Event Summary by Jake Hochstein
On March 28, Professor Peter Feaver and AGS hosted Ghaith al-Omari and Dov Weissglas to discuss the Israel-Palestine peace process. Al-Omari previously served as both the chief-of-staff and later foreign policy advisor for Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority. Dov Weissglas served as the chief-of-staff and personal lawyer for Ariel Sharon, Israel’s 11th Prime Minister. The men worked extensively together on the peace process from 1999-2001, the last time that Israel and Palestine came truly close to a peace deal. The discussion was also a timely one, following Naftali Bennett’s (Israel’s 13th Prime Minister) appearance last week.
Ghaith al-Omari and Dov Weissglas were both asked their thoughts on the current outlook of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Al-Omari said that the situation today is just as bad politically as it was during the intifadas, albeit not as deadly. He also said that at least the intifadas had exit strategies, but currently, he says there is no end in sight. If peace therefore is not possible at the moment, what should happen? He went on to discuss the importance of “rehabilitating the idea of cooperation.” He says that one of the least highlighted successes has been the security coordination between the Shin Bet and the Palestinian Authority. Al-Omari says that they need to push this cooperation to other sectors. He highlighted the fact that for Palestinians that have grown up during and after the intifadas, Israel to them is the security border and the checkpoints. His generation saw more benefits from cooperation, and he says the new generation must see these as well.
Weissglas conversely said that the situation today is infinitely better than it was during the intifadas. He cited the point that both sides have better conditions of life and the fact that terror attacks are less frequent as reasons. He agreed that cooperation is a key to progress but said that there is a paranoia among Israelis about working with Palestinians. He said that “Palestinian terrorism did not start with the occupation in 1967”. Israelis know it was there before and believe it will be there after. The only way to lessen the paranoia, according to Weissglas, is a strong leadership willing to not rile up emotions. Weissglas also pushed back against the argument from some on Israel’s right that a Palestinian state would be an existential threat to Israeli security.
Several audience members thanked the two men for a conversation that showed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be discussed in a civil way. Both men reminded the audience that they differ on many of the important debates in the conflict, but through their time working together and a general empathy, they respect the other and his work.