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What The Arab Spring Means For Israel And Palestine

The West Bank has yet to see a democracy movement on the level of those sparking dramatic changes in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. It could have a huge effect on the region, were it to happen, says conflict resolution expert Robert Malley.

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What The Arab Spring Means For Israel And Palestine

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The uprisings in the Arab world and the crackdown in Syria are bound to have an
impact on Israeli-Palestinian relations and the prospects for a Middle East
peace, but it's hard to say what the impact will be. Palestinians are calling
for a vote at the U.N. General Assembly in September to ratify a declaration of
Palestinian statehood. The Obama administration just sent two top diplomats to
the Middle East to try to find a way to restart peace talks.

My guest, Robert Malley, is the International Crisis Group's program director
for the Middle East and North Africa. The International Crisis Group is a
nonprofit, nongovernmental organization committed to preventing and resolving
deadly conflict. It offers analysis and advice to governments and
intergovernmental bodies like the U.N., the European Union and the World Bank.
Malley was special assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs from
1988 to 2001.

Robert Malley, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's talk a little bit about how the
changes in North Africa, the Arab uprisings are affecting Israel and the
Palestinians. Let's look first at the Palestinian protests that we've recent
seen where Palestinians have been storming Israeli borders first in the middle
of May, on the day that the Palestinians call the Nakba, the anniversary of the
creation of the state of Israel.

And Palestinians stormed the border of Israel from Syria, Gaza, Lebanon and the
West Bank. And more recently, Palestinians have been trying to storm the border
of Israel from Syria. So do you think that this new form of protest has been
inspired by, you know, the Arab Spring?

Mr. ROBERT MALLEY (Program Director for the Middle East and North Africa,
International Crisis Group): Yes, I mean, you know, I've spoken to Palestinians
over the last several months, and there's a sense of them being left out. You
know, the Palestinian cause has often been believed, by Palestinians but also
by other Arabs, as being the vanguard of - being at the vanguard of Arab
consciousness, being the movement that was going to spearhead everything else.

And for the first time in many decades, the Palestinians are viewing other
countries, other people rising up, and they had remained relatively quiescent
for some time.

So I think there's a sense that they, too, want to join this movement. They,
too, are learning - and this I think is critical - they're learning the
advantages of nonviolent popular protest.

When Palestinians have risen up in the past, unfortunately, it's often taken
the shape of acts of violence, acts of terror against civilians. I think
they're learning, or one hopes that they're seeing that there are other ways of
acting and that don't involve violence.

So I think there is - that is happening, but at the same time, it certainly has
not reached the levels of any of the other countries that we're talking about,
and there are many reasons for that: the divisions among Palestinians, the fact
that they are afraid that as soon as they're going to resort to any kind of
popular protest, it will quickly morph into something more violent, and I think
they're aware of that, or a number of them are aware of it.

It's also a very different kind of conflict, and it's not clear that that kind
of protest would have the same impact that it had elsewhere. You're not talking
about overthrowing a leader; you're talking about resolving a half-century
conflict that's going to take, ultimately, negotiations to resolve that.

But it's interesting that some Palestinians, particularly young Palestinians,
are trying to discover new forms of action.

GROSS: You know, storming a border is a very provocative, nonviolent but very
provocative move, and it's the kind of move that's likely to end in violence
because in this case, Israel doesn't want that border violated.

Mr. MALLEY: Absolutely, and it did end in violence. I mean, there were deaths
on the Lebanese and Syrian border, and that's - so that points to the fact that
this is a different kind of dynamic.

You know, people have spoken about the possibility of Palestinians not storming
the border but marching towards a settlement or marching towards Jerusalem in
the thousands or the tens of thousands, which, you know, that would be - it
could be dangerous. It could actually end up hurting the cause that it's trying
to promote, but it also would be a game-changer if it succeeded as a peaceful
movement.

It would present huge dilemma for Israel: How would it react? And it would
present a huge dilemma for the U.S.: How would it react to Israel's reaction?
Because at a time when people are celebrating popular, peaceful protest
movements, why - on what basis would one criticize it when the Palestinians
were doing it? Again, it would have to be entirely nonviolent, and from talks
with Palestinian leaders I've had in recent weeks, they are very doubtful that
they could control it and maintain the peaceful character of the protests.

They also are afraid that it could turn out to be a protest against their own
rule. So that's why Palestinian leaders, whether from either Fatah or Hamas,
the two leading movements, the secular movement and the Islamist movement, both
of them are fearful of these protests, and both of them have actually taken
action to prevent the protest from growing because they fear that at some point
it could get out of control and that the target would no longer be Israel's
occupation but also the rule under which they're subjected to both in the West
Bank and in Gaza.

