What is the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the on-going peace process? Do the agreements in Oslo and in Wye represent breakthroughs, or are the prospects for peace as far away as ever? Linda Gradstein, Israel Correspondent, National Public Radio, John S. Knight Journalism Fellow, Stanford University, Sylvia Shihahdeh, President, Austin Chapter of American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and Abraham Sofaer, George P. Shultz Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution discuss whether an independent Palestinian state is the inevitable result of the peace process.
ROBINSON Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today: The Peace Process in the Middle East. We begin with... Bert and Ernie. Not long ago a version of Sesame Street began airing in the Middle East. It's an intriguing thought: Bert, Ernie, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Elmo, all teaching little Israeli and Palestinian children how to count, how to spell, and how to get along with each other, showing them a place where everyone is polite to everyone else regardless of his religion, his ethnic background, or for that matter, his species.
But after centuries of strife between Arabs and Jews, is peace in the Middle East, notwithstanding the Oslo Accord and the more recent agreements in Wye, Maryland, is peace in the Middle East a realistic prospect?
With us today, three guests. Linda Gradstein is Israel Correspondent of NPR, National Public Radio. Abraham Sofaer is a Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a close student of Israeli affairs. Sylvia Shihahdeh is President of the Austin chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Each of our guests is cultivated, articulate, civil, but just watch: when it comes to the Middle East, well, let's just say they have a little more trouble agreeing with each other than Bert and Ernie.
PEACE BY PIECE
ROBINSON History is everything in the Middle East Sylvia, the Jews have been persecuted for centuries. They had endured the unspeakable horrors of the European Holocaust. In 1948 they proclaimed the state of Israel. The surrounding Arab states invade, go to war. Why? Why couldn't the Palestinian people live in peace with the Jews in Israel?
SHIHAHDEH Well, for one thing, the Arab people were not even asked if the Jews from all around the world could go and live with them. And the other thing is that the Israelis-- or the Jews-- that came from Europe and everywhere else in the world, wanted to come and dominate the indigenous population, they did not want to come and live with them as equals.
ROBINSON Linda, has she not got a point? 1918, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, these are the population figures I got on Palestine. Half a million Arab Muslims, one hundred thousand Arab Christians, sixty thousand Jews, at least fifty thousand of whom had immigrated to Palestine since 1880 with the beginning of the Zionist movement. That is to say, it is an overwhelmingly Arab population. By the time of the proclamation of the state of Israel in 1948, the number of Jews who have immigrated is so large that now the Jewish population is upwards of half a million. Don't the Palestinians have a point— they were pushed out?
GRADSTEIN Well, I think both sides have a point, to be quite honest. Again, it depends how far back you go. If you go back even further, there was a very significant Jewish population, you know, up to three thousand years ago. History is important, but the reality on the ground is also important. One thing I think sometimes is forgotten is that in 1947 there was a partition plan in which the area that is today Israel would have been divided between an Arab state and a Jewish state...
ROBINSON This is the British plan or the United Nations plan?
GRADSTEIN The United Nations plan...
ROBINSON The United Nations plan, okay...
GRADSTEIN ...and the Jews after much debate accepted it, the Arabs didn't.
ROBINSON What I'm trying to get at right now is the living memory. So within the memory of the Palestinians now alive, that land used to be theirs. And Jews began arriving in enormous numbers. My question would be...
SOFAER A lot of it was bought.
ROBINSON A lot of it was bought?
SOFAER A lot of this land was bought...
ROBINSON Well, my question would be, Are the Palestinian Arabs, Christians and Muslims alike, being made to pay the price for European anti-semitism?
SOFAER It's a reasonable argument. But the biggest reason for the price they're paying is their unwillingness to accept even a small group of Jews on the coastal plain. The riots and fights and efforts to kill Jews and destroy Jewish settlements go back to the twenties.
ROBINSON Had the Palestinians accepted the 1947 mandate, they would have been faced with Jews living in a quite narrow strip of land, along the sea...
SHIHAHDEH No, that's not correct...
ROBINSON ...and have been able to retain eighty percent of what they later lost. Is that not true?
SHIHAHDEH No, no, that's not true. Actually, the Partition gave Israel the majority of the land. The West Bank comprises forty percent only of Palestine.
