Interview with Dr. Ron Pundak

Please tell me about your background and how you first became involved in peace work.

Well, in 1991 I graduated with my PhD in Middle Eastern Political History from the University of London. I came back to Israel and I was a journalist for Haaretz1 for one year. After a little while I joined forces with Yossi Beilin,2 through my connection to Yair Hirschfeld.3 There was a sense of hope in the air- it was '92, just before the election of Rabin.4 I came to the conclusion that I would like to become actively involved in the political climate rather than to simply report or research about it. At that time Yair had a number of contacts within the Palestinian community, which he had initiated during the 1970s. I also had an interest in these issues since my father had assisted Yair in some activities in Europe, which were connected to Israeli-Palestinian issues. To make a long story short, Yair and I started working together.

Was there a particular moment when you realized that you wanted to be working on Israeli-Palestinian issues?

It was gradual, beginning in 1992. I became involved slowly, whenever I had time, and gradually it took up more and more of my time. I stopped writing for the newspaper all together when I started to feel that I had a conflict of interests in being part of making the news, rather than simply reporting it. Needless to say, I felt a bit awkward. So gradually I stopped writing and slowly we established our NGO,5 called the ECF, the Economic Cooperation Foundation. At the beginning it was just a name with one or two researchers, and Yair was struggling to weave together different contacts to get us off the ground. Eventually, Yair and I began working on two parallel tracks. One was the political one, kind of a long arm for Yossi Beilin, who was still at the time a member of the opposition in the Knesset.6

Remember, this was before the elections, which took place in June. So this was the first track, the political. The parallel track was to promote research activities. As part of our NGO's activities, we submitted a proposal to the European Union in order to fund our research activities. The EU accepted it and we started to build a big project on economic issues, highlighting sustainable economy as our primary issue. The idea was to combine strengthening the economy with the idea of peace, and more specifically to establish integrative research with joint teams of Palestinian and Israeli economists. The joint teams were to deal with issues of trade, industry, agriculture, and cooperation in the short-term and would hopefully work on long-term solutions.

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In June of 1992 there were elections and Yitzhak Rabin came to power. After one month Yossi Beilin became Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Shimon Peres the Minister of Foreign Affairs. That allowed for a different attitude and approach to the things that we had already begun working on. Prior to the elections we had focused on establishing our NGO and starting the big research project with Hebrew University, Ben Gurion University and the Palestinian side. After the election we enlarged our activities on the political side. Despite the election, we could still do things with the Palestinians that the government could still not do. At that time, the government was still quite anachronistic in its approach to the Palestinians. For example, Faisal Husseini was alienated to some extent by the government. He was a Jerusalemite and the government was still sticking to the idea that Jerusalemites-- Palestinians from Jerusalem-- were not part of the official negotiations. However, we could open a dialogue with him. So we acted as a kind of a long arm of the Foreign Ministry, and reported back to the government. This gradually led us to create the Oslo Accords. After many meetings with Faisal Husseini,7 Hanan Ashrawi,8 Ziad Abu Zayad and Sari [Nusseibeh]9 and others, we eventually moved to open the Oslo channel.

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Just for the sake of history, unlike all the stories that suggest that the Norwegians started the process,10 it actually started as a result of the fact that Faisal Husseini and Hanan Ashrawi told Yair and myself that the only power in town was Tunis, and whatever the PLO in Tunis 11 said, the Palestinians in the Territories would follow. They told us that if Israel wanted to deal with anybody, it had to be Tunis. They emphasized that the PLO in Tunis was much more moderate than they were understood to be, and more moderate than the moderate Palestinians in the Territories. We approached Hanan Ashrawi who came up with the idea that we should meet Abu Ala.12 She had Faisal Husseini endorse it, and eventually through Arafat's office coordinated a meeting between Hirschfeld and Abu Ala in London in December 1992. That meeting led to the creation of the Oslo Channel. A few weeks later, on the 20th of January 1993, the Norwegians arranged the first meeting in Oslo.13

That meeting was truly a breakthrough for a process which ended nine months later, with the DOP, which is known as the Oslo Agreement. In the political process, we were essentially on our own for the first five months. Later we had the blessing and participation of the Israeli government. In parallel, we continued to expand the activities of the ECF; Yair and myself were co-directors. We started to get involved in different activities beyond the economic dimension. We opened our work up to much bigger things, activities in the health sector and civil society, and we started to think about cross-border cooperation. Gradually it developed into two primary objectives. One was a think tank on political and policy issues. The culmination was what we labeled the "library of final status," which was designed to assist the politicians in bridging ideas with the Palestinians. This was one dimension of our activities. The second dimension of activities was the whole spectrum of what we called "civil society cooperation," which was to spearhead activities, to demonstrate different activities, to lead coalitions, etc. The ECF did many, many things at that time. Approximately three years ago in the summer, I moved from the ECF and became the director of the Peres Center for Peace.14

This organization is different mainly in that it is a straightforward peace-building organization. This is not a think-tank or policy-making or party related organization. It is a very independent, non-partisan, non-political peace building organization.

The Peres Center is independent and non-partisan even though it has Peres's name on it?

Exactly… Even though the place carries Peres's name, it does not reflect his political or partisan platform, but rather his original vision of peace. His original vision of peace emphasizes civil society, economic cooperation, cross-border cooperation-- a new vision for the Middle East. We do not see ourselves as implementing a vision of a new Middle East, but we do see ourselves as building the first blocks for what we hope will become a new Middle East. That is a different approach than what people expect from Peres. Maybe it started differently, but today, under my leadership, it is a very solid, down-to-earth organization which works primarily at the grassroots level. We don't speak about theoretical goals.

