03/20/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Challenges and Opportunities in the Age of al-Qaeda, Parts 3 and 4

In the first two parts of this article commemorating the 81st birthday of Dr. King and in tribute to the successful alliance with that of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, I stated what I believed to be the principal challenge and opportunity confronting the children and grandchildren of years of African American and Jewish community coalition and cooperation. I wrote that, "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?"

Additionally, I commented that most discussions of the issue of an "independent Palestinian State" and the existence of Israel within peaceful and secure borders are like verbal "cluster bombs" destroying good faith attempts at rational resolution. This is the reason for quoting so extensively from the recent interview by TV host Charlie Rose with former senate majority leader George Mitchell, President Obama's special envoy to the Middle East.

Accordingly, we will continue with excerpts from that interview and then conclude with further comments on the urgency of successors of the King/Heschel generation to confront the leadership of the Arab and Muslim communities to stop the perpetuation of violence against Israel and the United States driven by an engine of hatred fueled by a religious ideology.

Charlie Rose TV Interview of Former Senator George Mitchell continued.

Rose: Speaking of the Syrians and Turkey, is that deal of some Israelis going through Turkey or the United States going through Turkey to deal with the Syrians, does it have legs?

MITCHELL: We've tried very hard. I've met with the Turkish leadership, including their current foreign minister many times, including in just the last few weeks, and we've tried very hard to get the Syrians and the Israelis to reengage.

Until now, the Syrians want to complete the indirect talks through Turkey that began in 2008 but ended when the Gaza conflict erupted. The Israelis prefer immediate and direct negotiations with the Syrians, not completing the indirect process through the Turks.

What we've said to the two sides is we want to facilitate their coming together, and I will be going to both Israel and Syria on my upcoming visit to try to further this process. And we're prepared to do in the many any manner which is acceptable to the two sides.

So far they have not found a formula that would enable them get into it, but we're persisting in that. And we believe that an Israel- Syria track could operate in parallel with an Israeli-Palestinian track on discussions.

ROSE: The end result of an Israeli-Syrian track would be Syria's recognition of Israel?

MITCHELL: Yes. Peace between the two of them. Dramatic changes that we...

ROSE: And you think it's possible they can agree on things like borders and the Golan Heights and all of those issues?

MITCHELL: Yes, I do.

ROSE: You believe that?

MITCHELL: I believe that, yes, I do.

ROSE: From talking to both sides?

MITCHELL: Talking to both sides, yes I do believe it. You know they've come very close in the past, and I believe they can do so now.

ROSE: And Israelis accept that idea that we can give up the Golan Heights and still be secure?

MITCHELL: They don't accept the idea of giving them up. That's part of the negotiation and, of course, what the Syrians don't accept is the idea that they're going to stop providing assistance to Hezbollah and Hamas and changing their relationship with Iran. You're getting into the subject of negotiations now. You can't say to one side you have to agree in advance to what the other side wants. You've got to get them into a negotiation so they can then reach a mutually advantageous compromise.

ROSE: What is it that President Abbas wants?

MITCHELL: A viable, independent, geographically contiguous Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps of land.

ROSE: And what do you say to him that makes him believe that's possible?

MITCHELL: Well, I say that it is very much in the interest of the Palestinian people, that it is possible, because I believe that there's a widespread recognition in the region among Palestinians and Israelis alike that this is in the mutual interest, and there are other greater threats in the region.

The continued effort by Iran to extend its influence into the Gulf region has raised concerns, indeed, alarm among many of the Arab states. And the best way -- the mechanism by which Iran extends its influence in the region, one mechanism, is through these conflicts, through support of Hezbollah, through support of Hamas, through some efforts that were made public during one of my visits over there, efforts now in Egypt. And if the method by which they are seeking to extend that influence is these conflicts, then the best way to close off that alternative, that mechanism for extending influence, is to end the conflicts, to enable the people of the region to recognize the common threat and to act together in unison against that threat rather than disagreeing among themselves.

ROSE: How big a problem is the Gaza invasion that took place?

MITCHELL: It was a very serious problem from the standpoint of the reaction of the Arabs and the Palestinians.

ROSE: That's the reason the Turks dropped out of being the mediator, is it not?

MITCHELL: Well, the mediation ended the moment that the...

ROSE: The invasion took place.

