11:00 A.M. EST
Good morning. Thank you all for coming. I’m Haider Karzai for the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today’s briefer is Dr. David Pollock of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Dr. Pollock has authored many papers from which, I think, the most important one is “The Arab Street,” a public opinion poll, on the streets of the Arab world.
With that, Dr. Pollock will made brief remarks, and then, as customary, we will open it to our Q&A session. Dr. Pollock.MR. POLLOCK:
Thank you very much, Haider. And thanks to all of you for coming this morning. The subject that I’m going to talk most about, of course, is yesterday’s Israeli election. And I want to speak about the outcome, about the explanations for the outcome, about the implications of all that for U.S. policy, and finally, about the mirror image, if you like, on the Palestinian side, and the deep divisions in the Palestinian community in the West Bank and Gaza and how that relates to the situation in Israel and to American policy options in the near term.
So let’s start with the outcome of the Israeli election. In some ways, I suppose you could say that the Israeli public spoke clearly. And that means, in this case, that they clearly indicated a very fragmented political system and a very deep division in public opinion among different parties, with no clear winner. No single leader or party emerged from this electoral contest with a clear mandate from the Israeli public. In fact, last night, as several people have commented, there were a number of different victory speeches by different political leaders, all of whom were claiming that somehow they won the election, when, in fact – and that includes BiBi Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni, and Advigdor Lieberman, whose party came in third. The first and second and third winners in terms of the vote all claimed victory for having achieved more than they did before and more than people expected not too long ago. But none of them emerged as the clear winner.
And in fact, it is still possible that because ballots from soldiers serving in the Israeli army remain to be counted along with some other smaller numbers of absentee ballots, it is still possible that even the outcome that is on the news today will not be the final outcome. There are probably about 5 percent, or nearly that, of the total vote that remains to be counted, and the final count may reflect a slight shift for that reason. But because the outcome is so fragmented and so close, even a slight shift might be enough to tip the balance more clearly, for example. And this, I think, is a plausible final outcome to tip the balance more clearly toward Likud and Bibi Netanyahu.
Right now, Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, holds a very slight edge in total number of seats in the Knesset with, according to, as I say, not completely final results, 28 out of 120 seats in the Israeli Knesset, or parliament. And Netanyahu is a very, very close second with 27, but those results might shift a little bit in a day or two. And in either case, it will be up to the president, Shimon Peres, once again, holding an important role although largely a ceremonial one, but in this case, an important role in having to make a decision which party leader to ask first to try to form a new government. The new government will have to have a majority of seats in the parliament; in other words, 61 out of 120. And as you can see from the numbers that I just gave you, no single party comes even close to that.
So whatever government is formed will have to be a coalition of different parties. And whoever – in the judgment of Israel’s President Shimon Peres, whoever has the best chance of forming such a coalition will be asked first to put that coalition together. It will be the first choice to be the next prime minister, if he or she – if, presumably, either Netanyahu or Livni can actually muster that kind of coalition of different parties to form a majority, at least a bare majority of 61 out of 120 seats.
I would say that right now, because the outcome is so close, because the remaining votes are more likely to favor, in my judgment based on past experience, are more likely to favor Netanyahu. And because – and this is a very important point – and because the center-right parties, as a group, have an advantage over the center-left parties, as a group, in total number of seats.
For all of those three reasons, I would say that the most likely short-term outcome is actually that Netanyahu, rather than Livni, will get the first shot at forming a coalition and becoming Israel’s next prime minister. But even today, this is not a sure thing. And we will not know, not only when the final votes are counted, but even in the next few weeks as the negotiations for a coalition take place. We will not know for a while yet what the outcome of this election will actually be.
Now, let me talk just for a moment about the important point that I mentioned just now, which is the balance between center-right and center-left in Israeli politics as a whole. Here a little bit of historical perspective is important. And I’m only go to go as far back as 1992 when Yitzhak Rabin formed his government, which opened the way toward the Oslo peace process and much of what has followed in the last decade and a half. In 1992, the left had what is called, in Israeli political parlance a blocking majority. In other words, parties on the left of the political spectrum, which in Israel refers mostly to foreign policy, not so much to internal economic or social policy, but more on the dovish-hawkish spectrum, right?