Can you talk about why you wanted to make the switch from the more political work to the grassroots?

The switch came first because of opportunity, but opportunity's not enough. The main idea of the ECF was to lead the way, to create something. My feeling was that the ECF achieved its goal around the time of Camp David15 and Taba.16 It didn't achieve the totality of its goals, but in a way it had exhausted its resources. My feeling was that at that point the ECF had to reinvent itself. To continue to work on final status issues became a bit irrelevant. The ECF had helped create the massive structure-- data compilation and accumulation-- of final status ideas. There was still work to be done on each of the issues, but my feeling was that towards Camp David and up until Taba, until 2001, we had compiled enough information and instigated and led enough activities and sub-activities that it was possible for me to leave and allow others to continue. The building blocks were created mainly, but not only, by us. After this, in my point of view, ECF had to reengineer itself and redefine its goals.

Until that time Yair and I saw very much eye-to-eye on the grand design of the ECF, and we always had many, many fruitful discussions about how to achieve our goals. However, at that time the feeling was that we were going different ways, he wanted to continue on one thing, and I wanted to continue on a totally different thing. And I thought that we were starting to compromise on something that was always really important to me: the civil society dimension and the peacebuilding dimension. For example, now the ECF has entered into the internal Israeli debate: dialogue with settlers or with the right wing, working with the Arabs in Israel-- all things which are relevant, important, and definitely have a place. From my point of view all these things should not have been the ECF's track. However, Yair wanted to go that way.

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Then came this opportunity. I was called by Shimon Peres to come and lead this organization, the Peres Center for Peace. I thought that it was high time to make the move after nine years and at the time I felt that we fulfilled our strategic goal. When I got here I found an organization in chaos, an organization on the verge of a coma, in a way. It was a very good, solid organization with a very good structure. But two things happened that put the organization in quite an awkward situation. The intifada had started and the organization had decided that it would be short-lived. This was a strategic decision, it could have happened in any organization, and the organization decided it should be steadfast and wait until the intifada17 ended and then continue to work again the day after. I came with the approach that the intifada would continue, and so what we needed to do was to create new projects, new ways of approaching the issue, new partners, etc.

What were some of the differences in your approach when you joined the Peres Center?

For example, in the past it was an organization which dealt very much on the practical day-to-day level with the Palestinian Authority,18 meaning it worked with individuals within the Palestinian Authority, and developed strategic alliances with very few [non-governmental] organizations on the Palestinian side. I came with a totally different approach; I said we should widen the scope and have many partners and emphasize civil society rather than government. We should not be out of touch with the government, but we should not see the government as our partners. The government is one of the vast possibilities for partners, but is not the only one.

Also, I mixed the top-down and bottom-up approaches. At that time the projects were wide in scope, a result of dialogue occurring at the top levels. I said we should work primarily from the grassroots, do big things because we are a big organization. I believed we should continue to try to get assistance from the top and continue to utilize them in order to strengthen and elevate our activities. When this organization was born, it was during the period of the new Middle East idea and regionalism; all concepts which with hindsight, we can see were outdated. So I went to the grassroots level to do projects. As I said, solid, on the ground activities, with real partners. So, it's a different approach all together, but it comes from the same root. The root, which was built here in the beginning of '96, '97 by Uri Savir, the former Director General, who structured a solid and serious organization. Time dictated that the organization was to move from one step to another.

Why did you think it was so important to work within civil society organizations and not just through the government?

Well, I believe that at the end of the day, what is needed is to create a strong bond between civil societies. If we do not convince the peoples of the two sides and if we do not utilize the structures of civil society for the process of peace, reconciliation, knowledge, and understanding, etc, we can continue signing agreements forever, but they won't stick.

I usually compare the whole process to a table with four legs; each leg is important. You can do with one shorter leg, one longer leg, but it should stand on all four legs. The first two legs are: the political agreements between governments, and the security dialogue to sustain them. The other two legs, which I believe are our responsibility, are: the economic dimension, meaning development based on sincere dialogue between the two communities whether it is in labor, trade, industry, or high-tech. This is a crucial part of strengthening the viability of our neighbors, because in our way of thinking a strong partner is a good partner. The last leg is the civil society cooperation, the people-to-people element, which also has dimensions of looking towards the future.

Through civil society one can engage not just the converted, that is, not only the classic people-to-people model for reconciliation. What we are emphasizing here is dialogue between professional groups without trying to define their political beliefs. For example, if we take bankers on the Israeli side and bankers on the Palestinian side, we don't ask them whether they're voting Labor, Meretz, Likud.19 We're just bringing them together to participate in dialogue about banking. This is also a way of creating people-to-people dialogue. It's the same thing with the health sector, psychiatrists, psychologists, sports people, and you name it. And by doing this, we are bringing the societies together, and we are also getting the added value of dialogue.

What's the biggest challenge in bringing the societies together right now?

To make it happen. Today, the biggest challenge is to make it happen. It's much easier today to say it's impossible because almost every activity is like crossing the ocean. With permits, with allowing them [Palestinians] to enter [Israel], with communication, every activity today is really full of hurdles, expected and unexpected. In spite of this we find that we are able to do it and even where we are not successful, we try again on the same issue, and in most cases we are eventually able to break the ice.

You mentioned that you bring people together who don't necessarily vote in the same sort of way or think politically in the same way. Does that ever present challenges for people to sit down and just talk about business or the matter at hand?