GRADSTEIN Didn't the Partition give the Arabs the Galilee as well, and wasn't more a patchwork kind of quilt where the Jews would have areas of heavier Jewish populations and the Arabs would have the areas of heavier Arab populations. So it's not just the West Bank...
SHIHAHDEH ...Well, no, actually it was East Jerusalem and the West Bank were given to, partitioned to— not even Palestine: it was given to Jordan. So they erased Palestine totally.
ROBINSON Is it fair to say that Jews, persecuted for centuries, and responding in large measure to anti-semitism in Europe, desperate for an historical homeland, go back to Palestine, and consider themselves entitled to do so, both because of Biblical history-- ancient history, and because of these centuries of persecution? That's fair enough? [
SHIHAHDEH: um hmm] And the Palestinians were there already, and the Palestinian grievance is: From our point of view we've been there for centuries and they simply arrived.
SHIHAHDEH Prior to 1948 the Jewish population was six percent...
ROBINSON Six percent prior to 1948...
SHIHAHDEH Six percent prior to 1948, and you said something earlier...
SOFAER And the European population in Northern America was zero percent, so I mean you...Are you going to push out all the Christians in North America?
ROBINSON Hold on now, wait a minute. Hold on. I want to give you a chance. I want to give you a chance to examine what you just did. You just compared what the Jews did in founding Israel to what European settlers did to the Native American Indians here... [
SHIHAHDEH Quite a parallel, actually. Quite a parallel.]
SOFAER It's nowhere near as comparable...
ROBINSON Okay, so you don't want to go that road.
SOFAER ...but certainly what was done to the indigenous population here had less justification: historical, social, and everything else.
ROBINSON Okay, move on...
SHIHAHDEH I think it's quite a parallel, actually, between what happened to the Native Americans and what is happening to the Palestinians. And I wanted to correct one thing: Historically, the Jewish population fared a lot better in/among the Arab people than they did in the Western world.
ROBINSON Okay. Let's move on now.
ROBINSON From historical disputes to the current dispute, the ongoing and often troubled peace process.
WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR
ROBINSON The Oslo accords, Linda, what did they accomplish?
GRADSTEIN I think they accomplished a tremendous turning point...
ROBINSON Let's put a date on that, that's 1993.
GRADSTEIN Right. September ‘93, on the White House lawn, Yitzhak Rabin shaking hands with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, something that most of us who covered the Middle East for years thought would never happen. And I think it put it in .....
ROBINSON Why did you think it would never happen?
GRADSTEIN Because the enmity was so entrenched, and both sides felt, and still feel, that right is completely on their side. And when each side feels that you're a hundred percent right, it's very difficult to compromise. But the Oslo Accord also means the end of a dream for both sides, and I think it's very important. It means the end of the Jewish dream to Greater Israel. In other words, Israel being in control of the entire West Bank, which is really the biblical heartland of Israel, and for the Pales...
ROBINSON Let's pause for a moment. The West Bank— just describe the geography. The West Bank means a chunk of...
GRADSTEIN Means the West Bank of the Jordan river. Jews actually call it Judea and Samaria using the biblical names. They don't like to use the ‘West Bank.' My understanding is sort of in international law: it's the West Bank of the Jordan river. It was under Jordanian control from 1948 until 1967. In 1967 in the Six Day War, Israel conquered the West Bank, interestingly did not annex it. And in fact, Moshe Dayan in 1967 said he was waiting for a phone call from King Hussein to give the whole thing back...
SOFAER Most Jews have never subscribed to the Greater Israel concept. [
GRADSTEIN: Right.] Most Israelis have never subscribed to it. There is a minority of Israelis that have had this idea, and it's caught fire more and more in recent days, and it's become a problem for the majority to convince those people to make peace.
GRADSTEIN Well, I'll tell you that my understanding...
ROBINSON What was the end of the dream on the Palestinian side?
GRADSTEIN The end of the dream on the Palestinian side was their dream to return to Haifa and Jaffa and Lod. If you go into Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, or if you go— I was in Amman a couple years ago, and I asked a little three-year-old girl, Where are you from? And she named a name of a village that no longer exists. Not only had she never seen that village, her parents had never ever seen this village. But I think for both sides it really meant the end of a dream. And to me, that's the only way there's going to be compromise, is if both sides give up their dreams.
