JOANNE MYERS: I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs. On behalf of the Carnegie Council, I'd like to welcome our members, guests, and C-SPAN.
Today our program is with Gershom Gorenberg, and he will be discussing his book, The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements 1967–1977.
For anyone reading the papers or watching television news, it is obvious that the Middle East is a region in constant turmoil. We have learned that each conflict is a complicated affair, mired in an ancient past and an uncertain future. Still, in an attempt to understand the present, often the only way is to journey back in time to find a place where we can pinpoint the events and say, "These were the circumstances that changed the course of history."
In The Accidental Empire, veteran journalist Gershom Gorenberg does exactly this. By taking us back to the Six-Day War of June 1967, when Israeli troops defeated the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, he provides a historical narrative which serves as an excellent foundation for understanding one of the most contentious issues in Arab-Israeli relations—the building of the settlements in the territories captured during battle.
The Six-Day War is often seen as Israel's greatest triumph. Yet it was a time when not only religious zealots, but also national leaders eroded the rule of law in pursuit of what they considered a patriotic gesture, the construction of the settlements. The activity, for all intents and purposes, is now seen as the spark that ignited the flames for the ongoing maelstrom taking place in the region today. For nearly forty years, successive Israeli governments have awarded subsidies and grants to encourage the movement of settlers to areas in the territories seen as vital to the country's strategic defense. This in turn has led to establishing a complex patchwork of interwoven pockets of Jewish and Palestinian land, raising moral and political questions about religion, the state, nationalism, and the law, with unintended consequences that have continued to influence Israeli politics to this day.
In The Accidental Empire, Mr. Gorenberg draws on multiple sources, such as groundbreaking archival research from the Lyndon Johnson Library in Texas and reviewing the settlement records in the West Bank and the Golan Heights. He has also read the memoirs and firsthand accounts of the settlers themselves and interviewed many of them, before concluding that the Six-Day War and the birth of the settler movement was just the beginning of what has proven to be an ongoing political drama that is still being played out today.
Gershom Gorenberg has been based in Jerusalem for more than thirty years. As a highly acclaimed journalist, he was a former associate editor and columnist for The Jerusalem Report and has reported for Ha'Aretz and Maariv as well. You may have read some of his recent articles that appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The New Republic, and The American Prospect, where he has written about the pullout from Gaza, Sharon's stroke, and the Palestinian elections.
His books, in addition to The Accidental Empire, include The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, and Shalom, Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin.
Born in America and educated in the United States and Israel, Mr. Gorenberg is currently the Jerusalem correspondent for Forward.
Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to our guest this morning, Gershom Gorenberg. Thank you for joining us.
GERSHOM GORENBERG: It's an honor to be here this morning. I hope that I can add a bit to an understanding of an issue which is crucial not only to Israel, but also to American policy in the Middle East.
When I came to New York, I did not realize that my timing would find me caught in Midtown in the middle of the St. Patrick's Day Parade. But it reminded me of an old story about the Jew who goes into a Belfast pub. A heavy hand lands on his shoulder very quickly, and he is asked, "Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?" He says, "I am a Jew." The voice comes from behind him, "Aha, but are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?"
In Israel, when I say that I wrote a book on settlements, I am asked, "Did you write this from the left or from the right?" I explain that, really, I intended to write an objective history, at which point the question comes, "Yes, but are you objectively for the left or for the right?"
The current election campaign in Israel has put the future of the West Bank and the settlements at the center of Israeli politics. Unusually, in reflection of a major political shift, nearly every party in the Israeli political spectrum, except for the far right, now agrees that Israel will have to give up some West Bank land, at least some of the settlements. The question has become not whether to do so, but how to do so and how much. We are seeing something of the "quagmire syndrome." The question has become, how do we get out of this?
For me, that also raises the question: How did we get into it? That was a question which people continually asked me, because I have been writing about the settlements for twenty years. The present was an ideal time to check the subject, because many of the documents previously top-secret have become available, and at the same time that many of the original figures involved in the politics of the origins of the settlements are still alive and were available for being interviewed. Historically, that's a rare and very useful combination.
I also discovered that I was looking at a story which in some ways was tragic, because it was the story of the people who built, who created, who established the state of Israel in their youth, who were the leaders of the country in 1967 and who, in many ways, through the settlements, attempted to return to the glorious days of their youth, in the process dismantling much of what they had built in the sense of the consolidation, the constitutionalization of the state. A newly independent country is a work in progress. In many ways, the settlement effort reversed that process.
