Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Two-State Solution: Simon says history has passed peace by.

Ten days after Israel's brutal assault on Gaza began, Bob Simon, the veteran CBS Middle East correspondent appeared on Charlie Rose to talk about his upcoming story on "60 Minutes." The segment was not on Gaza, he told Rose, but rather on the West Bank, which he explained is the main theater for the "Israeli-Palestinian conflict." But has history passed by the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the decades-long conflict? Simon believes it has, not because of Palestinians, as most journalists in the dominant media in the U.S. have claimed for years, but rather because of the West Bank settlers, who by now, thanks to past administrations of Israel, backed by the U.S., have not only allowed but enabled and encouraged. There are now over three hundred million settlers in the West Bank, a number growing by the day. Removing them, which is the only way to establish a Palestinian state, would result in the breaking apart of Israel's military, since so many soldiers are settlers, and the collapse of the government―in short, a civil war.

It has always been necessary for the political will for the two-state solution, which has been touted by leaders of Israel and the U.S. for decades now, to come from a U.S. president. But none has forced Israel to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve the two states. None has had the courage. The only possibility for a somewhat peaceful resolution now is if President Obama practices the tough love necessary. If he chooses to do so, he'll most likely do so during his first two years in office, says Simon.

His assessment is, as Rose says, pessimistic. Some say it's nevertheless realistic. Many are surprised that Bob Simon, whose pro-Israel bias has been evident in all his previous reporting, is suddenly critical of Israel. However, oddly enough, he has no criticism at all of Israel's offensive taking place at the moment of the interview, none of the barring of journalists from entering Gaza. Suddenly he's decided to give the American public an idea of what it has been supporting all these decades, now that, in his estimation, it's all but too late to do anything about it. There is an urgency to driving the point home that there can be no solution without the settlers being addressed. While Israelis and their supporters are panicking that the U.S. public are finally learning from the major U.S. TV news magazine the extent of the settlement problem, Simon fails to mention that Israel is in violation of international law by not evacuating the settlers from the West Bank. Before people write letters to CBS to thank it for freeing itself from its former pro-Israel bias, watch the "60 Minutes" segment (below) and the interview (and/or read the transcript) and recognize Simon's own ambivalence and the contradictions of many of his messages. Then write a letter to thank CBS.

Interviews with Andrea Mitchell and Bob Simon, the latter of which begins at 30:26


Charlie Rose: Tell me just how you see this invasion of the Gaza, and what you see as the Israeli objective, and what the endgame might be.

Bob Simon: I see it as just one more chapter in Israel’s attempt to protect its borders, which has been largely unsuccessful. The Israelis tried it in Lebanon. Right now the borders are quiet, but that’s bound to flare up again. They’re trying it again in Gaza. I think the endgame will be some deal which will seal the Gaza-Egyptian border, so that the arms that Hamas has been getting through Egypt from Iran, to Syria, to Egypt, which have been getting into Gaza through tunnels, that they’ll be stopped. The Israelis have been bombing the tunnels, but they know the tunnels can be rebuilt very quickly. So I think the endgame is a deal whereby there will be international troops stationed on the Egyptian side of the border, which presumably will at least try to attempt to keep arms out of those tunnels going into Gaza. I think the Israelis could live with that as a solution.

CR: And that's troops from the UN? Or from where?

BS: From international troops. I don’t think that’s been negotiated yet. Most of them would probably be Egyptian troops, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Americans have a role there. Ultimately, everyone knows that the Americans rule the roost, that what the Americans say will be determined by what the Americans do.

CR: What the Israelis do will be determined by what the American say? Or, or what?

BS: The Israelis will always be determined by what the Americans say, but there hasn’t been a voice limiting the Israelis in any way in several administrations. Particularly the Bush administration just gave the Israelis carte blanche to do whatever they wanted to do, whatever they felt they needed to do.

CR: Do you think the Israelis believe it’ll be different under an Obama administration?

