise to anyone, given the miserable, horrifying conditions that exist in Gaza. Now, where do we go from here? You know this is really what boggles the mind from my perspective is that, be that Netanyahu or anyone, and Ismail Haniyeh and Sinwar himself. If they sit down for a moment and begin to think in terms of, OK, where do you go from here? Where do you go from here?

HS: Well first of all, what we do see is a terrible humanitarian crisis. There are almost 2 million people in abject poverty, with sometimes barely four hours of electricity a day and water which is polluted. There was just today, I was reading that there was a delegation from the Israeli Physicians for Human Rights in Gaza, which now—it was composed entirely of Palestinian Israeli citizens, because they wouldn’t let Jewish Israelis go in—and they are saying that the medical facilities, it is just catastrophic. They are living, and so therefore it is not surprising that there is this tremendous frustration and that there is this readiness to respond to some type of protest action, which is what we’re seeing now. Now Hamas bears a large part of the responsibility obviously, because they are the government.

ABM: Absolutely.

HS: But they are not the only ones, you know. On the one hand, they won the last Palestinian elections back in what—

ABM: 2006.

HS: 2006, primarily because Fatah was perceived as being corrupt, and they were presumably clean and honest, et cetera. They are as corrupt as Fatah. They make money out of the tunnels, they make money out of everything. They don’t do what is necessary for the people of Gaza. So we know today for example that in the latest public opinion polls – you know Professor Khalil Shikaki at the Palestinian Center for Policy Research in Ramallah, who is the most admired and respected independent researcher, says that both the Hamas and the Fatah leadership have lost the confidence of the people in Gaza and in the West Bank. Now. But going back to Gaza, it’s not only, Israel left but still has a siege, it still controls the borders, land, sea.

ABM: Well there’s a blockade, I mean, yeah.

HS: But Egypt has responsibility as well, because Egypt has also created a blockade on its side of the border because they are afraid of extremist Islamists going into northern Sinai and meeting up with the ISIS people.

ABM: But you see Hillel, this is the reality. You articulated as best as anyone can be. The question is not withstanding all of this, what do we do? That is, this isn’t enough. This is going to explode. This time it’s exploding in the form of demonstrations and is going to continue probably, I think this is the last Friday?

HS: No, no, it’s going to continue until May 14. It’s going to be six weeks of demonstrations.

ABM: Yes.

HS: With the peak being every Friday, because that’s the Muslim holy day and so therefore that’s when there’s the particular motivation. May 14th in the general calendar. That’s the day of Israeli independence seventy years ago, but for them it’s the Nakba, the disaster. So that will be the peak.

ABM: Yeah.

HS: Yeah.

ABM: That will be the peak. My thinking, you know, had the Israelis and the Palestinians been smart enough, maybe to use the occasion and say wait a minute, let’s look back for a moment and see where we were, where we are, and where would you go from here. Just give it some thought. Again, given what you can change or what you cannot change.

HS: First of all, I want to make a comment about the nature of the protests. They call the protest the March of Return, which I think is a mistake.

ABM: Terrible mistake, terrible mistake.

HS: The Palestinians claim this is to remind everybody that there is a refugee problem. But it does two things which are totally counterproductive. One is it creates an illusion among the Gazans—the poor, suffering two million Gazan people—that maybe the answer is to return to their former villages in Israel. That is totally delusional. It is not possible. And so using that title actually creates a false illusion on their part, as if this is an answer. Now also with the Israeli public, if they had called this the protest for freedom, the protest for independence from the current tragic situation, it might have a possibility of resonating with the Israeli public. But March of Return is very problematic.

ABM: It was the worst thing they could have done. And I know if you read the article, I said exactly the point, what right of return? I mean, there is a question of technicalities. Well the second mistake they also made, how could you demand the lifting of the blockade, and at the same time call for Israel’s destruction? What government in Israel, even the extreme left, Meretz or even left of Meretz—

HS: No, no nobody accepts that, but—

ABM: No one is going to accept the fact that you lift the blockade and hope for the best.

HS: No, but we should still also give them some credit, even though they haven’t really done very good public relations for it. When Sinwar became the leader instead of Haniyeh, what happened is that he I think does understand that you have to come to terms with reality, and that was the reason for—they tried to change the charter, they tried to signal the idea that they would accept a Palestinian state within the ’67 lines.

ABM: This is true, but Hillel, you know, I’ve read it. I’m sure you read the new charter. And the new charter still calls for Israel’s destruction. I mean, they tried to sort of color it slightly, but it’s still there. What I’m saying to them when I have this opportunity to talk to any of them, I’m saying look. Can you see, can you imagine possibly Israel, destroying Israel in any shape or form, at any time in the future? That’s not going to happen.

HS: Of course not. And they understand that, I assume.

ABM: I tell the Israelis, and they know, and they said no. And I said to the Israelis, do you think you’re going to wipe out Hamas? You going to wipe out the Palestinians? That’s not going to happen either. So when I speak about reality, this is what I’m talking about. So then, you have to begin by changing the public narrative at least. It is exactly your right. When they come up with the March of Return, well, what return? And there’s another technical point that I tried to point out to them. I asked them the following, Hillel. Do you consider Gaza to be part of Palestine? They said yeah, absolutely. Do you consider the West Bank to be part of Palestine? They said absolutely. OK. Then the Palestinians who you call refugees in Gaza or in the West Bank, are they refugees or are they internally displaced? Who can call them a refugee when they are still in their home country? Right? So you are internally displaced, you are not a refugee. Now you are talking about two and a half million so-called refugees who actually live, as a matter of fact, two thirds of the Palestinians in Gaza consider themselves refugees. Or a million and a half. And nearly a million and a half in the West Bank as well. They consider themselves refugees when in fact they are internally displaced.

I said, if you begin to make this kind of distinction, what’s going to happen? I am like many like myself, when I go to Europe and they ask me, what do we do? I said well, why don’t you begin to think in terms of establishing funds for resettlement and/or compensation of the Palestinian refugees, and make it clear to the Palestinians, here we have five billion dollars or ten billion dollars waiting to be used. If you begin to start to think in realistic terms of resettlement and/or compensation, because— And then accept the reality that you are already in your homeland. You are not outside your homeland. That’s one point. And the second point I said, if you really want a significant change, and I think Israel, even Lieberman said, please correct me Hillel if I’m wrong. Lieberman said he wants them surrendering their arms. Well, that’s not going to happen. Surrendering the arms, I mean giving up their arms for them is a surrender. It’s almost unconditional surrender. They’re not going to go for it. Call for renouncing violence. That’s it. Don’t ask for recognition of Israel now, don’t ask for anything else. Just renounce violence and show us that you are renouncing violence by stopping building tunnels and procuring and/or manufacturing weapons. So that’s what I’ve been trying to explain to them, this is what needs to be done.

HS: Let me tell you. I just came from three days at the J Street conference.

ABM: Yeah.

HS: And two observations from different sessions that took place there. One was there was a session about the future Palestinian leadership run by young Palestinians who were out there. And you know, none of them agree with Hamas’ ideology. But they all say Hamas is a part of, what can we do. They are half of the people. A future Palestinian state has to include Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. But there are certain conditions that have to be met. The fact is they are not members of the PLO and they want to become part of the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organization. And what these Palestinians were saying, if they want to become part of the PLO, then they have to accept the basic resolutions that the PLO came to, which include number one recognition of the existence of the state of Israel. Number two, the decision to support only nonviolent resistance and not violent resistance. If you want to become a part of the PLO, which they want to do, so they are saying this is what we are demanding of them. Now, the second very interesting comments were in Bernie Sanders’ presentation. Bernie Sanders made a very powerful presentation, which I would recommend everyone look at, I’m sure it will be uploaded onto the Internet, in which he criticized Hamas very strongly for exactly the things that you are saying. He also held Israel responsible for maintaining the siege and not helping to rebuild Gaza. We all believe that there should be something like a Marshall Plan, which is what helped to rebuild Europe after World War Two. But then he made a particular point of the responsibility of the wealthy Arab states, the Gulf states. And he was pointing out the fact that MBS, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, just bought, he contributed 50 million dollars to the reconstruction of Gaza but he spent 500 million dollars on a new yacht. And the comment was all of the region has to participate, has to help take responsibility for rebuilding Gaza. And the Hamas people, they have a responsibility to declare what you are saying.

ABM: Yeah, I mean this is exactly the point. You know that is, if you and I were to sit down and fashion a solution, what are we going to do? We’re going to look at the reality and say OK, resettlement, compensation require money; where is this money going to come from? Certainly the Gulf states, the EU, the United States, even China will contribute. I mean it’s little stretch, but many, many countries will come, I mean to gather, to put together 10, 15 billion dollars, it’s not much if it’s coming from all over all of these countries and some. So you have that. I think what we need to do here is, at least what I think, four different things, and please correct me. Number one is, we need to put some kind of influence on Hamas, change your narrative. Don’t keep calling for Israel’s destruction. Don’t have to do anything, just don’t use, keep using that. Don’t keep calling.

HS: In order to do that, we have to offer them something too.

ABM: Ok, I’m coming to that. You do that, and Israel is going to come and say OK, we’re going to make this concession and this concession and this concession. We will allow so much more goods to go, so much more cement and steel will go there. Then we make an easing of the blockade again. So what we’re talking about is incremental easing of the blockade and linking it to the behavior of Hamas. Hamas will understand. If I renounce, if I’m not going to call for Israel’s destruction, I’m going to get something. I’m going to renounce violence, I’m going to get something. It has got to be quid pro quo. If you have that quid pro quo, you’re going to create an atmosphere where the cooperation is going to create a new atmosphere that is conducive to further progress. And that’s what you want to do. You have to create an atmosphere conducive to further progress. And it won’t take much sacrifice from either side.

HS: And the average Israeli, and even the right-wing government. If there is quiet and construction in Gaza, the average Israeli will be very happy to know that there is no more friction, no more possibility of rockets against the southern towns of Sderot and other towns, and the right-wing government, which may not want to accept Hamas, would have to.

ABM: Yes.

HS: There’s no question about it.

ABM: Exactly. And here the next point, I tell you, I’d like you to comment on it please. You know, Netanyahu and his other government always took the position, well, if Hamas join with Fatah, we will not negotiate with Fatah because we will never negotiate with the—

HS: Which is a mistake.

ABM: Which is a terrible mistake.

HS: It’s a mistake. Because the whole basis of the Oslo Accords was mutual recognition.

ABM: Exactly.

HS: And if Hamas joins this mutual recognition, then they are also legitimate partners for negotiations.

ABM: Then you ask yourself the question, why is Netanyahu doing this? He’s doing this in my view, and I’m convinced of it, precisely because he wants to maintain the disunity between the two sides.

HS: Yes. Yes, the truth is—

ABM: Now I want to take it a step further and say to them, listen to the following. Gaza is there like where we started, Hillel, and Hamas is there. Wouldn’t it be to your benefit – they are not connected, neither territorially nor ideologically, the two sides. They’re not connected. Wouldn’t it be better for you to start working with Gaza as if it were a separate entity? Think in those terms, as it if it were a separate entity. What advantage that would give Israel.

HS: But the thing is that the Palestinians, and I think rightfully so, say we want you to look at the totality of the Palestinian people, which includes the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem.

ABM: This is true, but I’m talking about treating Gaza as if it were separate. In a sense that, meaning—

HS: It is a separate problem, but it is part of a larger entity.

ABM: Yes, but this is how—the point is, if you can’t solve the big problem together, you break it down. That’s where I come in terms from conflict resolution.

HS: No, but let us go back to Netanyahu. The problem with Netanyahu is that he gives lip service to the idea of the two-state solution, but is not ready to do anything to advance it.

ABM: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s exactly what we’re saying, that’s why this is going to happen under Netanyahu. This scenario can be effective only if there is new leadership in Israel.

HS: This is what we need. Hopefully Netanyahu will fall due to these investigations and—something very interesting. The Palestine-Israel Journal, I’m co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, we had a fascinating meeting with a veteran South African anti-apartheid activist who was very close to Nelson Mandela. And we asked her what led to the downfall of apartheid. And she says it wasn’t first and foremost sanctions. It was two factors. One factor which we do not have in the Middle East, and that is that 10 percent of the Afrikaners could not continue. It was unsustainable to continue to control 90 percent of the population. But the second factor she said, was corruption. The Afrikaner government was extremely corrupt, and even the businessmen, the English and the Afrikaner businessmen, said this cannot continue to work, and we have to have a different regime. If we want to have an effective economy, yeah. Now this is what we have in Israel, we have corruption. Hopefully that will bring Netanyahu down. And then we have a possible chance of an alternative center-left government. And we need that, and we also need new leadership on the Palestinian side.

ABM: This is absolutely true, but I just want to go back for a moment to the situation in Gaza. All of the scenarios we’re talking about now in my view is, there’s got to be a change of leadership in Israel, that just has to be a given. So what I am saying, if we were to treat Gaza as a separate entity in a sense that, here’s the quid pro quo that I am talking to you about. You do this we do this, we do this, we do this. Now you’re going to create a new atmosphere, a collaborative effort, made by both sides. This is going to also give Israel leverage over the Palestinian Authority. If the Palestinian Authority realizes that Israel is making progress with Hamas, the Palestinian Authority itself will become more amenable to listening more carefully to Israel. Because that’s what it’s terrified of. You know what they’re terrified of? That actually they can be separated. They don’t want to be separated.

HS: What’s called the three-state solution, yeah, yeah.

ABM: That will be the three-state solution. And they don’t want that.

HS: They don’t want that.

ABM: So what Israel could make it, double gains on two fronts simultaneously by working with Hamas. If Hamas is smart enough to realize this is what they can do, and then Israel will have leverage on the PLO afterwards. But Hamas too come the election, would have a greater advantage.

HS: But let us also add that it is quite clear again from public opinion polls that the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians do not want to live under a regime which is guided by Sharia law, religious law. And so they do not want the Hamas ideology to be the guiding factor in the future of the Palestinian people.

ABM: I agree with you, and I also suggest the following, that the Palestinians in Gaza are not living under Sharia law, and you know that. There’s no such thing. It’s only, in the air. The Sharia law is in the air. It’s not on the ground. That’s number one. But Hamas uses religion just like ISIS does. Why is that? Because to use religion to that extent, in the extreme form, you prevent questioning what you’re doing. Because you’re doing it in the name of God. Who are you to question God? I am not, I am only a servant. I am not doing anything.

HS: Unfortunately we have echoes of that on the Israeli side.

ABM: There’s echoes of that on the Israeli side as well.

HS: The extremist settlers who say God promised this to us and therefore there’s no place for compromise.

ABM: But if we go back to the Palestinians—

HS: Which goes totally against the founding fathers of Zionism, who rebelled against the religion and said we take our fate into our own hands.

ABM: That’s right, that’s right. So when you say about Hamas being totally committed to Sharia law and all of that, honestly, it’s not.

HS: What I say is that the Palestinian people do not want to live under Sharia law.

ABM: They don’t, and Hamas is not enforcing that in the least. Not even in Gaza. And that’s the situation. I’m just thinking in those terms, and your take on this is very important. You know, when I look, and you know, I keep saying this time and again, when I see crisis, every crisis, I see also opportunities. To me, when there is a breakdown, there is a breakthrough. So look for the breakthrough. There is a breakdown today between Israel and Hamas. We’ve got to look for break.

HS: So the question here is, here we need third parties to enter into, talk to Hamas, to talk to Israel, to enable a possibility of a breakthrough because it’s highly unlikely that the current Israeli government will be ready to speak directly to Hamas. Yeah.

ABM: You know, I wish, if we could arrange we could arrange something like this in Israel, or Hamas, or in a neutral territory. In Cyprus, it’s very easily accessible.

HS: Cyprus, Brussels, Turkey, there are all sorts of—

ABM: I will be more than happy to do something like this in Brussels. And I can tell you that the EU may very well, I did already actually with the EU last November, a mock negotiation between Palestinians from the Authority, 5-6 members from the top rank of the PLO. And else from the Israelis and the deputy—

HS: The PLO but not Hamas?

ABM: No, they were not Hamas. And then from the Israeli side also members of the Knesset and all of that, came to Brussels and I conducted a mock negotiation.

HS: So the question is, is it possible to do the same thing track two, track one and a half, government, civil society. However—

ABM: I think we can do that.

HS: Between Hamas and Israel. That would be very constructive to do. Now I just feel we cannot have this conversation about Gaza without also making these comments about what has happened since the March of Return began. And the fact that that first Friday, the Friday of the seder for us, the Jews, and for the Palestinians it was a marking of Land Day, which began in 1976 in Sakhnin. The fact is that 17 Palestinians were killed by Israeli sharpshooters that weekend. The following Friday, again I don’t remember exactly. It’s altogether about 30, and there is no question that the Israeli government made a decision to use an exaggerated amount of force. There was no need to shoot. It’s not as if there was a serious danger to the soldiers or a breakthrough of the border, anything like that, and this has to be said because soft, what’s called soft force. There are so many other means of crowd dispersal that could have been used.

ABM: I could not agree with you more. You’re absolutely right. And that was—

HS: And this is really unfortunate.

ABM: It’s a tragic mistake on the part of Israel. There was no need to use this kind of excessive force. What’s wrong with using rubber bullets all the time, why use real bullets?

HS: And smoke, and there’s all sorts of you know—

ABM: Water cannons, whatever you want.

HS: There are all sorts of means that— If it were the Haredim, ultra-orthodox blocking the roads in Jerusalem, which have – you know, I spend every half a week in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. And when they decide to protest because they don’t want to serve in the army, they block all the roads and the police use crowd dispersal. But they will never fire at them.

ABM: No, yeah, I agree with you. So anyway, what I’m thinking, I don’t know if, what you, what’s your thought on it, on this but perhaps maybe you want to give it some thought when you get back home, and see if there is any possibilities from your end there. I can work on this side, to have some kind of—but they’ve got to be from the top Hamas tier, not fourth, fifth tier; second tier would be good enough. Because you cannot get the first two, three people. Second tier of individuals, like this person of, what’s his name, I talked to him, my mind is shot with names, I’m terrible with names. Abu—, what’s his name?

HS: Mazak?

ABM: Marzook? Marzook it is? Marzook. You know, people like that, we can get them. I can get them to come to the EU. They’re not coming with a sign, Hamas.

HS: I think at this stage it cannot be at the political level. There are no members of Knesset who will be ready to do it, but civil society, like I was saying, what I was describing to you before, the fact that we have a policy working group of—

ABM: Civil society, yeah.

HS: Of former ambassadors and senior academics and civil society directors.

ABM: Civil society, those two, three who come from Hamas, they’ll go back with a message.

HS: Now, if the Hamas people are ready, this is I think the challenge. If they are ready, I think on the Israeli side partners will easily be found to have such an encounter.

ABM: That’s what I’m saying, asking you if you could reach out, I don’t know if you have it, through Palestinians, not directly to Hamas but through other Palestinians, and tell them look, there is an opportunity to develop a new narrative, a new posit, exactly based on what you’re saying. The tenure of Abbas is limited, we know that. How long is it? And Netanyahu, whether he is indicted or not, I don’t think he’s going to run. Even if he runs, I don’t think he’s going to make it this time around. I really doubt it.

HS: At this stage, I doubt whether one can find partners in the Palestinian Authority ready to do this.

ABM: Forget the Authority for now.

HS: But let’s leave them aside. There are people, there are Palestinians and there are also Israelis, there are some Israeli journalists. There are also activists like Gershon Baskin, who was very involved in the release of Gilad Shalit who are— People don’t realize this, but there are Israeli journalists in the daily papers, in Ha’aretz, even in the Jerusalem Post and Yedioth, Maariv, who speak to Hamas people.

ABM: Yeah, yeah.

HS: And it’s not as if there is no communication. And so it is possible to explore and hopefully build the foundation to be able to do something like that.

ABM: I really think there are possibilities. And if you want to, I don’t know, to start to put out some feelers with these individuals.

HS: Yeah, yeah. This is definitely something possible, desirable, and very timely.

ABM: And timely more than anything else, before it’s too late. You know if you have a new government, a new leader with the Palestinian Authority, you don’t know what’s going to be. But if you prepare the ground for Hamas to look at the conflict with Israel a little different, and they do. You see, the problem is that, the point is, they know between them and themselves, they know Israel is a fact of life. We have to deal with Israel, we have to coexist with Israel. They know that.

HS: They know that.

ABM: They know that. And they know there is no way out. They know that. What we want to do now is create a narrative so that they can say it, and Israel will be prepared to make the kind of quid pro quo involved, to build the kind of trust necessary.

HS: Such, what we are seeing possibly is a similar evolution to what Fatah and the PLO underwent in the 70s and 80s, reaching the point which eventually led to the Oslo Accords. The mutual recognition.

ABM: This is true.

HS: And we can possibly see a similar coming to terms with reality on the part of Hamas. But you need the groundwork of these track two encounters. And I think it’s possible if they are ready for it.

ABM: But again, given the fact, that’s why I keep saying the same thing – given the fact that they know that there is no other way but to deal with Israel, they know that. Then they’re going to have to think about differently, if you show them a new map, a new direction. I just want to tell you, notwithstanding the fact that Hamas, PLO I should say, changed their mind, changed their charter and all of that. I had a conference in Brussels – this is, the EU invited Israelis and Palestinians to come together, and I was asked to come to the meeting. It was a huge meeting. And at the time I wrote two open letters, one to Abbas, and one to Netanyahu. And the chairman of the meeting, he started the conference by saying, Alon Ben-Meir just wrote these two letters. Because you know my position, I’m unbiased. I go where I think who’s right and who’s wrong. I don’t care, have absolutely no, I don’t lean to either side. To me, peace and solution is the only thing that matters. So that’s why the two letters were very balanced in terms of blaming Abbas for the wrong thing he’s doing, and blaming Israelis for their wrong things.

And then when I started my speech, I appealed to the Palestinian delegation, which was a huge delegation. I said, I want you to understand, first thing I want to say, I am for 1000 percent for a two-state solution, much of the West Bank, 95, 94 whatever percent, and land swap, same thing with Gaza. Are we clear on this? That’s fine. I said, but your approach for the last 30, 20, 15 years is completely misguided. And I suggested a few approaches, and you know what they started? They started going back to 1948, repeating the same thing as if nothing has changed. And when I got up to speak again, I said to them, as long as you live in the past, you live 70 years ago, you are not going to—what you talking about the right of—think in terms of, what do we do in order to solve the question of the right of return, rather than demanding the right of return. I said, even if you use it as a slogan, you are alienating every single Israeli because that’s not going to happen. So even with the PLO today, they’re still demanding the right of return. They haven’t changed their slogan.

HS: They are demanding a recognition of the principle of the right of return.

ABM: The principle, yes.

HS: But the Arab Peace Initiative, which has been supported by 22 Arab nations and all 57 Muslim nations including Iran, says an agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem, which means—

ABM: Exactly, a just solution.

HS: With the Israeli government. What the Israeli government will agree to and allow to, in principle. And I would add also when we talk about history in South Africa again to go back to South Africa. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was a very important component, was a post agreement dynamic. You cannot do that before you write, reach an agreement. when you get to the agreement, Then you can talk about what everyone felt about the past, the suffering, who, the responsibilities, et cetera. But we have to look forward, get to an agreement by stages or directly everybody would like to see– the problem of the Oslo Accords was that uh it was a stage but it was supposed to be completed in five years and It wasn’t.

ABM: No, because Netanyahu came in 1996 and started to torpedo elements of the Oslo Accord. You know that. But your point is well taken. I said in Camp David would there been negotiation between Barak and—

HS: In 2000.

ABM: In 2000, yes. And Arafat at the time, and they almost reached an agreement, and the sticking point was the right of return. And actually Arafat would not sign on the dotted line unless—I spoke to Peres. Peres himself told me this. He said, Alon. I said, why, why, why? He said, he insisted that the right of return, he agreed there’d be no right of return, the Palestinians, but he would not say this, he said for the next generation to decide. But I want this, that the Palestinians reserve the right of return in the document. And Barak jumped.

HS: Whenever discussing the right of return, I always go back to a public opinion poll which again professor Khalil Shikaki in Ramallah did. He went to the refugees in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, and asked them what are their views. And before he published it he went to Arafat, who was still alive at the time, and said these are my findings. And Arafat said to him, what are you doing? You’re undermining my negotiating position. And Shikaki said, I’m a scientist. These are my findings and I’m going to publish them. And he did. And the findings were that 95 percent of the refugees know that they will not return. And so it can be worked out.

ABM: And his office was ransacked as a result of that, right after he published it.

HS: And today too, the PA is not happy with the fact that he is an independent researcher there. It’s hard for us to believe, but there are independent researchers in the West Bank and even in Gaza. There is Omar Sha’aban, he has, he calls it Pal Think if I remember correctly. There is independent analysis there as well. And if we do anything track two, they should be involved as well.

ABM: Absolutely. I mean, I just thought I’d throw this, give it some thought.

HS: Definitely. And I may add by the way, it’s hard to believe that at the Palestine-Israel Journal we have about 30 Israeli and Palestinian members on the editorial board. One of them is from Gaza. Ali Abu Shahla is an independent Gazan businessman who everybody agrees—Hamas, Israel, Fatah—can periodically get a permit to come to the West Bank to do business. He’s not a politician. He is a trustee for one of the universities. And there are people to talk with in Gaza. And we should do it.

ABM: I mean you know for this, for what’s his name, Lieberman to say, what did he say lately which was the most insulting thing you can possibly imagine about the Palestinians in Gaza. What was it that he said he had to take it back, to swallow it back, that the Palestinians, do you remember? He said you know, they are all terrorists or something like that.

HS: No, that’s absurd. They’re, most of them are simply suffering human beings. You know, 40 percent unemployment, 60 percent of the youth are unemployed. They want to live a normal life. Yeah.

ABM: Yeah. You know what he said, no innocent people in Gaza. No innocent people in Gaza.

HS: That’s absurd.

ABM: Yeah, no innocent people, everybody is guilty of something.

HS: Yeah, some people say that about Israel – everybody is a soldier, therefore everybody is responsible for the occupation. But so many Israelis are against the occupation. So you can’t say that about Gaza either. No question about it.

ABM: Anyway, it was wonderful having a conversation with you.

HS: My pleasure, and hopefully also we can move ahead with some initiatives.

ABM: I am, honestly, I am ready willing and able to do whatever it takes. Hillel, that’s what I am doing now, I really am doing nothing else. And I’m not looking for compensation, I’m not looking for money. In fact, if it’s offered, I refuse it, I’m not interested.

HS: I’m going to bring these ideas back to the Palestine-Israel Journal, we have an editorial board meeting soon, and to the policy working group. And hopefully we can come forward with initiatives.

ABM: If you want me to come, I’m happy to come to Israel, have initial meetings, whatever it takes.

HS: Definitely. Definitely.

ABM: I am absolutely, listen, I’m committed to this.

HS: The main thing is people ask me why am I not in despair as so many other people are. And I say the main reason is because I’m being proactive.

ABM: Yeah.

HS: I’m on the front lines of seeking answers. And that’s what we all have to do.

ABM: Exactly. All the power to you. And I know that. I mean that’s why, I never suggested anything like this with anyone because I thought, what’s the point. What’s the point? But you can take it, and then you can rely on me to do whatever it takes. Here, in the EU, whatever.

HS: Very good. OK.

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.

ABM: Who?

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.

RW: Yes.

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.

RW: Right.

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.

RW: Right.

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.

RW: Sure.

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—

RW: No.

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—

ABM: Exactly.

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—

RW: Right.

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.

RW: Right.

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.

RW: Sure.

ABM: But certainly contributed to the impasse.

RW: Sure.

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—

RW: Sure.

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.

RW: Yeah.

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.

On the Issues Episode 34: Ambassador David Mack

David Mack is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs (1990-1993) and US Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (1986-1989). Mack’s US diplomatic assignments included Iraq, Jordan, Jerusalem, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia. Mack has extensive experience and knowledge on Iraq, Libya and UAE. He also comments on US Middle East policy and the security of the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf region.

On the Issues Episode 33: Ambassador Warren Clark

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.

WC: Yes.

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.

WC: Yeah.

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.

ABM: Yeah.

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.

ABM: Yeah.

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—

WC: Yeah.

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.

WC: Yes.

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.

ABM: Absolutely.

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: Yes.

ABM: Now.

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.

WC: Yes.

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—

WC: Yeah.

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.

WC: Absolutely.

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.

WC: Good.

ABM: Thank you so much, I think we had a good time. It was fun.

WC: Thank you. I enjoyed it.

On the Issues Episode 32: Radwan Ziadeh

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.

On the Issues Episode 31: Erdoan Shipoli

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.

On the Issues Episode 30: Mark Whitlock

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.

On the Issues Episode 29: Tsvi Bisk

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.

ABM: Yeah.

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.

TB: Ok.

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.

ABM: Yeah.

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.

ABM: Yeah.

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—

TB: Exactly.

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.

ABM: Yeah.

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.

ABM: Yeah.

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.

ABM: Yes.

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.

ABM: Yeah.

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.’

ABM: Exactly.

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.

ABM: Yeah.

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.

ABM: Yeah.

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.

On the Issues Episode 28: Alon Liel

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.

On the Issues Episode 27: Moshe Ma’oz

Moshe Ma’oz is Professor Emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a previous Director of the university’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace. Professor Ma’oz is renowned for his expertise in Arab and Middle East affairs, and has published extensively on Islam and on the history and politics of the Middle East. He is a leading expert on Syria. Professor Ma’oz has been a visiting professor, scholar, and fellow at many leading universities and institutions around the world. He has served as an advisor on Arab Affairs for Israel’s Knesset, and was a member of official advisory committees that counseled the late Prime Ministers Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.

Global Leaders with Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija

On the Issues Episode 26: Safwan Masri

My guest today is Professor Safwan M. Masri, Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University. In this role, he directs a number of Columbia’s global initiatives and is responsible for the development of an expanding network of Global Centers, located in Amman, Beijing, Istanbul, Mumbai, Nairobi, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, and Tunis. These centers work to advance Columbia’s global mission and extend the University’s reach to address the pressing demands of our global society.

Masri holds a senior research scholar appointment at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). He joined the faculty of Columbia Business School in 1988 and was appointed Vice Dean in 1993, a position he held for thirteen years. He previously taught engineering at Stanford University, and was a visiting professor at INSEAD (Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires) in France.

A scholar on education and contemporary geopolitics and society in the Arab world, Masri’s work focuses on understanding the historic, postcolonial dynamics among religion, education, society, and politics. He is the author of Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly (Columbia University Press, 2017), which examines why Tunisia was the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring as a democracy. Masri’s writings on education and current affairs have been featured in the Financial Times, Huffington Post, and Times Higher Education.

Masri is an honorary fellow of the Foreign Policy Association. He was founding chairman of both King’s Academy and Queen Rania Teacher Academy in Jordan, and served as an advisor to Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah. He is a trustee of International College in Beirut and of the Welfare Association (Taawon) in Ramallah, and a member of the advisory board of the School of Business at the American University in Cairo. Masri has served on the governing boards of Endeavor Jordan, the Children’s Museum Jordan, Arab Bankers Association of North America (ABANA), and Aramex.

Masri earned his Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering from Purdue University in 1982; his Master of Science in industrial engineering, also from Purdue, in 1984; and his Ph.D. in industrial engineering and engineering management from Stanford University in 1988. He was honored with Columbia’s Singhvi Professor of the Year for Scholarship in the Classroom Award in 1990, the Robert W. Lear Service Award in 1998, and the Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence in a Core Course in 2000. Masri has also been honored with the 2003 American Service Award from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

On the Issues Episode 25: Nina Khrushcheva

Nina Khrushcheva is Professor of International Affairs at New School University in New York. She is senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and contributing editor to Project Syndicate: Association of Newspapers Around the World. After receiving her PhD from Princeton University, she had a two-year research appointment at the School of Historical Studies of Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and then served as Deputy Editor of East European Constitutional Review at NYU School of Law. She is a member of Council on Foreign Relations and a recipient of Great Immigrants: The Pride of America Award from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Her articles have appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and other publications. She is the author of Imagining Nabokov: Russia Between Art and Politics (Yale UP, 2008) and The Lost Khrushchev: A Journey Into the Gulag of the Russian Mind (Tate, 2014).

On the Issues Episode 24: W.P.S. Sidhu

On this episode, my guest Dr. Waheguru Pal Singh (W.P.S.) Sidhu and I discuss Iran, North Korea, and nuclear proliferation.

Dr. Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu is Visiting Professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and Non-Resident Fellow at NYU’s Center on International Cooperation (CIC), as well as Non-Resident Senior Fellow at Brookings. Prior to coming to CIC, he served as Vice President of Programs at the EastWest Institute in New York, and as Director of the New Issues in Security program at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP). Dr. Sidhu has researched, written, and taught extensively on the United Nations and regionalism, peace operations, Southern Asia, confidence-building-measures, disarmament, arms control, and non-proliferation issues. His recent publications include: The Iraq Crisis and World Order: Structural, Institutional and Normative Challenges; Arms Control after Iraq: Normative and Operational Challenges; Kashmir: New Voices, New Approaches; and China and India: Cooperation or Conflict? He has also published in leading international journals, including Arms Control Today, Asian Survey, Disarmament Diplomacy, Disarmament Forum, International Peacekeeping, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Politique Etrangere, and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Dr. Sidhu was the consultant to the first, second, and third United Nations Panel of Governmental Experts on Missiles in 2001-2002, 2004 and 2007-2008 respectively. He was also appointed as a member of the Resource Group set up to assist the United Nations High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change in 2004. Dr. Sidhu earned his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. He holds a Masters in International Relations from the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and a Bachelor’s degree in History from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, India.

On the Issues Episode 23: Daisy Khan

My latest guest is Daisy Khan, Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), a New York based non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening an expression of Islam based on cultural and religious harmony, as well as building bridges between Muslims and the general public. At ASMA, Daisy Khan has created a number of groundbreaking intra- and inter-faith programs. She has led numerous interfaith events, such as the theater production, Same Difference, and the Cordoba Bread Fest Banquet. She continues to mentor American Muslims on assimilation issues, balancing faith and modernity, the challenges of living as a minority, and intergenerational questions. To strengthen the voices of women and youth within the global Muslim community, she created two cutting-edge programs of international scope: Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow (MLT) and the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE).

Khan regularly lectures in the United States and internationally. She has appeared on numerous media outlets, such as CNN, Al Jazeera, and BBC World’s Doha Debates.  She often serves as an adviser and contributor to a variety of documentaries, including PBS’s Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, National Geographic’s Inside Mecca, and the Hallmark Channel’s Listening to Islam. Khan is a weekly contributor to the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog and is frequently quoted in print publications, such as Time Magazine, Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Saudi Gazette, and the Khaleej Times.  Born in Kashmir, she spent twenty-five years as an interior architect for various Fortune 500 companies. In 2005, she dedicated herself to full-time community service and building movements for positive change, both in the United States and around the globe. In recognition of this important work, Khan is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Interfaith Center’s Award for Promoting Peace and Interfaith Understanding, Auburn Seminary’s Lives of Commitment Award, and the Annual Faith Leaders Award. She was also selected by Women’s eNews as one of the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century.

Alon Ben-Meir: I’m Professor Alon Ben-Meir and this is On the Issues. My guest today is Daisy Khan, Executive Director of the Women’s Islamic Initiative for Spirituality and Equality. Formerly, Daisy served as Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, where she spent the last 18 years creating groundbreaking interim and interfaith programs based on cultural and religious harmony through interfaith collaboration. You can find her full bio on the page for this episode. So thank you so much Daisy for taking the time. I’m really delighted to have this conversation with you, and I know that whoever will listen to it is going to learn something from you for sure.

Daisy Khan: Thank you Alon for inviting me. I’m really excited to be here with your audience.

ABM: So anyway, I know that you have a number of very important focuses on which you’ve been talking, writing, doing a great deal of preaching, and your voice has been heard quite well in many places. But let me begin by asking you something about this specifically, especially important to you, and that’s the role of women in conflict resolution. And I know you’ve been talking about it and trying to promote the whole notion that women’s role is critically important, and I think you and I agree that it has not been fully utilized yet in the search for a resolution to specific conflicts. What is your take? Where would you start? What would you like to advance in order to make people, listeners, those who specifically deal with conflict resolution, understand that a woman is a great asset that has not been fully utilized, and that something has to change. What is it going to take?

DK: Yeah. Well I think, Alon, sometimes we have to look back in history to move forward. And that’s what I did with my own work. I had to find sources and historical references in my own faith tradition to see what women had done before me, because as modern women living in contemporary societies, we think that the work we’re doing today to advance women is actually just uniquely to our situation. But the reality is that women from the earliest of times, from all of our faith traditions, have been very active in the communities. You know, [unclear] communities, right? So, creating progress, but really fundamentally at the core level, a woman has always been one half of society, and the other half she raises on her laps. And so the responsibility of a woman to bring up a right kind of children and give them the right sort of, what shall we say, ethic of building peace and nurturing them, is what makes us natural peacemakers. It’s because we know how to reduce conflict in the home, because whenever conflicts will rise, a mother is usually a good person who is trying to calm things down between warring factions within the family. So I think that we just inherently are trained and have this ability to reach across, and trying to build peace within the home. Why women have not really been taken seriously to play this role actively in politics and in conflict resolutions, I think that has to do with pretty much why there’s a glass ceiling for women in other areas as well, because maybe traditionally people thought that women should not venture out. You know, her role should just be in a home, it should not be on the outside. I think that’s changing, because more and more people like yourself and many men in our community have recognized the role that we play and are actively supporting people like us now. And the moment people see us emulating something and we are recognized for that role, I think more people will recognize that women need to be given a seat at the table.

ABM: But the question today though, and I agree with you 100 percent – we look at various conflicts today raging in the Middle East and other places, and we see a very limited role that women are playing in the search for solutions. Men by and large have taken charge and continue to take charge of these issues. And you don’t hear voices coming from Syrian women, we don’t hear voices coming from Iraqi women or Yemenite women, or even women from Western countries crying out for solutions, crying out for getting that, the sensitivities, the need that women can project. And men have really been unable to do just that. And like you just said, whereas the women were dedicating themselves by and large to their home, to resolving issues within the home, raising the kids, providing them with the kind of culture and belief system, that was essential to raising a healthier and better community. But it has not been taken beyond that.

DK: Yeah.

ABM: And what we want to do now, what I am preaching certainly, is that time has come to move beyond the women’s role at home. We have to take it further because it’s a significant asset. And in the search for a solution to the conflict, women need to play a role. You remember very well the role of women in finding a resolution to the Northern Ireland conflict, when finally they said enough is enough.

DK: Right. Right.

ABM: So what would you do? What are the things that you would like to promote, in order to awaken men and women alike that the time has come for us to do more? Because look at these intractable conflicts consuming us just about everywhere, and women are still silent.