In Israel, if you ask people when the settlements began, the answers will in some ways imply that I picked the wrong period. The most common answer is that the settlement began in 1977 after the right-wing Likud took power under Menachem Begin.
Some people with a better memory will tell you that in 1975 there was a confrontation in Sebastia, near Nablus, in the northern West Bank, in which the young radicals of the Gush Emunim religious settler movement faced off with the first government of Yitzhak Rabin. The Rabin government held to a policy called the Allon Plan, which said that Israel would hold onto the unpopulated parts of the West Bank for security reasons and give up the populated areas. The Gush Emunim movement saw the entirety of the West Bank as Judea and Samaria, an essential part of the Jewish homeland promised by God, and they wanted to settle there to prevent any pullout. In that confrontation, the protestors of Gush Emunim defeated the Rabin government and were able to stay.
It was a huge confrontation. In the memory of many people, that is when settlement began.
People with a better memory will go back to Passover of 1968, April 1968. Moshe Levinger, a rabbi, took a number of his followers, rented a hotel in the West Bank city of Hebron, stayed there for Passover, and then refused to leave. Eventually, the government acceded and let them settle in Hebron.
The real old news hounds will remember that in September of 1967, a religious kibbutz called Kfar Etzion, between Bethlehem and Hebron, was allowed to be reestablished. The kibbutz had been there before 1948, during the British Mandate. It was conquered by the Arab Legion of Transjordan the day before Israel was established. In the wake of the 1967 war and the conquest of the West Bank, Levi Eshkol, the prime minister at the time, allowed the children of the original settlers to reestablish the kibbutz.
What is common to this narrative is that it is a picture of the religious settlers confronting a more moderate government and forcing settlement upon them. This is a narrative which is useful to both sides to this day. It allows the settlers to see themselves as the vanguard; it allows the secular establishment to see itself as being pushed into the situation. It does not fit the facts.
Let us go back to June 19, 1967, a week after the 1967 war. Israel had just conquered the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula, in a war which nobody had expected. Had the war not gone so well, undoubtedly the heads of Israeli intelligence would have all been fired, because all of them were quite certain that there would be no war for many years to come.
The war had followed the usual logic of war, which is to say, nothing happened as planned, the generals went further than the politicians told them to, the majors went further than the generals told them to, and Israel ended up with a large amount of occupied land. On June 19, the cabinet sat down in a secret session to decide what to do with that land.
It was agreed that Israel would not stand for the situation that had happened after the Sinai crisis of 1956–57. It would not pull out of the Occupied Territories for less than full peace. A consensus in the cabinet offered a deal to Syria and Egypt via the United States: in return for a full signed formal peace, Israel would pull back more or less to the international boundary. Concerning the West Bank, there was no agreement whatsoever in the cabinet. The West Bank was not even listed in the cabinet resolution of that day. The decision was that Gaza had to remain part of Israel and that the refugees would have to be resettled.
The offer was passed on to the United States, who then passed it on to Syria and Egypt, who rejected it.
For weeks and months afterwards, in secret committees, officials and cabinet ministers tried to decide what to do about the West Bank. There was a proposal to turn it into a Palestinian state. This was rejected because it was clear that such a Palestinian state would be considered a protectorate of Israel, a colonial entity. People said, "Who has ever heard of doing anything like that now? We're living in the postcolonial era. We can't get away with that."
There was a proposal to return some or most of it to Jordan. There were warnings in the secret documents of what is called the demographic problem, which is that there are Palestinian Arabs living there. If Israel annexes the West Bank, Israel will become not a Jewish state, but a binational state. "If we do not annex it," said the memos, "we will end up again in a colonial situation, ruling a disenfranchised people."
The justice minister, Yaakov-Shimshon Shapira, said in that same June 19 cabinet meeting, "If we annex the West Bank, we are done with the Zionist enterprise, because we will no longer have a Jewish state."
Yigal Allon again proposed this idea, the Allon Plan, of holding onto the unpopulated area. Levi Eshkol, the prime minister, was fond of saying, "In the war, we got a wonderful dowry. The problem is that with the dowry comes the bride"—the dowry being the land, the bride being the people. The expression also precisely sums up Eshkol's exquisite indecision, the mark of his political career. He was known as a man who could argue one side of an argument for an hour and then turn around and, with equal comfort, argue the other side. Making the decision between them sometimes came with greater difficulty.