BS: The Israelis are very afraid that it will be different, that Obama doesn’t owe them anything, that Obama, even though he made very pro-Israeli statements during the campaign—that’s to be expected--that the Obama administration will be a different, will sing a different song altogether. And the one thing you know is that it will stop before January 20.

CR: So that they can give a free range to the new president to be...make choices at that time.

BS: So that they will not anger the new administration right away, so they can bow to the new administration to try its own had at doing what the administration needs to do.

CR: When you look at Hamas and what they did after the ceasefire, why did they do it? I mean, and did they know that if they did it would lead to the circumstance they find themselves in now?

BS: I think like any guerilla organization, whether you call Hamas an orthodox guerilla organization or not, their objective is always to provoke a large, disproportionate response from the, quote, colonial, unquote, empire, which will then mobilize public opinion locally and worldwide against the oppressor. That is, I think, Hamas’s objective. They knew perfectly well when they were firing an increasing number of rockets into Israel that the Israelis were gonna to hit them, and hit them very hard. This is not a surprise, it was part of the script from the very beginning.

CS: And they knew what the reaction would be from the Arab street.

BS: Of course, the Arab street supports them enormously, which was also predictable. But that poses all sorts of problems for the Arab governments, which are no more fond of Hamas than the Israelis are, and the governments are torn between the street and what they want in Gaza, which is to see Hamas licked.

CR: Wait a minute...[laughter] Why didn’t the Arab...all those Arabs who are famil...who were friends of the Palestinian government that’s on the West Bank do more about Hamas during the time leading up to the present circumstance?

BS: There wasn’t all that much to be done. The people who are the sorriest about Hamas’s victory in Gaza are the Palestinians on the West Bank, and are the Egyptians and the Jordanians, who were watching on, but couldn’t really do anything.

CR: Because it was a net loss for the Palestinian Authority.

BS: That’s right.

CR: And their leverage in Gaza.

BS: That’s right. And the last thing that the Arab governments neighboring Gaza, and at a certain distance from Gaza, want is a radical influence on their borders, so they’ve been dead-bent against getting rid of Hamas, but there wasn’t any way for them to do it

CR: How intent are those countries, Syria—and they may be different state by state-- Jordan, Egypt, Syria—to a kind of peace settlement that is suggested by King Abdullah II, of Saudi Arabia?

BS: Well that’s primarily dealing with the West Bank. Gaza was part of the West Bank since 1967, but since the Hamas victory has pretty much ceded...seceded from the West Bank and is now an island of its own. But King Abdullah’s peace plan is very popular in the Middle East, and I think popular in the United States, even though the Americans can’t really pronounce themselves on it yet.

CR: So that leads me to this piece that you have done from the West Bank. Tell me what you did and what conclusions you have come to.

BS: Well, um, while the Gaza theater was lit up, our executive producer, Jeff Fager, had the intelligent idea of sending us to the West Bank, which wasn’t getting any attention at all. But the West Bank is the main battle front, the main theater, for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and what we were going there to see is whether in fact peace was possible, or whether history had passed peace by. The solution for the West Bank problem, the West Bank-Israeli problem, has always been, or has been for many, many decades now, a two-state solution: Israel on one side, Palestine, West Bank on the other side. And the question was whether this is still possible, or whether it’s just inconceiveable by now.

CR: And you think, what?

BS: I think history has passed it by. I think mainly because the Israelis have sent so many settlers, so many Jewish Israeli settlers to the West Bank—there are now close to 300,000 of them—that removing these settlers, which has to be done for the Palestinians...

CR: Is not politically not viable in Israel…

BS: Is not and not politically viable, and is not militarily viable. The radical settlers are convinced that if the army would ever be sent in to evacuate settlers, first of all the government would fold within a day, which I think is probably true; and, second, if the army went in, so many of the soldiers now are religious guys, that the army would break apart.

