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Federal News Service - Briefing of Middle East and Central Asia Subcom. of House International Relations Com. on Israel's Security Fence -Transcript

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service February 10, 2004 Tuesday
Copyright 2004 Federal News Service, Inc.
Federal News Service

February 10, 2004 Tuesday







(NOTE: Due to audio difficulties on site, this transcript will contain numerous audio breaks and inaudible sections.)

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R-FL): (Event fed in progress) -- political implications in the overall Arab-Israeli dispute and the impact that this case has before the International Court of Justice. When we come-oh, thank you, Congresswoman Shelley Berkley from Las Vegas, Nevada, thank you so much for being with us. When we come back-next week we have a district work period-and when we come back, we will have the second part of this-of this conflict, and we will be hearing from other guests who will-may have different points of views than ones that are -- (inaudible) -- dissimilar to the ones who are going to be speaking today, we will make sure that we have another set of panelists when we come back.

But Gary and I want to thank Ambassador Ross and David for coming with us today. After the Ambassador speaks, we will hear from David, who will present a Power Point presentation, and we will be glad to get-take questions from the members and you the audience as well.

Gary, I would like to have you make some opening -- (inaudible) --


MS. ROS-LEHTINEN: David, as I had said, is the senior fellow and director of the project on the Middle East peace process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He has written this article, "How to Build a Fence," and the last paragraph of which I will read-it's just a few sentences-it says, "Whether done unilaterally or by negotiation, only partition can guarantee the democratic and Jewish character of Israel. Israelis and Palestinians will eventually have to sit down together to solve their problems. Since such negotiations are unlikely for the time being, however, a properly constructed fence can serve as an interim measure, given the traumas both of these people have endured, especially over the last three years, keeping Israelis and Palestinians apart now is the only way to bring them together in the future." David, thank you.


REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Thanks to David and to Dennis for excellent presentation. Greg wrote eight excellent questions for me, which I will ignore -- (laughter) -- because I want to give Gary and Shelley an opportunity to ask the questions, and I'd like to throw it open to all of you with the limited time that our guests have. But I'd like for you to be able to participate. Gary?

Q I'd like to ask -- (off mike) -- people both on the Israeli side and the Palestinian side -- (inaudible) -- anticipated on top of that that the Israelis -- (inaudible) -- Palestinian side of the fence -- (off mike).

MR. ROSS: Excellent question.

Q (Off mike)?

MR. ROSS: Wait for the answer. None of this is going to happen instantaneously. I can tell you when we thought about this, when we actually had a peace process, and we thought about what was going to happen, initially I will tell you the Israeli attitude when we were still at Camp David was to see if you could actually have Israelis remain in settlements in the-or in areas in what would be the Palestinian state, but under Palestinian sovereignty, and the Palestinians vice versa. Now, the Israeli position changed over time, because they came to believe that just wasn't feasible.

The idea that you'd be able to maintain that presence but they wouldn't be sovereign or there wouldn't be some kind of a connection in the end wasn't feasible.

So the logic was that you'd have to bring them back. What you are getting at is the essence of the demographic problem. How do you try to promote the homogeneity of each area, at least in terms of demographics? There's no doubt that keeping settlements out there that are under exclusive Israeli control and require Israeli security is not going to be sustainable for the long haul. The question here is how long do you take. I do think if you were-if there was a stated Israeli policy that reflected, for example, what Ehud Olmert has said, basically we should withdraw-we, Israel, should withdraw from what amounts to about 80 percent of the territory. That would involve having to evacuate those settlements. And it will be difficult for some for sure.

We have to understand the settler movement in Israel is made up of lots of different kinds of people with lots of different kinds of motivations. Most Israelis who move into what would be called the bedroom communities adjacent to the Green Line will not be largely affected. They went there for quality-of-life reasons. Those who moved into different parts of it went for much more ideological reasons. This is part of God's patrimony. So the idea they would give this up is emotionally and psychologically extraordinarily difficult. And it will confront the Israeli government, any Israeli government, with what is going to be a real trauma. But it means you're going to have to face that.

