JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I would like to thank you all for joining us.
Today I am very pleased to be welcoming Ambassador Muasher to our breakfast program. He will be discussing his book, The Arab Center, which has been widely praised for its forthright assessment of the state of political discourse in the Arab world.
As complex as the Middle East is, there still may be one thing that just about everyone can agree on: that is, rarely has a region been mired in so many crises. Yet, the process to change the status quo is extremely difficult, due to so many issues that continue to fester there.
For example, take the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, where little, if any, progress has been made towards peace. Or a discordant Lebanon, again in danger of being torn apart. The mayhem in Iraq goes unabated. And Iran seems recklessly determined to acquire a nuclear weapon that would not just threaten Israel's existence, but provoke a nuclear arms race across the region.
Any one of these highly volatile situations requires immediate remedial action. Little wonder, then, that moderate Arab forces in the region seek assistance, as they want to settle these flashpoints before fanatical influences completely engulf the region.
In The Arab Center, our speaker this morning tells the story of the alternative proactive moderate camp in the Middle East, and attempts to explain through firsthand knowledge the successes, failures, efforts, and frustrations to push through policies of moderation in the Arab world on issues of peace, reform, economic well-being, good governance, and terrorism.
For some time now, our speaker has been an active participant in the Middle East peace process. As such, Ambassador Muasher is well positioned to scrutinize Arab-Israeli peacemaking efforts, especially those that took place between 2002 and 2005. He writes about those attempts, especially the ones undertaken by Jordan and Egypt.
In reflecting upon the reasons that even promising proposals have repeatedly failed to resolve the various conflicts, he counters Western claims that the Arabs never really wanted peace with Israel.
Throughout the book, our speaker sheds light on the dynamics of Arab politics and on the positions and thinking of different Arab players—those on the extreme, such as Syria, as well as the moderates, such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
It is no secret that Ambassador Muasher has been instrumental in thinking about the challenges in the Middle East and what needs to be done to bring about change in the region. For nearly 20 years, as a prominent Jordanian diplomat, he has been a leading architect of peace initiatives in the region. In his two decades of high-level diplomacy, he was a firsthand participant in the Madrid peace negotiations, the peace settlement between Jordan and Israel, multiple U.S.-Arab dialogues, and a representative to a number of Arab League summits.
He served as Jordan's first ambassador to Israel and was also Jordan's ambassador to the United States. As Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in charge of reform, Ambassador Muasher advocated for change, as he spearheaded the national reform agenda in Jordan. He also worked to coax Arab governments to commit to democratic reforms and work against corruption and elitism. He is currently employed by the World Bank as Senior Vice President of External Affairs.
As we are always reading about the many challenges in the Middle East, it is refreshing to listen to a person who can make a positive contribution to the growing debate about the state of affairs in the region and offer some answers to overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacles blocking the development of a stable and prosperous Middle East.
Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to our distinguished guest this morning, Ambassador Marwan Muasher.
It is a pleasure to have you with us.
MARWAN MUASHER: Thank you so much, Joanne. I would like to thank the Council for giving me this opportunity to address you today on the issue of this new book.
To be a moderate in our region these days has been described sometimes as an act of courage, sometimes as a leap of faith, and many times as just plain suicidal. But there has never been a time when moderation in the region is more needed, and never a time when moderates need to speak out more than today, because of the radicalization that is sweeping our region at an extremely alarming rate.
This book is about the Arab center. It's about the Arab moderates, their successes and their failures. It is a firsthand account of these successes and failures.
I have been lucky—or unlucky—to have participated in almost all peace efforts since the Madrid peace process, but I have also been a key participant in reform efforts in my country, Jordan, and also in several reform efforts around the Arab world. I would like to talk about these two processes today, because in my opinion they are also linked, and just try to offer you some of my observations and conclusions.
