President Obama has declared that "we are at war with Al Qaeda." This declaration followed an analysis by his administration of the capabilities and failures of various intelligence agencies to detect and apprehend the unsuccessful suicide bomb attempt in a Northwest airplane above the skies of Detroit.
Some critics from the Right have suggested his definition of "the war" is too narrow. They contend "we are at war with terrorists, not merely Al Qaeda."
At the time of his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama sought to redefine the conduct of war in the exercise of his powers and obligations to protect the American people under our Constitution as Commander in Chief. At Oslo he made a distinction between a "just "and "unjust war"; and suggested that, as lofty as they may be, the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr in "the age of Al Qaeda" were outdated beyond the moral constraints of their commitment to non-violence.
As appropriate as it is, a philosophical or political debate about just and unjust wars is not the focus of this article. We think a more immediate and fundamental question is how do we measure "victory" or "success" in the war against Al Qaeda.?
When will we be able to declare, as President George Bush did, aboard an aircraft carrier during the war in Iraq, "Mission Accomplished"? The capture or killing of Osama Bin Laden? When predator drones and "Special Ops" have destroyed the bases and sanctuaries and secondary leadership of Al Qaeda?
Success in the war in Iraq presumably had some measurable benchmarks.
Our thesis is that the war against Al Qaeda is in fact a war driven by ideals and ideology. "Victory "may be more difficult and elusive to achieve. Accordingly, we believe it may be instructive to examine and consider: what fuels the ideological engine of Al Qaeda and its followers and supporters? What motivates and encourages a generation of Islamic young people to embrace and radicalize their religious beliefs to enlist in terror attacks against the United States?
More than any one single issue, we suggest that the unresolved dispute between Israel and the Palestinian people and the continued occupation by Israel of lands deemed to be "Palestinian land" is the single most important factor fueling the ideological engine of Al Qaeda. There is a widespread perception in the Middle East and in the Islamic world that the United States in its support of Israel has not been "even handed" in the resolution of this issue. This perception is the fuel that ignites the engine of Al Qaeda's acts of terrorism against the United States and/or countries perceived to be allies or partners of the United States in the conduct of our foreign policy.
Add to this combustible mix the "Narrative" that Tom Freidman, columnist for the New York Times, described in one of his recent columns.
"The Narrative" is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11. Propagated by jihadist Web sites, mosque preachers, Arab intellectuals, satellite news stations and books -- and tacitly endorsed by some Arab regimes -- this narrative posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand "American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy" to keep Muslims down.
Yes, after two decades in which U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny -- in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan -- a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving.
Although most of the Muslims being killed today are being killed by jihadist suicide bombers in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia, you'd never know it from listening to their world. The dominant narrative there is that 9/11 was a kind of fraud: America's unprovoked onslaught on Islam is the real story, and the Muslims are the real victims -- of U.S. perfidy.
Have no doubt: we punched a fist into the Arab/Muslim world after 9/11, partly to send a message of deterrence, but primarily to destroy two tyrannical regimes -- the Taliban and the Baathists -- and to work with Afghans and Iraqis to build a different kind of politics. In the process, we did some stupid and bad things. But for every Abu Ghraib, our soldiers and diplomats perpetrated a million acts of kindness aimed at giving Arabs and Muslims a better chance to succeed with modernity and to elect their own leaders.
The Narrative was concocted by jihadists to obscure that it's working.
As a Jordanian-born counterterrorism expert, who asked to remain anonymous, said to me: "This narrative is now omnipresent in Arab and Muslim communities in the region and in migrant communities around the world. These communities are bombarded with this narrative in huge doses and on a daily basis. [It says] the West, and right now mostly the U.S. and Israel, is single-handedly and completely responsible for all the grievances of the Arab and the Muslim worlds. Ironically, the vast majority of the media outlets targeting these communities are Arab-government owned -- mostly from the Gulf."
This narrative suits Arab governments. It allows them to deflect onto America all of their people's grievances over why their countries are falling behind. And it suits Al Qaeda, which doesn't need much organization anymore -- just push out The Narrative over the Web and satellite TV, let it heat up humiliated, frustrated or socially alienated Muslim males, and one or two will open fire on their own. See: Major Hasan.
"Liberal Arabs like me are as angry as a terrorist and as determine d to change the status quo," said my Jordanian friend. The only difference "is that while we choose education, knowledge and success to bring about change, a terrorist, having bought into the narrative, has a sense of powerlessness and helplessness, which are inculcated in us from childhood, that lead him to believe that there is only one way, and that is violence."
