It is conference season in Jerusalem this month. After the Conference of Presidents annual gathering last week, this week the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) is holding its 2017 Conference on the Future of the Jewish People. Yesterday the conference, led by Dennis Ross, Stuart Eizenstat and Leonid Nevzlin, and including Elliott Abrams and Norm Coleman as participants, met President Rivlin and Supreme Court President Miriam Naor. The Prime Minister – who was set to address the gathering this evening – canceled at the last minute.
Meanwhile, his main rival these days in the polls, Yair Lapid, used the opportunity this morning to deliver a strong statement to JPPI on the rise of anti-Semitism across the Atlantic. “At times it seems like the only unifying force of the Jewish people in these times, is our shared fear and outrage from the revival of anti-Semitism. There we unite…The days in which the Jewish people hid from anti-Semitism are over. We will face it together. From here, from Jerusalem, we say “enough.” Jews won’t hide anymore, Jews won’t be scared anymore and we expect the governments of the world to fight anti-Semitism decisively and with all their might. Jewish blood will not be cheap anymore,” Lapid said.
Last month, when Elliott Abrams was tapped to be Deputy Secretary of State, expectations in Jerusalem were high – as well as disappointment when the President rejected him a few days later. Kafe Knesset spoke to Abrams on the sidelines of the JPPI conference. “Obviously I’m disappointed it didn’t work out, I do hear it from a lot of people here in Israel because obviously they would prefer to have someone they know in that position. The president had the absolute right to make that decision but obviously I think he made the wrong decision, and he ought to be looking forward to who can help this administration rather than backward to the primary campaign,” Abrams told Kafe Knesset.
Kafe Knesset: How high is the Israeli-Palestinian issue on the President’s agenda, how involved do you think he is going to be?
Abrams: “It is clear that he would like to achieve a breakthrough that Clinton, Bush and Obama tried and failed to achieve. That is one of the reasons that he involved Jared Kushner in this, that is a signal of commitment. I don’t think he will be personally involved, nor should he be on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. A president does not have to do this. I did not take his statement about One State versus Two States as meaning that we are abandoning all the previous positions of the US. I took it as meaning that previous approaches have not worked. We keep failing, and the goal here is not fundamentally the Two-State solution, the goal is peace, so let’s think about ways to move forward towards peace. They seem to be interested in the outside-in approach, which I think is the sensible approach, though I’m skeptical about the outcome. But it is worth trying because the inside-out approach that the previous presidents all tried has failed and Arab-Israel relations are much better than they were 5-10 years ago, so I think this a sensible way to get started.”
Q: What would be your best advice to Jared Kushner?
Abrams: “The one piece of advice would be to study the record, and that can be done by getting documents and histories from the State Department historians. It could be done by talking to previous American officials and negotiators. I think there is no substitute for knowing what approaches have been tried and why they failed.”
Q: What should be the Administration’s demand from Israel vis a vis the settlements?
Abrams: “They’ve made it clear that there is a return to the Bush policy, which I would characterize as saying we are not so concerned about population growth but about territorial expansion. The statement from the White House a few weeks ago using the term “footprint” in the West Bank, that is a return to the Sharon-Bush understandings, and I think that what that can do is exercise a certain restraint, give Israeli politicians notice that the US does not want unlimited territorial expansion – or any territorial expansion in the West Bank while we attempt to see if any kind of negotiations can start.”
Q: Is the embassy move going to be another unfulfilled campaign promise?
Abrams: “We will know the answer in June when the President needs to sign the waiver. That is the first time he needs to say something. Its my hope that he would do something. One doesn’t have to go from doing nothing, which is what Clinton, Bush and Obama did, to announcing that you’re starting construction this morning on a new embassy complex. I would like to see him say something, perhaps, like the embassy will be in Tel Aviv and the ambassador would be in Jerusalem, or that I have ordered the State Department to develop a plan to move the embassy. This will obviously take multiple years. You need to build a compound that would include an office building and the residence, and you need to move all those people from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which includes a housing question. So if you start developing a plan today, it is going to turn into a five or six year effort anyway. I hope we will be seeing the beginning of this because I am in favor of moving the embassy.”