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Tonight's Meet the Author program entitled, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy features Shlomo Ben Ami. He is a distinguished historian and a vital participant in peace negotiations. He combines a scholar's perspective with his own experience in describing the cultural and historical reasons why peace in the Middle East has been so heartbreakingly elusive. Shlomo Ben Ami was born in Morocco, moved to Israel from Tangiers at the age of twelve to grow up on a kibbutz. He was educated at Tel Aviv University and recieved his Ph.D. in history from Oxford. He went on to head the School of History at Tel Aviv University from 1982-1986. Ben Ami was appointed as Israel's ambassador to Spain, serving from 1987-1991 and was elected to the Knesset in 1996, where he served on the foreign affairs and defense committee and the constitutional law and justice committee. In July 1999, he was appointed Minister of Public Security, and in August 2000 he was appointed Foreign Minister. During his tenure as Joint Minister, Ben Ami served as the chief Israeli negotiator at the 2000 Camp David summit. He served in these ministerial posts until March 2001, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak left office. Drawing from his in-depth understanding as a history professor and his vast experience as a peace negotiatior, the Council is very pleased to have Ben Ami join us tonight to discuss Israeli-Palestinian history and prospects. Please join me in welcoming Shlomo Ben Ami. Thank you very much for a very generous introduction, and thank you very much for having me to address this council today. Obviously I'm not going to go into the intricacies of Arab-Israeli conflict from beginning to the Israeli day, nor shall I enter too deeply into the problems of Israeli politics or Palestinian conflicts, but just to try and say a couple of words about the essence of... the reasons why I believe the peace process has failed under Clinton's... in the last phase of Clinton's presidency, and then from there go to issues that are collateral to the book but emerge naturally from my presentation, and that is things as they stand today. One can obviously analyze from different perspectives the reasons why the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians did not result in a peace agreement. I would like to advance one possibility, and this is the following, that is the following: War, in our case, I believe in most cases, war unites, but peace divides. War in the Middle East has been a cohesive glue for nations, but the moment that they went to peace, inevitably there was a deep division in societies. You could see that when Rabin signed the Oslo accords. It ended with his assassination, he was assassinated as the spokesman of half of Israel, not as a representative officially of Israel, he wasn't a representative of the entire nation, but he was assassinated almost as a representative of peace now, which is the movement of the Israeli peace-seekers, and Sadat was assassinated in the wake of his peace agreement with Israel. Now, when we went to Camp David and beyond, we believed that although peace is going to be a divisive enterprise, we shall have the capacity as a nation to apply the tools of the democratic discourse in order to solve our differences. Everybody wants peace, but many think it is a free lunch, and they don't want to pay the price of peace, and it is there that society splits. And we can see how leading a nation in times of such a divisive peace process is probably more difficult than leading the nation in times of war. But, as I say, we believed we can overcome the crisis through the institutions of democracy. The problem with Arafat was essentially this: He never developed the tools of democratic governors, nor did he ever try. And therefore, in his case, a divisive peace enterprise would have inevitably meant a civil war. There was no other way he could solve the divisions in Palestinian society since he did not develop the tools of democratic discourse, majority, minorities. Therefore, Arafat tried constantly to push Israeli and American positions, but basically Israeli positions to a point, that contours of which he himself didn't really know. But he believed that by pushing the Israeli positions as far as he could, he would spare himself the troubles of dividing his own society at the cost of breaking the neck of the Israelis. And that precarious line he needed to develop in order to have the relative satisfaction of both parties, otherwise there is no peace, because if Arafat expected, and indeed he expected, that his peace agreement with Israel will be applauded by Hamas , then this is a peace Israel cannot accept, just as a peace applauded by the Israeli far right is a peace the Palestinians cannot accept. On our side, we understood very well that peace will never be accepted by the Israeli far right, and perhaps not even by the right of center. We knew that. Arafat knew that, but refused to assume the inevitability of a divisive peace. And it seems to me that it is there, perhaps, that this question of, is been talked so much about, these days, of democratization is so important. Is peace an enterprise about justice, absolute justice, or about stability? We believe that peace is not an enterprise of full justice. It is an enterprise of stability. Obviously, stability will have to be based on a degree of justice, but never on the satisfaction on your, the full requirements... often abstract justice. It seems to me that this has been throughout, and in a way, this is the history of the... fluctuation of the Israelis and Arabs between war and peace. As presented in my book, we have here a problem of discrepant historical rhythms. That is, whenever the Israelis were ready for accommodation, they found an Arab side that was not ready. And when there was an Arab side ready, for example, in the wake of the 1967 war, the Israeli side was engaged in its own exercise in hubris, in arrogance and complacency. At that particular moment, when President