GROSS: So you said that the leadership of Palestinians, of both Hamas and
Fatah, have tried to prevent some of the uprisings at the borders of Israel,
and they're a little afraid - the leadership's a little afraid that
Palestinians will eventually turn against them, against the Palestinian
leaders. Why are they afraid of that.

Mr. MALLEY: Again, that's one reason why I think they're trying to control it
and also because they know the reaction could be violent and, you know, they
don't want to see violence on the border right at this stage. Why are they
afraid? You know, in both cases it's a different kind of fear.

In Gaza, it's the fear of a regime that is, you know, relatively - it's
autocratic, it still is relatively repressive and who knows? I mean, you look
around the region and you think we could be the next target. So I think that's
a natural reaction that any leader right now, unless it's an entirely
democratic leadership, which in Gaza it is certainly not the case.

And in the West Bank as well, it's not a leadership that has democratic
legitimacy. The last elections took place in 2006; Hamas won the elections and
yet Fatah is in power in the West Bank. The president's mandate has expired now
for several years. And again, it's a leadership that hasn't been able to
produce what it promised for its people. It's been now 20 years and they're
still under occupation.

So there's many reasons why, whether it's material or political or ideological,
why people would be upset with their respective leaderships and why the
leaderships in turn would be fearful of allowing them to demonstrate freely.

GROSS: There's a U.N. resolution that will be voted on in September for a
Palestinian state. Can you tell us what this resolution is, what it's meant to
do?

Mr. MALLEY: It's - again, it's not to the - the Palestinians are debating
whether they will introduce a resolution or have others introduce a resolution
on their behalf, which - what they would like it to do would be to accept
Palestine as a member-state of the United Nations just as other states, just as
Israel was and just as other states are admitted as member-states.

That's almost inconceivable because in order to get membership in the U.N., you
need to get a vote at the Security Council, and for reasons we could get into,
the United States is determined to veto such a resolution.

So membership in the U.N., which is what the Palestinians would really want, is
not going to happen. I think what they're second-best solution would be to get
a resolution in which, at the General Assembly of the United Nations, in which
a number of countries would express their recognition of a Palestinian state in
the borders of 1967.

It's really a symbolic move. It doesn't really change anything on the ground. I
mean, a number of countries today recognize the state of Palestine. They've
recognized the state of Palestinian since 1988. And so what? You know, the next
day after that resolution is voted, the situation in the West Bank, the
situation in Gaza, the situation in Israel will not have changed.

That said, Israel views it as a real threat. They don't like the fact that the
Palestinians are going to the U.N., thereby in their eyes circumventing
negotiations and trying to resolve this in an international arena. They don't
like the fact that the resolution is likely to say, if it passes, that they
recognize Palestine and the borders of 1967. The Israeli prime minister has
made clear that he rejects those borders and that Israel's security requires
different borders.

So there'll be a fight over it, and the U.S. is making every effort to try to
prevent that vote from taking place. I think one has to look at it not so much
as what the vote will do, it won't do much, but rather as a symptom of despair
on the Palestinian side that this will ever - this conflict will ever end in
their sovereignty and independence.

And mind you, the despair is shared by the Israelis. I think we've spoken a lot
about the Palestinians in the last several minutes, but if you're an Israeli,
and you've lived through the last several decades, you too have, you know, a
right to question whether peace will ever come and to look at it and wonder
whether the Palestinians will ever seize the opportunity.

I mean, they are two narratives here about who's responsible for the deadlock,
but the reality is both sides, both sides today believe that the other one is
not prepared to make peace, and that leads to actions such as the resort to the
United Nations, which goes against everything that the current Palestinian
leadership stands for.

I mean, the president of the Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas, every fiber of his
body is in favor of negotiations and talking to Israelis and having good
relations with the U.S. So he's really the last true believer on the
Palestinian side that negotiations make sense.

And to see him tempted by the U.N. route tells you something about how far
they've gone in giving up on the possibility of negotiating a solution to this
conflict. As I said, that despair is mirrored on the Israeli side.

GROSS: If there is a resolution that comes to a vote in the U.N. on a
Palestinian state, what position does that put the U.S. in when it's time for
the U.S. to vote?

Mr. MALLEY: An uncomfortable one. I mean, you know, the U.S. would rather see
it go away for a very obvious reason. On the one hand, they don't want to vote
for the resolution. Going to the U.N. is extremely unpopular here in the U.S. I
mean, you just have to hear how members reacted to Prime Minister Netanyahu's
speech when he denounced anything happening at the U.N.