The problems in making these decisions included:
- The biblical connection to the land, something which was not just a matter for religious Jews. The Bible is the national epic of secular Israeli society. Israelis happily toured the West Bank that summer, Bible in hand, reading out the verses about ancient battles and kings connected to each spot.
- There was an issue of security, providing Israel with more strategic depth.
- There was the simple fact that, for the generation of leaders who had grown up in mandatory Palestine, this was part of the landscape of their youth. They had not grown up with the partition of the land.
In one of the memos on the West Bank, Eshkol inscribed only a few words in his own handwriting. They were the names of the kibbutzim that had been located in what had become the West Bank and had been lost in 1948.
On that same June 19, an army officer in the Golan Heights sent a memo to officers saying that an official of the Jewish Agency settlement department would be coming around to survey the Heights for settlement. The Jewish Agency had been the organization of Jews in Palestine before independence and continued as a nongovernmental organization, with strong ties to the government, afterwards. One of its functions was setting up new kibbutzim and moshavim communal settlements, which were part of the very ethos of the Labor Zionist movement, which ruled Israel. The Labor Zionists saw part of the transformation of the Jewish people in coming back to their land as that they would go from being intellectuals to people who worked the soil. The era of Jewish study would be replaced with the era of Jewish labor. Settling the land was essential to that. It was a secular sacrament.
After the conquest of the territories in 1967, many people who were involved in that effort felt that a new era had opened—or rather, an old era had returned; that they had returned to the glory days of the 1930s and 1940s, when the Zionist movement had sought to establish the borders of the Jewish state-to-be, through creating new kibbutzim. They returned to a tactic of a pre-state revolutionary movement, of a national liberation movement.
Already in those first few days after the war, activists from a far left kibbutz movement in the Galilee in northern Israel were setting plans to establish a kibbutz in the Golan Heights. The movement could be considered left of communism. They felt that the communists were too concerned with the state rather than simply establishing communes. They also believed greatly in the "whole land of Israel," a territory which, for them, went far beyond the mandatory boundaries of Palestine.
If this combination of left and nationalism seems surprising, in an American context, perhaps, one can think of Ho Chi Minh or Castro or Stalin, or other liberation movements throughout the developing world. For them, the borders of Israel were an imperialist imposition, like the division of Vietnam or of Korea.
Five weeks after the 1967 war, on July 16, 1967, a twenty-five-year-old kibbutznik climbed out of a jeep at an abandoned Syrian army base in the Golan and became the first Israeli settler in occupied territory. He was soon joined by others, young men and women back from the war, unable to return to the way things had been before and eager to start something new, with no government approval, but with help from Jewish Agency officials, army officers, and Yigal Allon, who was the minister of labor and controlled a budget for work projects for the unemployed. Settlement in the Occupied Territories had begun.
I would call attention to several aspects of this first settlement. The first was that it involved both security and ideology. The settlers believed that holding onto the Golan was essential to Israeli security. They didn't want to leave it to the Knesset or to the politicians to decide. They would create a settlement, and that would create a fact, a fait accompli, and the politicians would have to go along with it.
A second aspect of their motivation was ideology, the ideology of the whole Land, of nationalism. It is very difficult to unravel exactly where in the inner workings of a person's mind security ended and ideology began. I don't think the people themselves could make that distinction. It was a do-it-yourself project. It was a privatization of foreign policy. The activists, the vanguard, would set foreign policy. The Knesset itself would be treated like the mandatory government, a foreign ruler to be pushed or tricked into the right policy.
That fit the classic pre-state approach of the Labor movement, which can be summarized as, "Speak not at all and carry a large hoe." You set the borders of the country through farming the land.
Later that summer, the Arab leaders met in Khartoum, Sudan, and passed a resolution which said that there would be no peace, no negotiations, and no recognition with Israel.
The Khartoum resolution also said that the Arab heads of state have agreed to unite their political efforts at the international and diplomatic level, to reach withdrawal of the aggressive Israeli forces from Arab lands. As the Arab leaders apparently understood that resolution, it meant that they were agreeing that they were only seeking Israeli withdrawal from the occupied land, not from pre-war Israel, and that they were willing to act for that diplomatically. That was considered an incredible act of moderation in the Arab world.