Now, what does one do with the Palestinians who remain within this area? You know, the fact is I don't think we have thought in terms of forcibly moving them out of this area. And I think the reason is the following: Bear in mind that when we talk about the issue of this fence, the security fence, we're not talking about it being the permanent border. What I said was it can be there-if you have a Palestinian partner who is prepared to not only to negotiate-the issue is not, Are they prepared to negotiate? The issue is: Are they prepared to assume responsibility? The hardest thing we've seen in the last three years has been the absence of the readiness to assume responsibility. And when you had for a short period of time a Palestinian prime minister who began to speak the language of responsibility, he couldn't deliver on it, and eventually he resigned.

If in fact this isn't going to be a border, then you wouldn't move Palestinians out of there, because you're still going to end up negotiating what would be the eventual border. But, as I said, this line could be there for one year or two years or 50 years. If the Palestinians are not capable or willing to assume responsibilities on their side, so that territories are Palestinian are used as a platform from which to attack Israelis, well then you are not going to see that line transformed. I don't think you deal with what the ultimate border is, and therefore this position of at least the Palestinians until you get to that point. But from the standpoint of Israelis getting out of Palestinian lives on the one hand, promoting Israeli security on the other, you probably will evacuate settlements before in fact you get to that point. And that in a sense already creates a very dramatically different situation than we have today. The real issue is what's the timeframe. I mean, I would state an intention, and then you could have some time frame. I wouldn't say it has to be instantaneous.

Q (Off mike)?

MR. ROSS: Well, that's-no, look, the critical-one of the reasons we tend to talk in terms of coordinated unilateralism is that if you do this only-if the Israelis do it without any consideration for what happens on the other side, without planning for it, then you can't deal with a question like that. One of the things we have to do is talking to both sides-talking to the Arab leaders, talking to the Europeans as well. And in this particular case one of the things you were trying to do is to sort out what's going to happen. What's the time frame here in terms of evacuation? What happens between now and the time you do it? Does that time line get affected by Palestinian behavior one way or the other? What are the-if in the event that there are attacks either against those settlements before the Israelis have withdrawn, or whether there's attacks into Israel after the Israelis have already built the fence and created some process of evacuation, what are the Israeli responses? How are those perceived by us? What do we consider to be within the context of appropriate and not? You know, we haven't even begun from our standpoint to address all those questions. That's again why I say if you are going to approach this, approach it strategically not tactically. We can't wait until the last minute. The Israelis can't wait until the last minute just to say, All right, we're going to withdraw, without having addressed a wide array of questions, some of which you just raised, others of which I'm starting to suggest.

Q (Off mike)?

MR. MAKOVSKY: Right. Look, I think the enmity here that you've laid forth-I don't know the exact-I know a friend of mine, Khalil Shikaki (ph), who is a prominent pollster-I think his polls are very good. I don't know if that one was his poll, but it seems to me enmity is here and, yes, it's caused by promos and the like of decades. But frankly it's also been nurtured. I mean, it's been nurtured, unfortunately, by a regime that has never really done any intellectual groundwork in accepting the moral legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state. And so it's not just spontaneous that this stuff goes on the airwaves and the like.

I will say though while the enmity exists and the lack of leadership is obvious, I don't expect that once this line is drawn everyone is going to love each other. I don't. But my hope is that it will hold us over, as Dennis pointed out, until the leadership changes and until there is a tone at the top that suggests that partnership is possible. This could be a long haul. I hope 50 years, as Dennis put out-you know, we all pray it's nothing like that of course. But in the meantime what it seems to me is that with the rejectionists are saying on the Palestinian side is this is the best, you know, politically of course-humanitarily it's terrible. But so long as it's all one big mishmash, the soup as I call it, then we'll just wait it out, because within eight years, six years, however you want to count, the Jews will be a minority, we'll go up to the United States Congress, and say, There's a minority here ruling a majority, even if it's not in its sovereign borders, but in the whole area. And so just bring it on, you know? Let it just keep coming like this and do nothing, so we could focus on this one-state solution.