ROBINSON And the Oslo Accords called for what?
GRADSTEIN The Oslo Accords called for— there are really two parts to the Oslo Accords: the Interim Agreement, and the Final Status Agreement. The Interim Agreement called for a phased Israeli pullback from heavily populated Palestinian areas, in exchange for a step by step crackdown— Palestinian crackdown— on terrorism. The Israelis thought that they would feel safer and the Palestinians thought that their economic situation would improve. Neither of those have happened and that's the problem.
ROBINSON Neither one has happened. Why has neither one happened, Sylvia?
SHIHAHDEH What the Oslo Accords have done is create homelands, like in South Africa, Bantustans of different regions. Disconnection between Palestinian towns from one to the other. For example, since the Oslo Accord, there is more closure. The people in the West Bank of the town of Ramallah for example, cannot go to visit the mosque or the holy sepulcher or...
ROBINSON So what's going on is that the Palestinian people are moving- they have a desire for a unified piece of territory, the notion of moving ultimately toward a state of their own, and the Oslo Accords give them a little piece here, a little piece here, a little piece here, and make travel or unification...
SOFAER It's only a first step.
GRADSTEIN If I can just correct Sylvia, we're talking only about the Interim Agreement, and the final stage, which is what they're supposed to be starting now [ROBINSON We'll get to that.] is where we'll talk about all of the things that you're bringing up. So it's a stage by stage process.
SHIHAHDEH Well, how did we even get to Oslo? It's because there was a movement called the Intifada-- the Uprising-- inside the territories, and it was gaining ground and people were behind it and Arafat was losing control, losing power. So then...
ROBINSON You will not carry a brief for Arafat— you disapprove of Arafat?
SHIHAHDEH Yes I do.
SOFAER The peace process began in earnest when Sadat came to Jerusalem.
ROBINSON In nineteen-seventy....
SOFAER ...and that set into motion a series of events that has been a steady progress of greater and greater peace. There was withdrawal from Sinai, there was the peace treaty with Egypt, there's now a peace treaty with Jordan. The thing that's going on with the Palestinians is part of an overall acceptance of the state of Israel on the one hand by the Arab people, and an acceptance by the state of Israel of limits on its authority, of limits on its territory, and finding a place for itself among the Arab peoples.
ROBINSON The Camp David Agreement worked out pretty well for Egypt. So what keeps the Palestinians from making a deal like that for themselves?
PEACE, LIKUD OR NOT
ROBINSON The establishment of a formal peace between Egypt and Israel, that's worked out pretty well for Egypt. The United States gives foreign assistance to Egypt of about three billion dollars a year. For twenty years, two decades, Egypt has been able to go about its own business as a nation. Why don't the Palestinians make a similar— wouldn't that be better for the Palestinian people? Just accept reality— it's been half a century.
SHIHAHDEH They accepted reality a long time ago. And actually, when Sadat was negotiating peace with the Israelis, one of the plans was to include Palestine— Palestine and the Palestinian question— and peace for the whole region. It was the Israelis that refused it, and Arafat himself had acknowledged the presence and the sovereignty of Israel within Israel. They did not accept it. They didn't want to deal with Palestinians. They wanted to keep them as Bantustans with the domination over the region, over the Palestinians...
SOFAER ...Every time the Arabs have reached out to the Israelis, the Israelis have made peace, and that is what finally has happened now. [SHIHAHDEH That's another myth. That's an outright lie.] Arafat and the Palestinians— well this is my position and I think the history backs it up a hundred percent [SHIHAHDEH No, actually, history does not back that up.] — Arafat has finally said, I will not any more advocate the destruction of the state of Israel, I will make peace with you. And what's great about what he's doing, is that at last he's become practical and he's getting victories for his people.
ROBINSON Why have the Oslo Accords bogged down?
GRADSTEIN There are a few reasons. One is that there are more holes in the Oslo Agreement— as Sandy Berger described the agreement with the Iraqis, he said it had more holes than Swiss cheese, and that was one of the problems with Oslo. And two was the change of government in Israel...