Clinton brought us to Camp David and then we went to negotiate later on in Tablah, we found that our readiness to reach a settlement was not met by the courage of a leader that needed to divide his society in order to bring it to the promised land. Now this question of... democratic governments is one that preoccupies us all in these days. It attaches exactly with this nerve center that developed now with the emergence of Hamas in the Palestinian elections. I personally think that this is not the kind of bad news that many observers think it is. First, I fail to understand, frankly, this sudden nostalgia with the PLO and Arafat. What was so good there, a system of corruption, based on corruption? Two billion dollars were embezzled, according to recent investigation that was conducted, incompetence, and total incapacity to find that point of equilibrium with the Israelis that, when they were ready for that, that could have brought us to a reasonable settlement. There was a Palestinian authority that was bankrupt, morally and politically. I think that the victory of Hamas, whether we like Hamas or not is almost a kind of poetic justice. Now they came to office, and they exposed, obviously, some of the fallacies of our own paradigms about peace in the Middle East and about democracy in the Middle East. We want democracy, but we do not want these guys to be elected. So there is a contradiction that we need to address, and there is another contradiction that we need to address. And that is that, in the Arab world, we must understand that there is no immediate alternative, immediate choice between dictatorship and democracy. There is no such a choice. The choice is between secular dictatorship, which is the kind of regime that prevails in most of the Arab countries, and Islamic democracy. This is the real choice. In the early nineties, when, in Algeria, for the first time in thirty years, ever, after thirty years of the FLN revolution, free elections were conducted, the FIS won the elections, the Islamic Front. And immediately after, the army took over because they wanted elections, but they didn't want this kind of victory. And by the way, the army's coup d'etat was fully supported by the countries of the European Union. And this is the case of Hamas. And in a way, when America went to Iraq to depose a bloodthirsty secular dictator, the result is that for all practical purposes, you have an Islamic republic in Iraq today with a Shiite majority. And if you conduct free elections in Egypt, really free elections, it's not the liberal, alternative opposition which will emerge victorious. It is the Muslim brotherhood. Most of the leaders in the Arab world are pro-Western, but the Muslims are anti-Western, and they vote against the leaders, if allowed, as a way to vote against America, as a way to vote against the West, because they perceive their leaders as puppets of the West, or of the West as patrons of their leaders. And this is how Hamas comes to office. My guess is that a party like Hamas might develop some pragmatic positions in order to face, or to solve, the terrible dilemma they face, because they do face a terrible dilemma. I don't think they wanted to win these elections. I think they wanted to have a considerable representation in the parliament, so as to have a militant opposition that would consist of Hamas and the radicals of Fatah, in order to be able to maintain their politcal virginity, their puritan modes of behavior, and put pressure, or rather control the government without assuming responsibility, because assuming responsibility is a terrible dilemma for them. It means that they have to recognize the state of Israel. It means that they can no longer send squads of terrorists. You are a state, not officially, but a Palestine Authority is kind of a state. By the way, according to Israeli intelligence services today, those who are preparing terrorist attacks against Israel are now Fatah militias. BY the way, they were there all the time, the martyrs of al-Aqsa, the brigades of al-Aqsa, they are Fatah. But they will now challenge Hamas. Hamas needs to assume the responsibility of government. And I think that we may be seeing some sort of pragmatism in their behavior. As early as in the '90s, Hamas developed the concept of a temporary settlement with Israel. This is a settlement that they developed in the '90s. In 2003, Hamas declared a unilateral truce with Israel. The reason was twofold. One, the targeted killings that Israel exercised against the leaders that brought them to their knees. But there was another reason which was very, very important, and that was that Mahmoud Abbas changed the policies of Arafat with regard to Hamas. Arafat's style of government was based on divide and rule. It discarded Hamas from the Palestinian political family. Whereas Abu Mazim integrated Hamas into the political system, something they really wanted. And these integration forced them to apply the concept of truce, a hudnah. Now, Hamas policy is that peace with Israel is not feasible... is not possible. But, a long-term interim agreement, something like a long-term hudnah, a long-term truce, is something I think they might be able to consider. Two or three days ago, Halid Mash'al, the leader of Hamas, is practically the number one of Hamas, said that his organization would be ready to recognize all the agreements that were signed between Israel and the Palestinian authority. In my view, this is a very interesting declaration. Now, much of it, obviously, may be tactics, may be an attempt to accommodate the international community, but no doubt, we are facing a crisis in Hamas, and perhaps a tactical change will usher in a strategic change. Now let me address another issue that is present throughout my book, and has relevance for today as well, and this is the question of what called... the connective essence that supposedly exists between the Arab-Israeli situation and the wider issues in the Middle East. In fact, the peace process was always dependent on that synchrony between the wider issues and the Israeli-Arab situation. The