DK: Well I think that there are a couple of things going on. First, men have been largely responsible for creating peace treaties, because they are the ones that are sitting at these tables where peace treaties are being made and governments are negotiating terms of peace agreements. And there’s a lot of power behind that, because there is an entire institution of a country behind that. But women have always played a role in reducing conflict to begin with. So in other words, women have been doing it, but it’s at the grassroots level, and it’s almost unseen. And they are attenuating, making sure that conflict doesn’t arise, and they’re trying to calm the waters. This work has been going on. I can cite so many women that are doing this work in Muslim countries all over the world. I mean, you talk about Yemen, you know we had Tawakkol [Karman], who was a Nobel laureate. We had this young girl in Egypt, Asmaa Mahfouz, who was the first one who called for the revolution in Egypt. She barely got any notice, and the Google guy got all the notice, right? In Afghanistan, I know women who are putting themselves on the front lines to make sure that their children are getting the education, and they are taking survivors of rape and war and giving them a chance at life. This work is going on all over the world, but it’s not taken seriously because it’s very much at the grassroots and it’s not at the bilateral decision.

ABM: Exactly, it’s on a micro level.

DK: Yeah. So people think that the government-to-government is more important. But really what’s important is the societal piece is equally important. So it has to be taken just as seriously as the other one.

ABM: Exactly. But the question is why is it not taken so seriously. That is, women are, like you just suggested, many women in various countries are active, very much active in these areas, in the search for a better community, more harmony, more peaceful, and they’re doing this legwork behind. But in the final analysis, by and large men are sitting at the negotiating table.

DK: Right.

ABM: Ninety eight percent of the time. Occasionally you see women sitting at the negotiating table. And so the input of women are not being felt at these negotiating tables, albeit the men may be consulting their wives or girlfriends behind the scenes, but nevertheless it is the men who are speaking. It is the men who are representing their country, their society, or whatever it is that they represent. And although what you just said is true, how do we take that? What I’m fighting for, and what I want to see, I want to see women charging in the street. I want to see the women saying ‘enough is enough,’ like I’ve been advocating with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And I think, ‘where are the women?’ Israelis and Palestinian women ought to be going out to the streets by the tens of thousands and say, ‘for how much longer can we keep this bloody conflict going on?’ Why can’t—

DK: There are women. There are women. The problem is, they’re not getting the kind of resources that they need to mobilize and to create the kind of army that you’re asking for. So, a very good example of this was women who took charge in Liberia. You know the war in Liberia that was going on, that raging war where children had become child soldiers and everything else. And this Christian woman, devout Christian woman had an epiphany, something came from God. She had to do something.

ABM: Yes.

DK: And then she didn’t know what she was going to do, so she asked her mother, ‘I want to do this’ and her mother said, ‘well, why don’t you also ask your Muslim sisters? See if maybe you can get some ideas.’ And they paired up together and they came together as a group, and they just basically sat there and put up these peace signs that said ‘We want peace.’ They didn’t demand anything other than peace. And little by little, this little army that was literally like no more than 20 women grew to be an entire football field, and then eventually overthrew Charles – I don’t remember his last name – and brought in and voted for [Ellen Johnson] Sirleaf.

ABM: Yes.

DK: They voted for a woman president. They all voted for her, and they asked the children to give back the guns, and this was the power of women coming together. But it was really their motivation and their guts that they went out. They barely had any money, and they did it with a force, but they were very strategic. They were very smart, because they were being led by a very strategic woman who made sure that they had a friend in the media, who was actually reporting on what they were doing. So every day this woman friend, who happened to have a radio show, was announcing, and this announcement was getting out there into communities, and more women were joining them. And they had a friend in the police department who was constantly telling them, ‘your enemies are coming to attack you,’ so they would disperse. So they actually were very strategic in making sure that they were protected, that they were not hurt. So that is an example. She did win the Nobel Peace Prize, she was awarded for that. But I think more stories like that, gradually people are beginning to see that women need to be at these peacebuilding tables or peacemaking tables. And I for one, in the Muslim world, I don’t know why more women aren’t being taken seriously, because we have a lot to offer. I know from my own experience.

ABM: Well of course, yes.

DK: In Afghanistan, the work we have done and the work I’m about to do is going to be a very good indicator of how women can do this in very creative ways. You see we don’t—also women do things in a very creative way.

ABM: Well, let’s take the example you just cited in Liberia, and there was a success story of women rising to the top and making a real difference. Now what were the advantages or the circumstances or the conditions that existed, that made it possible for her to do what she’s done? And if these conditions, circumstances, requirements exist elsewhere where there’s conflict – I mentioned Israeli-Palestinian, or in Syria and elsewhere. So is there something unique about the Liberian conflict where it gave rise to women to say, to do something about it? Why is it missing elsewhere? Albeit they share pretty much a similar culture.

DK: Yeah, yeah. And I think that the cultural context is really important. So you cannot have one size fits all, because it doesn’t, right? In different societies, the conditions of women are different. So in the Liberian situation, at least this is what I took away from the movie that I saw and after meeting this woman, Lima I think, that the role of the African woman is considered to, you know, it’s a matriarchal, you know.

ABM: Yeah.

DK: It may be a patriarchal society, but a woman commands a lot of respect and can demand certain things. You know, they’re very strong, they’re committed. I mean, they were the ones who called the child soldiers over and said, ‘Come over here, give me your gun,’ and the child soldiers were shaking in their booties. In fact, it was the U.N. that was trying to take the guns away from the children, and it was the women who actually succeeded in getting the guns. So then the U.N. realized, ‘Oh my God, the women are really good at this. How are they doing this and we’re not able to disarm people?’ So the women would just say, ‘come over here.’ You know?

ABM: This is this. But in your capacity—

DK: Right.

ABM: And this is really what I’d like to – what it is that you can say, preach, talk about, write, that’s going to create a greater awareness. I know you’ve been doing this kind of work, but for someone like myself, I’ve been dealing with conflict resolution for more than three, almost four decades. To me, this is one of the issues that has really been bothering me for so long. And when I speak in conferences, meetings, where are the women, the women’s role, it’s so critical, where are they? And so, what would you do? What is it going to take? Let me just say, I wrote a piece a while ago and I said, just imagine if 50,000 Palestinian women, 50,000 Israeli women walk in the street. And—

DK: If they did what Liberian women did.

ABM: Yes. No guns no clubs, nothing.

DK: Just a peaceful—

ABM: Just walk. Or, for the Palestinians, walk and sit down on the roads that lead to various settlements. What would Israeli soldiers do? Women in Israel will do the same. Why is it not happening? Is there less motivation by these women, that are not less motivated than the Liberian women? What is missing? Is it the conflict doesn’t matter? Is the issue, is there too much complacency? Where is the difference, why does it matter? Why is it something like this can happen in Liberia, but it’s not happening in places where such conflicts have been raging for so many decades?

DK: Yeah.

ABM: What, from your perspective, what is missing there? Why aren’t we seeing such women movements in these areas to say, like I said, enough is enough, we’re not going to take it anymore. We don’t want to see our children die for no reason.

DK: Yeah. Yeah. I think that some of it may have to do with what they think they will lose. In other words, they might lose more than they can gain. I think it’s a question of—

ABM: Meaning what?

DK: Well, so, if they have nothing to begin with, will they lose? Will there be an attack on them, on their families? The fear of the repercussions might be looming so large in their minds that they don’t feel that they can do anything, that they really can’t make a change. So the only way you can do it is if you create solidarity to such an extent that they really, genuinely believe – and that is why the organizing element has to come into this, because numbers do matter.

ABM: Well of course.

DK: In the case of Liberia, when they were like 18 women or so, this Charles, his army walked by and they started laughing at the women. They said, this is supposed to be a threat? These 18 women or whatever, they are sitting out there. And then when the numbers grew, they were like, ‘oh my God, what’s going on over here?’ And they were able to take them seriously, and I think that— But somebody was funding that organizing. There was money coming, and T-shirts were being bought. Somebody was saying, ‘we’re behind you. Go ahead.’ So people, although they might be leaders that genuinely know and care – and I have met Palestinian and Israeli women, they have actually come right into this room, I have sat down with them, and their perennial complaint is that they want to do something, but they can’t because there’s a lack of resources and there’s no way for them to mobilize two groups. And these are bereaved mothers, you know, on both sides, bereaved. mothers.

ABM: And the Liberian women have greater resources than the Palestinians and the Israelis?

DK: Well they might, but together they don’t have the resources. In other words, there’s no one big foundation or people who are funding this activity. You need to fund peace; the same way you fund war, you have to fund peace.

ABM: No, I understand that. But you know, look at the rel—

DK: Because once they know they’re secure, their families are secure, they will be able to go out. People are afraid for their children, they are afraid for their livelihood, they’re afraid for their families and the repercussions.

ABM: Well, this may very well be the case. But I personally don’t believe that; I don’t think it’s a question of resources, and I’ll tell you why. Look at, however is succeeded, did not succeed, the revolution in Egypt. There was no leadership, there was no funding, tens or hundreds of thousands, millions went to the streets.

DK: You mean Tahrir Square.

ABM: Tahrir Square.

DK: No, there was funding in Tahrir square. A lot of the funding was going from—

ABM: Who funded that?

DK: U.S. foundations were funding a lot of democracy people.

ABM: Well, but really it was very, very minimal. I mean, really, considering the hundreds of thousands—

DK: It’s true that hundreds and millions did come out.

ABM: Millions actually came out and the funding, given the size of the demonstration and what happened, was truly miniscule. But there, the motivation was different. The motivation was, thirty years or forty years of subjugation is way too long, we’re not going to take it any longer. So, resources is not necessarily the major factor. It helps if it’s there, but it should not in my view, in any event—and I’d love to get your input on this and maybe it does not and should not be impeding these type of efforts, that is the word of mouth. You know, we are not going to take it anymore. What it’s going to take? So, I want to begin to think in terms of, let’s not find it – and I’m not suggesting you have – find an excuse for that because there are no resources. But sitting at this desk where you are, you want to advocate that, you are a believer in that, you want to empower women.

DK: Yeah. I think women can do it. I really, genuinely—

ABM: Can do it, now, let’s find out. If you were to write a manual today, a couple of pages manual, and say, ‘This is what’s going to take to mobilize women.’ Right? If you think in those terms, and I certainly cannot second-guess you, because you know better than anyone else what it takes. What would you be advocating resources, notwithstanding necessary? What are we going to need to think in terms of creative thinking? What is going to get these women to come to the realization as the Liberians did, or Northern [Ireland] did, that we have to do something about it? Because I think current conflicts raging in so many different places, I don’t see how they’re going to come to an end unless we add this, another critically important dimension.

DK: Yeah.

ABM: Women’s voice, women in power.

DK: Yeah. So I think that in my work, the success comes from first defining what the conflict is, what is the source of the conflict. So in other words, you have to do a little excavating because especially long term conflicts, over time you don’t even know what the conflict is about. Because the conflict, the face of the conflict, the name of the conflict, it changes, it becomes something completely different because you have different stakeholders who have stepped in, and you don’t even know what the original conflict was all about. So first, you have to excavate and really go deep and find out what is the source of the conflict, and who’s benefiting from it, and who’s, you know, what are you willing, what can you bring to the table, to that particular conflict? So in the case of Afghanistan, for instance, 30 years of war raging on is having a direct impact on children’s education, having a direct impact on not only education but women’s rights, because women are the first ones that suffer when you have longstanding conflicts. And then, if you look at Afghanistan in the 60s, you had a very progressive, modern society. Same people, same DNA. And then you have a complete subjugation, and you had a society that was very, very progressive and modern. So then, when we look at this conflict, we realize that actually the Taliban are so armed to the teeth, that they have received more armaments. And that the work that we did, the United States, the work that we did over time—one of the reasons why we went into Afghanistan was so we could disarm the Taliban, and actually when we left, they have more arms than they had previously because over the years so many arms have flown into that country. So you have so much armaments that there’s no way we can compete as women, with no arms, no nothing. There’s no way we can compete.

ABM: Yeah but certainly we are not talking about arming women. I mean the strength of women—

DK: No, no, so what I’m saying is that—

ABM: Is in their voice, not in the arms that they carry.

DK: Yeah, it is in their voice. But when they get out there and they put their voices out, they’ll be gunned down in two seconds. What is the point of giving your life for something that you know you’re going to get killed, your children are going to get killed?

ABM: But by whom will be they be gunned down? I mean talking about Afghanistan—

DK: By the Taliban. No, we’re talking about a conflict zone like Afghanistan, a major conflict.

ABM: Well Afghanistan, I mean the status of women there is really dismal. I mean, women there traditionally speaking, and I’m talking about—

DK: No, no, but I’m saying no, it’s not traditionally like that, that’s the misnomer. In the 60s, they were no different than other modern societies.

ABM: Well I mean under the Taliban regime they were totally treated differently.

DK: But that’s what I’m saying.

ABM: Yes.

DK: So you have a group that came in there, subjugated women, took out education because they want power, and they think that the way to maintain power is to get rid of women and to keep women subjugated, because that’s how they can control society. And so you have a conflict that has gotten so muddied that you have to unravel that. So we decided that the best way for us to unravel that.

ABM: But if you leave Afghanistan for a while.

DK: No, but you asked me how do we resolve conflict.

ABM: No, I understand, but because, no on this very issue culturally speaking – and I’m certainly not demeaning Arab societies, I come from one of them. So by all means, the women do not play a significant role in most Arab societies, be that in the Gulf states, be that—the Gulf states more so, but take Saudi Arabia—even more advanced societies, even countries like Egypt, the role of women is not as significant obviously as compared to men. And that’s from a cultural perspective. That’s how it is. So again, we’re going to have to, how do we change that? Can we change that? How do you get the women more involved? Again, and not provide them by providing them necessarily the money or the guns, but what other means by which we can in fact promote the notion that you women have a power, a hidden, inherent power. It’s there, you possess it. Use it. How can we give this power out, exact it, so that the women know ‘I am powerful and I can do something with my voice’? It’s far greater, more powerful than what a man can do with a gun.

DK: Yeah.

ABM: I mean I’d like you to, because you are a force in this area, and I’d like you to see, like you’d like to write, to say ‘here as a man, this is what needs to be done.’

DK: So I think in the case of Muslim women, it’s a very easy case to make with women because we are inherently taught through our scriptures that we are stewards of God on Earth—men and women equally—that we have a responsibility to play an ambassadorial role on behalf of God on this earth. So we are stewards of the environment, we’re stewards of justice, we’re stewards of all things. So Islam does not say that men are the only stewards, it actually says that both of you have been created as my ambassadors and my vice regents. So oftentimes women have forgotten that, that they play an equal role when it comes to that responsibility. Because you know, when you leave this earth and you go back, you will be told, ‘how did you discharge your responsibilities?’ And so this is where my motivation comes from. And this is where women who are faith-based women, who are really fighting the good fight, know that they’re inherently doing something where they are carrying out their responsibility that is endowed upon them. So that is very powerful, when you think that you are doing the work of the divine and that you are inspired and that you have a responsibility. So you’re not just trying to resolve a small conflict, you’re actually doing the work that you were sent to do. It’s your purpose in life. So this is where the motivation for many women is coming from, whether it’s resolving conflict or it’s to lift women, or it’s to—So, this is the power. This is where the power lies.

ABM: Let me reduce it to a practical example that I’d like you to elaborate on. Suppose you, Daisy, have been asked to speak to a group of women in a country that has significant conflict. Pick the country, be that Palestine, Israel, Syria, Iraq, and you’re addressing a group of women. I’m not challenging you; I really want you to have that input. And you’re addressing this group of women, a thousand women sitting in front of you, and you try to instill in them the notion, the idea, you are powerful. You’ve got to do something about what’s happening in front of you, in this society – the bloodshed, the killing, the destruction. What would you say to them to evoke that reaction, to make them feel ‘I have a role to play and I’m going to have to play it’? What it is that you want to impart with them?

DK: Well as I mentioned, this is where my work always goes down to that cellular level of who you are as a human being, and what is it that is your responsibility, and you have to find out what is the mandate of your life, and that every person has come with a purpose, and that you need to find what that purpose is. Because each person has a different purpose, so it can’t be the same for everyone. But women inherently are called the seat of compassion, because the womb is called compassion in Arabic. It’s got the same root word. And it, they bring life into this world. So inherently, they are good at not only bringing life, nurturing life, but also saving lives. So women are the perfect carriers of this of this work. And when I speak to women, I remind them of that responsibility that they have, to be the good steward and to do the work for the sake of the greater good – not just for themselves – because they are equally empowered by God to carry out this work. In other words, if they decide to do this work, they will be helped from all kinds of ways, aid is going to come from all kinds of ways whether, you know the moment you put your mind to it, that you are going to do this work, you will find the right kind of partners coming forward. So in our case, we decided that it’s really important for us to work with people that influence society, and that if we have to really create change within the Muslim communities, we have to really engage people who are influential in our communities, and that’s our imams. So, although we might be women and we can do the work with women, why should we do the work only within women’s groups? Why shouldn’t we reach out to the menfolk in our community and say, ‘you need to come on board with us’?

ABM: Yeah, you can do that. But when you invoke faith here, I have a concern about that. Faith is important, and if you are a believer, a true believer, you can overcome sometimes many difficulties because you believe you can. But when faith is used for the precise opposite cause – used to exploit, used to kill as ISIS has been doing, as the Taliban has been doing, as others have been doing – then faith becomes a liability rather than asset, which in this case it is mentioned here. Yes, women, everybody’s accountable at one point. But if we were just to base there the need for the involvement on faith alone, probably that’s not going to go too far. Not in our current environment. And that’s what I’m telling to you, because, say you know you are a believer, you have to believe the goodness of human beings. You know that killing is not right; you know that torture is not right. You’ve got to do something about it. This is all clear, it’s given this can be preached to the men as well. But what I would like you, if you can help me out, to identify what it is that you tell these 1,000 women they can do tomorrow to begin a process, to begin to take the first step in order to galvanize, make it [unclear], that is a conflict, we cannot continue with it. What would you will tell them?

DK: Well, first they really have to believe that they can do it, because unless they fundamentally—

ABM: Again, I want you tell me that. How do you tell them? Why shouldn’t they believe that? Their kids are dying and getting killed. Their kids are getting hurt and injured, houses are being destroyed, so that they are confronted with this horrible reality day in and day out. So they believe they need, something needs to be done.

DK: Right.

ABM: And this is what I find, a person like you who has the voice, I would like to see what it is that you would tell these people—get up, do something. What is it that they can do? How do you motivate them to do it?

DK: Well, sometimes it depends on the context of the person, because like I said, people have to be inspired by role models. And if they know that there is somebody that they can emulate in their work, it’s just a little bit easier for them. So, sometimes I have to tell the stories of women in the past who have really been, who have moved mountains, and people didn’t know that they have this ability. And so, if a woman feels that she is repressed— And I went to a shelter once, I’ll give you a story. I went to a shelter once and I was asked to speak to this. It wasn’t a thousand women, but it was maybe 20 women in a shelter, and I was asked to say something to inspire them. And I looked at these women and I said, ‘this is not the kind of audience I speak to. What am I going to tell these people?’ I’m not accustomed to speaking to people who are so down and out and have been beaten up. So I looked around the room, and there were all these women with little babies on their laps, and I decided that I was basically going to be like a spiritual mentor to them, because I knew that that would be the right approach for these women, because they were looking for something higher than themselves, because they had been so beaten up. So I reminded them about who they were, that they were created in the divine image. And I know that this may not work for everybody who is a secular person, but it certainly works on Muslim people because Muslims inherently are still very committed to their faith. And the language of faith is something that it resonates, and it translates very well and goes deep. So I reminded them that no one can lift their hand and hit you because they’re hitting divinity in the sense that, why would you tolerate that? You know, why would you tolerate anybody hitting you, because your face is that of a divine image. And then this woman asked me, she said, ‘but I don’t know how to take care of myself and I need money for my children, I can’t be independent’, and you know, they have real issues. So I reminded them about how the prophet’s wife was a merchant herself. She was a working woman. And Islam gives all the women the right to own wealth, to accumulate wealth. And why aren’t you doing that? Why aren’t you working? So you know, she told me that her husband told her that she couldn’t work. And I said no, I said, ‘you have been given the right from God to work, to accumulate wealth.’ And I had to literally cite certain verses and explained to her that this was her right, that she could go ahead and start her own business, and do something so she can be independent of this abusive husband. And so I left. I didn’t know if I had any impact. And then in December of that year, I got these little greeting cards in the mail, and they were Christmas greeting cards and they were all made by hand. And these women had started a little cooperative where they had created these little things. And then there was a little sign that said, ‘by the way, we buy a metro card by selling things.’ So it was their path to independence. So in each case, you really have to look at the situation of what’s going on.

ABM: Well of course, I mean that’s why, take a specific example – again, it can be that any kind of conflict, the conflict in Syria, we know what it’s all about. I mean, we know the conflict between, and facing a group of Israeli women, they all have pretty much suffered the same thing. The same problem, same elements, same issues. And so there’s no question, how you address such a group of women from Palestine is going to be different than how you address a group of women coming from Scandinavia, needless to say. But my point here is that, this is precisely what’s missing. That is, women themselves in my view—I could be wrong, please correct me—have not developed perhaps the confidence that they can in fact have that power and they can project it. And we need people like yourself and many others who’ll come out and scream and shout, ‘we’ve got what it takes, let’s exhibit it, let’s get it out of it.’ I think that voice is missing.

DK: Yeah.

ABM: That voice is missing.

DK: Right. I mean, look at America, right? A hundred years ago we didn’t have the right to most anything. No right to vote, no right to higher education, no right to own a bank account. And black women were enslaved, blacks were enslaved, and it was women who stepped into the fray, unafraid, and said, ‘why is a black man enslaved?’ And you know the abolitionist movement began and then slowly and gradually, that grew into the right to vote and grew into the suffragette movement, where women were saying, ‘wait a minute, we’re Christians and we were always told that we were created in the divine image. But yet the state says all men are created equal, and how come we are left out?’ So once again, they looked at the hypocrisy of what was going on in this country. And then the church had been quiet for so many years when it came to slavery. Right? Why was a black man enslaved for so many years? Was this a Christian thing? How is it that Christianity justified enslavement of black people for so many years? But it took these women who were devout Christians, who kind of delved into it very deep, and they got to the kernel of the idea. And they basically said, ‘no more.’ And they started organizing, they started making these mitts where they were talking to each other, like knitting things and saying, and this organizing grew and their husbands who wanted to do something but didn’t know how to go up against the status quo, got empowered by their own wives. They started organizing with other men. And slowly but gradually, the emancipation of slavery happened, and it happened because of women. It would have never happened in this country because no man would have dared to go against it. There were six or seven presidents that were slave owners. They never dared to do anything about it. So the problem is these women get written out of history books because nobody takes them seriously. And how many people know about the suffragette movement except the women that, women like me who study these women to get inspired by them?

ABM: But the question is, why do we take this into, and make it so that everybody understands the role of the women? I mean, this is exactly what you’re saying. How many people actually are fully aware of what you just said? How many women, and men for that matter, unless we studied as many of us did study.

DK: Right. Right.

ABM: That that particular era and what the women have done. What I’m, you know, my focus today being conflict resolution, and I feel like I started with this discussion. I want to see more and more women getting involved in the search for solutions. And that’s why I’m asking this question, is how do you address these women when you tell them, take a specific group, by generally similar culture, similar ideas, and you want to inspire them to do something about it. And this is really where I’m coming from. I’m searching for avenues.

DK: So I’ll tell you something. One of the most powerful things that works with Muslim women, when you were talking about if you’re in front of a thousand people what would you say, is that Muslim women around the world take it for granted that American women have had all these rights for all these years, because America is the vanguard of human rights and we talk about it. And so when I go in there and say, a hundred years ago in the United States women didn’t have this right, this right, this right, this right. And in seventh century Arabia, women got these rights, these rights, these rights, these rights, these rights. So we compare the two, and it’s stunning to women that somehow American women today have attained all these rights that they didn’t have. But yet Muslim women who got these rights in the seventh century, all of these rights have been stripped away from them. So then I tell them what is possible because of what women’s movements were able to do and how they have been able to advance. And so when they see that other people have succeeded, they take strength from that and then they can model their own success around that and model their own initiatives around that. So sometimes people just need to see inspiring stories of what is possible. And especially when it comes to Islam, they look at Christian models, Jewish models, because we’re the youngest faith and it’s always easier for us to look at what the Christian women do, what are Jewish women doing, and what can Muslim women do to model their struggle because the struggles are the same, only the situation is slightly different. And the era might be different but it’s the same exact struggles. So whether it’s women’s rights or whether it’s conflict in societies, I think that women have a significant role to play.

ABM: There’s no question. So, thank you so much. I really appreciate it because, let’s just switch it a little bit to the phenomenon we’re living through now—radicalization and how women are also recruited for this horrifying cause so to speak, be that ISIS and others. Where do you see, from your perspective, what attracts women to join these types of groups?

DK: Yeah. So most people think that women have just one or two factors to join, but our research shows that men and women have similar motivations for them to join, especially millennial women who are growing up in Western societies. They really have grown up with this notion that they can create a change, just like every millennial thinks they can create a change within their society. So some of it is driven by wanting to topple the tyrannies, and like, ‘let’s topple some tyrannies.’ And another factor might be there’s too much injustice around the Muslim world and no one’s doing anything about it, and I can do something about it. And that’s another motivation. The other motivation is, I am oppressed in my own society. I don’t belong here. Everybody thinks that I come from a misogynist faith, and on the other side I’m being offered comfort and sisterhood and brotherhood and that’s where I belong. And another factor is, I don’t have agency. I have overbearing parenting, and I am an individual, and I have the right to do what I want to do. And the other side is offering that you can do whatever you want if you come here. So there are all these different motivations, and they vary from culture to culture or society to society, individual to individual. And it’s very complex, but really the root of it is that people want to create a change and they think that somehow ISIS is offering them a solution, and then they join that group. And when they arrive there, they realize that they’ve made the biggest error of their life. But it’s too late because then there’s no exit for them. So it’s a really tragic story, because these people are getting recruited with all kinds of promises and a wonderful future. But then they discover that when they get there, they’re actually trapped. So this is why we’re doing the work that we’re doing, is we wanted to really unearth this whole phenomenon of how people are being recruited at the ground level and what promises they are being made so we can show people clearly, this is what you’re being told, and this is actually false, with real evidence, with real research, where they can see it for themselves so we can prevent somebody else from joining. And those who are in jail can be rehabilitated, with real evidence.

So, we’re launching a big project called Wise Up: Knowledge Ends Extremism, because we believe that there’s a knowledge gap and there’s a lot of confusion. And with the spread of Internet and social media, it’s very easy to peddle falsehood and make it seem like it’s real, so fake news becomes real news. So people cannot decipher anymore what Islam is and what it’s not because it’s being given to you in bite sized information and it’s being propagandized in such a way that you really think it’s true. So it’s the work of people like me, and the scholars around me, that have to come together to show the truth versus the falsehood, and how this falsehood can destroy your life forever. Not only destroy your life, it destroys your siblings’ lives, it destroys your parents’ lives, it destroys your entire family. So you’re not the only one who’s getting destroyed, because the stigma is so great for a family whose child has gone, that they became isolated from society. So it’s a really, really tragic, tragic situation. But I hope that with this campaign that we’re rolling out nationally as well as internationally, that we’ll be able to at least influence.

ABM: So if you were to describe the campaign in a few sentences, what it is and what you’d like to achieve.

DK: So, we are publishing a book, a 400 page book, which has all the research in it. So one can just – and it’s written in a very easy, accessible way. Then there will be a website that people can go onto so they can find information. There will be a campaign, which we will be doing around the country where we will to have face-to-face conversations with people so people can—

ABM: So who is your target audience?

DK: We have multiple target audiences. The terrorists have all kinds of target audiences, and they message out to different people. So similarly, we’ve also designed this toolkit for multiple audiences, and we have families in mind because families are struggling. We have young people in mind because they’re wrestling with this information. We have the policymakers in mind because they’re making policy. We have religious leaders in mind because religious leaders can inspire people and clarify information. We have interfaith audiences in mind because they are our greatest advocate; they need the tools from us. And we have the general public in mind because the general public, if they perceive that Islam inherently is a religion that has certain issues or promotes violence, they need to be told—

ABM: So you talk about the public, and also talking about the public outside this country, in the Arab world.

DK: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

ABM: That’s what you’re talking about.

DK: Yeah, well I’m talking about the American general public, but I’m also talking about the general public as in the global community, because I have been traveling and already people are telling me, ‘please, we need to translate this into our language. You know, we really desperately need this.’ So we want to translate it into Arabic, into various languages – French and other languages – where people can take this tool and use it in their own communities. I had a imam in France who told me, ‘this needs to become an application so I can make sure all my kids have it downloaded, so when a recruiter comes they know the difference.’ So this is the level that we need to get to. But we could not have done this by ourselves. We are a woman-led organization committed to peace building, but we worked with 60 other scholars and imams and experts and Muslims and non-Muslims to put this tool kit together.

ABM: Great. I wanted you to speak about this, give it a little promotion.

DK: Yeah. It’s called Wiseupreport.org, and we will be launching on October 26 in Washington D.C., and then we’ll be going around the country.

ABM: Terrific. Thank you so much.

DK: Thank you so much.

On the Issues Episode 22: Jonathan Cristol

Alon Ben-Meir: I am Alon Ben-Meir, and welcome to another episode of On the Issues. My guest today is Jonathan Cristol, fellow of the World Policy Institute in New York City and a senior fellow at Bard College Center for Civic Engagement. Dr. Cristol is a noted expert in Middle Eastern policies and international security. You can find his full bio on the page for this episode. So, many things are happening in the Middle East today. Some time, specifically the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing on the humanitarian dimension of the various crisis. But if we were to leave this aside, the interesting development today is between Israel and the Arab world. Again, notwithstanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as such, things have happened. And I believe that Iran is the main culprit quote-unquote behind, is changing attitudes of the Arab states, specifically the Gulf states, towards Israel. What is your reading on this? How do you read that development?

Jonathan Cristol: Well, I think that it is a generally positive development. It’s a fortunate byproduct of Iranian expansionism in the region. And I think that particularly in the Gulf, which have never really cared too much about the Palestinians in general anyway, it is a very convenient and probably necessary excuse or reason for them to develop intelligence relationships with Israel, security relationships with Israel, because Israel isn’t and hasn’t been for really I think quite some time, their primary security concern. I think it’s a byproduct of the Iran deal primarily, which I supported at the time and support to this day. But I do think that the deal itself did result in a relatively more aggressive Iran in the region, because I think that some of the critique—

ABM: You say more aggressive because of the deal?

JC: I think that some of the conservative criticisms of the deal were correct, I just reached a different conclusion about the deal itself than some of the critics. I think that the Obama administration was, as long as Iran did not develop nuclear weapons, was willing to let it get away with more than it might otherwise would have. Now that’s a very tough call, and I think I would have made that decision too. So, I’m not saying that it shouldn’t have done it. But I do think that it freed—it was a much better deal for Iran to be less isolated and a non-nuclear power, than to be a nuclear power that was completely isolated. And I think that it certainly didn’t create new desires and new—it didn’t change what Iran wanted. But I think that they could push out in Syria and Yemen and other places without too much fear, at least under the Obama administration, that they would face any sort of crippling consequences.

ABM: Yeah, this is right. But when we talk about the Iran deal, it is true that the Obama administration was a little bit more easy on Iran on other issues for example, that Iran insisted not to incorporate into the deal, [such as] their development of long-range missiles, ballistic missiles. But the problem is that even though in my view, and see if you share the same view, in my view even though the Iran deal prevented Iran today from moving forward in development of a nuclear weapon, I don’t think they have given up the idea at all. That is, this is a respite for them. As one Iranian told me, he said, you know, we have a long history of 4,000 years continuing history. So what is ten years going to do? Ten years is going to pass, and we’re going to do whatever we want to do afterward. But you are right in suggesting the fact that the sanctions have mostly been lifted, freed Iran, and allowed Iran to strengthen itself economically to say the least. And in so doing, it has more cash available to continue to support its various extremist groups, just about everywhere.

JC: And I think that the 10-year period you mentioned is exactly right. I mean, this is another, again, a critique of the deal that I think was as accurate as well, that really what this did was buy 10 years and kick the problem down the road. I’ve read the deal a couple of times, the whole JCP [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. I have written about it a lot and it seems pretty—I’m not a physicist. I think that you really have to be a nuclear physicist, an expert in sanctions, and an expert in international politics to really put your head around it. And I don’t want to pretend to be any sort of physicist, but it does strike me that after about 10, maybe 12 years, they could do it if they wanted to. I am very lucky personally to not have any real responsibility for a nation or people, because I think it was a very tough call. I think it made sense for Obama to—I think kicking the problem a decade down and hoping that the political situation changes in that time to make it so that Iran would not develop a nuclear weapon was probably the best we were going to get. But I do think there are very smart people who were against it, and I understand why they might have been against it.

ABM: Well, several reasons in my view is one, the deal did not require Iran to dismantle or destroy its nuclear equipment. For example, two-thirds of the centrifuges were basically stored and became, just idle-ized them rather than destroyed them. Some of the facilities are just basically idle-ized, again, not destroyed. So, if they decide to restart, resume, research and development of a nuclear weapon, they have still the same facilities by and large almost intact. That is one of the I think big problems that I have with the deal, that we did not insist on eliminating, destroying that kind of technology, albeit they can still—they acquired it once, they can acquire it again. It takes a little more time.

JC: The other thing though that makes me a bit more—I’m not particularly optimistic in general, but I think one reason that Iran came to the table aside from sanctions was that the U.S. presence on both sides of them had decreased so much. And I think that if we look, it’s hard to judge 10 or 12 years ahead.

ABM: Yeah.

JC: So I think that there were two things that brought them to the table. There was the sanctions, and I think there was the perceived need from the significantly reduced U.S. troop presence on both of their borders also played a role. And so I think it made it easier for them to postpone at the very least the development of a nuclear weapon by a decade. And I suspect that Obama’s thinking was again, that this sort of politics of it would change. But I agree. I mean again, it was a temporary solution, but I at the time, and now still, I think probably the temporary was the best.

ABM: Yeah. But you mentioned reduction in troop deployments. From what I know, as a matter of fact, there are forces in Oman are pretty much the same, haven’t changed, the power that we have, with the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain is pretty much the same. But yes, there were some reductions and that was it. I think it was more symbolic than anything. And nobody talked about it openly and publicly; the Iranian got the message. That’s my understanding, but that was probably not the main motivation. But I think what you said initially is absolutely correct. Getting rid of the sanctions allows them now to focus on economic development, and allows them now to continue with their ambition to become the region’s hegemon, through without money they cannot do as much. And specifically because of their involvement in Iraq. I think Iran’s involvement in Iraq assumes priority. That is, if they wanted to consolidate their position in Iraq, wanted to consolidate their position in Syria, and continue their control over this crescent from the Mediterranean to the Gulf, they have the [unclear] good for them, timed it for them, to get rid of the pressure, to get rid of the sanctions, and they can focus on consolidating their hegemony in this crescent to begin with. And now they have an opportunity to further expand it and go to Yemen, and support other groups, other extremist groups. So I think it’s a strategic decision on their part, that it’s working.

JC: Yeah, no I think it has worked out very well for Iran. And I think that Saudi missteps have also worked out well for Iran particularly recently. I do think that they are—I think in Iraq it was an opportunity that they could not pass up, and I think in Iraq they will be the ultimate political victor. And in Yemen, I don’t think that’s the case because I think Yemen is a bit more of a war of choice for Iran and more of a war of necessity for Saudi Arabia. I think that the Saudis would, they fought for nine years at least to prevent an Egyptian and Soviet presence in Yemen, and that was less dangerous to them than an Iranian presence there. And so I think Saudi Arabia will fight to the last man. Of course it’s easier for them because it’s not their own people, but they’ll fight to the last of at least someone else’s men in a way Iran won’t.

ABM: I agree. I think Saudi Arabia is committed not to allow an Iranian presence in the entire Arabian Peninsula. That is just out of the question. And incidentally, this is also one of the reasons they are very upset with Qatar. Not as much as because Qatar is supporting various extremist groups – and we know they’ve been giving money to ISIS, they’ve been, certainly Muslim Brotherhood, certainly Hamas. Many, many groups. But primarily it’s because also Qatar is allowing foreign troops on its soil, other than American. American is a given, for granted. But to have Turkish troops, for Saudi Arabia that’s a no-no, because Erdogan is very competitive. He wants to have a say in Middle Eastern affairs, and establishing a little base, albeit small, in Qatar for him is a major achievement that runs totally contrary to the Saudi perceived interest in the area.

JC: And unfortunately for them, they have overplayed what I think was a fairly weak hand in the first place, and they may have resulted in an long time increased Turkish presence and closer relationship with Iran on the part of Qatar. So I think that the Saudis have not been as deft at handling their neighbors and Iran as they might otherwise have been. Maybe that’s to do with leadership changes in Saudi Arabia, but I’m not sure. It’s been a bit confusing to me as to how they have missed this, but it also could be the fault of the United States. I am always very hesitant to say everything revolves around the United States and that everything—but we see a Bloomberg report recently that the Emirati foreign minister said as much, that it was a result of Trump’s trip that they decided that they would coordinate an effort against Qatar. And so I think that there is probably some blame to be placed at the hand of the United States for what these states saw as a perceived green light, just like the perceived green light Saddam Hussein had in the 90s. So it’s—

ABM: Interestingly, this whole turn of events produces a new dynamic between Israel and the Arab world, so to speak, and I think that played very well into the hands of Netanyahu. As Netanyahu has always been talking about, we have peace, if we’re going to have peace between Israel and the Palestinians, it will have to be in the context of a regional peace. And what Iran, [unclear], other than the threat that Iran has posed and continues to support, is there was that opportunity. And I think the Saudis, the Israelis, and the other Gulf states are looking, there is now an opportunity to cooperate. And like you said, the Palestinian problem is not something that they are losing sleep over.

JC: No, nor have they ever really.

ABM: And as far as they’re concerned, Israel in fact is the power first in the forefront that can in fact oppose or stop Iran in its track, even before the United States can do anything about it. I mean, that’s what I’m told. For them, Israel is the power today in the region, second to none, that the Iranians will not try to cross. The Iranians will be very hesitant to try to intimidate the Israelis in a serious way, other than empty rhetoric as we hear time and again. But they will not take any significant steps to intimidate the Israelis. Where Israel feels really threatened, I think any perceived threat by the Israelis coming from Iran, they will not stand still. I don’t believe they will restrain themselves because any anything—if they tolerate that, it could have major negative repercussions.

JC: Yeah, I don’t worry as much about direct confrontation between Iran and Israel.

ABM: No, no, I agree. I don’t think this is in the offing.

JC: No, and Iran is as aware as anyone of the CSIS studies and other war games scenarios of conflict between Iran and Israel which is much, as physically smaller a state as Israel is, is a much more devastating conflict for Iran than Israel. And it’s not really survivable for Iran and is survivable for Israel. So I don’t think that they would do that. But of course they tried to undermine the Arab governments by their support for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the appeal to anti-Israel sentiment on the Arab street. And maybe one other—very little positive comes out of Syria, but of course the Syrian conflict has at least driven a temporary wedge between Hamas and Iran. So there does seem like there is in all of this mess, there is some alignment that could result in a wider pre—

ABM: I mean between.

JC: Between the Arab states, between the Gulf Arab States and Israel.

ABM: And Israel, yeah.

