Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Edward Djerejian says pushing hard for a two-state solution is the only viable path to stability in Israel, Palestine, and the wider region.  

FEATURING Edward Djerejian

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Ed Djerejian says Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin once told him, “There is no military solution to this conflict, only a political one.” Rabin was assassinated a few years later, and today bullets are flying, bombs are falling, and 1,200 Israelis are dead after the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7 and nearly 30,000 Gazans have been killed in the Israeli response. Yet Djerejian still believes that a breakthrough is possible even in the current moment, as horrible as it is. Djerejian, a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, says the crisis has shaken the regional status quo to the point where—if the United States pursues diplomacy that includes principled pragmatism, coalition-building, and good old-fashioned backbone—a breakthrough may finally be possible. But in a recent paper he argues that any breakthrough will have to be built around a two-state solution, which he says is the only path to peace and stability not only in Israel and Palestine, but the wider Middle East. Djerejian’s career as a diplomat spanned eight U.S. presidential administrations beginning with John F. Kennedy’s, and he also served as U.S. Ambassador to Syria and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.  

Ed Djerejian’s Policy Recommendations: 

  • The United States should stake out a strong, principled position on a two-state solution based on land for peace
  • The United States should build a broad, multinational coalition around its vision for diplomacy in the region.
  • U.S. leaders and diplomats should make American national security interests clear, both globally and in the region.


Episode Notes

Ambassador (Ret.) Edward P. Djerejian is a residential Senior Fellow at the Middle East Initiative in Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Relations. Djerejian joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1962 and his 32-year diplomatic career spanned eight presidential administrations from John F. Kennedy to William J. Clinton. Djerejian is a leading expert on national security, foreign policy, public diplomacy, and the complex political, security, economic, religious, and ethnic issues of the broader Middle East. He is the author of “Danger and Opportunity: An American Ambassador's Journey Through the Middle East.” He recently completed a nearly 30-year tenure as founding director of Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. Ambassador Djerejian graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in 1960. He received an Honorary Doctorate in the Humanities from his alma mater in 1992 and a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from Middlebury College. He speaks Arabic, Russian, French, and Armenian. His many awards and honors include the Presidential Distinguished Service Award, the Department of State’s Distinguished Honor Award, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the Anti-Defamation League’s Moral Statesman Award, the Award for Humanitarian Diplomacy from Netanya Academic College in Israel, the National Order of the Cedar.  

Ralph Ranalli of the HKS Office of Communications and Public Affairs is the host, producer, and editor of HKS PolicyCast. A former journalist, public television producer, and entrepreneur, he holds an AB in Political Science from UCLA and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. 

Editorial support is provided by Nora Delaney and Robert O’Neill. Design and graphics support is provided by Laura King, Delane Meadows, and the OCPA Design Team. Social media promotion and support is provided by Natalie Montaner and the OCPA Digital Team.  


Intro (Ed Djerejian): U.S. policy must address the core issues. We have to get away from conflict management, which we've been doing with various flare-ups of the crisis, either between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel and Hezbollah. Now the Houthis, and as we've seen strikes against American targets in Iraq and really giving fodder to the Iranian axis of resistance by not resolving this core issue. If this core issue is resolved, it takes the ideological, theoretical wind out of the axis of resistance. I'm not saying that they're going to all become docile—we're still going to have problems of terrorism and incidents and opposition in the region—but it takes away the fundamental rationale they have, which is the unresolved Palestinian issue. And that alone would serve United States national security interests because it's not in the interest of our country to have this type of instability in the Middle East. It deflects from other national security priorities and could lead to a larger war in which we do not want the United States to be dragged into by Israel or other countries.   

Intro (Ralph Ranalli): Welcome to the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast. I’m Ralph Ranalli. Thirty years ago, then-U.S. Ambassador to Israel Ed Djerejian had a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that still informs his thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today. “There is no military solution to this conflict,” Rabin told him. “Only a political one.” Rabin was assassinated not long after, and since then the chances for a two-state solution—which Djerejian and many other diplomats and experts believe is the only route to long-term stability and peace—have seemed increasingly remote. That’s especially true today, after the deaths of 1,200 Israelis in the horrific Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7, and nearly 30,000 Palestinians in the devastating Israeli response that has forced millions of Gazans from their homes in what international observers now call a humanitarian crisis. But Djerejian says this moment, as horrible as it is, could be one of the most consequential in Israel-Arab relations he’s seen in his career as a diplomat, which spanned eight U.S. presidential administrations beginning with John F. Kennedy. He says the crisis has shaken the regional status quo to the point where—if the United States pursues diplomacy that includes principled pragmatism, coalition-building, and good old-fashioned backbone—a breakthrough may finally be possible. He’s here today to explain how. 