CR: But would it have been poss… and this is not fair, and it's an unfair question and can't be answered, but nevertheless: suppose it was Prime-Minister Rabin or Prime-Minister Sharon...a different answer?

BS: I was so sentimentally attached to Prime Minister Rabin that I think that anything might have been possible with Rabin, which is why he was killed. Uh, Sharon? No! I mean Sharon: the man who created the settlements, who got the settlers going into the West Bank, who was the prime settler of them all, who encouraged them, who built the settlements; this guy, by the time he was prime-minister, for some time, the settlers were dead set against him.

CR: Exactly, and he was prepared to take those settlers in the Gaza and bring them out.

CR: Yeah. And if the West Bank or anything comparable to Gaza isn't taken out by now...

CR: Yeah, and they weren't crazy about the Gaza anyway...

BS: That's right. And then Gaza was done without any violence to speak of... The Israeli government evacuated one settlement three years ago called Amona, which had just about a dozen families in it, and there were pitched battles between the settlers and the army. It was, in fact, the first time you really saw pitched battles between Jew and Jew since the creation of the state.

CR: So we can talk about the other Arab initiative that has to do with Jerusalem, has to do with the right of return, has to do with the West Bank and territory, and has to do with one other point I'm forgetting... We can talk about that, but it’s all moot now, in your judgment, because…

BS: I think it's all moot now. Ironically, even though...

CR: History has passed that option, which everyone agreed on was a logical solution, by.

BS: Even in the last few years when the two-state solution was being pushed by the Americans, the number of Israelis who have moved into the West Bank has exceeded the numbers in any time in the past, so the problem gets exacerbated every day. Now there’s one possibility, there's one possibility that could conceivably alter the situation. And that is for an American president to dictate to the Israelis—nothing short of a dictation to the Israelis that the West Bank settlements must be evacuated, or American aid stops, American support stops, they’re on their own. The Israelis would panic at that thought. The Israelis get very, very nervous whenever there is any tension between Israel and the United States. But an American president who took that position would be heard, and the Israelis would be in desperate straits. Would any president be willing to do that?

CR: That’s was going to be my next question.

BS: That's very, very difficult to imagine.

CR: Especially in the first term.

BS: Well, the first term would be his only chance—the first couple of years of the first term, because after that he’s looking forward too much to being re-elected

CR: Well, but my point is that President Kennedy, for example, was said to have said to have different ideas of what he might do in Vietnam, because he would have the re-election past him.

BS: Right, right.

CR: But that’s a moot point, because that’s not what we’re going to see. Is, is? I’ve never understood this: What real influence does America have on Israeli politicians other than the prospect of withdrawal of aid, which is unlikely to happen because of the political dynamic.

BS: Which is unthinkable, other than that...

CR: And because, it's not just politics but people believe in the security of Israel, and they believe that Israel as a democracy represents something very special.

BS: And they believe that domestic American politics would forbid it.

CR: Exactly.

BS: The only president who took something of a strong stance against Israel was George Bush I.

CR: Right.

BS: He told the Israelis that if they went on building settlements he would withdraw loan guarantees from Israel. So the Israelis said, “No more settlements,” the loan guarantees went through, and the Israelis continued to build settlements.

CR: So, as long as the settlements are increasing, and even though Secretary Rice has gone to Israel and said, "We object to this, we think it's the wrong thing to do," that admonishment has been ignored.

BS: Every Israeli, every American president has said the same thing. Every American president has taken a stand against the settlements in Israel.

CR: And that stand has been ignored, without fear of challenge!

BS: The Israelis are just so confident in the fact that the American president would not back it up with anything serious.

CR: So what happens? I mean, so Israel will be living in a state of what?

BS: There are, as we say in our piece, three possibilities: one possibility is the Israelis' giving Palestinians the vote. Then you have one state, with total democracy. It’ll never happen.

CR: Because of the demographics.