It's a very toxic issue. Going to the U.N. to resolve the Palestinian issue is
something that politically is almost unthinkable in the U.S., plus I think
there are other policy reasons why the administration believes it's a bad idea,
that it would make resuming negotiations much more difficult, both sides would
harden their positions.

The U.S. fears that once, if that vote takes place, Israel would react perhaps
in ways that would further complicate the situation. So they want it to go
away.

On the other hand, for the U.S. to vote against a resolution recognizing a
Palestinian state, at a time when America's trying to rebuild its image in the
Arab world, when it's trying to show that it's on the right side of history, on
the side of popular opinion, well to vote against a resolution that probably
has 100 percent or 90 percent support among Arabs is not the best way to start.

And remember that about a year ago, well, a year ago next September, it will be
a year that President Obama said, speaking at the U.N., that he would want to
welcome a new state, the state of Palestine, a year from then, which would be
next September.

So the irony would be that at the time when he had hopes to welcome a new
state, he'd be voting against a resolution recognizing one, not something the
administration wants to do. I suspect they would do it if it came to a vote,
but right now their efforts are entirely dedicated to trying to persuade the
Europeans, the Arabs and the Palestinians to find another way.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Robert Malley. He's the program
director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis
Group. Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Robert Malley. He is a specialist in conflict resolution.
He's the program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the
International Crisis Group. And we're talking about the Middle East and the
impact of the democratic uprisings in North Africa on the Middle East.

One of the things that makes this vote so complicated for the United States is
that Hamas and Fatah are forming a unity government after several years of
having split up, you know, separated, and Hamas still refuses to recognize
Israel or its right to exist.

So if Hamas is part of, you know, part leader of what a new Palestinian state
would be, and this state would refuse to recognize Israel, well, that's a very
tough position for Israel and for the United States.

Mr. MALLEY: Sure. It's a complication, but, you know, I've gotten in hot waters
for saying this before. I'll say it again: I think it's a little bit of a
pretext. To say that Hamas is coming into a unity government would be an
impediment to the peace process is not a very serious point when you - one
realizes there hasn't been a serious peace process for a very long time. So
Hamas is certainly not the reason why things would be undermined.

GROSS: But you think it certainly wouldn't help, that it could be a major
setback because how do you negotiate with a partner that refuses to recognize
your right to exist?

Mr. MALLEY: Well, I think Hamas would have to - you know, Hamas would come
under pressure then. If there were serious negotiations that were about to take
place, and Hamas objected to them and tried to block them, which by the way it
hasn't said it would do, but they would have to be put to the test.

I have no sympathy for a number of their positions, but I think they have to
put to the test. And I think the broader point is this: When I was a younger
student, my field of study was national liberation movements in the Third
World. And one thing I've learned from that is a divided movement isn't good
for the movement itself. It's not good for the party with which it's
negotiating.

You can't speak for your people, make binding commitments, implement agreements
if you're divided, if you only speak for part of your population.

So the division of the Palestinian movement, which I think was a real setback
for the Palestinians themselves, is not very good news for Israel either,
because if Fatah and President Abbas sign an agreement, but they can't
implement it in Gaza because Hamas controls Gaza, they can't guarantee that it
would pass in a referendum because Hamas opposes it, they can't even guarantee
that they could sustain the agreement over time because they don't know what
Hamas will do, that's not good news, and I think a number of Israelis recognize
it.

That doesn't mean that there's not a problem with Hamas's position, but it
means that ignoring the problem and saying let's simply ignore Hamas, let's
exclude Hamas, let's marginalize it and deal between Fatah and Israel, that's
no answer, either.

I think the real answer is to try to understand that Palestinian - a unified
Palestinian movement is a necessity for, not an obstacle to, peace. But then of
course Hamas is going to have to adapt, evolve, and if it's not capable of
doing that, then there won't be any progress. I mean, that's the - ultimately
the question, but the answer is not to say let's pretend Hamas doesn't exist.
It does. It won the elections in 2006. It probably doesn't represent a majority
of Palestinians today, but it certainly has very strong roots, strong
constituency, and one can't ignore that.

GROSS: Now, the United States doesn't speak with Hamas because Hamas is on the
terrorist list in the United States, and so the United States doesn't talk with
them, doesn't recognize them. You, however, have spoken with leaders of Hamas.
Your job is conflict resolution, you are not a representative of any
government. So I guess you are free to speak to members of Hamas. What was your
ambition in speaking to them?

Mr. MALLEY: We speak to participants in conflicts from all sides, and they
could be the most brutal, they could be the most vicious, but if the goal is to
make peace, then you've got to talk to both sides. You may end up - the advice
one may end up giving is don't talk to this party because it's simply not
interested in a negotiated outcome. But our job is to talk to everyone, and
that's what we're paid to do, and that's what we'll continue doing.