What to do? Many Arab Muslims know that what ails their societies is more than the West, and that the Narrative is just an escape from looking honestly at themselves. But none of their leaders dare or care to open that discussion. In his Cairo speech last June, President Obama effectively built a connection with the Muslim mainstream. Maybe he could spark the debate by asking that same audience this question."
Can predator drones and special opps by CIA agents or CIA trained informants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia destroy or eradicate this "Narrative"?
Our 50 year or more "War Against Drugs" hangs like a sword of Damocles over our new war against Al Qaeda.
What, is Clarence Jones crazy? There is no relationship or similarity between our war against Al Qaeda and our war against drugs. Really?
We have spent billions of dollars in the war against drugs. The universally accepted problem that drives the proliferation of the sale of illegal drugs is Demand. Criminal efforts to satisfy this demand by the manufacture, distribution and sale of illegal drugs is aided and abetted by the availability of assault weapons in and from the United States. Have billions of dollars fighting the "war on drugs" reduced demand? Are we closer today to "victory" in this war than we were years ago?
(Whatever limited success Mexico has achieved in its current stepped up "war on drugs" has not resulted in "victory" or materially reduced demand for the use of illegal drugs.)
How do we now define "victory" or success in the fight against Al Qaeda? No more suicide or other attempts to attack the United States during the Obama presidency or thereafter? I wouldn't count on it.
We don't have enough resources in people and material to assure or achieve "victory" over Al Qaeda; even if "victory" is narrowly defined as no successful attack ever again occurring on the United States homeland. John Meacham, Editor of Newsweek, in the Jan 11th, 2010, issue wrote:
"Because there is no such thing as universal peace, and because Americans will have threats and terror no matter who happens to be in the White House, we could use, I think, a good dose of Marcus Aurelius's optimistic stoicism....No matter how many camps we blow up, no matter how many operatives we kill or imprison, and certainly no matter how much screening we do at airports, we will never render America totally safe. No matter, we must press forward on all fronts. The perfect cannot be the enemy of the good.
As Marcus Aurelius would understand, a never ending-ending war is not a war we should not fight: it is a just war that never ends."
"Success" or "victory" is more likely to be achieved only when we deprive Al Qaeda of the ideological fuel that ignites the engine that drives their anger behind the Narrative described by Tom Freidman.
Religious or political Ideology based ideas have the capacity to mobilize millions of people behind a belief system that defines their destiny. The idea of freedom to worship and freedom from taxation without representation sustained the founders of our country as they proclaimed their Declaration of Independence from England. Victor Hugo in Les Miserable's in referring to the ideals of liberty, equality and justice fueling the French Revolution wrote that "More powerful than the march of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come". Harrison Salisbury wrote about the legendary 6000 mile "Long March," journey by the "Peoples Army" across China under the leadership of Mao Tse Tung and Cho Enlai from 1934-1935. Their ideological and political beliefs defined their destiny, resulting in the founding of the People Republic of China in October of 1949. And, of course, who can forget "The Battle of Algiers" and its Revolutionary leader and subsequent Prime Minister, Ben Bella, ending decades of French Colonialism in his country.
In the struggle by Jomo Kenyatta for the liberation of Kenya from British colonialism, he was describe as a "terrorist." Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tembo and others in the African National Congress' fight against apartheid in South Africa were also described as "terrorists."
Our references to other conflicts are not intended to "rationalize" of "justify" the contemporary actions of Al Qaeda. I am only suggesting that the exigencies of the War Against Al Qaeda requires us to rethink, clinically and dispassionately, about how best, today, we can defeat Al Qaeda.
A corollary of our thesis is that we are engaged in a "war" fundamentally fueled by a belief system of ideas; and, consequently this should dictate the strategic choices we must make to mobilize our domestic resources to protect our homeland.
So what does all of this have to do with the legacy of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Why? Because the "nature of this war" requires us to energize and mobilize those persons in our country whose history is most closely associated with a prior movement driven by ideas that successfully defeated a system of social and political injustice whose engine was also fueled by a belief system that threatened the peaceful survival of the United States: the ideology of racism, white supremacy and racial segregation.
Let President Obama conduct his counter-insurgency and military actions against Al Qaeda as Commander in Chief.
We, however, in commemoration of the legacy of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose coalition leadership of the Civil Rights Movement resulted in mobilizing the country to end racial segregation, must now call upon the children and grandchildren of that grand alliance to defeat Al Qaeda. In the spirit of Paul Revere and the civilian support for the war effort in World War ll we must summon our sisters and brothers, beneficiaries of the King Heschel legacy, not to sit back, but to actively engage leaders of the Muslim and Islamic community to stop the international and domestic violence against the United States in the name of Islam!