On the Israeli side, not surprisingly, what was heard was: no peace, no recognition, no negotiations. It appeared to be a public rejection of Israel's secret offer for peace. For Eshkol, who had been undecided about the issue of settling in the territories, it was apparently the evidence that Israel was going to have to stay in the territories for the foreseeable future. He approved the reestablishment of Kfar Etzion, which he had already been considering. Eshkol was informed by the legal adviser of the foreign ministry that establishing settlements in the Occupied Territories was a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, unless it was within a purely temporary and military framework. So Kfar Etzion was declared to be a military outpost.
At this point, the government itself was also treating the law in a way that a pre-state movement would treat the law, as something that is getting in the way of the cause, something outside of us. It was part of the process of leaping back into the pre-1948, the pre-Israeli independence past. It seemed very logical at the time. It seemed essential for Israeli security. It seemed to be an expression of Israeli rights. The pre-war borders had been armistice lines. Israel's position was that the armistice had ended with Arab aggression.
It all seemed very logical, except for two problems that were present from the beginning. The first was that warning: What do you do about the Arab population? The second was, by blurring the borders, you were again going back to a reality which existed before 1948, and that reality was two national groups with the same homeland struggling on the land—what we might call today, anachronistically, "a Bosnian reality."
So in the interest of patriotism, following the tactics that they had always followed, the government joined in taking steps which eroded its own authority.
Where was the United States in this process? The United States' policy was that peace should be based on the pre-war lines.
So what did the United States do about settlement? The Johnson administration was unequivocally opposed to settlement and undeniably distracted. As Harold Saunders, who was then on the National Security Council and responsible for the Mideast, said to me later, "You have to remember; we had a problem in a different place on the globe." I love diplomatic understatement.
The Johnson administration's five points for dealing with the Mideast crisis stressed the territorial integrity of each country, to be achieved through peace. The Johnson administration protested the reestablishment of Kfar Etzion. Then Abba Eban, who had been surprised by the whole thing, followed orders from Jerusalem and explained that this was really a military outpost, and the administration seemed to accept that. It had other problems at the time.
In the spring of 1968, when it became clear that Israel was establishing civilian settlements in the territory, a message was sent from State to the embassy in Tel Aviv asking the ambassador to remind the Israelis that the United States saw the settlements not only as an obstacle to peace, but as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Accord. But it didn't move up the agenda. As one Israeli strategic analyst said to me many years later, in a different context, "Attention is also a limited resource." Even a superpower only has so much energy and attention to apply to international affairs. In the end, it all comes back to one person who has to read those briefing papers and make the ultimate decisions. He cannot ask Congress to increase his budget to twenty-eight hours a day instead of twenty-four. The U.S. government was aware of the settlements, bothered by it, and let the problem slide because it had other issues.
What are the implications of all of this for today? We are left with a national conflict in the same territory. This has been going on between Arabs and Jews at least since the 1920s over the same piece of territory , two groups, each of which can make their powerful arguments that this is their homeland. It would be convenient if we could simply argue away one side or the other. History has put national groups in the same territory. If every national group were to achieve self-determination in the whole of its historic territory, we would need to pump up the globe to three times its current size. That is a problem that is seen in other places in the world besides Israel-Palestine; in Cyprus, in the Balkans, and more.
The old solution of partition, of each side getting something but less than it wants, remains the only available solution. We have seen, in recent months and the last couple of years, even Israeli politicians who once believed completely in the idea of the "whole land," such as Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, have accepted the argument that was made in the summer of 1967: that Israel cannot hold the West Bank and remain both a Jewish and a democratic state, and that therefore Israel will have to pull out of at least part of the West Bank.
The problem is that there are now a quarter of a million Israelis living in the West Bank. Because of the settlement process, those Israelis are scattered throughout, and any pullback involves the painful evacuation of settlements. The Gaza withdrawal, therefore, was only the first step in a process which would have to continue in order to now untangle Israelis and Palestinians.
When I say a quarter of a million Israelis in the West Bank, I am speaking of outside the borders of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, where another 180,000 Israelis live; and there are another 16,000 living in the Golan. So the demographic warning of the summer of 1967 has now become conventional wisdom.
Part of the problem is that on the other side, we have the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, a product of the failure of the Fatah movement, both in government and in setting up an electoral system, and also a huge setback for peace efforts, because Hamas's position is very similar to that which the PLO took thirty years ago, which is that they are perfectly willing to establish a Palestinian state in whatever land they can receive, as a step towards receiving the rest. It is a repeat of the phased strategy that the PLO first adopted in 1974 in order to enter the diplomatic process, and which has ever since then convinced Israelis that Palestinians are negotiating in bad faith.