It depends. I'll give you another example, we are engaged in dialogue between what we call young politicians, young leaders. Just a few weeks ago we had a meeting of about twenty young Israeli and Palestinian politicians in Milan, Italy. Two of them were from the extreme Right in Israel, from Likud20 and National Unity Party,21 which is far to the Right. They were very antagonistic to the Palestinians before they arrived, but the dialogue broke this kind of misperception. Very quickly these limitations were removed and the dialogue was very concrete, and the discussion was still tough, but it was amicable and serious. So this is what we're trying to do, to make it happen. Even if the two sides are not very happy with each other, we still try to maintain, as much as possible, an environment of serious debate. We are not here in order to convince everybody.

You were directly involved in the Oslo process. What's your insight into what happened in Oslo, and why we are where we are now, in terms of the peace process?

I think we are here for many good reasons. I think both sides entered into the implementation period not in good faith-- both sides. Both because the trust was not built and because there was an effort to put things off until the second round of dialogue. But having said this, I don't think this is enough to make the situation deteriorate as quickly and as terribly as it did. And here I think that we, the Israelis, committed too many mistakes on the way. I believe all the mistakes were rooted in the fact that the day after Oslo, meaning from the 14th of September 1993,22 Israel itself wasn't clear where it wanted to go in its relations with the Palestinians; it wasn't clear whether Israel was at all ready to commit itself to a real fair solution, based on the only ingredients a real, fair solution should contain: an independent, viable, Palestinian sovereign state, side by side with Israel, on equal footing, based more or less on the '67 borders. I think that until the last days of negotiation in Camp David, still, Israel didn't accept this formula.

I don't say that Israel didn't want peace; on the contrary, I think Israel wanted peace as much and probably more that the Palestinians-- I'm speaking about the leadership. But I think the Palestinians were more ready for the compromised solution and were in full comprehension of what it takes to make it happen and we were not. Because of this, we allowed many terrible things to happen on the ground, such as enlarging and building more settlements, confiscating land, sending the wrong message to the Palestinians regarding what the final status would entail.23

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We were stingy on the issue of prisoners, the economy, and almost everything-- not because we wanted to sabotage the process, but because from our point of view, all this might have led to a Palestinian state, which we did not dare to say out-loud-- for example, partition of Jerusalem, which is a must for any agreement.24 If we continue to say during negotiations that Jerusalem will always be under Israeli control, we are pushing aside Palestinian legitimate activities and sending the wrong message in regards to what we want to have. So to sum it up in a nut-shell, I think we screwed it up.

All this without describing one inch of the legitimate criticism I have of the Palestinians: that they were slow, that they were terrible in not fighting terrorism seriously, that they were double talking and that Arafat is a terrible manager and doesn't really care about his own people, etc. And that his methods of negotiations were childish. But I say in spite of all my criticism against the Palestinians, and I have kilometers of criticism, still in the big picture, I think we screwed it up.

What has to happen differently next time in a negotiation process and who has to do it?

Who? Any prime minister that will be courageous enough to tell the people what is going to happen. He can be from the Right or from the Left, but he must tell the people what is going to happen, what we are going to pay and what we are going to gain-- which is much bigger and more important than what we are going to pay. And he has to be charismatic enough. He should not necessarily be a general [army general], but charismatic enough and strong enough, and convincing enough and trustworthy. I think whether he comes from the Right or the Left he can do it. And what should happen is that somebody like this will climb up the ladder and be elected or lead a party.

And on the Palestinian side I think that the main thing is that they should wake up, and I think they have woken up, to distinguish between the mythology and the reality.

You're talking about the political level, obviously, but you're working on the grassroots level. So how do you see the relationship between those two areas?

I personally, but not as a Peres Center representative, also work on the political level. I was one of the core team members of the Geneva Initiative, not representing the Peres Center, but as an individual. So I'm still floating between the two tracks, both the civil as well as the political. Within the civil one, what I see, which is encouraging, is that in spite of everything, and in spite of all the killings, the two sides have not lost the hope in the possibility… I mean, they have lost a lot of trust and a lot of hope, but they have not lost the core of hope that it's possible.

Where do you see that people have not lost hope that a solution is possible?

Everywhere. In spite of the terrible situation, there is no hatred. Once you bring bereaved families together, once you bring Israelis and Palestinians who have suffered together, it takes no more than an hour for people to say "well, we're not so far away from each other." And it doesn't matter if you're talking about technicians, research and development people, academics, or doctors, it doesn't take more than a day. They almost always say that if the task had been given to Israelis and Palestinians on our level, we could have solved the problems of the Middle East in no time. And it still happens today.

My conclusion is that the people believe that it is possible, people would like to have it. People understand that the problem doesn't lie between the two sides, but in forces which are more, I would say, political. As awkward as it sounds, but I say it from a lot of experience with Peres Center activities, I think now we have more Palestinians, and in a way also more Israelis, who would like to be engaged in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and activities than we had before the [second] intifada.

How do you explain that since the beginning of the intifada more people now want to participate in dialogue?

I think that people at the level of civil society are fed up with the situation and understand deep down in their hearts that the only way, at the end of the day, is through a political solution and dialogue. There are many inhibitions and there are many problems and there is a lot of bitterness, but still it's possible.

Has this work brought you to the West Bank?

Before the intifada I was there at least twice or three times a week, in both the West Bank and Gaza. I was quite a frequent traveler to the big cities. After the intifada, and mainly after the second year I think, the army has not allowed us to go into the cities. I still go to the cities, here and there, but obviously not as frequently as I used to. And I go to Ar Ram and to other places that we are still allowed to go. I was in Jericho two months ago. But it's not at the same pace and the same frequency as in the past. In the past we took delegations to Nablus for two days and I organized a big meeting of high ranking Israeli police officers in Ramallah for two days. They slept in Ramallah; just try to imagine that period! High ranking Israeli and Palestinian police officers were going to night clubs together and dancing together!25

Do Palestinians work at the Peres Center?