As our nation celebrates the 81st birthday of Dr. King at the dawn of the second decade of this 21st Century, this is an appeal and "wake up call directed" to the children of the Civil Rights Generation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. You must now join hands, as your parents and grandparents did, and challenge the ideological basis for the violence being directed toward the United States, its allies and its interests around the world.
No African-American leader was more passionate, privately and publicly, in fostering a working coalition with the Jewish community and his support for the State of Israel than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Similarly, few Jewish leaders were more passionate in support of our Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King's leadership than the spiritual icon of the Jewish Community, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. The world is the poorer for not having those two men in it.
That was then, this is now. The question whose answer we seek to examine in this essay is: Under the current domestic and international environment whether or not there are leaders from both communities who can restore the grand alliance developed during the King-Heschel years that enabled America to reclaim its soul and defeat a belief system fueled by the ideology of white supremacy and racial segregation?
For those who would like to revisit the historic realities (and myths) of the period of joint activities between the African-American and Jewish community, I recommend Troubling the Waters: Black-Jewish Relations in the American Century by Professor Cheryl Lynn Greenberg (Princeton University Press).
But for those who are looking for the path as to how African-Americans and the Jewish people today can reinforce and work together again -- a time where interests paramount to both communities are continually threatened -- we must take careful assessment of certain major existential factors.
As stated earlier, we believe the unresolved dispute between Israel and the Palestinian people is the major part of the sparks that ignite the fuel of anti-American hatred in the ideological engine of Al Qaeda. This presents an unprecedented challenge and opportunity to the "legatees of King and Heschel." It is they who must now urgently and jointly reach out to their Muslim Islamic brothers and sisters and appeal to them to stop the wanton violence against Israel and the United States.
For those who may respond:" Mr. Jones is naïve and not aware of the 'nature of the enemy' we are dealing with." My response is to remind them of the simple axiom stated by Dr. King when he called for an end to the War in Vietnam. It's either non-violent co-existence or non-existence.
If we believe in the power and legitimacy of our democratic ideals then we should not be reluctant to engage and challenge the leadership of Muslim and Islam to peacefully co-exist with us. More powerful than the march of mighty armies, the ideal of non-violent co-existence between us and Islam is an "idea whose time has come."
Included in this appeal is a request specifically directed to the American Israel Public Affairs Council, AIPAC, the American Jewish Congress and Jewish Committee, the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and President Obama's White House Office of Faith Based Initiative and Neighborhood Partnerships.
This crisis presents an historic opportunity and challenge to the leadership of the post civil rights coalition that was so successful in bringing about fundamental social change in America during the 20the Century referenced above
The advances in communication technology have revolutionized the dissemination of information and opinions in the international market place of ideas. There are, however, several major issues that provide both roadblocks and opportunities to the successor generation of the Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel. They are:
- The qualitative and quantitative revolution in the distribution of information resulting from the advent of the Internet, the blogosphere and the ubiquitous multi-distribution platforms of the mobile phone and PDA.
- The ability for homegrown, ill-financed and loosely organized agitators to reach large masses with their propaganda (the "digital jihad").
- The feedback loop: the "narrowcast" world where people of a particular political or religious bent can easily filter out contrasting ideas and fill all their media hours with material that reinforces their viewpoint.
- The rise of Islamic fundamentalism within the Arab and Muslim world and its support of "suicide bomber" attacks against the State of Israel.
- The spread of Islamic fundamentalism among some segments of the United States population including several African-American converts to Islam.
- The absence of any moderate domestic African-American or international Islamic leaders who publicly condemn and challenge the legitimacy of Islamic leadership that sponsors terror attacks against Israel in the name of "Allah" and "Mohammed."
- The widespread perception within the Arab World, and a growing perception among some segments of the domestic US population, including the African-American community that the United States in its foreign policy has not been "even handed"(i.e., "pro Israel") in dealing with the Israel Palestinian dispute.
- A successor generation to King and Heschel who view themselves as multi-racial and not "ethnically defined" or "limited" by the nomenclature "African-American" and who feel no sense of ownership or gratitude toward the contributions of their parents or grandparents to opportunities they enjoy and take for granted.
- The election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president as a template for rebuilding an African-American Jewish Community coalition in support of African-American issues and those of the Jewish Community, including support for the State of Israel.