And it's in that capacity that I mean with leaders of Hamas to try to
understand their positions, to try to convey what our view of the international
position was or at least the West's position was, and to learn more.

I mean, you know, you can't try to resolve a conflict if you don't understand
the perspectives of the various parties, and Hamas is a party to the conflict.
As I said earlier, it's a party that represents a sizeable constituency among
Palestinians, and it has the ability to spoil if it so chooses.

So that was the spirit with which myself and many others have been engaging
Hamas, and I've never said that the U.S. government should speak to Hamas right
now. I don't think it would be particularly useful. But I think there needs to
be channels to convey to Hamas what's expected, how the international community
would react to certain actions so that it sees the incentives of doing certain
things. And if doesn't respond positively, then we could reach a conclusion
from that, as well.

GROSS: So having spoken to leaders of Hamas, do you think that they are capable
of evolving? You said in order for there to be a genuine Middle East peace that
Hamas would have to evolve its positions. Are they capable of it?

Mr. MALLEY: I'm realistic enough about the world to know that they're not going
to tell me whether they're ready to evolve, and if they did tell me, I wouldn't
take it at face value. I mean, this is - at this point, we're still in the
process of learning, but ultimately they won't make any concessions, certainly
not to me.

I mean, who am I for them to make a concession to? But if they were to start
evolving, it would be in reaction to give and take with more relevant
international actors. Again, you don't have to begin with the U.S., but there
are a number of European countries, Arab countries, that have also begun
talking to them.

So my role is not to negotiate with them, but you ask me what I predict. I
don't know. I'm not - you know, I'm not a believer in the immovability of
movements, you know. Look at how almost every movement, every movement that has
fought for liberation, has had to adapt and become more realistic, from the IRA
in Ireland to the FLN in Algeria to the ANC in South Africa. All these
movements have had to adapt if they wanted to succeed.

But at the same time, you know, Hamas is a religious organization. It has deep
religious convictions. It's not clear whether it can make the necessary
adjustments, but we won't know if we don't put it to the test, if we don't deal
with them, if some people don't deal with them.

You know, remember that the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization, back in
the '70s, it was viewed almost as being as reprehensible and as untouchable as
Hamas is today. It didn't recognize Israel, it called for the obliteration of
Israel, for one state. That changed, too, and, you know, it took discussions
and dialogue and understanding what the possibilities were.

The comparison is inadequate because Hamas and the PLO are not the same
organization. But I think there are lessons to be learned about how movements
evolve, including movements with a religious character.

So, you know, when people ask me, I say I don't know. But I think it's worth
asking the question, and it's worth fighting to get the right answer.

GROSS: Robert Malley will be back in the second half of the show. He's the
International Crisis Group's program director for the Middle East and North
Africa. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're talking about how the democratic uprisings in the Arab world are
affecting Palestinian-Israeli relations and examining the latest prospects for
and obstacles to Middle East peace.

My guest is Robert Malley, the International Crisis Group's program director
for the Middle East and North Africa.

So we've been talking about the Palestinians and leadership of the
Palestinians, the leadership of Hamas and Fatah. And they split apart, it was
in 2007, right?

Mr. MALLEY: (Unintelligible) you know, after the elections, problems arose. But
yes, 2007 things got worse.

GROSS: Yeah. So now they're trying to form a coalition government, and one big
stumbling block is that they're unable to agree on a leader. And Hamas has
rejected the leader that was proposed by Fatah. What's your impression? Do you
think that Hamas and Fatah will actually be able to succeed in forming a
coalition government?

Mr. MALLEY: You know, I think the starting point is to try and understand why
they finally signed on to this agreement, which for years one side or the other
was refusing to sign.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MALLEY: It's not because they had a change of heart, they suddenly saw the
benefits of unity or that they overcame their mutual distrust. No, it really
was a reaction to what we were talking about earlier, to the Arab Spring - on
both sides.

I mean on the side of Fatah, they saw that they had lost one of their key
allies, President Mubarak. They saw a popular movement. And you know, we could
say that these popular movements are not really related to the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict. But just give it a few weeks or months and you'll see how
prominent that issue is in the minds of Arabs everywhere.

So they knew that they were going to have people in power in Egypt and
elsewhere who were going to be much more forceful when it came to the Israeli-
Palestinian issue and they didn't want to be viewed as in a different position
from where the Egyptian people were. So I think President Abbas felt he had no
choice but to say yes when the Egyptians went to him.