Parties on the left had enough votes to prevent anyone else from becoming prime minister. And therefore, even though the electorate was divided, Yitzhak Rabin was the clear winner. And they had that – they had almost 61 votes with just two parties that were clearly on the left, that were clearly on the more dovish side of the spectrum, compared to Likud, for example. And those were Labor – Rabin’s party, now Ehud Barak’s party – which has fallen to a dismal fourth place in the overall vote.
As of 1992, Labor had 44 seats, and Meretz, an even more dovish party, had 12. So with just those two parties they had 56 out of the 61 necessary to form a blocking majority to take over the government, and all they needed was five more seats from one of the smaller splinter parties, which are normally very easy to get, right? They want to be part of a coalition because of all the patronage and political influence and budgetary power that that would give them. So it was easy to attract just five more votes and be sure of coming into power.
Today, those two parties together have not 56 seats in the parliament, but 16; Labor with 13 – at last count – seats, and Meretz, an even more dovish party, with just three seats in the Knesset. So that statistic, a comparison of the ’92 vote with today’s – or yesterday’s vote, gives you a very clear indication of how far the left wing in Israel, the more dovish parties, have fallen in terms of public support.
Today, the center-right parties, which include, first and foremost, in the center Kadima – Tzipi Livni’s party – and then Likud, a close second – the center-right parties have probably a blocking majority of their own. They can probably put together over 60 seats, maybe as many as 65 seats in the Knesset, and therefore have the best shot at forming the next government.
Now, what is it that explains these long-term trends? I would say that there are several different explanations, and I want to look at a few that are more long term and others that are more related to the very latest campaign that just concluded in Israel.
The longer-term trend is the very deep disillusionment in the Israeli public with the results of the peace process to date. What the Israeli public – not all of them, of course – it’s a very open and even argumentative society, and there are many, many different views. But as a generalization, it’s fair to say that the Israeli public, as a whole or a large segment of it, has become very disappointed with the results of the peace process in terms of their own personal safety and their own national security ever since the suicide bombings of the mid 1990s during the height – if you want to call it that – of the Oslo peace process, the second intifada that was launched by the Palestinians after the Camp David peace summit collapsed in 2000 and that resulted in several years of very large-scale violence in Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza, the withdrawal from – the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in which Israel, in 2002, voluntarily, without any concessions or agreements with the other side, pulled its troops out of every inch of Lebanese territory, and then was challenged by Hezbollah, despite having given up that territory, resulting in a war in 2006 with many casualties on both sides.
And finally, the war in Gaza, which resulted, in the Israeli view, in the view of the Israeli public, once again, from a unilateral withdrawal by Israel of its forces from that Arab – in this case, Palestinian – territory in late 2005, only to result not in greater security for Israel, let alone some kind of formal peace agreement. But in, first of all, a barrage of rockets from that territory into Israel ever since the Israeli withdrawal, and then in the violent takeover by Hamas, dedicated to Israel’s destruction, of that territory in June of 2007. And so as many Israelis see this record, attempts to pursue peace and even to offer concessions for the sake of peace have resulted not in benefits to Israel or to their own personal situation, but rather, in new dangers and disappointments.
And that, I believe, is the long-term explanation for the changes in the Israeli political spectrum over this period. If you look very specifically – and my colleague, David Makovsky, at The Washington Institute did kind of an instant analysis of voting results from three of the cities in southern Israel that were most targeted by Hamas rockets – Ashkelon, Be’er Sheva and Sderot being the one that was most often hit, but the others also suffering occasional hits from Hamas rockets launched in Gaza – in those three cities, if you just look at the voting results there, Israelis in those three cities voted for right-wing, more hawkish parties by margins of between 70 to 80 percent. And that gives you some sense of the effect of this kind of continuing security threat on Israeli perceptions and therefore on the votes of the Israeli public as a whole.
Now, let me turn to the – my analysis of the campaign itself, just very briefly, for some short-term but interesting characteristics. One of the questions that people asked today is why is it that Netanyahu came in, apparently, second, or at best tied for first place, when only a week or two ago it seemed like he was surging, so to speak, with maybe a 10-seat advantage in the Knesset. Some of the polls put him as much as – him and his Likud Party with as much as 35 seats in the Knesset, when it looks like he will get only 27 or perhaps 28, depending on the final results. What was the last-minute pullback from Netanyahu and Likud?
