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Today we have a special guest who is also a very old friend. Yossi Klein Halevi is a fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and has been for many years the Israel based correspondent for The New Republic. He has written in many other publications. His name features frequently in places like the Los Angeles Times and is frequently on CNN. He is a keen observer of the Israeli political scene and has written a number of books about Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is here today to discuss at a very critical time Israel's perspective or an Israeli perspective on the ongoing Arab Israeli conflict and the prospects for peace. All of you are aware that tomorrow there is an important Arab League summit in Riyadh where the Arab initiative adopted by the Arab League in 2002 is to be revamped perhaps, perhaps modified. Condoleezza Rice was today in Jerusalem and announced that Prime Minister Olmert and president Abu Mazen will start meeting regularly every two weeks so there are all sorts of developments in the region. There is a new government leading the Palestinians with all that that implies and so it is very timely to have Yossi with us to offer you an Israeli perspective. Just a reminder, the talk is on the record. Yossi will speak for about 25-30 minutes and then we will open it up for Q&A. Yossi the floors is yours. Thank you. Thank you, Emanuele. Pleasure to be with you, in particular, and all of you, Mr. Ambassador. I would like to offer you today a centrist Israeli perspective which is my own personal political bias and from my point of view happily now shared by a strong majority of the Israeli public, I would argue that the left right split that characterized Israeli politics for the better part of 40 years beginning with 1967 has become outmoded and no longer accurately defines the Israeli political thinking. Of course, you still have a strongly vocal left and a strongly vocal right but most Israelis today believe that both the left and the right for various reasons have failed and by centrist, I mean, pragmatic in potential on territory, ready to make almost any territorial concession provided that we were convinced that we had a reasonable chance of wining acceptance and legitimacy from the Middle East in return and in practice the centrist consensus today believes that, no amount of Israeli concession will actually win legitimacy for Israel at the present time. And as we say in the Middle East "God is great" and we don't know what it will be in the long term. In the short term we see no possibility of Israel wining genuine legitimacy and acceptance in return for any amount of territorial concessions. That is what I would sum up as the centrist perspective. Ready if we were convinced. That if we could get peace in return ready to make those concessions, in practice not ready because we are not convinced. Until the late 1980s which is to say the first what we called the first Intifada the mutual offence, if we can define it that way, of the Israeli public and the Palestinian public and most of the Arab world was to deny the right of the other side to define itself as a legitimate nation. Most Israelis tended to agree with the old formulation of Prime Minister Golda Meir of the early 1970s that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people and there has never been a Palestinian state and therefore this is an illusion. And by the late 1980s that idea began to break down on the Israeli side. And the First Intifada was a profound shock to Israeli political thinking and what I would say to the smugness that most of us including, I certainly include myself, shared at that time. We genuinely believed that all or most of historical justice was on our side and that this was a conflict between a good and evil, between one side that had historical truth on its side and another side that that didn't. So what happened in the First Intifada was that the Israeli Left won two arguments. The first argument was that the occupation is a disaster for Israeli democracy, for Israel's values as a Jewish state and the second, more profound argument that the Israeli Left won is that this is, in essence, a conflict between two legitimate national narratives. Two traumatized peoples that are fighting over the same tortured piece of land. And that became very much part of what I began with defining as the centrist consensus of the early 90s so that what allowed the Oslo process to take such deep root and legitimacy in Israeli society was that bitter experience of the First Intifada when we realized that we had sold ourselves an illusion and that illusion was that we could maintain a benign occupation indefinitely, the Palestinians would prosper and we could continue to remain a worthy Jewish and democratic state. A majority of Israelis rejected that delusion in the late 80s and early 90s. And this, I think, is something that has not been sufficiently internalized abroad especially, in my experience in Europe, just how profoundly the Israeli left won the argument within the Israeli mainstream on these two crucial issues. This took several forms through the 1990s. The political form, of course, was the Oslo process and the strong support that Oslo enjoyed at least initially in the Israeli public, but it also took very interesting