Most Arab politicians kiss and don't tell, meaning that they rarely record their experiences. Of those who do, they do it usually in Arabic, which has resulted in the history of our region mostly being written by people outside the region. It is either people in the West or Israelis, but very seldom has the history of the Arab world been written in English by Arab politicians, Arab practitioners, who have been inside the room. Therefore, what I tried to do differently in the book, as I said, was to write about events that I personally participated in, so that I can give a firsthand account of things that have happened.
Regarding the peace process, and contrary to conventional wisdom that there are no Arab moderates, that all Arabs are fanatics and don't want a peaceful resolution to the conflict—I show in the book that this is indeed not the case. I argue that in this decade all of the initiatives—all of them—to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict have come from the Arab center. Whether it is the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 or the Middle East roadmap right after—all of these initiatives have been developed, initiated, and promoted mainly by the Arab center.
The Arab Peace Initiative, in particular, which, unfortunately, has been brushed aside by Israel and given lip service by the BushAdministration, has gone a long way in order to address the needs not just of Arabs, but also Israelis, and has, for the first time in the conflict, put on the table four main principles that, in my opinion, would address almost every Israeli need:
- The first is a collective peace treaty with Israel—not a peace treaty with states neighboring Israel, but a peace treaty with every single Arab country, all 22 of them.
- The second is collective security guarantees again. That is one of the main principles behind the Arab Peace Initiative, the feeling that Israel was not going to feel comfortable in signing a peace treaty with the Palestinians alone and feel that its security would be assured. Therefore, Arabs have committed to sign a peace treaty in which all Arab states would commit to the security of Israel, of course, and the security of all other states.
- The third principle is an end to the conflict. I have been ambassador to Israel, and I know that every single Israeli citizen has this as one of his or her major needs, if not the main need: The need to know that there will be an end to the conflict, that after a Palestinian state emerges Arabs will not go and claim Jaffa or Haifa or any of the pre-1948 Palestine lands.
- The fourth, and, in my opinion, most important, principle that the Arab Peace Initiative gave is an agreed solution to the refugee problem. In other words, for the first time again in the conflict, the Arabs inserted the word "agreed" to assure Israel that we are not talking about bringing back 4 or 5 million Palestinians into Israel. Unfortunately, and ironically, it is on this same point that Israel rejected the initiative, feeling that, because it mentioned 194, that initiative was not a basis for negotiation.
That initiative was also given lip service by the Bush Administration, which was interested in a war on Iraq and, as such, nominally worked on developing a roadmap, which has never been implemented, which never took off the ground. Once the war started on Iraq, basically the roadmap was dead and all efforts to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict were put on hold, probably until this day.
Beyond that, I also try to show some of the human side of the conflict. To people here, to people around the world, the conflict sometimes is about issues. But I try to remind people that it is also about people, and that in attempting to find a solution to the conflict a lot of psychological divides have to be crossed. This is extremely important if we are to find a lasting settlement.
So the book is full of anecdotes, anecdotes that try to portray to a Western reader what it means for Arabs and Israelis to cross that divide and bring a peaceful settlement, starting from the time when I was asked by King Hussein to serve as first ambassador to Israel, something which in this country would no doubt be looked at as a great honor.
For me, it was a barrier that I found extremely difficult to cross, at first. I recount in the book the dilemma that I had to go through for a week, in which I said "Yes" and "No" three times, at least—the leap of faith you have to take—a personal one, as well as a national one—if you want to transcend the history of the conflict and the feelings and the emotions involved.
Or the time when I attended Israel's Independence Day at the late President Weizman's residence, a day that to all Arabs, including myself, is the day of the Palestinian tragedy of the Nakba, and, again, the feelings and the dilemmas that you have to go through.
Or the time that I visited my mother's house in Jaffa. My mother is a Jordanian of Palestinian origin who came to Jordan in 1948, where she met my father, but, of course, never saw her house again. I lived only a few miles from that house in Tel Aviv—the feelings that you go through when you have that experience.
The book also, I think, provides a rare inside look into Arab politics. Arabs here sometimes also are looked at as monolithic. In fact, we have many different Arab positions. Even on such issues as the development of the Arab Peace Initiative or the development of the roadmap, there were many Arab positions, some more moderate than others.