We have Israeli-Palestinians, who are called Israeli-Arabs here, and by the Palestinians are called '48ers.26 This is an Israeli organization, so we have Jews and Arabs, but we don't… I mean, we have many Palestinians who work with us, visiting us still today. But we have never had, so to speak, "foreigners" here.

What do you do within the organization to ensure equality and understanding among the staff?

Equality among the staff? In what sense?

Is there any facilitation process within the staff to discuss issues that might come up...

No, there's no need here. Everybody who comes here is coming not only because it's a work-place, but because it carries an ideology which coincides with their ideology. Those whose ideology is not already very strong become quite strong after a few encounters, meetings, and activities. So, here and there we do activities to get them more acquainted with the problems, with the issues-- visits to East Jerusalem to meet with Palestinians, etc. I try to ensure that most of our staff is engaged with activities with Palestinians, because nowadays one can work here without seeing a Palestinian for their entire life besides those that visit the Peres Center. In the past activities were done in the Territories.27 So we make some efforts to facilitate this.

The problem here is that we are quite a big organization… We are over thirty people working on a daily basis and then we have some permanent consultants who work with us. For example, we have created an Israeli-Palestinian indoor mini-soccer team, to whom we pay salaries. So they're not staffers, but they are part of one of our projects. We have a big activity on agriculture-- we have about seven agricultural experts who work with us on different projects. It's quite a big organization, so the problems here are like any big organization, with hierarchy, with promotion... but we don't have the kind of Jewish-Arab problems that you refer to.

How has the conflict affected your life, your personal life?

It's a difficult question because now, the "conflict" and its solution are a part of my life. Meaning since 1993 I really haven't been just a bystander. I'm definitely very invested in it, so I can't describe how it changed my life, but I know that it has. I am more visible, more criticized, more threatened, and at the same time more satisfied, and more happy.

Why are you more happy?

You know, I'm happy that I'm doing something that I believe is important to safeguard my country. It makes me satisfied to be a part of it, but I am frustrated that we are in a terrible situation, and I am criticized by those who are against it.

What kind of criticism do you face?

I mean, the right-wing for example, those who think that the solution is to transfer every Palestinian out of the West Bank, you can imagine that they think that I'm a traitor. There were times when Oslo was more popular so people were much more positive. I've never allowed this or that to interfere in my life, although again, objectively speaking, it probably does. I try not to allow it to enter my private life.

Do you see signs of success?

I see big signs of success in what we are doing, if I compare what the Peres Center did before I came with the number of successful activities, the breadth of the programs that we now do. I see these things as the success of the organization, not my own, but of the whole organization. You know, we have a big program on health. We also did some of this at the ECF, but most of the health activities have now moved here from the ECF. The ECF was mainly engaged in building Palestinian capacities by having [Palestinian] interns study or work or receive training in Israeli hospitals. The ECF also organized workshops and dialogues. At the Peres Center we are doing much more than we did at ECF. Now many more hospitals and many more doctors are involved. On a day to day basis we have over twenty Palestinian doctors training in Israeli hospitals for periods of six months up to four years. That is really satisfying.

In the last six or seven months we started a new project, which has become one of our flagship projects. This is a more humanitarian one, which we call "Saving Children." Due to the Palestinian side's lack of capacities in the field of treating children, there are many serious health problems which they don't have the ability to treat, such as brain surgeries, open-heart surgeries, chest surgeries, specific diagnostic activities. We allocate resources specifically for this project. In the last six or seven months, we have operated on over a hundred Palestinian kids; meaning that we ensured the gift of life. Literally, without us these hundred kids (a few less due to children who died despite the procedure) would have died. I'm speaking about children who, for example, are born with a hole in their heart and therefore blood runs between the two ventricles. They're hospitalized in Israel and they are saved, and after a week they go home as new children. Knowing that otherwise they would have died, I feel very satisfied that we are doing it. And it is very costly; it is a huge, huge expense, so we are focusing on raising money specifically for this. I think it sends the message of a different Israel, a different moral standard. It shows that we care about the other and yes, we are killing, and yes, we may be committing terrible atrocities, but on the other hand there is a different Israel as well.

As the director of a huge organization, do you have a strategy for identifying the parts of the societies that you most need to reach here on the Israeli side?

Unfortunately today, it is more blurred than it was in the past. Our idea was to do outreach into the audiences which are anti-dialogue. I won't say anti-peace, because everyone is, so to speak, "in favor of peace." But our idea was to try to reach those who were against a Palestinian state. Today, unfortunately, due to the outcome of the intifada and the mistrust, I think the Israeli audience is almost monolithically in need of transformation. Having said this, still many of our activities are trying to reach what we call the "periphery." For example, in our sports programs we have a strategy: the Israeli side of the sports activities are in Sderot, Ofakim, Kiryat Ekron, Kiryat Shmona, Be'er Sheva-- not in Tel Aviv, Haifa , Ra'anana. We do this because we want to enlarge the audience to include the peripheral areas. We are also engaged in activities to promote dialogue between Nablus and Rishon LeTzion as "sister" cities.28 Rishon LeTzion represents mainstream Israel. I think even if mainstream Israel is now voting 50% Likud, 50% Labor,29 Right and Left, those who are traditionally Labor voters are still in dire need of seeing the "other" and understanding that there is a different option.

How do you think international audiences could be involved here constructively?

