Jul 29 2013

My Interview on CNN with Fareed Zakaria

Published by at 7:27 pm under Articles

Below is my interview with CNN followed by the opening statement of fareed and the interview with the Israeli ambassador. On air my interview was last but on my home page I can change the order.

We asked their official representative in Washington to join us, but the Palestinians say Secretary of State John Kerry has requested them to keep a low profile so they actually politely declined to come on the show.

So, I am not joined by a very distinguished Palestinian journalist, Daoud Kuttab. He is the columnist for Al Monitor, has written extensively for a number of Arab and Western papers and he joins us now from Amman, Jordan.



ZAKARIA: So, what is it that has made the Palestinian side agree to come back to negotiations?

For a long time, they said, you know, they wanted a settlement freeze. They were unwilling to get back to direct negotiations. What do you think changed?

KUTTAB: Well, I think the persistent of Secretary of State John Kerry, the support that President Obama has given to the idea of a Palestinian state on the ’67 borders and the seriousness that the European Union has shown lately by declaring settlements not part of Israel.

These combined with the fact that the Israelis were a bit more willing to release some of the prisoners that were arrested and detained before the Oslo Agreement.

A combination of these things, I think, made it possible for the Palestinians to be willing to at least discuss the issues of the negotiations.

ZAKARIA: So, let me ask you about some of the thorny issues. And I asked Michael Oren about the — you know, the requirement the Prime Minister Netanyahu has made which is that the Palestinian side recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

Do you think this poses any obstacle for the Palestinian side/

KUTTAB: Well, the Palestinian side is the PLO and the PLO is seen as a representative of all Palestinians and that includes Palestinians who were left in Palestine when Israel was created.

The Palestinian citizens of Israel are not Jewish and so by declaring Israel a Jewish state, I think it’s a slap to fellow Palestinians who are living in Nazareth or in Haifa or in the Negev.

So, it’s an emotional issue and actually — the feeling is that it would add to the discrimination against citizens of Israel who are not Jewish.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that on something like this there is room for some kind of compromise?

KUTTAB: Well, I think the whole issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one that has to be resolved obviously in private conversations.

If there is serious interest in a settlement that ends this conflict and there is a withdraw of Israel to the ’67 borders, I think the Palestinian side is expecting and willing to make needed verbal and other compromises to allow the Israeli’s to accept the creation of a two-state solution

We are neighbors with the Israelis. We want to be neighbors with the Israelis. This is not an attempt to create a religious war. We’re trying to live in freedom. Forty-six years of occupation is a long time, Fareed, and Palestinians just want to be free in their own country on their own land.

The Jewish people are respected by the Palestinians, by the Islamic faith. There’s no problem with the Jewish people. The question is whether the state of Israel is a state for its citizens or a particular religious group and I think this is where the problem is.

ZAKARIA: What about the issue of the right of return? Where will the Palestinian refugees go? Will they go to Israel proper or will they go to the new Palestinian state?

KUTTAB: The right of return, I think, has to be divided into two parts. The recognition that there is a historical and moral right for Palestinians to return and Israel needs to accept responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem.

Then, there is the issue of implementation of this right and I think Palestinians have shown that they are very cooperative and very willing to compromise on the issue of which Palestinians return to the Israel.

Most will not want to return to Israel, but want to return to the Palestinian state or remain where they are in a nearby Arab countries or maybe resettled in a third, you know, region.

So, there is possibilities for compromise on this issue. The big question is the borders. Where will the borders be? And whether the state of Palestine will be a viable, contiguous state that really is independent.

ZAKARIA: What about the question of Hamas? Here you have still Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip. They do not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

They would not have — a representative from Hamas would have said I think none of the things you just said in terms of moderation and spirit of compromise. Isn’t that a problem?

KUTTAB: I don’t believe the Hamas issue is a problem. Hamas has already agreed with the PLO that the PLO should represent the Palestinians in negotiations.

They’ve also agreed with the PLO that there should be some kind of a referendum where all Palestinians vote on the package deal that will be agreed upon between Israel and the PLO.

So, on this issue, I don’t think it’s going to be an obstacle to the talks. I think the big obstacle is the right-wing members of the Israeli government who are against the two-state solution based on the ’67 borders.