Ralph Ranalli: Ed, welcome to PolicyCast. 

Ed Djerejian: Thank you. It's great to be here. 

Ralph Ranalli: So we're recording this on the four-month anniversary of the October 7 attacks. I remember seeing you at a JFK forum event a little over a week after the attacks, and you were talking about what led up to them, but also what could possibly come after. How have the last four months unfolded, vis-a-vis your expectations of what might happen? 

Ed Djerejian: I think things evolved as I expected. I anticipated a great deal of bloodshed after the brutal attacks on Israel on October 7, and then the reaction of the IDF. I sensed—having served in Israel as a United States Ambassador—I sensed that there'd be a strong call for vengeance. And so I did anticipate a relatively prolonged period of violence and bloodshed. Did I anticipate how bad the humanitarian crisis would become in Gaza? No, I didn't realize that it would be to this extent, where it's become a major humanitarian crisis. There's victimhood on both sides. Each side is seeking its revenge if you will. And at one point, and I hope relatively soon, the bloodletting has to stop and there has to be a sustainable ceasefire, the release of hostages, and then humanitarian assistance to Gaza, before we can talk about the bigger picture, which I think now is coming closer to the fore than I anticipated. 

Ralph Ranalli: Speaking of the bigger picture, in that same panel, you said that what happened on October 7 was very consequential. In fact, you called it was one of the most consequential confrontations between Israel and an Arab entity in your career—and your career goes back to the Kennedy administration. You also said it had so stirred up the chessboard of the Middle East that it could lead to a shifting ground that could open an opportunity for diplomacy to actually arrive at an Arab-Israeli peace plan. Maybe it’s the fog of war, but right now that's kind of hard to see. Do you still think that, and if so, why? 

Ed Djerejian: I think even more so now because of recent events. 

Ralph Ranalli: Really? 

Ed Djerejian: First, I compared the October 7 attacks to the Yom Kippur war in 1973, which shifted the political landscape in the Middle East, and especially in the Arab-Israeli context. Israel was victim of another surprise attack. But yet a few years later, we had Jimmy Carter, an American president, brokering the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. And I think October 7 is similar because it has really shaken the political landscape of the Middle East. It has brought to the fore something that I have been advocating for years since the Trump administration and the Biden administration, that the Palestinian issue remains a central issue, a central crisis that must be resolved in the Middle East. It cannot be marginalized.  

And the Abraham Accords under President Trump was really a formula for peace, economic peace, various technological and humanitarian exchanges, cultural exchanges, but just making reference to the Palestinian issue, and really not dealing with the core issue. And this, I must emphasize, is land for peace. Peace for peace, economic peace is not going to do it. The fundamental issue is land for peace based on U.N. Security Council resolutions 242/338, which were promulgated right after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. And then dealing with the final status issues, which are basically borders, the creation of an independent Palestinian state living in peace and security next to Israel, the refugee issue, Jerusalem, and other key issues.  

There was a marginalization of that core problem both in the Trump administration and the Biden administration, which as you know, they focused really on normalization of Arab countries with Israel, with the hope I believe that if normalization took place, then these Arab countries could influence both the Israelis and the Palestinians to make peace. But it was a shallow formula. And just recently, yesterday with the focal point of the Biden administration being a normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Saudis came out with one of the strongest statements I've ever heard criticizing, really reacting to what the national security spokesman at the White House said, which seemed to deflect the core issue. And they made it very clear that Saudi Arabia wants a cessation of the hostilities. They're looking for the hostage releases and humanitarian aid, but they need a clear, effective pathway to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. And he even went as far as saying along the ‘67 borders in East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. So immediately, immediately, even within the context of the Abraham Accords, the price of normalization between the Arab countries and a key country like Saudi Arabia and Israel has risen considerably. And this is one of the major consequences of October 7. 