JC: I’m a little bit—it would make sense, but of course so much of the Middle East doesn’t make sense. Not everything that makes sense follows through. And I’m not sure about Netanyahu’s willingness to make whatever concessions he would need to make, even if they are minimal. But the other X-Factor, my other concern would be Mohammed bin-Salman, who people think of I think as being a potentially great reformer. They see him as a young reformer, so that. But when I see someone who is particularly young coming into power, I think that that is not necessarily a sign of liberalization or reform, sometimes it’s the exact opposite.

ABM: I agree with you. I mean he is only 30 years old. I think he’s 30.

JC: 30 or 31.

ABM: 31. He has had limited experience in—I mean his father appointed him to the Defense Minister. I don’t know how much he knows about military and defense.

JC: Yeah.

ABM: I mean say, unlike say the new French president, who’s 39. He had been in government, has had some experience, is older—nine years makes a difference. But I am not, and I agree with you. I’m not so comfortable necessarily. I don’t wish the king to go anytime soon, but—

JC: Everyone dies, that’s the thing. And if this doesn’t happen—

ABM: Everyone dies. And even in five years, in ten years, he’s still very young. But the thing is, since when have we worried about who is running these countries? That’s the problem. I mean they’ve been running these countries in their own way, in their own system, in their own culture, with their own view of the world. And I think this is of course one of the reasons they’re attached to the United States. That is, they make mistakes, but the room for major mistakes on a regional and strategic base, they don’t make these types of mistakes.

JC: Well, they’ve been constrained in that by their relationship with the United States. But now the United States is not necessarily the greatest—there are ripples in, how do I say this. The predictability of the United States and the uncertainty factor of the current administration and the lack of senior officials to deal with this in the United States now, I think does make the potential for maybe not quite disaster, but it does change things a bit.

ABM: I think you’re right. I mean there’s—

JC: As we’ve seen already.

ABM: Yeah, there is the more perception than reality because especially defense, and issues related to national security here, and our alliances throughout the Middle East remain pretty much solid, even under the Trump administration. And that is why, because you have a national security advisor and you have a defense secretary who’ve been on the field, they understand what’s going on there, they understand who the players are, what is the interest. And they are holding the line. And I think the fact that he relies on them, on both of them in particular, it’s very important, their experience. So I don’t see any deterioration as far as United States’ commitment in terms of security to its allies in the Middle East. But you’re right in suggesting there’s the perception that the United States is unpredictable at this point. Nobody knows what Trump is going to do the next day. But in this area I think of security, I don’t think there’s going to be significant change. That’s how I’m reading it so far.

JC: No, I agree with that. But there, I would add a little bit though. Well first, I think we’ve seen in this situation in the Gulf that that’s exactly right so far, that Mattis and others have been able to push back in a way that actually the Saudis didn’t understand. I think the Saudis didn’t understand our system and thought it was a little bit more like their own system, and that if Trump was behind them, that they would be able to roll over Qatar and force an agreement very quickly. And I don’t think that they understood that even someone like Trump, who might like to be a strong man, is going to face pushback, that he isn’t going to be able to overcome or that he isn’t going to want to be able to overcome. And so I think that has been a constraining factor. And I’m very sure that you’re right, and that there won’t be any major changes to our alliances and to our security partnerships, but I don’t have the same level of certainty about that as I would have if anyone else were president, be it from Ted Cruz to Bernie Sanders. So I think that there is—

ABM: Don’t mention Ted Cruz please. [laughs]

JC: I think that there’s an element of uncertainty that wasn’t there before. And so I think the likelihood of any sort of major disruption is very low, but I think it’s much higher than it has been in the past.

ABM: Let’s look at the whole region today. Now we have the ongoing Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq itself, and proxy war between the two in Yemen, to a great extent it’s still in Syria. That is ongoing, and I think you agree with me that this is not something that’s going to end anytime soon.

JC: No.

ABM: That is going to continue. Then you have the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been going on for some time now, seven decades. And then you have of course the situation with Iran. And then you have the conflict in Afghanistan, which is still going on. So you have all these multiple conflicts occurring, happening and evolving in the same time. When I look at it from a crisis management, when I look at it in terms of conflict resolution, I try to find some positive elements, how can we capitalize—this crisis can create this possibility that did not exist, had there not been a crisis. But this is the reality now in the Middle East, and let’s look at it and what we see. One thing that came out of it is the Saudis, the Gulf states, realize that Israel is not the enemy, that the real enemy is Iran, hence the closeness. Also I think the Palestinians are feeling the closeness between the Gulf states and Israel. That may impact on their position that they cannot hold on to that extreme position forever. They’re going to have to modify that, they’re going to have to think in terms of serious concessions, because they’re not going to get the automatic backing of the Arab world. Will that create a new opening for example between the Israelis and the Palestinians, if say even with the current Israeli government, from your perspective?

JC: I mean, I am reasonably skeptical about a resolution in the Israeli Palestinian conflict that isn’t imposed in some way. I’m actually not necessarily against a light imposition on the Palestinians particularly. I think one thing that the Palestinians, some of the positive aspects of the Palestinian Authority work against it in this context. Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and other places where they exert total control over the media, one thing that we’ve seen, at least over the last six months or so, the Emirati state media in Arabic has basically stopped any sort of anti-Israel or anti-Semitic reporting or commentary. They can do that, and they can prepare their people in a loose kind of way, an indirect way, for the possibility of peace with Israel. The Palestinian Authority is more open. And first of all, they haven’t shown a strong desire to do that, but it will be much harder for them to do it even if they wanted to do it.

ABM: Well because they’ve been enslaved, as I was talking, writing today, enslaved to their own rhetoric.

JC: Yeah.

ABM: They’ve been singing this song for so long, they don’t want to change that narrative so easily, especially when they see the prospect of getting significant concessions from the Netanyahu government is not there. But you mention impose. I personally do not believe that any power today, be that, which is really the United States you can talk about, and maybe the EU to some extent. Russia and China are not going to impose solutions on Israeli and the Palestinians, nor can really the EU for that matter. So you’re talking about only one power, which is the United States. Will the United States in fact be at any point willing – not able maybe, but willing – to impose solutions that Israelis are not willing to accept?

JC: Impose might be the wrong word. What I really mean by impose is not, I don’t mean that anyone would come and say, this is what it’s going to be, you should do it. What I do mean more of is, something like the Gulf states or someone going to Abbas, saying, look we need you to do this. There is going to be some sort of financial reward if you do, be as a society or personally. And if you don’t, there’s going to be some sort of penalty. That’s more of what I mean by imposition. A tough persuasion. Not a—

ABM: Not through coercion. Through incentive, and then there’s no question. I think the EU, I’ve been dealing with the EU as well as the United States coming to this. They’re talking more about incentives and more incentives, and linking certain concessions to specific gains, instead of talking about a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace. So they came to the realization that you’ve got to take steps, small steps, build on these small steps. But now that the Arab world is open and willing to pretty much—it is no longer secret that Saudi Arabia is dealing with Israel, the Qataris are dealing with Israel, that Abu Dhabi is dealing with Israel. Israeli businessmen are going with Israeli passports, and they are admitted without any questions asked. So I think these incremental steps that the United States in a position to persuade, cajole, maybe slight, a little pressure that that might adv- —and I mean that’s what I believe is going to be needed. And the EU in that regard can play a role, given that they’re the largest contributor to the Palestinians in terms financially, given their bilateral relation with Israel. Even though it’s not exactly a love affair, but it’s a matter of convenience between Israelis and the EU because of trade and everything else that’s going on, and also military sharing, intelligence-sharing, and security concerns. So I’m always looking at this dynamic is changing. I’m trying to figure out what else is there to do to engender from this.

JC: You know, the other aspect of the Iran thing is, the Iran thing is what’s pushing the Gulf States and Israel together. Also I think it makes it a little bit trickier for the Palestinians, who know probably better than anyone that the Gulf states have not been great supporters of theirs, but do know that they have, I guess depending on where you are politically among Palestinians, but do know that Iran has been much more supportive than the Gulf and so there’s a connection to Iran that they don’t have with the Gulf states. And so I do think that they would separate themselves from Iran very quickly if need be. But the Iran situation pushes both parties in different directions. I don’t think that, it’s a different relationship that they have.

ABM: Yeah. Let me switch a little bit to, just in the context of this Sunni-Shiite conflict, where it’s going to go. Just only in the context of ISIS’ defeat in Mosul, and let us say now Iraq would be freer from ISIS. That doesn’t mean of course the end of ISIS as we know it, but freer from actually having lost territories, territories been gained and all of that. And then the big issue that looms high as I see it is the continuing conflict within Iraq itself, between the Sunni and the Shiite, not from the outside. And here is where you have Iran and Saudi Arabia pretty much also waging that proxy war in Iraq itself. Now however that ISIS is out, the Sunnis, the Kurds have already made a decision. In fact, they’re going to have a referendum soon about independence. And regardless of the referendum, you can count on the fact that the Kurds in Iraq are out of the equation. They will never submit again to any central government, that’s not going to happen.

JC: No.

ABM: I mean, I was told this plain and simple, we’re not going to do that. And my feeling is the referendum will pass, and they will be declaring independence. It’s only a question of when at this point. I was told many times, we’re waiting to see what’s going to be with ISIS. And now they can see the end of ISIS there, that’s the reason why they planned this referendum. Then, what is going to be the plight of the Sunnis who have suffered so much, specifically under the Maliki government? What is his solution? You know, I’ve been trying to, in the search for a solution, speaking to various Arab, you know, ambassadors from Iraq, other people who know what is going to happen, because I don’t see an end to the Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq itself unless there is a probably a much more regional settlement between the two sects in Islam. What do you see, how do you see that?

JC: One of many great quotes in George Kennan’s American Diplomacy is when he says something like, the map of the world is not, should not, and cannot be a fixed and static thing. And I was very sympathetic to the Biden plan and separation of Iraq into three states. I was always a little bit, I understand the kind of general psychic resistance on planet Earth to those sort of arrangements, but I’ve never been quite sure why that should be off the table. For the Kurds it’s certainly not off the table, and I don’t think that there is a particular end in sight between the Sunnis and Shias in the south. And I’m also not someone who sees this as part of some sort of thousand-year-old conflict, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a real conflict today. It’s I think a post ‘79 type of conflict, but it’s still real and it still can’t be, it can’t be—

ABM: I think it is fed by historical—

JC: Right, but it didn’t exist in the way it exists now, but the history of it and the situation makes it a very intractable sort of problem. But an intractable problem doesn’t mean it has no solution either. I think that there will have to be some, even if it is not three separate states, that there are other sort of systems like the UAE, which isn’t separated in the same way. But you can have autonomous regions that reasonably function together, even if they have very different characteristics within them. I think that those sort of situations are what should really be explored. Now in the immediate term and on a day-to-day basis, that doesn’t really help anybody. But, I’m not sure that there is a great answer for the short-term day-to-day.

ABM: No, but I do agree with you. I mean we’ve been saying, I think there is probably no real, no other solution unless the Sunnis in Iraq get some form of autonomous rule. It just won’t happen. But as you well know, there are dry, three provinces. Not much there.

JC: That was the next thing I was going to—

ABM: Yeah, and they need to sort of work out some kind of a solution to get some revenue from oil. Be that some from the Kurds, some from the South, yeah.

JC: And one of the problems with that is that the Kurds, one of the reasons for the Kurds pushing independence now is that they have Kirkuk, which isn’t part of their three provinces that they’re designated in terms of the autonomous region, and they want more than the 18 percent of oil revenue that they get under the current agreement. And so if they declare independence, they’ll get all of that oil revenue. So they want more, and then the Sunnis would have as you say a dry area. But all of those things can’t happen at once. So I do think there would have to be some sort of arrangement that really is in everyone’s interest in terms of stability and investment, that does divert income into that region until there is stability, until there is peace enough that they could do what other states have done that don’t have oil, or like Dubai, which many people don’t realize developed the way it did because they didn’t have the oil wealth that Abu Dhabi did, or to make plans for a post-, the states that have made plans for a post-oil future like Bahrain, and like Oman is doing now with tourist development and states that are looking to what happens next. So Iraq, the Sunni part over time could skip the oil part and kind of look for other ways.

ABM: Well, it’s not going to be easy.

JC: No, it’s very long term.

ABM: Because I mean to start with, they do need revenue.

JC: Right.

ABM: Where are they going to get it? They may get some support from the outside world, but they need serious revenue. And from a psychological, practical perspective, this is their land and they have a legitimate right to claim a part of their own revenue coming from oil. And my understanding from the Kurds, actually the Kurds don’t mind to contribute.

JC: No, no.

ABM: They want to contribute in terms of providing revenue to the Sunnis from their own oil production, because they would like to see an end to the conflict between the Sunni and the Shiite, which is affecting them in one form or another.

JC: It’s not an unreasonable proposition to basically trade money for stability.

ABM: Yeah. And that’s what the Kurds are thinking in terms of this. We will give some, but they are waiting to see now things start to settle as far as Mosul is concerned. Finishing the cleanup of the area to see they will declare independence, I’m sure it’s a question of when. And they will be looking for ways and means to stabilize the surrounding, and because also they are now impacted by what’s going on in Turkey, with the Kurds in Turkey, and they are also impacted by what’s going on with the Kurds in Syria itself. And they’re now going to have to start to navigate their position in connection with these three areas, not to speak of the Kurds in Iran.

JC: And they will also want to make sure that a Sunni area does not become closely tied to Turkey, and does not become a hotbed of extremism. So they certainly have an interest in helping to stabilize those.

ABM: Oh yeah, yeah. Now, I think I agree with you. I mean, they all have one thing in mind, and that is Turkey. All of these countries in the region, including Israel mind you, although there is no connection as far as Sunni-Shiite is concerned, but they all do not want Turkey to be in the middle of their own affairs.

JC: Which is understandable. I wouldn’t want Turkey in the middle of my own affairs either.

ABM: So what they’re doing, they’re doing everything they can. And that’s, I mention this because that starts with the Kurds themselves. The Kurds are, as you well know there was no relationship between the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey, it was very acrimonious for a long, long time. But then Erdogan came to the conclusion there’s really not much he can do with the Kurds in Iraq. And they started trade and now they have basically a good relationship. But he’s still fearful about how that might translate once this Syrian conflict is settled. Because the Kurds in Syria already declared, already established their autonomous rule. They are not waiting for settlement, this is what we’re going to do. So we have now to watch I think in the future, how Turkey’s going to maneuver in the region and the extent to which Erdogan wants to assert himself. And so far, he’s been successful in a very limited way. But I think what we’ll probably be witnessing is the unfolding of this rivalry now, is going to be between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran for regional hegemony.

JC: I think that that’s exactly right. But I think that Turkey will end up being a state that is always kind of poking at both of those sides. I think that it’s Iran and Saudi Arabia that is really the axis of regional, it’s not exactly a cold war, it’s a hot, lukewarm war in the region, and Turkey is kind of always going to be annoying both sides to some degree, and always trying to wedge its way in. But I think that ultimately it will not be as much of a player in that region as it would like to be, and as much as Iran or the GCC.

ABM: I think you’re right. I think what’s going to make a difference also is a change of government. That is, once Erdogan departs the political scene.

JC: Or Planet Earth. Because those two things might happen simultaneously at some point in the distant future.

ABM: When will Turkey continue with this current path. And that’s going to depend on the new government in Turkey. I mean, he too is not going to last forever. So we’re going to have to see, but I think we should be in tune to Turkey trying to assert itself in various ways, but it’s going to be stopped and—

JC: And that’s also an interesting one for the United States, because in many ways I think we have a much better relationship with most of the Arab states, certainly with Israel, than we do with Turkey. But Turkey is actually the only one of those which we are treaty bound to defend, and which is a formal defense ally. And that makes I think things very, very difficult for us.

ABM: This is difficult also because the United States unfortunately, not just President Trump, but Obama throughout this period, knowing how disruptive, destructive Erdogan is, and his policies and his purge in his own country, systematically chipping away from Turkish democracy that he himself promoted during his first and second terms, which is ironic. And now he’s becoming more and more Islamist, he abandoned the idea because he chose to, becoming a member of the EU, that’s not going to happen. But the United States, exactly because of what you said, unfortunately is letting him get away with quote-unquote murder. And that is a problem. That is a problem, because he’s encouraged, he’s basically holding the West hostage because of where we, because of the geostrategic role that Turkey can play both in Europe as well as in the Middle East.

JC: And what’s particularly unfortunate about it is that Turkey is well-placed in general to actually bring all these sides together. If you had a different Turkish government, it actually could bridge the sides and play a very constructive role in the region instead of just someone needling everyone.

ABM: Exactly. And finally, here is a country that started with zero problems with neighbors. I keep saying the same song, now he’s got a problem with every neighbor.

JC: Yeah, right.

ABM: All right. Thank you, this is terrific.

On the Issues Episode 21: Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija

Alon Ben-Meir: I’m Alon Ben-Meir, and this is ‘On the Issues.’ My guest today is Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija, Consul General of the Republic of Kosovo in New York. Prior to her appointment as Consul General, she was a parliamentarian in Kosovo’s Assembly, and has a professional and academic background in electronic engineering. You can find her full bio on the page for this episode.

Now I was asking about whether there’s a prospect of Kosovo becoming a state, I mean, officially at the United Nations as a member state.

Teuta Sahatqija: We are waiting for increasing the number of recognitions. Up to now, Kosovo is recognized by 114 countries. It’s more than half of countries, it’s about 60 percent of countries who recognize the Republic of Kosovo. But we are still working to increase the number. And we are planning to have 120, up to 130 and then apply to membership to the United Nations. We have been also suggested from many members of UN to apply for observer mission. But we think that up to now, we are discussing both possibilities. But up to now, in the meantime we are working, when we apply, to apply for full membership and not only for observer membership.

ABM: Right. Now who is the main obstacle for membership? What country or countries for that matter?

TS: The obstacle is that we need to pass the Security Council. The Security Council needs to approve the candidacy.

ABM: So of the five permanent members, who is against it?

TS: We assume that there might be from Russia an obstacle, although we never applied. So in fact we do not know whether Russia will oppose it or not. But in the meantime, we are having a goal to achieve the biggest number of recognition and then to apply.

ABM: I see. But what is the reason, I mean 114 is a lot, many countries.

TS: It is, indeed.

ABM: Yeah, I mean, so why haven’t you applied, that’s the question, if you’re not sure. You’re not certain about the Russian position, right?

TS: No, we are not certain.

ABM: There were no back channels to find out if they are ready, willing?

TS: Officially we do not know that.

ABM: I see. But do you know? Unofficially?

TS: Officially we do not know that. But our plan is for us to go with a bigger number of recognition, and then when we apply, to apply with a certain security that we will pass that without any obstacles. In the meantime, we have other goals—goal to apply for UNESCO, for Interpol, and for some other agencies of UN and some other international organizations, and then to have the portfolio that is much stronger as a state, then to apply.

ABM: So what’s the position of this administration? Of the Trump administration in this regard?

TS: The Trump administration in regard of recognition of Kosovo is very strong for recognition. And I want to thank Ambassador Haley that in each and every session of the Security Council when there is a discussion about UNMIK report, she or a representative of the US always called for recognition of Kosovo from other countries, and for membership of Kosova in the United Nations. So in regard of Kosovo becoming a member of UN or raising the number of recognition, the current administration does not have any differences from other administrations.

ABM: But in the same token, you do have a majority in the General Assembly.

TS: In the General Assembly.

ABM: If you have 114 out of roughly—

TS: We have a majority, but before going to the General Assembly, the Security Council is the organization who has to approve that also.

ABM: But the General Assembly can bestow observer status, but you don’t want the observer status.

TS: We are still in discussion whether to apply for observer status. Observer status can be achieved much easier. But we are still thinking and working on that to decide what is best for the meantime. We think that when we apply, we should apply for full membership.

ABM: I see. Ok, I mean, I know, sometimes like an intermediate step is to get observer state. You are already halfway there. And then, but—

TS: There are some countries who are in halfway for 25 years.

ABM: I know that, yeah. You’re right. So as far as, just one more question about this. As far as you know, Britain, France, China would support Kosovo’s membership?

TS: Britain, France, the US—

ABM: Those who hold the P3 power?

TS: Yes, P3 is very strong.

ABM: So the only uncertainty is Russia, as far as you’re concerned.

TS: We officially do not know that, but according to sessions of the Security Council when there is a report of UNMIK, we can see the stand of Russia that still needs to be evaluated.

ABM: Right, right. I suppose once the US-Russian relations are restored to some kind of normalcy, which is really crazy right now, there may be some discussion.

TS: We do not have anything against, and we believe strongly that Russia does not have anything against Kosovo. And I have to remind you also that when the UN designated Martti Ahtisaari for representatives to draft the future status of Kosovo, Russia was the one who collaborated very strongly in drafting this report. And as you know this report of President Martti Ahtisaari was immediately translated to our constitution. So I think that Russia also has a great deal of contribution in drafting our constitution, in drafting these, but at the very latest moment, Russia, Serbia, and some of those states didn’t vote for that document. But their work is incorporated in our laws, in our constitution, and from the constitution.

ABM: But obviously Serbia is the main antagonist, or the main opponent. I know the relationship has been improving to some extent, but it remains the main obstacle, wouldn’t you say?

TS: Definitely. Before commenting more to difficulties, I would like to state that there are more than 30 agreements that we reached in dialogue with Serbia. We have integrated border management that controls the mutual border between Kosovo and Serbia. We have liaison offices in Pristina and in Belgrade that is an ambassadorial level. We have an agreement for free movement, agreement about recognition of car plates, agreement about recognition of diplomas. We have an agreement with Serbia about telecom and as a result, now Kosovo from March has its own telephone number in ITU. We are in the vicinity to achieve an agreement about energy. So there are a lot of agreements—

ABM: But not yet recognition.

TS: But I think that recognition will have to wait. But in the meantime, I have to state that Serbia, although we are in dialogue and now we are neighbors and there is a strong commitment for continuing that dialogue and being together in European Union, Serbia is still with one leg in a previous century and making a lot of obstacles for Kosovo to become member of different organizations, or toward recognition that I think in one hand is damaging Kosovo of course because it’s slowing the pace of Kosova. But in the other hand, I think that Serbia, from president to institution, does not have enough strength to move forward from Milosevic-era mentality and to move with both legs toward European Union values of good neighborhood, values of peace and other. And I think that this lack of strength from institutions of Serbia is in fact long-term damaging exactly Serbia’s youth and people.

ABM: Yeah, absolutely. So what is right now the main objection of Serbia? I mean sooner or later I don’t think they expect Kosovo to go back to before the war. That’s not going to happen.

TS: Of course, it will never happen.

ABM: So it will never happen. So what it is, I guess it is similar to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict you might say. They know they’re stuck. They know they have to recognize each other, but they haven’t, even after 70 years. Do we expect something along these lines between Kosovo and Serbia? I mean, what is the main objection that Serbia has today, given what you just said? In thirty different areas there is a great deal of cooperation.

TS: Improvement, yes.

ABM: There is improvement. So how do you identify the main—what is it that Serbia would like to see happen other than— Are they demanding reunification?

TS: I don’t think that even the biggest dreamer in Serbia can dream that Kosovo will join Serbia ever. But I think that there is a lack of strength, of leadership, in Serbia to tell the truth to its people that Kosovo is gone, and let’s move forward. But you mentioned the relationship between Israel and Palestine. I think that there is a very big difference between Serbia and Kosovo. We are under the dialogue, under the European Union umbrella, the dialogue for normalization of relations between these two states. And the other thing that is different from Israel and Palestine is that both countries are working very hard to one day to become a member of the European Union. And I think that membership in European Union is that strong bond and strong interest of both countries, that we strongly believe that will overcome the differences and animosities that Kosovo and Serbia have. In fact, Kosovo does not have anything against Serbia, and we consider Serbia is our neighbor, as it is, and we are for normalization of relations because if it will not occur, then none of our states can progress toward the European Union. That’s the difference. And that’s the beauty of these relations that have a hope, that have an idea, and have means how to achieve normalization, and through normalization to benefit both countries becoming members of the European Union.

ABM: Yeah, but in this regard when we talk about the EU, now if there is any kind of direct or indirect discussion with the EU about potential membership in the EU, don’t you think the EU can play a role that is inducement, saying to Serbia, being that Kosovo and Serbia would want to have that kind of membership. Don’t you think the EU can play the—inducing Serbia and Kosovo to say, look, if you manage your affairs, you recognize one another, then the door will be wider open in terms of membership in the EU. Was this kind of discussion taking place?

TS: This discussion is not very explicitly said, but implicitly it was mentioned many times. Especially some of the ambassadors of Germany and high officials of Germany were very frank, saying that Serbia will become a member of European Union when they recognize Kosovo. But in the meantime, since we are still in progress, I think that this issue that should be the top issue at the end of this process can wait. So in the meantime, it is important to normalize relations to achieve as many agreements as we can to strengthen our borders, to cooperate in different areas. And when it comes, and it will take some years to complete membership in European Union, that at the end, I think that Europe does not have any interest to import any kind of conflict, of problem, of unsolved situation. So that’s why we believe that European Union has that possibility to help not only Kosovo and Serbia to straighten their relations, but also to be clear that no previous conflicts can enter into the European Union.

ABM: Right. Now what are—there are a number of chapters, 35 different chapters to be admitted to the EU. What is the kind of progress Kosovo is making to meet, without dealing as yet with Serbia, to meet the European standards? Do you feel that if negotiations were to start today, commence today between the EU and Kosovo, how many of these chapters you think it would have been easily met?

TS: Yeah. Oh thank you for this question. Kosovo immediately after the war started with new laws that was under the administration of U.N. after 2008. And after 2008, many of these so-called regulations were turned to laws of Republic of Kosova. And being a former member of parliament of Kosova, I know that each and every law had to pass compatibility with a key communautaire, or now with a key of the European Union.

ABM: Right.

TS: So before entering to force, it passed several stages of control. First was a control within the government, and the Ministry of European Integration would check whether this certain law is meeting directives of the European Union. And when that law came to parliament, then the Committee on European Integration that I was, my previous job was the chair of the European Union Committee, had the duty to check whether each and every amendment or the articles of the certain law is meeting the European Union regulations. So all our laws are in fact compatible with a key of European Union. This is one of our security that the legislation is compatible. Another thing that is that we are cooperating very heavily with the European Union mission who is in Kosovo, in Pristina, and with EU lacks the biggest ever European Union law mission anywhere in the world. And then—

ABM: Yeah, but there’s no ambassador of the EU in Pristina. Is there an ambassador of—

TS: Yes, yes.

ABM: Full-fledged ambassador?

TS: It is a mission.

ABM: It’s a mission, ok, yeah.

TS: And it is an ambassadorial level. And what is important is that in rule of law, in economic development, in our cultural heritage, in education, in women empowerment, and in many other fields, the European Union is heavily involved with the government of Kosova, with the NGO sector, with other organizations, very closely working with parliament that also secure that in all fields, Kosova is preparing itself so when it comes time for application, I think that many of the chapters will be automatically met since we have been working together for 14 years.

ABM: So you might say then the process has started, albeit not officially.

TS: Yes.

ABM: So there is a process of trying to meet all the EU requirements. Now to what extent—my understanding is that Turkey has a problem with that. What do you think the Turkish position is on Kosovo’s membership in the EU, when in fact Turkey does not have that, is no longer really considered a viable candidate for membership. Is there any kind of exchange, conflict with Turkey in this regard?

TS: The Republic of Kosovo and Turkey do not have any issue in relations with European Union that can put in conflict these two countries. I think that in relation to Turkey—

ABM: No, but the bilateral relations between Kosovo and Turkey.

TS: Bilateral relations between Kosovo and Turkey are good relations in economy, are good relation in education, in many fields. But when it comes to the European Union, I think that both countries have distinctive, different paths towards European Union. We are in dialogue with Serbia. In 2015, we signed the agreement for stabilization and association that brought Kosovo one step further and helping the Kosovar economy to be more compatible to European Union economy. And so I don’t think that we can talk about any kind of conflict that these two countries have because of the European Union.

ABM: Yeah, I’m just not sure because I looked at the list. Has Turkey recognized Kosovo?

TS: One of the firsts.

ABM: It did recognize Kosovo early on, that’s right. Yeah. OK. So in that regard there is no specific issue of concern between the two countries, right, right. Now last time, we spoke about the internal conditions in Kosovo itself, and I must tell you I’ve learned a great deal from you because in certain areas I had a different kind of impression. But I’d like to revisit some of these issues, in terms of how the Kosovo government is dealing with radicalization. What are the steps that have been taken in the last few years, say from the time ISIS came to being? What are some of the specific steps that the Kosovo government has taken in order to mitigate the phenomenon of radicalization from within the country itself?

TS: Yes. I think that the radicalization is not a domestic issue of Kosova. Unfortunately, it is a global issue that is tackled all world. And unfortunately there have been many attacks – we saw in Manchester, in Britain, in Germany, in Paris, in Nice, and in many countries. I cannot say we are fortunate because it’s not fortune to see that happening somewhere else, but in Kosovo it never happened, any kind of these attacks. In Kosovo it started with some, after the war, we were not even aware about the influence that certain NGOs from the east that came after the war, that they can have that impact. So slowly, as in many other countries, these NGOs started to grow the number of people and started to have the influence. But I think that our government and before government, society, NGO sector, and I have to say also the parliamentarians were those who raised the voice early; they raised the voice in 2011 in 2012. It was also myself and my fellow parliamentarians, especially women, who raised their voice and asked the government to be more aware about these phenomena. And fortunately, this phenomenon has been taken very seriously. In 2015, parliament passed the law that prohibits Kosovar citizens from participating in foreign wars. To tell the truth, I was also a member of parliament and I voted happily for that law. I didn’t think that this law can stop people who want to participate in—

ABM: No, no, it doesn’t stop—

TS: But after that, after this law passed, there were zero citizens of Kosova who went to foreign wars. There were people who returned. So this was only one mean to tackle this issue. Another was to freeze the funds from those NGOs who are supporting young people of Kosovo to go to foreign wars. There were some imams who have been expelled out of our borders of Kosova, and those who were Kosovo citizens were imprisoned. Then Kosova became a member of a global alliance, anti-ISIS. Another issue is that the government took a series of actions to work in rehabilitation of those who are returning. In education, in curricula, in helping also the NGO sector to tackle and to work with youth to prevent radicalization of young people. Another thing that is also important for Kosova and who might be one of reasons who causes these young people to think about foreign wars was also that Kosovo is still the only country in the European continent that does not have visa liberalization. And not being able to travel to see, to exchange views, and with our passport being able only to travel to Albania and Turkey and east was also one of issues that might cause these young people to look toward the east. But all these issues have been tackled, and we are strongly working first in prevention. Our police were declared as the best police in region. Alliance, anti-ISIS and other measures are measures for preventing or stopping. But this is not the only one. Another long-term and most important is working in education, working in economic development, that will provide the work, the job for people, and not allowing their unhappiness to turn them to look toward the east and other. So these are some of the measures that our government—but what is good it’s not only governmental issues.

ABM: So civil society is involved in this process.

TS: Yes, very heavily.

ABM: Now, to the best of your knowledge, in recent months, are there any Kosovars who actually went nevertheless and joined other radicals, be that ISIS, al-Qaeda, or other?

TS: Up to 2015, there were three hundred and something Kosovars who went. And unfortunately, that served many to use these political mathematics and to declare Kosovo with the highest number of people who went there. But if we use—

ABM: In relative terms.

TS: Yes, of course. And with 2 million population, you cannot play with political mathematics. If we use another mathematics, we can say that from 2015, Kosovo is a country that have zero percent per capita who went to foreign wars.

ABM: How many of the three hundred men came back?

TS: I can find that number and—

ABM: I mean roughly, to the best of your knowledge.

TS: I can see here that there are still 60 or 70 Kosovars who are still involved there. 50 were reported to have been killed. The rest are reported to have returned to Kosovo or have fled to Turkey and other countries.

ABM: But how many of them who actually came to Kosovo have been identified and went through a process of rehabilitation? Because you talk about rehabilitation. Because I’m very interested in that kind of process. That is, if you identified 10, 20, 30, or 40 who actually came back that were identified. How many of them have been identified and went through a rehabilitation process?

TS: I cannot say the exact number, although I can find and provide you with that. But I think that the importance is not a priority of working toward these numbers, whether they are 50 or 100 or I don’t know. I think the biggest importance is to work to prevent others to think and to go there, because working with those who have been returned is like working with somebody who is ill and you try to cure. But more important is not to allow others to be influenced or to think about that. And in this manner, I think that Kosovo’s government and institutions and NGO sector are really doing a great job.

ABM: But sometimes a rehabilitated individual could in fact become a role model for others and prevent them from—because they he or she can say I was there.

TS: Yes.

ABM: I’ve seen the misery. I see what ISIS is all about. And I must tell you this is the wrong thing to do. Did you have that kind of experience of rehabilitated people who met other young Kosovars and say to them, this is the wrong thing to do and we can share with you our own experiences? Did you have that kind of—?

TS: Yes definitely, you can find a number of declarations from people who have been there, who return, and who are telling about time that they spent, about the atrocities, about them being in fact – that they weren’t not being able to know where they were going, and now they came and they are totally against what happened there, and tell other young people that it is not the good thing to go there, because they had a very bad time. There were also some women who went there with children, and fortunately they are now back. And our media was full of these stories. Telling people not to go because it is not good. It is not our fight. It is not values that we are sharing among ourselves.

ABM: Yeah. I mean, I’m glad to hear this. I want to ask you though, the kind of counter narrative that Kosovars are engaged in, to counter the narrative of the various Islamist groups, the radicals, what sort of narrative? I mean, is there a concerted effort on the part of the Kosovar government to counter the narrative of the extremist in any systematic way?

TS: Definitely. And when we’re talking about extremism, I think that telling that Islamic extremism or any kind of extremism is something that goes and helps those extremists, because Islam and their religion in fact was hijacked and used as a big huge base, where it was implanted this violence using that huge base of people. But in none of religion, violence is something that any religion asks or any religion made, because extremists are extremist, terrorists are terrorists.

ABM: My point is that you are absolutely right. I mean I’m the very first one who would say Islam is a peaceful religion. Islam does not promote violence. What is the perception? There’s an international perception you might say that given that all this violence—I do not subscribe to that, I’m just suggesting to you what the perception is. Given that much of this violence is occurring in Arab countries, between Arab states, between Muslim states, Muslim against Muslim, Muslim against Europeans. So the perception is that it’s very easy to associate now Islam with violence, because the majority of these incidents, this violence, is taking place within Muslim communities and between Muslim and outside communities. So what I thought was missing all along is that whereas you can actually produce a counter-narrative to deal with what the Islamists like ISIS are preaching, this is necessary and needs to be done. And I guess the Kosovo government is doing that. But I hear very little in terms of religious scholars, Imams, who actually talk about the issue outside ISIS, what ISIS is doing or not doing. But to separate Islam from violence, that is, to explain that, to change the perception, there is a need. In my view this is what is plaguing and what is further entrenching the belief that Islam is a violent religion is that no one, very few at least to say, other than denying, saying no, Islam is not violent. But there is no concerted major public relations campaign to explain where Islam in fact stands on the various issues, outside what ISIS, al-Qaeda, and others are preaching. Where do you see that? Don’t you think this kind of effort is necessary? And if, and who can do that, who is doing that?

TS: I agree totally with that. And I’m happy to tell you that this issue is tackled from the scholars, Islamic scholars, and from the Islam Association of Kosova, from Mufti Tërnava, and I have to mention very respected scholar Xhabir Hamiti and others who are telling this, maybe they are not. And I’m sure they are not doing enough in P.R., in public relations to tell that. But I know that they have a lot of followers, and regularly they preach that what has been done has nothing to do with Islam, and these terrorists are the terrorists, and there are no religion between terrorist. But since we are talking about Kosovo, I have to say that Kosovo has 90 per cent of Albanian population and what is interesting within the Albanian population is that Albanians have three religions. It is Islam, it’s Orthodox, and Catholic Albanians. And in our history, in our national identity, is that first comes identity, then comes religion. And we consider each other brothers and sisters regardless of the religion that we belong.

ABM: But the majority in Kosovo, relative majority, are Muslims.

TS: It doesn’t change anything. Because for—

ABM: No, I know because I subscribe to what you just saying, but in terms of the reality itself, would you say that. I mean, I believe that Muslims are a majority nevertheless in Kosovo. Isn’t this the case?

TS: It is the case. But I think that in Kosovo and in Albania also, because we are the same population, we must be aware of this very high value that we share and that’s religious harmony that we have in Kosovo.

ABM: Yes.

TS: When we have the graveyards that Muslims and Christians are buried together, that we have church and mosque that are in the same compound, that we go to each other’s celebrations. And I have also to mention that during the war when most of us were expelled out of our houses, myself and my family included, we stayed for 10 days in a Catholic village and all of us, all of people I know that, myself my family and three hundred others were in the same house, in the same Catholic house, and there were no differences, no looking to each other as enemies and other. I’m very proud of this value that my nation shares between each other, and I strongly believe that this is also not only a governmental issue, but this is also the issue of population that will not tolerate any kind of violence between religions, because that does not exist in our history.

ABM: I think it’s great. I would have liked to see Kosovo take the charge, take the lead and say it’s time to begin to have a major, almost like a global campaign to disabuse the millions and hundreds of millions of people, especially in the Western Hemisphere and elsewhere, who equate as I said Islam and violence as if they were one and the same. And begin that kind of campaign to explain, no, that is not the case. The fact that there is so much violence within the Muslim world, within the Arab world and from the Muslim who come from these lands, and terrorizing others in the West and elsewhere, this is a perception. I mean, that is in terms of the extent of it. But the truth of the matter is that the two are not one in the same, and they are some kind of a global campaign. I think it’s necessary to begin, and maybe perhaps Kosovo would be the best candidate.

TS: I agree totally. And I want to use this opportunity also to tell you that during the Second World War, Albanians were those in Kosova, in Albania, those who saved thousands of Jews and they were inside the houses, being as a member of houses. And there was not even a single case when Albanian families went and told to Nazis and to others that yes, we have in our family, or yes, we saw, we know that a Jew is there. So I think that this is one more argument telling that between Albanians who are majority, there is no animosity between religions, but it is a respect. Whether they are Orthodox or Catholic or Jews or Muslims, they are all brothers. I have to tell you, if you go to Kosovo also to visit some places, to visit where I live in Gjakova where there are the same families with the same surname, where half a family is Catholic and other half of family is Muslim, they are always together in celebration, in everyday living. They are buried together in a graveyard and other. And I agree totally with you. Kosovo can be used as one bright spot, as the sui generis that can tell its story. Are we good in PR? I don’t think so. I think that we are very bad in PR, and a lot of good developments that happened—

ABM: And this is something you can do, I mean, you know.

TS: Was not shown to the world as it should be.

ABM: That’s great, thank you so much. Is there anything else you would like to let me know?

TS: Yes, of course. I would like also to tell you as we talked earlier that during these recent years, Kosovo achieved 4 percent of GDP, raised its budget more than 20 percent, unemployment went down 9 percent. We raised thirty-four places up in indicators of World Bank for doing business, from IMF, from World Bank, and from many renowned international organizations. There are very good words telling that Kosova is prospering in economic development, and that immediately can be translated to more jobs and to less space for young people to be unhappy or to look toward negative actions or negative issues, rather than to be a valuable part of society.