- The continued occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands used by Arabs in their several premeditated unsuccessful wars against Israel. Legitimate criticism of some internal security measures implemented by Israel to protect itself from continued attack against it civilian population has been made by Israel's Supreme Court directing the military police to take corrective measures. This criticism has been escalated and distorted by Israel's critics comparing Israeli internal security measures (whose correction was decreed by its Supreme Court) to the racial Apartheid in the pre-multiracial South African government.
- The increase in the Hispanic population and their concomitant political influence in domestic politics and the rise of undocumented immigrants as a major political issue pre-empting domestic concern about African-American Jewish community issues.
- The rise of the political and military power of Iran as a major existential threat to the State of Israel
Each of the issues enumerated above provide both a challenge and an opportunity to the restoration of a mutually beneficial coalition between the African-American and Jewish Communities. However, one thing that is unarguably clear: It is not enough to invoke the "golden years" of King and Heschel as template for current African-American and Jewish leaders to emulate. The principal current challenge confronting both communities is to identify, as investment bankers say today, "the sweet spot" commonly shared by both communities. My observation from various experiences and conversations with African American and Jewish leaders in several major cities within the United States is that the "sweet spot" TODAY is the creation, participation and support of potential joint business opportunities between the two communities.
If I am wrong, then the issue is so important that a group of current Jewish and African American leaders should ASAP convene a conference to discuss this one overriding question: What is the most important issue and initiative the successor generation to Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel can develop and implement which will once again restore a mutually beneficial coalition between African-American and Jews on issues of pre-eminent concern to both.
The over-arching question for us today is: "Drawn together during the civil rights movement, African-Americans and Jews have a shared history and a biblical connection to the land of Israel; how can this historical alliance be reignited to defeat the pursuit of violence by Muslim and Islamic terrorists against Israel and the United States? The existential threat to the existence and security of Israel and the current pre-eminent concern of American Jews with this issue has, understandably, qualitatively shifted the focus and priorities of the Jewish community. Concurrent with this factor, the ongoing dispute between Israel and the Palestinians over Palestinian land occupied by Israel and the unsuccessful efforts, to date, to establish a viable "Palestinian State" have adversely impacted the attitude and opinion of a significant number of African-Americans toward Israel.
Can I quantify this? No.
The Arab and Islamic propaganda machine has been working "24/7" internationally and within the United States to compare the "struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination" to create a Palestinian State to the struggle of Nelson Mandela and the majority black South Africans against the previously white racist apartheid regime in South Africa.
One doesn't have to be Jewish, only honest, to acknowledge Israel's legitimate and unavoidable "24/7" concern about how to best guarantee the safety and peaceful existence of its people within secure borders. Thus, the creation of external and internal security measures against suicide bombers and other acts of terrorism. In the battle for public support within the United States and among African-Americans in particular, the question is: How to address effectively the domestic and international public opinion challenge arising from Israel's establishment of internal security measures instituted to guarantee the safety of its people.
We accept the good faith representation of Israeli leaders who maintain that various measures to limit Palestinian egress and ingress are not permanent and will be removed when Palestinians guarantee the safety of Israeli citizens. Palestinians and Islamic Fundamentalist who refuse to engage or challenge the violent Jihadism of their supporters need to reassess their practical political options. We either have to find a way cooperating with one another or the continual unending spiral of violence will postpone indefinitely the emergence of an independent Palestinian State.
Supporters of Israel must have the courage and openness to publicly engage with persons and organizations who may not agree with them on every issue, as long as the right of Israel to exist as an independent State is non-negotiable. The challenge facing Israel's supporters within the African-American community is how can we persuade leaders, organizations and persons within our community to also accept, on good faith, Israel's commitment to reduce or eliminate these security measures in exchange for a durable accord with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors?
The continued existence of what Israel believes are necessary internal security measures and the issues recited above constitute the fuel that ignites the engine of Arab discontent and criticism of Israel described earlier. It is THE rationale for characterizing Israel as "racist" State at previous UN Conferences on Racism and by the recent United Nations Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. The Obama administration and Germany, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands and representatives of other countries in Europe either refused to attend or walked out during the conference.
In the wake of the release of CIA Memos describing interrogation techniques used to gain information from persons captured by the United States following "9/11," debate has resumed on the source of the Arab and Islamic animus which fueled the attack on us. The Bush administration's position was the reason for "9/11" was that the "terrorists abhor our way of life, our freedoms; and, thus, want to destroy us."