Ralph Ranalli: I do want to mention here that much of what you just talked about is detailed in a new paper that you just released. And in that paper, you call very strongly for a rethinking of the U.S. policy towards Israel and the Palestinians. Given your observation of this conflict over many, many decades, can you go elaborate a little bit about why the issue of a two-state solution has basically been a can that’s been kicked down the road and kicked down the road and kicked down the road, when you argue in your paper that dealing with that issue first is what makes a lot of those other—I guess you could call them regional diplomatic dominoes—fall into place? 

Ed Djerejian: Exactly. I mean, that's the major thesis of my paper is that U.S. policy must address the core issues. We have to get away from conflict management, which we've been doing with various flare-ups of the crisis, either between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel and Hezbollah. Now it’s the Houthis, and as we've seen strikes against American targets in Iraq and really giving fodder to the Iranian axis of resistance by not resolving this core issue. If this core issue is resolved, it takes the ideological, theoretical wind out of the axis of resistance. I'm not saying that they're going to all become docile—we're still going to have problems of terrorism and incidents and opposition in the region—but it takes away the fundamental rationale they have, which is the unresolved Palestinian issue.  

And that alone would serve United States national security interests because it's not in the interest of our country to have this type of instability in the Middle East. It deflects from other national security priorities and could lead to a larger war in which we do not want the United States to be dragged into by either Israel, Iran, or others. So the point is, let's focus on the key issue, the core issue, and I think that is now being done. I think this is one of the outcomes of October 7, but we need a fundamental reassessment of U.S. policy, and now we're in a different stance. When I was in government, the United States was pretty predominant, especially in the Middle East. We still have a massive military footprint in the greater Middle East, naval air bases throughout the region, and thousands of troops stationed in various countries in the broad Middle East. So the power is there, the military power is there to back up diplomacy, but the time has come for statecraft and not the weaponization of diplomacy by getting into one kinetic warfare incident after another. 

The time has come for statecraft and there, that's why I argue in this paper that an assessment has been made and I list what went wrong. Well, we discussed already what went wrong, the marginalization of the Palestinian issue. That's one big lesson. And then something else that went wrong is the shift of the Israeli body politic to the right in Netanyahu's government. This coalition where you have extremists—two, three extremist, right wing ministers—who really do not believe in the two-state solution, who want to continue and expand the settlement project because they really believe that Judea Samaria, which is the West Bank, is the land of biblical Israel, of the Jewish people. They're not interested in an independent Palestinian state. So that makes Netanyahu a very weak reed—like I argue in the paper—to lean on because if he makes any substantive compromises for the bigger picture of land for peace, his coalition most likely will break up. And he is under three major indictments in Israel that this coalition is helping him virtually keep out of trial and jail. So his position internally, given the opposition in Israel, too, against the legal reforms that his coalition wants to enact, is weak. 

Ralph Ranalli: Right. 

Ed Djerejian: So that's another lesson the body politic in Israel has shifted, right? That's going to have to change for there to be any viable solution along the lines I'm arguing for. I also argue for a change in the Palestinian leadership, and what it has become over the years with the continued occupation. We're entering our 57th year, as you mentioned earlier, of occupation—57 years—and the Palestinian authority created by the Oslo Accords has become systemically corrupt and ineffective and is seen by many Palestinians as really doing Israel's work for it by providing security in the West Bank for Israel and the Israeli occupation. That has to change. There has to be a new viable leadership coming to the fore.  

My bottom line on all of that, really going fast-forward for my conclusion, to be effective, in other words, we have to embark on a comprehensive vision for Israeli-Palestinian peace. And a lot of work has been done in the past. I've been involved in a lot of that. It's there. We have to reiterate, reestablish the principle of land for peace, what we did at the Madrid Peace Conference in bringing the Israelis and the immediate Arab partners to the negotiating table, and then having another tier of multilateral work for refugees, for economic and rehabilitation refugees, and security arrangements in the regional environment. We have to engage in a multilateral coalition. The United States is not as powerful globally as it has been in the past. We have to share power now. The rise of China, India, the great South, and Russia has put its military footprint in Central Europe. So the time has come to build a coalition. We built that coalition under George Herbert Walker Bush—President Bush—and Secretary of State Jim Baker, who I worked very closely with during that administration. And it was hard work to get Israel and the Arabs to come to the table.  