Olmert, on the other hand, has a map of what he would like to pull out of the West Bank, which is very similar to the Allon Plan of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and was rejected by all Arabs, including the most moderate.
As Karl Marx, said, "History repeats itself. The first time is tragedy; the second is farce." And this is a very sad farce indeed, that we are back to those positions.
Ultimately, if there is any solution to this problem, it will involve once again partition. It will involve finding a way for the Palestinians to reenter the diplomatic process, which depends on them as much as on the Israelis. No progress ultimately will be made in that situation without the facilitation of an outside power, and there is only one candidate for that position. That is made more difficult because that outside power has a problem elsewhere on the globe.
I would be happy to take any questions.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: The formula of partition has been tried and has failed, since the late 1940s. Even though the history and the very powerful emotions involved seem to militate against it, is there any possibility that Palestinians and Israelis might consider the formula of a single state in which they would live together and rule in conjunction with each other?
A variation on that, or a compromise between that and partition, would be to make it a federated state, so that some Israeli settlements would continue in what is now called the West Bank, there are some Arabs in the state of Israel, and concessions could be made in the Palestinian demand for a right of return, to achieve an integrated society. Is that a possibility, or is that outside the realm of imagination?
GERSHOM GORENBERG: I believe that the latter is the case. There are surely places in the world that are less suited for the experiment of post-nationalism, but at the moment I can't think where they might be. Any situation in which Israelis and Palestinians today are part of the same polity, under conditions in which nationalism is the basic ideology on both sides, would mean using the framework of that polity for continued national competition—in the best and least likely case, through the political system, and more likely, by violent means. You would be creating Bosnia the day after its independence.
The only place in the world today where, to some extent, national is being superseded by some wider framework is in Europe. It is in the framework of a confederation of national states, without erasing the national basis of those states. I would rather take a shortcut by having a separate Israeli and Palestinian polity and working from there toward cooperation very slowly.
Any outside imposition of a single state would be a total disaster. Perhaps the only effect it would have is a race to see who could emigrate more quickly in the face of the political and probably violent confrontation which would ensue.
QUESTION: What role should the European Union play?
GERSHOM GORENBERG: The European Union could play a strong role. There have been examples where, at least for a moment, either the European Union or specific European countries managed to do so. For example, the German foreign minister negotiated a ceasefire early in the Intifada—one that did not last, but it was a diplomatic effort which a European power was making and the United States was not making.
The European Union does not enjoy the level of trust within Israel that the United States does, and also doesn't have the same means of pressure on the two sides, and therefore is in a weaker position to negotiate.
On the other hand, I'm surprised, given the vacuum of American diplomacy over the last five years in the Israeli-Arab conflict, that the European Union has not made an attempt to assert its role more strongly to create the trust that is necessary. After all, the Middle East is much more in its backyard, and it would be in European interests to stabilize that area.
In order for that to happen, a sense of fairness towards the Israeli side of the case would have to be clearer than has been the case in the past. There is a remaining sense of distrust in Israel toward the European Union. Many of the European countries have finally gotten over their own colonial pasts and now think that it's completely unreasonable that Israel doesn't immediately learn from their lessons and do the same, even when the circumstances are quite different. There is a tendency to describe the West Bank situation in terms of the European colonial past. There are certain shared elements. No matter how bad the occupation in the West Bank has been, it pales in comparison to what happened in Algeria. Algeria was on the other side of a sea, and the Algerians did not seek to get France as well.
So when the Europeans come with that kind of paradigm, the conversation tends to be short and testy. If that could be overcome, there is a job vacancy in the Middle East right now for a concerned world power willing to make the effort and the financial and diplomatic investment necessary to push toward peace. I believe that job vacancy will remain open for the next three years. So applicants are invited.
QUESTION: Would you comment on the current role of religion among the Palestinians? In both conflicts, we see some people using religion and others being secular. Yet there is a nationalist drive on both sides.
GERSHOM GORENBERG: There's an old Jewish story about a man who walks through the woods, and he comes to a house at night. He sees people having strange convulsions inside the house. He thinks, "This is terrible. This must be an asylum or hospital or something like that," except that the man is deaf and he doesn't hear the music and he doesn't realize that people are dancing.