However, most Arab governments and public opinion in Europe attribute the increase militancy and radicalization in the Middle East and in Islamic countries, before "9/11", primarily to the unresolved issues of an independent State for Palestinians and the continued occupation by Israel of Palestinian land.The daunting political challenge we face: is how to avoid the "knee jerk" reaction of characterizing any effort, by third parties, seeking to be "even handed," in a discussion of Palestinian rights and Israel's security, as being, by definition, "anti-Israel" and/or "pro-Palestinian"? The question that unavoidably must be asked of members of the successor generation to King and Rabbi Heschel is whether the call for "even-handedness" in any discussion of the Palestinian Israeli conflict, in the face of indisputable acts of terrorism against innocent Israeli civilians is in reality an exercise of dishonest intellectual sophistry on the part of those calling for so-called "even handedness"?
Some persons may tell leaders of the current African-American and Jewish communities what they think such leaders would like to hear. As a friend and supporter of Israel, my fiduciary obligation to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is tell you what you need to hear.
In 1965, in a speech in San Francisco, Dr. King said "On some positions cowardice ask the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question 'Is it popular?' But conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' There comes a time when one must take a stand that is neither expedient, that's neither safe, that's neither politic or that is neither popular, but he must take that stand because it is right, and that is where I find myself today."
I am not so presumptuous to contend that the issues I raise and the positions I suggest mean that I am "right." Only, that as Governor Rockefeller requested of me in connection with the Attica prison rebellion 38 years ago, I am stating today, what AIPAC and other organizations supporting Israel must hear from a 79 year old African-American member of the King Heschel generation.
The issues enumerated above provide both a challenge and an opportunity to the restoration of a mutually beneficial coalition between the African-American and Jewish Communities. However, one thing that is unarguably clear: It is not enough merely to invoke the "golden years" of King and Heschel as THE template for current African- American and Jewish leaders to emulate.
As I noted in Part One of this essay, my judgment remains the same from various experiences and conversations with African American and Jewish leaders in several major cities within the United States: the "sweet spot" today between African-American and Jewish leaders is the creation, participation and support of potential joint business opportunities between the two communities. This will foster and enduring foundation of cooperation between their respective communities. And, again,, if I am wrong, then the issue is so important that I suggest that a group of current Jewish and African American leaders convene, ASAP, a conference to discuss this one overriding question: What is the most important issue and initiative the successor generation to Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel can develop and implement which will once again restore a mutually beneficial coalition between African-American and Jews on issues of pre-eminent concern to both communities.
On the contentious issue of the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians about an independent Palestinian State, consistent with Israel's right to exist and security for its people, a recent interview of former Senator and Senate majority leader George Mitchell by the TV host Charlie Rose offers some hope. Otherwise, supporters of Israel and a two independent State solution will continually be confronted with question as to how to describe to outside third parties, the political, social and geographic phenomenon occurring where two people, dwelling on the same land, are forcibly segregated from each other, and one group dominates the other in the name of "internal security?"
Ad nauseam, the contentious issue of a Palestinian State and Israeli settlements viewed as "occupation" of Palestinian lands often has a cluster bomb effect on any attempt at rational discussion of the issues. Mindful of this, we think a review of certain excerpts from a recent interview of former Senate Majority leader George Mitchell by the TV host Charlie Rose will enable readers of this article to share the same base line of information on this controversy.
ROSE: George Mitchell is here. He is President Obama's special envoy to the Middle East. The former Maine senator and majority leader has a proven record of brokering agreements. He chaired the peace talks in Northern Ireland that lead to the historic Good Friday agreement of 1998. In 2000, he led presidential commission to end cycle of violence between Palestinians and Israelis.
His new mission is to advance President Obama's commitment to comprehensive peace in the Middle East. He has spent the past year trying to get Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table. Many say the administration's early focus on a complete settlement freeze led to the current stalemate.
Senator Mitchell is returning to the region this month and I am pleased to have him at this table at this time. So, welcome.
MITCHELL: Thanks, Charlie.
ROSE: What's the mood over there about the possibilities in a new year?
MITCHELL: I think there's more optimism there than here, but you have to temper it with the reality of the difficulty, the complexity, the length of the conflict. I'll be going back in the next few days, and my hope that we can make progress on three tracks, which is the effort that we've been making under the direction of the president and the secretary of state.
First, political negotiations, to get the parties into meaningful negotiations that will produce a peace agreement. Secondly, security, to make certain that any agreement ensures the security of the people of Israel and the Palestinian people and the surrounding states.
And third, economic growth and what we call institutional efforts, to help the Palestinians improve their economy and to encourage the current prime minister -- an impressive person, Salaam Fayyad -- who is trying to build from the ground up the institutions of governance that will be able to govern effectively on day one of the Palestinian state.