The term "one-state solution" means-it's a euphemism for the destruction of Israel. But I think they see the demographic trend such that they would like the status quo-the rejectionists, not most people who are suffering-and I don't believe most people that terrible situation on either side. But, you know, they do have an interest to keep stirring the pot. And it seems to me that without a fence, more suicide attacks, you won't disentangle the spaghetti and there was no hope for a two-state solution that could provide dignity. Will Israel have to act in self-defense, when there are these attacks? Yes, I am sure. But I think you're much better off in those cases to limit the friction to reduce the level of friction than you would be under the current status quo, which I think actually serves the rejectionists who want this situation to keep blowing over. But I agree with you that by merely setting up a fence and taking down settlements in and of itself it will not solve the problem. I mean, let's remember that Ehud Barak in the year 2000 offered to take down 80 and 90 settlements, and that didn't bring the peace. So there's no reason to believe that taking down settlements in and of itself will bring peace. Will it reduce the friction and enable the two sides to deal for the longer haul? I think so.

Q (Off mike)?

REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Maybe you could be one of our presenters next time. Get to your question. Why don't you identify yourself.

Q (Off mike)?

MR. MAKOVSKY: All right, Khalid, I'm glad you asked that, because my point of showing the encirclement fence, which is the way it's been depicted for the most part-I mean, I got the fence-I mean, I got that map from the PLO website. You're right, if they build that fence the way you said, what I call the encirclement fence, I do think it's a disaster. I said the word Bantustan; I think it would be terrible. But that's why it isn't being build. And I think-I'm not blaming you, but I'm saying that I think who ever puts that out and says, This is what Israel is doing-without looking at what Israel is doing, you know, puts forward information that is not accurate. Because if they do what you said, Khalid, that 98 percent of the settlers are outside the encirclement fence, what I call it-and I do think it will preclude a two-state solution. We don't disagree.

My belief though-it's not just my belief-it's what's on the ground-that's not what they are doing. And you just-you know, factually, you know-and we have to see that. Now, it doesn't mean there might not be some who would like to do that, and therefore I think it's good to be vigilant, to make sure it isn't happening. I understand, you know, it would definitely be helpful if there were more public statements disavowing what's on the PLO website. That would put the matter to rest. But what MOD fence is up against is not the encirclement fence right now. And so that nightmare scenario that you put forward is not what's happening.


MR. ROSS: Khalid, you said is the issue terror or is it demography. And the answer is it's both. The situation we're talking about-what we are laying out is if in fact the alternative to the siege is a fence, and maybe you have 75 percent of the territory-David talked about 85.5 percent-I'll say, for the sake of argument let's say 75 percent of the territory suddenly becomes available to the Palestinians-a dramatically better situation for the Palestinians. It's terror because it's in fact the fence that is being built that wasn't being built before for the very reasons David was saying. Why was it not built before? Precisely because there were many in Israel-and there were some who had this ideology-that a fence meant that you would have to get out of the West Bank-get out of it-you would have to partition it. That's what it does mean. So they didn't want to build it, but they've built it precisely because-or they are building it precisely because of the terror.

What we are suggesting about the demography is there's also demographic arguments. So there's a security reason to build it, there's a demographic reason to build it.

If the alternative was available today of producing an actual agreement, that would be far-that would be vastly preferable. When we were negotiating, we weren't focused on building a fence; we were focused on producing a solution that provided for two states to be able to live side by side. We haven't had a peace process for the last three years. And the reality today is you can't produce one that is suddenly going to transform the psychology and the practicalities on the ground.