BS: Because of the demographics. And that’s the point, that within 20 years, or within less than 20 years, the Arabs will outnumber the Jews in the West Bank, Israel, and Gaza. And what happens then? That’s, that's the big question. That’s what the Israelis are facing. That's why the Israeli prime ministers have in the last decade advocated the two-state solution, because they know they know really, and they say, that this is their only hope, that without a two-state solution they're up against the wall, because they’re not going to give the Palestinians the vote. The other possibility is ethnic cleansing, take the Palestinians and get them out of the West Bank, into the, across the river into Jordan, which is not a realistic possibility. And the third possibility has a very ugly word attached to it, which is apartheid: a minority Jewish population ruling over a majority Palestinian population. And Palestinians will tell you that apartheid already exists, that with the Israelis settlements on the West Bank, which have divided the Palestinians territory into little cantons, with the settlements, and the roadblocks--settlers on the West Bank have their own lovely highways, which the Palestinians are not allowed to drive on. Palestinians have to drive on the old roads--that already there’s such a separation between Israelis and Palestinians on the West Bank that the Palestinians call it apartheid.

CR: You used to live in Tel Aviv, did you not?

BS: Yes.

CR: So, of all your friends in Israel, where you lived for how many years?

BS: Oh, altogether more than 10.

CR: So, if you were to say to them the building in the West Bank was a bad idea and not in your interest.

BS: They would say, “Of course!” and then change the topic of conversation.

CR: I don’t understand.

BS: In places like Tel Aviv, where just about everyone is for peace and against settlements, the irony is when you go to a dinner party in Tel Aviv, everything is discussed except politics—family, friends, movies, theater, music, everything! vacations, Tuscany, you name it,it’s discussed, but not the politics of the situation. There is...

CR: Because they’re just tired of it, or because they know there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

BS: Because they're tired of it, and they're in a state of denial, and they have a very good life. The life in Tel Aviv is a wonderful life, and they don’t want to be bothered with these questions which don’t really have an answer.

CR: So, give me a picture of Israel in, as you see it, in 2020...10 years.

BS: I’m afraid that it’s going to be increasingly, as we discussed, apartheid. That there will be more settlers, that the Palestinian population will grow enormously—they’ve got a much higher birth rate than the Israelis do--and that, um, there’ll be this complete separation between the West Bank and Israel.

CR: But are you saying that there is no Israeli... Let's assume that settlements is a bad idea for a moment...

BS: Right. That’s an assumption we can make.

CR: Exactly. And no Israeli politician is prepared to change course, because he or she would believe they could not survive that change of direction.

BS: I think you could conceivably have an Israeli politician which would be willing to take the risk, but I don’t think that politician could survive if he tried to evacuate settlements on the West Bank, unless he had the firm backing of an American president. But you can imagine...

CR: But why wouldn't an American president back it, that idea? If a politician in Israel came forward--let's say an Israeli Obamaa, for the lack of a better comparison--an Israeli Obama, new dramatic, charismatic figure came forward, and the Americans said, “Look, we support you, we support your leadership, and we’ll back you up, in terms of what you want to do about settlements and your initiative to reach some kind of peace agreement, that, in the long run, you are convinced and I am convinced," the U.S. would say, "is in the long run security of Israel."

BS: I think American politics would go haywire.

CR: Really? American politics! Even though you’re supporting an Israeli politician who's willing ...

BS: But the voices coming out of Israel would be so numerous and so loud, and so violent, that I don’t think any American president would be willing to do it for very long.

CR: Suppose you, if you went back to Israel now, among the Israelis that you know, and you know people across, certainly the government leaders, I’ve seen you do a number of reports with the military in Israel. Are they all...Do you think most of them in a moment in which they would be willing to engage the question would agree with you?

BS: Yes and just about everyone I know in Israel, or just about everyone that I hang out with would do anything to have a two-state solution. But they’re as cognizant as I am of the difficulties and, frankly, the impossibility... I asked Tzipi Livni the foreign minister...