The question is, what is the audience? First of all, as an Israeli, I think the international audience should differentiate between Israeli government policies and the existence of Israel. People should criticize the government whatever government it is. Any government should be criticized or supported, that's legitimate. But criticizing the government of Israel should be differentiated from criticizing the legitimacy of the State of Israel or the existence of Israel. I think that our own activities should also be geared to this, meaning we should give a different message to the world. It's not that we are better than others; we are not better than others. People should always be aware that nothing is totally homogeneous or monolithic, and this is a society like all societies.

I would like to see the international players become more involved in trying to advance our ability to use our own tools. All our activities are based on donations. NGOs like ours-- non-political, non-governmental organizations-- don't get one dime from the Israeli government, and we are dependent on assistance coming from other governments, or foundations, or individual donors.

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We should promote the wider picture of peace, not my peace, or their peace or this government's peace. I believe that peace is dictated by the masses. You always need the politicians to carry it one step forward, but politicians listen to the public. And if the public, in the good sense of the word, is calling for it, you need a brave politician to master it and move forward. This is what happened with Rabin; Rabin understood that he had a majority, similarly with Begin.30 So what I'm saying is that the kind of projects we are working on here, which are legitimate for everyone, can be enhanced.

What does the word peace mean to you?

It's a very generic and general term for something that nobody can define. I think it should have many definitions, but I believe peace should have a kind of comprehensive end-game. We can have more peace or less peace, but I think we should aim for the big peace-- the big peace is what we see today in Europe, between Holland and Denmark for example. They have normal relations, they do not threaten each other, and each side allows the other to do whatever they want. There is dependency in issues that are not connected to the nation, but are concerned with the mind and research; there is interdependency in all things which are related to the nation, for example, they are interdependent in regards to the economy. It's not that this is the only kind of peace; I think peace is also what we have today with Egypt, which is ten times less than what I'm describing in Europe. So this is why I say peace is a generic term for a process. It's a long railroad that has many stops on the way, but it is important to know that there is an ultimate objective.

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So, a peace agreement with the Palestinians doesn't mean that there won't be extremists on each side who will try to sabotage it. And it doesn't mean that immediately the borders will be open and I will be able to build my home in Nablus and that Palestinians will be able to build their homes in Tel Aviv. Eventually, peace can lead to something which is not a utopian world, but something realistic; it is something that we see happening elsewhere. If you examine the history of wars in Europe, our wars are almost nothing in comparison.

Do you have fears associated with the conflict?

No, none what-so-ever, nothing personally at all and also nothing nationally. It's not fear, but I have different scenarios, which I believe might happen, better scenarios and worse scenarios. In scenario building there is only legitimacy for scenarios that are possible according to the sets of ingredients and understandings that you have at a given moment. It doesn't mean that it will happen, but it has the potential to happen. So it's not fear, but I believe that in one of the scenarios those living in Israel and the Palestinian Territories can continue to suffer and kill each other until the point that the majority of Israelis and probably the majority of Palestinians will not be able to tolerate it. It's not fear, but historically speaking, I think there is a threat on both sides if we do not quickly choose the direction of a process that will lead to a small peace or a big peace.

What is your worst case scenario?

The worst case scenario is very bad, but it's not the worst because one can always take it one step beyond. You can bring factors that are unexpected, like an atom bomb from here and atom bomb from there, or biological weapons... But what I think is a bad enough scenario for me is that Israel will continue in the direction it is moving in now, and it will enter into what I call a "Spartide" situation. "Spartide" is a combination of Sparta and Apartheid, a country that continues to fight and educate its people to fight and the whole attitude is of a war society. Internally, it runs a policy of apartheid against its minority, because it will spill over into Israel. Then it will be a kind of apartheid society and there won't be peace with Egypt or with Jordan and the threat will continue. We'll go from one skirmish to another small war or something. Again, this is not the worst case scenario, because this scenario can eventually lead to something worse. It depends what kind of forces align to prevent this kind of situation. And it would also worsen our relations with Europe and with the United States. So, it's bad enough, and what I mean to say is we're not so far away from there; this is what bothers me. I'm not speaking about people from Mars coming and taking over. I'm speaking about something that we have already begun marching towards.

That sounds very negative. But you've also said you were optimistic.

The positive side is if you take the point where we were in '92, before Oslo, and look at the picture of where these two communities stood in regards to the potential final status agreement, and you compare it to where we are now. We are now in a much better situation, from the point of view of the most important things-- the hard-core issues and concepts. Historically, undoubtedly, we are in a much better situation. However, pragmatically, on the ground, we are in a worse situation. Twelve years ago, not so many people were killed, the Occupation wasn't so bad, the economy was not so bad. However, when I said that we have started the march towards the bad scenario, I meant politically. At the same time, historically, there is a process that is stronger than its players, and we are moving quite fast, historically speaking, towards the only eventual solution, which is the two-state solution.

Do you mean that now it's possible to say two-state solution, whereas before it wasn't?

It's not only possible to say it, but if you go to the average Israeli, or let's say you take the totality of Israelis and totality of Palestinians and tell them "Deus ex machina, it comes from God, that there's to be no more fighting and there is no more threat and the solution demands the '67 borders, uprooting the majority of outposts and settlements, partition of Jerusalem, a fair agreement with the Palestinian refugees and all other parts of the Geneva Initiative...31 Are you in favor or against?" You'll get 70-75% on each side who will say yes. This, I presume, would not have been the case in '91 or '92.