Well, there are a few explanations that can be offered, one of which, in a humorous vein, was offered by Shimon Peres, the president of Israel today – not about this election, but in a previous election when he lost very narrowly himself to Bibi Netanyahu in 1996, even though the polls at that time showed Peres in the lead until the very last minute. And when Peres was asked about this, he said, “Well, the explanation is simple. Israelis tell the truth to the pollsters, but they lie when they get into the voting booth.” (Laughter.) That’s a joke – not to be taken seriously.
But in this case, I think the real explanation for what looks like a last-minute move away from Netanyahu might reflect two things. One is that he may actually have overdone his rather belligerent statements about Hamas and Gaza, as the Israeli public itself views the situation. He is the one who, during the election campaign, over and over again said that he – had he been prime minister, that he would have, quote/unquote, “finished the job in Gaza,” in other words, engaged in an even longer and bloodier military campaign to get rid of Hamas once and for all. And he said that if he became prime minister, that that would be his longer-term inclination; his policy prescription would be to get rid of Hamas in Gaza, by force if necessary.
I think many Israelis, although, as I said before, they have been deeply disappointed in the peace process and turned in a more hawkish direction as a result, also, at the same time, understand that military force of this kind of unbridled nature is probably not the right answer either. And therefore it may be – we can’t prove this yet, we may be able to prove this more – with further analysis and some post-election polls and so on in the future. But it may well be that that kind of really, really strong language used by Netanyahu, especially in the closing days of the campaign, actually took votes away from him toward the end, rather than adding to his margin.
A second factor that I think is very important is probably the personal appeal that Tzipi Livni herself exerted to the Israeli public, so that she came out with more votes than the polls had suggested even a week or two ago. And I think her personal appeal rests partly on her relative youth, partly on the fact that she is a woman, which although, again, we can’t prove this as of yet, but there probably is a certain what’s called in the United States a gender gap in Israeli voting patterns today in which she gets disproportionately more votes from women because of her own gender.
And most of all, I would say, because of her personal reputation for integrity, for being – living modestly, not being at all corrupt, unlike many other Israeli politicians in recent years, and for projecting an image of honesty, straightforward talk, somebody who’s relatively new, not an old-style politician; someone, in other words, who, in some respects, as some people in Israel itself suggested, has some of the appeal of President Obama here in the United States – clean politics, youth, somebody different, someone not from the old boy network, so to speak. And that probably helped her to pull away some votes that might otherwise have gone to Likud.
But I want to emphasize in concluding this point that most of the votes that Livni got appear to have been, based on a demographic analysis of, you know, literally, where the votes came from, which cities and towns and suburbs and neighborhoods, most of the votes that Livni and her Kadima Party got came from former Labor voters, from people who were so disillusioned by the Labor Party’s record on many issues, and yet so unwilling to vote for hard-right parties because of the opposite kinds of dangers that they might represent, that they settled on the party that is exactly in the middle, the centrist party of Kadima, represented by Tzipi Livni.
Just a few words about other aspects of the election, and then I’ll turn to what it means, I think, for the United States and what it means for the Palestinians. There are three misconceptions about this election campaign that I think it’s worth clearing up. One of them has to do with what many of the headlines in the American press at least – I’m not sure, I’ve seen some of the foreign reporting about it but not as much – refer to as a kind of tired or anguished or fed up Israeli electorate. In fact, the turnout in this election was actually higher than it was in the previous election. And the turnout rate as a whole is one that any democracy can be quite proud of, I believe. Certainly, we in the United States would love to have a turnout rate of two-thirds of eligible voters actually turning out to vote. So – and that – by the way, that includes – that includes in very similar percentages, as best we can judge from the early returns, Israel’s Arab citizens, who make up about almost 20 percent of the total population and a somewhat lower percentage of the electorate because they’re disproportionately under the voting age of 18. But they are citizens, they vote, and they have typically voted in approximately equal proportions to Israel’s Jewish majority, Jewish population, and that apparently continues to be the case in this election – also a very high turnout rate there, despite lots of concern in that community about some of the parties running in this election, particularly Avigdor Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu, who cast doubt on the loyalty and even the civil rights of Israel’s Arab citizens. But as it appears, that community decided en masse to exercise its opposition to that kind of sectarian, if you like, appeal by voting, not by violent protest but by exercising their democratic right.