I explain, in sometimes excruciating detail, the debates that took place inside the Arab camp—the Syrian position, the Jordanian position, the Egyptian position, the Saudi position—to show how the different positions are and to show that indeed the center was not a passive center; it was a proactive center that fought a fierce battle inside the Arab camp that has brought the Arab Peace Initiative into being, despite the initial opposition from several other countries in the Arab world.
Perhaps my most important point in the book is one that relates to reform. My argument is that the Arab center today is not just on the defensive, but is diminishing to an alarming rate. Today, as I started my talk, to be a moderate in the Arab world today is to be a very, very tiny minority. The reason for that is that the Arab center has focused its energy so far only on one issue of concern to Arab citizens, and that issue has been the peace process. Despite the valiant efforts of the center to solve this problem, it has not been able to do so—in my argument, not because it did not try, but because others did not help.
But it has not addressed other issues of concern to Arab citizens—political reform, cultural diversity, good governance, economic well-being. All of these issues have been totally ignored by the center. From the time of the first secular post-independence Arab parties in the Arab world, whether it has been the Nasserites in Egypt, the Baathists in Syria and Iraq, the Nationalists in Tunisia and Algeria, all of the monarchies, all of them were not democratic parties and all of them did not commit to developing a system of checks and balances, and political diversity. Nasser in the 1950s had the slogan, "No voice is allowed to rise over that of The Battle"—the battle for Palestine, meaning that all other issues had to wait, and in fact did wait.
Today, because of that, we have two options in the Arab world, and two options only: Either a ruling elite, with no system of checks and balances, and therefore no system to really monitor their activities; or a religious ideology, which also threatens the political and cultural diversity of Arab society. These are the only two options available for Arab citizens. If Arab citizens want to cast their vote against the ruling elite because they are not satisfied with their policies, the only other vote that is available to them is the Islamic vote, not necessarily because they believe in this ideology—although, of course, many do—but because this other option at least is promising them cleaner government.
We saw this happen very, very clearly in the West Bank and Gaza two years ago, where a majority of the population then wanted a negotiated settlement with Israel, yet opted for the party that did not want to make peace with Israel, not because of their stand on peace, but because that party happened to promise them cleaner government.
This is the number-one lesson that I try to draw in the book. If the Arab center is to prevail, if the Arab center is not just to survive, but also to thrive, it has to become multidimensional. It cannot be a moderate on peace, but not a moderate on reform. Selective moderation does not work and is not credible. If the Arab center is to survive, as I said, then it has to address issues of reform, it has to address issues of good governance, it has to address issues of economic well-being.
The argument in the Arab world today, the debate, is between two schools of thought. One school of thought, which is the traditional one, tells the ruling establishments in the Arab world, "If you open up the system, the Islamists come in. Therefore, the solution is to keep the political systems closed."
That argument, in my opinion, is not supported by history or by facts. The fact today is that the Islamists in the Arab world have not been weakened by the continuous closing of the systems. Twenty-five years ago, who had heard of Hezbollah or Hamas amongst us? They simply did not exist. But today they are not only in existence; they are extremely popular in the Arab world.
While opening up the system immediately will give the Islamists—because they enjoy a 40- or 50-year head start—maybe an unfair advantage over everybody else, keeping it closed is not a sustainable option. To me, it seems that the only option available is to open up the system gradually, but seriously. The counterargument, therefore, in the Arab world, of the reform forces is, "If you don't open up the system, the Islamists come in. If you keep your systems closed and if you insist on giving people only two alternatives, people will flock increasingly to the alternative of the Islamists and not to the alternative of the ruling elite."
It's a debate that, unfortunately, so far has been won by the first school, by the traditionalists. I have experienced this firsthand in Jordan through the national agenda. This was an effort initiated by the king to bring about a gradual process of political and economic reform to the country.