ROBINSON Now let's talk about that. Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated by an Israeli [GRADSTEIN Yes, yes...]in 1995. In the following year Benjamin Netanyahu is elected...
GRADSTEIN By twenty-eight thousand five hundred votes.
ROBINSON By a sliver.
GRADSTEIN Sliver. Sliver sliver.
ROBINSON By a sliver. Linda, contrast those two men briefly.
GRADSTEIN The difference between those two men is that Rabin basically staked his reputation on the Oslo Peace Accords. He said, I think that this is the best deal for Israel and I think that it's in Israel's interest to move ahead with this. Netanyahu...
ROBINSON Now, he spoke with a certain moral authority, did he not? He was a military man himself.
GRADSTEIN Yeah. He was the chief of staff and had...
ROBINSON So he knew war.
GRADSTEIN He knew war. And I think that somebody else just like Arafat, to tell you the truth— I know you're not a big fan of Arafat, Sylvia— but I don't think anybody else could have sold the peace process to the Palestinians and I don't think anybody but Rabin could have sold it to the Israelis.
ROBINSON Can I frame that moment then: So the Oslo Accords really are a very dramatic moment because Yasser Arafat who knows war himself and Yitzhak Rabin who was a general on the Israeli side, and they manage to shake hands.
GRADSTEIN I remember the night before the ceremony...
ROBINSON Sylvia, a thrilling moment, right? For you, or not?
SHIHAHDEH Oslo still meant that subjugation of Palestinian people. And you cannot negotiate an agreement or peace if you don't consider everybody as equals. What Israel is is an apartheid state.
ROBINSON We'll move on...
GRADSTEIN I disagree...
ROBINSON ...go back to Netanyahu.
GRADSTEIN Netanyahu said that the Oslo Agreement is a bad deal for Israel. However, Netanyahu was...
ROBINSON So he's a hard-liner? He's more of a hard-liner? He's more of a skeptic?
GRADSTEIN He's more of a skeptic. But Netanyahu came into power, and by such a small margin, not as a vote against the peace process— I think it's very important to say this— Netanyahu was brought into power to get the best deal that he could. The idea among many Israelis was that Shimon Peres, Rabin's successor, would give away the store, and that Netanyahu would be forced to pursue the peace process but he would get a better deal for Israel.
ROBINSON Who got the better deal when Netanyahu and Arafat met in Wye, Maryland?
HAMMERING SWORDS INTO PLO SHARES
ROBINSON The Wye Accords. President Clinton brings Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat together again in a remote estate in Maryland called Wye. And they come to agreement. Israel will withdraw from a little bit more, around twelve or thirteen...
GRADSTEIN Thirteen percent more. It's a lot more. It gives the Palestinians...
SOFAER ...went from two percent [
SOFAER] to thirteen percent of total Palestinian control...
ROBINSON Good deal!
GRADSTEIN ...total or partial over forty percent.
ROBINSON Why is it a bad deal?
SHIHAHDEH Because, actually, it's so misleading when you say thirteen percent. It's thirteen percent of the twenty-two percent which the Palestinians are supposed to get, and that's twenty-two percent of the West Bank, okay? So, in essence, what the Palestinians would get is another three percent under their total control...
ROBINSON Abe, why don't you just give them what they want?
SOFAER Give who what they want?
ROBINSON The Palestinians. Withdraw tomorrow, make peace...
SOFAER I'm not in charge of Israel. I'm an American.
ROBINSON Why don't you advocate that Israel withdraw tomorrow? What is the concern...
SOFAER No no. I've always advocated, always advocated that Israel should make peace with the Palestinians. I think that the Israelis and the Palestinians have a lot in common, as a culture, as a people, they have a future together. They should be working together as equals.
SHIHAHDEH As equals. Thank you.
SOFAER ...and I think the future will hold amazing things, but it has to happen slowly. There's no way it can happen with a snap of the fingers.
SHIHAHDEH We've been waiting for fifty years. That's not a snap of the fingers.
SOFAER We have too.
GRADSTEIN You have to realize that the emotions run so high among both Israelis and Palestinians there, there's such demonization of each other. You know, Israelis, in the past, since Oslo, you've seen four suicide bombings. And when I covered those suicide bombings, and they were horrible, I didn't just cover...