Another factor that I think is misconstrued in much of the reporting that I want to correct has to do with the – another purported division in Israeli society, which is between the religious and the non-religious, or secular, voters. As many of you, I think, probably know, although Israel has a majority Jewish population, about 80 percent, only a small proportion of that Jewish population is actually religious in the traditional sense, probably only about 20 percent or so. And there has been some speculation that – quite a lot, actually, that this division in Israeli Jewish attitudes and political loyalties might become a very serious problem for the country in some fashion or other, that perhaps the religious influence was increasing, that the religious population was becoming, quote/unquote, “more fundamentalist,” that tensions between these communities were rising, and so on. And there was, in the past, occasional anecdotal evidence to try to make that point.
But I think this election shows – the election campaign and the results by party generally show that this division in Israeli society is actually not a serious political problem. The religious parties have not increased their total share of the vote – the Jewish religious parties. And the parties that claim to be against Jewish orthodox or traditional religion have either disappeared from the electoral map or, in the case of Lieberman’s party, which actually, although very hostile to Israel’s Arab citizens, is also somewhat hostile to Israel’s religious Jewish citizens. In the case of Lieberman’s party, he was at great pains to tone down that rhetoric toward the end of the campaign and ended up not getting as many votes overall as the polls had predicted.
So I would say that that aspect of Israeli society has turned out to be much less problematic than many other observers have commented on in the past, much like – some of you may recall in years past the – a lot of talk about the division between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews in Israel, right, between Jews from European ancestry and Jews from Middle Eastern ancestry, mostly from Arab countries, that was once – 20, 30, 40 years ago – considered a really, really serious problem for Israeli society. And there were political parties that tried to represent that division and advocate for their own community. That division, for the most part, is a thing of the past in Israeli society, which has overcome – not completely, but to a very large extent, overcome that social division. And I believe that that is – at least I hope that that will also be true of some of the other social divisions in Israeli society, between religious and secular, between Jews and Arabs, and so on. And I think the election results support that optimistic assessment of Israeli democracy.
But what about – and I will conclude my remarks with this: What about the other side of the equation? What about the peace process and this new Israeli government’s policy toward the Palestinian issue, toward the overall, regional issues and its relationship with American policy on all of those questions?
Well, I can’t give a clear answer to that question, because I can’t predict the future. But what I can say is the following. I think that the largest single problem for the peace process and for American policy on that question today is not the division in Israeli politics or the outcome of the Israeli election, but rather, the division on the Palestinian side of this equation. The inability or unwillingness of the Palestinian political system to produce a clear-cut authority that is open to negotiating peace with Israel: the division, in other words, between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. And even, I would say, the inability of either Fatah in the West Bank or Hamas in Gaza to claim a real mantle of legitimacy from within its own society.
There are many people, and I’ve seen many press reports about this, who are inclined to argue that because of the latest violence in Gaza, that Hamas somehow came out ahead, that it has increased its popularity. I don’t see any sign of that, actually. I think the polls, such as they are, and there are only a few so far from the – in the weeks since that war. The polls so far to me suggest that in Gaza, where the effects of the war were actually felt tragically by the people on the ground, that Hamas – the popularity of Hamas is perhaps at its lowest point ever. Only about a quarter of Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Palestinians’ own latest public opinion poll, support the Hamas movement today as a result of the war.
In the West Bank, where people did not feel the effects of the war, it appears that from – again, from the best evidence that we have that Hamas and Fatah are approximately tied for – in terms of popularity with roughly a quarter of the population each behind them. But what this means is that nobody can speak for the Palestinians as a whole. And Fatah has a hard time speaking for the Palestinians, even in just the West Bank, much as Hamas has a hard time speaking legitimately for the Palestinians even just in Gaza. And that is a central problem for the peace process, regardless of what government takes power in Israel.