And so Hamas, they saw two things happening. On the one hand, they saw Egypt
being more sympathetic, at least somewhat more sympathetic to their view, more
open to their view. They saw that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which is
actually the parent organization of Hamas, was about to take on a much bigger
role in Egyptian politics. So they saw a real benefit in being closer to Egypt
and falling more in line with Egyptian policies.

They also saw this happening in Syria. We spoke about that earlier. The fact
that whatever happens in Syria, if the regime survives, its relationship with
Hamas will not be the same because it doesn't feel like Hamas stood up to the
plate and was as loyal as they should have been.

And they know that if the regime falls, it's also going to be a period of
turmoil when many Syrians will resent the fact that Hamas was aligned with the
Syrian regime. So there was the push factor from Syria, the pull factor from
Egypt. These phenomena, these dynamics, led both Fatah and Hamas to see the
benefits of getting together and really the downside of saying no to Egypt yet
again.

Both sides wanted to be on Egypt's good side. So that explains why they signed
the agreement. It doesn't mean that the distrust has been surmounted. It
doesn't mean that the practical problems have been overcome.

And we're seeing that already. They can't agree on who the prime minister is.
They can't agree on the program of the government. They won't agree on the
ministers of the government. They won't agree on what to do on the security
services.

It's going to take a big effort if Egypt wants to do it - and they're the key
actors in this - to get them to agree on these details. But if they don't, what
we would have seen is the situation is a status quo, somebody just took a big
stamp and put reconciliation on it, but the status quo remains. That's the risk
today for Palestinians, is that nothing will have changed except the label
under which they're operating. They're now reconciled, but the ground the
divisions remain.

GROSS: I know that Israel has been worried that the new Egyptian government
might not be as friendly toward Israel. It might not recognize the peace
treaty, that Israel might not be able to rely on Egypt the way it had.

Mr. MALLEY: Yeah. And, you know, they're seeing signs already of things they
don't like. They see, again, you know, the brokering of unity deal, the opening
of Gaza's border to Egypt, better relations with Hamas, better relations with
Iran, a number of things that Israel sees which is worrisome.

You know, it just goes again to the whole question of how to interpret what's
happening in the Arab world as a whole. A lot of people when they saw what
happened in the streets of Cairo and Tunisia welcome the fact that Israeli
flags are not being burnt, U.S. flags are not being burnt. And they said this
shows that what they really care about are domestic problems.

And unlike what so many people have been saying in the past, the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict is marginal in their minds. That's only half true. If
foreign policy was not at the origin of the uprising, that's a fact, foreign
policy will be changed dramatically by the uprisings, for a simple reason.

I mean, if these - the more these regimes become representative, the more they
have to cater to their people's views, the more they have to be in tune with
popular aspirations, the more they're going to have to take the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict seriously because Arabs care about it, and the more
they're going to have to reflect those views in their policies.

That doesn't mean that you're going to see an outbreak of war or you're going
to see Egypt breaking its agreement with Israel. I think that there are
strategic interests that whoever's in power in Egypt will have to follow. But
you're going to see changes and it's going to make it more complicated for
Israel and for the U.S.

Ultimately, you know, the good news, bad news story - ultimately this could be
for the better because a peace deal signed by democratic representative regime,
government, is probably more solid, more authentic than one that's signed by a
leader who has very little following among his people.

But that's going to take time and it's going to take effort to try to resume
peace talks on a different basis that could convince Egyptians, Palestinians,
and others, but also Israelis, that it's worth the risk that they're taking.

It's a new era. It's going to be very different from what we experienced in the
past where American presidents could pick up the phone, call their Egyptian
counterpart and say, I need your help to pressure this, to pressure the
Palestinians, to get this done. Now the answer will be, I have an election in
six months. I have an election in a year, I got to take that into account as
well, just as you do.

GROSS: Egypt recently opened up its border with Gaza. Why had it been closed
before and why did the interim government decide to open it now?

Mr. MALLEY: Well, it was closed before because the former regime, the regime of
President Mubarak, had very little affection for Hamas, wanted to put pressure
on Hamas. They don't want Hamas to stay in power. I mean, I would talk to
Egyptian officials and they would tell me their goal was to make sure that
Hamas would be out of power within six months.

GROSS: Why?

Mr. MALLEY: Well, many reasons. First of all, because they fear any rise of
Islamism - you know, they have their own problem. They had their own problem
with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization, very powerful in Egypt.

And as I said earlier, Hamas is an offshoot of the - it's the Palestinian
expression of the Muslim Brotherhood. So to see gains by Hamas in Palestine
could empower and embolden the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, not something they
wanted to see. They don't want to see an Islamist entity at their border.

They also had security concerns about what it would mean to have Hamas in power
in Gaza. Would it mean more instability? So they had those concerns,
ideological, political and security. And that's why they were putting pressure
on Hamas by keeping the border closed.