ROSE: Are the Israelis supportive of that?
MITCHELL: Yes, they are. They've taken steps in the West Bank to reduce the number of checkpoints and roadblocks to facilitate access, movement, and commerce. There's a long way to go, obviously. For the Palestinians it's not enough, for the Israelis it's a lot, and we keep working with both sides in an effort to improve it.
But the Palestinian economy will show significant growth this year, obviously from a low base, but nonetheless improving. Their security forces are outstanding by any measure. The Israelis are very, very open in their praise of the effort that's been made on Palestinian security.
What we want to do is to make certain that when the Palestinian state is established as a result of meaningful political negotiations, there is from the first day the capacity to govern effectively, and we support Prime Minister Fayyad's efforts in that regard.
ROSE: There is this impression reflected in a "New York Times" editorial that the past year has not been successful because the administration stressed a settlement freeze.
MITCHELL: Charlie, a little over a year ago -- before I knew him and had any idea that I would be asked to take this job, I was in Israel and I gave a speech at a university. And the question I was asked was about Northern Ireland.
And in my answer I pointed out that the peace agreement in Northern Ireland came 800 years after the British domination of Ireland began. After the speech, a group of people gathered around. You know how it is, when you speak, people want to shake your hand, ask you other questions, and make comments.
An elderly gentleman came up to me, hard of hearing. He said in a loud voice, he said "Senator Mitchell, did you say 800 years?" I said "Yes, 800 years." He repeated again in a very loud voice "800 years?"I said "Yes." He waved his hand, he said "No wonder you settled, it's such a recent argument."
ROSE: By focusing on a settlement freeze -- which Israelis were unlikely to agree to -- you created disappointment from the beginning because it was an unachievable objective
MITCHELL: All you have to do is going back and read the papers over the past five or six years to see that it was not the Obama administration or the secretary of state or I who suggested a settlement freeze in this instance.
Every Arab country, including the Palestinians, 13 of whom I visited before we began substantive discussions with the Israelis, said that there would not be any steps unless there was a freeze. Secondly, you've been in a lot of negotiations. If you want to get 60 percent, do you begin by asking for 60 percent?
ROSE: No, you ask for 100 percent.
MITCHELL: There you go, Charlie, you've already figured out negotiations.
So what we got was a moratorium, ten months, far less than what was requested, but more significant than any action taken by any previous government of Israel for the 40 years that settlement enterprise has existed.
Ten months of no new starts in the West Bank -- less than what we asked, much, much greater than any prior government has done. And we think over time it's going to make a significant difference on the ground.
ROSE: And you and Secretary Clinton praised Prime Minister Netanyahu for agreeing to that.
ROSE: It does not include East Jerusalem. There've been announcement in the last 48 hours of new settlement construction in East Jerusalem where the Palestinians want to make their capital.
ROSE: And it's in the mindset of Palestinians.
MITCHELL: If you go back over time and look at Camp David and the prior efforts, you will see that the single most difficult issue amidst an array of extremely difficult issues is Jerusalem.
And it is very complicated, difficult, and emotional on all sides. Jerusalem is significant to the three monotheistic religions-- Christianity, Judaism, Islam. It's important to everybody. We recognize that and we try to deal with it.
But understand the different perspectives. Israel annexed Jerusalem in 1980.
ROSE: "Annexed" is an important word.
MITCHELL: Annexed is a very important word. No other country, including the United States, recognizes that annexation. Neither do the Palestinians, nor the Arabs, of course.
But for the Israelis, what they're building in is in part of Israel. Now, the others don't see it that way. So you have these widely divergent perspectives on the subject.
Our view is let's get into negotiations. Let's deal with the issues and come up with the solution to all of them including Jerusalem which will be exceedingly difficult but, in my judgment, possible.
The Israelis are not going to stop settlements in, or construction in East Jerusalem. They don't regard that as a settlement because they think it's part of Israel.
ROSE: People recognize the annexation. How many countries?
MITCHELL: To the best of my knowledge, there aren't any. Immediately after the annexation the United Nations...
ROSE: So you're going to let them go ahead even though no one recognizes the annexation?
MITCHELL: You say "Let them go ahead." It's what they regard as their country. They don't say they're letting us go ahead when we build in Manhattan.
ROSE: But don't international rules have something to do with what somebody can do to define as their country?
MITCHELL: There are disputed legal issues. Of that there can be no doubt. And we could spend the next 14 years arguing over disputed legal issues or we can try to get a negotiation to resolve them in a manner that meets the aspirations of both societies.
Keep this in mind -- the Israelis have a state, a very successful state. They want security, which they ought to have.