Now it is certainly true that Netanyahu has advocated a policy at least during the campaign – that doesn’t mean that this will be his actual policy if he becomes prime minister – but he has advocated a policy of deferring, postponing any attempt to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem for the time being. But in my view, given the divisions within the Palestinian community, that is perhaps a realistic approach in the medium term. And it is an approach that American policy might be inclined to pursue anyway. To work gradually toward building up legitimate Palestinian institutions, rather than trying immediately to solve this problem, which is, for the time being, practically insoluble.
And those of you who might be more interested in this – and I will conclude my here and happily take your questions – might want to take a look at a publication that I edited that I brought with me, that goes into much greater detail on issues of the peace process and what the division on the Palestinian side means and what the new Israeli government, whatever it turns out to be, might mean also for American policy on that question.
Thank you very much for your attention. I’ll be happy to take questions and comments. MODERATOR:
Okay. First, wait for the mike, then introduce yourself, your organization and your country, please. We’ll go here. QUESTION:
This is Umit Enginsoy with Turkish NTV Television. I’d like to repeat the that I had asked earlier at the Washington Institute. MR. POLLOCK:
Whoever forms the government, do you think Israel’s troubled relationship with Turkey could worsen or probably freeze in the foreseeable future? Thanks. MR. POLLOCK:
Well, the relationship is troubled. Your question is very much on target. I think it depends mostly on whether or not there is another episode of violent conflict. I think – and that is something that, you know, is not necessarily a decision that people make single-handedly. That’s something that many different factors will combine, and sometimes not even because of anyone’s deliberate polity choices, to produce an episode of violent conflict if -- in Gaza or on the northern front or possibly even against Iran or who knows what.
If that happens, then I believe that Turkish-Israeli relations will become even more strained, regardless of who is in the government in Israel. But if that does not happen, then I think that both Turkey and Israel -- again, regardless of who is the next Israeli prime minister and what kind of government exactly is formed -- I think both of them will try hard to repair some of that damage or at least to keep their relationship correct.
And one of the important possibilities in that regard which people are just starting to talk about is a resumption of negotiations indirectly, directly, with Turkish help, with American help, I’m not sure, but some kind of renewed effort to negotiate between Israel and Syria. I think that – because of the division on the Palestinian side and because of some of the previous policies that Netanyahu, in particular, has advocated, and because of Turkish involvement in that effort under Olmert in the last year or two, I think that negotiating track, that aspect of the peace process, might be more promising in the years ahead for all parties than an effort to – you know, an all-out effort to do something about the Palestinian issue.
It’s not at all clear whether that’s going to be possible, but I think people will try -- people on all sides, here in Washington, in Israel, in Turkey, and in Damascus, I think all of them will try to restart that negotiating process in the next few months. MODERATOR:
We’ll go here. QUESTION:
Thank you. Yasmeen Alamiri from the Saudi Press Agency. I actually just wanted to kind of follow up on what you said at the last bit there. MR. POLLOCK:
Seeing as to how U.S. policy has seemingly kind of fueled the fire for Hamas, rather than help to – with any peace negotiations thus far, could you maybe expand on how foreign intervention with, I guess, regional partners there could help move the peace process along? MR. POLLOCK:
And who of the running parties in the Israeli election now have kind of spoken to that more, if any, I guess, like advocated for a regional intervention in the -- MR. POLLOCK:
A regional intervention. Okay. QUESTION:
Thank you. MR. POLLOCK:
Good. Yeah, okay. Well, I’m not sure what you mean by the – in referring to the U.S. role, regarding Hamas fueling the fire. I –QUESTION:
Not – you mean not putting out the fire. (Laughter.) Okay, that – but – all right, fair enough. I would just say on the regional side of things, which I think is the main thrust of your question, it’s a very important question.
There is an Arab peace initiative still out there, still on the table. And there are also very important, but unfortunately, very divided Arab efforts to do something about the Hamas problem, either to produce Palestinian unity or to side with one camp or the other, more decisively or somehow address that issue. Because I think from a regional standpoint, Arab governments understand how difficult a problem this is and how really troublesome it is.
