Four Diplomatic Experts Explore the Perils and Possibilities at Schneier Program Event
On Wednesday, March 15, four experts on American-Israeli politics—former U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, former Israeli ambassador Danny Ayalon, former U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer ’71YC and former Israel Ambassador Dan Arbell—met to discuss the relationship between the two countries under the new presidency at a symposium hosted by the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs.
Under the capable facilitation of Dr. Bernard Firestone ’70YC, a Hofstra dean and specialist in international affairs, an audience of more than 100 people listened as the panelists shared an intriguing consensus: while ties between the U.S. and Israel are strong and likely to remain so, unpredictable factors at play in the current American political arena create a certain level of ambiguity in the relationship.
According to the speakers, that ambiguity is due to the mixed statements and actions of President Donald Trump. Lieberman, who is the Joseph Lieberman Chair in Public Service and Public Policy at YU, noted that the American policy is a “work in progress.” Ayalon, the Rennert Visiting Professor of Foreign Policy Studies, added that the President’s comments seem to indicate that “he is not bound by any preconditions so that he can have leverage with all parties in order to induce resumption of the negotiations—a tactic that may well come out of the way he negotiated as a businessman.”
Kurtzer observed that, as with the President’s notorious statement about the complexity of the American health care system, Trump is likely still learning how delicate and complicated the situation in the Middle East is. But his actions so far, such as the budget cuts to the State Department and policy being run by what Kurtzer called “neophytes” in the White House, make it difficult to know where he stands.
Firestone shifted the focus to the topic at the heart of any discussion about the U.S and Israel: resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He asked the panel to weigh in on the success of the current strategy, known as “outside-in,” in which Israel and the U.S. first seek to improve relations with the Gulf Arab states and then have those states foster an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, and whether this approach offers any new way to unlock the peace process.
Arbell was skeptical about its success. “No one really knows if this approach, which is the talk of the town in Washington D.C., is feasible,” he said. “No one knows if the Saudis or the Gulf states are willing to go the extra mile and express support for the Israeli-Palestinian process without anything actually taking place.” Kurtzer added that for the “outside-in” to work, there must also be an “inside-out” from the two parties involved, and one can’t reasonably expect the Gulf states “to do the heavy lifting on this effort.”
In the end, the four panelists, who all agreed that the two-state solution is the only solution, called for a new multidimensional approach. Ayalon insisted that efforts must move away from a “zero-sum mentality.” Kurtzer called for a discussion that would yield a better definition of “the shape of the state,” and Lieberman hoped that the impulse for peace in citizens on both sides would be revived as a counterbalance to conservative tendencies in the region. Arbell believed that progress would be possible if the President’s focus on the issue remains committed.
The panelists also touched on such topics as whether any American president is ultimately vital to a peace process that must be worked out between the parties on the ground, the polarizing natures of David Friedman (the President’s nominee for ambassador to Israel) and Ron Dermer (the Israeli ambassador to the United States), the declining political importance of Israel to the American electorate and divisions within the Jewish community.
“The Schneier Program enriches intellectual life at Yeshiva University by hosting programs, panel discussions, films and community outreach programs that promote political awareness, understanding and tolerance in the world,” said Dr. Ruth Bevan-Dunner, director of the Schneier Program.
For more information about the Program, visit www.yu.edu/schneier.