6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Fifty Years Since 1967: What Have We Learned about Arab-Israeli Peacemaking?

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The Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Middle East Forum of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center presents

Fifty Years Since 1967: What Have We Learned about Arab-Israeli Peacemaking?

Since 1967 the Arab-Israeli confrontation has been shaped by both war-making and peacemaking. What have we learned about the balance of power, the internal politics of the main actors, and the role of outside powers? What lessons from negotiations—both successful and not—can be applied to today’s situation? Join us as four seasoned observers of the Arab-Israeli conflict share their views on these and other matters.

 

Key Quotes:

Jane Harman:

"Our goal today is not to re-fight or re-litigate the conflict… but to look forward and identify, with the benefit of a half-century of perspective, the lessons learned, particularly with regard to mediating and peacemaking."

Aaron David Miller:

"New documentation and new interviews… purport to show that, in case of impending defeat, the Israelis were prepared to detonate a nuclear weapon in [the] Sanai as a demonstration of their resolve in an effort to turn back further gains on the part of the Egyptians."

Ziad Asali:

"The fact is, the Palestinians have ended up with a situation where they are incapable on their own to come up with a solution for the political and economic and social and cultural problems.” 

Hussein Ibish:

“The takeaways from the past 50 years begin, I think, with the observation that the 1967 War and its aftermath have bookended the ambitions of both sides.”

Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen:

“What we’ve seen over the past 50 years is that the absence of mechanisms of accountability have enabled continued bad behaviors.”

Natan Sachs:

“If we are looking in the long term, but are worried about the short term, we need to measure, very carefully, what it is about the interim that is harmful for our long-term goals.”

 

Event summary

Four experts discussed the Arab-Israeli confrontation since 1967 and the subsequent war-making and peacemaking efforts as well as potential negotiations going forward.

On June 5, 2017, the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted the event “Fifty Years Since 1967: What Have We Learned about Arab-Israeli Peacemaking?” The event featured Ziad Asali, President and Founder, the American Task Force on Palestine; Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar, Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington; Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, Director, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Program, U.S. Institute of Peace; and Natan Sachs, Director and Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy, the Brookings Institution. Aaron David Miller, Vice President for New Initiatives at the Wilson Center, moderated the event. Jane Harman, Director, President, and CEO at the Wilson Center, gave introductory remarks.

Ziad described Arab-Israeli relations prior to 1967 as defined by a “rhetoric of rejection.” Ziad said the seeping realization has set in that neither war nor negotiation has been able to resolve this problem. He underscored the shifting balance of power between and within Israel and the Palestinian territories as being primary factors in the ongoing dispute. He cited a number of issues within the parties, noting that discourse must continue in public. Discussing the disputed final status resolutions, Ziad stated these would be impossible given the imbalance of power and ineffective leadership. Rather, he suggested negotiations grounded in reality and focused on improving conditions and institutions for Palestinians, along with changes in leadership and statesmanship.

Kurtzer-Ellenbogen shifted the discussion toward U.S. diplomacy, citing five points: First, mechanisms for accountability are absent. Second, the lack of process continuity and the desire of each administration to “leave its mark” have impeded negotiations. Third, bottom-up solutions are important under the Trump administration but not without a policy endgame. Fourth, efforts to work with regional players are important but cannot replace a central focus on the two main players. Fifth, engaging the public to push leaders toward action is necessary. She emphasized this final point saying public skepticism comes from the idea that the United States is not a serious negotiator.

Hussein reviewed the consequences of the war with Israel obtaining permanence, noting that because neither community is going away, there will eventually be an agreement. While he does not know what an agreement would look like, Hussein believes there will be more conflict prior to a resolution. He mentioned three key realities that need to be acknowledged: the settlers, the Palestinian majority, and the “unmentionable” Palestinian living conditions. Agreeing with Ziad, he said addressing conditions on the ground is necessary but insufficient because a resolution must tie into a top-down approach. Lastly, he mentioned that Israelis are holding out until a solution presents itself but said postponing negotiations could destabilize the region further.

Sachs made five points in reference to Arab-Israeli peacemaking. First, there is a tendency to forget to think about world and regional power dynamics. Second, within this conflict there are multiple issues (occupation, narrative of nationality, religion, and borders) that make negotiations difficult, so multiple, unified approaches are necessary. Third, at different points both sides believe “time is on their side” and, thus, final status deals ignore present issues. Fourth, in looking for solutions, Sachs said it is necessary to measure what about the interim is harmful for long-term goals. Fifth, Sachs pointed out that optimism must be a priority in discussions, and there needs to be a level of preparedness going forward that future opportunities may capitalize on.

Miller asked the panel about actions that can be taken now if there is no conflict-ending solution in sight. Sachs said Arab-Israeli relations at large could be improved, and there should be a shift to laying groundwork for future solutions. Hussein emphasized the urgent need to stabilize the ground conflict but said it could only be done as a political project; he also suggested an interim agreement that prevents the situation from deteriorating and strengthens the Palestinian Authority. Ziad stressed the need to restructure the regional strategy for security in the future and said there is a need to create a security regime for the Middle East.

By Dorothy Rau, Middle East Program

Speakers

Introduction

Moderator

Panelists

  • Ziad Asali

    President and Founder, the American Task Force on Palestine
  • Hussein Ibish

    Senior Resident Scholar, Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington; Columnist for Bloomberg and The National (UAE)
  • Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen

    Director, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Program, U.S. Institute of Peace
  • Natan Sachs

    Director, Center for Middle East Policy, the Brookings Institution; Fellow - Foreign Policy, Center for Middle East Policy, the Brookings Institution