ABM: Who is the largest donor in terms of financial aid to Kosovo at this point. The Europeans?

TS: The donors are, European Union is the biggest.

ABM: European Union, how about the United States?

TS: USAID did a great incredible job in promoting business, in raising the quality of our products. And I must say that after signing the stabilization association agreement, the consumer market of 400 million consumers in European Union was immediately open and USAID worked immediately after the war up to now to increase the quality of our products, and ninety five percent of raspberries and other berries in our agricultural products are exported to the European Union. That is a clear sign that the quality standards of our producer are met, and I cannot forget to mention that USAID had a crucial role in this.

ABM: Tell me, are you accepting any money from the Gulf states without preconditions?

TS: I am not aware of that.

ABM: I mean, are they not offering any financial aid like Saudis, Qataris, Abu Dhabi?

TS: There was there was some isolated, it was a building of a pediatric hospital where our former president Atifete Jahjaga, through her engagement took 20 million dollars for building the hospital after the war. There were also some medical aids and other, but I’m not aware about more.

ABM: So, generally speaking you’re enjoying good relations, relationship, diplomatic and otherwise, with the Gulf states, with other Arab countries.

TS: We have good relations with every state. We would like to extend our good relation also to Israel, to Russia, to China, to Romania.

ABM: Just one question about Israel, because it’s very interesting to me that— What is the problem, why Israel did not recognize Kosovo to this time, to this day?

TS: I don’t think that there is any of issue. Kosovo was not recognized neither from Israel nor from Palestine. And it’s really odd. In fact, we cherish and we work very heavily to establish very good relations with Israel. But up to now it’s still in waiting phase. We are very near to establish one economic office as a liaison office in Israel, but it’s still an ongoing process. We would very much like and we worked very hard to have diplomatic relations be recognized from Israel and to continue our good relations. We never had any kind of obstacles, any kind of problems.

ABM: No, there shouldn’t have been in fact any, I mean, I would.

TS: And I expect Israel to recognize Kosova.

ABM: I’m going to try to explore that. And see if maybe we can be of help.

TS: Thank you so much.

ABM: Yeah, that’d be great. Well, thank you so much for taking the time. I think it was wonderful hearing you, and I think it was very useful, very important.

TS: I want to thank you for giving us space and telling a little bit about Kosovo’s story. I think that Kosovo is really one bright spot.

ABM: It’s important.

TS: Not only geography but also in culture, in education in mutual relation. And thank you so much for giving us space.

ABM: No, the pleasure is mine.

On the Issues Episode 20: Kelly Berkell

Alon Ben-Meir: I’m Alon Ben-Meir, welcome to On the Issues. My guest is Kelly Berkell, right?

Kelly Berkell: You got it.

ABM: An attorney and research fellow at the center on terrorism at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Most recently, Kelly served as national security fellow at Fordham Law School Center on national security, and is a graduate of NYU School of Law and Barnard College. Thank you so much for taking the time Kelly to be here. So–

KB: Thank you for having me.

ABM: It’s my pleasure. Thank you. So I recently read a paper that you wrote, which is extremely comprehensive, and I really, really enjoyed it, about your take on radicalization, and how the laws of the United States are applied to individuals who are charged with violent extremism. What was your main focus on that aspect, what is it that you wanted actually to convey to someone who wants to listen to this?

KB: I would say the main points that I was hoping to convey through the paper are that there’s a growing focus in the United States and elsewhere on countering violent extremism, and what’s now being called ‘preventing and countering violent extremism.’ And a lot of that focus has been on the prevention area, which of course is critical in having community-wide initiatives that are CVE-relevant. But in addition, I wanted to just bring a focus to the criminal justice area and how we can incorporate some similar principles there in terms of, once somebody is already intersecting with the criminal justice system, whether they’ve come on the radar of law enforcement as a suspect, or through a referral, or whether they’re actually at a post-conviction phase where they have been convicted of an extremist crime. There are a lot of initiatives that can be implemented that are not being implemented on a systematic basis, so although we do have some–

ABM: You mean initiative in terms of prevention.

KB: Yes exactly, prevention in terms of, if this person has not committed any crime, preventing a future crime, and if they have committed a crime, preventing recidivism. And I mean, when we talk about preventing a future crime, of course we have to be very respectful of civil liberties. We’re not the thought police, and we’re talking about voluntary programs for intervention. But it’s more from the framework of making resources available, so that in a number of the instances that we’re familiar with recently, a suspect was on the radar of law enforcement, but because they hadn’t committed a crime, the investigation was closed and that person later went on to commit an attack. So the paper addresses resources that could be available to communities and families and law enforcement in those types of situations, so that the case is not completely dropped or abandoned in all instances, just to give everybody more tools in the tool kit.

ABM: So based on my understanding of this, we’re talking about the prevention that is going to require when a person such as this is leaning perhaps to committing a terrorist attack, but he has not committed it. That is exactly what you just said. So, what sort of surveillance? That is, because this is exactly what is happening. They have not been in my view allocating enough resources to cover this many people. And my understanding is the FBI, for example, has on their list hundreds if not thousands of would-be terrorists, but they haven’t committed any crime. And my understanding from talking to some people from the NYPD, they know, but they cannot apprehend them, because they haven’t committed anything as yet. But they are also saying, we don’t have that much resources to really follow and survey and make sure that this person is not going to commit any crime. So how do we deal with that?

KB: That’s it, that’s exactly right. By the last statistics that the FBI announced, which were last year, there were over a thousand open investigations into homegrown violent extremists. And I believe the majority of those were ISIS-related. And then as you say, I mean there are hundreds in New York alone—

ABM: Yes. Yeah.

KB: Of open investigations. And so surveillance in every one of those cases is not practical. It’s not economical, and not always needed. But to have community-based resources available to help people for counseling and other social services, and also a network that won’t necessarily involve law enforcement if a crime is not imminent, but where professionals will know about their legal duty to warn and will know when a threat is imminent—I think these kinds of resources could really enhance what’s available, so that hopefully we wouldn’t have to see so many cases like Omar Mateen in Orlando, where he had been looked at by the FBI. Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been looked at by the FBI as well. And even the bomber who planted bombs in New York and New Jersey last year had also been looked at. So in all of these cases, who knows if additional resources would have helped, if law enforcement would have made a referral. But it’s possible.

ABM: Yeah, but my understanding is that one thing they’ve been shying away from doing is actually contacting the families of such a would-be terrorist or would-be violent extremist, and concerning our concern about – well, they speak to the family, to the father or the mother. Well, they may or may not alert the son or the daughter about it, but in some cases actually the father—probably you remember the case where the father himself called the authorities and said my son is; do you remember that?

KB: That that was that bomber, the New York and New Jersey bomber, Ahmad Khan Rahami? I believe that’s who you’re–

ABM: That’s right, that’s right, Rahami, yeah. And so here is a good example of what, if the authorities, that is in this case, it was in New York, right?

KB: Yes.

ABM: Yeah. But they did not contact the family in advance, even though he was under surveillance. So in the cases like this when actually the father volunteered subsequently, before the person committed, then there must be a way by which to reach out to these families as well. So how do you reconcile the concern over not reaching out, because they are afraid that the family, the father and the mother, would let the son being investigated, maybe surveilled after? So that’s one of the predicaments I understand where the police are facing and the FBI is facing.

KB: And that raises another important question too, which is trust between communities and law enforcement, so that if say parents or other friends or family wanted to make a recommendation, they might have somewhere to turn without necessarily thinking that they’re going to get their loved one imprisoned for 20 years for example on a material support conviction. And so right now we have sort of an all-or-nothing situation, where another case like what you’re mentioning was the case of Adam Shafi, whose father in California referred him to law enforcement, brought him to the attention of law enforcement initially, saying that he could be radicalized, he could be falling prey to an extremist group, and subsequently the son was arrested and is basically in a solitary confinement-type of situation now. And the father, the most recent press that I’ve seen on this, the father is saying that he would recommend to parents in his similar situation, don’t go to law enforcement.

ABM: Not to do that. I mean, because this is the problem. That is, when you have something of an incident like this, when the authorities go to the other extreme and incarcerate the individuals when in fact he hasn’t as yet committed any crime—and exactly what you’ve been addressing in part in your paper. Am I right, you did speak about this.

KB: Yeah.

ABM: And then obviously this is preventing others from notifying the authorities. And my son is leaning toward committing acts of terror. So, the problem we are facing now is, what do we do in a situation like this? What is the mechanism? So if they volunteer and they’re afraid that the son is going to be mistreated or unduly punished, this is a problem for the parents. On the other hand, if they don’t, it is entirely possible that he or she will commit this kind of crime, and perhaps the punishment will be even more severe. So the parents here are trying to weigh what to do, albeit there are not too many such cases, not by the thousands, but they do exist. Anyone, take one terrorist activity to cause such a huge damage. So even one of a hundred is going to matter. And what would you do, what would you recommend to authorities to do under these kind of circumstances? I’ve been thinking about it, what shall we do. How shall we address this issue?

KB: It’s an excellent question. And right now I imagine that the federal government in various capacities is grappling with that issue. Earlier there were shared responsibility committees, which was an initiative set up by the FBI as an attempt to deal with this kind of situation, and it was supposed to be a multi-disciplinary, multi resource community-based committee where cases like this could be referred. My understanding is that at least under that name, that initiative is no longer going forward, partly because I think people felt that it was overly securitized and that it had to be more grassroots and more community-based. But something along those lines does seem, something that would be a multi-disciplinary resource, where the exact parameters with government, with law enforcement, would have to be drawn very carefully in terms of—And we have to distinguish between programs that are purely prevention, that are much more community-based and more general, as opposed to programs that are more targeted toward for particular individuals who as you were mentioning to me earlier, will have experienced different factors that will contribute to why they may be heading down a path toward violent extremism or considering that path. So a more targeted approach would deal with the factors relevant to that specific person, like counseling and social work.

But I just want to add in that in addition, I think another related but slightly different issue that comes up in this arena is applying these principles of preventing future violence to cases where there were already has been a conviction. And the principals can come in in terms of sentencing. As of recently, Judge Michael Davis in Minnesota began a new initiative where he had assessments of defendants completed by an expert, Daniel Koehler, and in some cases probation officers I believe, to determine their level of commitment to violent extremism, and use that as a factor in sentencing and determining their sentences, and then also in prison programs that would be along the lines of rehabilitation so that people don’t get further radicalized in prison. And last but not least, after release, post-incarceration programs to reintegrate people into society and productive roles.

ABM: But before even we go to rehabilitation, when the person is in prison or after he or she leaves the prison, what is that? My feeling is that when a parent or the authorities suspects somebody may be planning or have the tendency to join such a group, why not start the process of rehabilitation? What I have been thinking, and when I talk about it, I say, instead of getting this person and putting him in jail like that, that has been done, then now saying we wanted you to know what’s going on. But you put him in jail and they are not telling other parents, don’t do that because that’s going to be the consequence. Why then should the authorities be doing it? This person is as such. The parents are notifying, or even without the notification of the parent, they will get this person and begin the process of rehabilitation rather than incarcerate and put in prison. And now, from my understanding, that is not happening. So they know this person has a tendency and is not going and saying well, we know you haven’t done anything yet. We feel that you have the tendency, perhaps. We’re going to put you in some kind of program and begin that kind of process as a preventive program. When we talk about prevention, this is one area I think where prevention can take place. We can talk about other means of prevention, for example in the school setting, in the mosque setting. What role can the authorities play in order to preempt it? The idea here is that, from my perspective, is it preempting, not waiting, to take these types of action in order to prevent the person from continuing that path. To [unclear], and eventually commit an act of violent extremism.

KB: Right. I think there’s a model where you can look at CVE, and I think you’re touching upon this, where you can break it into separate steps. Looking at where based on where that person is in their process. So there is, the first step would be purely prevention, when you’re not dealing with anybody who’s necessarily expressed any interest in violent extremism. It’s just purely a resource to maybe counter, offer positive counter narratives. It’s just building community resilience. Then you can come to a place which is I think where you are focusing now, which is generally referred to as intervention or targeted interventions, where the person has shown some interest, possibly some movement in that direction, but has not committed a crime and therefore hasn’t done anything illegal, cannot be arrested, cannot be compelled to participate in a program. And then third, you would come to the charging context, where someone is suspected of a crime but you could still implement some of these initiatives, perhaps as part of a plea agreement or something like that. Which really brings you to the last steps, which are rehabilitation and reintegration, where someone has been convicted of a crime and now you’re giving post-conviction resources that will. But in my opinion, all of it is prevention because even when it’s post-conviction, you’re preventing future crimes, preventing future violence, and promoting public safety. In terms of what resources, what can be done at the intervention stage, I think you know that’s— We need to look at different programs that have existed and we need to look at evidence, and build programs that are supported by the research that exists, and preferably build upon community-based programs that actually exist already. There are many great programs that are in communities that deal with other kinds of violence, maybe gang prevention violence, and we can look at models like those, and build our programs from there. But the key will be devoting the resources to be able to do that.

ABM: Yeah, recently I had an opportunity to speak to three educators who came from Kosovo in this program in the State Department. And my discussion with them was education. That is, what a teacher, an educator in fact can do in the classroom setting when they notice that one of the students, or more than one, or two, are fidgety, are disruptive, are leaning to – there are signs that they are rebellious. And what it is that they can do within the classroom setting, without necessarily notifying the authorities that we have somebody like this, we need to take care of it. So from how I saw it, here are a set of things that an educator can do in order to mitigate, in order to deal with this kind of problem, with this type of individual. Have you been looking into this as well?

KB: It’s something I actually would like to look into, but I haven’t spent a lot of time looking into it. I think it raises interesting questions in terms of youth and privacy rights and so forth. And obviously there are other protections that come into play when you’re dealing with minors, but it is a very important question, I think an excellent question, and something that is part of this whole area that we do need to look at.

ABM: Yeah, because from my understanding—again, I have been looking into researching this, it’s not being done in any methodical, systematic way in schools, where some school is necessary in various areas. You know, in United States, in Europe and elsewhere that is, some time in poor countries like Kosovo, this is a problem of resources, because the teacher can do so much but the person does truly need for example some outside service, like should be seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist, and get that individual engaged in some other activities that require again, some more funding. So when you have poor communities where they cannot afford that kind of treatment to prevent this individual from pursuing the path of extremists, this is becoming a problem. And here, I don’t think countries like this, they are able to. And this is the reason in fact why in Kosovo there are so many, relatively speaking – the number of those young extremists is extremely high relative to other Muslim or Arab countries, because of the problem of poverty in that state.

But one of the measures in my view is that if we want to prevent violent extremists from actually committing, we have to look beyond what we have here, because where the root cause is perhaps is someplace else. It could be in Kosovo, or could be any other country in the Middle East. And we need to think in terms of out of the box, what it is we can do to channel some kind of funding where it’s needed in order to conduct that kind of preventive activities in order to make sure that such an individual perhaps is stopped before he or she commits that kind of crime. And I don’t see that happening. That is the focus. We were in Europe, for example, and I talked to many people there. And I haven’t heard one person who saying, yeah actually we are supporting this type of school in this country or that country because we feel there’s these kind of activities going on. What do you do about these kinds of things, you know?

KB: So are you mentioning that in terms of schools, or generally in terms of community resources?

ABM: Well in schools is one of the community resources. You can talk about, you can go to the imam in the mosque and find out who do they feel is leaning, and do something about it. There’s a role for the imam to play, there’s a role for the educator to play, there’s a role—there’s all kinds of people who come in contact with such an individual, and they can play without necessarily involving the police, the authorities.

KB: Right. Well.

ABM: Yeah. Go ahead, yeah.

KB: I think Europe does have some interesting models, in Denmark and elsewhere. And there’s a new center in Montreal as well. And I do think we need to spend time. There are also, in a lot of Muslim majority countries there have been programs for disengagement and intervention. And fortunately in the United States, we haven’t had as much of a problem with homegrown violent extremism and we haven’t had to historically have as much of an effort devoted to these kinds of programs, but as you said earlier, we know it’s been a growing problem. There are upwards of a thousand investigations. And even though ISIS has lost and is losing territory and isn’t recruiting as many foreign fighters, their online efforts don’t appear to have slowed down and so this is a continuing problem, and will be a problem also as convicted extremists are released from prison. We’ve had about a hundred fifteen ISIS cases by the last count. A majority of those have resulted in convictions, some were not resolved yet. But the average sentence as of about a year ago was measured at nine point two years. But of course we know that some people’s sentences are two years, and some people—one person in Minnesota, Abdullahi Yusuf, was sentenced to time served. So people are coming out and they need resources. Yusuf fortunately is benefiting from new resources that are being developed.

ABM: But they are also not as rehabilitated as they could have been. I mean, that’s what I think is also happening, that they are released from prison but then by and large left to their own devices. That’s what I understand the situation is. But you mentioned ISIS, yes it’s true that they are recruiting less, especially online in terms of their advocacy. But I as see it, even though they will be eventually defeated—I think they will be defeated in Syria as well as in Iraq, it’s a question of when as a body, as an entity, they will be defeated. But what they have done in the interim, they have established cells just about everywhere – in the Middle East, in Europe, and many of these cells right now are dormant, they have not been active. And they can become more active on their own. They don’t need to have an order coming from some authority from the top people, echelon of ISIS. They will begin to act on their own. So what they have done is losing ground in Iraq and Syria. But they’re shifting their emphasis on spreading, because the ideology itself is alive and not going to die with their destruction in Syria or Iraq. So here, the question is, what again the authorities I’ve been questioning and find, what are we doing for example to try to detect these sleeping cells that exist in so many different countries now? And it’s a question of time when there was just commit an act without even much planning. Let us assume for example the guy who just ran over so many people in London. Well, ISIS claimed responsibility, and we’re not really sure whether in fact he was necessarily affiliated or not affiliated with ISIS, but they’re claiming the responsibility. So here you have someone who may not have any connection with anyone else, who may not have cooperated with anyone else, but he acted on his own because he was indoctrinated in one form or another. And I think this phenomenon is going to grow rather than diminish.

KB: I think that’s exactly right. I think what you’re talking about is the phenomenon of homegrown violent extremists, where social media has changed the dynamics and technology. And people are—You don’t need to be a member of an extremist group per se, but people are inspired and motivated online and can credit their actions to a group, or claim inspiration by a group and sometimes even groups that may hate each other. Sometimes people are inspired by multiple groups that in their own locations are not getting along with each other. But nonetheless, somebody in the U.S. or in Europe may be drawing inspiration from those groups, and may use that as a basis for their criminal activity.

ABM: Yeah. So let me just go back to your paper, because it’s so impressive. I want you to just take the, how we are applying the laws and what some of the corrective measures are in how we’re applying the laws against these individuals, be that before or after they committed the act of terror, or violent act. What would you recommend differently, that the authorities take a different kind of approach beyond what is being done today from a legal perspective.

KB: I think that Judge Michael Davis in Minnesota, in U.S. federal district court, has been a pioneer in this. He has developed a program on his own with support from the U.S. attorney who recently resigned upon President Trump’s request, but in any event Judge Davis has designed a new program that addresses the question that you’re asking, or begins to address it. But what I would say is that instead of having each federal court on its own to design these kind of programs, it’s very important to have guidance that the courts can follow based on evidence and based on best practices so that they don’t each have to forge their own path. So Judge Davis did have radicalization assessments to assist him with sentencing, to give him additional information.

ABM: But is there any effort going on right now to coordinate between the various courts, various judges, there’s so many of them around.

KB: It’s a very good question. I know of efforts in various districts that are occurring where people are advocating in different districts for efforts to occur. And there are cases that are currently pending, where these kinds of efforts seem particularly relevant. I’m not aware at the judicial level of an effort to coordinate, whether— I imagine that the Bureau of Prisons and other judicial and legislative policy makers are all looking at this. And certainly we know that the CVE task force was established under President Obama as well as the Office of Community Partnerships to try to coordinate these types of initiatives, not limited to the judicial system, but generally speaking. And it will be very interesting to see what happens with that under the new administration, and part of that will be, there was a ten million dollar grant opportunity funded for CVE, and that money was awarded to 31 community organizations. But it’s unclear how that will proceed, how it will go forward. And following the, there was a Reuters exclusive article that came out in February indicating that the administration was considering changing the name of the Countering Violent Extremism initiative to Countering Islamic Extremism or Countering Violent Islamic Extremism and—

ABM: Which administration, Trump?

KB: Under Trump. Yes, under President Trump.

ABM: Yeah, well there was an outcry about that. Many Muslim countries and the Turks in particular were saying that is absolutely unacceptable, specifically when [unclear] used that, Islamic extremism, and he was saying well, that is not limited to Islam, there are extremists of all manners and kinds coming from all over.

KB: Well at this point now, four of the organizations that were awarded grant money, that applied for and competed for these funds, have now declined the funds and said no thank you, in part because of the concern that it would be difficult for them to work with their communities and have the trust of their communities, when they’re receiving funding under a philosophy and a policy that seems to single out Islam and not encompass other forms of radical extremism as well.

ABM: But then the problem is, I ask myself the question, OK, why is it 95 percent or even more, perhaps more than 95 percent of acts of terrorism, extremism, are coming from originated or from individuals, at least whose background is Muslim, they’re Muslims. So there’s the perception that a natural association of any act of terror is coming from somebody who is a Muslim, who has a Muslim background. In fact, every single act of terror took place in the United States committed by an individual who was actually a Muslim. Recently, there’s several of them.

KB: Well, I mean I think there’s been a—

ABM: I’m not trying to label them as such. I’m just saying the perception is being created is as such.

KB: I see.

ABM: Yeah, the perception is because I do not support the notion that extremism is only coming from the Muslim world, I’m not saying that, not in the least. But the perception is since the majority of these activities are committed by Muslims. So the perception is, like the Israelis look at the Palestinians and think he’s a terrorist, and the Palestinians look at the Israelis and say, he’s a soldier with a gun. That’s how they see each other. That’s how they perceive each other. Same thing when happens and how do we perceive, we connect Muslims to extremism. But from a historical perspective, this is what I’ve been thinking and been writing about recently, from a historical perspective you can create that linkage. That is, why is it they are as such. Again, I’m not saying this is exclusively, because there were so many different kinds of terrorists over so many years. How do we disabuse the individuals, the many, the majority who feel this is the source and this is what we have to deal? Just exactly what President Trump has articulated recently.

KB: Well, you ask so many good questions. That is the question, how do we do that. But you know it’s not, it may be that public perception, or some portion of the public perception. Of course that’s not supported. There’s new America data that shows that since September 11, I believe the latest numbers are, around ninety five deaths from what they refer to as jihadist extremism in the U.S., and about 51 from far-right wing extremism. And I think they cited about five from far-left. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, so I’m sorry if those aren’t exact. But that’s close to the recent numbers. And of course only this week we had an incident in New York City where somebody, there was a hate crime which could later be classified as terrorism – I don’t think we know enough information yet – but somebody came to New York to kill a black man, and that’s what he did.

ABM: Yeah, this guy, this white supremacist who went to this church is it, where he killed five black people, just recently. This young fellow, just maybe a month ago. Well, maybe he was 19 or 20 years old.

KB: You don’t mean Dylann Roof in South Carolina?

ABM: Probably, because I don’t remember the name. Yeah, yeah he did. But you’re right. I mean, but people don’t look at the statistics.

KB: So there have been these high profile incidents. But the one group who doesn’t, I don’t think, who at least as of a recent survey from some scholars at Duke—they surveyed law enforcement and found that law enforcement, local law enforcement officers around the country, were very concerned about white supremacists and about sovereign citizens and some of the what’s considered the far-right wing extremist movements. And at that time at least, they were more concerned about that than about any kind of jihadist or threat of Islamism in their community. So it’s interesting to look at that, because they’re the people day-to-day on the streets dealing. So there are a whole range of threats, and in some ways we need different approaches, but in some ways I think we can learn from approaches in dealing with different threats and use that information to benefit a more holistic effort.

ABM: Yeah, but you notice that in the United States, there’s more of that, white supremacist. And you don’t see the same phenomenon interestingly enough in Britain or France, or some European countries. There, these acts are by and large being committed by Muslims, which is an interesting phenomenon. We have here not as many, but it’s interesting that we do have a different kind of phenomena that has been manifesting itself with white supremacists who are committing these kinds of acts of terror. Where are you going to find as many of a similar nature in the European community? Why do you think that’s the case?

KB: Well, we do have a different threat landscape here. But interestingly in Europe, some of the initiatives to counter violent extremism now that are looking at jihadist extremism have come out of the efforts, the exit programs that deal with white supremacists and other issues. So there is a history of that of course in Europe and in Germany and in Scandinavia as well, and in fact Daniel Koehler, who is working on the Minnesota ISIS cases and has been consulted for different cases in the U.S. for jihadist-inspired terrorism has, I believe, he worked earlier in Germany in exit programs that really focused on white supremacists. But in terms of the specific cultural reasons as to why one form of extremism may thrive in one location versus another, it’s an excellent sociological question.

ABM: Yeah, I mean this is just an observation I made. Because I’ve been seeing this and wondering why is it. And obviously I think your take on it is absolutely the right. That is, we have a different culture here, has a different [unclear]. Well anyway, you know this was really wonderful. I really, really appreciate you taking the time.

KB: Thank you so much, I enjoyed being here. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you, Alon.

ABM: Yeah, thank you, thank you again. I think what you have covered is very important. Most people just do not know the intricacies of how we here in the United States have been dealing with this phenomenon. So thanks again, Kelly.

KB: Thank you, my pleasure.

On the Issues Episode 19: Archbishop Bernardito Auza

Alon Ben-Meir: I’m Alon Ben-Meir, and welcome to another episode of On the Issues. My guest today is Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the Organization of American States. Originally from the Philippines, he entered into the diplomatic service in 1990, and has served in Bulgaria, Albania, and Haiti. You can find his full bio on the page for this episode.

Again, I really want to thank you for taking the time.

Bernardito Auza: Thank you Professor also for waiting. The last time there was a little bit of confusion in my calendar on the date.

ABM: No problem. I’m happy always to wait for something good to happen. I feel fortunate to be able to sit down and talk about this very important issue in terms of how Islam is being used as a tool by which to radicalize. And what might be missing in my view is the lack of the effective counter-narrative, using the same religious precepts to counter effectively the propaganda that Islamist extremists use in order to promote their cause. What’s your take on this? What needs to be done, what can we do?

BA: There has been lots of discussion on that. There have been lots of open debates at the level of the Security Council also on how to counter the terrorist narrative using religion or God to perpetrate violent acts. And to further that, we might say really violent ideologies and extremisms. There are certain suggestions like, you could hear so many countries, Muslim countries and Christian countries and countries which you might say do not identify one or the other, that insistence on the social and economic side of the question. As you said, it really doesn’t target directly what you are asking in the sense that there are religious counter narratives that we could use to fight these extremist narratives using religion or religious passages as justifications. That is, I think it’s a certain angulation of the same question, of the same problem, but there is always a tendency to try to avoid that. For people who do think they are not competent to talk about how religion itself or the same religious precepts are being used by violent extremists, to be used to make a counter-narrative against their propaganda. So there is always the tendency of the international community, whether it’s the Security Council or the General Assembly or anywhere, to emphasize the need to fight the root causes of these fundamentalist terror groups. I think there is no question that that’s useful, but it really doesn’t directly answer your question.

ABM: But there’s no question. I mean I agree with you, and I agree with the general consensus. We’ve got to deal with the root causes. That is, it is not mutually exclusive. That is, having a counter-narrative has its own place. But dealing effectively with the root causes is absolutely critical. That is, you cannot have it one way or the other. They both need to be employed.

BA: You are right, they are all to be employed. But the question of, for Christians especially, and thinkers and even religious leaders in the West, there is always hesitation to lead on the kind of a religious campaign or education to make this counter-narrative. There is always that impression that it should be the Islamic religious leaders who should do that. We will support them, we will be there with you. We will have a dialogue with you, but it should be you leading the charge when it comes to countering these narratives.

ABM: Well, there’s no—

BA: I think it’s certainly respectful. I think it’s the right way. Personally, I believe that’s true, how much to each. For instance the Holy See, the Vatican, had just last February a dialogue, a discussion between Al-Azhar [University; school of Sunni thought] and the Vatican, the Holy See, on this question of how to fight this propaganda of religious extremism. So there are initiatives, as an answer to your very direct questions, and we will see how much fruit and whether or really the concrete effects of that.

ABM: Right, right. You know, based on what I see and hear in our research, you are absolutely right to suggest the counter-narrative has to come from the Muslim community – in the imams, in the mosque, in schools. This is the one, because their voices will have more credibility than somebody coming from the West trying to really preach the gospel.

BA: To have a kind of a culture, a counter-productive culture.

ABM: Yeah. The question is, you are a Catholic, I am a Jew, or someone else is a Muslim. We are believers. The three [monotheistic] religions, there is so much in common, a great deal in common. I mean, after all Islam is derived from—

BA: Common father in Abraham. So it’s—

ABM: Judeo-Christian teachings, that’s where Islam came from. 98 percent of the Qur’an is based on the Old and the New Testament. So there’s a great deal of commonality there, which as I see it—To what extent, from your perspective, do we need to have for example a discussion say between Jewish religious leaders, Christian leaders, and Muslim leaders – to sit down together and talk about these issues in terms of, yes, there is absolutely a need for Muslims to talk to Muslims, to disabuse them of the notion that Islam is a violent religion. Islam is not a violent religion. To disabuse them of the notion that Muhammad preached violence, because Muhammad did not preach violence. But you can see in the Qur’an many phrases where the Muslims like ISIS, like al-Qaeda, select pieces; selectively they take a piece of a paragraph or even a sentence and use it in order to promote their agenda. And we know that’s happening, and we also know like you said, that I don’t think there is a major concerted effort by the Muslim religious communities, be that in the Middle East and even in the West, who are actually taking this very seriously and are providing the counter narrative we are talking about. This is absolutely critical.

BA: So what do you think is the reason for that? Is there a fear that they would be targeted by these people who have these extremist interpretations or selective—

ABM: I think there are several reasons. I think one is certainly concern and fear of what happened. So their sermons, their preaching in the mosque, is becoming far more, more or less benign. They’re talking about right and wrong, but they usually don’t touch in a serious way, the question of violent extremism and how religion is being abused in that respect. There’s efforts by the Western community, like in Europe in particular, asking, demanding in a way from the imams in mosques to preach against violent extremism. So there is that concern.

The other thing, I think the reason that many of the Muslim scholars do not necessarily buy into the argument that you need to use religion in order to dissuade or disabuse somebody from certain beliefs is that they are Taqfiris, they are infidels, they don’t belong to us. We do not want to debase the language to the religion.

BA: It’s a very common line. It’s actually a very often repeated line in all the official statements of Islamic countries at the United Nations, that this violence has nothing to do with Islam.

ABM: Exactly.

BA: So it is not really like washing your hands. But it’s correct, it is a very logical declaration, statement, that in fact or indeed, what these fundamentalist terrorists and radicals are actually preaching is not Islam. But how are we going to counter that narrative remains. I mean, the question of how are you going to counter their narrative, I think for you it is not enough just to say that they don’t represent Islam, that the Islam they’re preaching is not the true Islam, is not authentic Islam. And exactly, you know Malala Yousafzai was at the United Nations the other day. She was appointed the messenger of peace at the United Nations. She is the youngest messenger of peace of 19. And in her acceptance speech, she said exactly that. She said I am a proud Muslim, proud Muslim woman in spite of what those radicals did to her. And she said exactly the same thing. Those terrorists who claim to be Muslims, they are not Muslims.

ABM: Exactly.

BA: They don’t practice Islam.

ABM: They distance themselves from them, precisely because they do not want to equate violent extremism with Islam. However, the point they are missing really, given that these Islamic groups use religion to make their case, that does not exempt those who make the claim that these are not Muslims, and Islam has nothing to do with that. They cannot make that claim anymore because the other side is using Islam as a religion, as a means by which to recruit, to indoctrinate, and to commit horrifying acts in the name of God, in the name of Allah. That is the problem with that, kind of the missing link there, that is inability.

BA: So what further steps should it take? I mean how much— Oh yes certainly, I mean even if you preach at the mosque, you say these radicals claim to be using Islam as the motivation of their acts that are violent acts. I think the preachers, the imams at the mosque, they would say, this is not Islam. So it’s a kind of just transferring the same declaration, the same statement from the U.N. to the mosque. Even if that, they may say, would that make a difference?

ABM: Well here my feeling is that there is a very strong need for Western countries—the United States, West European countries—to collaborate very closely with the Arab world, with the Muslim world, on this particular issue. That is, neither the Arab world can resolve that problem by themselves, nor the western community can resolve the problem of radicalization within their Muslim community on their own. There is a need it for because when you talk initially about the root causes, this is absolutely true. There is a problem in West European, Muslim communities in terms of lack of integration. It is happening, but the real root causes actually have been and still are in the Middle East itself, in the Muslim countries. Poverty plays a role with it, lack of education, discrimination, segregation, the use of arbitrary – lack of law and order, so to speak.

So you have all this chaotic situation whereby it is breeding, is alarming, nurturing the root of extremism. So the young men and women who are living in this country with no hope, no future, no prospect for a better life, they become more open to invitations coming from extremist groups that say you’re welcome. You see, if you come with us you will belong to a community, you will have things to do, you’ll have a goal, you’ll have identity. So they are embracing them and using the religious language in order to get them to join, and in order to prevent them from questioning the actual mission subsequently. That’s [unclear]. If, say we want to begin that kind of process, we are going to need to see to what extent the West – let’s take the Vatican in this particular case. To what extent the West, the Vatican, or others, say Jewish, religious leaders. To what extent can they actually work together and to try to promote this agenda that Muslims themselves sometimes are claiming, that they are not Muslims and we have nothing to do with them. And once they feel if they engage them—

BA: Instead of leaving them alone.

ABM: Yeah, leave them alone. If they engage them, it is as if we are admitting to some guilt. That we are actually beginning to accept the fact that they are Muslim and we are Muslim. So this is a problem that is affecting us as just the same.

BA: Actually, certainly dialogues not only between Catholics and Muslims, or not only between Jews and Catholics, have been going on for a long time. As you remember in the 19–s, I think it was, we celebrated the 20th anniversary recently of the first meeting of all the religious leaders in Assisi, and then Pope Francis recently also went there to commemorate the 20th anniversary. So actually there are many initiatives. Probably we don’t see them always.

In the Philippines I know for a fact a number of Catholic priests have been murdered because of their insistence on—there is an association or group, it’s really [unclear] it’s not a dialogue, it’s an association, a space for dialogue. It’s called Silsilah. It was founded by Catholic priests and then by Muslim leaders. And there are the fundamentalists, the extremists who kidnapped and killed some of the priests and also some of the Muslims. So in spite of all these setbacks we might say, this group has continued to grow and has continued to have more. These are really grassroots movements that could hardly be seen from afar. But there are actually many movements like that happening on the ground. These movements, it’s not only religious leaders. Most of the members of this Silsilah group are ordinary people – laypeople, women, men, children. So they come together and not only discuss but above all pray, pray in their own way as a community. But you know pray how their religion, the way the religious teachings pray. And so it’s very effective, but at the same time it has to be accompanied by other means, by other measures. I mean the government, the states, the authorities have a fundamental role to play here. This may be probably, if you think of the Middle East, this is also one of the problems there, the big problems. I mean, how could states, authorities kind of counter these movements within their own states? For instance, how could these states promote, let’s say for instance the fundamental principles of a pluralistic society? How could these states educate their citizens to, for instance, the principle of citizenship, that everyone is equal before the law, no matter what religion they have or what race they belong to. These fundamental principles of living in a pluralistic society are very much lacking. I mean the Arab Spring was so, especially in the West, we all probably sang the praises of liberty, of freedom, but without understanding that these were just eruptions of freedom, yes. But are the elements there to make this freedom really be the real expression of freedom? I mean, in these societies where this society is waiting for a pluralistic society.

ABM: No, no, there’s no question. They are not ready.

BA: That’s a problem, that’s where the violence is disrupting or bringing down [unclear] dictatorial regimes in a society which is completely unprepared to practice and to observe fundamental rules and principles in a pluralistic society. Certainly it’s for, I think were the results. I don’t think it is a privileged way just to bring down the regime. And then it is chaos.

ABM: Yeah, but the point you’re raising, an important point is, can in fact a pluralistic society coexist and complement religious precepts, religious concepts? For example, let’s take Turkey today. Turkey is a good example of a country that was on the path of democracy, and Erdogan was able to sort of combine, wanted to create a model of Islamic democracy. Well things are now of course unraveling in Turkey, and Turkey is moving more and more toward becoming more and more Islamist. So there was a question from the very beginning, can the two coexist or reconcile between the two? Can you in fact have a pluralistic society if religion is a dominant political factor in many of these countries? So, but I want to—

BA: That is a question. I mean, how many of these states would promote that? These states believe in the possibility of a harmonious pluralistic society. While Sharia would be, what I say, a fundamental element of interpretation of the law.

ABM: This is precisely the point. Take Saudi Arabia for example. Under what conditions will they relinquish any kind of religious control, in order to replace it with some democratic form or whatever that may be? So there is an inherent contradiction, inconsistency between the two. And the Saudis never try to reconcile between the two because this is the way it is. This is where we stand. But countries who presumably wanted to go through this experimentation like Turkey, now we see, it’s not working there at all because things have dramatically changed.

But let’s go back. That is, if this is the reality, which it is reality, how are we going to really deal with root causes, much of which exist in the Arab world, where Islam is still dominant? And if you try to distance Islam from the activities of Islamic extremism, where are we going to be a year or ten, five years? We are not, I don’t see progress that is going somewhere, somewhere that’s going to have to be bridged. Somewhere along the line, the Muslim countries ought to recognize that the religion is being used and abused, and they can no longer distance themselves from it and say, Islam is not violent and we have nothing to do with it. How do you go about changing the dynamics of this kind of narrative?

BA: I really think that the role of the state here is fundamental and essential. Because if the state believes in the fundamental principles of a pluralistic democratic society, then certainly the state has not only the right but the duty to—

ABM: But they don’t believe in that, however.

BA: I mean, that’s the problem.

ABM: That’s the problem.

BA: I’m supposing, I mean that’s the fundamental role of the state here, could only be played, could only be performed, done by a state with authorities who believe in these fundamental principles. If the state is not willing or does not believe in these principles, then it’s not to their interest to work for that. I think it’s simple.

ABM: So there is room. However, given this reality in the region, among most Muslim countries, is there room for religious, like we said earlier, scholars from various faiths? Let’s talk about in particular Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Is there a role for the leadership of the three [monotheistic] religions to do something? You mentioned this interfaith conference, and there was a great deal of discussion about it, but you also indicated, rightfully so, what was the follow up? What happened after the conference? To what extent the consensus was ta—

BA: Yeah, the dissemination of what was learned, of what was agreed.

