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  March 3, 2017

Why Was a 2016 Summit for a US-Proposed Peace Plan Involving Israel Kept Secret?

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to believe he can secure a regional peace agreement without resolving Palestinians, says Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy is a prominent Israeli journalist and author of the weekly column Twilight Zone in the Israeli paper Haaretz. He is also an editorial board member of Haaretz. Between 1978 and 1982 Levy served in the Shimon Peres office when Peres was the leader of the Labor Party.


SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Recently, the Israeli press uncovered that the former US Secretary of State, John Kerry was involved in secret talks about a peace deal for Palestine and Israel. A preparatory meeting had taken place in the Jordanian city of Aqaba where Prime Minister Netanyahu, Secretary of State John Kerry, King Abdullah of Jordan, and President Sisi of Egypt had participated.

According to the report, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz covered this. The Prime Minister Netanyahu insisted on including representatives of Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf States to make the summit a greater diplomatic achievement for Israel. Arab leaders, however, were concerned about another failed summit and asked Netanyahu to prove his commitment to the peace talk by including more moderate parties in his coalition. We now know that talks failed. No summit was held and yet another opportunity to negotiate a peace treaty for Middle East was blown away by Netanyahu.

The entire story was kept a secret until senior members of President Obama's former Administration leaked it to the press last week. On to talk about this with me is award-winning journalist Gideon Levy. He's a columnist for Haaretz and a member of its editorial board. His new book is, "The Punishment of Gaza," that was just published by Verso. Thank you so much for joining us, Gideon.

GIDEON LEVY: It's my pleasure.

SHARMINI PERIES: So, Gideon, now the question is why was this secret, this summit? And of course, why was it then cancelled? And of course, why is it significant today?

GIDEON LEVY: First of all, it was secret because there was still a belief that if it would be kept secret, some progress will be achieved. What is more interesting is that even after its failure, it took one year to publish it and this is rather strange because we know by now that it was a failure. So, why was it kept secret when so many elements, so many leaders, politicians knew about it. But anyhow this is behind us and it revealed one basic thing, that even when Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks about the regional peace which is now his ticket, even when he speaks about the regional peace, he doesn't mean business. So, it really called the bluff. In any case, people like me don't believe in the regional peace, because first, we have to sort the Palestinian issue. And without this, there are no breakthroughs and no bypasses. Netanyahu believes that he can invent a bypass. But even for this bypass, he's not ready to do anything.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, what were the political conditions in Israel last year when the meeting was supposedly taking place, at least when the preparatory meeting was taking place in Aqaba?

GIDEON LEVY: That's a very good question because at this stage, he wanted, or at least Netanyahu, at least appeared as someone who has an interest to make the Israeli's camp and labor, the so-called central left position of Israel, to join his coalition. And this was really a ticket in which labor could have joined the government. But in the last minute, Netanyahu again and again preferred the extreme right-wingers like present Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, who is an extreme, extreme right-winger. He preferred them on the central-left, he preferred saying no to this initiative, on really giving it a chance.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Gideon, you recently wrote an article in Haaretz, it was an opinion piece about Isaac Herzog's detailed ten-point plan. And you said he should add an 11th one. Give us a sense of what was his proposal in terms of peace between Israel and Palestine. And what was your 11th point?

GIDEON LEVY: This was rather pathetic because Mr. Herzog, leader of Israeli opposition had a peace plan which sounded very reasonable but he suggested that Israelis and Palestinians would start to talk only in ten years. And this was really for me more than pathetic and therefore, I wrote, I suggested to accept this plan as it is but to add just one more article to this plan, to this ten-points plan -- one whole point. And the point says that Mr. Herzog will stay in a cage for those 10 years. He will be supplied by food and if he will behave himself, he will even get some cheese and some other special delicacies but nobody will talk with him, unless he will behave himself for another ten years in the cage. And then maybe after those 10 years someone will discuss with him about improving the cage, maybe building some new devices in the cage. That's what Mr. Herzog offered the Palestinians.

