MARGARET WARNER: And for more on the prime minister's speech
and what it means for the Obama administration's hope of reviving
Israel-Palestinian peace talks, we turn to two longtime NewsHour analysts.
David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute
for Near East Policy, he's the co-author of "Myths, Illusions, and Peace:
Finding a New Direction for America
in the Middle East."
And Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya, a Middle East satellite news channel, he's also a senior
correspondent for the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar.
So welcome back to you both.
David, beginning with you, now here's Bibi Netanyahu, just
last month he was here with President Obama, refused to say the magic words
"two-state solution." Why did he reverse course?
DAVID MAKOVSKY, Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
Well, it's clear that I think his meeting with the president was a big part of
it, including the president's speech in Cairo,
as well. And I think he thought by discussing the powers and what the state
would be, I think his term was we'll deal with the terminology later.
But he saw that that didn't really go over well in Washington. Also, the
U.S. Congress had changed since he was prime minister in the 1990s, more of a
Republican Congress at that time. And I think he felt that he really has to
articulate it and tell the Israeli public straight out.
And this is a big deal for him, because for his whole professional
life he's been against the Palestinian state, even though he's favored
negotiations with the Palestinians and talked about autonomy with them and the
And what's also fascinating, just from an historic point of
view, is that in 2005, after the Gaza pullout, Ariel Sharon, who was the head
of Likud, left the party and took a lot of people with him who believe the
Likud had to be firmly centrist.
So here was Netanyahu now presiding over a more, let's say,
ideological Likud, and he has to tell those people, no, there's going to have
to be a two-state solution. So I think, as the White House said on Air Force
One today, I think this is a big step for him.
MARGARET WARNER: A big deal, a big step, Hisham?
HISHAM MELHEM, Washington
bureau chief, Al Arabiya: In the pantheon of Israeli policies and in the world
of Benjamin Netanyahu, it may be a tiny step. Here he gives a verbal nod to the
prime minister of a two state, and then he goes on to present essentially
He said, Let's negotiate without preconditions, and then he
set out to put impossible preconditions: Jerusalem,
unified capital of Israel;
no settlement freeze whatsoever; demilitarized state; no army; no control of
air space; no borders.
So essentially he's undermining all the attributes of
nationhood. This is occupation-lite.
Conditions to negotiation
MARGARET WARNER: But are these preconditions for talking or
HISHAM MELHEM: No, I mean, look, obviously you have to watch
what he does. And I really don't believe that he saw the light and he converted
to the peace camp, so to speak. He's still old Bibi, I think.
And, essentially, you have to see what he will do on the
settlement freeze. And we have to go back to the Mitchell report, essentially.
The main observation, the main recommendations, Palestinians will stop all
violence, and the Israelis will stop all settlements, including so-called
MARGARET WARNER: How limiting do you think Netanyahu
intended these conditions to be? I mean, his spokesman today said, We aren't
saying you have to agree to this before we come to the table. Just these are
DAVID MAKOVSKY: Yes, exactly. I mean, this is the Middle East. I mean, if I would go through all of
President Abbas' positions on the refugees and Jerusalem and the like, they're putting
forward the Palestinian position. Netanyahu is putting forward his positions.
The key question is, is he putting preconditions to
negotiate? And that I do not think was there at all.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about this one, though,
about insisting that the Arabs and Palestinians, at least the Palestinians
as a Jewish state. Now, that sounds like a new emphasis. Is it? And why?
DAVID MAKOVSKY: Look, I think basically, if you ask 100
percent of Israelis, 85 percent of them will tell you Israelis accept the idea
that the Palestinians should have a state, but they don't believe that the
Palestinians think that the Jews have a legitimate right to be there, recognize
Israel because Israel is strong, de facto, but don't say that they have a
And the Arab comeback is always, but if we say that, that
impacts our refugee position. What does it mean for the Israeli Arabs?
You know, we could find this in the English language. If
people would just say, "Historically, you're legitimate, we're
legitimate," that's the core. You came home; they came home. If you can
work that out, the formulation is secondary.
