Their views could hardly be further apart. The six speakers ranged from a former Trump Administration strategist to an aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders; from a former Israeli parliament member who no longer trusts Palestinians to negotiate seriously to a Palestinian professor who views the Hamas attack in the context of decades of violence by Israel; from a former Palestinian prime minister who said Israel’s goals range “from the impossible to the highly unattainable” to a U.S. journalist who said a ceasefire without a Hamas surrender would simply invite more Palestinian attacks against Israel in the future.

All of these views were aired in the Middle East Dialogues series created and led by Tarek Masoud, the Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Governance, who is the faculty chair of the Middle East Initiative in the School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Read this account of the “Middle East Dialogues” series.

Here are excerpts from the six conversations in the Middle East Dialogues (lightly edited for clarity and length, with links to the online videos of each event):

 

Jared Kushner, former adviser to President Trump on the Middle East and negotiator of the Abraham Accords

February 15, 2024

Jared Kushner.
You have a situation now where Israel has the right to defend itself. They're in a position where they had a brutal attack. I mean, imagine America, somebody coming over the border, brutally raping, killing civilians, doing all these different things. I think that what Israel's done is they're saying, "How do we secure ourselves so this doesn't happen again?" Obviously one death is too many deaths. You don't want any deaths in Israel. You don't want deaths of Palestinians. I think right now, the situation is a complex one. But I do hope that with the right leadership, they'll be able to find the right way to get it to a better place.

… We were able to create the peace deals. ...  We thought that Saudi Arabia had the ability to do a normalization deal, and we had worked with the Biden administration in order to help them get that pathway. Now you forward three years, you have the attack, which was awful. Through not enforcing the sanctions on Iran, they were able to get funding, which they were able to then give to all these different groups. You saw a lot more rise up in the extremism. And I think that America not standing with Israel in the way that they should led to a lot of this occurring.

I was able to build trust with people, build real personal relationships. I always answered the phone. People had issues. I always believed successful people answer their phone, and so I was always available. I didn't always tell them yes. And I wasn't keeping score saying, "I'm going to do this for you, but you have to do this for me." My general view was, I'm going to do all the things you need and you're going to do all the things I need, and hopefully at the end of this relationship, we both feel like we're way ahead. I worked very hard to understand both sides' interests and say, where can we find common interests?  ... Instead of condemning people publicly, you'll notice I didn't do a lot of public talking. I didn't think it was that helpful. What I basically did was find ways when we disagreed to disagree respectfully and quietly, and then find ways to move forward.

Watch the event.

Matt Duss, former foreign policy adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders

February 29, 2024


Matthew Duss.The Hamas attacks were atrocious. They are indefensible. Israel has every right and responsibility to protect its people. There's no question about that. The way that they protect its people—the tools they use, the techniques, the policies and procedures and the tactics—matter. This is something we even hear from President Biden. Israel has a right to protect its people, as does every country. It does not have the right to determine by itself what is appropriate and inappropriate. There is such a thing as international law, international humanitarian law, that sets out a set of standards for the protection of civilians about proportionality. I think it's very clear that Israel has, in this conflict and in previous conflicts and, frankly, throughout the process of the occupation, violated a whole set of those standards.

Wanting to make sure that Israel never faces another attack like October 7 and that it does not emanate from Gaza is a legitimate goal. But I would add that Netanyahu has stated another goal, which is the eradication of Hamas. There is no one, and this includes the most serious Israeli security analysts, who believe that that is a realistic goal. You will not eradicate Hamas. You will diminish them. You will weaken them. I think that's part of the challenge in determining or assessing Israel's response to October 7, because these important questions of proportionality relate to the overall objective. If you have not set out a remotely realistic objective, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to judge whether the tactics you are using to achieve it are appropriate.

Israel has no closer or better ally than the United States. We are arming this war. We are giving them complete wall-to-wall diplomatic support for this war, and yet, we cannot get them to follow through on their commitments on humanitarian aid to such an extent that we now have to consider airdropping humanitarian aid. Prevention of humanitarian aid is yet another prima facie violation of international humanitarian law. This is not proportionate. This is not just self-defense.

Watch the event.

Dalal Saeb Iriqat, columnist and professor, Arab American University, Palestine

March 7, 2024

Dalal Saeb Iriqat.
I'm not a fan of Hamas … Hamas did the attack. However—I'm speaking on behalf of the Palestinian people—we have a right. We've been suffering from the Israeli military occupation for so long, and it should not be tolerated that this military occupation continues to cause us injustices in 2024. The war crimes are documented on the screens, nobody should remain silent. We don't have a ceasefire until this moment. Not only have 14,000 children perished, 17,000 have lost their parents, let alone the tens of thousands who lost their limbs.

So what kind of future really—if we are talking about conflict resolution—what kind of mentality are we expecting from those children when they grow up in 15 years’ time? To be forgiving? To be empathetic? Violence can only breed violence. But let me also add that violence of the weak is called terror. And violence of the strong is referred to as war against terror, unfortunately. When violence is rewarded, things can only get worse. And that's why we are here at this moment in the Middle East now, because of the Israeli military occupation that I blame for the existing atrocities that we are suffering.

