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February 01, 2010

Herzliya Dispatch #2: American Influences on the Discussions
Posted by Joel Rubin

There were three panels today with a distinctly American flavor. The first focused on the state of American-Israeli relations; the second on prospects for Middle East Peace with prominent Americans speaking; and the third on the American position in the world.

Wanting to be Special: The first panel demonstrated near unanimous views that America and Israel still have an extremely close relationship. However, the emphasis was more on the people to people connections and the programmatic aspects of the American-Israeli relationship (such as the military aid program). Kudos also went to admin support for Israel at the UN, but Hoenlein expressed a desire to hear Obama talk about the special nature of the relationship. The discussion was framed by Livni, who amongst other powerful arguments for a two state solution and dealing with Iran, expressed a desire to avoid having Israel not become just another friend of the U.S., and to instead remain special.

Two State Time: The second panel featured a vigorous clash of ideas over getting to a two state solution. Elliot Abrams argued forcefully that settlements were not the issue and that a bottoms-up approach needed to drive peacemaking, specifically saying that once the Palestinians had organized the economic and security structures that a normal state could have, that they should then have that state. Kurtzer countered that that approach had been tried after the six day war in 67 and in the 80s too, but to no avail, and that a political top-down agreement had to be pursued. He also repeatedly reminded the audience that it was inconsistent to be negotiating to hand over land (from the West Bank) while simultaneously snatching that land for settlements. Mofaz came in from the side, with an argument for a real Israeli plan for peace now that focused initally on provisional borders, and Deputy Prime Minister Meridor split the difference by calling for a two state solution that encompassed both the top down and bottoms-up approach. Conference organizer Maj. Gen. (ret) Danny Rothschild vigorously argued that a peace agreement was in the strategic interests of Israel.

America the Indispensable: Third panel fretted about a world with a less dominant America, hypothesizing about the potential for a 19th century style multipolar world (one that had a lots of wars). That argument was debunked by Haass, who argued that there are no great powers today that are attempting to dominate the world as was the case in that century. Questioners rebelled and said that Iran was such a power, to which Haass responded that Iran was a regional power. He earlier argued that the US will still be the strongest, just less-so, in relative terms, which was still a worrisome trend. The Russian Ambo to Sweden was very positive about the potential of the Obama administration to handle a multipolar world, where cooperation is essential, labelling Obama's approach as "constructive pragmatism".


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