ROSE: That's most important to them.
MITCHELL: Most important to them. The Palestinians don't have a state. They want one. And they ought to have one.
We believe that neither can attain its objective by denying to the other side its objective. The Palestinians are not going to get a state until the people of Israel have a reasonable sense of sustainable security.
The Israelis, on the other hand, are not going to get that reasonable sense of sustainable security until there is a Palestinian state. And so we think rather than being mutually exclusive, they're mutually reinforcing.
And we think both sides would be better off to get into a negotiation, to try to achieve the peace agreement that in my heart and soul I believe is possible, difficult and complex as it may be.
ROSE: Why do you believe it's possible?
MITCHELL: Because it's in the best interest of the people on both sides. And also because...
ROSE: It's been in their best interest for a long time.
MITCHELL: Despite the horrific events of the past half century, all of the death, all of the destruction, all of the mistrust and all of the hatred, a substantial majority on both sides still believes that's the way to resolve the problem.
And you say it's been that way for a long time. It has been. But I believe with all, with everything I have, that there's no such thing as a conflict that can't be ended. Conflicts are created, they're conducted, they're sustained by human beings, they can be ended by human beings, and I believe this one can be ended and I think it will be ended.
ROSE: And do you have a timeframe for it? Two years?
MITCHELL: We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years. We think it can be done within that period of time. We hope the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.
ROSE: The big question going into this is the Israelis say we want no determined borders. Palestinians say no, no, we want the '67 borders as where we start from. How do you get past the problem of where the negotiation about borders starts?
MITCHELL: Secretary of State Clinton made a statement just recently in which she set forth the positions of the two sides and expressed the view, which I strongly hold, that through negotiations those can be reconciled.
And the Palestinian view is that you should start with the '67 lines with agreed swaps. Both sides understand it's not going to be the '67...
ROSE: So settlements will have made a difference in terms of the way the final borders are determined.
MITCHELL: Yes, they will. There is no doubt about that and I think that's a fairly universal understanding of that. That's just a reality that's going to have to be dealt with. You can ask wishfully that things might be as you would like them to be or you deal with them as they are, and I think we have to deal with them as they are.
But there will be adjustments with swaps, and what I believe is that we can get an agreement on that once we get them into negotiations. I think here, Charlie, the harder part is getting started than getting finished.
ROSE: How are you going to sell Abbas on the idea that even though you've said you will never negotiate as long as there's no free zone settlements, I'm asking you to negotiate.
MITCHELL: One thing I learned in Northern Ireland is you don't take the first no as a final answer.
MITCHELL: Nor the second no, nor the hundredth no, nor the second hundredth no. You have to keep at it. Charlie, I was in Northern Ireland for five years. I chaired three separate sets of discussions. The maybe negotiation lasted 22 months. For 700 days one side said "We will never agree to new institutions between north and south Ireland." The other side said for 700 days "we will never agree to a new Northern Ireland assembly."
And on the 701st first day they both agreed to what they said they wouldn't agree to.
Now, obviously, we have great respect for President Abbas. We think he and Prime Minister Fayyad represent strong and effective leadership for the Palestinian people and are the ones that we think are going to produce a Palestinian state.
But our effort is to persuade them that the best way to achieve that objective is to get into negotiations, and perhaps there are some other things that can be done that they will regard as positive and as a sufficient basis to get into the discussions.
ROSE: You've said one of the lessons of Northern Ireland is you never take away the party's dreams. They've had a dream that will be what they passionately have wanted. It will not be that way, but they have to go into it believing that it might be possible.
MITCHELL: That's right. It's very important for every individual human being and for societies to have dreams, what I call aspirations, to have meaningful goals that you reach for.
And so the way to make progress is aim high, make a meaningful effort and make steady progress towards your goal. And waiting around for the perfect solution to come floating down from heaven usually doesn't produce any progress at all.
ROSE: Now everything you've said we've known and wise people have known for a long time. You have to believe in this, you have to negotiate, you have to talk.
But you need to have concrete action. Somebody's got to do something that encourages the other person to do something. Who's prepared to do something to encourage the other to do something?
ROSE: The moratorium.
MITCHELL: The moratorium is significant. They've reduced roadblocks. They've reduced some checkpoints. They're encouraging economic growth. Palestinians are taking very significant steps.
Until the last couple of years, the principle problem where from their side was the absence of security and the absence, the complete absence of any effort to restrain those who were engaged in violence against Israelis. That was the Israelis' angle. We don't have a partner. They're not doing anything about the terrorists and the violence.