So either we can maintain the situation as it is, which is a disaster. As I've said, I've been throughout the West Bank, I know what Palestinians are having to contend with. But I'm also saying it's a disaster for Israel. So your choice is to-unless you see security responsibilities assumed, which we are not seeing-and less of it even now than before-so your choice is either go the route of keeping it as it is, or try to find something that's a way station. And the way station isn't the encirclement plan. The reason David has it up there is to say that's not tenable. That's not practical.

REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you, ambassador. I know that before we started, Matt Burr (ph) -- I don't know if he's still here-of JTA had told me that he had wanted to be recognized. Okay, thank you.

Q (Off mike)?

MR. MAKOVSKY: I do think so, because I think most Israelis at this point are waking up to the demographics in a way that they hadn't before. And they realized that if they do an encirclement plan that this just ensnares them in much more Palestinian lives. So I don't think it's going to take a lot. And every-you know, when you talk to the most senior military people in Israel, the senior cabinet people, and they just said, "I know what you're going to ask me, David - -you're going to ask me if we're going to build an eastern fence and do the encirclement fence, right?" I said, "Yes." They go, "We're not doing it." I said, "It would be nice then to have the prime minister say it publicly." And so far that hasn't happened. Whether he's using it for bargaining reasons or he doesn't want to anger settlers by making an act of disavowal-I actually think it would clarify the debate a lot, so you wouldn't have the question from Khalid that we just had before, because, A, Israel isn't doing it anyway. So why not get the credit for something, so put that whole idea to rest. So I don't think a lot of pressure is going to be needed, because the Israelis have realized that this eastern fence is a disaster and they're not doing it.

REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: I know you've been-please just identify yourself.

Q Eric -- (inaudible) -- B'nai B'rith International. I was wondering if either one of you could comment on the -- (inaudible) -- against Israel at the -- (inaudible) -- International Court of Justice. If there is an unfavorable ruling, unfavorable to Israel, what are the likely policies, political impacts?

MR. ROSS: Now you have not only the United States, but the British, the Australians and a number of others now weighing in saying this is really not the forum to be holding such a hearing.

If there is an unfavorable ruling, it will have no immediate practical effect, because it gets reported back to the U.N. General Assembly and there is nothing that is going to happen as a result of that. But it is part of a larger effort I think to delegitimize the very idea of Israel's self-defense.

Again, I mean, no one is laying out the alternative. No one is saying, Well, where are the Palestinian responsibilities here? I know one of the arguments is, Well, they're under occupation-what do you expect? But the reality is in the year 2000 we had a chance to end the occupation. When you think about the map that David showed, it understates what the Clinton ideas would have been from a Palestinian standpoint. It shows 95 percent. It doesn't say anything about the swap. When we were at Camp David, we suggested something that was less. The swap area was only going to be one percent then, and it was going to be adjacent to Gaza. When we did the Clinton ideas, we didn't do that. So it wasn't five percent. It was four to six percent annexation in return to a one to three percent swap. But the one through three percent swap could have opposite the West Bank-meaning areas that are currently Israel would be swapped. The original idea at Camp David was you take it from the negative. Later on we didn't designate that. So conceivably that 95 percent could actually be 97 percent of the territory in effect.

Now, you-you know, that was what was available-and was rejected. And the issue here is security for the Israelis, independence for the Palestinians. If you're going to focus in the ICJ about delegitimizing the right of the Israelis to self-defense, you have to ask the question, What do the Israelis have a right to do?

REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Okay, we'll just take one more, if that's okay with the gentlemen, and continue that in two weeks. What was the first name again, please?

Q (Off mike)?

MR. ROSS: Steve, I'm still against unilateral action. I say it has to be coordinated. We don't have a negotiation right now. We don't have a peace process right now. We have a disaster right now. What I want to see is something that is coordinated. That's why I want, if we can't bring the two sides together to be able to negotiate, then we have to do it in parallel.