So, it's not so bad, we are moving forward. People are more ready, but this doesn't mean that we'll get there. I think the political life and the political environment and the behavior of politicians on both sides is leading us somewhere else. Take for example the Arab Peace Initiative32 of the conference of Saudi Arabia, which was confirmed and endorsed by the Arab leaders in Beirut, approximately two years ago. This had been our dream for 56 years, for the Arab world to declare that it will normalize relations with Israel if Israel will return to the '67 borders. This is a radical revolution; it means that at last they're accepting us, not because they like us, not because they like Zionism, not because they like Jews, but they're accepting us as European states accepted each other not because they loved each other. It's a good sign, but now we need to translate it into real achievements.

What is the most important thing for you to achieve?

I have never given myself any count of what is most important for me to achieve. I'd be happy to contribute to this goal of achieving peace eventually. I think it was possible around 2000 to reach peace, and I still believe it is possible even now.


We have done our best to provide accurate, fair yet succinct footnotes to help you navigate the interviews. Our research team comprises more than 6 individuals, including Palestinians, Israelis and North Americans. Still, we recognize that these notes cannot capture the full complexity of this contested conflict. Therefore, we encourage you to seek additional sources of information, we welcome your feedback and appreciate your openness.

1. Haaretz.

An independent Israeli daily newspaper with a circulation of 75,000-95,000. See


2. Beilin, Yossi.

(1948- ) A Jewish Israeli media and political figure. Beilin worked at the Israeli newspaper Davar from 1969-1977. He left media to become the spokesperson of the Labor party. Entering the Israeli parliament in 1988, he served for 11 years and then held the position of Minister of Justice from 2000-2001. Beilin was instrumental in the early stages of the Oslo Process and is one of the authors of the non-governmental, non-binding Israeli-Palestinian Geneva Accord. In 2004, he left the Labor party and joined the Meretz party, serving in the Israeli parliament again from 2006-2008. Though he left politics all together in 2008, he is still involved with the Geneva Initiative. See “Dr. Yossi Beilin.” The Geneva Initiative. 18 June 2011.; and Somfavi, Attila. “Meretz’ Beilin retiring from politics.” Ynet News. 28 October 2008.,7340,L-3614514,00.html.


3. was a political scientist at Haifa University who, along with Pundak, was involved in the early stages of the Oslo peace process. ^

4. Rabin, Yitzhak.

(1922–1995) A Jewish Israeli political and military figure. Prior to Israel’s establishment in 1948, he served in the Palmach unit of the Jewish paramilitary group Haganah. Following many years in the military, Rabin was appointed Chief of Staff of the Israeli army in 1964 and oversaw Israeli military action during the War of 1967. A member of the Labor party, he served as Israeli Ambassador to the United States from 1968-1973. He then went on to become the first Israeli Prime Minster born in Israel, serving from 1974-1977 and a second term from 1992-1995. Rabin was also Defense Minister from 1984–1990 during the First Intifada, which he sought to crush militarily. His strategy during that period was characterized by the order for “force, might and beatings.” In 1993, in his capacity as Prime Minister, Rabin took steps toward accepting a future Palestinian state by launching the Oslo Process with the Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat. The two shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize along with Shimon Peres. He later helped broker Israel’s 1994 peace treaty with Jordan (see Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty). Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995 by a Jewish extremist. See Gresh, Alain and Dominique Vidal. The New A-Z of the Middle East. New York: IB Tauris, 2004; and “Yitzhak Rabin.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 3 October 2011.


5. Acronym for non-governmental organization. ^

6. Knesset. The Israeli parliament. Knesset members are known as "MKs." ^

7. al-Husseini, Faisal.

(1940-2001) A Palestinian political figure. Active in Fatah and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as well as numerous other organizations, including the Arab Studies Society, the Higher Islamic Council and the Orient House. Husseini was long engaged in protesting Israeli occupation, which resulted in travel bans, imprisonment and administrative detention by successive Israeli governments. He was the first prominent Palestinian to hold talks with a senior Israeli Likud party politician (Moshe Amirav) in September 1987, and was instrumental in launching the 1991 Madrid Conference. He served as the PLO representative to Jerusalem beginning in the mid-1990s until his death in 2001. See “Faisal Husseini.” 2002. PASSIA. 24 August 2011. >


8. Ashrawi, Hanan.

(1946- ) A Palestinian politician, professor and spokeswoman. In 1973, she established the English Department at Bir Zeit University and still occasionally teaches there. In regards to her political career, Ashrawi was a member of the Palestinian negotiation team at the 1991 Madrid Conference and during the Oslo Process. She has served on the Palestinian Legislative Council several times and in 2005, switched party membership from Fatah to the Palestinian National Initiative (Mubadara). In addition to serving on the boards of several international organizations, she also heads Miftah, the Palestinian Initiative for the promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy. See “Hanan Ashrawi.” Jewish Virtual Library. 18 July 2011. 


9. Nusseibeh, Sari.

(1949- ) A Palestinian political and intellectual intellectual figure. Politically, he served in several positions within Fatah and most recently as the Palestinian Liberation Organization representative in Jerusalem in 2002. Currently, Nusseibeh is a professor and President of Al Quds University. He has proposed several peace agreements, such as the People’s Voice Initiative - a grassroots initiative to support a two-state solution - that he co-authored with former Israeli security head Ami Ayalon in 2002. In 2010, Nusseibeh publicly stated that, due to the reality of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, he believed a two-state solution to be almost impossible. See “Sari Nusseibeh.” Jewish Virtual Library. 22 August 2011.; and “A Palestinian state had become impossible.” 6 January 2010. Le Figaro. 22 August 2011.