As for outside treatment of the Middle East crisis, that has often been the case exactly in terms of the factor that you mentioned. For instance, at Camp David in 2000, our secular yuppies talked with their secular yuppies, and ignored some of the key issues involved.
Religion plays a major role in this conflict. It's a complex role, because both national movements have adopted religious myths for national purposes. Secular Palestinians have pictures of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in their offices, because Al-Aqsa has become the symbol of Palestinian sovereignty and independence, in the same way that the Old City of Jerusalem stands for an Israeli society, the completion of the process of the return to the homeland.
So making a division between religion and nationalism is extremely difficult. On both sides, there is a problem of groups that have integrated nationalism into their religious ideology and made it more extreme in the process. That factor has to be dealt with.
The current religious constellation in which extreme nationalism has become a religious obligation for certain groups represents a radical change over the last thirty years on both the Jewish and the Islamic sides, and in many ways, a swallowing of the politics into religion. That at least holds out the hope that if the political circumstances were changed and if the religious symbolism were exploited in different ways, religion could play a different role.
I have some, perhaps, unrealistic optimism that that can take place. On the other hand, even if the majority of the religious forces on both sides can be brought into a process of reconciliation, the extremists will not disappear. The non-utopian approach to Middle East peacemaking recognizes that we're aiming for something better, not something perfect. I'm not looking for complete peace; I'm looking for a situation that is more peaceful than it is today. In order to do that, the issue of religion does have to be addressed.
QUESTION: We see even more housing being built now for the already very large numbers of settlers. Since the numbers represent a problem when you eventually leave, what are the practical and political implications?
Number two: Some would say that this is a violation of the deal made with the United States. Some are pressuring our government to withhold funding since so much money is going from Israel into the West Bank.
Finally, since you're the person in the middle, what word do you use, "disputed" or "occupied"?
GERSHOM GORENBERG: When I write about the situation, I refer to the "Occupied Territories." From a legal perspective in Israel as well, the West Bank is under military occupation. It may be true that the political future of that territory is undecided, but strictly in present-tense terms, it is under military occupation, and I see no reason to avoid the term.
There are settlements that are still growing. In the long term this is a continuation of making the situation more difficult.
Part of the problem is that the settlers who would most certainly need to be moved are the ones who are deepest into the West Bank, and it is they who tend to be most ideological and least willing to move peacefully. The much larger settlements are closer to the Green Line, to the pre-1967 border. They tend to be large suburbs. Many of the people moved there during the Likud years because of housing subsidies, to realize the suburban dream. My experience reporting in those areas has been that people are more likely to say, "I don't want to leave, but if the government made the decision, I would have to follow."
So the irony is that the places most necessary to move are also the ones that are most difficult to move.
Among the many pieces of the roadmap that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have violated, the continued growth of the settlements is one of them. The roadmap exists mainly as a list of commitments that neither side has kept. Violence was also supposed to stop. I can testify, as somebody who has heard bombs going off in my neighborhood, that violence has not stopped. But the continued growth of the settlements is a further problem.
That leads me back to the question I raised before, which is the striking noninvolvement of the United States in what is supposed to be a crucial area of American concern.
As an Israeli looking at American policy, I also have an explanation of why that noninvolvement is taking place. Two presidents who had a major positive effect on Mideast diplomacy were Carter and Bush Senior. It does not seem to have added to either one's political longevity.
As an Israeli, I am incredibly grateful to Jimmy Carter for brokering the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty. I don't know anybody who has died in reserve duty on the Egyptian border since that treaty was concluded. I cannot begin to describe how much the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty changed realities in Israel and made it a safer and more secure place to live. Yet there were many people, including in the various lobbies connected to Israel, who didn't like Carter for the role he played.
A president has to be very strong politically to take the risk of getting involved in Middle East peacemaking.
Nonetheless, it's a lack, and those people who are most concerned with Israeli security should also be most concerned with the United States taking that role.
QUESTION: Just as an aside, may I suggest that a faithful translation of the status of the territories, according to the military administration, is "administered" territories, rather than "occupied" or "disputed."
How would you handicap the upcoming election? What are the implications for Israel specifically, and then for its neighbors in the region?
GERSHOM GORENBERG: First of all, I don't go to horse races. I wrote a book having to do with people who live according to the sense that they know prophecy in politics, and I always insisted that I write about people who believe in prophecy; I do not engage in it.