Now the new government, as I said earlier, has to be more in tune with popular
opinion. Many - most Egyptians thought that it was a scandal that it's not just
Israel that's keeping Gaza under siege, it's also Egypt, brotherly Egypt. So
they had to change it.

So far, and as I said, we have people working throughout these conflict areas,
we have somebody working in Gaza. I spoke to him yesterday. He wanted to go out
with his kids on vacation. He said the situation is not better than it was
before. They're treated more humanely, but there still are very, very tough
restrictions on the number of people who could go out, how long it takes to get
out, who could go out.

So he was actually feeling quite - and his kids in particular are feeling quite
desperate because they felt this is a time for them finally to see somewhere
other than Gaza. They're going to have to wait.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Robert Malley. He's the program
director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis
Group. Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Robert Malley. He's a specialist in conflict resolution.
He's the program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the
International Crisis Group. And we're talking about the Middle East and the
impact of the democratic uprisings in North Africa on the Middle East.

In public statements, I don't hear any new flexibility coming out of either
Hamas or the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. When Netanyahu was
in the United States, he said that he would never accept to return to, quote,
"indefensible boundary lines" that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
And he added that Jerusalem must remain the country's undivided capital. And
Khalid Mishal, who is the head of Hamas, continues to say that Hamas will not
recognize Israel.

So public statements have not indicated any flexibility that would lead us to
believe that there would be new openings in negotiations. So am I missing
anything?

Mr. MALLEY: No, I think you're seeing the picture quite realistically. I don't
think there are openings right now. I think there are times, you know, everyone
wants to move fast, but there are times when we have to take a step back and
trying to learn what went - certain lessons about what went wrong for the last
20 years.

And you know, think about it, it's been 20 years. And all the excuses people
could come up with for why things failed. You don't have strong enough leaders.
Well, you had strong leaders when you Arafat on the Palestinian side and Ehud
Barak or Ariel Sharon on Israeli side.

Or they say, well, the U.S. was not involved enough. It certainly was involved
at times in the Clinton years and involved during the Obama years. Or people
say the Arab world wasn't involved enough. Well, it was involved when it
presented its peace plan several years ago.

So we've had all these permutations and still things remain stuck. So rather
than sort of forge ahead and say we're going to get the people to negotiate and
we'll resolve this no matter what, take a step back, understand - try to
understand quickly.

I'm not saying take decades to do it or even years. Try to understand what went
wrong. What is it that both sides are looking for that they don't feel they're
getting through the negotiating process? What are the constituencies that we've
ignored?

I mean, the most dynamic constituencies on the Israelian-Palestinian side,
those are the greatest ability to stymie or move forward on a process, or those
who have been completely uninvolved and excluded from the peace process -
Islamists and refugees of the diaspora on the Palestinian side, religious
constituencies on the settlers on Israeli side.

They've been viewed as sort of, you know, marginal to the process when in fact
they have to be brought in, which means there needs to be a different way of
addressing their concerns, perhaps a different way of talking to them.

I'm not talking - when I say that, some people say, well, we can't wait, time
is not on our side. But simply forging ahead. The same trodden path that has
led (unintelligible) the past is not going to move us forward.

So, you know, what I have advocated since – you know, the president, President
Obama, took office is take the time to do what we did with Afghanistan, with
Iraq, with other places. Let's look at the situation, try to learn and do
stocktaking and take steps that could lead to the day, pave the way for a day
when a U.S. initiative actually could work.

And I think that means rethinking our vision of internal Palestinian politics.
I think it means talking to new constituencies, as I just mentioned. I think it
also means revisiting that concept that I've been guilty of as well, saying we
all know what the solution looks like. Let's just get there.

If we all knew what the solution looked like, if everyone agreed, we probably
would be there already. So maybe there are some ingredients that are missing.
Maybe we need to think again about how we shape the resolutions of the conflict
in ways that will appeal to more Palestinians, more Israelis would mobilize
then more.

It's something I think we're just going to have to do at some point, however
frustrating it might be.

GROSS: So I'm hearing you say this is a bad time to bring the Palestinians and
Israelis back to the negotiating table because nothing's going to happen now.
So it's just, like, recognize that. What needs to be done is to create a new
paradigm for negations.

Mr. MALLEY: Yes.

GROSS: And do that work behind the scenes, forget bringing people to the table
right now.

Mr. MALLEY: You know, they were brought to the table a few times in the last
two years. And the outcome was greater distrust, not less distrust, and further
setbacks. You know, so one thing that worries me now - we spoke about the U.N.
resolution and how much the U.S. wants to avoid it coming to a vote. And one of
the things that we're hearing is they want to get the place back to the
negotiating table because that's a surefire way to make sure that people ignore
the U.N., don't go to the U.N.