To do that, we had an inclusionist committee, from the Muslim Brotherhood to the Communists, comprising all political, economic, and social forces in the country. That committee was given the task of presenting a blueprint for reform, not just general principles, but actual programs, with performance indicators, with timelines, with links to the budget—a serious effort to transform Jordan into a prosperous and pluralistic society in ten years.
That effort was fought tooth and nail by the traditional forces, who clearly saw that this effort was going to take away their privileges. They therefore fought it and painted the reformers in the region as neoliberals, as implementing an American agenda, as trying to disintegrate the state, to go against its culture, et cetera. The experience clearly shows that the reform process in the Arab world is not going to be an easy or a smooth one. Just because the ruler—in this case, the king—wants to initiate reform is no guarantee that that reform process is going to go forward, except with a long fight against the traditional forces in our midst.
I'm often asked, how can the United States help? I'm often criticized for saying this, but I won't be honest to myself if I don't. On reform, the United States, and particularly the Bush Administration, has lost all credibility in the Arab world. So support of reform in the Arab world by the Bush Administration has become a kiss of death to the reformers in the area, unfortunately.
In my opinion, where the United States can really help is to bring about an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, because that is the one issue that would at least arm the reformers and show that they have something to show for their efforts over the years in bringing about peace. If they have something to show on peace, then they have a much better chance to push through with their policies on reform.
I'm a product of Madrid. That's what I call myself. I have been the Jordanian spokesman to Madrid and I have been involved in the peace process, until very recently. So I'm a product of this gradual approach to solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. It has done a lot in terms of breaking down the psychological barriers between Arabs and Israelis, mutual recognition between the PLO and Israel, the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian National Authority, et cetera, negotiations.
That process has exhausted its possibilities. I do not believe any longer in any more gradual or interim arrangements.
Why? Because anytime we have given the process time, it has been used very effectively by the opponents of peace in both camps, to the detriment of the process.
But, fortunately, the parameters of a solution are today known to everybody. I can literally pick someone from the street and ask him or her, and they will tell you what that solution is, literally. The framework of an Arab-Israeli peace deal has been negotiated and renegotiated four or five times. Thanks to such frameworks as the Clinton parameters in 2000, the Taba talks at the beginning of 2001, the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002, the Geneva document in 2003, and several other frameworks, we all know what the solution looks like.
Today the problem is not with the solution, but with getting there. Today the problem is with a weak Palestinian government, a weak Israeli government, and therefore an inability to bring together a settlement, which is why the role of the United States is more important than ever, not in negotiating on behalf of the parties, not in telling the parties what to do, but in guaranteeing an agreement that the parties themselves have already negotiated.
Unfortunately, the disengagement by the Bush Administration during the last seven years has truly contributed to a further radicalization of the region and has driven the two sides much further apart than they used to be. The administration is engaged again, in its last year, but I don't believe in leaving something for seven years, then attempting to do it in your last year, when you are seen as a lame duck anyway, internally and externally.
If there is any advice I would give to the incoming administration, whether it is President Obama or President McCain, it is to take on the Arab-Israeli conflict in his first term and bring about a settlement.
The successful interventions by the United States, history tells us, have happened during the president's first term, not the second term, which is also contrary to conventional wisdom in our region, which would look at a second-term president as being freer and more independent to pursue policies. That is also not supported by history. Whether it was President Carter or whether it was President Bush, Sr., both have been successful in their first terms in pushing the process forward—the Camp David Agreement in 1978 and the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991.
Some people sarcastically tell me that maybe that's why they only had first terms. But I don't believe that. I don't think that's the reason. There are many other reasons why they did not have a second term.
The other advice that I would give is not to treat political Islam as if it is monolithic. A lot of people in the Western world look at political Islam as monolithic and as violent and radical. I think the truth is more nuanced than this. I would categorize—and I do that in the book—I would have at least three groups in political Islam.
One is what I call the exclusionist group. This is a group at war with the whole world—not with the Western world, with the whole world, including other Muslims. This is the al-Qaeda type. This is a group not interested in dialogue, not interested in compromise, not interested in negotiations. It is a group where you are either with them or against them, and if you are against them, then they fight you to death. That's the group that people here sometimes think of as representative of the whole Islamic movement in the Arab world and Muslim world. That's actually a very, very tiny group.