MITCHELL: ... the conflict began. From their view, they are trying to contain Hamas and they are trying to maintain the maximum leverage to obtain the return of the captured soldier.
Remember now, you have to keep this in mind, Charlie. It's a very difficult type of conflict in which people are engaged. When fighters gather in populated areas, when medical and other facilities are used as military staging areas, to fight these kinds of conflicts in modern times is extremely difficult, particularly with the overwhelming imbalance in fire power that exists.
And these are not easy questions to resolve of how do you respond when rockets are sent into your country?

ROSE: At the time of the Cairo speech, while everybody applauded the speech, everybody else said in the next breath "They're going need to see action. They're going to need to see some action following that aspirational tone that the president set in Cairo."


ROSE: And we haven't seen that action.

MITCHELL: Well, we are trying, Charlie. The question is, do you produce action...

ROSE: Fair enough.

MITCHELL: ... within 24 hours, 24 days? There's no doubt that the commitment is there.
But, look, about a few weeks after I was appointed this position, I read an article in the paper that said that the United States hadn't come up with a new solution and hadn't resolved the Middle East conflict.

ROSE: Right.

MITCHELL: Well, I mean, I wish we could. We're all impatient at the lack of progress. But keep in the some historical perspective. This is a difficult, complex situation that's gone on for a very long time, and we are making what I believe to be significant progress.

ROSE: Are you carrying any new ideas to the Middle East next week?

MITCHELL: What we're going to tell them that we think the time has come to enter negotiations and, that we think -- we will lay out what we think is a proper basis for doing so, a timeframe for achieving agreement, a method of negotiating that we think will achieve the desired result.
ROSE: Can't you tell me what the method is, though? Is it keeping it ambiguous? Getting them to talk is the great advancement we need now. They're not talking to each other.

MITCHELL: That's right.

ROSE: So the first step is to get them to talk.

MITCHELL: Well, basically what we have suggested to the Israelis is a series of steps and actions that they could take that would encourage President Abbas to enter the discussions.

ROSE: Why? That's my question, really. can't you tell me what they are

MITCHELL: Because I want to discuss it with them before I discuss it with you.

ROSE: Fair enough. But it just seems like this can't be great secrets, can they? Or not?

MITCHELL: There are no magic bullets here, Charlie. If you asked a hundred experts on the Middle East what are the steps that might be taken...

ROSE: They would all agree on most?

MITCHELL: They won't agree, now. You'll have 101 different opinions, but they'll all cover the same ground. They have to do with what is occurring on the West Bank, dealing with checkpoints, movement of...

ROSE: And that's getting better because of Prime Minister Fayyad, of the Palestinians?

MITCHELL: A very impressive leader.

ROSE: The more he does bottom-up stuff, the more the Israelis are willing to lessen the tensions at the checkpoints?

MITCHELL: That is part of it. To also expand the areas in which Palestinians have both civil and security authority, to enable a better movement of goods in those areas, to take other steps that will provide at a direct economic benefit to the people, greater freedom, to take some steps with respect to Gaza, to ask the Palestinians to take other steps, to ask the Arabs to take other steps. We've set these all out.
I want to be clear that in the steps that we've asked, we have not presented them, nor do we regard them, as ends in themselves. They are means to an end. The end is a peace agreement achieved through direct negotiations by the parties. I just described to you what we want to get the Arab states to do with respect to regional conferences...

ROSE: Right.

MITCHELL: ... trade relations with Israel, communications, transportation, all of cultural and political exchanges. All of those things are among the actions that we are asking people to take.

ROSE: Is the Arab initiative helpful?

MITCHELL: Yes, it is. I commend the king of Saudi Arabia for the effort. It is a positive step in the right direction. By itself it won't be enough. It requires a negotiation and a discussion. By its very terms it requires a negotiation. It says a negotiated end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We're trying to, in effect, fill in the space that it creates by calling for this type of agreement.

ROSE: If the Israelis thought that Israel could live in peace and security, most of the Israeli leaders that you know would be prepared to support a Palestinian state with some variation of the '67 borders, some respect for East Jerusalem and Jerusalem being an international city. I'm going to what Barak had on the table at Camp David.

MITCHELL: But, remember, Barak lost the last election.

ROSE: But he's now the defense minister, and he has a voice.

MITCHELL: He has a very important voice, and he's an outstanding leader.

ROSE: And remember this -- the Palestinians turned it down. They turned down more than they are likely to be offered today.

MITCHELL: Well, that's another reason for getting into negotiations right away, because the options aren't getting any better. But I don't want to speak for the Israeli leadership.

ROSE: I just want to make sure we understand the issue. The issue is security. If they thought they had security, most of the Israeli leadership would...