real split in Israel between right and left, from a strategic perspective, the split was over this question. The left always said that rhere ari concesions thit we need to make in order to reach an agreement with the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab countries. And these concessions are vital, because without them we would not able to reach a stable and peaceful Middle East. When Rabin went to Oslo, and we went to Camp David, we did it for two reasons. One, in order to solve the Palestinian problem, another because we believed that this was the introduction to a wider Arab-Israeli peace and to a system of security and cooperation in the entire regime. The position of the right was different, it was the opposite. The right believed that you first need to stabilize the Middle East, you need to neutralize the strategic existential threats on the horizon, that is, in the outer circle of the Middle East, the rogue states, Iraq, Iran, and only when you have neutralized those threats, we could make what Ariel Sharon called 'the painful concessions'. One could say, obviously, that George W. Bush's grand Middle Eastern strategy a vindication of the positions of the Israeli right, that he did not, unlike Clinton, although Clinton had the duel containment strategy, but he focused on the Israeli-Palestinian and the Israeli-Arab situation, because he also believed that this was an axis of regional stability and regional change. Bush thinks otherwise. He shifted the center of America's foreign policy from Clinton's obsessive, what he might have thought, obsessive preoccupation with the Arab-Israeli situation and he went to the wider Middle East. So his policies vindicated the visions of the Israeli right. And indeed, one can say that Israel's strategic position in the wake of the Iraq war has never been better. It's not something that comes from me, a historian, ex-politician, but it comes from the Chief of Staff of Israel's army, General Dan Halutz, who, in a recent presentation, said exactly that, that we had never had it better, strategically speaking. Iraq was neutralized, Syria was disciplined, was forced to pull out of Lebanon, there was an international coalition that is trying to put pressure on Iran on the nuclear issue and the American pressure on the question of democratization is producing all kinds of changes and upheavals in the region. We have excellent relations with Turkey, we have good relations with India, so strategically speaking, Israel is in very good shape right now. So this is the moment that the position of the right was vindicated, and hence, this is the moment to make the 'painful concessions' and to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. So why, the connective essence, did not work? So why, improving dramatically Israel's strategic conditions in the region, did not lead to a forceful Israeli-American-International effort to reach an Israel-Palestinian settlement? Well, the reason, part of it obviously is the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, the fact that when Israel was ready to see whether the peace process could be reactivated, we found ourselves with Arafat, that had already proved that he is incapable of reaching a settlement with the Israelis, and then with Abu Mazim, who lacked and still lacks the revolutionary charisma of his predecessor, and who was unable and continues to be unable to control the plethora of terrorist organizations that are bent on turning the Palestinian territories into a second Lebanon. And this is how the concept of unilateral disengagement was born. The disengagement from Gaza and the planned disengagement from the West Bank. What the Israelis did in the wake of the Intifada, the collapse of the peace process in 2001, was to change the equation of peace between us and the Palestinians from one of 'land for peace' to one of 'land for security'. That is, we do not trust the Palestinian Authority to offer us peace, or guarantee peace, even in a change for all of the territories. Therefore, we are going to withdraw unilaterally, and we don't ask for peace in return, because it is useless, so what, let us assume you will sign an agreement with Abu Mazim, this will not be peace according to most Israelis because they have lost trust in the capacity of the Palestinian system to deliver or guarantee any kind of agreement. And therefore, the unilateral disengagement from Gaza and the unilateral disengagement from the West Bank, according to acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is the basic platform of his party for these elections, is the Israelis' answer. Of course the Israeli right was brought to assume the inevitability of withdrawing from the bulk of the settlements which, for them, is obviously an ideological crisis, because there is a fundamental problem, that is, that we might have territories, but lose the wall for demography. Zionism is about two central issues: Land for the Jews, and demography. And if we have to concede on something, we would prefer to give away land and not demography. If we feel that we became a minority in our historical homeland, we are ready to give away land in order to maintain a cohesive Jewish State. When the choice was given to Zionist leaders throughout the Zionist movement, what is more important? Land. Or demography? They always opted for demography. And the right, with Sharon, in fact, already with Begin, but especially with Sharon, came to that conclusion. We can claim that Judaea and Samaria are the cradle of our nation, indeed, they are. But, we cannot have them because then we will disappear as a Jewish state. According to a report of the World Bank in the year 2020, there will be about 20 million people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, with the Jews being a minority. And this is the main reason for the so-called fence slash wall fence, the fence on the eyes to the beholder because most of it is really not a wall at all, this is the main reason. It's a battle for demography. So if you add to the battle of demography a loss of confidence in the