…For the past 30 years, the Middle East has been going under what is the so-called peace process. The PLO had recognized the Israeli state so many times; they had given up on 78% of mandated Palestine. We believed in dialogue and diplomacy and negotiations. Our leaders promised us dignity, freedom, statehood, and independence. Thirty years later, all we witnessed is a more entrenched Israeli military occupation and more settler colonialism.

Watch the event.
 

A collage of photos showing the speakers at the Middle East Dialogues event.

Salam Fayyad, former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority

March 26, 2024

Salam Fayyad.
We are like all people around the world. We are Palestinians, yes, but we are of different persuasions, background, beliefs and all of that. The challenge for any society to be successful is to find a way to manage that pluralism, manage it effectively, not to suppress it. If anything, you should encourage it, but the challenge is to find an effective way to manage it and this is especially difficult for us given the history, given the context in which we're evolving and developing.

This is not unique to the Palestinians, but it's made so in particular because we are under occupation … . So it was really not completely up to us in important ways. 

That's the first mistake that people make: "If somehow we got rid of Hamas and like-minded factions, we have a solution." If you actually go through this war's objectives as enunciated by the government of Israel, they all, in my humble opinion, range from the impossible to the highly unattainable. And you can't destroy ideologies.  

My proposal was to actually expand the PLO to include those excluded from it so far, like Hamas, like Islamic jihad and all of that, and to have the expanded PLO consensus government that's non-factional  for a transitional period, tasked with managing the affairs of Palestinian people both in Gaza and West Bank—during which time there is an ironclad commitment to nonviolence by everyone.

Watch the event.

 —

Einat Wilf, former member of the Israeli Knesset, author, and former intelligence analyst

April 12, 2024


Einat Wilf.The idea that the conflict is only about things that are related to land, that is certainly what I grew into, believed in—that the day that the Palestinians will have their state in the West Bank and Gaza is the day that we will have peace. As soon as I could vote, I voted for Rabin, I voted for Barak. I was euphoric in the '90s, like many Israelis of the peace camp.

And like many Israelis of the peace camp, I saw Arafat in 2000 and Abu Mazen in 2008 walk away from clear concrete opportunities to have a state in the West Bank and Gaza—no settlements, capital in East Jerusalem, including holy sites. I lived through the misnamed Second Intifada, the butchery of the years following the negotiations in 2000. And I began to ask myself, "What is going on? What do the Palestinians want?" Because it's clearly not a state, because they could have had that, and they walked away. And not only did they walk away, I see them not being criticized by their people." Not even a minor Palestinian writing in London, an op-ed saying, "Are you nuts? We are on the verge of having everything we've ever wanted. Go back into the negotiating room, get us our state."

At this time I'm a member of the Labor Party, I still support two states. The poster child of the Israeli, the two state or left. And I'm invited to meet moderate Palestinians, they basically tell me things like, "The Jewish people are not a people. You're only a religion. This idea that you have a connection to this land, you invented it to steal our own." And I realized from the conversations with them that how they think about the conflict and how I think about it don't even meet. For them, the very existence of a sovereign Jewish state is illegitimate.

So even though I continue to support that we live in two states side by side, I now understand that what has to happen before that can happen is that the century-long war against Zionism, against Jewish self-determination,  has first to end.

Event video to come.

Bret Stephens, New York Times columnist, founder of Sapir, a quarterly Jewish journal

April 30, 2024


Bret Stephens.Hamas has made Gaza a base to terrorize, with the aim of eliminating, its neighboring sovereign state. And so any Israeli government, any government, has a moral responsibility to make sure that its people cannot be put at the kind of mortal and terrifying risk that Hamas creates. And that, too many Israelis—and I would add the entire international community, quite frankly, it wasn't just Netanyahu—indulged for too long. That outcome is not possible without the elimination of Hamas as a military and political entity that can and will govern the enclave.  

I know this is not necessarily the most popular view here, but 65% of Americans in my view rightly understand that for all of our problems with this or that Israeli policy, they are a democracy which defends liberal values. If you are gay, if you're a minority, if you are a dissident, if you are in any way a person who wants to live in a liberal world, then the only country where you can recognize some set of your values is in Israel, and we should be on that side.  

I think there's a lot of well-meaning protests by people who are looking at what they're seeing on television and they say, I don't like this and I'm going to oppose it. And I think that's fine. I also think that if you're doing it at Harvard, there is a presumption on my part that you will take the time to have at least complicated and informed views about the totality of the conflict. And the deepest part of my objection to some of these protests isn't even the antisemitism to the extent that you see it. It's the complete lack of nuance. It's the complete lack of an appreciation that maybe there's more than one side to this.  

Event video to come.

Photos by Benn Craig (primary) and Martha Stewart

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