CR: And prime-minister candidate.

BS: Prime-minister candidate. I asked her very recently about what her plans are, if she were prime minister, and she said she was very interested in a two-state solution, as just about every Israeli politician from the center, and of course the left, says.

CR: Benjamin Netinyahu is not in favor...Has he not announced

BS: Benjamin Netinyahu has never said he's in favor of a two-state solution, but he’s not in the center. He’s pretty much on the right.

CR: I know, I know he’s Lakud, but I just...

BS: He’s been very popular; I mean, he’s leading in the polls. One of the motivations for the offensive in Gaza, was Mr. Barak, who's defense minister, who was trailing in the polls. He's a prime minister candidate. And the standing is Nytenyahu first, Tzipi Livni second, and Barack third, and he was certainly...the offensive has a political dimension.

CR: And is it a significant dimension?

BS: I think so.

CR: So he could even win the...

BS: He hasn’t jumped that much in the polls..

CR: Because it’s February 10, isn’t it?

BS: Uh-huh, that's right.

CR: So, he doesn't have that much time to do it.

BS: He doesn't have that much time.

CR: But with that small a space and population, you could change opinion overnight.

BS: Sure, absolutely, and he has been rising in the polls. I think it would be unfair to Barack to suggest that this was the motivation for the operation, but it had to be in the mind of his supporters.

CR: Uh, what have the Israelis learned from Hizbollah, experience with Hizbollah, in Lebanon that is now informing what they do in Gaza?

BS: It's not dissimilar from what Colen Powell took away from Vietnam, which is that if you're going to have an operation, have an objective, a clear objective, go in with overwhelming force, and don’t stick around too long.

CR: And the other thing he said is make sure you have the support of the people

BS: Absolutely. And he does. I mean, there haven’t been, there haven't been any significant protests in Israel, which is very surprising, because there usually, in the course of a war--certainly in the course of the last Lebanon war, there were enormous protests in Israel. They haven’t been happening yet.

CR: Ok, but was it interviews that convinced you of this, for this piece, that's going to be on "60 Minutes," that there was, the possibilities of a two-state solution was slipping away, and history was bypassing it. [Were] there things that you saw on this trip that convinced you of that?

BS: Yes, and they weren't all that dissimilar to things we saw in previous trips. Helicopter ride over Israel and the West Bank, and when you look at the settlements and see how they divide the West Bank, how they make any contiguity impossible, you just wonder, you just shake your head and wonder how it was possible. And of course this was the motivation of the settlers. The settlers went in there knowing that their objective was to prevent a Palestinian state.

CR: They went in there because they believed it? Or they were thinking they were agents for the government?

BS: No, they went in there because they believed it.

CR: So, you’re a Palestinian on the West Bank, living on the West Bank, or you're a Palestinian in Gaza, how do, so how do you see all of this What are your options?

BS: Well, on the West Bank, people who live in Nebula, which is the second largest city in the West Bank, they can’t get out of Nebula with a car. They have to walk, and walk past humiliating checkpoints…

CR: Has that been smart on the part of the Israelis? Have they been smart to do that?

BS: No, they haven’t...those checkpoints...

CR: It has generated an enormous… Tony Blair who argues not…he would disagree with you very much…believes peace is possible, and he believes it has to come from the ground up. You know, everybody can say that—it’s a convenient expression—but he thinks that Israelis have to change, all those checkpoints, all those kinds of things have engendered so much…anger.

BS: I think that, um, that the checkpoints, and particularly the settlements have just made any settlement out of the question.

CR: The settlements have made no settlement possible.

BS: That’s right. And in Gaza, when you think about it, all the people in Gaza are--and Gaza's the size of, twice the size of Washington, D.C.--it's a very small area, that the people of Gaza--forget about the offensive, just generally--they can’t get out. There’s no way out of Gaza. The Israelis won’t take them. The Israeli checkpoint is closed. And the Egyptians won’t take them either. The Egyptian checkpoint is closed. So Gaza has become the largest prison in the world.