On the Hamas side, they might say a few things against it, but at the end of the day most Palestinians, by pools, have shown that they are in support of a two-state solution.

ZAKARIA: Daoud Kuttab, thank you for joining us. Fascinating conversation.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the Global Public Square. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I’m Fareed Zakaria.

We’ve got a great show for you today. First up, is there new hope for peace in the Middle East or is it the same old dance? I’ve got key voices from both sides, Israel and Palestine, to find out why this time it’s different.

But, first, here’s my take. If you were to ask me what international problem is least likely to be resolved in the next few years, I would probably say the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

It takes no special insight to be skeptical on this. No one has ever lost money betting against the Middle East peace process. And yet I find myself cheering on Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to revive talks between the two sides.

Now, the case for skepticism or realism is obvious. The Palestinians are dysfunctional and divided, with Hamas controlling Gaza and still unwilling to make any kind of deal with Israel.

For its part, the Israeli public has largely given up on peace, and new political groups, like those led by Naftali Bennett, flatly oppose a two-state solution.

But there are a number of forces that could push the parties to negotiate seriously. While Israel is thriving, many Israelis are unhappy with the prospect of having to rule over millions of Palestinians in perpetuity.

These concerns are heightened by growing efforts to delegitimize Israel in Europe, on American university campuses and elsewhere. On the Palestinian side, the most serious obstacle to peace remains Hamas, but it is in bad shape.

The group’s popularity is declining and it is broke. Hamas’ support for the Syrian rebels has damaged its ties to its two main patrons, Iran and Syria, which are, of course, facing their own problems (sanctions, insurgency).

And the new Egyptian government has cracked down with ferocity on smuggling into Gaza. And, remember, none of the thorniest diplomatic problems, the settlements, Jerusalem, actually involve Gaza at all.

So the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority could come to an agreement and they could then present it to the people on both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, and see if the public at large supports a final deal even though some elements within both societies will, of course oppose it.

I know, I know, the thorny problems are really thorny and they have derailed talks in the past. It’s easy to see how negotiations could be undermined by the reemergence of old disagreements and then leave both sides disappointed and bitter.

That’s why these negotiations should be conducted out of public view, with no briefings ad keeping expectations very low. Not great for me to say that, but I think that makes sense.

Choosing to take on this issue might seem like a fool’s errand, but there are some practical reasons to pursue it.

Unlike with the constant calls for the United States to somehow magically stabilize Egypt or stop the slaughter in Syria, this is actually an issue on which Washington still has enormous leverage, and there is a clear path forward where the Secretary of State’s efforts could yield results.

And success, even modest, would clearly change the atmosphere in the region and in the wider Muslim world.

So let’s give Kerry credit for using his political capital on one of the oldest, most intractable problems in international relations. I wish him very well.

But if I had to bet, well I guess I still don’t like losing money.

Go to cnn.com/fareed for a link to my Time column this week and let’s get started.

You’ve heard my take. Now, let’s hear from Israel’s Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren, who’s joining me. Welcome, Ambassador.

MICHAEL OREN, AMBASSADOR OF ISRAEL TO THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Fareed, always good to be with you.

ZAKARIA: So, for a lot of people, this seems like a change of heart. There seemed as though there was this almost conflict between Washington and Israel where the Obama administration wanted Bibi Netanyahu’s government to take the negotiations seriously, to enter into them. And, after four years of prodding, what changed?

OREN: Well, nothing changed much from our side. We were always ready to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians without pre- conditions.

That was the prime minister’s position four years ago. It’s his position today. We support a solution based on two states for two peoples, a Jewish state of Israel living side-by-side in peace and security and mutual recognition with the Palestinian state.

It was not the Palestinian position. The Palestinians had a number of pre-conditions. They were not willing to live in a situation of mutual recognition.

We recognize the Palestinians as a people endowed with the right of self-determination. They don’t recognize the Jews as a people yet with the right of self-determination. We have to get to that spot.

What has shifted, I believe, is that the Palestinians may be considering dropping their pre-conditions and entering into serious talks on all of the outstanding issues, including borders, security, Jerusalem, and mutual recognition to reach that two-state solution once and for all.