Halting settlement expansion
MARGARET WARNER: All right, let's go back to the
settlements, because that's where -- I mean, President Obama and Secretary
Clinton have been very clear. Not only do they not want to see any new
settlements, no expansion, no even natural growth, nothing.
So how -- have you talked to people in the administration?
How do they regard this? Is this a thumb in the eye to the Obama
HISHAM MELHEM: On a settlement issues, yes. And, look,
Barack Obama essentially, he is questioning the very legitimacy of the
settlement activities, the whole concept of building settlements on occupied
Essentially he's going back full circle to Jimmy Carter's
administration, which said essentially settlements, in terms of international
law, are illegitimate.
The Israeli government has never heard that before. And
Israeli governments promised repeated different American administrations, both
Republicans and Democrats, we will stop settlement activities. We will
dismantle so-called unauthorized settlements.
They've never done anything of the sort. And that's why we
go back to the Mitchell report, which was written nine years almost, when he
said essentially all settlement activities should stop, including so-called
natural growth. Today there's no new settlements, but they are breaking ground
for housing units each and every day.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, and explain to people who don't
know, what does natural growth mean, when he says, "We're going to
continue natural growth"?
DAVID MAKOVSKY: He's trying to say that those who call for a
freeze are freezing life, and meaning that life has to continue.
MARGARET WARNER: But meaning how many more could be built?
In other words, is this just -- that you can add a den to your house and have a
baby or does it mean your children and grandchildren can all move in from
DAVID MAKOVSKY: I think we've got to step back about 10 feet
and say, what's the whole opposition to settlements?
MARGARET WARNER: But first explain, what does it actually
mean in Bibi Netanyahu's mind?
DAVID MAKOVSKY: Well, when he says natural growth, it means
that children can grow up there, the grandchildren grow up there.
MARGARET WARNER: And they can start their own families?
DAVID MAKOVSKY: And they can start their own families, and
don't freeze life.
Outlook for peace talks
MARGARET WARNER: OK, now, let me ask you this, because we
only have a couple of minutes. So where does this leave the Obama
administration's and President Obama's desire to really revive peace talks?
DAVID MAKOVSKY: I think where it leaves us is very clear. Of
all these four tough issues -- Jerusalem,
refugees, security, and land -- ironically, surprise to the viewers, the issues
over the land are the narrowest in terms of differences.
And I think the way to solve the settlement issue -- and we
tried -- Dennis Ross and I tried to lay this out in this book we just wrote --
is to say focus on what you can do and make the settlement issue moot. And the
way to make it moot is to finally demarcate the line after all these years.
Everyone basically knows where the line is. And by doing so,
we've solved the settlement problem.
MARGARET WARNER: So you mean you go ahead and divide up the
land even before you have a deal on all these other issues...
DAVID MAKOVSKY: Right. In the Middle
MARGARET WARNER: ... with the settlers all in the Israeli
side and you give the Israelis some other land, I mean, the Palestinians some
DAVID MAKOVSKY: It basically creates something that gives
dignity for both, that the Palestinians could say, "We've got 100 percent
of the land and you, Israelis, you got 75 percent to 80 percent of the settlers
because of the way that you can swap certain land," and give each side
hope for the future.
MARGARET WARNER: Would that fly with the Palestinians?
HISHAM MELHEM: It's not going to fly with the Palestinians,
because essentially the state that he's describing is not contiguous.
Therefore, it's not viable.
I mean, when settlement activities continue, when building
infrastructure for the settlements, like bridges and highways and all that,
that's undermining Palestinian -- this is Palestinian territory. It's being
gobbled up with each passing day.
MARGARET WARNER: But David's idea is that you know
ultimately there will be a land swap. Every peace deal they've talked about has
almost gotten to that. Can you go ahead and do that even before you have
agreement on all these thorny issues like Jerusalem
HISHAM MELHEM: Yes, but why continue settlement activities?
If you're asking the Palestinians to stop violence, the Israelis should stop
settlement activities because it is seen as an act of encroachment on the very
land that you're supposed to negotiate over its future.
MARGARET WARNER: And we have to leave it there. David
Makovsky, Hisham Melhem, thanks, as always.