The Bahrain Workshop
Top: Jason Greenblatt (left) and Bret Stephens at the World Values Network’s discussion moderated by Rabbi Shmuly Boteach. Bottom: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach discussing his ad in the New York Times denouncing alleged anti-Semite Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.
By Henry Levy
The World Values Network (WVN) presented “The Bahrain Conference: Is Peace Between Israel & the Palestinians Possible?” just prior to the Conference scheduled for June 25-26. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (SB), founder of the WVN moderated a discussion between Jason Greenblatt (JG), Special Representative to the President for International Relations and Bret Stephens (BS), Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times.
Here are some of the highlights from this packed house event.
SB: Why an economic summit if Palestinians and Israelis are not there?
JG: No one can impose a peace plan. There can not be a successful peace agreement without an economic plan. Let Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians understand the benefits. Saeb Erekat (Palestinian negotiator) claims that the US is trying to buy the Palestinians off, which is not true.
BS: The fundamental problem is that the Palestinian leadership is unwilling or unable to come to terms of peace with its neighbor in any scenario. Both sides representing Palestinians are participating in the impoverishment of its very own people. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is enriching itself at the expense of their own people. All Western leaders have to speak truth to the Palestinian people, which includes the following:
- You will never destroy Israel
- Demonstrate you are capable of governing yourselves.
- Do not have groups sworn to Israel's destruction as part of the end plan.
I have witnessed poverty in parts of Egypt that is far greater than the Palestinians are dealing with. Western countries should make the Palestinians explain why their call for statehood is greater than other nations and groups in the world.
JG: Few understand how bad Hamas is to their own people. We could not get Palestinians to stop paying terrorists for killing Israelis. The Taylor Force Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Trump did that. We are trying to reach the people, to move the (peace) plan forward – to circumvent the Palestinian leadership. In Bahrain, it is a Workshop and not a Summit that the Palestinians boycotted and tried to get others to boycott. The Palestinian media is not open to information. It is tightly controlled. That is why we are trying to get the word out directly to the people.
BS: Ordinary Palestinians do want a better life and are not achieving it because their leadership is denying them access to this. It is time to lay out specific principles for a State, not Workshops, Summits, etc. Since 1967 Western leaders have not insisted on preparations for a new State, and therefore it will be destined for failure. It is time for the PA to stop blaming Israel and the US for all their woes.
SB: Do we want the EU, the Quartet, Russia and the UN involved in a peace plan?
BS: The President should be disruptive and state his expectations. I supported him moving the Embassy to Jerusalem, getting out of the Iran deal, insuring Israel's security in the Golan and even calling out my own paper, the New York Times for its anti-Semitic cartoons. But the main issue is not a question of boundaries or economics … the issue is fundamental choices of what a Palestinian State is supposed to be for and not the destruction of the Jewish State. Is a Palestinian State for improving the lives of Palestinian people or urging war on Israel, promoting a culture of Jew hatred, anti-Semitism, misogyny and ethnic repression? Downgrading the issue of a Palestinian State is not the worst thing. There are more important issues such as the Sunni-Shea conflict and similar conflicts around the world.
JG: We did shrink this issue to a proper size. It is not the core conflict in the region today. Iran is a worse conflict. Our administration condemns EVERY terrorist attack, which is much different from the prior administration's view of Israel's right to defend itself. Trump's Riyadh speech in May 2017 was spectacular and provided a sobering view of the region.
SB: Some thoughts about a two-state solution. The Lubavitch Rebbe was against any concessions and did not believe that the Camp David Accords would lead to peace. Israel has tremendous friends in the Evangelical community who oppose the two-state solution as divisive. Even the act of meeting or tweeting with Palestinians gives them support to move forward.
BS: We need a conversation about what an ideal end state is. I would like to see two states that are small, democratic, progressive, living in peace with its neighbors. A high-quality state should be aspired to. We need a different set of aspirations by Palestinian leaders. Western leaders should say that is what is wanted and if you can't deliver it – the world should move on and take care of other business.
SB: Israel has a right to retain settlements. There are 400,000 residents in Judea & Samaria today. Why not say Israel can annex this area? Lack of peace has nothing to do with the settlements. It is a farce.
BS: If settlements were the issue then withdrawal from Gaza would have created more peace, not less. UN Resolution 242 talks about return of territories, not THE territory. I don't think Jerusalem should ever be divided. Many small countries are doing just fine because they are not committed to warring on their neighbors.
SB: President Trump is accused of being an Islamophobe. He has better relationships with many Islamic leaders than President Obama did. Gulf States understand that to have good relations with the US they must have good relations with Israel. The US and the Prime Minister of Israel have spent years developing relations between Israel and the Islamic States. The US can't push any nation to do things they are not comfortable with.
BS: Obama is worthy of the Nobel by creating the Iran deal. It unified all Sunnis to move closer to Israel and towards peace.
SB: Trump is in the political fight of his life. How involved can he be with the peace plan?
BS: Trump should give speeches. I think he will be re-elected and he will have more time to devote to Israel and Iran. He will be more involved with Iran. I believe the US should change the rules of engagement and in the worst case sink the Iranian Navy in its ports. Finally, do not subject the Palestinian people to the soft bigotry of low expectations.
JG: Iran has to be the absolute focus. I would hate to tell the Palestinians I speak with that they have to wait until after the 2020 election if our proposal gets off the ground. The President is huge in his support for Israel and cares for the Palestinian people but he won't pursue a deal that can't happen.
SB: Colossal military defeats lead Japan and Germany to move in another direction. But the Palestinians have not gotten word that a military option will not happen. They still believe armed struggle and thousands of missiles will gain them victory.
BS: My hope is that young people will get weary of Arafatism. A better way than living with constant war is creating a base with people wanting change. We should say to the Palestinians, “We wish you well. These are our expectations. We hope you meet them.”