ABM: What was agreed on, the consensus, how that was translated into action on the ground, in order to promote interfaith and as a religion, but also promote the role of each religion and what it’s playing. So to what extent do you think this is going to be necessary in the future to continue, not just with a kind of convocation like this?

BA: Yeah, with the formal level of leaders, but also really in the communities, which is more decisive.

ABM: How do we go about it?

BA: You know, I think the answer to your question presupposes really a number of analyses of how different religions are in their structures and their doctrines. Not only in their doctrines, but in the structures. For us, I mean for the Catholic Church, we set some parameters, a hierarchical structure with institutions all over the place, on the ground, connected to the top. I mean what the Pope says, we do. Well I think that could be, as far as I know, really a very distinguishing characteristic in the Catholic Church, that even other Christian churches could have that kind of pyramidal structure in which you might say the Supreme Authority says, then the others follow. And then, it’s not only what he says, but he has the structure to bring it down to the ground, to bring it down to the last village, to the last chapel, to the last parish, to the last faith community. You see that for instance in the Islamic world. I mean all the Al-Azhar is recognized as the most authoritative of all. At least in the Sunni world, this is the highest religious authority. But does it have, in the Muslim religion, do they have a kind, do they have that structure and that belief that what Al-Azhar accepts, says or teaches, should go down to the very last, to the last post or to the last madrassa, that they would listen to Al-Azhar? I mean, [unclear], is I don’t think, I mean I’m not really talking about Islam, I’m talking about also other religions.

ABM: No, no, you you’re right. I mean to what extent that kind of teaching—

BA: Influence—

ABM: Influence, other. If I may ask you almost like a personal question, you are an archbishop, you’re a believer, which is admirable. But do you also believe in democratic forms of government? Do you?

BA: Yeah, sure.

ABM: Obviously you do, but you don’t see a contradiction between being a deep believer and also being a man who also believes in freedom and democracy. And you’ve been able to reconcile that in your mind. So how do you reconcile that in your mind? Because like you just said, what the Holy Father says, we do. You don’t ask questions. On the other hand, you also believe I’m a free man. Am I right?

BA: Yes

ABM: I can say what I want to say, so somewhere along the line you’ve been able to reconcile between your deep beliefs and a political system that speaks for freedom and rights and laws and order.

BA: Yeah, I always think that is fundamental in our teaching, in our training. I’m sure you’ve heard probably of this very important document of the Second Vatican Council is the, we call it the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World. Its title is Gaudium et spes. Of course the first three words of the document are in Latin as traditionally documents are titled. And in there, it is very clear that the church and the state are autonomous.

ABM: Yes.

BA: We are independent of the whole sphere, and yet there is such a huge we might say area in between that they share, and it is precisely because the citizen is also the believer. So when I say ultimately both are working or promoting the good of the same person, how are we going to reconcile the two? We might see being a religion and being a state having the same subject. Of course in the mature, democratic—when I say a system that is progressively being cleared out, sometimes it goes back, sometimes it regresses. Look at the United States. I mean, why did the founding fathers—the founding fathers, they were practically fundamentalist Christians in a sense. They were not tolerant of the Catholics, they were not tolerant of other Christians. And they were the descendants of the pilgrims, et cetera, et cetera, because of religious persecutions. They came to the United States also. And yet, in spite of the fact that they didn’t necessarily love the other Christians, didn’t necessarily love the other people of other religions, they made it the point. I mean the [First] Amendment. Why would the [First] Amendment be possible? Because I think that in spite of the fact that I don’t love you, we respect your religious freedom. So it is already a principle that has been courageously really put into writing, into the Constitution, by the original thinkers of the system. And these are fundamental rights, the fundamental decisive points in the history of the evolvement of the democratic system in the country.

Could that be possible when the country is in the Middle East? Could they say, I don’t like you. I could even hate you, I mean, it’s not your problem. And yet I respect your fundamental freedom of religion, I respect that even Muslims could change their own religion or they could say that I don’t believe anymore. I mean to be an atheist, or now as they are called [unclear] all over the place. I mean this fundamental principle, it has become the backbone of generally harmonious relationship between a state and a religion, church, and between democratic principles and religious principles. So there is not only the possibility we have. For example, there could be tensions, there are regressions. As I’ve said, during the Obama administration, there was a huge question of religious freedom. There was the Hobby Lobby case and there is a case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and many other Catholic institutions who were forced to do something against their conscience, against their religious principles. And they won practically all the cases. We won because the courts determined that these are violations of your religious freedom. So the state could very well function without forcing the Poor Sisters to distribute abortifacients, for instance. I mean, why would sisters taking care of old people ever be forced by a country where euthanasia is legal, for instance. How can you force the Poor Sisters to kind of administer euthanasia to their guests in a home to care for the old people? So these are principles, I’m sure. I mean, I am not a scholar. I’m not even an expert, but looking at it really from the vast perspective, from that perspective, I’m sure there are many scholars in the Middle East, many Islamic scholars and many other scholars who are friends of the Islamic scholars, know very well this fact, this system. Otherwise they wouldn’t be scholars if they don’t know this. And they think that they will be convinced that this could work also for them.

ABM: They know it, they understand it, but to what extent in fact they are active in promoting what they themselves believe in? I mean, there’s an element of certain freedom in Arab states, specifically in religious matters, specifically when it came to Christians and Jews. Mohammad himself excluded these two from being subject to forced conversion.

BA: That’s what they call the Declaration of Medina.

ABM: Yeah, the declaration. So they did allow freedom for Jews to worship what they want, and the Christians to do that. So there was that level of religious tolerance. It is changing a little because of the last decade and a half or so of what’s happening in Iraq, what’s happening in Syria, it is changing.

BA: I guess many of the— I’m sorry, I want to comment on that, I think especially the declaration, I mean the Medina Decree or really the decrees you might say of Mohammed, certainly preceded the Qur’an. That’s also a problem – I mean, Islamic scholars willing to use the Medina Decrees of Mohammad to interpret the Qur’an, which came after. This is also another aspect of the religious problem, because there is so much hermeneutic, there is so much, what’s it called, the historical analysis of text that should still go on. Of course I think every religion – the Catholic Church, Christianity in general for that matter, experienced this huge progress in terms of interpreting other biblical texts. I’m sure the Jewish scholars have been doing the same. And also the Muslim scholars, there are some Muslim scholars, some of them certainly were persecuted. There are Pakistani scholars who have tried and really explored the side of using the historical interpretation of sacred texts. So I think this, for example, how could you use the Medina decrees, which preceded the Qur’an, in interpreting the Qur’anic texts, or the hadith, etc. So it is something I guess that is going on, and one hopes that there will be really—I think I’m excited to see in the near future how this, what Christianity went through in the 19th century for instance or early 20th century in terms of the interpretation, hermeneutics of the sacred texts. That’s why exegesis is such a demanding science. To get a doctorate you need to know the ancient languages, you need to know ancient history. You need eight years to get a doctorate, all these things. And then it’s only just a start. You are not even yet a scholar, even if you’re already a doctor. You keep on studying. So I’m excited to see it. In the Islamic world it would have schools of thoughts in interpreting sacred texts using various tools in which other religions have undergone.

ABM: I just want to conclude by one question, and we’ll talk about them. That is, we know that conflicts, be that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the conflict in Syria, obviously promote extremism, all kinds. And we recently had a discussion at Villanova University about this issue, and I raised the question, the extent to which for example the Catholic Church can play a role in mitigating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because that conflict feeds into extremism just like any other conflict in the Middle East, when you have this kind of problem that has not been solved for 70 years. Do you feel that the Catholic Church has a role to play in mitigating these kinds of conflicts which are, at least in part, root causes behind extremism?

BA: Well, I think there will always be a role, but if you look at it, there are so many influences within the Israeli-Palestinians, the Jews there are of course various currents of how they should approach a problem. I will mention that in the Holy See statement next week at the Security Council. But you know, look at Hamas. I mean, how much do you think the Catholic Church or whatever religion could influence them, when we know that there are concurrent influences. But I’m not saying that we should give up. I have in mind several examples of how we have been. There is a Catholic priest who is milk guy in Galilee. He has a school where all the Jews and Christians and Muslims are welcome. And the school really encourages dialogue.

ABM: I just want to—

BA: But it’s only a kind of a small initiative in this sense. If we could multiply; there is another one in Jericho now.

ABM: Yeah.

BA: And then the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem will be here next month, and we’ll see what he can do. And the people mostly in Syria will be here also next month. So we have probably—

ABM: One final thing I want to say. Do you think for example, if the Holy Father were to invite religious Israeli Palestinian religious leaders, Arabs, Israelis, to come and have that kind of dialogue, do you think that can be useful?

BA: The Holy Father has done that a number of times, yeah.

ABM: No, actually inviting them for this specific purpose.

BA: And then I think there’s been a series of encounters, meetings, and that already. And of course he could continue. I am sure he will continue, not even only inviting religious leaders from all the Palestinians and the Jews, but also the political leaders. As you remember, when Abbas and Shimon Peres came to the Vatican and, et cetera, I do believe that – I don’t have really a list of all these meetings going on in the Middle East, and in particular in what we call the Holy Land. That is, whether it’s the Israeli territories or whether it’s the Palestinian territories, but indeed as far as I know, there are dialogues in different levels, different sizes, different actors you might say, their dialogues and the [unclear], there are dialogues conducted at the level of communities.

ABM: The only thing is, I know, I agree with you. They are happening, but something like when the highest authority.

BA: The threshold is not yet reached in which they could really influence.

ABM: That’s the whole point, I mean we have the highest authority actually more visibly has given far more cover. This is what role the Christian church can play. Anyway, I think I think we all need to do a little bit more.

BA: That’s for sure. Pray more, work more, be friendlier, be more compassionate.

ABM: That’s right. And care, and love. Yeah, and that is what it’s all about. And I wish the Islamic extremists just learn one simple lesson. That there is a better way to achieve their objective without killing and maiming and destroying. Well anyway—

BA: Pray for that, that’s what the Holy Father prayed last, Palm Sunday, after the bombing in Egypt happened, when the pope was celebrating Palm Sunday also in the Vatican celebration and said, let’s pray for the conversions of the violent. This is really true. I mean there are, as they said solutions to the problems. The big problem should be pursued in different levels—the level of states, the level of national authorities, the level of the international community, at the level of local communities and authorities, and at the level really of individual lives.

ABM: I agree. I agree 100 percent.

BA: It is so much there.

ABM: Thank you so much.

BA: Thank you, Professor.

ABM: Thank you for taking the time, I really appreciate it. It’s wonderful to be here.

BA: Thank you for coming.

On the Issues Episode 18: Emre Celik

My guest today is Emre Celik, President of the Rumi Forum. His work focuses on intercultural dialogue issues related to pluralism, social harmony, and peace building. Celik is originally from Australia, where he was involved in numerous interfaith and education projects in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. He has a degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree in teaching.

Below is a full transcript for this episode (lightly edited for clarity).

ABM: I’m Alon Ben-Meir, and welcome to another episode of On the Issues. My guest today is Emre Celik, president of the Rumi Forum. His work focuses on intercultural dialogue issues related to pluralism, social harmony, and peace building. Celik is originally from Australia, where he was involved in numerous interfaith and education projects in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. He has a degree in computer engineering and a master’s degree in teaching. You can find his full bio on the page for this episode. And thank you so much Emre for being here, especially now in D.C.

EC: Thank you, yes, thank you to be here. Nice, cool day.

ABM: Yeah. Yesterday was a summer day.

EC: Yes. In less than twelve hours we went from warm to very, very cool.

ABM: Yeah. You know we just had a meeting, you were there.

EC: Yes.

ABM: Talking about Turkey. David Phillips made a presentation about Erdogan and Erdogan’s attention. What do you make out of this, Erdogan’s effort now to basically legally become a dictator by changing, amending the constitution and pushing Turkey ever so steadily toward Islamization?

EC: Yes, we’ve been on that rocky road for depending on where you take as a reference point for the last few years, particularly since the corruption probe, the increased persecution of people affiliated with the Gülen movement, and then thereafter the coup. We have 130,000 people that have been suspended, and that’s just in bureaucracy, not including private enterprise. 90,000 people detained, 46,000 people imprisoned. And many of them are without a court date or access to their files. They don’t know why, other than the fact they’re somehow affiliated on this–

ABM: Now, in which way.

EC: And, this paints a broader picture of course where Erdogan unfortunately is taking Turkey. So he’s going to have legal precedents to be a formalized dictator, unfortunately.

ABM: Yeah. But you know, we’re talking—you mentioned earlier the Fetullah Gülen movement.

EC: Yes.

ABM: And knowing that the two, Gülen himself and Erdogan, were very close friends at one point.

EC: No, I would argue that they weren’t friends. I think there was a convergence–

ABM: Of interest.

EC: Around, yeah, around values. I think even though obviously many movement participants and Gülen himself can now look back and say this was a mistake to trust Erdogan and those affiliated with him, but many people–did you know many people in the EU, in the Obama administration, around the world, looked to Turkey as a model. It was known as a Turkish model because of these values. So just as–

ABM: Are you talking about the values?

EC: Yeah, the values of EU accession – constitutional reform, judicial reform – these are the issues that were on the table. It is around these issues that movement participants, particularly those in the movement-affiliated newspapers, and Gülen himself, said positive things. But similarly many people, many democrats around the world said the same thing. So the minute the AKP and really Erdogan took a u-turn, this is when there was a falling out between the movement’s media and the AKP, but specifically Erdogan.

ABM: But you see, when I have been looking at it, I didn’t see a specific point of departure in terms of the AK Party, pretty much. And the Gülen movement has supported by and large the same principles.

EC: Up until they veered away.

ABM: Yeah, up to a point.

EC: I think the movement held on to those principles. And as a result of those principles, we see that they’re being persecuted today.

ABM: OK. Why the rupture?

EC: They’ve taken the higher moral ground, and this is particularly important because we have a lot of other Muslim-inspired movements in Turkey that aren’t suffering. Why? Because they have bent over backwards to accept and accommodate Erdogan. Gülen, based on principle, didn’t succumb to Erdogan’s anti-democratic stance. The movement, institutions in particular, the public voice of the movement through its media vis-a-vis Zaman, which was Turkey’s number one newspaper, was the only newspaper selling that had a circulation of more than one million. Just three days ago it was its first anniversary, March 9, when Zaman went down in 2016.

ABM: Yeah, but the point is when Erdogan was pursuing aggressively political and social reforms, and certainly he focused a great deal on the economy. And he has managed to build a very powerful constituencies, specifically those who benefited from his economic development. So.

EC: But you’ve got other groups, you’ve got secular liberals, Kurds, many of them supported Erdogan.

ABM: This is true. So–

EC: So you have a broad base of support. So we can’t single out the Hizmet movement or Gülen as–

ABM: But why is it that he was against the Hizmet movement? What is it, what are the principal objections? Where did the cleavage come from? Where did the discord come from?

EC: I think the historical difference is the difference between how they view Islam in the public sphere and how Gülen views Islam. I think Gülen’s understanding, and I think the message that’s been brought home quite well in the Western media, is that there is a struggle between democracy and autocracy. The subplot I suggest was missed out to some degree in that the struggle really in Turkey is civil Islam versus political Islam. This is the ideological difference and the worldview by which Erdogan sees a top-down approach where the state has a role in religion, and Gülen sees it as a personal issue that religion remains in the personal and civic space. And for that reason, it was convenient both for the movement and the AKP as well as other actors–be them liberal, Kurdish, or otherwise–coming around to these values that the AKP initially sought to uphold. Again, judicial reform, giving rights to various minorities and communities, including Kurds.

ABM: But there’s no discord on this issue between the two sides. And the Gülen movement was also focused a great deal on building hundreds, thousands of schools, promoting Islam. So he was not exactly focusing solely on secular teaching, but he also promoted– I was myself several times in many of these schools in Ankara, in Istanbul, and elsewhere. So he pushed Islamic education in a very aggressive manner.

EC: No, the schools do not promote Islam. The schools in all the countries in which they exist, and remember, the movement is active in more than 160 countries. The schools follow the state curriculum. The state curriculum, this is important.

ABM: But there was emphasis on Islam as a subject, a great deal of emphasis.

EC: In Turkey, despite the fact that Turkey is a secular state, it has a subject known as Religion and Culture. Religion and Culture, I wanted to get the name right.

ABM: Okay.

EC: So this is a state sanctioned subject. For example, I’m from Australia. The schools don’t have a religious subject, because it’s not part of the state curriculum.

ABM: Exactly. Now Erdogan is–

EC: So if the school, and remember, these subjects existed pre-Erdogan. These subjects have existed under the Kemalist state. So some would argue that they instilled both. Remember that Turkey, despite the fact that it’s a secular state, has a Religious Affairs Directorate. Some people argue, and this existence was founded under the Kemalist state. They argue that this was formed so that religion could be controlled. And for similar reasons, that the state curriculum has a religious subject so that it can be used as a means to control religion both in the classroom and in the wider community through mosques. Remember, to be an imam or a preacher, and this includes Gülen, you’re a state bureaucrat. You can’t be an independent imam in Turkey. You’d have to be licensed with the Religious Affairs Directorate. So this is an issue that’s existed in the AKP period, but it’s also existed pre-AKP.

ABM: But when you–

EC: So the fact is that the movement-affiliated schools are similar to state schools. They teach religion and culture because it’s sanctioned by the state.

ABM: OK. But when I visit these schools–

EC: What Erdogan has done, he’s increased these types of subjects, he’s brought in—


EC: Quranic classes, other classes, and is enforcing these with people of non-religious background, people of non-Turkish background, people of non-Muslim background. This is something that we should all argue against, that people shouldn’t be forced to learn or have religion if you will rammed down their throats. So this is problematic. And this is what Erdogan’s introduced.

ABM: I understand. Let me just focus one second on the question of teaching religion in classrooms. From what I see, what Erdogan has been doing today, in the last five, six, seven years, eight years, he’s been forcing, introducing in high school and in the universities more and more courses teaching Islam.

EC: Yes.

ABM: This is very pervasive now throughout Turkey. The Gülen movement has also been promoting building these schools. And there was some emphasis, greater emphasis on Islamic studies in these schools than other subjects. I’m not suggesting other subjects–

EC: I don’t know of anything like that. I’ve been to these schools, I even did an internship in my early years when I visited Turkey, I taught English in those schools. Whatever the state requirement was, that was. These schools are well known for two things: science and technology. The students of these schools have brought home gold, silver, and bronze medallions in the various science Olympiads. These include international Olympiads. Chemistry, physics, maths, and information technology.

AMB: I know.

EC: So they produce the best students, which is why this movement has successful students that have ended up in successful universities, be it in Turkey, here in the United States, or elsewhere. So the emphasis of the schools in many of those 160 countries is science and technology, not religion. The only place, and I need to emphasize this, the only place that religion is ever taught is if it’s state sanctioned. Turkey’s one example I know of. I think Egypt’s another. I know of Indonesia as well.

ABM: OK, well let’s just focus on these schools in Turkey.

EC: Yes.

ABM: In Egypt, in Indonesia, where the Gülen movement have built many of these schools. And based on what I see, there was an emphasis on religious studies. I’m not suggesting other subjects were excluded, certainly science and technology was very strong.

EC: Well, I need the counterargument. I’ve visited these schools, I’ve worked in these schools, ok.

ABM: And they were also—

EC: I’m a participant of this movement. I’ve been involved for 25 years. I know Gülen at one level, personally. He has never encouraged this. He encourages at the personal level, you can read his books.

ABM: But what was then, what was—

EC: You can listen to his sermons and his preaching. But there is no avenue for religious studies to be taught in these schools, other than what is sanctioned by the state. So that’s important. What is emphasized, and this is my counterargument to what you’re saying, that religious studies or Islamic Studies is emphasized, no. I would argue, and that’s what I’ve seen. And this is what the competitions that the schools have won internationally – they emphasize science, physics, chemistry, maths, and IT. So I would be interested in your sources that suggest this.

ABM: Well, I’ve seen myself for example, I went to these schools – first of all it’s predominantly boys, OK. I have not seen a single girl student in these schools. And I asked the principals, the teachers, why? Well, they gave me all kinds of explanations, we don’t put it—

EC: But there are single sex schools. I’ve been to Jewish and Catholic schools that are single sex in Australia, so.

ABM: No, no, but as far as the Gülen movement schools are concerned.

EC: And there are mixed schools as well, which is what I spoke about today.

ABM: Well I haven’t seen it, but the vast majority of these schools were for boys by and large. Not all of them, but there were a vast majority. That’s what I know. And I also know from the teachers themselves, they were telling me– I want to get to the point, my point here is that when they were telling me yes, religious studies, whether consistent with the requirement of the state, I grant you that, but go back to the requirement of the state. Remember, from the time the Turkish Republic was created in 1923, there were several prime ministers who attempted an Islamic coup, basically trying to introduce Islamic studies and make Turkey more and more leaning toward conservative Islam. I mean, this is not the first time. So what I’m saying is—

EC: Which coup are you talking about?

ABM: Well there were at least two or three, two coups we had. Was it Arbadan? What was his first name? And the one who–

EC: There was no, it’s that all the coups up–

ABM: Well, there were two coups at least where the military intervened precisely because they were shifting or emphasizing.

EC: They were shifting in the Baltics, yes.

ABM: They were shifting into Islamic studies.

EC: But there was a soft coup of ’98, against Erbakan.

ABM: Erbakan, yes.

EC: But all the others were at the hands of Kemalist soldiers divided between the left and the right.

ABM: Yeah, but the religious component was very strong in these two coups. One of the prime ministers [Adnan Menderes], I’m sure you know, was actually executed subsequently because of that, because if he was very strong in introducing Islam. My point here is that Islam as such, in Turkey yes, Kemal Ataturk wanted a separation of powers so to speak. He wanted to create a secular state, a more westernized state. That is the case. But throughout this, almost 90 years now, throughout this process there was always a consistent effort by various governments to promote Islam, and in a consistent way. And I did not see a single government, going back 30, 40, 50 years, that did not want to have anything to do with Islam. Basically, they wanted to present the so-called Islamic democracy. That’s what Erdogan’s flag was – we have an Islamic democracy – when in fact he was moving very steadily and very consistently to make the country ever more Islamist. We know this to be the fact. Now my point is this: the Gülen movement, the religion Islam is not strange to the Gülen movement. They were also emphasizing the importance of religion. OK I’ll take your point.

EC: He’s a preacher, so I think we need to look at it not necessarily within institutions but in his private capacity as a preacher. So the institutions we need to separate from Gülen’s role as a preacher. He’s a preacher. He preaches Islam.

ABM: But this is exactly my point.

EC: So this is significant, so he preaches Islam. That’s his role. You believe this is an important part.

ABM: But there was no, yeah.

EC: Learning civil Islam from the pulpit, which is what he encouraged through the 70s and 80s.

ABM: And, ok.

EC: And, to this day in his public discussions on social media and what have you.

ABM: This is exactly the point. He does that, he preaches that.

EC: Yes.

ABM: And for him.

EC: But we need to separate him–

ABM: Well, but the separation.

EC: From the institutions. That’s significant. That’s significant.

ABM: Well you call it significant.

EC: Because these institutions exist in many countries that are predominantly Muslim, to predominantly Buddhist, to predominantly Hindu, to predominantly Christian. So these schools exist in these countries and do not emphasize religious studies or even within that, Islamic studies. So you may have one example or you may have some examples in the Muslim world, but you can’t point to examples and say that this is generalization that the movement is involved in. You can’t.

ABM: But you cannot suggest also that Islamic studies were not part and parcel of the curriculum.

EC: Only because, and I’ve mentioned this before, only because it’s part of the state curriculum.

ABM: And there also–

EC: So, whether it was a Hizmet movement-affiliated school or anybody else, including Kemalists, had to learn religious studies as sanctioned by the state.

ABM: And the fact.

EC: So I think that’s significant.

ABM: No, I think, I understand it.

EC: That’s important, that people listening to this need to realize that the movement is not about spreading Islam or spreading some type of ideology around religion. It is about serving communities, encouraging science and technology, and allowing communities, particularly those in the third world and poorer countries, to be empowered through knowledge to be successful.

ABM: But you can.

EC: To come back, and to serve the community.

ABM: But you would say then if this was the case.

EC: Yes.

ABM: Why would Erdogan object to all of this? This is exactly the point, that is, if there was no strong Islamic component.

EC: And this is the difference between civil Islam and political Islam, is that civil Islam exists in the civic space and in the personal spaces.

ABM: This is true.

EC: And there’s a lovely article I would refer you to read by Dr. [unclear], that differentiates the understanding of Islam in the modern era, civil versus political.

ABM: Now I grant you that, whereas Erdogan is moving more and more to a political Islam, no question, and there is perhaps less so.

EC: And this explains why the movement has been successful in 160 countries, except we can exclude Turkey now. And that’s got nothing to do with the movement itself. It’s to do with the persecution of the autocratic tendencies of Erdogan.

ABM: But in which way then are the schools that belong to the Gülen movement different than ordinary schools elsewhere, anywhere in the world? What was different, why, if—

EC: Emphasis on science and technology, number one. Number two, mentoring programs that incorporated not only the students, but the families and the wider community, and as a spinoff of that, encouraging service. So these are three of the main values: science and technology education; mentoring programs that incorporated the wider community, so not just students and families but everyone; and then the importance of civic and social activism, getting students involved. I’ll give you one example. We visited a school, I went back home to visit my family in December 2016 a few months ago, and I visited the school, I have friends there. I was a teacher at one of the schools in Sydney, which is where I’m from. And they had a garden, a large garden, maybe four, five times the size of this room. And students from K to 12, Kindergarten, played a role. A) It was a mechanism to learn about gardening, about biology and ecology, about the environment, that we realize where food and fruits come from. And they would raise the fruits and the vegetables out of this garden. They would fund it themselves, the produce they would produce, they would sell at a farmers market because they farmed this organically. And the funds that they made would help continue to run the farm, and the profits they would send to an orphanage in Africa. So all the students, big or small, contributed to the running of this vegetable garden. They make money from it. The profits went to an orphanage in Africa. So there’s many lessons. There’s science lessons, there’s social responsibility lessons, and there’s civic and social service to others that need it, helping that. So this is just one example.

ABM: No, I understand that of this, and I understand that they are involved in a very direct, effective way in all of these subjects and some, there’s no question. That does not still explain the fact that the Gülen movement and Erdogan finally split. What was the basis for that split? This is simply personal? It’s not, it can’t be personal.

EC: No, I think it’s principles around the fact that A) Gülen, and B) Hizmet movement institutions—

ABM: In which way these–

EC: Took a principled stance. One of the first signs was the fact that Erdogan came down hard on university prep schools. There were 4,000 of them. These help kids in government or private schools through extracurricular tuition at evenings and on weekends to help them get into university. Of the 4,000, it is alleged about 1,000, a quarter of them, were affiliated with the movement. He got rid of all of them, and many commentators in Turkey said–

ABM: The question is, why? What happened there? Why would he want to get rid–?

EC: I think this was a long term plan because—

ABM: What is the purpose?

EC: –by virtue of the fact that the movement has a strong conservative base. That’s, Gülen—

ABM: But in which way? The point is–

EC: Gülen historically never liked people using religion for the benefit of politics, he quoted often a very important Kurdish scholar.

ABM: But this is exactly what he’s doing now.

EC: Said, [unclear] he said, and this is an important statement. If you don’t mind, let me quote him. He said when religion and politics mix they both lose, but religion loses even more so.

ABM: But you don’t buy into that argument. I mean, this is–

EC: Gülen was very concerned with people using politics as Erbakan previous to Erdogan, and as Erdogan started to increase such rhetoric, using religion for political means.

ABM: But this is exactly what he was preaching against before. This what he was initially saying, we need to separate between politics and Islam.

EC: Yes.

ABM: But now he is actually pushing political Islam. For Erdogan today, it’s the method, it’s the philosophy by which he is governing today.

EC: Yes.

ABM: So. I want to go back. What was then the reason for the departure, for the conflict, between the two sides. From a theoretical perspective, the Gülen movement was pushing, all the subjects that you’ve been talking about. You know, science, chemistry, and technology and all of that, and doing social work which is very important. These subjects—

EC: I get Erdogan feeds the fact that Gülen’s principle stands against historical, stands against political Islam, and where Erdogan was taking Turkey, using these methods of politicizing Islam and Islamicizing politics. Sooner or later he felt that the strong base that Gülen had around him would reject Erdogan. So he saw this as an opportunity—

ABM: But why would he—

EC: –to quiet them down, quiet down Gülen and the public voice of the movement, the media institutions–and remember, after the corruption probe I just mentioned a few moments ago, the one number one newspaper that was being critical of Erdogan, Zaman newspaper–

ABM: Zaman, yeah, I know that.

EC: Was brought down. So that– and of course, the corruption probe became a great excuse to come down after. He used this as he gave this the title of civilian coup against the government. He suggested that this was backed by Western powers and that local agents who he inferred was the movement, was behind the corruption probe, move ahead —

ABM: This is, we understand that. I want to go back to the school, because this is an important point. That is, you would assume that Erdogan would not object to any curriculum that deals with sciences, technology, computer science, and all of that. If that was the emphasis of the Gülen schools, there should be absolutely no resistance to that on the part of– Now, there was another component. What is the other component to which Erdogan objected to?

EC: But these schools didn’t encourage the Islamization of knowledge or of politics, and therefore many of the students coming out were sympathetic to this understanding of Islam. Civil Islam, as opposed to using Islam for politics, when this was encouraged in religious schools or other schools that were affiliated or close to Erdogan—

ABM: This is where–

EC: And the various religious movements that were close to Erdogan.

ABM: So let us establish then, because we want to clarify this for people who will listen to this conversation. Now we are dividing civil Islam versus political Islam. Whereas the Gülen movement pursues civil Islam and for the good, all the reasons you just have mentioned. Erdogan basically is using political Islam to further his own political ambitions. And this is more than transparent in the last seven, eight, nine years. The point is this: there’s nothing in the Gülen school system that is inconsistent still with what Erdogan himself– And you are saying that he is afraid, that this teaching civil Islam in these schools is going—

EC: Represented through the participants in the movement, as teachers that are role models, because remember.

ABM: But why would that be contrary to Erdogan’s interest? Why would he—civil Islam and political Islam are not mutually–

EC: Because he never gained Gülen’s endorsement. And Gülen has always been critical of actors that use religion for political gain.

ABM: OK, so now we are getting to a point, so we are reducing it also to a personal conflict, not only ideological. I don’t think because civil—

EC: No, I think these are the values by which we understand Islam in the modern era.

ABM: No, true. But civil Islam, let me just repeat, civil Islam and political Islam are not mutually exclusive. They are not one against the other. Well, I’m not suggesting political Islam is the right route to take, the right path to take, but civil Islam is a positive approach to religion, to a way of life. But how do you in fact take countries where they use Islam as the political foundation of the state? Today, Turkey is not alone. I mean, this is what Erdogan is trying to do. Look at various Arab countries. Political Islam is what governed Saudi Arabia, political Islam is what governed many other states, in the Gulf and others. But in the same token, they’re also introduced to the school curriculum, other subjects. So what they’ve been able to do is basically find a formula where political Islam and civil Islam are not necessarily separated because they see that one could actually complement the other. Well, that is not the case in Turkey itself. That is, Erdogan saw a threat. So, he realized it’s a threat. But the Gülen movement is threatening what he wants to do, what he wants to achieve. So really, what I’m trying to establish with you is, because for me it is more than just the school system. It is not just pursuing political versus civil Islam, it was also an element of personal conflict between the two. It is not because necessarily ideologically they have a disagreement with one another from a political perspective. So what was beyond that? Why was there this competition between the two sides? Why? Why, to a point where now Erdogan is persecuting anyone that belongs to the Hizmet movement?

EC: That of course goes beyond the corruption probe in regards to– I think the movement became the go-to scapegoat. You know, he created, fermented enough hate and fear of the movement of Gülen, and used the pretext of the failed coup of July 2016 to complete. And remember, within hours of the demise of that failed coup, lists were ready, and many commentators in the west–

ABM: Yeah. But, but.

EC: Suggest at least, these lists were ready in advance, and that he used it to–

ABM: This is true, but the conflict.

EC: Start a new wave of purges against the movement.

ABM: But the conflict was started way before the last coup, between the two sides. I mean, we’re going back–

EC: I mean we can go back, we can go to Mavi Marmara for example, where Gülen made statements in the Wall Street Journal in regards to the incident. He suggested that the participants in the blockade, so these public statements of course– And remember, the individuals involved were closely aligned to the then-prime minister. He said, we gave them permission to sail off, and words to that effect. So Gülen’s stance both in terms of, he made two important statements there, that a) the incident was ugly and b) that they should have sought permission with the authorities. So this was not taken lightly by Erdogan and those close to him. So I think that there is a historical context, but I still think it comes to the fact that historically Gülen’s non-Islamist stance was always a threat to those that wanted to curb Turkey in that direction. And that’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing the Islamization of politics, and I know we’ve gone over this, and the politicization of Islam, and this is something at the core of what Gülen believes. And the fact that the movement has been successful is the fact that relates to the tradition that Islam is not ingrained in the institutions, whereas Erdogan wants to ingrain these in these types of institutions.

ABM: No, I understand that. But let’s just go back. If this kind of understanding exists, it does not actually justify the major conflict between the two sides today. So when we talk about criticism, you criticize Erdogan about the Marmara event, you criticize Erdogan for various policies that he’s taken that have no relationship to religion; just it’s a political disagreement on specific issues. But I put all of this together, and I still don’t understand myself where this – other than you are suggesting that merely Erdogan was most concerned about how successful the Gülen movement was, and he did not want to allow it to continue to flourish because that is going to undermine his policy and his politics. But where is this going to? Where is this going to lead to? Now, yes. Now he’s in power, he’s persecuting those Turks who presumably belong to the Hizmet movement, to the Gülen movement. But what’s happening now?What is taking place now? Where is this going to go?

EC: Well you know, the movement of course is under a lot of stress in Turkey. The numbers of people as you know that have been purged, all the institutions have been closed down or expropriated. The movement’s become a [unclear] movement. It exists outside of Turkey. Those that are affiliated with the movement and have opportunities to leave have left. Many people are seeking asylum, and this includes others as well that are not affiliated. Turkey has gone down a dark path, and it appears to be getting even darker if Erdogan is granted super presidency. So that’s a difficult call. My biggest concern is beyond Erdogan; the levels of polarity that exist will take possibly decades. I’ve spoken to children of Holocaust survivors. They say that hate continues beyond the leader, because it’s been entrenched through government-backed institutions. And remember, there is no independent media, everything is in the hands of Erdogan. The media of Turkey has become a propaganda machine for Erdogan. So all the polarization against Kurds, against Alawites, and in particular against sympathizers or participants of the Hizmet movement, those that are close to Gülen, are seen as demons. And that has been pumped day in, day out. I quote Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister. He said, if you lie to the people often enough, they’ll believe you. And this is what’s been happening for the last three years.

ABM: Oh, more than that. I mean, it’s more than that, of course.

EC: Yes. And in particular, in regards to the persecution of the movement, and the purges that began slowly but were ramped up as a result of the attempted coup, which in fact of course is anti-democratic. Gülen spoke against the coup. He even said if there was anyone affiliated with me, they’ve gone against all the values that I stand for and the movement stands for. We still don’t know, is it eight months on, we still don’t know who’s perpetrating this.

ABM: Do you have a hunch yourself? Do you believe in any conspiracy kind of theory of sort?

EC: I think that’s something that’s plausible, you know, Kemalist soldiers planned this and it was allowed to enact. Erdogan co-opted some of those soldiers, allowed for a small group that knew it was a coup, allowed it to take place in a controlled environment. And soldiers that didn’t know it was a coup thought it was either a terrorist attack, or a war game. And many lower-ranking soldiers that took part were interviewed, saying we were told that was either a terrorist attack, some people reported it as that, or a war game. But we don’t have enough. So they’re not allowing evidence to come out. So no one can really make informed decisions, other than, based on some of the evidence. And remember, David again, you just had a conversation with from Columbia University, suggested the same, that it was a controlled coup that Erdogan took advantage of. And that’s significant.

ABM: It it’s entirely possible, it’s possible. But a military coup in Turkey is not a new phenomenon. It happened before, and nobody suggested then that the military coups were contrived, two, three times before.

EC: But this was done so badly.

ABM: Well this was done–

EC: So badly. Again, I’m quoting David here, and I’ve forgotten his surname, just so people know, who was the Columbia University professor?

ABM: Yeah, David Phillips.

EC: David Phillips.

ABM: Yeah.

EC: He said it was controlled and it was it was meant to fail.

ABM: Well, we don’t know.

EC: Of course, and we may never know. And I agree with that, we may never know. This is a plausible scenario.

ABM: Yeah. The fact that–

EC: It’s more plausible than what Erdogan tells us.

ABM: Maybe, but what will support that is the fact that he had this ready-made list of nearly a hundred thousand people that they were able to round up the following two or three days. That suggests that it was something planned, and he may very well have some part in it.

EC: Yeah, he took advantage of it.

ABM: As part of it.

EC: Even if he wasn’t involved at all, he took advantage of it. As he said, it’s a gift from God. Quote-unquote, it’s a gift from God.

ABM: Now I want to just take it from here. The Gülen movement today is on the defensive. The Gülen movement today is on the defensive.

EC: Yes.

ABM: I just was invited to a meeting in New York City, was it three, four days ago? A group of Gulenists, actually we met. And they wanted to hear what people like myself and others can suggest, how to sustain, how to strengthen the Hizmet movement, because they feel that they are under attack.

EC: Yes.

ABM: Outside Turkey. Now if they feel attacked outside Turkey, what is happening now? Do you expect, do you anticipate that the Gülen movement at any point in time can come back and restore some of its philosophy, civil, within Turkey itself?

EC: I think that’s a long project. I would like to think so. But not under the current circumstances.

ABM: Do you consider yourself belonging to the Gülen movement?

EC: Of course, I’ve been a participant for 25 years.

ABM: Well that’s great. Now I know why you’re defending it so.

EC: Because I’m a participant of the movement. I’ve given up my creative involvement in these types of activities, I feel very privileged to be. I would assume you knew that.

ABM: No, I knew that, I just wanted to know what’s your take, because anyone who speaks the way you talk about the Gülen movement, you surely belong to the movement or are part of the movement. But being that you are, what do you suggest? What kind of path would you like to chart for the future? Are you going to stay on the defensive? Now, I don’t know how much longer Erdogan will last. Where do you see the future for the movement?

EC: I think continue to be active in the civil space while taking up the responsibility of assisting those that are in trouble.

ABM: Where?

EC: In each of the respective countries that the movement’s active in. So for me it’s Washington D.C. For others it’s New York, others the U.K., Spain, Australia, elsewhere.

ABM: So why—

EC: Remember, Turkey’s the major issue here. But the movement’s active in 160 other countries. So you know, steady as she goes and continue to serve.

ABM: And are you suggesting that with or without support from Turkey itself, or without, if the movement died in Turkey itself, it has resonance to exist elsewhere?

EC: Yes, the movement isn’t about just serving the Turkish people. It’s about serving all people. There are problems everywhere.

ABM: So, what is the difference between this movement and many scores of other groups and organizations, political, that do the same thing?