I think that the – where the U.S. finds itself in that connection is clearly on the side of what we like to call the moderate Arab trend or camp of Egypt and Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which tend to support the Palestinian Authority, rather than Hamas, rather than – right, in opposition to what seems to be a new access – if you want to call it that – or camp of Syria and Qatar in its own small way, and Iran, actually, a non-Arab country that are supporting Hamas, rather than the PA, rather than Abbas – Hamas over Abbas. From my standpoint, Palestinian unity is desirable, but not if it results in a rejection of peace. And if Arab governments are able to produce a rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah that accepts the peace process, that would be great in my – that’s my own personal view. And that would contribute to, actually, the Arabs’ own peace initiative, because there’s a contradiction at – in my view, in supporting a peace initiative, on the one hand, and supporting Hamas on the other hand.
Those two things just don’t go together. They can’t go together. Hamas, in principle, is against the very idea of peace with Israel under any conditions, even if Israel withdrew from every inch of the occupied territories. And for that reason, I think that American policy should encourage our friends in the Arab world to resolve this contradiction in a way that would support the peace process rather than complicate it even further.
Now on the Israeli side, what’s very interesting about the Israeli campaign is that for the first time, you have had various important Israeli politicians saying – you know, cautious, but basically positive things about the Arab peace initiative. And I would say that was clearly true of Barak and, in his day, Ehud Olmert, but also of Tzipi Livni and even, to some extent, of Netanyahu, who has, in his own statements and especially in statements by his advisors, talked about a regional component of the Arab-Israeli peace process.
And if you’re interested, again, in pursuing that further, I would refer you to – in the same publication that I mentioned before that I edited, there’s a chapter by Dori Gold, who is one of Netanyahu’s senior advisors, expressing his own personal opinion, but I think it has some significance for what Netanyahu’s policy might be, in which he talks about a regional aspect to the peace process in a way that Israel was not open to in the past, but I think might be open to in the future, even under a relatively right wing government.MODERATOR:
Right there in the middle, please. QUESTION:
Brian Beary from Europolitics. You talked a little bit about the religious-secular divide.MR. POLLOCK:
Could you – cause I know it’s very complicated with the religious parties, could you just say a little bit about --MR. POLLOCK:
-- how the religious parties did?MR. POLLOCK:
And I believe some of them are pro-settlement --MR. POLLOCK:
-- and some of them are anti-settlement.MR. POLLOCK:
Can you explain a little bit --MR. POLLOCK:
-- about that? And if some – because if some of them get into the government --MR. POLLOCK:
-- how could that impact the policies on the settlement?MR. POLLOCK:
Okay. First of all, they’re – the religious parties are on the Jewish side, right? We’re not – we’re talking about – not, you know, Islamic religious parties, which are also a factor in Israeli politics. They’re – they have a very small representation in parliament, and it’s actually declining. So that – according to the, you know, almost final, not quite final results, it looks like you’re going to have really only eight seats out of 120 that belong to Jewish religious parties – five for what’s called United Torah Judaism, what used to be the Aguda party, and three for Bayit Yehudi, the Jewish household or Jewish home party, which is a religious party.
The – traditionally, and I’ll say – there’s also Shas, okay, which is a – kind of a religious party in – it’s kind of on the hybrid, religious and also ethnic – Sephardi, right, Jewish, which has nine seats, which is fewer than it had before. In other words, the strength of these parties is not increasing. If anything, it’s decreasing slightly.
Now when it comes to their views on settlement, it is – of all of these parties, it really is only the smallest one that is strongly in favor of settlement. And the Shaz has kind of the largest Jewish religious party, and it’s only – I emphasize it’s only partly religious. It’s not sort of traditionally, traditionally religious in many respect. Shaz has a kind of uncertain view on that issue. And the in-between religious party, United Torah Judaism, is actually traditionally very indifferent to the whole settlement issue, and in fact, to foreign policy altogether. It’s much more concerned about internal social and religious, cultural, and even, to some extent, economic or educational issues.
So in fact, one of the curious things about this election campaign – and I was going to bring some digital material with me, but left it behind – is that this party called United Torah Judaism actually made a last-minute effort to attract votes from Israel’s Arab citizens, almost, you know, overwhelmingly Muslims, on the grounds that they shared a common opposition to racism, right? That they were – they believed in the true religion and family values and things like that. I don’t think it was a very successful campaign effort, but at least that was their formal position.