cultural and even historiographical forms. For example a new school of Israeli historiography emerged known as the New Historians in the 1990s, who began to systematically re-examine some of the basic assumptions of the Arab Israeli conflict and began to incorporate elements of the competing narrative into our own understanding of the conflict. And I I don't know of another nation, in the midst of what was still an ongoing conflict, that went as far as large parts of the Israeli public did in the 90s to reach out, what I would call borrow Palestinian eyes. The process of trying to see what this conflict looked like through Palestinians eyes. I went through a similar process personally. I went on a journey in the 1990s into Palestinian Islam and Christianity. As a religious Jew, I went into mosques and monasteries in the West Bank, Gaza to see whether it were possible for Arabs and Jews to use religion in a way that could create a common language of reconciliation rather than the ways in which religion is usually put to use in my part of the world. And that journey was by no means idiosyncratic. It was very much part of the spirit of the times in Israel to reach out and borrow Palestinian eyes. The tragedy from my perspective on why peace has been so elusive is that the psychological breakthrough in terms of understanding the moral and historical complexity of this conflict, that this is a conflict between two competing, legitimate, historical narratives was internalized by a majority on only one side and that was the Israeli side, and that I certainly discovered in my journey into Islam and in the territories in the late 90s. I could literally count on probably two hands, the number of Palestinians at any level of Palestinian society. Intellectuals, working class people, moderates, extremists who were ready to accept or even entertain the possibility that not only did the Palestinians have a legitimate national claim but the Jewish people also has a legitimate national claim to part of this land. And I met with one leading Palestinian moderate General Nasser Yusuf, who was a few years ago the interior minister and probably the person within the Fatah hierarchy who was most opposed to terrorism on a moral basis. And during one conversation that I had with him in his Gaza city office, I asked him what he saw as the evolving relationship between an Israeli state and a Palestinian state once we have signed an agreement and presumably all outstanding grievances have been resolved. And what the General proceeded to tell me was that well Palestinian refugees, of course, will begin coming back and going back to their ancestral homes within Israel and we will eventually realize that it's artificial to maintain two separate states, we will create one happy beautiful state between Arabs and Jews and we will invite our neighbors to join the state as well. We will invite Jordan and Syria and Iraq. And we will show the whole world how well Muslims and Jews can live together. That of course is premised on the Jews no longer functioning as a sovereign national entity but resuming their pre-independent status in the Middle East as protected under Muslim sovereignty. And that was one of those conversations that lit a little light in my brain and even though I had been covering the Middle East conflict for close to 25 years at that point. It was one of those moments when I realized that I didn't quite understand what I thought I did. And what I understood as partly as a result of this journey that I took into Islam was that when an Israeli moderate speaks of a two state solution, he or she means a two state solution as the end goal. When a Palestinian moderate speaks of a two state solution, it is based on the assumption that for now we are too weak to destroy you or to absorb you is how a moderate would put it and therefore we will create a two state solution as an interim agreement. And that's something that western ears usually don't hear because you don't usually ask the question. The question is what happens after the peace. The assumption in the west is an agreement is signed and therefore it is binding and that's the end of the conflict. The assumption in the Middle East is that the conflict then changes. It takes on a different form. The conflict today, I would define as a lack of symmetry in the most basic willingness to accept the legitimacy of the other side to define itself as a nation. What one hears over and over again, not only from Palestinians, but throughout the Arab world is that the Jews are not a nation. The Jews are a religion, which of course is how Muslims always encountered Jews as a minority faith. But that does not allow the Jews to define themselves the way Jews have always defined themselves which is as a people with a particular faith. Which is why, in Judaism you can have religious Jews, devout Jews and you can have less devout Jews and even atheists and they are still part of the Jewish people and if they identify with the Jewish people, they are still Jews in relatively good standing and that's something that's very hard for Muslims and Christians to understand because Judaism has always had that national component which is somewhat distinct from the other manifested faiths. In the Middle East today, that is not internalized at all and until that basic understanding is