EC: That Gülen’s able to frame this within an Islamic understanding, theologically, and say that this is how Muslims around the world and those that are friends of these values – so that includes people of other faiths, and people of no faith – to come together to serve. But the motivation for many Muslims that are observant Muslims, Gülen frames this within a theological understanding. But he also frames it around, for those that aren’t Muslim or those that are secular, he frames it around a social responsibility aspect as well. So there’s two dimensions, that those that are observant have responsibility to the creator and creation, and those that are not observant have responsibilities to their communities, irrespective. And that’s significant.

ABM: It is, fine. But I want to go back and we’re going to conclude with this, right, more or less. Go back to where we started. And that is, the Islamic component of the Gülen movement is very important, that you cannot–

EC: For those that are observant Muslims. There are people that consider themselves part of the movement that aren’t Muslim. Is there anything wrong with that? No.

ABM: Where do you find these people?

EC: We have advisers, for example here in Washington D.C. You go to our website, look at the different ways. We’ve people that are rabbis and pastors that support our activities, that donate their money, that donate their time.

ABM: Support. But do they belong to the movement?

EC: Well, supporting the movement, participating in activities.

ABM: I mean, I can support many organizations. But I don’t belong to the organization.

EC: Well I think there’s a there’s a fine line. I never belonged to the organization, but I was part of the movement as a volunteer while I worked as an engineer, previous to my position.

ABM: I’m not being critical of what the movement is doing.

EC: No, I’m not suggesting you are.

ABM: And to me, what I’m saying. Do you feel that the movement has a future? And to what extent this actually can take place if there is no future for the movement in Turkey itself?

EC: I, I—

ABM: What will happen say after Fethullah Gülen dies, what would happen after that?

EC: I think it’s giving a creative opportunity for the movement participants to look at new avenues to grow within countries where they weren’t as strong as a result. And remember, a lot of people have been pushed out of Turkey. So this gives them the catalyst to be more active with the new people, to look for new opportunities, and to–

ABM: And are you suggesting it will last if Gülen is no longer there, if he’s no longer alive?

EC: I mean, I think that’s one possibility.

ABM: But, how do you see the future without him? Do you feel that his presence, his importance as such, the leader of the moment spiritually, practically, politically, and otherwise?

EC: Well not practically, he doesn’t control the activities in 160 countries, but the values he espouses.

ABM: Do you feel, suppose he departed the scene tomorrow. Do you have some–

EC: Well, he will eventually have to.

ABM: Well, who’s going to assume the helm of the movement and continue with the [unclear]?

EC: We don’t have him at the helm of the movement per se anyway. The institutions run independent of him. He doesn’t know what’s happening in Fiji or New Zealand or Nepal.

ABM: This is true.

EC: Or Norway. Of course there’ll be maybe a morale loss for a certain period. But I think he’s inculcated in the participants our dynamism and opportu–

ABM: But do you really feel that this can continue?

EC: Motivation to look for opportunities, and to find people that need the services that are necessary.

ABM: Without leadership?

EC: There’s local leadership everywhere. I’m at the head of the Rumi Forum, I have a team, I work with them, I don’t consult Gülen. I’ve been here eight years.

ABM: I mean historically speaking.

EC: He doesn’t know what the Rumi Forum does.

ABM: Well he doesn’t have to know the details. But historically speaking.

EC: Yes.

ABM: Any movement, any government, you’re going to have some leader–a leader to be emulated, a leader to be followed. If you do not have Gülen today, alive, and you don’t have somebody who can actually take his place and become the leader, are you suggesting that it can exist by simply perpetuating and promoting what each chapter is doing in various countries?

EC: I think that’s a big question. I don’t know. The movement can continue. There may be a demise, I mean that that’s a possibility. We don’t know. It’s a matter of crossing that bridge when we get to it.

ABM: But why wait?

EC: The circumstances.

ABM: But why wait? If this is–

EC: But we don’t know the circumstances that the movement will be in.

ABM: I mean.

EC: We don’t know the circumstances the world will be in, we don’t know the circumstances of Turkey, which has been a strong hub for the movement.

ABM: But this is all more so because of that. I would think that he himself would think in those terms. Well I am 70, 80, I don’t know how old he is at this point. About 80 years old?

EC: Coming to 80 years.

ABM: 80 years old. He knows there’s a time where he’s not going to be around. Shouldn’t you think that he himself would think in terms of how should we perpetuate, how we should continue to promote this idea?

EC: I think he’s laid out the plan by virtue of the values, by encouraging people to be involved, to be selfless and sacrificial, etc. These are in his books, in his preachings, and he has 80 books to his name. So whether he continues–

ABM: Do you really believe that any movement can survive unless you have significant leadership at the helm?

EC: I mean, we’ll find out. I’m not necessarily suggesting that the movement will grow or–

ABM: But my question to you, why do you want to wait to find out? I mean, we know you’re going to need some kind of leadership. If I were Gülen myself, Fethullah Gülen myself, I would say I’m 80 years old. I’m 85 years old, and I have to think in terms, if I want this movement to continue to grow, to be stronger, I’m going to have to find somebody who’s going to lead it. But I don’t see that’s happening.

EC: But the concept here is that you’re suggesting that he actually leads the movement. No, he doesn’t.

ABM: Well who does?

EC: He doesn’t. The movement in 160 countries is independent of one another. It’s a loose network of organizations that generally adhere to the principles that he’s espoused for 40 years. He doesn’t come in and tell me what I do at the Rumi Forum, or what other people do.

ABM: Of course not, I know that. But he–

EC: And beyond his life, we’ll see. I think it’s a matter of seeing when we get to that juncture, because the conditions of the world that will be the conditions of the individuals, and the status of the individuals.

ABM: My feeling is that if you leave this, since you don’t know what you’re going to be, obviously then you don’t know what’s going to be the future of the movement. So you cannot say I don’t know what’s going to happen in Turkey, I don’t know.

EC: Just as the coup was unpredictable and its effect on the movement, I think it’s unpredictable. I would hope that it continues to grow in strength, to look for new opportunities, to serve people in various areas.

ABM: The reason I’m raising this question is because if the movement basically is being decimated in Turkey itself and the head of the movement, Fethullah Gülen himself, departs the scene, passes away, then the future of the movement in my view will be in serious jeopardy. You do not have any longer the base where the movement was created in the first place, and you don’t have the leadership. And that is eventually where people like Erdogan will win the day. That’s how I see it. I see the movement needs to reconsider its position today. Where do we want to be 10, 15, 20 years down the line? Yes, a lot of things can change around the world, in Turkey itself, elsewhere. But we should have a vision.

When I talked to this group just last week, I asked them this very question. The whole movement, the Hizmet, Fethullah Gülen is the heart, the center, the soul, and the spirit of the movement today still. That’s why they look up to him. And I’m suggesting to him, you are under tremendous stress. They’re looking for ways and means by which to help perpetuate the movement in New York. And I raise this question. How do you see the future? Where is it going? And there’s no answer. There’s no answer. They’re saying, it depends. Do you really think a movement can continue, because it depends on what else is developing, unless you have some kind of strategy that can consider all kinds of developments.

EC: I think the virtue of the fact that there’s maybe more important issues at hand today than to be thinking about what’s going to happen with the demise or the passing away of Gülen. We have a new class of refugees, the movement has moved into a position of assisting these people that are trying to get out. The world’s a different place to what it was 3, 4 years ago. And I’m not just talking about Turkey, or autocratic tendencies here or in Europe. So these are new issues that have been brought on the table.

ABM: But it’s no longer–

EC: Not only for the movement but for all people, for all communities, for all civil society actors.

ABM: But it is no longer exclusive to the movement. That’s the whole point.

EC: So yes.

ABM: It’s no longer exclusive to the movement. Which means, this movement will become just like any other movement that deals with this humanitarian issues.

EC: I mean, that’s a possibility, I tell you. I’m not arguing against the fact that you know.

ABM: I mean, that’s what I really wanted to.

EC: You know, I’m not arguing against the fact that I think it’s unpredictable. I can’t guarantee the movement will exist in 15, 20 years. I don’t know.

ABM: That’s my point. My point is those who believe in it, those who want to have it, to see it last, in my view are not taking the kind of steps necessary to promote it. Because if you now agree with me that the movement is what it’s doing in terms of humanitarian aid–be that refugees, teaching, schooling, work, all of that–it is no longer exclusive to the Gülen movement. And that’s when a movement disappears, when it is not longer, if you don’t have the spiritual leader for it, and you don’t have a specific philosophy that is different than the other philosophies in terms of human needs, human dimension. Then the Gülen movement as such will not be able to survive. That’s how I see it.

EC: Watch this space. Let’s live and learn.

ABM: Okay. Thank you so much, I really appreciate you taking the time.

EC: You’re most welcome. It was a pleasure.

ABM: The pleasure is mine. I hope you don’t mind, we sort of– I wanted to argue with you.

EC: Not at all, I was testing you and you did okay. I’m willing to do this again.

ABM: Anytime, anytime. I’ll be better prepared next time.

EC: I hope. I hope so. I see potential, I see potential.

On the Issues Episode 17: Sahar Khamis

My guest today is Dr. Sahar Khamis, associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland. Dr. Khamis is an expert on Arab and Muslim media and the former head of the Mass Communications and Information Sciences Department at Qatar University. She’s a former Mellon Islamic Studies Initiative visiting professor at the University of Chicago.

She is the co-author of the books: Islam Dot Com: Contemporary Islamic Discourses in Cyberspace (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) and Egyptian Revolution 2.0: Political Blogging, Civic Engagement and Citizen Journalism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Additionally, she authored and co-authored numerous book chapters, journal articles and conference papers, regionally and internationally, in both English and Arabic. She is the recipient of a number of prestigious academic and professional awards, as well as a member of the editorial boards of several journals in the field of communication, in general, and the field of Arab and Muslim media, in particular.

Dr. Khamis is a media commentator and analyst, a public speaker, a human rights commissioner in the Human Rights Commission in Montgomery County, Maryland, and a radio host, who presents a monthly radio show on “U.S. Arab Radio” (the first Arab-American radio station broadcasting in the U.S. and Canada).

A full transcript is below (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 Sahar Mohammed Khamis, associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland. Dr. Khamis is an expert on Arab and Muslim media and the former head of the Mass Communications and Information Sciences Department at Qatar University. She’s a former Mellon Islamic Studies Initiative visiting professor at the University of Chicago. You can find her full bio on the page for this episode. So thank you so much, Sahar, for taking the time to sit with me.

Sahar Khamis: Thank you, Alon.

ABM: And I really appreciate it.

SMK: Thank you so much for the opportunity, Alon.

ABM: It’s my pleasure, believe me. Anyway, so I’ve been doing this, talking to important people, scholars like yourself, in order to explore various conflicts, conditions, situations, especially in the Middle East. And one of the things that I have been engaging and working on, and I wrote scores of articles on, is the Arab spring. And there’s a lot of misunderstanding I think about what the Arab Spring was all about. Where does it stand today? Has it evaporated, has it become a cruel winter, or is it still reverberating someplace, and that the Arab world will, no matter what happens, one form or another every Arab country will experience some form of quote-unquote Arab Spring because the Arab youth, have risen. They are now awakened, and they are no longer willing to accept what used to be a generation or two ago. They want something more, they want something different. They want hope, they want opportunities, they want jobs. And this will be I think something that we would like to share with our listeners, especially coming from you, having been experiencing that first hand. And we can take it from there. Maybe perhaps we can start with what happened in Egypt, being that you are from Egypt, and what you see that went right, or went wrong as far as the revolution in Egypt is concerned.

SMK: Let me start first with the Arab Spring itself, and then we can zoom in more closely on the Egyptian case in particular. But when I start to talk about the Arab Spring in my Arab media course at the University of Maryland, I tell my students, which term do you prefer? Arab Spring, Arab Awakening, Arab Uprisings. And we start to talk about these different terms, and what the rhetorical meaning of these terms really is. Because when you say for example awakening, as much as it’s a beautiful word, I just say wait a minute, I don’t want you to get the false impression that the three hundred fifty million plus Arabs were asleep, and then all of a sudden in 2011 they just woke up, because that is not a correct depiction or accurate depiction of the situation.

ABM: You’re right. The awakening, however, as I see it, is awakening to new realities. They have been living their life, they’ve been aware of what’s going on, but they have awakened to a new reality. They want more. They’ve been exposed specifically because of the technological revolution which you are very familiar with, is communication.

SMK: Yes.

ABM: They now have the means by which to see how other societies live.

SMK: Absolutely.

ABM: And hence, in that sense I call it awakening, having come to realize that there is something else better there and we deserve to have the same experience.

SMK: Right. But what I’m trying to get at here, it’s not like it has been a complete, total lack of political will and participation and desire for change. Because there have been attempts well before the eruption of the so-called Arab Spring. Arab youth, Arab people have been sometimes going out to the street, and protesting, and talking and trying to change realities on the ground. It’s just that you can get 100, 200, 300 people out there in front of one of the syndicates, or out there in the street, and it would be easy for the police forces to simply round them up and arrest them and put them in jail. What happened in 2011 that was different was what I call the catalyzing effect of social media and new media, providing a platform for self-expression and for expressing the will of the people, and also acting as catalysts that speed up the process of mobilization on the street and acting as amplifiers that can make the voices of protest louder, and providing some kind of link or bridge between what is happening online and what is happening offline, between the virtual world and between the real world. So I always say that this kind of missing link was the reason for what we had before, which is called the safety valve paradox. The safety valve paradox means the governments will leave a small room for expression of opposition voices or voices of dissent or rebellion or disagreement, as a way for people to vent some of their anger. And therefore, just like the safety valve in the pots that you cook the food in, it is just the way to prevent this pot from reaching the point where it actually explodes. So that’s what they call the safety valve paradox.

So in 2011 there’s no more safety valve. Now you have the full explosion of the pot, or we can use a different analogy, we can say the genie came out of the bottle or the genie came out of the jar, and now it’s very hard for any government to try to put the genie back again, which is why really answering your question about whether the Arab Spring has evaporated or whether it has gone away is difficult. I say listen, we don’t want to go to either extreme, the extreme of painting a very rosy, euphoric picture like the one many people, including myself to be very honest. Back in 2011, six years ago, we were so euphoric, so optimistic, it’s awesome, the genie is out of the bottle, that’s it. Six years later, we have to revisit what went wrong. What were some of the gaps? What were some of the things we did not maybe pay attention to, or give sufficient attention to? But we should not also go to the other undesirable extreme of being totally pessimistic and painting a very dark picture as if it’s all doom and gloom, and everything went wrong, and there’s no hope. We want to be in the middle ground of cautionary optimism. You want to be optimistic, but you want to be cautious. You want to assess.

ABM: Let me interject here something. It is not a question of what we want. It is a question of reading it correctly. That is, we have aspirations. We would like to see that the Egyptian revolution succeeds. We would like to see, but the reality is this. What we are searching for, what actually happened is not what we want to project. We want to project optimism, we want to project pessimism, that is a personal viewpoint. In my thinking, my writing, I try to think in terms of what actually happened – regardless of my wishes, regardless of what I want to see happen. And this is really what motivates me to research and learn and study what actually happened. Yes, I would have liked to see the Egyptian revolution succeed and there would be full-fledged democracy in Egypt. But that’s not going to happen. Not now, and it’s not going to happen any time in the near future the way I see it. Not the way the United States wanted to introduce that political system or the same thing you might say in Iraq or Syria, but we’ll come to that point. But what you are saying, we do not want to paint the picture one way or the other. It is nearly in my view not up to us how we paint the picture. Let’s try to read it the way in fact it evolved.

SMK: You mean the perception of it, because I’ve attended talks and lectures where people are very optimistic, or people really, really paint a very dark picture. But it’s like, wait, just give me a moment here, because we cannot underestimate the amount of bravery and courage and heroism that was exhibited during these days of revolution, including in groups that were traditionally marginalized and left out of the public sphere, including women for example.

ABM: Exactly.

SMK: Just the fact that in a country like Yemen, which is one of the most traditional, conservative countries in the Middle East, you see women flooding the streets day in, day out. Not for days, not for weeks, but for months.

ABM: Yes.

SMK: So much so that the president at that time, Ali Abdullah Saleh, takes the microphone and he tries to play on the tribal, conservative nature of society and says, what are these women doing out there in the street? Shame on them, they have no business being there in the street and rubbing shoulders with men and protesting. This is a big shame. They should stay home. He’s trying to play on the social traditional view, cultural view of women and women’s place.

What did the women do in this conservative, traditional society? They flooded every inch of the country, not just the capital Sana’a, and they raised banners, saying it’s not shame on us to ask for our rights. It is shame on you to deny us our rights and to deny us democracy and freedom. So you’re seeing here something very big. Regardless of some of the things that went wrong, and we’ll talk about that, why there have been deviations from the right path, or the journey has not been as smooth as hoped for. But we cannot at the same time undermine the value of this kind of heroism and this kind of exceptional courage that was demonstrated by youth and by women and by many segments of society. That’s why I’m saying we need to have this middle ground.

ABM: No, I agree with you, this is very important, because once they were able to exhibit that courage and that tenacity to go out to the street and demand change, that has created a precedent which it happened once, it can happen again and again and again. Which means as I see it, how the Arab Spring is evolving – notwithstanding the major setbacks that already took place – the fact that the youth now are imbued, and understand I have power. I have power and I can use this power, regardless of the oppression I’m going through, regardless of the political conditions I’m going through. But we have power. And as long as we can work together, galvanize our resources and our forces, we can achieve a change.

SMK: And also remember, Alon, something very important. More than 70 percent of the Arab region are young people under the age of 30 or 35, and that percentage increases in some of the states – for example the Gulf states, including Yemen. Ninety percent are young people, so this is a very young, vibrant population. And we talk about youth in particular, they are the momentum, they’re the impetus of society. They’re technologically savvy, they’re agents of change, you want to see change. I always ask this question – do you know what is the number one country in the world that has the highest number of tweeters, people who use Twitter? When I ask this question in class, people say, the United States, Sweden, Germany, France. No, the surprise is, it’s Saudi Arabia. And my students go like, what? Yes, I know you’re surprised, but it’s really Saudi Arabia. So when you think about that, even in this conservative, traditional society you have young people, a very big percentage of the population are young people, and they’re technologically savvy, and they have the highest number of tweeters in the world. What does that tell us? Five years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years from now, I personally think that there’s a momentum for change and there is a momentum for a dynamic evolving in the region.

ABM: There’s no doubt. So what happened now? When I survey what happened since 2011, obviously a number of things went wrong. And my feeling is that one major element, or one major entity that has contributed to some extent to the failure of the Arab Spring in various countries is the West itself, the United States in particular. What the United States attempted to do is that, thinking that the youth are rising now because they want freedom, they want jobs, they want opportunities, and all of that. But I think the order in which they felt they can tackle that is first by using a political system that is really not consistent with the needs of the hour.

SMK: This is something very important, because when for example the U.S. invaded Iraq, it was this notion of, we’re going to bring democracy to Iraq. So I tell my students, this is an analogy that’s related to cooking in the kitchen, but I think it’s very valid here. You cannot buy a ready-made democracy off the shelf. You must cook your own homemade recipe for democracy. Why? Because I cannot go for example now to Osaka in Japan and say, oh look at that. The University of Osaka has a magnificent system of education. I’m going to take it and apply it in Alexandria, Egypt. Well guess what, it’s going to fail.

ABM: It won’t work.

SMK: It won’t work because the system itself, the different cultural, educational, political, social components are different. So if you do not take into account the very specific context of each country and each nation, each region historically, culturally, politically, socially, you are doomed to fail.

ABM: No, it is no question, and you’re absolutely right to suggest that even if you apply this method, you cannot apply the same thing to two different countries, because each country has a different culture—

SMK: Even within the same region.

ABM: Even within the same region. So that’s what compounded the United States’ mistake, by thinking we go we can introduce a democratic form of government when in fact any kind of democracy has to be consistent with the culture, and in this case, religion of the people involved, without which this is going to be a completely alien political system to which they cannot easily adjust and in fact reject for that matter.

SMK: I cannot agree more. And you know at the very beginning of the revolution in Egypt in 2011, there was an interview with some of the youth who were the impetus, the blood of the revolution, and the anchorman or anchorwoman at that time asked them, what do you expect from the United States? And one of the activists, his name is [unclear], he’s one of the bloggers I wrote about in my second book Egyptian Revolution 2.0. He said, we are not wanting the United States to send us any weapons or to send us any money. We just want one thing only. Please don’t support authoritarian or dictatorial regimes period. That’s all. We don’t want you to support Mubarak, we want you to stop supporting him. And that’s all we want. We don’t want weapons or money or supplies or any kind of resources of any kind. And that’s the whole thing.

I mean, people in the West, they really ask the question with goodwill and good heart like, how can we help? People in other parts of the world ask, how can we help in order to advance the cause of democracy? I say, just don’t try to back dictatorial regimes, and try to tell the governments not to back dictatorial regimes. But beyond that point, it has to be up to every country and up to the people of each country to decide which way they want to go and how they want to chart their own future. We cannot just give them a ready package and say, this is the ready package, go and apply it, you’re going to become the USA, or you’re going to become France, you’re going to become Britain. That’s not going to work. It has to be a home-made and home-cooked recipe of democracy.

ABM: This is absolutely true. And this is a very important component. That is, you can provide a democratic form of government consistent with the local culture and religion for that matter, but that in and of itself is still not enough. Look what happened with the elections in Egypt itself. There was you might say free and fair elections. Who was elected? The Muslim Brotherhood came to power. And the Egyptian people woke up in the morning and said, now we are free. And now where is the food? Where is the future? Where are the jobs, where are the opportunities? Which means when the West gets involved, not only were they mistaken by simply introducing democratic form of government more consistent with our system in the West, but it was also lacking a very critical component. And that is, freedom cannot exist unless it is sustained by other elements, and the other elements are other pillars to democracy. One of the most important pillars is economic development. What the United States has been doing is giving money to the Egyptian government to the tune of two billion dollars a year. Much of it is going to the military. Hardly any of it goes actually to the people themselves, in terms of using it for development projects so that the people will benefit. In my view, and I think you agree with me, to be able to empower the people, they have to give them an opportunity to do something, to be able to produce something on their own, to feel they are productive. So giving them freedom without giving them the means by which they can improve their life, it just won’t work.

SMK: I mean, even giving them the freedom, I would beg to disagree with the statement. The phrasing only of it. We agree in principle, but the phrasing of it, even giving the freedom, you cannot give freedom, the people have to earn it.

ABM: No, of course, no, I don’t mean giving, you cannot give freedom to anyone.

SMK: People have to earn it themselves.

ABM: They earn freedom, but let us say you have this political system that allows you to go and vote or be elected, and now you feel free in a sense. Politically free, but you are not free if you don’t have food. You’re not free if you don’t have health care. You’re not free if you don’t send to your kids to school. That’s what I’m talking about. And that has been missing and continues to be missing.

SMK: Two important things here, Alon. Number one, there is a chicken and egg question. In other words, when you say we need to fill the power vacuum with real civic engagement and civic society participation, for example having strong opposition and private institutions and NGOs, and real voices that represent the people. For that to happen, you need to have a degree of democracy and freedom. And for a degree of democracy and freedom that’s really healthy to exist, you need to have civic society institutions which are active and vibrant. So which one comes first? It’s the chicken and egg question.

ABM: Well the truth of the matter is, you cannot have one or the other. And to have an effective civil society and to have an effective political system, be that any kind of form of democracy, however adapted it is to the local scene, you’re still going to need the means by which to sustain it. And I keep emphasizing the importance of this when I talk to officials here, namely saying this. Democracy is a wonderful idea, and let us say it is adopted. But the people need more than just that. So you cannot develop the, for example, one of the pillars of democracy is having democratic institutions. Well, where are these democratic institutions? As a matter of fact, Egypt more than any other country has many institutions as such. You can call them democratic or not, but institutions do exist. But when the poverty is so rampant in Egypt, even those institutions that can actually function in a free and fair manner, they are unable to function.

SMK: It’s not only about poverty. You compound layers of issues that can impede the process of democratic transition, or can make it less smooth and less efficient and less effective. If you talk about the very high illiteracy rate – which I always tell my students is a big shame because the word paper as you may know comes from the word papyrus. So the whole notion of writing actually started in ancient Egypt thousands of years ago. That’s where the concept of writing started, with Hieroglyphics. So for us to have more than 40 percent illiteracy rate, I consider this a big shame. So we have a high illiteracy rate, which of course translates into less political participation, especially among certain segments of society. If you’re talking about rural populations or people in remote areas or women, the percentage is going to go even higher than that. And then at the same time you have economic challenges, you have infrastructure challenges. And there may be institutions in place, but how far are they really representative of let’s say the will of the people? You can have a political party that says I am an opposition party. That’s fine. But do you really have a popular base of support? Do you really have members, do you really have a voice? Do you really have a say in the political process? That’s a different story, and that’s why I want to make a very important point which is, it’s easy to oust dictators from office. But it’s very hard to figure what to do next.

ABM: Oh, absolutely.

SMK: And that’s I think one of the main things that went wrong in the Arab Spring, is that people thought once Mubarak is out, or Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, or Gadhafi is out, then things are going to automatically change for the better, and suddenly we’re going to have democracy. It doesn’t work this way, because once the dictator is out of office, then what do you do next? If you don’t have a clear strategic plan in place, if you don’t have a vision, if you don’t have the tools to implement this vision into action, then you’re going to have a power vacuum. Once you have a power vacuum, who’s going to jump on it? It has to be a group that already has some kind of organizational tools and techniques and some kind of support, basically. And in the case of Egypt for example, there are two parties here, or two players, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. Why are these the two players? Because they are the ones who have structure, and they’re the ones who have organization. The visionaries, the young people who are really the blood of the revolution, the people who had the vision and the goodwill, they had the dreams for change. But they did not have a clear, strategic plan. When you talk to these young people, they say ‘we made mistakes. And one of our biggest mistakes was we did not really have a clear strategic plan or vision about what to do next.’ In fact, some of them were even offered places like, do you want to be part of the government or serve as a minister? No, no, no, we don’t want to be in that capacity, we just want to be observing what’s happening, or maybe in the opposition seat, or maybe correct the new government. And now they feel like they made a mistake, because they left a power vacuum that then became filled by the Brotherhood and then later on by the military.

ABM: But this is an important point to make. And what happened here, by introducing quickly a democratic form of government for example in Egypt, without giving time for other secular parties to develop, to have their own agenda, to be able to share it with the public, you didn’t have— When I talk about institution, I’m not talking about political parties because they didn’t exist really, de facto did not exist in Egypt. You had so-called parties, but the one who was organized, was really the only real organized one other than the military, is the Muslim Brotherhood. It was very clear to us, if there is going to be an election, the Muslim Brotherhood is going to win. And why are they going to win? Because they were able over the years to provide help and means to the poor that didn’t have hardly anything. That’s why I go back to, if we are looking now for the future as I see it, if the United States or the European community wants to support any kind of Arab country, that is going to go through with a poor country, that needs to go through political development. You’ve got to be able, when you’re talking about illiteracy in Egypt. Well how do you change that picture? How do you make sure that more kids can go to school? You’re going to need funding. You’re going to need money. What the United States is doing and the European community has been doing is providing some financial assistance without demanding, where are you going to spend the money. Without making sure that the money is spent in areas that are going to help the people. And that is something that has been missing and will continue to be missing as long as we continue with a policy that is not addressing the needs of the people themselves. We say, now you can go to elections like I said before, but that did not work. Now, what lesson do we learn from that? That’s what we, you and I, want to look forward to the future. What will the future tell for us?

SMK: I mean, there are numerous lessons, many lessons. Number one I think is the idea of filling this power vacuum that we have been talking about. And let me just make a quick comment or quick remark about the Brotherhood, because the very paradoxical, very ironic point is that there have been decades of suppression of the Brotherhood; they were not allowed to play, and are not allowed to join, and they’re banned. They’ve always been called quote-unquote the banned group. And despite all of this banning and suppression and oppression, they still were able, like you said, to build a popular base of support because of two reasons you mentioned. One of them is the economic factor, which is, I’m going to provide subsidized services to the poor, and medical services, and subsidized—

ABM: And schooling sometimes—

SMK: Schooling items and all of the stuff, schooling and education. And if you are in an economically challenged country, then definitely providing these services at the subsidized rate is going to raise your popularity. And also Egyptians by nature, and many people in the Middle East, are by nature religious. We tend to be more religious people, whether we are Jews, Christians, or Muslims. We do have religion as part of our psyche and part of our identity. So I think these reasons together made that hard for any government to crack down on them, and I think that even when you crack down on them, that is not a good thing because they’re then prone to go underground.

ABM: Exactly.

SMK: And once these groups go underground that’s very dangerous, because that’s when you can breed the seeds of radicalization and extremism. As long as people are in the open and conversing and talking, right, sit with Sahar and hear me, and I hear you. You understand where I’m coming from. But if everything is kept in the dark and people don’t understand what this person thinks or what this group thinks, that’s when it’s really dangerous, because they’re going to be prone to go underground, and that will breed more radicalization and more extremism. So that’s an important point, one lesson for the future.

ABM: There’s no question. I think it’s a mistake to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not just a small organization that you can outlaw. They represent massive numbers, in Egypt specifically and elsewhere. But in Egypt, probably 30, 40 percent of the population believes in the movement, in the Muslim Brotherhood. You can correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s a very significant community in Egypt. To try to marginalize them or label them as a terrorist organization, that’s the worst mistake I think that the current government in Egypt has made. And this is one lesson—

SMK: This is one lesson.

ABM: One lesson that other Arab countries need to learn.

SMK: Yes. Please don’t suppress these religious movements because this is prone to really plant the seeds of radicalization and the seeds of extremism. That’s one important piece. The second important lesson I think is giving more visibility and more power to the groups that we have seen becoming in positions of leadership in the Arab Spring, specifically youth. Young people, as we said, it’s a very young and very vibrant population in the Arab world. These young people need a healthy space in order to breathe and to express their thoughts and ideas, because we don’t want them to be recruited by the wrong people. We don’t want them to fall in the hands of some skewed evil groups that are preaching terrorism or fanaticism. And for that to happen, you need to give them a healthy space for self-expression and for building their own identities and building their own future. And equally I would say about women as well, that definitely we can invest in women and women’s leadership, which is another very important lesson coming out of the Arab Spring movement. A third lesson is, as we said earlier, it’s easy to oust dictators from office. But then what do you do next? And this question of what do you do next is a very, very important question, because as they say, if you don’t plan, then you are planning to fail. Right? If you don’t have a plan–

ABM: Oh, there’s no doubt.

SMK: If you don’t have a plan in place, then you are planning to fail because it means that you can have non-revolutionary forces filling the vacuum – whether it is military groups, or whether it is sectarian tribal factions fighting each other, or whether it is some orthodox religious parties that may not be necessarily be always invested in the democratic process. In every case, you’re not having this vacuum filled by the right group. And by the right group, I mean those who really had the vision for change but did not have the means, or the strategy to do it. So now is the time for them to reflect and say OK, wait a minute. What went wrong, and how can we put together an action plan and a strategy that can really hold well in the future, and carry a swell, moving forward. Another lesson of course is communication—

ABM: But before you go into the next one, the point here is that theoretically what you’re saying is absolutely important and necessary. Now, how do you translate that into reality? That is, you can have a vision of what you want. You can also have a plan of action: this is what we want to do. How do you go about implementing that when you still have a political system that is not allowing you to make your plans or to have a new objective? And so this is why in my view, it is another failure as a result of the first failure. The first failure is introducing a system that was not adaptable as quickly as we would have liked, because that didn’t happen. And the second one was the fact that there was no follow-up. Who is going to follow through? And that’s what the youth today face in most of the Arab countries. What do we do tomorrow, given the reality on the ground? Now every Arab country is different—the Gulf States versus the Syrians versus Egypt versus the state. The countries in North Africa, each of them are different and each of them are trying to deal with— They are not trying to deal, but basically those who did not experience yet the so-called Arab Spring are doing everything they can to suppress it, that is, not to allow the people to rise again. For example, the Saudis and the Gulf state are giving them money to keep them quiet. Other countries, there’s suppression – you have to behave yourself or else. It’s still in North Africa, Morocco, and elsewhere. This is how it is. So the problem here—for the youth to have a vision for the future, it is not enough to have a plan. It is not to have to have a vision. What is it going to take?

SMK: Again, the chicken and egg question.

ABM: What is it going to take in order to be able to implement that kind of vision?

SMK: The chicken and egg question we’re talking about earlier in terms of what comes first, right? Democracy and then followed by civic engagement, or civic engagement followed by democracy. That is not an easy question to resolve. I think it’s a very paradoxical, very important issue.

ABM: But there’s a third element, however. Let’s say you are able to get these two together and work together. My feeling is that as long as there’s no equitable distribution—when I say equitable distribution of resources, I don’t mean everybody should make the same amount of money. What I am saying is, there is poverty, there is abject poverty. Egypt is one of them. I used to go to Egypt very often, and what I saw in some areas, it was appalling, and people are living—basically you can see kids, thousands of them playing in the mud, no place to go, no schooling, nothing like that. And so what I’m saying is that even with a vision, even with a perfect plan, you’re going to need the resources.

SMK: Of course, they have to go hand in hand, you cannot be either.

ABM: And the resources are not coming. I mean, Egypt today needs tens of billions if not hundreds of billions of dollars to begin to develop some kind of economic system that is going to alleviate the poverty and everything that emanates from that, be that education, health care, and all of that.

SMK: Undoubtedly.

ABM: And so the question here is this: in the Gulf states, what these governments have been doing to stay in power, they’ve been actually giving money, trying to prevent the people from rising, because if I can make a living and I can live in a decent way, well I don’t have any reason to complain. But you cannot say the same thing in Egypt.

SMK: Of course, that’s why we say that every country, even when we talk about the Arab region, we cannot just put everybody in the same basket, we cannot think of a one size fits all transition to democratization or reform, because every country will have its own unique set of political, historical, and social issues.

ABM: Exactly, exactly. And the question is, how do you go about that? And when we spoke on the phone, I think we both agreed. I feel that the Arab Spring remains in its infancy. I mean to say that this is not the end of the youth uprising, or let’s call it awakening, regardless. It may well be almost at the beginning stages. Every single Arab country is going to be affected by it. And the only way they can avoid that is by making, exactly what you said. Look at the mistakes, what happened before. What is it that people really want? What do the youth actually want? Do we have the means, and whatever means we have, how should we use these means in order to be able A), not to repeat the same mistakes—

SMK: Mistakes, yes.

ABM: And to begin to correct what needs to be corrected in terms of providing the basic necessities – that young men and women need to have an opportunity, to have hope, to have a future which they cannot see. And when they cannot see that, they rise. They become radicals. And this is what we are experiencing today.

SMK: Right. And of course, just a few more lessons that I just want to quickly highlight is also I always tell my students that as much as social media is very important to give an impetus, to give the first initiate, inertia or momentum for these movements, they were not enough to keep the ball rolling. To keep the ball rolling you need all the stuff you just mentioned now about infrastructure, economic, political, social factors. All of these factors together have to be taken into account. Otherwise you could not keep the ball rolling. You can start the initial momentum, but to keep it rolling you need all of these other things in place. So I always say, great, social media is wonderful in terms of mobilization and networking and giving the initial inertia. But beyond that, they are not magical tools, and they’re not going to bring about change and transformation all by themselves. They can only compliment and supplement the process of social and political transformation, if you have all of the other criteria and all the other requirements in place.

Another thing I also want to highlight is, we have always had a very narrow, elitist focus and urban focus, like we talk about, oh Arab Spring, Tahrir Square. I always tell my students, there were also many people in Alexandria, in Tanta, in Upper Egypt, in places outside of Tripoli, outside of Damascus, outside of all of these capitals. We should not be blinded about all of these populations who are in rural areas, in remote areas, less privileged maybe but still very important, and we should pay attention to them in our own scholarship and writing and academia, and give them more attention because it’s not all about the urban areas. It’s not all about the capital, it’s not all about the two or three percent of the elites in these societies only. We need to widen our focus and widen our perspective. Another lesson also for the future is, pay attention to the activists in the diaspora. This is very important because we have so many activists and protesters who are not able to express their views inside their own countries. They are afraid of intimidation or repression by the regime. Many of these, where do they go? They exercise their activism in the diaspora. That includes women’s groups as well.

ABM: Oh, absolutely.

SMK: So we need to hear the voices of these people and to respect them and respect their experiences, and also learn from their own insight and learn from their own perspectives. I call these voices in the diaspora, and I think we need to really listen very carefully to these voices from the diaspora and learn from their own experiences and their own lessons.

ABM: So when you say ‘we,’ I want to define we, who is we? And this is really the problem we have. Obviously you’re referring to who, civil society?

SMK: I had academics in mind, I was saying we to be honest with you, what I was thinking was academics and scholars who are writing about these issues.

ABM: But that’s not going to be enough. You also need people who are able to read it. When you talk about illiteracy 30, 40, 50 percent, you can write all you want but that’s not going to go anywhere. So the we is important. That is, the current, various Arab governments in the Arab states, are they in a position? Have they come to that? Have they been awakened? That is the main question to me. Have they been awakened to the fact that they can control the population up to a point, another five years, another 10 years, and 15 years? But somewhere, sometime, it is going to explode.

SMK: Absolutely.

ABM: It is going to explode.

SMK: Absolutely, yes, the safety valve is not going to hold for a very long time, and the pot will explode.

ABM: Exactly. So the question is, what are the means, what are the methods, what is it that they need to do today in order to prevent it, regardless of the political system that exists in any of these countries. You have kings and emirs in some, you have dictators in another. You have semi-elected governments like in Tunisia. You have all kinds of mixtures of all types of political systems, but all of them share one thing in common. The young men and women are not happy. They are despairing. They want an outlet. They want a future. And each country is going to have to— When you say we, what is it that the ‘we’ need to do? Are they able to do it? Will they be wanting to do it?

And let me just say one thing about this, because when you look at these kings, like specifically countries in North Africa—Morocco is one, and others. From our experience, what they really want to do is continue to suppress the people, because the moment you give them more freedom—that’s how they think—then they’re going to want more. As the old saying goes, you give them a finger, they want to grab your hands. Take Syria for example. I know Bashar Assad, I met him. I knew, I used to Walid Moallem, he was a good friend of mine going back many, many years. And I know from him when Bashar came to power, he said, ‘I want to undertake some reforms. I don’t want to follow exactly what my father used to do.’ And he was open to reform, and when he was talking to the Ba’ath party and others, they were telling him no, no, no, no, if you do that, if you give them a finger, they’re going to grab your hand. You cannot absolutely do that. And so he basically followed what his father passed on to him. If the people rise against you, you have to chop them. You have to suppress them, you have to get whatever it takes. You cannot allow any uprising against you, or else you’re going to lose power. So what is happening is, even when you have reformers in any of these governments, the environment has not been created as yet.

SMK: We come back again to the chicken and egg question, because you need the environment in order to induce change, and to induce change you need to have a helpful environment.

ABM: Ok.

SMK: So we keep coming back—I think if we had a solution for this issue Alon, we would probably be billionaires by now.