Since the only piece of evidence I have for what's going to happen in these elections is the Israeli polls, which have proven themselves to be just slightly more reliable than tealeaf reading, it's difficult to go too far in predicting the outcome.
To the extent that we can trust the polls, it is clear that the new centrist party, Kadima, led by Ehud Olmert, will be the center of the new coalition. Olmert will have a tremendous amount of choice about who he takes into his governing coalition. Therefore, the election is the first step, not the last step, in determining the shape of the next Israeli government. Because of the way the American political system works, Americans have a tendency to see Election Day as settling the issues. In the Israeli parliamentary system, Election Day is the beginning of the parliamentary negotiations which shape what the next government will be.
That said, Olmert is the person who convinced Sharon to engage in the pullout from Gaza. It was Olmert's public conversion to the belief in needing to pull out of part of the Occupied Territories which preceded the Gaza disengagement. Within Sharon's circle, he was consistently the person most in favor of further withdrawal.
He follows in a line of "Likud princes," the children of the original founders of the Israeli right, who grew up in the movement and had a fast track to power, because they were the sons and daughters of those leaders. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is another one of this group. Olmert and Livni are part of a long line of rightists who have broken with the creed of "the whole land."
He seems very determined to pull out of more of the West Bank. He will have a very difficult time domestically, not because he doesn't enjoy majority support, but because the minority that opposes him is radicalized and alienated and at least potentially violent.
The Olmert expectation is that by pulling out of a large portion of the West Bank, he will eliminate pressure to pull out from the rest. That is why it is possible to continue expanding settlements close to the Green Line, close to the pre-1967 border.
The Hamas victory strengthens his unilateral approach, because it strengthens the position that Olmert and Sharon had before the Hamas victory, which was that there was no Palestinian partner. They were mistaken beforehand, but less so now.
A unilateral pullout is potentially an improvement, but it leaves many parts of the conflict in place. It is a step which will probably improve Israel's international situation. It will certainly reduce Israeli rule over a large number of Palestinians. On the Palestinian side, it will be interpreted as a Hamas victory, which is a problem. It will not end irredentism even over the remaining parts of the West Bank. Depending on where the lines are drawn, it could leave Israel with its version of an Ulster problem.
If we take two classic examples of a country withdrawing from a ruled area, there is the French pullout from Algeria and there's the British partial pullout from Ireland. We all know how much partitioning Ireland solved Britain's Ireland problem.
If Israel continues to rule 10 or 15 or 20 percent of the West Bank, the conflict over that area will continue apace and be around to dominate many more elections to come.
QUESTION: You have put a lot of emphasis on states and governments, and clearly that's what is needed for the dynamic change that you're talking about. But what role do you see for non-state actors, social movements, people-to-people programs?
GERSHOM GORENBERG: I have an ambivalent attitude. There's a major role to be played by non-state actors in two ways. One is by putting Israelis and Palestinians in touch with each other.
When you look at the situation from this side of the ocean, it seems as if these two people are at war and they don't have any contact with each other. That's not the reality on the ground. Israelis and Palestinians meet each other every day. I live in Jerusalem, which is a city both mixed and divided. We are constantly in contact with each other.
Reducing the tension between the two groups or helping them to see a way out and peacefully living with each other is a function which nongovernmental groups can play. They can also play a role politically in influencing government policy.
I'm ambivalent because the history of writing about the settlement movement also taught me in a way that I hadn't articulated before, how essential it is for certain decisions to be the decisions democratically taken by governments and not by activists on the side.
In 1948, the ethnic conflict within Palestine was transformed, on the day of Israeli independence, into a conflict between states. Difficult as that problem was, it was a problem that held out greater hope of a resolution than the earlier ethnic conflict, because at least with states there is somebody to talk to, there are people to sit down at a table, there are people to keep an agreement. In 1967, the state conflict was turned back into an ethnic conflict.
I would much rather see the negotiations and the process of reaching lines taking place between states, because, ultimately, when you have a monopoly on power, you have somebody who at least has the potential to keep an agreement. I believe in democratically made decisions, so I would like to see the crucial part of the process, which is reaching an agreement, taking place between governments.
QUESTION: Apropos of your remarks on the European Union filling the vacuum, won't it be rather difficult for Israel to accept an EU role with the rise of anti-Semitism in some of the European countries?