Palestinian Authority to deliver on any kind of agreement you reach the conclusion that the new paradigm of peace would have to be based on a departure, obviously, from the entire diplomatic framework that was built around the road map, I am on record of having said more than once that the road map was born dead, it had never had a chance to be implemented, even to this day, neither of the parties implemented even its most primary, elementary provisions. So Condoleezza Rice, Secretary Rice saying he other day that with the victory of Hamas, the road map was no longer relevant, I think it was not relevant even before, and what Hamas did was only to seal an existent reality. Now we need now to write, or to revisit the peace process, and my personal view is that this will have to be based on the following: since now we have a partner, or a non-partner, what we have today is we changed a non-partner with another non-partner, because to say now, suddenly we don't have a partner is simply not serious, I mean, what negotiations did we have with Abu Masim, between Sharon and Abu Masim, nothing! The parties went back in the time machine to the core of the conflict. This is what happened. War and disengagement. This is not the peace process. So the drama of Hamas victory is less of a drama in terms of whether we have a partner or we don't have a partner. We changed one non-partner with another non-partner. And now, the advantage in my view, I want to be very clear about it, and this goes against what most people are saying about Hamas these days, I think that this is a change, if we know to tackle it, it may be in the short run, a change for the better, because one of the problems that we had with the PLO is that they were obsessed with an unrealistic endgame and they didn't want to hear any talks about interim agreements. They wanted endgame. But Sharon, and not only Sharon, many others, even people on the left didn't want an endgame. Why? A, as I said before, because they didn't trust the Palestinians, as an organization that could deliver, but there was another reason why they didn't want an endgame. Why the Israelis didn't want an endgame with the PLO. Because they saw that in 2001 the Palestinians, Arafat, with Abu Mazim's full support, this is very important, with Abu Mazim's full support, rejected a peace deal that said the following: 100 percent, Palestinians take 100 percent of Gaza, and 97 percent of the West Bank, plus a safe passage that would link Gaza with the West Bank, so as to make this into a viable Palestinian state, plus a clear-cut division of Jerusalem into two capitals, one Palestinian and one Israeli, plus full-fledged Palestinian sovereignty on the holy of holiest, on the temple mount. Now that and a practical solution to the problem of refugees. This is the deal that was rejected, so Sharon, and by the way, President Bush as well, they say that to themselves, "Why should we enter into a negotiating process knowing that that was the deal that was rejected? Are we going to go beyond that? Is President Bush going to mortgage his presidency the way that Clinton did for the sake of a national movement that is incapable of taking a decision when there is a decision that needs to be taken?" And the same with Sharon. Said, Why should I go? All those who proceeded me committed political suicide by going into negotiations that lead to these impossible limits of compromise." So this is how the concept of unilateral disengagement was consolidated even further. But the PLO didn't want a temporary settlement. Hamas understands that a final settlement today with the Israelis given the positions of the parties and given their difficulty in fully recognizing Israel, in my personal view, they would not be hostile to a further Israeli disengagement in the West Bank, and they would accept some kind of third-party role in facilitating Israel's withdrawal from the territories, from the bulk of the territories which means, more or less, as one of the advisors for Ariel Sharon said a long time ago practically leaving unoccupied 90 percent of the West Bank. And concentrating on the Camp David borders, more or less. And this might become in the future a sort of long term, or as Hamas likes to say, a long term, temporary agreement that knowing that the endgame is impossible, is not feasible right now. And we'll have to see whether or not we can stabilize the situation for a period of time until the conditions become riper for a return to a final settlement between us and the Palestinians. Will this be the case or not? I am not sure, but one thing I am sure: that Israelis will withdraw if Kadima wins the elections, the party that is now leading in the polls, this will happen. That is, they'll have another disengagement. The only problem is, a disengagement in the West Bank is a much more difficult affair than a disengagement in Gaza. Gaza is a small, compact area with borders that have never been put in doubt by anybody, not by the Israelis, not by the Palestinians, and look at the chaos in Gaza notwithstanding the fact that this is an easier exercise to withdraw from Gaza, now imagine in the West Bank where the lines are so fluid when settlements are spread all over the periphery, so there you need much more subtle coordination with the Palestinian side that can secure stability for the time needed before we move to our next phase. Therefore I trust that this will have to be done with the help of a third party. Last remark here, and then I leave room for questions, I really would like to engage as much as we can in a quick ping-pong review over these issues. I think it was a very wise move by Putin to invite the people of Hamas to Moscow, I think we need to develop much more nuanced tools of work in that part of the world and be careful, as I say, not to put everybody into the same basket and see what we can do. This invitation by Putin simply exposes the fallacies of the policy of the West of the vision of the West when they say, "We want democracy, but we don't want to deal with those who get elected." Thank you very much. Questions