Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My Commentary on Saudi and Israeli former Intelligence Chiefs Historic Discussion on Mideast Peace

Watch this historic conversation between the former heads of Israeli & Saudi Military Intelligence, HRH Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, now of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, Riyadh, and General Amos Yadlin, Director, Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv, moderated by David Ignatius of the Washington Post.

Most interesting point for me: Yadlin refers to a poll that shows that if Netanyahu adopted the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for negotiations, 65% of Israelis would support it. Prince Turki refers to a poll showing 60% of Palestinians support a two-state solution. Both made excellent points about overcoming the mistrust, the psychological barriers that block the way to a peace accord: Yadlin invites Prince Turki to pray in the mosques in Jerusalem, and then to address the Israeli public from the Knesset rostrum and present the Arab Peace Initiative. Prince Turki declines, asking why doesn't Netanyahu present it to the Israeli public himself. 

Of course, if Prince Turki, or King Faisal, did a "Sadat," it would break through enormous psychological barriers of mistrust for Israelis, as I witnessed when I co-translated the official English version of Sadat's historic speech in the Knesset just a few years after the devastating Yom Kippur War.   But Prince Turki is also right:  the Arab peace proposal has been on the table for a very long time, since 2002, and despite its awful timing during the worst days of the Second Intifada, it's been re-issued since, and updated, at Kerry's request, this past year, to allow for mutually agreed land swaps to the 1967 borders to enable Israel to incorporate major settlements into Israel's final negotiated borders. But Netanyahu has preferred to hold onto power with his current right-wing-dominated coalition, than to form a more centrist coalition that would negotiate on the basis of this proposal.

Yadlin also thinks the chance of a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian agreement is less than if you wanted to win the lottery and you didn't buy a ticket. He favors coordinated unilateral Israeli steps to withdraw settlers from parts of the West Bank, turning over more territory to Palestinian control, while maintaining Israeli military control of the West Bank (see his detailed proposal, and related ideas, at http://bluewhitefuture.org/) Prince Turki raises objections to Israeli unilateral steps, even if they are coordinated with the Palestinians and the international community.

Despite Prince Turki's objections, I think there are versions of Yadlin's proposal which could be worth pursuing, in coordination with the U.S. and the Palestinians, and that "constructive unilateralism" shouldn't be dismissed based on one variant of the idea. There are far-reaching constructive steps Israel could take to transform positively the atmosphere for negotiations - including relocating the Israeli settlers from the Palestinian side of the separation barrier. These steps could be pursued during negotiations, or they could be initiated as a prelude to a new round of talks. Constructive unilateral steps and negotiations need not be mutually exclusive. While there's little hope that Netanyahu will opt for any kind of constructive unilateralism - destructive unilateralism is more his style - it's not beyond the realm of possibility after the next election that a new crop of Israeli center-left security figures could revitalize the center-left - former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and others - and consider such ideas.

Here's Part I.  Parts 2 & 3 are also very much worth watching, more about Iran, Syria and the rest of the Middle East.  And they have the famous "glass of water" humorous moment.   As others have noted, while this is the first time they've met in public for such a conversation, these two have probably met covertly many times before, thanks to the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has done so much to drive their countries into each other's arms.