SHARMINI PERIES: Maybe even narrowing and making the cage a bit smaller every day would also be... I think you are here trying to amplify the conditions of Palestinians. And I thank you for that.

Can we now shift our focus to US foreign policy towards Palestine? Now, Netanyahu was recently in Washington hobnobbing with the new Administration and, of course, Netanyahu we know, according to New York Times article recently, has a close proximity to the new Administration by way of Ivanka Trump's husband, Jared Kushner who apparently, you know, his family has received Netanyahu years ago. And Netanyahu has actually slept in Jared Kushner's bed on visits to the family. Now, given this close proximity, how do you think relations with Israel, particularly in relation to Israel-Palestine will pan out with this new Administration?

GIDEON LEVY: First of all, this new Administration is very clear about its attitude toward Muslims, toward Arabs, toward Palestinians, toward minorities and toward the weak ones. And from this point of view, it's very clear that the Palestinians have nothing to expect from this Administration; for sure not an understanding to their tragedy. They will not get it from this Administration. But having said this, this doesn't mean that Israel will be having carte blanche to go crazy, to buy more settlements without any restrictions, to launch more attacks on Gaza without any restrictions. This so-called wet dream of the right-wingers in Israel seems right now quite skeptical, even though Netanyahu slept in Kushner's bed. By the end of the day, it's about interests, not about children's games. And by the end of the day, the interests of the United States is far beyond the childhood memories or some kind of emotions and sentiments which might unease the atmosphere but not change the policy.

SHARMINI PERIES: Gideon, two weeks ago when Netanyahu arrived in Washington for his first visit with the new Administration, there was some information leaked just prior to his arrival in Washington that the US might abandon the two-state solution which has been its policy for two decades. And they were, it seemed like, there was some testing of the waters and then the next day President Trump actually said, you know, it doesn't matter to him whether it's one state, two states, whatever is okay with the Israelis and Palestinians, in the negotiations and what they come to is okay with him. How serious is all this -- abandoning the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and what Trump said?

GIDEON LEVY: So, let's ask ourselves -- how serious is the new elected President? And that's been an open question which nobody has the answer. Right now it seems that he knows very little about the Middle East and I'm not sure he cares a lot about the Middle East. But in any case, I doubt it very much that Donald Trump knows the consequences of a two-state solution; knows the probability of a one-state solution.

In any case, by the end of the day, two decades as you just rightly mentioned, two decades of American efforts or so-called efforts to bring to the two-state solution, and it was a total failure. The two-state solution today is much further than 20 years ago. And for people like me I even take it even further and say that the two-state solution is a train that left the station. The two-state solution is dead because with 6, 700 thousand Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories, nobody's going to evacuate them. And without evacuating them, there is no two-state solution. Therefore, we have to change the discourse and start talking about equal rights in one state. That's the only democratic option which is still on the table and we should start to realize this.

SHARMINI PERIES: Alright. And then I must ask you this one final question, which is -- Donald Trump had appointed his former lawyer, I believe, bankruptcy lawyer to be specific as the Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. How is he being received in Israel?

GIDEON LEVY: For people who believe in peace, or people who believe that the settlements are the main obstacle against peace, this is a quite ridiculous combination -- because Mr. Friedman is not only a lawyer, but also a great, great friend and supporter of the settlement project. He tried to retreat from most of his opinions in the hearing in the Senate, but nobody can deny that this man said terrible things, just a few weeks or months before the nomination and before the election, including calling the leftists terrible names. I mean, this man is not a friend of peace and not a friend of Israel by the way. But it's, by the end of the day, Ambassadors are not really important figures.

SHARMINI PERIES: Alright, Gideon, I thank you so much for joining us and we always welcome you and your opinion here at The Real News Network.

GIDEON LEVY: Thank you so much, and continue with your good job.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.




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