CR: But the world will set aside...the world will allow this?

BS: The world has allowed it. It’s been going on for some time. I can’t see the world getting very excited, particularly as long as Hamas is the ruling of Gaza, because no one wants a part of Hamas.

CR: Boy, this is a pessimistic report, sir.

BS: Sorry about that, Charlie

CR: But you really, really believe that history has passed it by.

BS: I do. There are other solutions possible, and I think that the Golan Heights is very doable, and...

CR: So Syria’s doable.

BS: Um-hum. There are no people on the Golan Heights…none to speak of.

CR: The idea of the West Bank going to Jordan, and all those arguments that are sometimes made, is that possible at all? Does that offer any?

BS: It’s conceivable. The Jordanians would never take all those Palestinians.

CR: Yeah, they're not crazy about that, I know. They’ve been there.

BS: The last thing King Abdullah wants is all those Palestinians in his country.

CR: King Husein found out, and kicked them out.

BS: Indeed. Exactly

CR: Um, do you know how Obama feels about all of this and whether...

BS: Don’t have the slightest notion. And the Israelis are as curious as we are, ’cause they don’t have the slightest notion either. They were encouraged by his pro-Israeli statements during the campaign, but they also knew that that's pro forma...

CR: That it was a campaign.

BS ..for an American politician, and there was quite a bit of support against Obama and for McCain in the election, and because the Israelis just felt that McCain would be very, very strongly in their pocket, but Obama was a question mark.

CR: Thank you for coming, I think. [laughter]

Time Running Out for A Two State Solution?
"60 Minutes," January 24, 2009

"Has peace in the Middle East become nothing more than a pipe dream? As Bob Simon reports, a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians feel that a two-state solution is no longer possible."

Unsurprisingly, the Charlie Rose interview and the subsequent CBS segment was met with harsh criticism from Israel's staunchest supporters in the U.S. Following is a letter from the "The Anti-Defamation League" (apparently from no one in particular), which is posted on its website. ADL, more pointedly the toad at its helm, Abraham H. Foxman, who accuses anyone who dares to criticize Israel anti-Semitic, is no doubt livid that Bob Simon, who happens to be Jewish, and his producers had the temerity to broadcast anything about Israel that wasn't at least 100% Israeli propaganda. Anything less than that (or more, depending on one's appetite for fact-based reporting), is a "journalistic hatchet job on Israel" according to the ADL. This letter is an indication of part of what journalists are subjected to whenever they don't completely toe the Israeli party line.

Robert Anderson
Executive Producer
60 Minutes

January 26, 2009

Dear Mr. Anderson:

The segment, "Time Running Out for A Two State Solution?" which aired on January 25 was nothing less than a journalistic hatchet job on Israel.

Bob Simon presented the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in stark black-and-white terms, without context or history and ignoring its complexities. The resulting impression is that the prominent voice in Israel is that of the hard-line settler and of an Israeli army that undertakes actions to purposely humiliate Palestinians.

It is especially shocking coming from Bob Simon, who lived and reported from Israel for many years and is well aware of the complex nature of the conflict.

What Simon should have found the time to include in the piece is that the Israeli government and the Israeli public are committed to seeking a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority; that in pursuing this goal, Israel cannot ignore the real threats to its security from terrorist groups and extremists in the West Bank and Gaza; that the barrier erected to prevent suicide attackers from entering Israeli cities and towns has saved lives.

What should have been stated is that Israel has taken real risks for peace – from its unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, which included the uprooting of settlements, to removing itself from Palestinian populations centers in the West Bank, to its support the for the Palestinian Authority [sic].

60 Minutes undermined its credibility and provided a disservice to its viewers by not telling a more complete story.


The Anti-Defamation League