Amb. Dore Gold at Council on Foreign Relations – Virtual Meeting on Middle East Peace, July 20, 2020 – debating U.S. Amb. Martin Indyk, Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi, and moderator Farah Stockman of the New York Times (Part 1)
Dore Gold: I want to first of all thank CFR for raising the issue of the definition of terms that we use because we have a real problem here. During the years that I served as Israel’s ambassador to the UN and later as director general of the Foreign Ministry, I used to review previous Israeli speeches penned by Israeli officials to the UN secretary general. One such letter written way back on July 10, 1967, by our foreign minister, Abba Eban, complained about a Pakistani draft resolution which referred to measures taken by Israel after the Six-Day War to integrate eastern parts of Jerusalem as ” annexation.” He insisted on using the term “extension of Israeli law and jurisdiction” to eastern Jerusalem.
And since that time we’ve been going through a battle of the narratives – when you get Israeli and Palestinian spokesmen in conferences or on television and also people who are not either party but interested parties. And they carry these battles out in the UN, in specialized agencies like UNESCO. It’s a battle over political terminology and it’s a battle over history.
Today we’re considering if the term “annexation” even applies to recent Israeli proposals to extend Israeli sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria – that’s the West Bank – in the context of the American peace plan. You know, the International Committee of the Red Cross – the ICRC – plays an important role in providing authoritative definitions of this sort. It defines “annexation” as “a unilateral act of a state through which it proclaims its sovereignty over the territory of another state.” So the obvious question is whether the West Bank was the territory of another state. Now this may be tedious, but those are the facts that we have to contend with.
I think you have to see these proposals in the context of the plan of the Trump Administration for a new arrangement on the West Bank. The reason that’s so significant is because every other peace plan has failed. Remember Camp David under President Clinton? Failure. Remember – I really like John Kerry and I knew he did his best to try and move forward a peace plan. It didn’t work. Mahmoud Abbas comes to the White House and tells President Obama: “I’ll get back to you.”
So we’ve been going through this for how long? 20 years? And we haven’t moved an inch.
I think the people like Jason Greenblatt came up with some new ideas. They suggested also the idea of annexation and – I shouldn’t use the term because it’s the wrong term – but the extension of Israeli sovereignty over parts the West Bank. But remember, Israel gets 30% of the West Bank, the Palestinians get 70%. So it is not as though we’re taking all the gold coins and leaving them with rubbish. I think we have to give it a shot and that’s what’s changed for me.
I was critical of the two-state solution when it didn’t take into account fundamental Israeli interests and concerns like the Jordan Valley. It’s the main defensive barrier that Yitzhak Rabin envisioned would help Israel become defensible. So if you take out the Jordan Valley and you say to us, “Oh, we’ll put some Swedish paratroopers there instead of the Israeli army,” I’m not going to be enthusiastic. But I think the American plan can make a two-state reality safe for Israel and workable.
And that’s why I think, just as Israel is prepared now to do things it wouldn’t do before, the Palestinians should join in. I mean, Hanan Ashrawi, when are you guys going to say “Yes”? That is what we need right now, and then we can move forward. And you know what? If there’s something you don’t like about the plan, then we can change it. But we’ve got to be forward-looking. I also tend to get pulled into the battle over history. Let’s think about the future and make this plan work.
When I went into government in 1996, I met with Mahmoud Abbas on repeated occasions. That was a long time ago. But I had a sense that maybe we could do something. So if we can revive that sense of working together to make an impaired peace process work, yes, something could be done before the elections. But it takes two to tango and we’re ready to dance. Try it. If you don’t like it, you can walk away, but at least try it. One of the sad things about this entire period is we’re willing to give it a try. Unfortunately, the Palestinian side isn’t, and you’re never going to get from here to there unless you take the first step.