You now have a government that is doing something very actively, aggressively, and successfully as even the Israelis acknowledged.
So, both sides have moved quite a way. Not enough to satisfy the other. Each of them has got a long list of things they want the other side to do, and our effort is to get them together to start moving in that direction. You have one other thing, Charlie, which I want to comment on. You have a president and a secretary of state who are completely and totally and personally committed to this objective who are very deeply involved, and I believe that's going to make a difference.
ROSE: How that different from previous administrations?
MITCHELL: Because at least the last two administrations, the effort began late in the administration. The Annapolis process, for which President Bush and Secretary Rice deserve credit, didn't begin until toward the end of the president's term.
This president began 48 hours after taking office. He appointed me to this position two days after he was sworn in as president, and you know what he said to me? He said "I want you go over there tonight."
I said "Mr. President, I've got a wife and kids, I don't have any clothes with me, I have to go home and tell them I'm going to leave." I had to go home far day to get ready to go. He was anxious from the first to get into it. Now, it took awhile to get started...
ROSE: OK, but tell me, since the moment he said that to you and the moment that you prepared next week to be back there, things are better or worse?
MITCHELL: Oh, they're much better. Look, when he said that to me in January of 2009, there had just come to an end the fierce conflict in Gaza. There was no prospect of any discussion, no possibility of any negotiation.
Israel had an election coming up in two weeks. They didn't even have a government that we could talk to. We didn't begin substantive discussions with the current Israeli government until May.
ROSE: But what have we done that's made a difference?
MITCHELL: I think a huge difference. The president went to Cairo and delivered a speech that I think will go down in the history books and transformed dramatically -- let me finish -- American views, views toward America and Americans throughout the region.
And we've now undertaken the initiative that we've started, the points I made earlier which I won't repeat in the interest of your time and the viewers' time about what we're trying to get done. The president has been over there several times, the secretary has been there many times. I've been there every month just about since I took this position.
So we're making an intense effort to demonstrate that we are committed to this process. And let me make clear, when we get into a negotiation, we're going to be involved in an active, sustained, and determined way to try to encourage the parties to reach what I believe is an agreement that is possible.
ROSE: Two questions come up. Number one, there is an argument made that if you look at when there's been real progress, it was when the United States was not involved, was not engaged. Does that argument have merit with you?
MITCHELL: There has been some progress when the United States was not engaged.
ROSE: When the parties themselves had to see in their interest to do something.
MITCHELL: That's a huge issue, and we have to encourage them take greater ownership of the process that they're involved in.
But let's be clear. While some progress has been made absent direct American involvement, in the end what agreements have been reached were directly the result of American participation at the highest level -- Camp David involving President Carter, President Clinton and the Jordanian agreement, President Clinton and the effort at Camp David which didn't quite succeed.
And what we're going to have to have is continued and active American involvement. And with this president and with this secretary of state I think we're going to have a combination that hasn't been matched in modern history.
ROSE: The other side of that is they're saying we need more American involvement and the United States should be doing something to bring together Fatah and Hamas so that the Palestinians spoke with one voice. The prime minister of Qatar said that very same thing in the last three days.
MITCHELL: Yes. Charlie, one of the things I get when I go over there in one ear is "You Americans are too bossy," and in the other ear "We need more American involvement."
ROSE: Right. And what are you getting from the Arab neighbors?
MITCHELL: Well, there is, I believe, a strong feeling that the time has come for negotiations to begin. We're getting a lot of encouragement in that regard.
What we want from them is to build on the Arab peace initiative proposed by the king of Saudi Arabia in 2002, supported by all of the Arab and indeed, Muslim -- non-Arab Muslim countries, and to engage with Israel in a way that moves toward the full normalization. We don't ask for full normalization now.
And I'll give you specific examples. What we want is a parallel process. As the Israelis and the Palestinians talk in negotiations, Israel, the Palestinians, and all of the surrounding countries would meet to deal with regional issues -- energy, water, trade, communications, transport, all of which have been discussed in the past but haven't been brought to full fruition.
And we think the way to move forward is an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon, and full implementation of the Arab peace initiative. That's the comprehensive peace in the region that is the objective set forth by the president and the secretary of state.
ROSE: That's the grand bargain.
MITCHELL: That is.
"PART THREE" AND "FOUR", the conclusion of this Tribute Essay to Rabbi Heschel and Dr. King, will continue with some additional excerpts from the Mitchell/Rose TV interview and further discussion suggestions of how the legatees Heschel and King can seize the initiative to stop Muslim and Islamic violence against Israel and the United States
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