Then you have the second group, which evolved or developed because of the occupation in their countries. This is Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza. They employ violent means. They carry arms. But increasingly they are now entering into the political systems of their countries. Hezbollah today is a force in the Lebanese parliament, and Hamas is also a major force in the Palestinian parliament. This is a group that has one leg inside the system and one leg outside. It carries arms with one hand and with the other tries to be part of the political process. But their theater of operations is confined to the locale in which they operate. They are not like al-Qaeda, which wants to operate all over the world.
Then you have the third group, the peaceful group, which has always been peaceful, which has never carried arms, and which has always been part of the political system of their countries. There you would group the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, the Islamic Party in Morocco and elsewhere in parts of the Arab world. This is a group that has always been peaceful.
So in dealing with political Islam, you really want to deal with the second group and try to migrate it into the third group, while we continue to fight the first group, with which no compromise is possible.
I'm often asked, what is the way forward? Beyond what I have just said about the need to gradually open the system in the Arab world, I strongly believe that in order to do this, the Arab world must commit itself to two basic principles that must be enshrined in our constitutions.
One is a commitment to peaceful means. Therefore, any political party that wants to operate must be peaceful, must pursue their objectives through peaceful means, must not carry arms. Once you carry arms, once you become a state inside a state, then you are only inviting other parties to carry arms as well. We have seen this with Hezbollah in Lebanon and we have seen that Hezbollah has been trying to dictate its own terms on the majority because of the fact that it is the only party that carries arms today, other than the state, in Lebanon.
The second principle is a commitment to political and cultural diversity at all times, meaning that people cannot use democracy to come to power once and then deny it to others.
Whereas I, of course, understand that just because people tell you they are committed to these two principles does not mean that they will abide by them, it is very important to gradually enshrine these, not just in the constitutions, but in the political and cultural psyche of people, as we move in the Arab world to develop a prosperous society.
Unless we do that, I'm afraid that the center will very soon disappear. This is not a "cry wolf" type of statement. The center is very much on the defensive. It has no results to show on peace because it has not been helped; on reform because it has not taken, itself, the responsibility of leading the way in the Arab world and initiating a process of reform that is consistent, that is serious, and that is sustainable.
With that, I will end and listen to your questions. Thank you.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: I just want to ask you a little bit more about this question of political Islam. In the beginning of your remarks, I had the impression that you were saying that there was a genuine, profound schism between those who occupy the center—which is to say, secular moderates—and Islamists. But then you, towards the end, wanted to make this distinction among classes of Islamists.
In terms of what this means for secular moderates in Jordan, in Egypt, in Morocco, where you have active Islamist parties which are pledged to peace, there are small numbers of political moderates who are eager to actually make common cause with what they see as increasingly democratically inclined or modernized Islamist parties, and others who think that is a fool's game.
In Jordan or in Egypt, what would you say should be the relationship that the secular moderates should seek with the Islamist parties?
MARWAN MUASHER: I don't believe that Islam and democracy are incompatible at all. I can only point to Turkey's example. I can point to Malaysia. I can point to many countries where Islam and democracy are coexisting extremely well.
I don't mean to say that there is a schism between peaceful political Islam and secular moderates. They have different points of view, there's no question about it. The moderates tend to favor peace and coexistence. The Islamist parties, whether they are peaceful or not, are against peace, or at least against peace with the terms that we all talk about.
If the two principles are adhered to—and Turkey has, I think, a useful example to emulate—if the two principles of peaceful means and commitment to political and cultural diversity are respected, it should not really matter who comes to power, if we know that that power can rotate. But if we want to go to an Iranian model, where people use democracy to come to power and then you have parallel systems—you have a state system and a religious system; you have people deciding whether you are eligible to run for office or not—that's not the model that secular moderates hope to achieve in the Arab world.