MITCHELL: Well, Charlie, Israel a vibrant democracy. There are a wide range of views among the Israeli leadership and among the Israeli public. Under their system, they have a lot of parties. It isn't like ours, a two-party system. So they have coalitions and there are a lot of what we call single-issue parties. So you could make almost any statement on the subject...

ROSE: And somebody...

MITCHELL: ... and there would be someone who will support the views. So I wouldn't presume to speak for that. And we are not to be critical of the fact that it's a vibrant democracy where people debate and discuss and disagree on issues. What I am saying is that I believe is that a majority of the people of Israel favor a two-state solution, and with adequate security assurances, would be prepared to move forward on that basis. That's certainly not a unanimous view, but I believe that's the majority.

ROSE: On the other hand, there's not a unanimous view within the Palestinian community...


ROSE: ... that they think they should recognize Israel or not engage in some kind of action against them.

MITCHELL: Well, that's the principle difference between Fatah and Hamas. The Palestinian Authority, which is basically the Fatah party, believes in non-violence and negotiation. Hamas believes in violent resistance and the destruction of Israel. And that's the difference between them.

ROSE: Is any progress being made on bringing Hamas and Fatah together?

MITCHELL: There have been extensive discussions.

ROSE: With the Egyptians and everybody else.

MITCHELL: Led by the Egyptians and others. They're still in some disagreement.
Look, we think everyone should participate. But we think they should participate based upon a commitment to democratic principles. We think that that's the way to get people moving forward, to get a commitment that we agree to peaceful negotiation, we will accept and honor past agreements, and when we reach agreement, that will be the end of it. Now, that's incompatible with some of the claims made by some of the participants, who say "Our goal is the complete destruction of Israel and we don't recognize prior agreements." So how do you expect to sit down and talk to someone committed to your destruction?

ROSE: But what you believe happens in a negotiating process -- if you talk long enough, people will come around and find reason to change their opinion.

MITCHELL: That has happened in many cases in the past and there are other cases where it did not happen. And what you have to do is to try to make rational and discerning judgments about whether or not that is possible.

ROSE: Here you go. George Mitchell in Northern Ireland had no problem with talking to the IRA. On the other hand -- correct?

MITCHELL: No, it's not correct.

ROSE: OK, tell me why.

MITCHELL: First, I never talked to the IRA.

ROSE: But I mean -- go ahead.

MITCHELL: The second was the question was the political party affiliated with the IRA, Sinn Fein, and the same on the unionist side.

ROSE: That's right.

MITCHELL: Keep in mind; I mentioned earlier negotiations in Northern Ireland lasted 22 months. For the first 16 months, Sinn Fein did not participate, not until they agreed privately to me and publicly to what became known as the Mitchell principles...

ROSE: Sinn Fein was the political arm of the IRA.

MITCHELL: That's right. But my point is they didn't participate in the talks until 16 months after they began and only when they accepted the Mitchell principles which called for a renunciation of violence, a willingness to participate through democratic means, and to accept the result of the agreement and not to try to change it by force.

ROSE: But you did not demand that they give up all their weapons.

MITCHELL: Well, I got started in the process over there on the whole subject of weapons, and nobody's demanding that the weapons be given up in the Middle East. What I said was that they should be parallel disarmament and it ended up disarmament came later.

But in the end, we got a peace agreement and the disarmament has occurred. And that's because we had patience, we had determination, and we had a clear set of principles. And what we did was to say we want everybody in, but you have to commit yourself to abide by democratic principles.

Charlie, let me use an absurd example to make the case. We all agree elections are essential to democracy. But it is very important to understand that elections by themselves do not make a democracy. Democracy is an ongoing obligation.

If a political leader in the United States -- Republican or Democrat -- got elected in a completely free and fair election and then announced "I'm going create a militia, and if I don't get my way in the Congress, I'm going to feel free to use the militia," would you say that's democratic, even though he got a elected or she got elected?


MITCHELL: Of course not. So democracy, let's be clear, is an ongoing obligation to abide by democratic principles and to renounce the use of violence as a means of achieving your political objectives and to accept and honor prior agreements. That's what we're asking. That's not a lot to ask.

Now, I think the way to do it is to get the process going, create some incentive for people to participate. That's what happened in Northern Ireland. There was no incentive for Sinn Fein or the IRA or...

ROSE: Well, they were tired of the conflict.

MITCHELL: They were very tired of the conflict. And on the other side you had the same situation if not a parallel because you had several smaller organizations, no one entity, but you had political parties and paramilitaries.