ABM: No, but the point is, we cannot settle for the fact that there’s a vicious cycle here. One is linked to the other and if we solve one, you cannot solve the other. Which means in such kinds of conflict, we still have to come up with a solution. What is the solution? And one of these, I go back to in my view, economic development is central to begin a process that is going to allow for any political development to take place.

SMK: I agree with you. I think it’s necessary, but I don’t think it’s sufficient. I think it’s important, , very important, but I think—you know what I think really, Alon, it is not the question that we can solve in this interview or any other interview for that matter. I think that these visionaries, the young people who had the vision, the young people who had this desire for change, to sit together and revisit again the exact same questions we are talking about in this interview. Right? What went wrong and what could be done about it? What are the lessons to be learned for the future, and how can we do things differently? And I think that in my own opinion I agree with you that there’s going to be a lot of room for these young people and these young voices to try to revisit their quote-unquote leadership. Because whenever people say the Arab Spring was a leaderless revolution I say wait a minute, I have an issue with this term. I think that it was semi-leaderless and I think there was some form of leadership, but it was not a top-down imposed leadership by a handful of people telling people what to do. It was rather a very diffused, grassroots, bottom-up approach which has its pros and cons. The pros of course are, these are young people, they have the vision, they have a desire for change. It is more participatory. That’s awesome. The bad side now as we’re learning six years later is that we have this challenge of the power vacuum that we’ve been talking about before. We have the infantile civil society that’s not developed sufficiently. We have the vacuum that needs to be filled. And as we said before, not having enough strategic vision, strategic planning among these young people, meant they had the goodwill, they had the dreams, they had the vision, but they did not have the tools or the means to implement an alternative reality.

ABM: Ok. That’s the point. They don’t have the tools, and they don’t have the means.

SMK: Yes.

ABM: They could have the vision, they could have the [unclear], have the [unclear]. But the question here is, how do you implement it.

SMK: They have to figure this out. I don’t think it’s up to me or you or anybody else. They have to figure it out.

ABM: It’s not we that have to figure it out. To figure out such a plan of action, I or you or anyone from the outside – you are not an outsider – can go and say to them, do A, B, C and D. First of all, this is going to have to come from them.

SMK: Exactly.

ABM: But coming from them in and of itself, they cannot do it on their own because they need all kinds of resources. That is, unless there is a collaboration in my view between the government, between the various institutions and the public, to realize that this is leading to a dead end at best, or to another bloodshed. Which means, as long as the current government does not come to this realization and decide, let’s work with the youth. The whole phenomenon of radicalization today, whether you call it Islamic radicalization or otherwise, it stems from the same source, from the same roots. The total despairing and unhappy youth throughout the Arab world, and I tell the European community who are suffering from radical Islam so to speak from their perspective. And I say to them, you can have all the mechanisms to combat radicalization, but you are not dealing with the root causes. And the root causes are not necessarily in Europe. Of course there is lack of integration in Europe, this is a different story.

SMK: It’s not in Islam either. It’s in the lack of the proper atmosphere of development and civil society participation. And economic resources—

ABM: In the Arab countries.

SMK: Absolutely. I mean–

ABM: And this is where the West needs to be helpful.

SMK: This is where we all need to really pay attention. We all need to pay attention. When I say we here, I mean academics, scholars, writers, thinkers, intellectuals, and also hopefully officials and people in power. Unless they realize these blind spots and really start to pay attention to these areas, I don’t think there’s going to be much hope in terms of a real, positive change. There has to be attention paid to all of these blind spots, and the new vision of trying to visit all of these important areas we talked about. But at the end of the day, let’s go back again to a very important point. It has to be a home-made recipe of change, that the young people themselves have to figure out for themselves. Which way do you want to go, and how are you going to go about implementing it? Nobody can just give them a ready-made recipe and say, go ahead, buy it off the shelf. This is what you need to do, it’s not going to work.

ABM: No, this does not work. But again I’m emphasizing the point that if they have the vision, they have the planning, they have all of that, that in and of itself will not be enough unless there is a collaborative effort—

SMK: Absolutely.

ABM: —by the government itself, and it serves the government’s interest to do just that.

SMK: Here’s a very important footnote. If the government itself, or governments, come to a realization that this is exactly what they need to do, then of course it would be ideal. But as long as they see it as a tug of war, as me or you, it’s me or you, it’s not us, it’s not we.

ABM: Exactly, exactly.

SMK: It’s not like we’re working together to achieve a goal. It’s a zero-sum game. Who is going to win? Me or you, let’s wrestle together. So unless they change this kind of mindset, if they change the mindset and they start to see exactly what you’re saying, that we need to provide the economic development and employment and all of these opportunities and a platform for expression so that we can fight or combat any form of radicalization or extremism, and also avoid the explosion that can go in many different directions, including God forbid full blown civil wars, as we saw in the tragic example of Syria, the worst humanitarian crisis in modern times, period. So to avoid this from happening, you need to have a change of mind. Now, whether the governments are going to come to this kind of realization, that is left to be seen, but I definitely certainly pray and hope that this will be the case. Because I don’t want to see a bloodbath. I don’t want to see civil wars. I don’t want to see innocent people being killed. I don’t want to see refugees, I don’t want to see rape. I don’t want to see wars. We don’t want these kinds of ugly things that are assailing us everywhere.

ABM: Yeah, this brings us back where we started, and I think we can finish with that. And that is where the Arab Spring is, and what lessons can be learned from the Arab Spring. This is exactly what you just said. The Arab Spring if anything, it teaches these governments that they need to wake up themselves and look at the population, look at the youth, which constitutes 70, 80 percent under the age of 25, and say to themselves, it’s only a question of time. What have we learned from the Arab Spring? How can we avoid another revulsion, another revolution, another bloodbath? And the only way to do it is to begin that kind of dialogue, and begin a process where the young men and women throughout the Arab world become part of this system, part of the process, in order to change the social dynamic.

SMK: There is no question about it. That means dialogue, dialogue, dialogue I think is the way to go. And I think unless more parties are open to this idea, open their eyes and hearts and minds to this idea of the importance of engaging in this kind of dialogue, we could not see much positive change. I very much hope and pray that there’s going to be more acceptance of this notion of openness and transparency, engaging in dialogue, in development, in true participation across the board. That would be the best way moving forward.

ABM: Exactly. Unfortunately, it may not come entirely from within. I mean it’s still those countries who depend to a great, some extent on the west. The West too ought to be nudging, or be pushing these leaders, tell them if you want to avoid a repeat of civil war in Syria, you want to avoid a repeat of what happened in Egypt and elsewhere, you’d better start to do something about it. But it all has to come from within, and has to be home-owned, home-grown.

SMK: Yes. Let me just make one last comment Alon, is the term Islamic radicalization. This term has been used a lot in the media. President Barack Obama refused to use the term Islamic radicalization, and the Pope actually said something very powerful. He said, don’t use the term Islamic radicalization, because if you do, then talk to me about Christian radicalization or Catholic—

ABM: Oh no, no, if I said that I didn’t mean it that way.

SMK: I know that you don’t buy into that, I know, but a lot of people, when they hear the term, just for your listeners, a lot of people when they hear the term, they automatically associate Islam as a religion with the idea of radicalization or extremism. So I always like to take the opportunity just to clarify this point, because radicalization or extremism is a mindset; it’s a frame of mind.

ABM: And it’s absolutely not limited to Muslims.

SMK: Or to any religion. If somebody says the Jewish extremist, I say wait a minute, Judaism is not about extremism. If some group of Jews happen to take the religion to a fanatical or extremist level, religion itself cannot be blamed.

ABM: Exactly.

SMK: We cannot say that’s Jewish extremism or Christian extremism or Islamic extremism, because that would mean that it’s the religion itself which is at fault. And it’s not.

ABM: No, no, absolutely. And talking about the three monotheistic religions, all of them preach peace, preach amity, preach friendship.

SMK: That can be a topic for another podcast.

ABM: And so there’s no question, there are those hypocrites within all communities who use religion as a tool by which to subjugate, by which to—

>SMK: Exactly. A tool to reach power and a tool to implement their own narratives.

ABM: ISIS is one example. Al-Qaeda’s another example.

SMK: We can think of many examples.

ABM: But I want to leave it on a positive note, I hope. And that is, when I see young men and women yearning for better days, and I feel strongly that the day will come, as long as they remain committed to what they’re feeling, and exactly what you just suggested before, they need to know their place and they need to know that they have rights.

SMK: Exactly.

ABM: And they need to know how to pursue and realize these rights. And the governments who are wise – any government in the Arab world that is wise enough to realize that they cannot sustain the current status quo, they must wake up also and begin this kind of process.

SMK: It seems to me that there are lessons for everybody to learn, right? There are lessons for the governments to learn, that they should learn exactly what you just said now, that suppression and repression does not cause stability, does not lead to stability. Because many of these regimes—

ABM: In fact the opposite.

SMK: Exactly. Many of the regimes say it’s either me or it’s anarchy, right, as Mubarak said for a long time. If I go, it’s going to become anarchy, it’s going to become chaos. They need to revisit this notion, that repression and suppression never leads to stability. It just leads to putting some kind of pressure on society. People are going to go underground. You’re going to become radicalized, and society itself is going to suffer big time, and all of a sudden you can have an explosion and you don’t even know which direction it is going to take you to. It’s going to become a disaster. So that’s a lesson for the government.

The lesson for young people is, it’s not enough to have the vision. You also have to have the tools and the means to implement this vision and take it to the right direction. So you must have strategic planning, and you must have coordination of different resources and coalition building to be able to implement your good vision and put it into good actions. And the lesson for intellectuals and academics and scholars is, we have to revisit many of these blind spots that we have been talking about today in terms of people in the diaspora, in terms of marginalized groups, in terms of the activism of youth and women, in terms of understanding the potential of all of these growing dynamic populations in this evolving region, in terms of revisiting what you just mentioned about the social and economic development and how it ties into all of these issues. These are also lessons for us as intellectuals, academics, and scholars, to re-think all of these notions. The cyber activists, they have to re-think about their tools and their means, right? Avoid things like clicktivism or slacktivism, the idea that by sharing the link, now you became an activist. Congratulations. Well it takes much more than that obviously. Right? So you need to think about your tools. Also, are they sufficient? Maybe they’re necessary but they’re not sufficient. So there are so many lessons for everybody. I hope everybody tries to really understand these lessons.

ABM: We hope so, and we hope there’ll be some kind of— Within each of these entities you mentioned, you need leadership, and that is unfortunately still lacking. But we have a role to play. People like yourself and myself, we have to talk more and more about it. The time has come, because we can all envision things, but we’re going to have to be able to try to define, to suggest some charts, some road. This is the path to take, and we hope that over time things will change without another revolution or without another civil war that has exacted so much pain.

SMK: And that’s why we need dialogue, right? I mean, me and you have been part of the Middle East Dialogue for many years now, and the whole idea of dialogue is to try to bring people together and try to have this kind of discussion and conversation. Because out of the inoculation of people’s ideas, that’s how you can get great ideas and get a much better path for peace and for development, which we hope is going to be the case.

ABM: Absolutely, and I fully agree with you. Thank you so much for taking the time.

SMK: Thank you.

ABM: No, the pleasure is mine, I’m glad we were able to swing it.

SMK: Thank you.

On the Issues Episode 16 (Part 2): David Rabinowitz

My guest today is David Rabinowitz, Director of the Mental Health Clinic at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel. He has worked as a psychiatrist in charge of psychiatric outpatient services in both South Africa and Israel, and has invested in the development and teaching of professional skills and approaches in community mental health care.

My discussion with him today focuses on the psychological dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A full transcript can be found below (edited for clarity).

Alon Ben-Meir: I am Alon Ben-Meir, and welcome to another episode of On the Issues. My guest today is David Rabinowitz, director of the mental health clinic at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel. He has worked as a psychiatrist in charge of psychiatric outpatient services in both South Africa and Israel, and has invested in the development and teaching of professional skills and approaches in community mental health care. You can find his full bio on the page for this episode.

What I wanted to talk about today is actually something that you and I have discussed several times in the past, and that is the psychological dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and look at it from a number of perspectives including history, religion, ideology, the mutual delegitimization, of course the concern over national identity, and what it is going to take to be able to reconcile these differences, if at all possible. So maybe we should begin with the history as we have discussed before. The historic narrative that the Israelis and the Palestinians have been using all along obviously contradicts one another, because they have developed such narratives that suits their objective, their goal, their purpose, and have been able to impart that to their own respective publics.

I think nowadays the majority of Israelis, perhaps the majority of Palestinians, actually believe in that kind of narrative that is certainly not accurate, but has been promoted in order to create a certain environment conducive to what the leadership would like to project. So what is that historic narrative from your perspective? How do you see that? I mean, I have my own views on it as well, of course.

David Rabinowitz: I do feel that a useful model to operate here is the idea of the Rashomon, based on that very famous Japanese movie, which has to do essentially with the subjectivity of perception. Because what is interesting is not that there are differing narratives, but those narratives are held with a passion and a certainty and a level of belief which often reaches the level of the sacred. And yet if we take just as an isolated example, what might have happened in the 1948 war is that certain events, this is clear, have been described differently by both sides.

ABM: Well that’s exactly the point.

DR: And we’re dealing however with the subjectivity of perception, first and foremost, which have been transformed into almost sacred narratives, believed with a passion and a certainty. To the point whereby I recall reading in the past when the Palestinians and Israelis did meet around the table, to deal with history, with their collective histories, it didn’t really resolve as a collective history even through the basis of dialogue. So the starting point is very problematic. The starting point is passionately held. Not just differing narratives, but passionately held narratives.

ABM: Yeah, passionately held narrative, this is exactly what it is, but here is what I see. That is, when you read the history, the way it’s been projected or written by the Israelis from their perspective, and you see that from the Palestinian perspective, this is like reading history and accepting it at face value, the way it’s been read, the way it’s been seen. And that obviously creates certain perceptions about one another. So how do you in fact mitigate that? In my view, and I’m sure you agree with that, you will not be able to bridge the gap between the two sides. Obviously history’s not the only impediment, we’ll be talking about other elements. But you cannot bridge the gap between the two sides unless you can create a narrative that is more or less acceptable to both sides.

Let’s talk about the real example here, in terms of the historical perspective. We can go back to 1917, from the time the Balfour Declaration was issued, one hundred years ago exactly. So from that time on, Palestinian resentment and narrative about Israel – what the Jews want to do and how are they going to go about it – has been written and established and promoted within the Palestinian body politic as well as the public itself. The 1948 and the Nakba, that is, the catastrophe that the Palestinians speak about, and that is from their perspective. Israel was the culprit that actually expelled the Palestinians from their own land, and occupied it. Whereas the Israelis maintain, know, that what happened is that the Palestinians left on their own, they had been encouraged by the leadership of the Arab states to leave, and come back for the spoils. So these are the two sets of narratives that have been juxtaposed to one another, and actually the discussion about these has been further deepened, and both sides have been trying over time to further prove this is the case. And obviously textbooks and, other than the public narrative is being now engrained in the mind of most Israelis and the Palestinians.

DR: I’m going to permit myself at this point to draw on the fact that I also have a separate life experience as a doctor in the field of mental health. And I permit myself to say it reminds me very strongly of how a couples therapists is to deal with a couple for whom one has had an affair outside of the marriage. The strategy of treatment is to bring the two to a point whereby they are able to draw a line and cease being historical.

ABM: Exactly.

DR: That is the key to it. Because I don’t think, I noticed that certain academics recognizing the complexity of the double narrative have attempted to propose bridging narratives. I don’t think bridging narratives are going to work because the ideas are too sacred. No one’s going to give up on them. But where it is possible is to shift the mindset from the past to the present and the future. But I have to qualify that by saying that it will not happen through persuasion. It will happen because something has changed. On both sides, that there is a will to do so. And what has to be changed to make the will is the problem.

ABM: The question here that you brought about, a couple, where the husband committed adultery.

DR: Can be the wife too.

ABM: OK, or the wife for that matter. Now what happened here, the fact that adultery has been committed, you cannot change. That is, to the extent that one or the other admitted that, you cannot change. The question now is, since this is a fact, can we in fact equate the history that is being manipulated, going back again to the formation of the state of Israel 1948? Can you in fact treat that as a fact, as if one or the other committed that kind of adultery that you cannot mitigate? You have to accept it and you have to move on by accepting it. In my view neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians, at least not at this juncture, are willing to abandon that whole narrative that they’re going to be proven, because neither side wants to admit that they were wrong in how they see history evolved from that point on. So that is one of the problems of course. That doesn’t suggest that it cannot be resolved. But I’m saying this is like a fact that cannot be disputed. The narrative can be adjusted or restated in order to reach any kind of process of reconciliation.

DR: Well let’s just identify it for a moment. Not so much what is required for change, but wherein lies the resistance to change. And I think an important factor in the resistance to change is that the political elites on both sides are invested in the stability of the narrative.

ABM: Yes.

DR: They don’t want the narrative to change for many reasons. Amongst other things is that those narratives are a source of political power. If the narratives change, political power is threatened. And I think that itself is a highly stabilizing factor. So therefore, I have to draw on something which I think came from you, Alon, in previous discussions, and that is, who is going to change the motivation for a rapprochement? It will not come from the political elites at this time. I don’t think the political elites want it, and it is in their best interest to maintain it. I remember in our previous discussions how you emphasized the importance of bottom-up. In other words, what about the populations? After all, the political elites are listening to their electorates in the democratic setting or in the social setting of the Palestinians.

ABM: And that’s I think a very important point, that the fear of change could compromise the position of the political elite, and the position they have been taking all along has to change. And since they themselves would not voluntarily change, two or three things will have to happen. A) a recognition that unless they change their narrative, things will continue to be stuck and there’ll be no progress. Right? But that’s changed, since they were not. And in my view, they will not do so voluntarily. Look at what’s been happening between the Israelis and Palestinians going back decades now.

DR: Absolutely.

ABM: Voluntarily, they did not change. Which means, what we talked about before is that the bottom up approach is still critical in my view to reconcile the historic narrative. Because on their own, they will not do that. That is, the political elite will not do that on their own, unless they’re faced with potentially catastrophic developments. That is, they want to prevent a catastrophic development. They may decide well, it’s better to change our approach rather than be faced with that catastrophe. And I don’t think that either the Israelis or the Palestinians today see the potential development of such catastrophe, albeit it may very well be in the offing.

DR: Now you see, we have to at this point mobilize additional concepts, because what you’re referring to as the potential catastrophe generated, or shall we say predicted by the current configuration, you and I see it, but the political elites do not. Or if they do, they have an interest in excluding it from the public narrative, because it affects their power base. I would like to add to that I think that there’s an additional reason, and that is the political elites on both sides are infused with intense ideological and religious convictions. An ideological or religious conviction has amongst other things, one of its functions is that it leads people to cherry pick data as they see fit. The right wing accuses the left wing of this as well, everyone accuses everyone of this. But I think it’s so clear that if the holiness of the land for the Israeli right-wing political elite is a powerful belief system, then they will have blind spots for everything else that interferes with their perception, and exactly the same on the other side.

ABM: Exactly, there is no question, you cannot single out the historic narrative and say, this is the only problem. That is, this has always been reinforced by what you just said. That is, there is a religious, ideological element that reinforces the narrative that they’ve been using all along. And so, naturally we can move to this, how religion in fact is further augmenting, strengthening the psychological impediment between the two sides. So we have the public narrative on one hand, and now they have to add to it the layer of religion – how religion is actually making that impediment much worse. And that is the Israelis, the Jews, and the Palestinians, from a religious perspective, they have a claim to the same land. And this is even more difficult to reconcile because it’s based on a set of beliefs.

So the question here is, whereas like I said before, you can rewrite some part of the history if you’re willing to admit that you have been misleading. You can change your ideology to suit you, to suit the time. We’ve seen ideologies – communism, fascism, all kinds of isms – that died because they failed to be able to get that kind of support, steady sustainable support, whether from the public or otherwise. So they disappeared, there was no support for it. Whereas with religion, you don’t have to concern yourself to prove anything. So here in my view, I’m not suggesting that you cannot reconcile the religious differences between the two sides. That’s a major, major element that’s preventing both sides from making the kind of compromises that’s going to be necessary. The question is, what sort of compromise can you advance from a religious perspective?

DR: Well, first of all, I have to make the picture worse. And that is that on the Israeli side, an important factor in my view is that right from the outset of the establishment of the state, religion was not separated from the state. And from the Palestinian side, what I understand, to my best understanding of Islam, is that it is inherently a political religion in that there is no clear distinction, as I understand it, between Islamic practice and government. The two somehow blend in a way that I don’t fully understand. Now here we come back to this remarkable thing we all notice from time to time, in this remarkable mirror imaging that takes place between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Both societies have an infusion of intense religious belief right up to the level of the political elites and the power structure, which means that we begin a greater difficulty, and that is the fact that religious sectors have political power and have the power to implement their own policies, and in this way influence government policy on both sides.

ABM: Exactly, exactly. Because when you use religion to augment, to support your political position, your political ideology for that matter, it’s extremely difficult to argue against it. That’s the whole point. So in Israel and among the Palestinians, religion was from day one part and parcel of the ideology and in terms of how that will translate to a political position. So that is, the Jews’ claim to all of the land, the ancient land of Israel is there, that has not changed. The current leadership continues to repeat that time and again. The Palestinian claim to Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, has not changed. That is something that is. And then both sides have actually meshed that into their political positions, which is making things extraordinarily difficult again.

DR: Yes. I think it’s important to add that, similar to the discussion on narratives. Implicit in this discussion is that whatever is being decided upon, at a political level, the eyes are cast backward to history. It is the word of Abraham and Isaac, it is the ancient prophets in Islam who are speaking all the time. In other words, when we’re talking about this, there are other people in the room metaphorically speaking. They are the forefathers and the prophets, and they’re there in the room playing a role in decision-making at one level or another. Now, I think all this simply adds to the fact that this adds to the complexity and that it makes it at face value impossible to talk about reconciliation. But, where I think that the issues still may lie, the sort of only hope in inverted commas that we may want to talk about over here is that in both societies there are strong secular dimensions, secular elements of the public who, perhaps we might say that they are too silent. We do not hear from them enough. I just want to add that I also see this in a way as linking to that old debate between modernity and the historical and religious past. There’s an enormous tension there that I think is also infused in this debate as well. And to what extent can modernity win out? Well, modernity, that is to say the secular public, or the moderate religious public, have an enormous task over here because they perceive the existing power structure infused with religion as monolithic and extremely, extremely powerful. Too powerful to model.

ABM: Exactly, I agree with you. I mean, that is exactly the situation today. And this argument has been very effective and is being used by both sides very, very effectively, and that’s another thing that adds another layer to the difficulty of convening a real process of reconciliation. I think one of the reasons that they are trying to avoid such a process, both Israelis and Palestinians, is because they know that they have to obviously compromise on the religious precept itself. Albeit not changing their set of beliefs, but finding a formula whereby they can still believe in what they believe, but leave some kind of room for compromise. Otherwise, there will be no future—for example, what is the future of Jerusalem? How are you going to resolve that aspect? Which means, whereas you have that set of beliefs, both sides have it, if we assume that this cannot ever be reconciled, then there is nothing to talk about. So we have therefore to find a formula, that is the process of reconciliation. The purpose of it is to look for a formula where you can in fact reconcile even a set of beliefs that usually are taken at face value, that’s for granted, that you cannot modify.

DR: Well, I certainly agree with that, but I like to put forward not – I think it’d be most arrogant to even suggest that there is a solution derived from political psychology, but I do think that there’s some questions to ask over here that may be relevant to finding the way forward. The first question is, what would it take. To bring, first of all the people, you’re talking grassroots, you’re talking bottom-up. What would it take to bring the people, predominantly into a here-and-now type mode, rather than an essentially historical mode. Because if people who influence their governments, not necessarily in the media sense, but it comes about if there’s a change at the level of the electorates, and the change at the level of the people, and we’re coming back to the first point in a certain way.

And really the question is, the moment such a thing could be brought about, the time frame, the time perception, alters from the past to the present and the future. Only then can one perhaps give religion its honored place and an honored place for the prophets, but re-focus the here-and-now on the pragmatics, and bring about further change at the level of the elites. This is very, very utopian what I’m saying, but I actually think there’s no other way. Given the circumstances of the moment, I actually think there’s no other way.

ABM: But you need to look at the religious perspective, the Israeli makeup population-wise in Israel. Better than half of the population are Jews, but they might called secular Jews.

DR: Yes.

ABM: And so they don’t bother actually in even dealing in any direct, effective way with the religious implication of the conflict. For them they see question of territory, who can have what, how to divide the territory, what sort of political system – they are not as concerned because they really don’t see it. Their perception of the conflict does not have a strong religious component. Whereas among the Palestinians, religion, as you said correctly, religion is part and parcel of the political process.

DR: Yes.

ABM: From bottom-up, all the way. Top to bottom, bottom-up. And that is a significant difference there. That is one of the reasons I feel very strongly that under no circumstance the Palestinians will accept any solution that will not grant them a capital in East Jerusalem. Because for them, that is something that you cannot compromise, you cannot mitigate. Whereas the Israelis, the secular, as we have seen during the negotiations between Olmert and Abbas, there was basically an agreement on the future of Jerusalem. There was an agreement, which granted the Palestinians a capital in East Jerusalem. So the Israelis can be more flexible from a religious perspective. The Palestinians will not be.

DR: Or you see, over here we’re touching a little bit on the zero-sum issue, because obviously no side can have hope to have Jerusalem exclusively for themselves. The issue here is the division of Jerusalem. That’s how I understand it. What I want to say on that, sorry, I think it’s a bit of a dangerous statement to make. Not so much the division of Jerusalem, but the sharing of Jerusalem. I think that’s better to say. Now, the thing is this. I’ve noticed, I’ve read that an enormous amount of effort has been poured into building proposals of a highly sophisticated and skilled nature, which could lead to the successful sharing of Jerusalem. The problem being that these proposals are essentially rational, whereas the religious component is not.

ABM: Yeah, but not only rational, I think it’s also practical. I’ve been saying all along, given the reality now in Jerusalem, how far the Israelis have gone in East Jerusalem, how many settlements they build there, the number of Israelis living in East Jerusalem, you have created now a set of conditions that is impossible to reverse. From any perspective, you cannot reverse it. Which means, in a way, that makes the solution to Jerusalem easier. Or depending on how you see it, much more difficult, from the Palestinian perspective. They continue to demand for example that the Israelis should be getting out of East Jerusalem, there will be no solution. Which means, if you accept now the reality that he’s talking about, how do you share the city? You share the city based on what exists today. That is, there is no way you can introduce major changes to the current status quo, and be able to agree. So the status quo will have to be accepted more or less the way it is. Which means, what is Israeli is Israeli, what is Palestinian is Palestinian, and both basically can have their cake and eat it at the same time.

What I’ve been saying this all along, you institutionalize what’s on the ground. And so the Palestinians can still have East Jerusalem, Israelis can still have West Jerusalem, that way you’re sharing the city, but everything else basically will remain the same. There’s no border, there are no fences, the city will remain precisely the way it is, united. And this is in my view one way you can mitigate one of the religious dimensions of the conflict, one aspect of the conflict. And that’s how I see it.

DR: Well you know that is of course a very creative approach, because as you correctly say, I’ll put it in slightly different terms, it permits ongoing perceptions which are not under assault.

ABM: Yeah.

DR: The Israelis can say it is all ours, the Palestinians can say it’s ours. And that’s really important. But I just have to add to that again, there is an intense religious involvement over here, which is monistic in its thinking and will not always permit creative solutions.

ABM: This is true.

DR: I mean, there’s a militancy here that is very problematic, arising out of a passionately held belief. And I think that the issue of faith versus reason is philosophically very complex.

ABM: This is true, obviously it’s very, very, very complex, and many philosophers try to tackle these issues. And once they reduce any political concept or religious concept into a reason, then it is no longer holy, it is no longer religious for that matter. So basically you’re reducing it to the human level, and that’s what both sides want to avoid at all costs. That is why I think to suggest that they can change their mind. The only thing is, if I were to negotiate now with a Palestinian on the religious perspective, I would say to them, look, you can go back to your forefathers, you admit Abraham, Jacob, Isaac were the prophets of both Jews and Muslims alike. Well, maybe God dictated, wanted that you, the Jews and Arabs, live in the same land. Because if God wanted otherwise, he would have not created this problem in the first place. So if you are a believer, you cannot pick and choose what you believe in. You understand what I’m saying?

DR: Well I think what I’m seeing, what you’re saying, are the seeds of a bridging narrative, at least at the religious level.

ABM: At the religious level. That’s exactly the point. Because you cannot change it, but you can change the narrative about it.

DR: Yes.

ABM: To create a common ground over which both sides can agree.

DR: Yes. In fact, you’re saying that those who can invest intellectually, politically, and theoretically in this area should do more because there are grounds for a bridging of the religious narrative, strangely enough, given the fact that the religious narratives on both sides are so rigid and entrenched.

ABM: That’s right.

DR: It’s a paradox.

ABM: Yeah. But there is a resolution to this particular paradox, that’s what I’m trying to say. And I think it’s there. And unfortunately, it has not been fully explored, and that is part of what you and I are talking about with a process of reconciliation. That is, you’re going to have to have that kind of dialogue about these particular issues, how you are going. Because notwithstanding who still believes in a two-state solution, they’re still going to have to face this.

DR: Yes.

ABM: How do you resolve this issue? Because it is there, it’s not going to disappear. So, I just want to move to the ideological conflict between the two sides. And here of course you have the Zionist, specifically the revision of Zionism that took over for all intents and purposes, at least in this current situation in Israel. And the idea here is that the Jews have the right to create their own state in that particular part of the world, and they’re invoking both historic and religious to prove, to show, to demonstrate, to insist on the fact that this is our land and it’s going to be all of it, not part of it. That’s the ideology that’s being held today with the right wing of the Israeli populace.

Now again here you have a question, how do you compare that, how do you reconcile that with the ideology that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority believe in, or try to promote? Because they have a different set, and I’m talking not religion now, not talking about history, but about ideology. Ideologically speaking, Hamas wants to get rid of Israel, wants to destroy Israel. That’s the ideology, that’s their political platform. The Palestinians—well, take it from there.

DR: Well you see, first of all I actually think that at heart, the Zionist ideology sprung from survival. I mean, its roots lie in survival.

ABM: Exactly.

DR: The older discourses, the historical discourses of the Jew in Europe, debating between assimilation and religion, and the third option of Zionism, all of this had to do with survival. What is the best way to survive in a given society? And I think that the survivalist instinct continues to be hidden within the Zionist ideology, it’s always there, in one form or another. But where I think the greatest importance about this, well let me step aside to one side for a moment and just say that I think that in certain respects ideology which is always present in politics, I mean it’s, no matter which politics, the real issue is the intensity of the conviction. And some ideologies are held with the conviction that people are willing to die for them, and blood is spilt over ideology. So let’s not trivialize it. It’s enormous.

ABM: No, it’s very powerful, and you put it very well. That is, the ideology here, it is driven by the Jews’ fear or concern over survival itself.

DR: Absolutely.

ABM: Absolutely this is exactly the case. Which means that is this is where the whole issue of National Security comes to play in Israel. That is, they attach borders to national security, their settlements are national security, their current political position is national security. And whether it’s genuine, even though it may not be genuine, does Israel really have that much concern about national security when it enjoys far greater powers over the Palestinians?

DR: That brings us to a ping pong you see, between on the one hand existential anxiety of the immediately operating kind. And the other one is also survival, which are really two sides of the same coin. Where I think that the Zionist ideology for example plays a very important role is that, when I think about, in the earlier years of the state, and even now, that again the Zionist ideology, the Palestinian ideology always have one thing in common, and that is the suppression of data, or suppression of the awareness of data that doesn’t fit the ideology.

ABM: Oh yes.

DR: And so in that sense, we are left again with this issue that— I mean the classical story when more contemporary historians began to look at documentation and found data which challenged the ideological perceptions of Zionism. Zionism reacted to that. It was very hard for them to accept that; in fact, some would have preferred the archives to remain closed. What is my point over here? Again we’re coming back to this issue that ideology feeds many things. It feeds the stuckness or the intransigence of the conflict, because ideology on the Zionist side has to do with survival on the one hand. But I have to add that Zionism also includes a kind of a revanchist approach, because the land that they didn’t get from the settlements in 1948 is still regarded as theirs, they want it back. It’s true that you could argue whether it’s revanchist in the sense the land was taken away and they want it back, certainly the Hamas ideology and to a certain extent the extremist Palestinian ideologies are clearly revanchist, and they want the land back. So certainly it is not only that there is distance between the two, but conflict. Ideology I think feeds conflict much more than religion, although religion plays no small role in this as well.

ABM: There’s no question, if you go back to the Zionist ideology from the very beginning, the whole motive behind the creation of the state of Israel, and that is, after years, centuries of persecution, expulsion, death, and all of that, the instinct for survival. That is, the time has come for us to have a state of our own in order to prevent these types of things from ever happening back to the Jews. But the problem with that, because it happened now in modern Israel, notwithstanding Israel’s military prowess and ability to deal with enemies in a very effective way, and has less reason to be concerned about survival itself per se. However, they fashion policies as such to support their concern over survival. I think this is one of the reasons you see this. What the government is doing today is taking action in the name of national security. You see the word national security invoked every single time the Israelis take this action or that action.

So this will bring us to the other point that I wanted to raise with you, which is the mutual dehumanization or victimization. And that’s all connected to the previous point. In many ways, to justify what you are doing, you have to deny the right, the existence, or for that matter to de-legitimize the other side in order to make your point, in order to solidify your position, and I think that both sides have been engaged in that systematically going from 1948 to even before that.

DR: Well you see I think this brings us right into the middle of an issue of perception, and that is the zero-sum perception. I’m stressing the word perception because I think it is wrong to see it in any other terms. The perception that if one side wins the other loses, is the recipe for ongoing conflict, and I notice, for example this is very overt in the Israeli public political discourse. I have clearly heard Netanyahu say that there are no two points of view. There is only one, and that is the Zionist narrative. That is the only correct narrative, there is no other. In other words, the zero-sum perception also is one which the political elites need on both sides because that maintains the past.

Now the thing is, this also, the zero-sum perception has its roots also in the double narrative, but I have to add an extra issue which we talked about previously in the different podcast, is the question of what has been referred to by a scholar as group narcissism. And that is the in-group versus the out-group. The point is that the in-group psychology in the political setting has amongst other things the devaluation and the delegitimization of the other side to the point whereby they are no longer seen as human, and can be killed or massacred.

ABM: Exactly. Exactly.

DR: And both sides hold to this.

ABM: Both sides hold to this, and in many ways they are executing that approach day in and day out. That is what, from the Israeli perspective, justified the annexation of more territory. They controlled the Palestinians in ways that can be at times very ruthless. It is all justified, and the Palestinians too see it that way—terrorizing the Jews, terrorizing the Israelis, is very legitimate because that is the only way they can actually balance what they are experiencing themselves. You see? And so this mutual delegitimization serves their ideological position, and it serves their also religious precepts as well.

DR: I have to add that, it’s not just that it serves the purpose of polarization. It also provides a legitimization for lethal action. I think it’s become part of the public narrative that many people have felt, that we see killing taking place every day in the IPC, Israel-Palestine conflict, killing is taking place every day, one way or another. And I see that as a direct consequence of this particular structure that we are talking about now, this pattern that we’re talking about. So it’s very, very malignant. It’s highly malignant.

ABM: And what the politicians are doing on both sides is making things worse. Because this is exactly— As a matter of fact, I think there is a deliberate pursuance of this particular aspect to the conflict, to keep it the way it is. I think this is where comes the idea from the Netanyahu government, where it actually believes that it can manage the conflict almost indefinitely.

DR: That’s right, yes.

ABM: That’s where it came from. That is, it continues to victimize the Palestinians, continues to portray them as illegitimate. They are people, but they are not a nation as Netanyahu’s father kept saying, and therefore they cannot have a state because they are just people who happen to be living there. They don’t constitute a nation. And that is what’s been constantly been said and repeated time and again. And obviously there’s a significant number of Israelis who bought into this argument.

DR: Yes indeed. I’m reminded in this context of the earlier slogans of Zionism at the time of the establishment of the state. And the classical one which fits right here in this discourse is ‘a people without a land, for a land without people.’

ABM: Yeah.

DR: Which I think fits this issue of delegitimization, dehumanization, and essentially we see this even in political terms where both sides are saying all the time, make the other side disappear.

ABM: Yeah, and there’s wishful thinking. That over time, something is going to give. And both sides, I really think as long as they continue to believe that they can in fact improve their position over time. Even though on the surface the Palestinians may seem like they are losing, they don’t see it that way. They feel that their consistency, their tenacity, their resistance, violent and otherwise will eventually prevail. Whereas the Israelis are doing everything possible in order to create new facts on the ground, to gain over time, they want to keep gaining over time. And both sides, as long as they feel they can continue to gain, they are not going to be willing to make the kind of compromise necessary in order to reach an agreement.

DR: Well I have to add, you see, that it’s been pointed out by many clever souls, many clever scholars, that power is aphrodisiac. And keeping power supersedes sometimes the interests of the state. I mean, here what we are saying is, we all see all the time that the public political discourse in Israel and in Palestinian society contains these themes that we’ve been discussing all the time. Because there are these things that constitute the theory upon which the political elites build political power.

ABM: Right, right.

DR: So if we want to talk about stuckness and intransigence of the IPC, I think all of these factors come together around that. I’m afraid it’s a somewhat cynical point of view, but I think it is correct.

ABM: That’s right. Now, I just want to add the other element that we talked about before, and that is national identity. I think for both Israelis and the Palestinians, their national identity is still in its infancy. And one of the reasons, at least one if not more than that, the continuing resistance to change the status quo is because there is the fight about defining what is my nationality, who am I. That is, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have been able to establish that identity, and understand it like say, there is an American national identity, there is a French national identity, but what is the Israeli national identity, by definition? And it’s still being formed. The same thing is with the Palestinians, still being formed. And the reason why they resist change is because they have not reached a point where they have formed a clear identity, who they are, what they are, what they want. And as long as that identity is still in its infancy, you’re going to see greater resistance. Do you agree with that?

DR: Not only do I agree with that, but I want to just add a bit of psychology substance to it.

ABM: Yeah.

DR: And that is this. I think it’s a truism, as a sort of guiding point you could say, that the less mature the political identity, the greater it is vulnerable or perceived to be vulnerable—
ABM: Perceived to be vulnerable, yeah.

DR: –and requires defenses against things that may interfere with the growth of their identity. French identity, Dutch identity, American identity, British identity, are taken for granted, in much the same way that, if the clock says 10 o’clock in the morning, it’s morning, no one questions it. It’s a given. But certainly I think it’s a very, very important point that identities are in fact vulnerable in the Middle East. Israel-Palestine, the Palestinian identity, although the Palestinians—I know that there’s discussion about this, but the consolidation of a more clear political identity of the Palestinians is relatively recent in political terms, in Israel as well. The political identity of the Jews does not go back two, four, five, or six thousand years, because there was a different identity. It was the identity of a people, the identity of a religion. But as a political– Now the point being, I’m just giving substance to what you’re saying.

