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Pulse of the Middle East: Q & A with Shmuel Rosner

26 Jan

Q&A with Street Smart Politics Guest:  SHMUEL ROSNER

Shmuel Rosner is an Israeli journalist and editor based in Tel Aviv. He writes for the Jerusalem Post and Maariv, and also wrote many articles for Slate.com, The New Republic, Commentary Magazine, and other publications. He was formerly senior editor (1996-2005) and Chief US Correspondent (2005-2008) for the Israeli daily Haaretz. Pursuing his interest in US history and politics, Rosner also traveled across the United States covering the 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 elections. While in the United States Rosner lectured in Yale, Boston University, Berkeley, American University, The Army War College, The Hudson Institute, The Washington Institute for Middle East Policy, and other venues. He is also author of an upcoming book on American Judaism and Israel-Diaspora relations. He is married with four children.

1) Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama’s relationship has been described as rocky from the outset. However, both leaders have made a public effort to smooth over this perception. How would you describe their relationship now, and to what degree does their liking or not liking each other affect US-Israel diplomacy?

I still don’t think they like each other very much – it would have been nicer to have the two leaders of the two countries to be on friendlier terms – but that’s not the end of the world. President Clinton and PM Rabin got along very well, but President Bush and PM Sharon were not real buddies. Presidents Carter and Reagan didn’t find PM Begin agreeable, but both had to work with him. President G.H.W Bush had to work with PM Shamir (and Shamir had to work with Bush) – no great friendship there. All in all, very good personal relations between leaders are the exception rather than the norm.

The impact this has on diplomacy depends on the men (always men!) involved. I suspect that both with Obama and with Netanyahu the personal rarely have real sway over policy decisions. This means that the President will pursue the same policy with Netanyahu that he would have pursued with someone else – that is, unless one is convinced that Netanyahu the man is the obstacle for peace. In such case, the policy of personal pressure might be applied.

To end: President Obama has many things to worry about – the economy, jobs, China, Russia, Iran, 2012 elections. I don’t think he has much time to worry about Netanyahu – and the Israeli PM would do fine if he makes sure not to give the President reason to worry about him.

2) Palestinian statehood under the Oslo Accords was based on the “land for peace” formula. With Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in a stalemate and gaining international support for an “imposed solution,” is a Palestinian state inevitable whether or not it leads to peace?

There’s no such thing as “inevitable” – we do not know what the future holds. However… I’m yet to see any more plausible scenario. The Israeli public might not worry about Palestinian rights as much as it should – but it did realize long time ago that demographic trends will make it very tricky to keep control of the occupied territories. On the other hand, an “imposed solution” is no more than pipe dream. How will it be imposed and by whom? The international community proved to be quite incapable in Lebanon in recent years – as recent events clearly demonstrate – and it will not be more efficient if it tries to “impose” peace in the Palestinian territories. While frustration of those wanting peace is understandable, vying for solutions that will only complicate matters is definitely not the right course to pursue.

3) Is the leakage of the ‘Palestine Papers’ the nail in the coffin for Mahmoud Abbas and the current Palestinian Authority leadership, at least in terms of domestic credibility? Is the Palestinian public ready (or could they be) to accept compromises that an agreement with Israel would entail?

I’m not sure if Palestinians are ready for the compromises offered according to the Palestinian Papers, but I do think that those quick to mourning the early political demise of Abbas’ were hasty and somewhat hysterical. Abbas will not benefit much from recent publications, but I get the feeling that most of the “Palestinian anger” over the alleged “compromises” was manufactured and hardly authentic. Palestinians seem to be busy with their lives and for the most part un-bothered by the Papers.

4) PM Netanyahu’s public position is that a ‘united Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.’ Is this a red line or a starting position for potential negotiations?

You can divide Jerusalem and still call it “United Jerusalem”. Dividing the city will be very complicated, but insisting on it remaining all under Israeli jurisdiction, while also claiming to be striving for peace, will also be complicated.

5) Being in Israel, what is more worrisome, a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities (and the likely reprisal) or a nuclear armed Iran?

What’s worrisome is the fact that Iran seems to be gaining and having more influence and that the forces opposing Iran seem to be weakening and loosing ground. What’s worrisome is the happenings in Lebanon and the inability of the international community to form a policy that is viable to counter Iran’s growing strength. The two options you’ve mentioned are the two bad options – can’t we try first to have one option that isn’t as bad?

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