We talk about if the Israelis were withdrawing from the Jordan Valley, that would be unilateral action. It doesn't mean you're against unilateral action. The fact is, we want to look at actions that can actually change the climate. It is going to have to be negotiated by us, even if it's not done directly. Maybe it's done in parallel. The whole point is to get from where we are to the situation that makes peace possible again.

We have a war process today, we don't have a peace process. If things stay as they are, we will see drifts, more violence, more suffering on both sides. This is something that is taking place. Now, we have an Israeli Prime Minister who is now talking about getting out of Gaza unilaterally. Now, you wouldn't be against his getting out of Gaza unilaterally. The question is, how do we take steps like this, and how do we create some parallels, so that we transform what is the current situation that is, in effect, something that works catastrophically against both sides.

What David and I are trying to do is look at the current situations there, and what's possible? We see a fence going in. How do you shape this fence in a way that is constructive enough to be separate? How do you take the reality of the Israelis possibly pulling back with security lines, and work with the Palestinians to change the reality on their side in terms of the steps it will take. There is nothing more important on the Palestinian side than assuming possibility, not avoiding it. The worst thing throughout the Oslo process was the instinct to always avoid responsibility and not to take it.

One of Abu Mazen's most important speeches before he became Prime Minister when he said, we need responsibility over unity. Because as you know, as a student and having dealt with the PLO in particular, unity was a theme that predominated more than responsibility. So, how do we take the current circumstance and how do we build responsibility on the Palestinian side and, in effect, responsibility on the Israeli side to do this in a way that not only serves the Israeli long-term interest in terms of demography, but serves the Israeli interest in terms of security, and still creates a basis from which to negotiate an eventual settlement over time.

MR. MAKOVSKY: I just want to add something to Steve, here. I believe that there has to be just addition, but subtraction. And that's why I argued for this position that's set forth here about those settlements that are east of the fence, because if it's all addition and no subtraction, it's going to be perceived one way, and even allows these worst case scenario ideas that someone brought up earlier to believe that people would be even more. So, I think this is stirring a debate.

I cannot imagine that we were standing in the Rayburn Building a year ago and we'd be looking in a crystal ball, and we're going to say here's the deal, within a year, Ariel Sharon is going to announce unilaterally pulling out of Gaza, clear out of all the settlements east of the fence which he knows is 50-60 thousand people. And these are the Likud people, the right side. There is no way we'd be having that discussion a year ago. The fence has stirred a debate, I think a healthy debate.

And Gaza is the first step. And, by the way, Gaza, and if I didn't say this I'm certainly remiss, if there is anything that has stirred a debate in Israel to support the fence is the fact that there's been no, zero, not one, Palestinian terror infiltration from Gaza because there's a fence. And look how many human lives are saved on both sides.

So, the fact here is that the fence has worked. It might not be 100 percent, it's 95 percent, but it's stirred a debate in the Likud in my mind because when the idea of pulling out of settlements is, oh, you're going to make us more vulnerable to Yasser Arafat, you're going to assume they're going to assume responsibility when it's Lucy on the football and it never happened. Come on, grow up.

But now the debate is going on on a totally different plane, because people are saying, wait a second, maybe there's if a fence, Israel doesn't have to have a siege on the other side. This debate is in full swing now. Has it happened yet, of course it hasn't happened yet. It's only happening now that Sharon is talking about Gaza, so we'll see. But I think it's the inevitable logic. What Jewish mother is going to want to send their 18-year-old daughter or son to go east of the fence to protect settlements of Palestine, explain that one to me? It's obvious that that's where it's heading.

So, if it's nudged that way, I think it's great. But those are my own personal thoughts about what happens east of the fence. So, there hasn't been the subtraction yet, but there hasn't been the addition of the scenario of the encircling the fence hasn't happened either. So, I just think this logic is obvious, it's a clear rationale that just follows once the fence goes up. And I think the debate is fully underway, stay tuned.

REP. ROS-LEHTINEN: Stay tuned for round two of this discussion. We look forward to having a new set of panelists for the week after next. So, please join us, please come back. Thank you.


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