The Reid Report   |  March 03, 2014

Netanyahu 'holds the key' to peace deal

Fmr. Ambassador Marc Ginsberg and Rula Jebreal discuss Pres. Obama’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, as the White House pushes for peace in the Middle East by April.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> it's a heck of a day to try and talk peace . against the backdrop of international arm-wrestling over the crisis in crimea, the obama administration is staring down a self-imposed deadline to get to a framework for peace between israel and the palestinians . and just as israeli prime minister benjamin netanyahu was arriving at the white house , we have word israeli air forces have attacked a target in gaza . at least one person from the military wing of islamic jihad was reportedly killed and two wounded. right now, netanyahu is sitting down with president obama for a bit of arm-twisting. with the president having told bloomberg's jeffrey goldberg , "i believe that if bibi is strong enough that if he decided this was the right thing to do for israel , that he could do it. if he does not believe that a peace deal with the palestinians is the right thing to do for israel , then he needs to articulate an alternative approach. and as i said before, it's hard to come up with one that's plausible." palestinian president mahmoud abbas gets his turn two weeks from now. the goal -- lock in a two- state solution to the centuries-old struggle, and do it by the end of april. if that sounds like a tall order, that's because it is. the president has said the window is closing for a viable two- state solution and even puts the odds of success at less than 50%. but secretary of state john kerry is digging in, saying failure is not an option . kerry speaks tonight at the annual policy conference of the american/ israel public affairs committee, apac , which is going on all day. now, you may remember, apac recently took on the white house and lost, bidding against a diplomatic pact toward a long-term nuclear agreement with iran. senator john mccain addressed the group, weaving together a narrative of an m.i.a. administration when it comes to exercising force in russia, syria, and in iran.

>> i believe the iranian people can have access to peaceful civilian nuclear energy , but that doesn't require an industrial unit uranium enrichment program, a heavy water reactor, advanced centrifuges, and it certainly doesn't require nuclear facilities dug deep into mountains.

>> all right, so, now know what the people in power think, but where do the american people stand? according to one survey conducted by gfk polling for " foreign policy " magazine, support for a two- state solution is surprisingly tepid. just 39% support that when given. if the two- state solution were taken off the table, 65% of americans in the poll say they favor a one- state solution, one democratic state with jews and arabs given equal rights and citizenship. joining me now to discuss options on and off the table, former u.s. embass doctor to morocco and current mideast adviser on counterterrorism, marc ginsberg and msnbc contributor and palestinian journalist rula jibril. i want to ask you about air strikes in gaza by the israeli military . what kind of message does that send at the same time that prime minister benjamin netanyahu is meeting with president obama ?

>> well, joy, first of all, congratulations on your show. and secondly, just response. you know, gaza has been a real problem from a security point of view to israel because there are extremist islamic organizations that even operate outside of the control of hamas, firing missiles into israel on a regular basis. and so, it's natural and defensible for israel to use military force to respond to those provocations. that said, that should really not be the issue before the president and prime minister netanyahu today. frankly, there's a hell of a lot more that the two of them, as your opening piece outlined, insofar as a durable framework agreement to get to a sustainable status. at the same time, president netanyahu would always like to make the argument that every issue that stands in the way of final status happens to directly affect israel 's security, and that's a problem, because he's defining israel 's interests in a way that are inconsistent with a solution.

>> let me ask you, rula, about the same question. with active military action going on in gaza , is that really sort of the right atmosphere for peace to be discussed in washington? you've just come from three days in washington discussing just this very issue.

>> i don't think prime minister benjamin netanyahu cares, actually, about what kind of message he's sending. his message has been constant -- he is against any peace agreement . that's why he's been building settlements over and over in the last two years, and even building settlements in an area called e-1 that connects the west bank with jerusalem. that means whatever palestinian state , they will not have as a capital jerusalem, which they care about. i think bottom line, we're too far. you know, what the palestinian wants is too far from what the israeli wants. but i think the powerful man in this equation is bibi netanyahu . he holds the key to the power and to the kingdom, and he's the one that can decide what kind of future we can have as israelis and palestinians , whether we will have one state , bi- national state , but then he would go down in history like the guy that will dismantle the jewish identity of that state . so, if he doesn't want that, he has a window fortunate, very short window fortunate to give -- you know, to sign an agreement and give the palestinians what they want. and what they want is not different from what people in caracas, in ukraine, in the arab spring, they want freedom, democracy and dignity.

>> and let me go off that issue of settlements just a little bit, ambassador ginsburg, because that has been one of the sticking points in trying to get to a settlement, and it does seem that the continued building of settlements, it's been an irritant to the united states . it's been raised over and over again by the obama administration and previous administrations. we're trying to get to peace , why in your estimation does that activity continue, and can it continue if we're hoping to have, i mean, in a month's time some framework for peace ?

>> joy, that's the essential heart of the matter here, as she rightfully points out. prime minister netanyahu has consistently continued to build on existing and expand settlements because he has the equivalent of the tea party that he's catering to in his own coalition. a very right-wing, extremist political movement that is opposed to any settlement that's part of his coalition. now, that's the challenge. does prime minister netanyahu lead or is he going to let the tea party and israel lead him? there's an essential requirement -- to end the settlement construction in order to be able to provide the very type of durable, sovereignty palestinian state that would live side by side with israel in peace . and every time there's another nail in another building in a settlement, it's another nail in the coffin of a durable two- state solution.

>> well, let me ask you, to answer your question a little built, ambassador, does prime minister netanyahu have the strength to overcome the far right parties in his own country and sue for peace ? does he have that strength?

>> yes.

>> yes. actually, the best part about the answer to that question is that the majority of the israeli public, notwithstanding the poll that seems to be taken here in the united states , favors a two- state solution by a significant majority.

>> 77%.

>> the prime minister of israel has the power, he has the capacity to lead his country forward. the question is, is he going to show magnanimity and leadership or is he going to succumb to being in effect led around by the nose by the very right-wing extremists that are part of his coalition? he has the choice to make. he does not have to avoid making that choice if he wants to. he has the support of the majority of the israeli public, and indeed, can rely on others to support him.

>> right, and i want to quickly ask rula the same question for the palestinians , because there's been the narrative, you have the gaza leadership, the west bank leadership that are divided. there is enough unity to drive the deal?

>> look, what drives the palestinian authority in this moment is the demands on the ground, the demands on the ground of millions of people that are looking actually to the leadership in gaza and telling them, you don't represent us anymore. we don't want you anymore, and that's why they've been more and more demonstrations in gaza , defying hamas and their ruling. they don't want that. what the people on the ground wants, as i said, freedom and democracy and a better life , dignified life where a soldier that is 20 years old doesn't stop them and tell them, okay, you can't go to hospital or to work. they want a future that is, you know, a future where they are treated as citizens. and netanyahu can decide whether to include them as citizens or to bomb them to submission as solution. it's in his hands.

>> and in your estimation, do the palestinian people believe that the united states is a credible actor, is an actor that is impartial and that can do it, can get it done?

>> i think the palestinians look at apac today and they think, who has the upper hand here? apac to pressure president obama or president obama that can pressure israel ? they think the key issue here is the $3 billion that we give to israel . can we intertwine that with pressure on, you're not using that, into building settlements or not? that's what matters for the palestinians .

>> that's the key question. rula jebreal, ambassador ginsberg, thank you.