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'From Enemy to Asset: Israel’s Moment of Regional Opportunity'

J Street national conference, Washington, D.C., Feb. 26, 2017

The panel "From Enemy to Asset: Israel’s Moment of Regional Opportunity" was moderated by Attila Somfalvi, Political Analyst.

The three panelists:

Member of Knesset Akram Hasson, Kulanu Party
Brigadier General (Ret.) Israela Oron, Former Deputy National Security Advisor, Israel’s National Security Council
Nadav Tamir, Director of International and Government Affairs, Peres and Associates Global Consulting

How should Israel approach peacemaking in the broader Middle East?

Should Israel first speak to other Arab countries about regional politics (as PM Netanyahu says he wants to do), or should Israel first speak to the Palestinians directly? Hasson said it is necessary to speak with the Palestinians directly and not assume that other nations will take the lead. Oron, by contrast, said that Israel shares security concerns with Arab countries that are moderate on these issues like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and "the marriage can happen only when they can bring the bride. The bride is the Palestinians." Tamir said "I don't think the Arabs will move without the Palestinians and I don't think the Palestinians will move without the Arabs. That's why I think it has to be synchronized."

Tamir said he preferred to refer to Israel as "the homeland for the Jewish people" because it is more welcoming and potentially inclusive of non-Jews than the term "Jewish state."

Tamir said in response to an audience question about the importance of promoting dialogue at the grassroots level: "I totally agree with you. It's not enough to do peace from the top-down; you have to do peace from the bottom-up." He also said he believes that the people will support a two-state solution if politicians lead the way.

Who should take responsibility for the past? For the future? Israelis, Palestinians, Americans?

In response to Somfalvi's question about whether it's appropriate to "blame the Palestinians" and ask for "concessions" from them, Oron conceded that "the Palestinians have a very fair share" of blame for the failure of negotiations. Hasson acknowledged that Palestinians have not been able to stop the tide of extremism among young people, and he also pointed the finger back at Israel. He said that Abu Mazen personally told him that his hands were politically tied as long as Palestinians continued to see Israeli military presence in Area A and Israeli construction in the West Bank. Oron said, "They are not in the position to cut deals with the Israelis" in part because they have a difficult economic condition and their leader Abu Mazen is not very powerful.

Tamir said that he preferred to avoid the "blame game." "I think all of us should do our work and then we can move forward. I actually think the project of Zionism was to make the Jewish people not the object of history but the subject of history...People in J Street have to work on the American scene." Hasson said, "I know Kerry spoke with Abu Mazen, and when he came to speak with Netanyahu, everything broke. For that reason, the game must start on our field."

Why is it important?

Tamir said, "If we cannot create a two-state solution, it's the end of Zionism. For me, there is nothing more important in my professional life." Oron said, "Basically, we are occupying millions of Palestinians and they don't have their own state...We are in a one-state for the last fifty years. The question is how can we make it more like a two-state, because the one-state is the end of the Zionist dream." The ideal would be to live in harmony with everyone in a single state, but "unfortunately, it's not practical."

A peace deal also has implications for Israel's reputation. Hasson said he believes that great leaders around the world will be reluctant to develop a relationship with Israel "without a solution for the Palestinians."


This panel was held Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 at 3:15 p.m. Official panel description from the conference program:

"For decades, the Arab world cited the very existence of the state of Israel as the region’s number one problem. Yet over the past decade, the regional dynamics have shifted dramatically. The Arab world’s list of strategic challenges today is topped by Iran, extremism and the economic challenge posed by a massive generation of young people lacking economic opportunity and hope. Rather than being seen as a central threat, Israel today is perceived by regional players as a potentially key asset in addressing these challenges. Join us in exploring the opportunities and challenges Israel faces at this historic inflection point and whether, for Israel to take advantage of these strategic opportunities, it must first resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

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