SHIHAHDEH Why didn't you cover, Linda, the demolition of Palestinian homes, you know, I mean, that goes on...
GRADSTEIN Of course I covered that too. I covered that too. I covered it all. I covered that. In fact-- I'm attacked by both sides, that's not the point. What I think the point is is that in the region, Israelis and Palestinians really don't know each other, they have no contact, they move on parallel tracks, and they're afraid of each other...
SHIHAHDEH Wait. You know why they don't move together...
GRADSTEIN ...and the only way this peace accord is gonna really take root is if you start having projects to bring them together. There has to be visits to high schools, there has to be breaking down those walls of distrust, and that hasn't happened.
SHIHAHDEH How about, how about, uh, living together?
ROBINSON (to GRADSTEIN) You sound a little bit like an American liberal. Bring them together, put a piece of bread on the table...
GRADSTEIN No, no
SOFAER Let them be apart. Let the Palestinians gain more self-respect, more control over their destiny...
ROBINSON Do you like the sound of this?
SOFAER ...more of an economy. They have to have an economy.
SHIHAHDEH Right now, under this so-called peace agreement, really, the economy, the Palestinian economy, is totally dependent on Israel.
SOFAER I'm with Sylvia on that.
GRADSTEIN I'm with Sylvia on that one too.
ROBINSON You grant that the state of Israel keeps the Palestinian people in a state of economic dependence, even subjugation?
SOFAER For whatever reason, some people argue it's necessary for security, they make arguments, but the end result is...
ROBINSON You grant that.
SOFAER Absolutely. The Palestinians in the occupied territories have had no opportunity to be their talented, entrepreneurial selves. Look at them all over the world— I mean they're tremendously successful people.
ROBINSON Will the Palestinians finally end up with a state of their own? And if they do, what will that mean for the peace process?
GAZA' IN TO THE FUTURE
ROBINSON Charles Krauthammer, American commentator, close student of affairs in the Middle East, wrote recently (I quote him): "Statehood is the issue. On May 4, 1995 (that would be at the end of the five year period that the Oslo accords originally foresaw, notwithstanding that that timetable has been derailed, but it would have been at the end of the five year period originally foreseen, I quote Krauthammer) Arafat will declare a Palestinian state." Will he?
SHIHAHDEH Well, he already declared a Palestinian state in exile in 1988 in Algeria.
ROBINSON But there was no territory. Now there's territory...
SHIHAHDEH There is still no territory. The way Oslo has divided Palestine, there is no connection between the towns in Palestine, and Arafat cannot even go from one town to another, I mean, it would have to be with permits...
ROBINSON So the whole idea is a joke...
SHIHAHDEH It's a joke!
ROBINSON You don't like Yasser Arafat. You don't like what's happened at Oslo, you don't like what's happened at Wye. What would you want?
SHIHAHDEH I want the country to be a country of its citizens, regardless whether they are Jewish or Christians or Muslims.
ROBINSON You want Palestinians to be given Israeli citizenship? That is to say, you want one country, or do you want...
SHIHAHDEH One state solutions. One state solutions.
ROBINSON One state... You don't want a Palestinian state?
SHIHAHDEH It's not working. Right now what they're doing is like I'm saying, it's subjugating the Palestinian people. When the Israelis talk about peace, they're really talking about subjugating the Palestinians with no resistance, with peace.
SOFAER She doesn't want Israel either, I mean, that's what she's saying.
SHIHAHDEH I'm not, no, actually, I'm not saying that I don't want Israel: I want Israel to be a country, equal, for everyone.
ROBINSON In your dreams of the way it ought to be, do you see about half of the seats in the Knesset held by Arabs?
SHIHAHDEH Or proportional to the population, whatever that is. Half, or less than half, or whatever...
ROBINSON Do you believe, given five decades of the history that we've seen, there's even a remote chance of bringing that to pass?
[SOFAER Could have happened.
ROBINSON Could have happened fifty years ago.
SHIHAHDEH Well, people of conscience should really aim for that, because that's the only
ROBINSON Do you buy it?
GRADSTEIN I just think it's unrealistic, and I think that in this sense most Palestinian...
SHIHAHDEH Why is it unrealistic?