But that's buying yourself a much bigger problem in order to get rid of a
smaller one, because you have negotiations at this stage, and I hope I'm wrong,
you know. I've made enough wrong predictions over the last six months over the
Arab Spring that maybe I'm wrong on this too.

But my conviction is that right now President Abbas and Prime Minister
Netanyahu cannot reach a deal for so many reasons, not just their personal
outlooks, but the politics on both sides. And ultimately this is about politics
and political decisions.

So you bring them to the table, and therefore you overcome the problem on
September and the vote at the U.N. and you buy yourself this massive headache
because what do you when the negotiations collapse, as I suspect they will?
What does it say to Palestinians everywhere? The negotiations are over. You
won't go back to them.

What does it do to the credibility of the, quote/unquote, "moderate
Palestinians" like President Abbas, who look like, you know, the character
Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football. Every time she says kick the football
and she removes the football and he ends on his back.

That would be the same with President Abbas. Every time he goes to
negotiations, it ends in failure. Why did he fall for it again when he had this
other strategy of going to the U.N.?

So let's not rush the negotiations as a cure-all when, in fact, there is no
evidence I can see that the parties today are prepared, able, willing to reach
an agreement.

GROSS: So getting back to the U.N. resolution that is likely to be introduced
in September that would call for the creation of a Palestinian state. If that
passes what does that mean?

Mr. MALLEY: Not much. I mean, really, you know, as I said, a number of
countries have recognized the state of Palestine already. So you'll have more
to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state. You know, the potential
problem it creates for Israel is that at that point Palestine is recognized as
a sovereign, (unintelligible) an independent state under occupation, by a large
number of countries, probably a majority of countries, certainly in the U.N.

And therefore, Israel would be in violation of the sovereignty of another
country. And the risk, then, is that this process that Israel feels very deeply
- that it's being increasingly isolated and de-legitimized in the eyes of
international public opinion – will be accelerated. You know, they will view
the entire world as being against them and fear that the Palestinians will now
go to these, you know, international tribunals to say, we now need a redress
because we are a state that is occupied by another state.

A lot of this may never lead to any change on the ground, but, you know,
psychology is absolutely critical to this conflict. And if Israel feels like
it's under siege, like the world is arrayed against it, like actions are being
taken.

I mean, already a number of Israeli officials find it hard to travel to certain
countries because they're fearful that they're going to come under some kind of
prosecution for war crimes. It's happened.

I was supposed to meet some Israeli officials, and they never showed up because
they couldn't travel to one European country or another. It's that phenomenon
that they are afraid of. And that's, you know, it's a legitimate concern. The
answer, of course, the real answer is a peace deal is not entirely in Israel's
hands by any means. It's in all sides' hands. They're all going to have to do
something about it.

But that's the answer, ultimately. And right now, with the Palestinians playing
with other options, but I think that they know deep down that these options are
there to strengthen their hand in negotiations if they were, not as a means of
circumventing them.

You know, there's one possibility, which I know some people are talking about.
Work on the text of the resolution, so it's a resolution that is harmful to
Israel, you know.

Suppose the resolution called for the establishment of the state of Palestine
living side by side in peace and security with Israel - based on '67 but with
negotiated swaps and neither side could unilaterally decide on what the borders
would be. And the security - just retake - rephrasing or perhaps just parroting
what President Obama said.

Not something Prime Minister Netanyahu would love, certainly, because it would
reiterate '67 with neutral swaps, agreed swaps. But it wouldn't, you know, that
would be a call for negations on that basis. So it would be reiterating what
the president said, or something along those lines that would, at least, make
September less pernicious or less perilous as Israel and the U.S. have
identified it.

I think, frankly, I think both of them have so exaggerated the peril of
September that it's made it all that more difficult for the Palestinians to
walk away. I mean imagine if your opponent told you that you had this sort of
nuclear weapon of the U.N. vote and that it would be an existential threat for
Israel if the vote passed.

If you're a Palestinian, it's very hard to let go of it once your opponent has
told you how valuable it is. So I think they've - I think this was misplayed. I
didn't think September had to be blown up out of proportion. I think one could
have said, it's just a vote.

It's not going to change anything of the ground. Let's see if we can work on a
wording in order to get, as a condition for the Europeans voting for it, and
move on to something else - rather than having this sort of panic about
September, which is leading, I think, to some wrong decisions. And also, as I
said, making it that much more difficult for the Palestinians to walk away.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Robert Malley. He's a specialist
in conflict resolution. And he's the program director for the Middle East and
North Africa at the International Crisis Group. Let's take a short break here,
and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Robert Malley, the International Crisis Group's program
director for the Middle East and North Africa.

