A program of the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Middle East Forum of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center
Shaul Arieli, Colonel (Ret.) and Former Head, Interim Agreement Administration and the Peace Administration
Shlomo Gazit, Major General (Ret.) and Former Head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Office
Alon Pinkas, Former Israeli Consul General in New York and Foreign Policy Advisor to Ehud Barak
Gilead Sher, Lawyer and Chief of Staff for former Prime Minister Ehud Barak
Aaron David Miller, Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center
A panel of experts discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace process, providing insight into Israel’s concerns about security and policy regarding a two-state solution.
Miller provided opening remarks to the panel’s discussion of complicated and urgent issues regarding Israel’s security politics. Although he acknowledged that objectivity might not be possible, he said the speakers would provide “honest analysis and policy recommendations” about the urgency for peace.
Gazit followed by listing Israel’s security threats and how they relate to a two-state solution. He argued that the biggest threat at the moment is demography, noting that the only way democracy could be protected was by a separate Palestinian state, since in one state the total population of Palestinians would outnumber the total population of Jews. Another threat is regional instability, in particular related to the Arab Spring. New governments in Arab countries might not respect prior peace treaties with Israel, he pointed out, and could use the Palestinian issue to increase criticism of Israel. Lastly, he mentioned military threats; although he felt these were “not existential,” he emphasized Israel’s inability to defend against all attacks, and stated a return to the 1967 borders could never be defensible. However, he preferred the idea of “viable borders.”
Sher, feeling it is “more critical than ever that we end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” focused on the ways negotiations for a two-state solution could move forward. He suggested a combination of a bilateral approach and a regional approach. He also said Israel must work to “win the hearts and minds” of people in the region and to mobilize the Israeli “silent majority” in favor of a two-state solution to encourage a moderate stance towards negotiation and resettlement. Furthermore, Sher suggested rearranging the “architecture of the process,” saying, “what has [already] been agreed should be implemented.”
Arieli discussed in particular the issue of land swaps in a two-state solution. He noted that land swaps are essential, as it would be too difficult to relocate the half million Israelis currently living in the West Bank. He stated that an ideal goal for negotiations is to draw borders so that 75 to 85 percent of settlers would end up in Israel, which would probably involve a swap of only about 3-4 percent of available land.
Discussing the two-state process from an international policy perspective, Pinkas felt that although a Palestinian state is “not part of the Zionist narrative,” securing peace is essential for Israel’s international relations, especially with the U.S. He also felt negotiations for a two-state solution have missed their “window of opportunity,” but new elections in Israel and external developments could reopen discussions. He also noted that although Israeli domestic politics are dominated by the political right, Israeli public opinion has shifted dramatically to the left, favoring a necessary two-state solution. Overall, Pinkas felt that despite its risks, negotiating a Palestinian state would be better than long term alternatives, among them the loss – or perceived loss – of U.S. support for Israel.
By Laura Rostad, Middle East Program
- Major General (Ret.) and Former Head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Office
- Colonel (Ret.) and Former Head, Interim Agreement Administration and the Peace Administration
- Former Israeli Consul General in New York and Foreign Policy Advisor to Ehud Barak
- Head of the Center for Negotiations, the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv and former Israeli Chief Peace Negotiator
- Vice President for New Initiatives and Distinguished Scholar