ABM: You are right.

DR: I would even take a metaphor and say that political identity in Israel, and the Palestinian political identity are in a manner of speaking still in their adolescence. Adolescents are extremely resistant to having someone impose an identity on them.

ABM: And that doesn’t go back like you said centuries, it goes back really only less than a hundred years.

DR: Absolutely.

ABM: And that’s a hundred years in the scheme of things that are not a long enough time to establish that kind of identity that is going to, that they can settle on it and understand it and eventually become mutually recognized by one another. We are not there yet.

DR: I would like to also add a second component to this discourse, and that is, what constitutes a healthy identity? I think that I would probably best leave it to political scientists and philosophers to answer that kind of question. But I do think that a political identity is less than healthy if it is constantly dealing with death, destruction, and blood. And constantly dealing with aggression, and constantly dealing with conflict. This cannot be a healthy identity, and the real question is, what would constitute a healthy identity here? Well, I have no idea. But I do think that the building blocks of such a healthy identity will come about with a reduction of the conflict.

ABM: Exactly. But what happened here as long as both sides have certain claims. You see, their national identity now hangs on what is going to be the ultimate solution, so to speak. That is, as long as Israel still has certain claims, and the Palestinians have certain claims, there’s a direct link between those continuing claims that has not been satisfied, and reaching to where they realize. That is, they equate national identity with a state that is real, not challenged, and exists. And as long as, even among the Israelis, there is a state, but it’s still in flux. And the Palestinians have no state, so that national identity cannot be formed unless it is also defined by a geographic area. You know what I’m saying.

DR: There’s no clear border.

ABM: There’s no clear borders, and therefore you cannot identify as a nation as such, even though Israel doesn’t have also clear borders as yet. And until they get to a point where there’s an agreement, then you can say that they’re coming closer and closer to defining what is their national identity. Because I think that direct link to the land itself.

DR: Well you see I also want to at least keep into focus one step ahead, and that is not only what is the identity, but to what extent can each side feel that their identity is healthy. That they have trust in it. That they have faith in that identity. That they feel positive about that identity. They are proud to fly the flag. Not because of militancy or survival or humiliation, but for other reasons. And I think that it’s not there yet. In my view, it’s not there yet.

ABM: No, it’s not there. Let’s, finally you and I, I think agree that in the final analysis, all of these issues, these impediments, psychological, history, religion, ideology, the sense of delegitimization, etc. That is, if we believe that sooner or later some kind of solution needs to be found, we spoke about the need for a process of reconciliation. The question that I’m thinking now, given the most recent development both in the region and elsewhere, is the process of reconciliation still viable? Does it have to be preceded by some other development first, or who is going to bring about this kind of process of reconciliation, that is people-to-people? If the governments are not willing to reconcile, then the reconciliation will have to start from the bottom up – that is, between the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. And yes, there are elements, both among the Israeli society as well as the Palestinians, who are thinking in those terms . But I don’t know if they’ve gone far enough. And this is what you and I have been trying to promote all along. That is, we need that kind of process. And we need to create it so that Israelis and the Palestinians begin to look at one another from different lenses that not all Israelis are killers and soldiers ready to shoot, and not all Palestinians are terrorists ready to kill. And for that you’re going to need also the government to support that kind of process of reconciliation. And why I see now greater difficulties is because the governments themselves, neither Israel and the Palestinian Authority, certainly not Hamas, are willing to invest in this process.

DR: I have to quote something that you wrote some time ago. I forget exactly the article, but you stated that as long as Netanyahu and Abu Mazen hold the leaderships of their respective peoples, there will be no progress in this.

ABM: I absolutely believe that.

DR: And I think that it fits with the content of these discourse that we have, because both of them are needing—although we have to add with regard to the Palestinians also the question of Hamas, which is that much more malignant to any hope of reconciliation. But both sides have political elites that they are leading, for all the reasons we’ve discussed.

ABM: Yeah. And willing.

DR: Are not going to do it.

ABM: Yeah, they are either unwilling or unable to make the kind of concessions necessary, and before making these concessions they have to prepare the public. Hence we go back to the process of reconciliation. They are not willing to take these kinds of steps in order to lead both people to begin to want to see one another. So as long as Netanyahu, I repeat that, and Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas are in power, I don’t think we’re going to see this kind of process any time soon.

DR: Certainly not reconciliation.

ABM: Yeah, no. We’re going to have to see a change a government. And two governments that begin to look at the entire conflict from a different perspective, and ask the simple question that I have saying ad nauseam, coexistence is inevitable. They have to coexist, they can kill each other for another hundred years, or they can make peace with one another, but they are stuck with one another. And this is the choice that they will have to make.

DR: Well you see, I think that we have to go back to this question. I think that hope, if any, lies in segments of both societies that are far too silent. And that is the rational, secular, modern segments of society, and the religious moderates of those societies, who are there, they are too silent. I think on the Israeli side certainly they are silent for two reasons. One is that in terms of social class, those that are more educated and have better income are enjoying the fruits of a buoyant economy which is very stabilizing both in the good and the bad sense, and those that are not, at the lower echelons of the social class spectrum, are much more easily swayed by existential anxiety as mobilized by the political elites, and keep them in power. On the Palestinian side, I’m less sure, although I do believe that a hardscrable life and a middle class that is too small, actually, is also in a sense stable. People are too busy getting bread to worry about the big picture. So there’s a silence, that’s the point.

ABM: Yeah, I agree with you, but my feeling is that this type silence or complacency is not enduring. It cannot endure forever. Something will have to give in.

DR: So here’s the question – what will wake them up?

ABM: Go back – and I’m sorry to end this discussion – go back to what I’ve said before, something will have to shake both sides. And unfortunately, the only thing that’s going to shake them, given that there is lack of leadership—visionary, courageous leadership—what’s going to happen is probably a major, massive, violent confrontation, conflagration, that is going to shake up the status quo, and the people will be awakened to search for a better solution.

DR: Maybe I’ll say with a smile, maybe if they listen to this podcast, it may do something for them.

ABM: Thank you so much, David.

DR: It’s been a great pleasure, I very much enjoyed it. Thank you Alon.

On the Issues Episode 16 (Part 1): David Rabinowitz

My guest today is David Rabinowitz, Director of the Mental Health Clinic at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel. He has worked as a psychiatrist in charge of psychiatric outpatient services in both South Africa and Israel, and has invested in the development and teaching of professional skills and approaches in community mental health care.

My discussion with him today focuses on the psychological dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On the Issues Episode 15: David Schenker

My guest this week is David Schenker, Aufzien fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute.

Previously, he served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as Levant country director, the Pentagon’s top policy aide on the Arab countries of the Levant. In that capacity, he was responsible for advising the secretary and other senior Pentagon leadership on the military and political affairs of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories. He was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Civilian Service in 2005.

Prior to joining the government, Mr. Schenker was a research fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on Arab governance issues and a project coordinator a Bethesda-based contractor of large, centrally-funded USAID projects in Egypt and Jordan. In addition, he authored two Institute books: Dancing with Saddam: The Strategic Tango of Jordanian-Iraqi Relations (copublished with Lexington Books, 2003) and Palestinian Democracy and Governance: An Appraisal of the Legislative Council (2001). More recently, he published a chapter on U.S.-Lebanese relations in Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave, 2009), and Egypt’s Enduring Challenges (2011), a monograph focusing on post-Mubarak Egypt. His writings on Arab affairs have also appeared in a number of prominent scholarly journals and newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and Jerusalem Post.


I am Alon Ben-Meir, and welcome to another episode of ‘On the Issues’. My guest today is David Schenker, Director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute. Previously, he served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as Levant country director, the Pentagon’s top policy aide on the Arab countries of the Levant—where he was responsible for advising the secretary and other senior Pentagon leadership on the military and political affairs of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories.

Alon Ben-Meir: I met with Fred [Hof] of course, just now we talked a lot about Syria, and perhaps we can talk about more regionally—Israeli-Palestinian—

David Schenker: Sure.

ABM: I want to start with the question of Jerusalem. Of course as I see it, to make such a move could be disastrous. On the one hand, in terms of what would be the reaction of the Palestinians, but even more so the Arab World. Saudi Arabia and Jordan in particular, they’ll be outraged to say the least. I had the idea, and I sort of bounced it, that if he still wants to make the move, how can we use that as a means by which to achieve even almost a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian conflict? If he were to say, we have land there—the United States purchased land in West Jerusalem on which the plan was to build an American embassy there, but of course from one administration to another, everything has been delayed and delayed—we are going to start building the embassy. And if there is progress in the peace process between the two sides, we will reserve space to allow the Palestinians to have their capital in East Jerusalem.
Suppose this would have been the approach. My feeling was that if he were to take this approach—and I passed it on to very top people, and they were really excited about the prospect in terms of, he’s basically conditioning the move on the fact, that is, we are building the embassy so the Palestinians can see movement in that direction. It is no longer just talk, but is also providing the opening. If there is progress and you move toward a peace agreement, well we will look into it, that the Palestinian capital will be still there while maintaining the unity of Jerusalem. Nothing will change. Basically what is Israeli is Israeli, including East Jerusalem. What is the Palestinians’ is the Palestinians’. The city will remain united, a single city, but it’ll have one municipality here, one municipality there, and they will find a way of course to work it out administratively and in terms of security and all of that.
From my perspective, when I used to go in the 80s and the 90s before this mess of increased terrorism, I wrote many pieces that Jerusalem represents in my view the microcosm of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. You couldn’t tell then who was an Israeli and who was a Palestinian. The people were moving from Israel to the West Bank, and back and forth. And Jerusalem was the center of peace. People actually coexisted very peacefully and to me, this is how the Israeli-Palestinian coexistence should be, is going to look like. There’s a political border, but there’s no physical border per-se. A Palestinian citizen is going to vote and be elected in Palestine, and Israelis are— But there will be intermingling work here. That’s how I saw it, that is the piece I wrote. But I didn’t publish it yet because I wanted to channel it to the right people. What’s your take on it?

DS: Well, there’s a couple of issues. I think Trump is convinced that this is something that should be done. People in Washington ask well, what can they get from Israel for this. Because traditionally if you get a big gift from the United States, something like this, there would be a request on the backside from Israel, but there hasn’t been anything. Now I don’t necessarily think that you have to. I mean, what you’re proposing in a way is changing the status quo, right. There’s no change in the status quo by moving the U.S. embassy to West Jerusalem. Right? Even Arafat recognized that West Jerusalem was going to be part of Israel, right. This was never—

ABM: This is true, but more symbolically, moving the embassy anywhere in Jerusalem for them represents recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

DS: Well, there’s an issue of perception. Of course the U.S. consul general, which is the highest representation, is in East Jerusalem, right? So let’s put that aside for a second. I think that if you wanted to ask the Israelis for something, you could potentially. I don’t think you’re going to get from this government in Israel a commitment that East Jerusalem will be the capital, that we’re going to deal with issues of sovereignty or division of Jerusalem. Now, most Israelis as you know would be willing to divide Israel. More Israelis anyway would be willing to divide Jerusalem and have two capitals there, than be willing to cede the Golan back to the Syrians.

ABM: I mean in every negotiation in the past, when the discussion on Jerusalem was on the table, there was an agreement in principle that Jerusalem was going to be basically a capital of two states.

DS: I think what you’d need for the Israelis to make some sort of enormous move in that regard would be some sign of good faith from the Palestinian side. Remember, we’ve been frozen now essentially since day one of the Obama administration, when the administration basically forced Netanyahu to have what was the deepest settlement freeze in the history of Israel, of a modern Likud politics. He did it, and Mahmoud Abbas said ‘hey, why the hell am I going to give Israel anything right now, I got this great settlement freeze,’ and they wasted a year. And you couldn’t twist the Israelis’ arms anymore after that point. This was a failure obviously of the Obama administration.
Now, maybe the Palestinians will be so discouraged from the Trump administration that they’ll be more willing to make their own concessions, which, maybe you can get from the Israelis another settlement freeze, maybe within the current boundaries of the settlements. No new—you can get something if the White House engages, but they’re not going to ask for anything unless you get something very serious from the Palestinians. And I think this embassy move is something that the Israelis are I think happy about – the government is happy about. But for most people, it’s probably not that big a deal.

ABM: Yeah, but it also seems at this point, I think, that the Trump administration is sort of moving back from moving the embassy.

DS: There’s going to be a process.

ABM: There’s going to be a long process, so they’re talking about the process. My feeling was that if they were to incorporate this into that kind of thinking, into that kind of process, they’re going to send a clear message to the Palestinians, hey we’re thinking about you, we believe still in a two-state solution. We can move in that direction, but you need to make yourself stop incitement, stop this, stop that. Do the kind of thing, begin infrastructure, build your real infrastructure, in order for us to make that kind of— I mean that’s where I’m coming from.

DS: The big deal for me is that you really have to work with the Jordanians on this, right. You have this Jordanian special relationship with Jerusalem that goes back to Mecca and Medina. Then you had the annexation in 1950 of the West Bank and the declared sovereignty over Jerusalem by the Jordanians. They stepped back from that in 1994, the peace agreement includes that. They still derive some of their legitimacy from their guardianship role in Jerusalem. I think you have to have the U.S. government, regardless of what happens, continue to reiterate that the Jordanian role in Jerusalem is a priority, that there’s no change in status quo of the holy spots.

ABM: There’s no doubt.

DS: But the Palestinians can be a real spoiler here, and I’m not talking about the 60 percent or more of Jordan that is of Palestinian origin. I’m talking about the Palestinian Authority deliberately trying to shake the neighbors through incitement because of this embassy move. That’s very dangerous and something that I think should be punished, frankly. The Palestinians could play a real spoiler role here, and the United States can talk to the Palestinians and make their own commitments to what they’re willing to do and what they’re willing to advocate for on behalf of the Palestinians. But if the P.A. chooses to go along with Iran, to say that this is the destruction of al-Aqsa Mosque, I mean you can imagine what they’re going to say when this happens. Then I think there has to be a pretty big penalty that’s imposed from the United States for shaking the stability of the neighbors.

ABM: Yes, this is true, but let’s leave Jerusalem for a moment. You know the whole discussion we’re trying to establish, I’ve been trying and thinking about it, talking and writing so much about it. My feeling was—and I’ve actually been very much involved with the French organizing this conference and suggested a proposal in terms—my feeling is that, I want to just hear your take on this. That is, we first need to establish whether the Palestinians in fact want a two-state solution. So there’s that in the Israeli mind, whether this is in fact what Mahmoud Abbas would like to see as the endgame. It will be a Palestinian state more or less in the West Bank with some major, certainly land swaps, etc. My position is that even if both sides agree to the principle, I don’t believe Netanyahu would like to see a Palestinian state under his watch either. But even if there is that kind of decision, that kind of commitment to a two-state solution on the part of both sides, they cannot possibly sit today and negotiate that because of the very deep distrust between the two sides, because of a very deep sense of insecurity both sides have. Both sides, not just the Israelis. The Israelis will have that because of historic experiences. But the Palestinians feel just as insecure, if not more so, than the Israelis. And then of course you have these two constituencies, both the extremists in Israel, settlers and their supporters. And then you have Hamas on the part of the Palestinians, who still envision that they are going to have all of Palestine, Israel and Palestine together.
So you have these three elements at play, and no one can actually deny that this is justified. So to be able to begin any kind of serious process, to negotiate seriously and reach some kind of an agreement, you’re going to need first a process of reconciliation. That’s up and coming. What I’ve been saying all along is that if you don’t have that kind of process of reconciliation, whereby you can mitigate questions of distrust, or at least a process of mitigating distrust, and begin to mitigate concerns over national security, stopping incitement on the part of the Palestinians, and taking measures to convince Israelis that there’s not going to be another Hamasistan in the West Bank, so to speak. And then disabuse—

DS: I mean, can you convince the Israelis there’s not going to be a Hamasistan in the West Bank?

ABM: No, what I’m saying is not the argument.

DS: That there is no Israeli occupation of the West Bank; you probably already have a Hamasistan there.

ABM: This, but I’m saying it’s only through a process. That is, you cannot discuss trust and say ‘from now on I’m going to trust you,’ that’s not going to happen. You cannot distrust security and say, ‘from now on, our security is guaranteed, your security is—‘ That’s not going to happen. That’s what I’m saying, you need a process of reconciliation for a period of time before they actually can sit down and negotiate. Now if they’re not prepared to go through that kind of process, to me it’s a clear indication that neither side is in fact willing to see the end game, which is a two-state solution. That is, if you’re not prepared to prepare the ground for what eventually needs to happen, should happen, which is two states—that’s the goal, that’s the objective. That’s what Netanyahu says. That’s what Mahmoud Abbas says. But they are taking zero action. In fact, they’re doing everything the opposite, to widen the gap rather than narrow the gap. What I’ve been saying to the French in preparation for that, I said if you do if you want to be helpful, introduce the concept of reconciliation first for two years, three years, and make sure that two sides will actually be prepared to go through that kind of process.

DS: Yeah, it’s pretty hard to get a process of reconciliation going when you have stuff like what happened in the U.N. Security Council. People come and declare the settlements, whatever they’re going to declare them, and laid the ground for more lawfare I think that while it may not be people knifing one another, I think the Israelis view this as a full-on attack by Palestinians.

ABM: Yes, but Israel invited that kind of resolution; Israel is inviting the European resistance to this whole thing. You cannot say that Israel is an innocent party here. Netanyahu is working very, very hard. I mean, his ambitions are probably just realizing what Shamir at the time was advocating. Let’s put one million Israelis – they’re coming very close to this number in the West Bank – create irreversible facts on the ground. And that’s the end, there will be de facto no Palestinian state anymore. My feeling is that if the Trump administration begins to think in those terms, rather than thinking ‘let’s get the parties to sit down and negotiate,’ whether Kushner’s involved or [unclear] involved, I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere.

DS: You know, I think actually Bush had this right, which was essentially saying OK, you have settlement blocks. The Palestinians have centrally agreed to territorial swaps and you can build as many buildings and high as you want to build them, and just why does he want to build them with it as long as they remain within these current existing boundaries, right? If you want to build another room on your house, this is not building a settlement. If you want to build another floor on your apartment building going up, this is not building settlements. I think President Bush worked out this deal with Elliott Abrams, with Ariel Sharon, and they all accepted it. And that actually makes a great deal of sense. I don’t know why parties persist in saying that this is somehow a bad solution to the problem. If you’ve already agreed on territorial swaps, then what would be the problem with that and declaring these more settlements? And now these are cities in any event. We’re talking about these big blocks, tens of thousands of people.

ABM: Of course, these are cities.

DS: We can talk if you want about the hilltops and about the Israeli government in the Knesset now changing the laws in Israel about settlements and things like that. Then I think they present more problems in the international community—

ABM: Well of course.

DS: But of course the international community was never interested, no matter what Israel does it’s not going to really be quite enough, right? I mean, the fact that the UN Human Rights Commission has triple the condemnations [of Israel] last year than it had of Syria or Russia or the Assad regime, I mean it’s ludicrous.

ABM: Yeah, but what would you do? You are watching from the outside. OK. There was an agreement on land swaps in every negotiation that took place since 2000 at Camp David, there’s no doubt about it. And Israel today is claiming we are building in existing settlements, we’re not building new ones. We have merely, to accommodate natural growth in the settlement. And so the Palestinians should not be complaining, they’re not changing the geography.

DS: Right.

ABM: The problem with the Palestinians, as Israelis all along also insisted, it’s got to be one agreement. That is, you cannot unilaterally continue to expand or build in these settlements unless it is part and parcel of a general agreement. What is it going to be the precise land swap? What’s going to take place? How contiguous is it going to be? The quality of the land—there was no real agreement on these issues. And when I talked to the Palestinians, they said we agreed to the land swaps. We understand that Israelis need to expand this for natural growth. But that’s got to be part and parcel of any agreement that we are going to have.
The problem is, and I think they raise it, and tell me what you think please. They are saying during the negotiation under the U.S. auspices with Kerry twice, Israel insisted on starting the negotiations on national security. And the Palestinians are saying, ‘well, we’re going to negotiate, let’s start with the contours of what the Palestinian state is going to look like.’ So once we establish the land swap, then even if the agreement is not totally completed, once there are the contours of the state, you can continue to build in these, once they have that kind of understanding. But Netanyahu refused to start with establishing what a Palestinian state is going to look like. There were many other issues, how the negotiation went bad. The rules of engagement were a mess as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think anything has changed. But I’d like you to tell me what you think, we cannot think in terms of the Netanyahu government or the right-of-center, and Israel is going to remain forever. I mean it’s going to change, something is going to change.

DS: What, to right-of-center? Lapid or someone like that?

ABM: Possibly center, if not right. Well, right now they are right-of-center, but let’s say center, perhaps slightly left-of-center.

DS: How?

ABM: Well this is the problem. I mean—

DS: I mean, that’s like saying that Congress is going to change to Democrat in two years. Right? I mean—

ABM: Well it’s possible.

DS: Well it’s possible. But if you look at the seats that are up, it looks like it’s going the other way in the Senate, et cetera. You know—

ABM: I mean, we can’t rule the possibility that the Israeli opposition comes to their senses, that one morning, Herzog and Lapid and others say look, enough is enough. We better organize ourselves. In five years, it’s going to be way too late. And let us have a united one single agenda. This is going to be our agenda, let’s campaign on this agenda, tell the Israelis the truth about the eventuality. If no peace is established with the Palestinians, where will Israel will be five, ten, fifteen years down the line?
So I’m not saying that Israel is wrong or right. What I’m saying is in terms of looking at it. If you believe in a two-state solution, you’ve got to think in those terms today, what are the steps you need to take in order to get you in that direction. When you ask Israeli officials, Bennett and others, where do you think Israel will be in five or ten years, they don’t have an answer. They really don’t know. They have an illusion, we’re going to take over the entire West Bank, but what are you going to do with the Palestinians? Are they going to disappear? What would you tell Netanyahu today about his plan? What his plan does—I’m serious, if he were to ask you.

DS: Everybody comes up, everyone’s got their, what they call here their alternative facts, but the numbers are in dispute. But if you listen to what President Obama says, or Secretary of State Kerry, that it’s not going to be able to be a democratic and Jewish state, I think there are many in Israel who would disagree with that. Based on the numbers that I’ve seen, I don’t think I’d want to be absorbing the West Bank into Israel. I think it poses a grave demographic threat. But if you want to maintain the Jewish character of the state, right? You’re already got 20 percent non-Jewish in Israel proper, within the Green Line. But maybe they’re planning on getting another million Russians. I don’t know.

ABM: No, but I’m serious, what’s your real— If you were to sit in with Netanyahu, sure you were to advise him. I’m not being facetious about it, seriously.

DS: Israelis vote based on whether they believe that they have a peace partner, right. This is why they voted for Rabin. They voted for people on the left, they voted for people on the right, but that generally has changed over time based on whether they think that Arafat was a peace partner, whether he was not a peace partner. And I don’t think any Israelis really think that Mahmoud Abbas is going to be the guy that makes that concession on the right of return. For example the quote-unquote—

ABM: No, I agree with you. I don’t think either Abbas or Netanyahu will be the leaders who will achieve an agreement.

DS: So if you’re going to take the old line, the old saw from the Clinton administration, you have to take risks for peace. And I think that many Israelis probably say, and I don’t do a great deal of work on Israel. I mean, I follow it, but I spent a lot more time in Lebanon than I do in Israel. But my sense is that many Israelis say, well they took a great risk for peace and it didn’t work out, and most of them say it was not our fault that we wanted— We signed Oslo, we gave them territory A, we wanted to give them territory B, and we just didn’t have a partner. Right? We gave them territory. They tried to [unclear], they tried to bring in weapons. They launched an intifada. And that’s sad.

ABM: Well that is an argument that is—

DS: Well, but I think a lot of, perhaps the majority of Israelis buy that.

ABM: They buy that, albeit it is not the truth in terms of how Israelis left Gaza, under what condition, with no agreement, overnight, without any security arrangement, without any economic arrangement. I mean, what do you expect? Hamas won the election. They feel they are entitled. It’s been stolen away from them. I mean, that’s how it is, that’s how the Israelis— But the Israelis swallow the narrative of a government, successive. Look what’s happening in Gaza, should we create another one in the West Bank? And we’re saying, well if you want to make a deal with the West Bank, you’re not going to withdraw overnight. It’ll take 10 years. You have to establish such a solid, strong relationship between the two sides to develop such a very strong, vested interest by both parties that peace is the only practical alternative.

DS: Kind of a three-state solution, right? Israel and the West Bank. And then you know Gaza, the land of Gaza. Yeah, poor Gazans really. I mean—

ABM: The Israelis resigned themselves to the fact that Gaza will be a state, and they will not object to that. They have no interest in Gaza, other than to keep it peaceful. And if Hamas want to have a state, let him have a state as long as they stop building tunnels and stop provoking Israel. That’s what I hear.

DS: Well, yeah, as long as a leopard changes its stripes. It’s not a leopard anymore. This is not Hamas at that point. Right?

ABM: I want to take advantage of your time a little bit because your field in Lebanon. And, what is your take, I mean Lebanon is basically two states to a great extent.

DS: They used to call it a house of many mansions.

ABM: Yeah, house of many mansions is more so. I don’t anticipate Hezbollah any time soon to regroup. We don’t know what’s going to be in Syria. And they have not gotten so deep into Syria. But at one point, where do you see this going in Lebanon? From the future of Lebanon as an entity and the future of Hezbollah, let us say they are—I want to start with the proposition, let us say they are going to come back at one point. Where that’s going to go?

DS: Listen, Hezbollah has experienced great losses in Syria. Fifteen hundred or more soldiers, militiamen being killed, but they’ve also developed new capabilities, right. The ability to move and fire, logistics, mobility, things that they didn’t have before. I mean, they were basically an ambush force in Lebanon. Now they are an expeditionary force, and they have absorbed the casualties. Many people at home in Lebanon are not happy about that. They’re going to be deployed in Syria for some time.

ABM: Exactly, yeah.

DS: But when these guys come home, the question is, what are they going to do. Well, some of them will be dispatched, deployed elsewhere by Iran. Right. These guys have been through Yemen, they’ve been through Iraq. We’ll see where they put them next right. They are now part of Iran’s Expeditionary Force that includes the Iranian-backed Shiite militias of Iraq, what they call the Afghani Fatimids, these Afghanistan Shiites who are fighting all over the region. But if they go back to Lebanon, I think these guys are unemployed, right? And not employable necessarily. They create a bit of a problem potentially for Hezbollah at home. These guys are warriors, battle hardened Hezbollahhis that were getting battle pay and status on the battlefield, and can’t read or write back at home, don’t necessarily have any prospects, employment opportunities, integration into society, and Hezbollah may not be in a position to pay for these folks, depending on what type of largesse Iran continues to provide after the operations start to wind down in Syria. Nonetheless, they are somewhat constrained.
If you remember back in 2006 when Hezbollah and Israel went to war for 34 days, Hezbollah essentially was free to operate from Lebanon, from the south. And their constituents who live in the south fled by and large to the north. They went to Beirut, they went to Dahieh, they went elsewhere in Lebanon and were taken in by the Sunnis and the Christians. And they went to Syria, where they were taken in by the Syrians. But the problem is, after helping to kill the better part of 500,000 mostly Sunni Muslims in Syria, Hezbollah is not going to be welcome in many places in Lebanon, and they can’t go to Syria. And I’m talking about the Shia. So Hezbollah can’t necessarily turn their attentions immediately to Israel. They can try and have this sort of base of operations from the Syrian Golan, but I don’t think Israel is going to buy that. I think Israel will retaliate against Hezbollah, not only in the Golan but also—

ABM: Anywhere.

DS: —in Lebanon, for their operations, yeah, both. Syria certainly. But I think it’s something that is more serious. Israel will have no compunction to go after Hezbollah in Lebanon. So Nasrallah is not an idiot, and he has constituents, and he cares about what the Shia in Lebanon think about Hezbollah. So this is a problem. On the other hand, you have the politics of Lebanon. You now have a new president who is nominally aligned with Hezbollah, but is not as we know entirely reliable, right? [Michel] Aoun is a proven megalomaniac. We don’t know what he’ll do. I mean even Michel Suleiman, the former Lebanese president who was the head of the General Staff, head of the Lebanese Armed Forces, Hezbollah approved him and he was great for five years, or Hezbollah thought he was doing just a fine job for four or five years, and then he started to say bad things about the resistance and all of a sudden Suleiman was no good. And I think with Aoun, this guy’s a wild card, uncontrollable. We’ll see where he goes. Hezbollah’s position in the government is assured, but this is basically a hamstrung government. They can’t even decide on the new electoral law to go back to elections.

ABM: That’s right, yes.

DS: They want to do all this offshore drilling, like Israel has all of this natural gas. There’s supposedly a couple billions of dollars worth of gas and oil offshore and Lebanon, 5000 feet under the Mediterranean. But who’s going to bid on that, right? The oil prices are low. The gas prices are low right now, and it’s volatile. Hezbollah keeps on threatening, it has a history of threatening Israeli gas facilities. They can’t put up the bid on these sites on the border because Lebanon refuses to delineate its border. This may be more trouble than anybody wants. Then you add on top of that the Americans and everybody else is telling the Lebanese, ‘hey, if you want to export this, Israel’s building a pipeline to Turkey, share the pipeline with them.’ The Lebanese say ‘no, we’re at war with Israel.’ And so therefore they’re going to send the stuff back to shore. They’re going to have to build an LNG facility. They’re going to put this stuff on a boat and they’re going to price themselves out of the market and nobody’s going to bid on these gas fields. So as they say, it’s a shame for Lebanon, and poor Lebanon, right? They are so remarkable in so many ways, so entrepreneurial, such a vibrant society, and yet they have these sort of intractable problems are their own worst enemies.

ABM: Yeah. I mean also demographically, the Muslims are much larger, at least 60 percent now of Lebanon, 55 percent?

DS: More. I mean, listen, Lebanon’s last census was in 1943. So we don’t really know. But some people know, they have voter rolls, some people have to go back to their villages and vote in Lebanon and they vote based on their sect. And it’s widely believed that the Shia are something like 38 percent, the Sunni are like 35 percent now. Christians and tiny population of Druze, and different kinds of Christians. But the Christians are still a sizable percentage of the population, but they’re not believed to be any longer the majority. And Taif gives them 50 percent of the parliament and the Office of the President. The Premier is a Sunni, the speaker of the parliament. The same arrangement, except now the president’s office is weak.

ABM: Yeah, much weaker.

DS: Very weak. And he’s a symbol of the nation but he has no power, just for appointments and things like that, and appointments for ambassadors. So the Christians, they can vote from abroad, but they still play an enormous role in the state. And they’re trying to have a new electoral law which some of the Shiites want, Hezbollah wants to change it so that it’s proportionality, right? They’re going to sort of reopen the can of worms on this Taif accord. But—

ABM: But it will be dominantly Muslim.

DS: Well, it’s dominantly Muslim in a way right now, because even though 60 of those seats in parliament out of the 120 are Christian, the vast majority of them are elected by Sunnis. 30 of them, 30 of those seats are elected by Sunnis, or Shiites.

ABM: But the question is, will they accept it? I mean, whether Hezbollah and the Sunnis would accept that kind of political arrangement, for how much longer will they go along with it? How do you see it?

DS: Well, listen I think that some people are pushing to reopen Taif, change the electoral law. I mean, the electoral law I think is genuinely bad, it’s the remnants of the Syrians, that intentionally sought to weaken the Christians in Lebanon. They can make some minor changes. I’m not sure they’re going to get consensus on this. Not the least reason why is because people like Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader of Lebanon, if they went to strict proportionality he would lose seats in parliament, etc., and lose his own sort of political key, swing vote in the parliament. So I’m not sure he’d be willing to accept that either. But I think there’s a general trepidation about reopening this, right? You’ve not had surprisingly, right, even though Hezbollah has helped kill all these Sunni Muslims next door, Lebanon’s been pretty quiet too.

ABM: Very surprising.

DS: Two years ago, you had nineteen attacks, suicide bombs, car bombs, things like that. But you haven’t really had anything over the past year and a half.

ABM: To what do you attribute that?

DS: Well, a couple of things. One is that you’ve had the Sunni Minister of Interior, Nouhad Machnouk, has been in close cooperation with Hezbollah. You have the United States that is providing not only intelligence but $100 to $150 million a year to the Lebanese armed forces and intelligence sharing with the Lebanese armed forces, and they’re sharing it with Hezbollah in turn. Right. They have an effective security apparatus at home, and everybody’s cooperating to fight Sunni extremism. Now in the long run, I think the Sunnis in Lebanon are going to get bent out of shape about this arrangement. You have the poorest people in Lebanon is also one of these sort of old things that oh, that the Shia are the downtrodden. This is back in the days of Musa Sadr. Not anymore. The Shia are doing quite fine thank you. Go up north in Lebanon, to Sunni areas north of Tripoli. Fifty percent of the homes don’t have indoor plumbing.
I was up there on the border in Wadi Khaled on the Syrian border, saw all these Syrian refugees, and these refugees are destitute, right. They get $125 a month if they’re lucky for a family of 10, from the United Nations, almost nothing. And then you go visit a Lebanese family up there and they’re saying, ‘hey, how come these refugees are getting so much and I’m getting nothing.’ These guys don’t have running water. Nobody in the family is employed. It’s awful. So it’s really the Sunnis that are in the worse shape. Sooner or later I think they’re going to get annoyed about getting pushed around by the Shia, by Hezbollah. But we’ve only seen small pockets of that. And everybody has agreed that the big enemy are the Takfiris, right? They bought the Hezbollah line. Personally, Sunni extremists are a problem, but so are Shiite extremists. And I think Lebanon’s a state that can’t do anything about that. Part of the problem there is that for the past eight years, the Obama administration didn’t have a Lebanon policy. Right, they had no goals, no focus, no attention, the sole element of U.S. policy in Lebanon was, well let’s say two. One is we’re going to give the LAF, the Lebanese Armed Forces, $100, $150 million a year, buy them some weapons, give them some money for the Internal Security Forces’ domestic counterterrorism mission. And the other thing is that we’re going to do some financial sanctions against Hezbollah. Other than that there was no Lebanon policy, and I think it was a real wasted period of time, because in 2009 the Lebanese went to the ballot boxes and they voted in the pro-West parliament. The good guys beat Hezbollah, and we didn’t do anything.

ABM: I don’t think the Trump administration’s going to do any different. Do you think they’re going to change any policy towards Lebanon? Do they have the time at this juncture to even think about Lebanon for that matter?

DS: Well, let’s see. You know, if you listen to what people like [Secretary of Defense] Mattis has been saying, that we’re going to have to push back against Iran in the region about its regional destabilization, about its sort of predatory foreign policy, part of that will be to not only militarily take some actions in places like the Gulf, when the Iranian fast boats harass U.S. destroyers and things like that, but there’s other steps political steps, other types of ways we can push back against Iran. One of those places that traditionally the Bush administration certainly competed with the Iranians was in Lebanon. And I think it was productive to do so. We didn’t win, but we participated in the battle of ideas, and I think that there will be some in the Trump administration that want to do this. I mean, you just got Joel Rayburn appointed director of the NSC. He’s interested in Lebanon—I don’t know what he’s going to do, but he’s a smart guy, a former Colonel who’s done a lot of work on Lebanon, among other issues. So maybe they’ll engage on this. I hope so.

ABM: Yeah well we’ll see. We’ll see what is going to happen. Thank you so much.

DS: Oh my pleasure.

ABM: Thank you so much.

On the Issues Episode 14 (Part 2): Daniel Bar-Tal

My latest guest is Dr. Daniel Bar-Tal, Professor Emeritus at the School of Education, Tel Aviv University.

Dr. Bar-Tal received his graduate training in social psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, and completed his doctoral thesis in 1974. He previously served as a Director of the Walter Lebach Research Institute for Jewish-Arab Coexistence through Education, Tel Aviv University and as President of the International Society of Political Psychology, and was Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Palestine Israel Journal. He has won numerous awards, including the Alexander George Award of the International Society of Political Psychology, Nevitt Sanford Award of the International Society of Political Psychology, and Morton Deutsch Conflict Resolution Award of the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence. He was awarded the Golestan Fellowship at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences in 2000-2001, and in 2013 received honorary membership in the Polish Society of Social Psychology.

Since the early eighties his interest has shifted to political psychology and the study of the socio-psychological foundations of intractable conflicts and peace building, including reconciliation. In the latter area, he studied the evolvement of the socio-psychological infrastructure in times of intractable conflict that consists of shared societal beliefs of ethos of conflict, collective memory, and emotional collective orientations. He also studied socio-psychological barriers to peacemaking and ways to overcome them, and acquisition of the conflict repertoire by children and adolescents.

Within this scope of studies he developed with his collaborators theoretical frameworks for concepts like siege mentality, intractable conflict, delegitimization, collective victimhood, socio-psychological infrastructure, culture of conflict, effects of lasting occupation, barriers to peace making, construction and struggle over conflict supporting narratives, acquisition of intergroup psychological repertoire, early development of the ethos of conflict, transitional context, collective identity, and peace education, among many others.

The work in these areas has resulted in books, Group Beliefs (1990), Shared Beliefs in a Society (2000), Stereotypes and Prejudice in Conflict: Representations of Arabs in Israeli Jewish Society (2005), Living with the conflict (2007), and Intractable conflicts: Socio-psychological foundations and dynamics (2013). He co-edited a wide variety of volumes, and in addition has published over two hundred articles and chapters in major journals, books and encyclopedias.

Of special importance in his professional life is founding and leading a “learning community” of 10-15 graduate (mostly doctoral) students, who come from different disciplines and universities, to carry their studies about conflict and their resolution. The learning community serves as a framework for learning, reflecting, debating, and developing; carrying conceptual and empirical studies; socialization for academic career and societal involvement; and for social support.

Through the years he has lectured widely on his work, and worked as Visiting Professor at Vanderbilt University, Brandeis University, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, University of Muenster, University of Maryland College Park, Polish Academy of Science, University of Palermo, and Australian National University.

He retired in 2015 and decided to devote his second career to political activism. He founded a peace movement Save Israel-Stop the Occupation with the goal to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and establish the Palestinian state. SISO’s website can be found here: www.siso.org.il/

On the Issues Episode 14 (Part 1): Daniel Bar-Tal

My latest guest is Dr. Daniel Bar-Tal, Professor Emeritus at the School of Education, Tel Aviv University.

Dr. Bar-Tal received his graduate training in social psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, and completed his doctoral thesis in 1974. He previously served as a Director of the Walter Lebach Research Institute for Jewish-Arab Coexistence through Education, Tel Aviv University and as President of the International Society of Political Psychology, and was Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Palestine Israel Journal. He has won numerous awards, including the Alexander George Award of the International Society of Political Psychology, Nevitt Sanford Award of the International Society of Political Psychology, and Morton Deutsch Conflict Resolution Award of the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence. He was awarded the Golestan Fellowship at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences in 2000-2001, and in 2013 received honorary membership in the Polish Society of Social Psychology.

Since the early eighties his interest has shifted to political psychology and the study of the socio-psychological foundations of intractable conflicts and peace building, including reconciliation. In