When we left off, we were talking about the Palestinian plan to introduce a
resolution in the U.N. General Assembly this September, that would recognize a
Palestinian state within the '67 borders.

Israel sees this as a threatening possibility. Malley was suggesting that
instead of fighting the resolution, the U.S. and Israel could consider trying
to influence how the resolution is worded.

In writing a resolution that would be less damaging to Israel, is there the
possibility of writing into the resolution that there will be Palestinian state
and that state will recognize Israel's right to exist?

Mr. MALLEY: Absolutely. It should be there. Absolutely. And, again, we were
talking earlier about how...

GROSS: I mean, Hamas. Hamas would not...

Mr. MALLEY: That's the point

GROSS: ...would not get behind that kind of resolution.

Mr. MALLEY: That's the point. I mean, what would Hamas do? I mean, would Hamas
welcome a recognition of a Palestinian state or call for the recognition of a
Palestinian state, but would have to walk away from it because of the
recognition of Israel?

You know, part of what politics and diplomacy is, is putting people in front of
difficult choices. You know, I've said this - the problem with the conditions
people have imposed on Hamas, you know, that the quartet - known as the quarter
conditions, which is people have told Hamas, you have to recognize Israel, you
have to forsake violence and you have to agree to pass all past - agree to all
past agreements.

Whenever I bring that up with Hamas leaders, they have ready-made answers,
unanimous answers. It's not a moderate Hamas leader who says one thing and a
hard liner who says another. They say, why should we recognize Israel when
people don't recognize a Palestinian state? Why should we renounce violence
when Israel hasn't renounced violence? And why should we accept past agreements
when they're being flouted by both sides every day?

Frankly, those three arguments, you know, we could, obviously they were
rejoined this to them. But you're not going to convince anyone from Hamas that
he needs to do one of those three things.

On the other hand, mutual recognition and a resolution or a mutual ceasefire,
or a commitment to abide by an agreement if it were signed, and if it were - if
it passed in a referendum among Palestinians, those are difficult choices.

Put those to the Hamas leaders and constituents and say here's something real.
If you say no to that, that's a much tougher case to make than to say no to
these abstract things, which they will tell you they have the answers to.

GROSS: You work with the International Crisis Group, its job and your job is
conflict resolution. This is so hard to do and there are so many examples of
conflict resolution, of negotiations failing in the short or the long term. So
when you need something to hold on to to give you faith that conflict
resolution actually works, at least some of the time, what do you turn to?

Mr. MALLEY: It's a very good question given how dismal the picture often is
when it comes to the conflicts that are now raging in the Middle East and
beyond.

You know, I said earlier, what was exhilarating about being in the
International Crisis Group is that we get to speak to people from all sides.
And that's, you know, if I get my source of inspiration from anything, it's
coming from people who have very different political outlooks, sometimes
outlooks that I have very little in common with or nothing in common with -
trying to put myself in their shoes and every now and then seeing, in their
eyes, something that they realize something about the other side. And that
there's some sense of commonality there that emerges from that.

You know, I think that comes from - how I even got to where I am. You know, my
father was Jewish. He was Egyptian and Jewish and a very, very strong Arab
nationalist. He moved to the States and he wanted all of us, all of his three
children, to get educated in the States even though he's very anti-American in
his view of the world. Very Third World in his view of the world.

He then moved to France, and was so critical of the French. He moved there
because he liked France. But he was so critical of their policy that the French
government expelled him.

And I think, you know, I didn't always agree with my father. But one thing,
that experience, you know, being so many different things and so many
contradictions, is that it made me very sensitive to this notion of putting
myself in other people's shoes and seeing the world through their eyes, and
understanding the contradiction that things are not always black and white.

And the greatest pleasure I get in this job and what keeps me going, in an
answer to your question, is talking to people from all walks of life, from all
sides of the conflict and every now and then, less often than I would like,
trying to get to understand not only their view of the world but seeing how
that view of the world could be reconciled with the view of the person they're
in conflict with.

And that's what keeps me going - that and seeing the changes in Egypt, which of
course, I think my father would have been absolutely exhilarated if he had
seen. But seeing, every now and then, people taking lives, their own lives in
their own hand and making their views and their feelings and their aspirations
count. And that's what keeps me going.

GROSS: Robert Malley, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. MALLEY: Thank you.

GROSS: Robert Malley is the International Crisis Group's program director for
the Middle East and North Africa. You can download podcasts of our show on our
website, freshair.npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
136723353

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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