My starting point is these two principles. If they are adhered to, then the state has no excuse whatsoever in keeping the system closed, as long as all parties, whether they are Islamist or not, adhere to the two principles.
I know this is not an easy thing to do. I know this might take 40 or 50 years. But all I know also is that the alternative of not doing anything is not going to result in a disappearance or a weakening of religious forces. We have all seen this. We have all seen this very clearly. The more we keep the system closed, in my opinion, the more we invite the religious forces to become stronger and to take over in the region. If the Arab elite want to keep their power, they have to share it. The option of absolute power, and indefinite absolute power, is no longer a sustainable option in the Arab world.
QUESTION: Now that you are with the World Bank, could you extend your discussion of reforms to economic development? What are the possibilities for greater self-determination, for more middle-class businesses, and so forth, and especially now, with the Internet, with the access that everyone can have to other ideas and other methods of supporting themselves?
MARWAN MUASHER: Thank you. First of all, I need to make a qualification, which is that my talk has nothing to do with the World Bank. I'm presently on leave from the World Bank to promote the book. The World Bank cannot take any political position, something which I'm obviously doing now. Under an arrangement with the World Bank, I'm on an unpaid leave of absence to promote the book, but with the clear understanding that these are my personal views and not necessarily the views of the bank.
Having said that, the issue of economic development is an extremely important issue in the Arab world today. Certainly the bank is very concerned with that. We have what is called the "youth bulge" in the Arab world, meaning that 60-to-70 percent of Arabs today are under 30 years of age—60-to-70 percent. You have huge numbers attempting to enter the workforce each year, but they are unable to do so because they are not equipped with the skills necessary for the labor market.
The educational system in the Arab world or Arab governments has so far focused on the quantity of education and not on the quality of education. The Arab world has done very, very important advances in terms of eradicating illiteracy, putting people into school, closing the gender gap, et cetera. All this is truly remarkable. Most Arab countries spend more than 5 percent of their GDP on education.
But the quality of education is something that very few Arab countries have done something about. The soft skills that are necessary to equip people with skills needed, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communications skills, research—all of these are not taught in any significant way in the Arab world. So far students are mostly taught what to think and not how to think.
Unless the Arab world does something drastic about this, we have no hope of closing the increasing gap in knowledge, in development, and in governance that exists today between the Arab world and the rest of the world.
The bank is approaching this through the lens of linking it to market needs. Anytime you talk about a change in curriculum, then people will accuse you of tampering with their cultural values. This is not just an issue of cultural values. It's an issue of existence. It's an issue of survival. I think at least some Arab governments are starting to understand that, that they cannot ignore this any longer, not because of political or cultural reasons, but because of economic reasons.
That's a good start. I hope that through that angle we can at least start to seriously address the issue of educational reform in the Arab world.
QUESTION: In 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled Israel. Subsequently, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Arab lands. It was almost an equal number. The numbers are estimated at 600,000 for each population.
The difference is that those who fled Arab lands were absorbed into Israel's general population. Unfortunately for those poor souls who fled Israel, they have been, for the most part, kept in refugee camps, costing billions of dollars to maintain—American dollars and dollars from all the countries of the world who participate in that. It's a very sad story for those people. Of course, Jordan is an exception. They did accept them, and Palestinians are citizens, as I understand it, of Iran.
It's a very sad thing. I wonder if you can explain it, and I wonder if you can explain how these people could in any way be repatriated. That's the number-one issue, as you outlined it earlier.
MARWAN MUASHER: I will first maintain, at the risk of sounding unpopular, that in both cases—in the case of Palestinians leaving Israel and Jews leaving Arab states—they did not always flee.
They were forced out, in both communities. The Palestinians were forced out. The historical record is clear on that. The Jews were also forced out.
But that's history.
One point I tried to make in this book is that the history of the Middle East, which is an extremely rich one, cannot define our future. If we remain embedded in this history, we will never agree to a solution—never.
