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in the room

Former U.S., Israeli officials discuss the new Middle East

Former Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni and former Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell McCormick participated in a panel at the Aspen Security Forum

Dan Bayer, Aspen Security Forum

Former Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell McCormick, former State Department special representative to Muslim communities Farah Pandith, former Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni and former assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs Goli Ameri on a panel moderated by Semafor’s Founding Editor at Large Steve Clemons at Aspen Security Forum.

Former U.S. and Israeli officials discussed the changing dynamics of the Middle East in a panel at the Aspen Security Forum on Tuesday, touching on a range of issues including the Abraham Accords, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Iran and the U.S.’ position in the region.

Former Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell McCormick, who served in the Bush 43 and Trump administrations, applauded what she described as massive cultural changes in Saudi Arabia in the decades since 9/11. She said that we “finally have a partner in the region” although not a “perfect” one in Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

“He’s obviously made some major mistakes, but he’s also reforming Saudi Arabia,” McCormick said of MBS. “It is undeniable that there is economic reform, it’s undeniable that there’s political reform, and there’s also massive mistakes and steps back, but it’s in our interest that those reforms continue.”

Former Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni, once a key negotiator for Israel in talks with the Palestinian Authority, warned that, while Arab states may be able to “abandon the Palestinian issue” as they normalize relations with Israel, “Israel cannot afford it.”

“It is important for me as somebody believing that the only way for Israel to keep its values and its nature as a Jewish democratic state is… to solve this problem,” Livni said. She warned, however, that there is “no chance” of progress on this front with the current Israeli government coalition.

Livni also characterized the U.S. as having pulled back from the region and of failing to meet the expectations of regional partners to respond to security threats.

McCormick added that “people aren’t as focused anymore, I hate to say it, on what our foreign policy is. They’re developing their own alliances… they’re not waiting for the United States. They’re hedging their bets.”

On the other hand, she argued that the “people-to-people part” between Americans and those in the region “is actually pretty strong,” owing to youth in the region, investments and the growing role of women in societies in the Middle East.

Goli Ameri, the former assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs and a member of the Iranian-American community, criticized what she said was a lack of concrete action by western powers to support the Iranian people protesting the regime. She said the U.S. and its allies need to “actually use all the tools of foreign policy” to send a clear message to the regime “you just can’t constantly get away with things.”

Ameri also questioned why the U.S. and its European partners have failed to coalesce around combating Iran in the same way that they have in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Where is that same unity vis-a-vis a government that is on the cusp of developing a nuclear weapon?” she said

Farah Pandith, the former State Department special representative to Muslim communities, highlighted statistics showing that the U.S., and U.S. involvement, is unpopular in the Middle East among members of Generation Z, with younger individuals holding more positive views of some U.S. adversaries.

“If we were wise about how we were thinking about the future… we would spend some time  thinking about hundreds and hundreds of soft power tools in the Middle East,” Pandith said. 

She highlighted the Manara Center, a collaboration between the United Arab Emirates and the Anti-Defamation League, fostering coexistence and collaboration in the region as an example of a productive step, and said the State Department should be doubling down on its own programing and support for NGOs across the Middle East.

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