I’m done moderating two panels at the Israeli Presidential Conference (one and two). I’m done talking to dozens of the people attending, and done hearing other people’s panels. I’m done with this year’s conference. I’m tired and have a headache, and am still trying to figure out a theme coming out of the conference.
In the meantime, I’d like to share with you a couple of notes from a round table on the future of US-Israel relations moderated by Mike Herzog. It was closed to the press (namely, to other press), and attended by luminaries such as Stu Eizenstat, Richard Haass, Uzi Arad, Dore Gold, Malcolm Hoenlein, Abe Foxman, Dan Mariaschin, David Makovsky, Alon Pinkas – I can’t name them all but you get the picture (if you’re not familiar with the names, Google them). Here’s an outline of some of the things that were said about some of the topics discussed. It does not do justice to the two-hour discussion, but will give you some idea of what was going on.
Iran was the main topic of discussion and debate. The sources of disagreement were these:
- Can Israel attack without American consent? Zvi Rafiah said no way – and he didn’t mean Israel can’t do it operationally. Israel’s total “dependence on the US” is what precludes such possibility in his view.
- Should Israel act without American consent, and militarily attack Iran? “If Israel were to act before sanctions have played out — it would be a serious mistake”, Eizenstat said. “The real debate is on the real date in which the Israeli window for action closes”, said Makovsky.
- Can Israel trust the US to prevent Iran from getting the bomb? Eizenstat was the one most openly “disturbed by notion that the President of the US is not to be trusted”.
- What happens if there’s a “bad deal” (“the worst possible scenario”, according to Foxman)? Arad says deal or no deal there’s a “clear need for a strong American statement” about “further action”. If there’s a deal, the statement would clarify that any attempt at cheating will be met with military action. If there’s no deal, it will clarify “time tables and consequences of further action”.
Another point over which there was some measure of disagreement: would the Iran nuclear issue be a wedge issue between Israel and the US? Hoenlein said yes: Iranian victory could cause “the most serious breach in US-Israel relations”. Arad said no: Whether the effort to kill the Iranian nuclear program succeeds or not, the US and Israel would have to get closer following the conclusion of this effort. If prevention succeeds a main issue of contention will go away, and “if prevention fails it would be a major failure for American policy-standing”, in such case “the US and Israel will have to work together to minimize the negative effects of nuclear Middle East”.
When it comes to the issue of Iran, the pre-post election issue is “an artificial issue”, said Makovsky. Soon which issue of 2012 does matter? Pinkas suggests that 2012 and the ten months following the US election until the next Israeli elections do matter: “in the next 18 months nothing substantive on the Israel-Palestine peace process can happen – there can be no progress”. In the panel I moderated today, Richard Haass went even further in his comments. In his view, it isn’t just the next 18 months: “Iran and Arab upheavals will dominate the Middle East agenda, and the peace process with Israel will be a less dominant aspect of U.S. Middle East policy”, Haass said. He also said that the American “era of dominating” the peace process is “ending”. The burden will “fall on the shoulders of Israelis and Palestinians themselves”.