GRADSTEIN Because I think that's not what most Palestinians or most Israelis want, to be quite honest. [several voices] I've talked to thousands and thousands of Palestinians and they want an independent state...
ROBINSON They want out. They want the state of Israel out.
GRADSTEIN They want a divorce, they don't want a marriage. You're talking about a marriage, they want a divorce.
ROBINSON Will he declare a Palestinian state?
GRADSTEIN Yes, yes.
SOFAER He will.
ROBINSON You think he will?
SOFAER I hope he doesn't.
ROBINSON You hope he doesn't. How come?
SOFAER I think it will hurt him. I think it will hurt him in the negotiation. The think the Israelis will exploit it, just the way they have exploited every other hostile act by the Arab enemies. They will in fact seize unilaterally many areas and...
ROBINSON That is to say, by May, sixty percent of the West Bank will still remain in Israeli hands [GRADSTEIN and SOFAER Right.]. Yasser Arafat says we're a state [GRADSTEIN and SOFAER Right.] he gets a number of Arab countries to recognize Palestine, and Israel says: "Okay, buddy, that sixty percent that you want— it's ours from now on." That's what you...
SOFAER See right now, right now Netanyahu couldn't do that— he couldn't do it. The Israeli people would not let him do that. But...
ROBINSON Let him do...
SOFAER ...declare, take that unilaterally. They would not let him do it. But if Arafat declares a state, and they get into a hostile confrontation, there is going to be the majority of the Israelis who are in the middle, politically— the moderate, politically, they're going to swing behind the right again, and there's going to be annexations, and I don't want to see it happen. Would I want to see a sovereign state? Well, a Palestinian state has been a foregone conclusion for twenty years. It was just up to the Palestinians to demand it.
ROBINSON You welcome it when it arrives?
SOFAER Absolutely, I welcome it.
ROBINSON You welcome it when it arrives?
SOFAER Now wait, let me say, when it's going to be in the advantage of everyone... It's very important to talk about statehood for the Palestinians, and to talk about Israel, in the context that Sylvia was talking about. This is a group of people— Jordan, the Palestinians, the Israelis— who are tied together. They have needs of each other. They want to go into each other's territory. Al Agsa is going to be right there in the middle of Jerusalem, and the Arab people want to go to Al Agsa.
SHIHAHDEH That's right, and they can't...
ROBINSON What is Al Agsa?
SHIHAHDEH and SOFAER The mosque.
SOFAER And they have to be able to do that. And the settlements are there, and the Jews want to stay in those settlements. They need to share each other's sovereignty, that's what I'm saying.
ROBINSON What on earth do you mean by that?
SOFAER People commit themselves in advance, not to act unilaterally with each other on matters of fundamental importance.
ROBINSON See this is good will, reasonableness, and he would argue that he stands for, or he represents, or at least reflects, the moderate, reasonable center of Israeli opinion. Why don't you do business with them?
SHIHAHDEH European Jews have created Israel in the midst of Arab countries, with no say for Arab people, and they wanted to come in...
ROBINSON But they're there, they're not leaving. They've got a wonderful air force, they've got support from the United States— they're not going anywhere.
SHIHAHDEH That's fine... It's an exclusive country for Jews only.
ROBINSON Let me ask for a prediction— not whether you think it ought to happen, but whether it will happen. The year is now 2000. Is there or is there not an independent Palestinian state, widely recognized by the nations of the earth— yes, or no? Linda?
ROBINSON There is. Abe?
ROBINSON Yes. Sylvia?
SHIHAHDEH I don't think it's going to happen...
SHIHAHDEH No, because the Palestinians will never agree to being dominated, will never agree to be second, third, and fourth class citizens. It will never happen.
ROBINSON Sylvia, Abe, and Linda: thank you very much.
GRADSTEIN, SOFAER, and SHIHAHDEH Thank you.
ROBINSON The creation of an independent Palestinian state, the signing of formal peace agreements, various strategies on the parts of various parties, our guests disagreed on all these. But interestingly enough they did seem to agree on what you might call ‘Sesame Street Values': the importance of establishing a sense of equality among Israelis and Palestinians.
I'm Peter Robinson. Thanks for joining us.