10. Shimon Peres, in Battling for Peace, states that a Norwegian organization was doing research in the Palestinian Occupied Territories in 1992 when Yossi Beilin met the director, Terje Rod Larsen, who connected Beilin to Yair Hirschfeld and Ron Pundak at the suggestion of the Norwegian government to set up a "back channel between Israel and the PLO" (p. 281). ^

11. The offices of the Palestinian Liberation Organization were relocated in Tunis after the 1982 war in Beirut. The Oslo Accords allowed them to move to the West Bank. ^

12. Qurei, Ahmed.

(1937- ) Also known as Abu Ala'. A Palestinian political figure. A long-time member of Fatah and numerous Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) bodies, he formerly served as the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council from 1996-2003 and was one of the leading Palestinian negotiators in the secret talks that led to the signing of the Declaration of Principles in 1993. Qurei has also held various positions in the Palestinian Authority, including Minister of Economy and Trade, Minister of Industry and Prime Minister from September 2003-February 2006. He currently serves as head of the PLO Department for Jerusalem Affairs and is a member of the PLO Executive Committee. See Parsons, Nigel. The Politics of the Palestinian Authority: From Oslo to al-Aqsa. New York & London: Routledge, 2005; and “Biography - Ahmed Qurei.” MidEast Web. 8 August 2011.


13. See: and Shimon Peres, Battling for Peace, p. 282. ^

14. was founded in 1996 by Shimon Peres. ^

15. Camp David. An American presidential getaway in Maryland. In the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, two significant events took place at Camp David, often referred to as Camp David I and Camp David II. At Camp David I (September 1978), Egyptian President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin reached a bilateral agreement, with assistance and pressure from American President Carter, in which Israel would return the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for recognition and peace with Egypt, thereby establishing a precedent for "land-for-peace" negotiations. The Agreement called for talks between Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Palestinian representatives to create a framework for negotiations regarding the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This goal was never met. Camp David II refers to the last Oslo Process-related meetings between Yasser Arafat, Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton in the summer of 2000 over "final status" issues such as the settlements, Jerusalem, Palestinian statehood, the rights and entitlements of Palestinian refugees and more. Negotiations broke down and no agreement was reached. The collapse of the process was followed shortly thereafter by the second intifada. ^

16. Taba Talks.

An Egyptian Red Sea resort town just across the Israeli-Egyptian Sinai border. Taba was the site for a series of talks in January 2001 between Israelis and Palestinians, after the failure of the Camp David II Summit and the outbreak of the Second Intifada in the previous year. Differences were considerably narrowed but no final agreement was produced. The negotiations were a last attempt to salvage a peace settlement before Israeli elections in February, in which Ariel Sharon of the Likud party was expected to and did win a resounding victory, replacing Ehud Barak of the Labor party as Prime Minister. European Union Representative Miguel Moratinos later provided an unofficial but authoritative report of the talks. Some have considered it as the best model for an eventual settlement. See “Deconstructing the Taba Talks.” Settlement Report. Vol. 11, No. 2 (March-April 2001). 24 August 2011.; and “Taba Negotiations: The Moratinos Non-Paper.” January 2001. MidEast Web. 24 August 2011.


17. First Intifada. Arabic for "shaking off." It is used also to refer to uprisings, especially during times of widespread Palestinian revolts against Israel. While some scholars consider the 1936-39 Palestinian uprising as the first intifada, the first intifada (1987-1993) usually refers to the popular uprising whereby Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza rose up against Israeli military rule through a coordinated movement involving multiple sectors of Palestinian society. Actions included mass rallies, general strikes, unarmed and stone-throwing confrontations, the use of Molotov cocktails and limited arms against the Israeli army, combined with self-administration of daily life and attempts at nonviolent civil disobedience. The Israeli military was unable to quash the rebellion, although they implemented a harsh "Force, Might and Beatings" policy under Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, involving widespread arrests, detention and torture. This intifada came to an end when Israel entered into negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and co-launched the Oslo Peace Process. ^

18. Palestinian Authority. Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Also known as the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA was created to serve as the governing body in charge of Palestinian self-rule in the Occupied Territories as part of the Oslo process. As leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which negotiated the Oslo accords as the recognized sole legitimate representative body of the Palestinian people, Yasser Arafat became the PA Chairman. Upon Arafat's death, Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the PA. The PA has observer status in the United Nations. ^

19. Labor, Meretz, and Likud are Israeli political parties. Labor is generally considered to be the Left of center party, having demonstrated a more dovish stance to the Palestinian question; Meretz is considered slightly Left of Labor. Likud is the largest of the right-wing parties, generally with a more hawkish stance in regard to the Palestinians. For a history and analysis is of Israel's political parties, see The Government and Politics in Israel by Don Peretz and Gideon Doran. ^

20. Likud Party.

(Hebrew for “union”) An Israeli political party that emerged out of the Revisionist Zionist movement, which focused on immediate Jewish settlement in the entire area of British mandate Palestine. Until recently, Likud was ideologically opposed to any territorial compromise with the Palestinians. Its first electoral victory for a majority in the Israeli parliament came in 1977. In 1978, Likud Prime Minster Menachem Begin signed a peace treaty with Egypt, which involved Israeli military and civilian withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula. Begin soon after launched the War of 1982 in Lebanon. In 1991, Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir headed the Israeli negotiation team at the Madrid Conference, spearheading Arab-Israeli direct negotiations. More recent Likud leaders, such as Benjamin Netanyahu, have led neo-liberalist economic measures. Dispute over Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August 2005 led Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to leave the party and establish the Kadima party, which rivaled the Likud and won in the 2006 elections. Likud came into power again in 2009. See “Likud.” Knesset. 28 September 2011.; and “Likud.” 1 February 2008. YNet News. 28 September 2011.,7340,L-3498238,00.html.