internalized, until the Arab world comes to the point where they say the Jewish people has the right to define itself on it's own terms, I don't believe that peace, peace in the way that we all hope for peace, in terms of reconciliation, an enduring peace, I don't believe that that will be possible. Let me make a few comments about Europe and Israel and - where from an Israeli perspective Europe has consistently misread what has happened over the last 10 or 15 years. For the better part of the last 40 years Europe and Israel has been engaged in an, sometimes, acrimonious debate on the Palestinian issue and to sum up where we stand in that debate today, it seems to me that Europe won the argument about the occupation. Europe managed to finally or reality managed finally convince the majority of Israelis that Europe's own experience with occupation was something we should have paid more attention to. And that Europe's painful wisdom of occupation needed to be more seriously internalized by Israeli sensibilities. But Europe lost the argument with Israel about the peace. To this day Europe, from an Israeli perspective still does not understand why peace has failed in the Middle East. At best what we hear from Europe is well, both sides need to make the necessary compromises, both sides need to reach out to the other while in fact on the Israeli side that process, as I tried to explain earlier, already happened in the 90s. And Europe still does not understand how deeply it won the argument over occupation within the Israeli public. And Europe has not honestly faced the profound Palestinian failure to accept the peace offers of 2000 and I don't mean Camp David now because we can argue about what happened or didn't happen in Camp David for the next 100 years and we probably will be arguing about that. But that argument became irrelevant five months later with the Clinton proposals. In December 2000, President Clinton put unambiguously on the table the final outlines of what this reconciliation process was supposed to lead to. Ninety-five percent of the West Bank, 100 percent of Gaza, another two or three percent territory within Israel proper to compensate for the settlement blocks along the border that Israel would annex, three out of the four quarters of the old city, the temple mount all going to Palestinian control. The fact that Israel's counter offer, the offer that Israel received as a counter offer from Arafat, was four years of sustained suicide bombings was somehow not internalized sufficiently by European elites. And the old tendency to indulge the Palestinians as the victim of this conflict, rather than forcing the Palestinians at the decisive moment to take responsibility for their own fate perpetuated the conflict, allowed the Palestinian leadership to rightly perceive that they could get away with literal murder and rejectionism. And the fact that to this day Europe does not understand, that the problem is not Hamas, the problem is Fatah because if Fatah had been what we had hoped Fatah was supposed to be, a moderating force, a force that placed the interests of its own people ahead of the personal corruption of its leaders and here Fatah failed decisively on the two most important counts that mattered. One is the ability to begin teaching their people that the conflict is ending and that this really is about a two state solution. Fatah never - no leader in Fatah including Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas, has told his people in unambiguous language what every Israeli Prime Minister since Rabin with the exception of Netanyahu told the Israeli public and that is the dream of greater Israel is over and we have to accept the two state solution. No Palestinian leader including the most moderate has ever told his people the dream of greater Palestine is over and we have to get used to the fact that there will be a Jewish state in whatever borders living next to us, not one. The fact that Europe allowed the Palestinian leadership Fatah to embezzle probably several billion dollars and did not bother checking to see why no hospitals were being built by the Palestinian authority, no schools, no refugee camps being being rehabilitated is something that from the Israeli perspective is simply inconceivable unfathomable. And this is part of the deep suspicion in our relationship which isn't only coming from the European side. Our relationship is in very serious trouble from the Israeli side as well. And as someone who believes deeply in the necessity, the moral necessity of a healthy European Israeli relationship, I feel the urgency of placing this on the table as well. And let me say a couple of words about the Saudi plan, and then perhaps open up for discussion. Could I have some water please? Someone pass me the water. Its fine it's fine. On the conceptual level I find the Saudi plan appealing in one very basic way and that is that it restores the genuine dimensions of this conflict. This conflict is not fundamentally about a an all powerful Israel versus a totally powerless Palestinian people. It is on one level, but on another level it is about a lone Israel in the Middle East facing the entire Arab world. And what the Saudi plan does by restoring, by bringing the question of peace back to the Arab League, the 22 member Arab League, for - from an Israeli perspective, it restores the