GERSHOM GORENBERG: On one hand, you could say that what's going on internally in the European Union is not the relevant question; it's the policy of the governments. On the other hand, what has happened in Europe in recent years leads to a feeling in Israel that Europe has not gotten over its own anti-Semitic past, which is part of the reason that it's not considered a fair broker.
The United States is a strange and wonderful country in this respect. It is a Western country without a historical record of institutionalized anti-Semitism. I will leave it to the historians of the United States to figure out how that miracle took place, but that is one of the reasons why the United States can be treated as a fair broker by the Israelis and Europe cannot.
There is also an attitude that the Palestinians have a right to national self-determination, but that the Jews do not—or, to put it differently, that national liberation, national self-determination is a normal part of modern life, except for when it comes to the Jews. That is in itself an anti-Semitic attitude. If the only nation-state you are not willing to accept is the nation-state of the Jews, defined as a nation, first of all, a little bit of that anti-Semitic past speaks through that, and second of all, you must not be surprised when Israel is unwilling to accept you as the broker in negotiations.
The bottom line of any successful negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis is accepting that there are two national liberation movements and that they both have rights which need to be respected.
The United States has one problem, which Elie Kedourie wonderfully laid out in his book on nationalism, dating all the way back to the consequences of World War I. The other aspect of the United States is that it has never been part of the European development of nationalism. The whole idea of ethnic facts being ultimate values, which is so completely part of 20th-century, and now 21st-century, European history, has not been part of American history, and America has consistently misunderstood Middle Eastern events by interpreting them in terms of global conflict instead of in terms of nationalism.
At the period that I studied, the United States was taking nationalist events in the Middle East and fitting them into the Cold War, no matter how much the event had to be squeezed, pushed, or broken to fit into that conceptual framework. To some extent, today the same thing is going on with a different conception of global conflict.
This problem does not so much disqualify the United States, but handicaps it conceptually in dealing with the problem.
QUESTION: In light of the requirement that a peace be negotiated between sovereign entities, and in light of the Hamas election win, what do you take to be the current Palestinian capability in this regard?
The second question is, are European governments compromised, not so much by residual anti-Semitism as by the Islamic demographics on the ground?
GERSHOM GORENBERG: The situation with regard to the Palestinians now is clearly more difficult. It is one of the reasons why a unilateral approach on Israel's part, unsatisfactory as that may be, is more likely. So long as a Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority continues to insist on a position which does not renounce violence and which does not recognize Israel, it's unrealistic to expect Israel to see the Hamas government as a partner.
The flip side of that was that before the election, the major problem was that the government, led by Abbas, accepted those principles and did nothing about them. A remarkably well-meaning and ineffectual government, in its ineffectuality, went right up to the day when it couldn't convince one of two candidates to drop out of each district election, which is what gave Hamas its victory. Israel's problem before that was not that Abbas wasn't willing to talk, but that there was no proof he could do anything about what he said.
In the current situation, the one qualification about Hamas is that political parties are not geological facts. They do not remain stable over geological time. Having watched Ariel Sharon pull out of Gaza, we see that people undergo radical changes. That is equally true of religious movements. Hamas itself is the product of a fairly radical political change in the conception of Islam in response to political events. So there is a possibility of change. It can be affected by public pressure within the Palestinian side. Experts on the Hamas in Israel say that there has rarely been an organization which is so sensitive to public pressure in terms of its policy, and the polls on the Palestinian side continue to show that a majority of the Palestinian population wants a two-state solution.
So if there is any potential means of pressuring Hamas, either toward moderating its position or toward splitting between its different wings, it is by holding out the possibility that a two-state solution is possible if it makes its change. From both the American and the Israeli point of view, there has to be a carrot, as well as a stick.
In terms of the demographics of Europe, the concern in Israel is not that the Europeans will seek to appease their Muslim minorities by selling out Israel. In terms of having a politically influential minority, if we're going to make that a disqualifying factor, then you have essentially confirmed the Palestinian argument against the United States playing a brokering role, and I would prefer not to confirm that argument.
That, in itself, does not rule out Europe. It's more a matter of the public positions it takes. Yes, there are post-colonial issues, but there are also security issues. For all the similarities that might exist, there are also major differences between Israel's situation with the West Bank and anything that any of the European countries have experienced in that period of their history. Unless the Europeans can do that, they will not be treated as facilitators when they get off the plane in Tel Aviv.
JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much for joining us this morning.