21. National Unity Party.

An Israeli political party. Founded in 1999 as a secular Israeli coalition party. It maintains a focus on security, and calls for the voluntary expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza to other Arab countries. Many of their constituencies are recent immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union. Since 2006, the party has run for elections in a partnership with the National Religious Party. See “National Union-National Religious Party.” 4 February 2009. YNet News. 30 September 2011.,7340,L-3499279,00.html.


22. On September 13, 1993, Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signed the first Oslo agreement. ^

23. For a post-Oslo Accords analysis, see Nathan J. Brown's Palestinian Politics After the Oslo Accords. ^

24. By "partition of Jerusalem" Pundak is referring to the idea that Jerusalem would serve as the capital both for Israel and a future Palestinian state. ^

25. The Oslo Accords laid out a framework for security cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces. ^

26. Palestinian Arab Citizens of Israel.

Also known as Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinian Israelis, 1948 Palestinians, or Arab Israelis. Refers to those Palestinians and their descendants who remained in the area that became the State of Israel in 1948. Most Bedouins and some Druze in Israel also consider themselves to be Palestinian Arab Israelis. Though granted Israeli citizenship, until 1966, most Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel were subjected to military rule, which restricted their movement and other civil rights. The tension in Israel between its “Jewish” and “democratic” nature has historically meant that many Palestinian Arab minority rights have been neglected. According to Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, since 1967, “The state [has] practiced systematic and institutionalized discrimination in all areas, such as land dispossession and allocation, education, language, economics, culture, and political participation.” While their standing in Israel has improved since Israel’s independence, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel experience periodic persecution, felt strongest during the October 2000 riots in which 13 Palestinian Arab Israelis were killed (see October 2000 events). In 2009, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel numbered 1.52 million, approximately 18-19% of the Israeli population. They live within the State of Israel, participate in government and hold Israeli citizenship, but most do not serve in the military. See Lustick, Ian S. “Palestinian Citizens of Israel.” Philip Mattar, ed. Encyclopedia of the Palestinians. New York: Facts on File, 2005; and Bligh, Alexander, ed. The Israeli Palestinians: an Arab Minority in the Jewish State. London: Frank Cass, 2003. See also the websites of the organizations Adalah and Mossawa at and


27. Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Also known as the Territories, “East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza,” the Occupied Territories or “Judea, Samaria and Gaza.” The term generally refers to two non-contiguous territories captured by Israel following the War of 1967, but does not usually include the Golan Heights. East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza are considered occupied by much of the international community and are treated as such by many international legal instruments. The Territories, or some part of, are slated to be the basis for an independent Palestine. Some members of the Israeli government refer to the Occupied Palestinian Territories as “disputed territory,” while certain factions in Israel consider the territory an integral part of biblical Israel and thus modern political Israel. See International Law, ‘Occupied’/ ‘Disputed’ Territory Debate” and War of 1967.


28. Nablus is a Palestinian city in the northern West Bank. Est. population 132,000. Rishon LeTzion is a city in Israel, south of Tel Aviv, population 200,000. ^

29. Likud is Right of center, Labor is Left of center. In the last election, Likud won with 29.4% of the votes, Labor got 14.5%, and Shinui party got 12.3%. For a breakdown of the votes, see ^

30. Begin, Menachem.

(1913–92) A Jewish Israeli political and military figure of Russian and Polish origin. Begin immigrated to Palestine via subscription in the Polish army in 1942. He was a primary political leader of the Revisionist Zionist movement and served as a commander in the Irgun, an underground Jewish paramilitary group that operated prior to Israel’s establishment. Begin and others founded the Herut party (the precursor to Likud) after Israel’s establishment in 1948 and he officially entered politics as a member of the Israeli parliament beginning with the first elections. In 1977, as head of the Likud party, Begin was elected Prime Minister of Israel and held the position until 1982. While in office, he negotiated a peace treaty with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that led to Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel as a legitimate state (see Camp David), and was co-recipient of the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize with Sadat. During his prime ministership, Begin also authorized the Israeli Air Force to bomb the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, out of concern that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons, and launched the 1982 invasion of Lebanon (see War of 1982). He is known as well for advancing the Jewish Israeli settlement movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. See “Begin, Menachem.” Reich, Bernard, ed. Political Leaders of the Contemporary Middle East and North Africa: A Biographical Dictionary. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1990; and “The Nobel Peace Prize 1978: Menachem Begin.” 2 September 2011.


31. Geneva Initiative. Also referred to as the Geneva Accord. A nongovernmental initiative launched in Geneva on the 1st of December 2002 by Dr. Yossi Beilin from the Israeli side and Mr. Yasser Abed Rabo from the Palestinian side. The initiative outlined proposed steps and cooperation toward a final status agreement in fields ranging from economics to natural resources as well as the resolution of issues such as settlements, status of Jerusalem, and Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. The Geneva Accord never gained official recognition, although proponents continue to press for its adoption and implementation. For a full text of the terms outlined in the Geneva Initiative, see the Geneva Initiative website: ^

32. Arab Peace Initiative. In March 2002 in Beirut, participants of the Arab summit adopted the Saudi-proposed Arab Peace Initiative, calling for "full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967, in implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338… and Israel's acceptance of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, in return for the establishment of normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel." The plan also called for the right to return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. While the plan did not specify numbers, it did cite UN General Assembly Resolution 194, calling for the full right of return for Palestinian refugees. It received a lukewarm response from the Israeli government. See: ^