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Middle East peace efforts at a standstill, should U.S. strive for more modest goals?

Is there any reason to hope that the peace process between Israel and Palestine will ever bear fruit? To explore that question, John Yang sits down with David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now the next conversation in our occasional series in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict that we are calling The Long Divide.

  • Tonight:

    whether there is reason to be hopeful that the peace process could ever bear fruit.

    And to John Yang.

  • JOHN YANG:

    For that, we have tonight two men we have hosted on the "NewsHour" many times over the years on this subject.

    Hisham Melhem is a columnist for the Al-Arabiya news channel in Washington, D.C., and a correspondent for the Lebanese daily newspaper An-Nahar. And David Makovsky is a — was a senior policy adviser to Secretary of State John Kasich's peace team for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations during 2013 and 2014 and is a long-serving fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

    To begin this series, Judy Woodruff spoke with Tom Friedman of The New York Times. And here's a little bit of what Tom had to say about the peace process.

  • THOMAS FRIEDMAN, The New York Times:

    It's actually been dead for a while. I just called it by its real name.

    It's clear to me, Judy, that both sides have conspired. This was like "Murder on the Orient Express." There were so many stab wounds in this body, hard to tell exactly which one was the fatal blow.

  • JOHN YANG:

    David, we quickly heard from you in disagreement. So, explain why you disagree with Tom Friedman's analysis.

    DAVID MAKOVSKY, Washington Institute for Near East Policy: No, I think Tom made a lot of good points, so — but I think, the United States, we have tried to hit the home run ball three times, Bill Clinton in 2000, Condoleezza Rice in 2007-'8, and the effort I was a part of with Secretary of State Kerry 2013-2014.

    And I think what we see is that, despite the best efforts of the United States, these guys cannot do the home run ball. We don't have time to explain all the reasons, but the point is, is that I think we just have to be more modest in our objectives and try to hit singles and doubles, because whether it's a lack of leadership — and, by the way, even the great leaders in the Middle East deferred these issues.

    There's a reason why these issues — the can's been kicked down the road, and we have disbelieving publics. They might say, I'm for a two-state solution, but I don't think the other guy is. And, third, we have got the Middle East in unprecedented turmoil, as the "NewsHour" has been chronicling, since the Arab Spring in 2011.

    Taken all together, we could just give up and say let these guys kill each other on both sides, or we could say maybe we have to be more modest in our objectives, maintain the viability of a two-state solution, even if we can't implement it, keep that door open, so when the sides want to go through that door, they can.

    I think there are some practical ideas are possible.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Hisham, is that possible?

  • HISHAM MELHEM, Al Arabiya:

    Look, American leadership is indispensable. We have known that.

    If you leave the parties to their own devices, given the asymmetry between Israel and the Palestinians, given the fact that Israel has tremendous military preponderance, strong economy, strong constitution, you will end up with two societies living side by side unequal and resentful of each other, and in a state of constant low-intensity violence.

    And if you allow the Israelis to continue settlement activities in Palestinian territories, incorporating more Palestinian lands, even when you work on the limited objectives, OK, then you will reach a point — we may have already reached it — where there will be nothing to divide.

    You have half-a-million Israelis on Palestinian land. And if you allow the situation to continue, then it is impossible to talk about two-state solution, and you will end up in a situation where you have these two unequal societies living in a state of perpetual low-intensity violence.

    And that's the problem if you maintain this approach, let's contain it for a while until it ripens. But it may be too late.

  • JOHN YANG:

    David, given the situation now, they can't hit the long ball, as you say. Can they even hit the single or the double?

  • DAVID MAKOVSKY:

    Look, I don't know, but we have to try.

    And my goal is not to contain or to have a status quo, but really to find a way that basically you channel the settlement enterprise into an area we already know; 80 percent of the settlers own 5 percent of the land largely adjacent to the Israeli urban areas we used to call the pre-1967 border.

    And most of the Palestinians are on the other side of that. And so we kind of know, territorially, where this is going, and there will be a land exchange, what we call a territorial swap. So, both sides know basically what has to be done. I do think you could hit the single or double. I just think the stakes are so high that, if we don't try, we are basically consigning these people to perpetual bloodshed.

    And if we try to hit the home run ball a fourth time, when we know these leaders and publics can't do it, we're setting ourselves up for failure.

  • JOHN YANG:

    But, Hisham, giving up the settlement blocs around the urban areas, sounds like that would be giving up East Jerusalem. And isn't the Palestinian goal of having — establishing a capital in East Jerusalem? Would that be acceptable?

  • HISHAM MELHEM:

    Not to the Palestinians, definitely.

    I mean, Palestinians would like to have East Jerusalem as their capital, just as the Israelis could have West Jerusalem as their capital. This is a Palestinian position that no Palestinian leaders can even entertain not having or not insisting upon that.

    The problem of what we're having here is, there are structural problems in the Israeli political culture. There are powerful people in Netanyahu's cabinet who are calling for annexing the West Bank. It is not only the settlements.

    They believe that the Palestinians cannot accept the Israeli presence or existence, and, essentially, they are asking the Palestinians to accept the impossible. There are forces on both sides who are maximalists now.

    There was always a time when you had an Israeli constituency for peace and a Palestinian constituency for peace. These constituencies have been shrinking in the last few years. And you have the demonization taking place on both sides and maximalist positions on both sides.

    Hamas lives in its own world. You have an ossified Palestinian leadership. And you have an Israeli leadership that is perpetuating the status quo, unwilling or unable, not courageous enough to make initiative, given the fact that Israel is the stronger party.

  • JOHN YANG:

    And talking about the situation in Israel, are there Israelis who are willing to look for that single?

  • DAVID MAKOVSKY:

    Yes.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Israeli leaders.

  • DAVID MAKOVSKY:

    You see half of the Knesset, half of the Israeli parliament, is talking about this openly.

    And to your point on Jerusalem, obviously, Jerusalem has to be solved between the parties. You can't find — you can't impose any solution and you can't just let it kind of unilaterally go in a certain director.

    So, I think there's ground rules you could set that — in East Jerusalem that would preserve the outcome of a solution. And, by the way, if you look at some of the positions, the Palestinians know that the Jewish neighborhoods will be Israel and the Palestinian neighborhoods will be Palestine.

    So I see…

  • HISHAM MELHEM:

    But you want to hear an Israeli leadership articulate a position like — you want to hear an Israeli leader saying Jerusalem should be shared.

    You want to see an Israeli leader saying, this is our outlook and our vision of eventual peace. They don't do that. They keep kicking the can down the road.

  • DAVID MAKOVSKY:

    Part of the problem is, you have to realize, is these waves of stabbings that have radicalized the situation.

    You have had like 180 stabbings on the Palestinian side that have convinced the Israelis there is no partner, and the Palestinians think, we don't have a solution and we will never get to a solution.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • JOHN YANG:

    Hisham Melhem, I'm sorry. David Makovsky, I'm afraid we have got to leave it there.

    We will be coming back to this discussion many, many times again.

    Thank you very much.

  • HISHAM MELHEM:

    Thank you.

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