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Harman: Netanyahu Could ‘Be the Peacemaker Israel Has Been Seeking’

May 20, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
President Obama met Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after delivering a U.S. policy speech calling for a return to pre-1967 borders. Judy Woodruff discusses what comes next in the peace process with former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and former California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We get more now on all this from Stephen Hadley, national security adviser under President George W. Bush. He’s now with the United States Institute of Peace and is an international business consultant. And Jane Harman, former Democratic U.S. representative from California, she stepped down earlier this year to take over as president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

And we thank you both for being with us.

STEPHEN HADLEY, former U.S. National Security adviser: Nice to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Stephen Hadley, to you first.

What are the prospects for peace in the Middle East, after the president’s speech yesterday and this meeting today at the White House, which, on the surface, looked contentious?

STEPHEN HADLEY: Well, it may on the surface. I actually think there’s more there to work with than you — than meets the eye.

I think Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a speech to the Knesset before he came to the United States. I think there are actually a number of positive elements in that speech that have largely been overlooked. I think President Obama made a contribution to moving the process forward.

And if you look at the three things that Prime Minister Netanyahu said he could not accept, they’re actually things that he’s not being asked to accept. He said they couldn’t go back to ’67 borders. Well, everybody knows those borders have to be — and they’re not borders — they’re actually the armistice lines of 1949.

Everybody knows that Israel can’t go back to those lines. There need to be negotiated adjustments. He says he can’t negotiate with Hamas. Everybody agrees. The only issue is about Palestinian right of return. And that is an issue, as President Obama said, that needs to come in a second phase, rather than a first phase.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you…

STEPHEN HADLEY: I think there’s more hope there and more common ground than maybe the initial press commentary suggests.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jane Harman, how do you see it? Are things maybe not as bad as they seem?

JANE HARMAN (D), former U.S. congresswoman: Well, I basically agree with Steve.

And I would add that there is an urgency now. Facts have changed on the ground. At this point, there is a tsunami going on in the Arab Middle East. The Arab Spring is changing government everywhere. Israel’s relations with Egypt are decidedly cooler. The same is true with Turkey. They’re frozen with Iran, something we strongly agree with, our country strongly agrees with.

And the youth bulge in Arab families, both inside Israeli and around Israel, is enormous. And Israel will not be able to be a Jewish state with defensible borders unless we get on with this. And let me just finally say, as the daughter of a refugee from Nazi Germany, I mean, I am passionately committed to Israel’s security.

But I do think this is a time for forward movement. And I applaud President Obama for trying, in the crucible of the 2012 election and in everything that is going on in the world, to put out some markers yesterday.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Stephen Hadley, to your point about the border issue and these other issues maybe not being as significant a split as it looks, we heard Netanyahu, the prime minister, today say, this is — this is something that we can’t work with. He said — I mean, he flatly rejected, it sounded like, what President Obama was proposing.

STEPHEN HADLEY: What he said was, the ’67 lines do not provide for defensible borders for Israel and they do not reflect the realities of the settlement blocs. That is true.

And that is why President Bush, in the letter with Prime Minister Sharon in 2004, said everybody understands there are new realities. The settlement blocs are going to have to be part of Israel. We’re not going to end up at the ’67 lines, but there needs to be adjusted negotiations and land swaps.

In a way, that is what President Obama said. Unfortunately, he led with the ’67 borders, and only then got to the land swaps, and didn’t say anything about the settlement blocs. And I think that is what a little bit unnerved the Israelis. I think, if had flipped the order, more like the Bush-Sharon letter, say, realities on the ground, ’67 lines won’t do it, there need to be negotiated swaps — so, I think it is a tonal — do you lean right, lean left?

But I think the substance of the issue, everybody agrees as to how we need to approach it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jane Harman, this is an issue you have been watching very closely for years, years that you served in Congress. Do you see ground for negotiation here, room for negotiation between the two sides, the Palestinian and the Israeli?

