Israeli ambassador: we’re a “long way from discussing settlements”
Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, who laid down a marker by arguing in Thursday’s New York Times that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state now, met with a host of Arab American leaders the night before to explain recent Israeli decisions regarding the peace process and assure them of ...
Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, who laid down a marker by arguing in Thursday's New York Times that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state now, met with a host of Arab American leaders the night before to explain recent Israeli decisions regarding the peace process and assure them of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's commitment to the end goal.
Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, who laid down a marker by arguing in Thursday’s New York Times that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state now, met with a host of Arab American leaders the night before to explain recent Israeli decisions regarding the peace process and assure them of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment to the end goal.
Hosted by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, which is led by rumored future U.S. ambassador to Israel, Robert Wexler, Oren responded to questions from a range of groups, including the American Task Force on Palestine, the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, the Palestinian Business Committee for Peace and Reform, AMIDEAST, the American Task Force on Lebanon, the El-Bireh Palestine Society, and others.
Here are some excerpts of what Oren said:
On the Israeli attitude to the peace process:
To understand [the Israeli] perspective you need to understand that first of all Israel, and Israelis, have been through a great deal over the course of the last decade, since 2000, certainly… What is extraordinary, I believe, is that in spite of all this upheaval and violence and trauma, that a significant majority of Israelis still support a two-state solution… That’s the good news. The less-than-good news is that as a result of all these disappointments and setbacks in violence, many Israelis, a significant majority, almost the same majority that supports a two-state solution, is skeptical about the ability to achieve that solution; skeptical of the Palestinian leadership’s willingness to step up and make that historical peace; skeptical of the willingness of the Palestinian people specifically, and of the broader Arab world to accept a permanent and Jewish state in the Middle East; skeptical about an end of violence.
On the current status of the talks:
I won’t dissemble the fact, I don’t think I could dissemble the fact, that we are at an impasse tonight. We are each in our own corner — the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Arab League, I think the administration also — and we’re looking for the right bell that will get us out of these corners and get us to the middle but not swinging, talking. And I would be misleading you to indicate in any way that I have the magic formula, that anybody has the magic formula for this. I can only assure you, again, that this government and the Prime Minister are deeply and unequivocally committed to this process.
On Netanyahu’s offer to extend the settlement freeze only if Palestinians accept Israel as a "Jewish state":
The situation was created where there was a complete impasse in the talks. The PM felt that with the level of skepticism – that some measure had to be given by the Palestinians that would reassure the Israeli public, the Israeli public that feels they have made concession after concession whether it is recognition of the two state solution, the support from the bottom up, the security in the West Bank-they needed to hear something from the Palestinians that the Palestinians were serious about peace. And the Prime Minister felt that if he had that from the Palestinians-and once again this was only created by the end of the moratorium issue-that he could go to the government and try to persuade them on the extension. He did not.
On the right of return for Palestinian refugees:
We also understand that here is a final status issue, a classic one that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state means that Palestinian refugees will not be resettled there. They will be resettled in the Palestinian state and not in the Jewish statme or in any other state but not in the Jewish state. The demographic integrity of Israel will be preserved. Recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is not a tactical issue for us. It is the most fundamental issue for us. It’s the absolute core of the conflict. It’s what created the conflict to begin with.
On the idea of an American plan for Middle East peace:
I don’t want to in any way imply that they can quickly reach this without bridging proposals by the U.S. There is a big difference between a bridging proposal and an overarching comprehensive agreement. And our fears relating to an overarching comprehensive agreement — "this is our American version of peace" — is that it will not meet our vital security needs, as we were talking about here earlier. And secondly that it could lead to an imposed solution. Because once it’s on that table you don’t know where it goes or how the tables are going to find itself. It could find itself in an international organization that could say that if the two parties do not accept this proposal they could sanctioned. That’s a real fear. And in which that would put us in a very adversarial position.
On why Israel doesn’t want to discuss settlements now:
Settlements — from our perspective — is a final status issue. It is way down the list of final status issues because settlements from our perspective are a subcategory of borders which are a subcategory of security. And so we are a long way from discussing settlements. By putting them up front, it creates a difficultly — a political difficulty. And it further augments the skepticism that many Israelis feel about the seriousness of a Palestinian interlocutor if they’re making the issue of settlements — something that the government cannot do right now.
On the Arab Peace Initiative:
The Israeli government welcomes the Arab Peace Initiative. We welcome it as a positive contribution to the peace process. We think it’s a single component of a future possible peace. We feel that it’s not enough. And that the promise of normalization for withdrawal to the ’67 borders would have far greater wave, and have far greater persuasive powers in the Israeli public, if the Arab world was willing to take even the minutest steps towards normalization… Israelis are generally not aware of what is in the Arab Peace Initiative. But they are aware that the Arab world is not taking any steps, even symbolic steps towards normalization. And those steps would have immense impact on Israeli public opinion.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.
Scoop: Turkey and Hungary Not Invited to Biden’s Big Democracy Summit
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
Netanyahu’s Legal Crusade Is Sparking a Military Backlash in Israel
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?