The history has been so far mutually exclusive. Both sides have mutually exclusive dreams. The Israelis dream of an Eretz Israel where all the land is kept. They dream of a Jerusalem which is only for the Jewish faith, et cetera. Arabs dream of the right of return and of coming back to a land and a culture that does not exist they way they left it.
We cannot forge an agreement based on these mutually exclusive dreams. Fortunately, we don't have to. Fortunately, both sides, in my opinion, have come to grips with this. They have actually forged a framework to solve all of these issues, including the refugee issue, including Jerusalem, including land, including territory, including security. All of these issues have been talked about. For all of these issues solutions have been proposed.
I'm being a bit dramatic here, but I'm serious. These issues have been negotiated. If you want, I'll tell you today what the solution will look like.
The solution today is a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 border, with minor modifications to take into account settlements along the Green Line and land swaps to compensate for that elsewhere. That has been already talked about.
On Jerusalem: The Arab part of Jerusalem goes back to Arab sovereignty. The Jewish part of Jerusalem stays in Israeli sovereignty. The Old City—they found a solution where the Muslim and Christian quarters and most of the Armenian quarters, with the exception of 12 houses that overlook the Western Wall, will go back to Arab sovereignty and the rest are in Israeli sovereignty.
On refugees, they talked about five options:
- Symbolic numbers to go back to Israel as a way of closure to the conflict. That symbolic number is to be agreed with Israel.
- Or citizenship where they are.
- Or a right of return to be exercised inside the new Palestinian state, in unlimited numbers.
- Or repatriation to third countries—Canada, Australia, the United States, Europe, et cetera.
- Or repatriation to the lands that will be swapped with Israel in return for an agreement.
In all cases, compensation for their losses.
One of the problems today is that Palestinians are asked today to give up the right of return now, even before negotiations start. That, to them—and I, frankly, totally agree—robs them of one of the main components of a deal.
It's like asking Israel to give up their right to Jerusalem before they start. You cannot do this. It has to be a comprehensive package. Without a comprehensive package, the necessary compromises will not be made. There will be compromises, and there will be painful compromises, not just on the part of the Israelis, but on the part of the Palestinians also.
But the parameters are known. I also no longer believe that it is possible to come to a Palestinian-Israeli agreement, but rather a comprehensive agreement with the Arab world. If you talk about a Palestinian-Israeli agreement, then people will ask, what about Hezbollah? What about Hamas? What about Iran's support for the anti-peace forces?
These are issues that will not be solved through a Palestinian-Israeli agreement. To solve them, to bring about a security regime that both Arabs and Israelis will feel comfortable with, you will have to sign an agreement with the whole Arab world.
Again, fortunately, that's now possible, because the Arabs themselves have said they are ready to do so, through the Arab Peace Initiative.
QUESTION: I totally agree with you that with regard to a solution between the Israelis and Palestinians, one would pull maybe three or four documents that we have negotiated with the Israeli side on all of the final status issues. Therefore, the solution is well known. What we don't have is the political will to implement it.
In this regard, I wonder if you have some thoughts to share with us about why the Israeli government and the U.S. administration—why their action is helping the radicals on the Palestinian side and not helping the moderates.
MARWAN MUASHER: What is the moderates' strongest suit that they have tried to sell to the Arab public? It is the peace process. The moderates have said, "Trust us. We will bring you an equitable solution."
But we have not. We have tried. I spent the last 20 years trying. We have not brought the solution, not because we did not try. I still maintain we are probably among the few who have tried. But despite that, we did not bring a solution. And because we did not even touch the other issues, we have nothing to show. We are a force of slogans to the Arab public. To the Arab public, we are a force of slogans, unable to deliver on anything.
This is why the radicals are strengthened. The radicals tell the Arab public, "Look, we're not promising you peace either. But we're going to promise you social services. We're going to promise you cleaner government. We're going to promise you a fight against corruption. If these guys are not bringing you peace anyway, you might as well come with us. We at least provide you with services."
And they are right. So far they are right.