accurate dimensions of what Israel is up against. And I would say that in an Israeli sensibility, we carry in our heads a split screen. One side of our screen, we are Goliath versus the Palestinian David and on the other side of our screen we are the Israeli David versus the Arab world's Goliath and beyond the Arab world, the diplomatic and moral support that the Arab world receives from the Muslim world. So in order to accurately understand how an Israeli looks at this conflict you need to conceive of that split screen running through our heads all the time. So the Saudi plan, in that sense, comes as a kind of relief, for an Israeli, because it now places on the table what we really are confronting. As I am sure some of you know Israel's primary objection to the Saudi plan is it's insistence on the demand for refugee return to Israel proper. And, I think, it's important to clarify exactly what's wrong with the demand for refugee return. This again I sense a certain ambiguity, certainly in Europe, a growing ambiguity about what it is that Israel is actually so opposed to. My own personal understanding of this conflict after all these years of living it, studying it, reporting reporting on it, is that it is so intractable precisely because both sides are right. Both sides do have the right to all the land. The Palestinians do have the right not only to the West Bank and Gaza; they have the right to return to Jaffa and Haifa and their their lands. The Jewish people has the right to not only live in Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem but to return to all of the land. That is our right of return. Both peoples have the right of return to the same land. I have as much a right to Hebron where the ancestors of the Jewish people are buried as Palestinians have to Jaffa and because on the abstract level, both peoples have powerful historical claims to all of the land. The logic of the Oslo process was that both peoples need to contract their absolute historic claims to accommodate the competing claims of another people. That is the only way in which peace will be possible, which means, if you play this argument out, the real trade off for the Palestinians waiving their right of return to Israel proper is for Israel to waive its right of return to the West Bank. So that the trade off is the settlements on the one hand, for the Palestinian right of return on the other. Very often I hear the settlements paired with terrorism. That's not, conceptually, that is not the accurate trade off. The trade off is we give up settlements which is our tangible exercise of our right of return to all of the land and they give up their demands for right of return to Israel proper. That is how I conceive and it's this isn't my idea, I believe that this was the basis of the Oslo process. That's certainly how the Israeli architects of the Oslo process understood the end point of where we were heading. So that any playing around with this formula, I met the other day with a group of Palestinian Christian religious leaders, moderate people really looking for a solution. And one of them asked me, "Well, can't you just accept the right of return in principle?" And without - and then the Palestinians will say, "Okay, we won't implement." And my response was two-fold. One is we all know the reality of the Middle East. Were Israel to accept the right of return in principle; you would immediately have demands for implementation in the Arab world. If even the Jews have accepted the right of the Palestinians to return how can we not exercise that right? And the second problem is that, I am ready to accept in principle the Palestinian right of return provided that the Arab World accepts my right of return in principle to the West Bank. If that were possible and believe me the Saudi's will not and the Saudi plan will not accommodate my right of return. So, I think we need to keep the right of return off the table. The final points and really final - final point on how to move forward is for the international community to realize that there has been a fundamental shift on the ground in Israel since the 90s and that is that there is now in place a potential majority, even a strong majority for previously unimaginable concessions provided that the Arab World demonstrates convincingly without semantic tricks that we will win legitimacy in return, which is why the language of the Saudi plan is so important, which is why international pressure on the Palestinians to accept Israel's right to exist without semantic tricks is so essential for convincing the centrist Israeli majority that we can move forward. Right now, I can tell you as someone who supported the peace process in the past, who made personal efforts in that direction, I am not ready to trust anyone until I get those clear and unambiguous messages. So that is the nature of the deadlock today. The problem is me, people like me. You, the international community, need to convince people like me that it is safe for Israel to make these concessions. That what I will get in return is not what I got in return in the last six years, but what I will get in return is genuine reconciliation. If I can be persuaded that that is the case, you will find in Israel that is more flexible than, I think, even the international community can put forward. Why don't we open for discussion?