And what we -- the hard part was getting started in a process which was seen as fair and open and which began to be seen as having at least some prospect for success, although that was very problematic. And then people started coming in. That's what I think we need here.

ROSE: You hope to accomplish this in two years. The moratorium is for ten months.


ROSE: That gives you Charlie, will you come with me on my next visit and make that spiel, because it might sound better coming from you. I've made it several times an incentive to say to the parties what? You better get this done -- we better get this done before they start -- because the moratorium only allows -- if settlements are important to you or the absence of settlements are important to you, you better get something done before the moratorium ends because I don't think we can get it again.


ROSE: let me just talk about things that build confidence, because what this conversation is about is what you're going over there with and what you hope to and how you, but also inside the head of somebody who's done it before. You're not without experience in this arena.
There's the talk of a prisoner exchange. Would that build confidence if the Israelis could get the Hamas prisoner back?

Well, that will not build confidence with the Palestinian Authority because it will, in fact, be seen as a validation of Hamas's tactics, violent resistance. It's very important politically and emotionally in Israel to obtain the release of the prison. We understand that and I think the prime minister is trying very hard to do that.

ROSE: Well, the Egyptians have gotten involved in that, too.

MITCHELL: They were involved initially, the German mediator got involved, and they're all involved. But the point is it's an excruciatingly difficult decision because it does send the message that their violent resistance has paid off, and of course it will lead others around the world to seek more hostages.

And that's one of the toughest decisions that the prime minister has to make, and we accept the reality that he's got to keep making this effort. But what we think is that there should also be actions taken with respect to the Palestinian Authority which believes in peaceful negotiation, and that's the approach that ought to be rewarded.

ROSE: Is there an incentive to do something about this in Israel today?

MITCHELL: Oh, I believe the prime minister is definitely committed on this. I believe that he wants to bring this to a conclusion.

ROSE: And how much incentive is there to do something now because Israelis look at demographics and they look at a window that may be closing on two-state solution?

MITCHELL: Yes. I think that's a huge incentive for that and other reasons. I think there are other reasons as well, but let's take the demographics.

If you count the number of Arabs in Israel, in Gaza, and in the West Bank, they are about equal to the number of Israelis, Jewish Israelis. And the birthrates among the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are rising more rapidly, so the demographic lines are crossing in about 2010/2011.
That poses a very serious problem for Israel, because if they can't get a two-state solution and they've got a one state solution, they want it to be a Jewish state, a position we support, but that will be difficult if they are in a minority.


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 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.

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 effectively address the domestic and international public opinion challenge arising from Israel's establishment of internal security measures instituted to guarantee the safety of its people? What term or word is accurate 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?"

The progress of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, partially illustrated by the Rose/Mitchell interview excerpts, as limited as it is, provides a basis for hope. We, of course, except in a representative capacity through Senator Mitchell, are not participants in these ongoing negotiations. We can "participate" only by seeking to qualitatively change the external reality environment of the animus of Al Qaeda to the United States. Thus, my call to the successor beneficiaries of the King/Heschel generation for joint cooperation between the Jewish and African American communities to publicly confront the Muslim community and religious leadership in the United States and Europe, especially, to challenge their Muslim brothers and sisters to cease the wanton violence against us and the Israel.

I listened and watched on television President Obama, speaking in Washington, D.C. at an African-American Church, in tribute to Dr. King. He accurately and astutely characterized the King/Heschel civil rights generation as "The Moses Generation" and referred to himself as "The Joshua Generation." Yes, America's struggle for justice and to redeem its soul has a biblical connection. But, we also have a great civic tradition of citizen responsibility in a democracy rooted in thousands of years of history in the founding of democratic states.

Meeting the opportunity and challenge I suggest is essential to our survival as a nation. Pericles, the leading orator and citizen of fifth century B.C Athens, in his famous funeral oration said, "You must look every day upon the power of your city and become her lovers. And when you have understood her greatness consider that the men who achieved it were brave and honorable...Now it is for you to emulate them; knowing that happiness requires freedom and freedom requires courage -- do not shrink from the dangers of war."

Pericles spoke these words during the first year of the Peloponnesian War, Athens' then nearly 30 year conflict with Sparta.

And so, today, the legatees of the generation of Martin Luther King, Jr and Rabbi Joshua Heschel must remember that Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel, "were brave and honorable...Now it is for you to emulate them; knowing that happiness requires freedom and freedom requires courage." You cannot shrink from your responsibility to challenge publicly the leadership of Islam to stop the violence fueled by the political ideology and religious corruption of Al Qaeda.