JANE HARMAN: Absolutely. There’s room for negotiation. The question is, is there the political will to negotiate?

And the rhetoric is making this harder. I think that President Abbas’ op-ed in, I think it was, The Washington Post a week or so ago saying that Palestine would go ahead with a vote in the U.N. General Assembly as an independent state, something the United States, properly, strongly opposes, wasn’t very helpful.

And I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments left out a piece of what President Obama said. So, I would just hope that both sides would cool down a bit and figure that, in each case, both in Abbas’ case and Netanyahu’s case, there is an opportunity for each of them, for real political legacy. If they don’t do this, I think the events will eclipse them.

And I would just make one other point about Israeli politics. Their — their form of democracy requires rebuilding the coalition of support every single morning. Everyone who has been prime minister has said that. But I think that, for Bibi Netanyahu, if he would be a little more forward-leaning here, what would happen is that Kadima, which is now the opposition party, might join with him and make up for any of the far-right parties he might lose if he made a bigger — took a bigger risk for peace.

And he could genuinely be the peacemaker that Israel has been seeking for years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If you back up, Stephen Hadley, just a bit and you look at the president’s — President Obama’s statements yesterday about the broader Middle East, the Arab Spring — and, you know, there is the suggestion now that the U.S. is changing its long stance in favor of stability in the region and saying, we’re going to support some of these democratic movements, even if it means the outcome is not as clear and clean as what — I should say stable — as what we previously wanted as a country.

Is that a significant change or a difference on the part of this administration from what came before?

STEPHEN HADLEY: Well, I think, in some sense, it’s a return to some of the freedom agenda that was in the Bush administration.

But what we learned was support for authoritarian regimes didn’t give us stability — it gave us terrorism — and that, if you want stability over the long term, you need to support the progress toward freedom and democracy. That is who we are as a people. That’s what we stand for.

So, what the president’s speech really said is, we are in the business in the Middle East of supporting transitions to a democratic future. That’s — we’re on the side of the people in that effort, and we are going to help and support them. They have to fight and win their own freedom. They are doing it, not in response to our calls. They’re doing it in response to their own aspirations for the future. But we can help.

And I think he tried to put us solemnly, rightly, on the side of the people seeking freedom.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jane Harman, you know, we just saw today more killing of protesters in Syria.

JANE HARMAN: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yesterday, the president said to Syria’s President Assad, either lead the way to reform or, in his words, get out of the way.

Should the U.S., in your view, should be doing — should the president be more aggressive in what he says…

JANE HARMAN: Well, I applaud the fact that he stood squarely on the side of the Syrian people. He also made some very tough comments about Iran. And I think that is the right side of history and consistent with our moral interests.

One — one thing, though, I would say, I think it’s up to the people in each country to select their own leaders. And I think we will get a lot farther, as this earthquake of change hits the Middle East, if we support the building of political space and real democratic infrastructure in those countries, which we have done through our National Endowment for Democracy, over some years, but if we support that and then — then let the people decide who the next leaders or — or whether to keep the present leaders.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But just quick, bottom line, final word from each of you. In — when it comes to the Israelis and the Palestinians, you see the possibility for movement in the right direction?

STEPHEN HADLEY: I do.

But everybody talks about what Bibi Netanyahu needs to do. What President Abbas needs to do is to show that a Palestinian leader can actually accept a peace, because two good offers have been made, first to Arafat, then to Abbas. Neither of them was accepted.

So, there is a burden on the Palestinians to show and to prove that they’re prepared actually to accept a deal that leads to peace.

JANE HARMAN: And there is a further burden, as President Obama said, on the Palestinians to show that this new union with Hamas means that Hamas will renounce violence and recognize the Jewish state of Israel as part of any peace deal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We are going to leave it there.

Jane Harman, Stephen Hadley, we thank you both.

STEPHEN HADLEY: Thank you.