This is why it is so important to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. The issue of reform—not every reform issue is related to the conflict. Women's empowerment has nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Judicial independence has nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict.
So I don't want to also say that Arab moderates do not have a responsibility. They have a huge responsibility. My argument, actually, is that we are today in this situation of two-options-only largely because of the Arab moderates, largely because of the Arab seculars, because the secular parties in the Arab world, after independence, have not given this issue any attention. Today this is the situation we find ourselves in, largely because of our own doing. If we solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, we still have to deal with a lot of other issues, but at least we can argue to our people that we are starting to deliver. Unless we deliver on other issues, we will continue to be marginalized. But at least we can do that.
Let me also mention this two-state solution. Many think that a two-state solution is going to go against the interests of Israel and that a two-state solution means that you are going to take some land that Israelis believe is their own. Ironically, in my opinion, Israel needs a two-state solution as much as the Palestinians do.
Today you have a situation in Israel where you have about 5 million Jews. It's a country of about 6 million today, maybe 5.5 million. Five million of them are Jews and 1 million of them are Arabs. Then you add about 3.5 million Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza. Today, right now, you have a situation of 5 million Jews versus 4.5 million Arabs.
If Israel does not go for a two-state solution, and soon, you will very soon, in a few years, find yourself in a situation where the Arabs in prehistoric Palestine outnumber the Jews. And then what do you do? If you are Israel, what do you do? If you don't want a two-state solution, you either opt for a one-state solution—you say everybody is a citizen, which we also know is a formula for disaster for Israel, and it will never do that—or you opt to indefinitely have an occupation, which is another formula for disaster. We are in the 21st century. This is the longest occupation of the 20th and 21st centuries.
If Israel does not opt for a two-state solution, it will find itself in very dire straits, and soon.
Prime Minister Rabin understood this. A few years before he died, he started talking about the "Palestinian entity," as he called it at the time. Prime Minister Olmert and Prime Minister Sharon belatedly understood it, in the beginning of this decade, but so far are working for a Palestinian state that addresses Israeli needs. That's not a formula for a successful agreement. You need to work for a state that addresses both needs, including the Palestinian needs. Unless you have a viable Palestinian state, we are also not going to solve the conflict.
QUESTION: I'm getting a sense that an increasing amount of the population of Israel is giving up the idea of a peace process all together. I think the concept is that the economies of Israel and the Palestinians are going in opposite directions. The Israeli economy is booming and the Palestinian economy is imploding. The concept, I think, that the Israelis are finding themselves in is that they do not want to empower, by giving statehood, a society that has no economic center and is inherently more dangerous as a state, with all the powers of a state.
I just wonder whether or not the efforts of the moderates in the Arab world should not be directed first at helping the Palestinians develop their economy, which seems to be an effort that is totally lacking, rather than focusing on a political solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
MARWAN MUASHER: It's interesting to note—and I will quote the World Bank—that the World Bank today is very reluctant—forget the Arabs—to pump money into the Palestinian territories. The European Union is very reluctant to pump new money into the Palestinian territories.
The argument that both the World Bank and the European Union are advancing is that with checkpoints, with a Swiss cheese type of entity, how can you ever hope to have an economic center? If you cannot export your products, if you don't have free movement of labor and goods within your own territory, how can you ever hope to develop an economic center? Six hundred and fifty checkpoints in the West Bank—650 checkpoints.
If you want to go from here to, say, the United Nations building, it might take you two days—two days. There is no way you can develop an economic center under these conditions.
The continuation of the conflict and the occupation is what is causing this, and not the opposite. The two are linked very, very strongly. You cannot talk about economic development under such conditions. It has been tried. It has been tried under occupation. Mr. Wolfensohn and the World Bank during his days, the European Union, American aid—it has all been tried, and Arab aid as well.
It's not working. It's just pumping bad money after good, or whatever. It's not resulting in anything, because of this, I'm sorry to say, strangulation of the West Bank.
JOANNE MYERS: I'm sorry, our time is up. I thank you so much for presenting these issues in such a balanced way. Thank you.