ZAKARIA: That point about recognizing Israel, not simply recognizing Israel, which, of course, the Palestinian Authority has done for a long time, but recognizing it as a Jewish state is a condition that Prime Minister Netanyahu has put in place.

No previous prime minister, to my knowledge did it. Explain why that’s so important.

OREN: Well, his position — and also Tzipi Livni when she was conducting negotiations and Ariel Sharon as well. It goes back quite a way.

But understand that this is not a pre-condition. We understand. We’re not asking the Palestinians to do this up front. We know it’s not easy for them.

But when we say Jewish state, what does it mean? It means that the Jewish state is permanent and legitimate. We’re not interlopers. We’re not trespassers. We’re not a transient state.

And it also means there’ll be an end of claims and end of conflict. When you sign the dotted line, there’s a real peace there.

It also means that when we come up to the question of the Palestinian refugees. And today in the Middle East there are about between 6 and 8 million descendants of the refugees form 1948 that those refugees who want to be repatriated, will be repatriated to the Palestinian state and not to Israel, which will remain the Jewish state.

It’s predicated on having a Jewish majority. We only have 8 million people. You bring in 8 million Palestinians we don’t have that majority anymore.

It’s difficult for the Palestinians. We’re not asking them to do it up front, but, clearly, at the end of this peace process the only true way to have a durable peace is on the basis of mutual recognition.

The Palestinians are a people. The Jews are a people. Both have the right of self-determination and the only way to make peace is to divide this land that we both claim as our homeland.

ZAKARIA: A lot of Israeli Arabs tell me that to describe Israel as a Jewish state essentially renders them invisible and they are, you know, 20 percent of the population by some counts.

Israeli has a state, Palestinians have a state. Why is it important that it be Jews?

OREN: Well, because the Jews are a people and we have a right to self-determination. There are about 193 states in the world, Fareed. Most of them are nation states; the Bulgarians, the Hungarians, the Germans …

ZAKARIA: Right, but those are not religious categories. Those are national categories.

OREN: But Jew is also a national category and unlike countries like Denmark that have a national church, unlike Great Britain that has a national church, we don’t have an official religion. We are a people and we are a nation state like most of the nation states in the world.

And many of those nation states, if not most of them, have ethnic minorities that are loyal minorities whose rights are respected. Some of them have an ethnic affiliation with another state.

It’s very common, certainly in Europe. And there’s nothing anomalous, nothing unusual about the arrangement which we’re seeking.

ZAKARIA: Let’s talk about the two thorny issues. I mean we’ve talked about one, in a sense, the refugees. But the ones that people often say are the thorniest are Jerusalem and the settlements.

Do you envision a settlement in which parts of Jerusalem are handed over to the Palestinian Authority so that they, too, can have Jerusalem or some part of Jerusalem be their capital in the way that Ehud Barak had presented to them in 2000?

OREN: Well, as you said, Jerusalem is a thorny issue and we’re going to keep this according to Secretary Kerry’s guidelines. We’re not going to talk about the peace process openly.

And as our president, Peres — Shimon Peres says, “There’s two things you must never do in front of a camera. You shouldn’t make love and you shouldn’t make peace in front of a camera either.” Only Shimon Peres could get away with saying things like that. So, Jerusalem is a thorny issue, but what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said, again, in front of Congress. He understands that the Palestinians have the position on Jerusalem.

Our position is that it should remain the undivided capital of Israel, but that with creativity and good will, we can solve the Jerusalem problem as well. So, let’s leave it at that.

ZAKARIA: And settlements, are you comfortable with the idea that in a final deal significant Israeli settlements will have to be dismantled?

OREN: Again, I’ll go back to what the prime minister said in front of Congress. We have to be realistic. We have to tell the truth to our own people.

And that is in the event of the creation of a Palestinian state, we will have to make painful territorial concessions and there may well be Israeli settlements that lie beyond the sovereign borders of the State of Israel.

We hope that Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, tells the truth to his people that the Palestinian refugees will be resettled in the Palestinian state and that the Palestinian state is going to have to recognizing the legitimacy and permanence of the Israeli Jewish state.

ZAKARIA: Michael Oren, pleasure to have you on. Thank you so much.

Up next, the Palestinian point of view. Stay with us.


ZAKARIA: So, you’ve heard my take, you’ve heard from Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to Washington. What is the Palestinian side expecting?

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