So overall, to try to answer your question, I would say the influence of the religious parties on settlement issues is relatively limited. It’s just that the settlers themselves, not in terms of their – the political parties in the parliament, but the settlers themselves are a very organized, significant group of people with – you know, numbering almost 300,000 today, not counting East Jerusalem with another almost 300,000. So that’s where it’s more of a demographic and practical problem than it is a religious or a political issue in terms of what to do about these people as part of a peace process.
We have time for one more question, then we will go there.QUESTION:
Sorry, we can talk afterwards if you like, yeah.MODERATOR:
Can you hear me? Sure.QUESTION:
Well, you know, you were talking about the disappointments on the Israeli side, and I totally agree. But if you look at the other side, you see the same disappointments.MR. POLLOCK:
And you see the disappointments with the settlements because when you talk to Palestinians, they will always tell you, well, what did peace agreements really --MR. POLLOCK:
-- you know, deliver.MR. POLLOCK:
And the settlements have increased, so -- MR. POLLOCK:
It seems to be like a vicious circle. And when you look at Mitchell and the Mitchell report that he called for freezing the settlements --MR. POLLOCK:
-- in 2000 and --MR. POLLOCK:
-- really, nothing happened. So what can happen and what should be the U.S. position on the settlements, and the U.S. position also in talking to Hamas? You know, you could always say --MR. POLLOCK:
-- there are always preconditions to talks. But actually, you talk to your enemies without telling them, you know, you have to agree to the end result in advance, so – because the result will be the consequence of every talk.MR. POLLOCK:
Sure, okay. Yeah, both parts of your question are very good and very difficult. I would just say, briefly, this. First of all, let me take the second one first.
On Hamas, I am absolutely against an American change of policy toward engaging with Hamas or trying to bring it into the peace process. And that’s just my personal view, but it’s based on, I’d like to think, anyway, a lot of thought and experience with this issue. And the reason for that is that of course you talk to your enemies, but – if you want to make peace, but the Israelis and the Palestinians are already doing that, and – that is, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And Hamas is the one that says no, we shouldn’t have peace, and object to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
So in this case, what you would be doing for the U.S. to intervene and try to bring Hamas into this picture, it would be not talking to the enemy of the United States, but talking to the enemy of the Israelis and the Palestinians who want to make peace. And that’s – that, in my view, is – it’s really pretty simple. That’s a recipe for absolutely destroying the peace process once and for all. So those of us who would like to see – and I count myself in that group – who would like to see the peace process revived and produce a better outcome for all sides, I think should absolutely reject that option. And I – actually, I believe that that is a decision that this new American Administration has made, and rightly so, in my view.
Now, on the other part of your question about the settlements, this – you’re absolutely right. Both sides have been terribly, profoundly disappointed and disillusioned by the results of the peace process. And I think that it would be a great idea if the – again, just my personal suggestion, if whatever Israeli Government is formed announces a moratorium or a freeze or whatever you want to call it on new settlements. But I would support that. I do support that.
I would – but if it doesn’t, if, for internal political reasons, for practical reasons – as I said, there are just so many internal pressures and people who have a different view inside Israel. If the Israeli Government doesn’t do that, that, in my view, shouldn’t mean that the peace process has to stop. That – to me, that’s a council of despair. That’s like saying, well, there’s nothing we can do, and it’s not true.
And I think I would just summarize it by saying this: The Israelis and the Palestinians – the Palestinian Authority – reached agreement in private that some Israeli settlements would – would probably remain in place, and there would be some kind of exchange, a territorial swap, you know, the Palestinians would get other territories, you know, would trade land. And so if that is really the case, and I am quite certain that it is the case, then in my view, it’s time to stop arguing about another building here, another settlement there, and to focus on what the parties can agree about, which is the idea of trading territory and establishing an independent, viable Palestinian state. The settlement issue, in my view, emotional as it is and difficult as it is, is actually – even from – for the Palestinians themselves is a bit of a distraction from the real goal, which is to set up their own state.MODERATOR:
I’d like to thank you all for coming. Hopefully, I’ll see you soon again.MR. POLLOCK:
Thank you very much.
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