But we had a policy, which to me is very important. It's called principled pragmatism. You maintain your principles—land for peace—but then you're pragmatic in how you deal with the parties to come to the table. And we don't have enough time to get into the details of the art of diplomacy on this, but we put out letters of assurance to each side, giving them the assurances. We recognized what their national security interests were, we worked behind the scenes, and we got them together. 

Ralph Ranalli: When you explain it that way, it seems pretty clear, dare I say almost obvious, that that should be the route to go. And yet there are all these barriers standing in the way, many of them political. Political on the Palestinian side because you've got rivalry between Hamas and the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and the intra-Hamas rivalry between the Hamas leaders on the ground in Gaza and the Hamas leaders in exile in places like Qatar and Lebanon. And then in Israel you've got the messy domestic political situation where it's not necessarily easy to call an election to remove Netanyahu, even though a lot of Israelis are very unhappy with him for many different reasons. And then in the United States you’ve got a situation now where this is just a very difficult, fraught conversation—perhaps the most difficult one there is at the moment. How do you slog through all those political swamps, if you will, to get on some firmer ground where better diplomacy can actually move things forward? 

Ed Djerejian: Well, I think one of the ways you break through it is education, and that's assessing the real facts on the ground. And one thing that I would, if I were in the administration now, what I would really be propagating is the reality that, in between the Jordan River and the Eastern Mediterranean, there are two peoples living there. There are approximately a little over 7 million Israeli Jews and 7 million Palestinian Arabs. Neither one is going anywhere. 

Ralph Ranalli: It's striking when you think of it that way. And yet it’s also striking how little that’s mentioned in the current conversation. 

Ed Djerejian: Just think of it that way. So that's the geopolitical demographic reality. So if that's the case, we have to come to a two-state solution. Let's take the Israeli point of view. Israel characterizes itself as a democratic Jewish state. Okay, well, if you don't have a two-state solution and separate from the Palestinians demography, what you have in reality now is one state with Israel supreme as the occupying power. But the Palestinian Arabs simply produce more babies, and with time, they will be the strong majority. Well, that deflects from Israel's definition as a Jewish state and as a democratic state, how can you remain democratic if you continue to occupy over 2 million people? So the flaw is that the one-state solution goes against the very definition of Israelis of a Democratic Jewish state. Now they can continue that, and the status quo of occupation can continue. Those are the default options, and we're going to be in for more conflict in the future in the Middle East.  

But the only real solution in my eyes, is the two-state solution. And much work has been done on this. We have negotiated, the negotiating files are replete with various options. What we need is a leadership in the region and in Washington and in Europe and globally, to come to the fore and present a comprehensive framework for peace. A vision for peace that actually puts into play what we used to call terms of reference. Here's the general concept of where negotiation should wind up on the key final status issues—again, borders, security arrangements, refugees, Jerusalem, etc. That vision has been articulated, should be articulated by the American administration, clearly, succinctly, but general enough where there can be a potential buy-in by both sides. If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there. So establishing this vision to me is very important. Now, some people say, “Oh my God, look at all the bloodshed. This is illusionary.” No, it's not illusionary because especially in the last week, we've begun to see that the immediate issues of a ceasefire, humanitarian assistance, hostage releases are being pinned to a vision for post Gaza.  

What is the end game? Israel has not come up with an end game. All Netanyahu says is that we're going to defeat Hamas. Well, is that an end game? What does defeat Hamas mean? 

Ralph Ranalli: Right. I think I’ve heard everyone from opposition politicians to Israeli news columnists to relatives of October 7 victims say that Netanyahu’s stated goal of “total victory” over Hamas is just a slogan, not a strategy. 

Ed Djerejian: Yeah, I agree with that. It's a slogan, not a strategy. How do you defeat a political movement? You can defeat the military wing, and Israel is succeeding in defeating the military wing and degrading it, but to defeat Hamas is problematic. 

Ralph Ranalli: You know, I remember something you said about talking to Yitzhak Rabin when he was still alive. And he said, correct me if I'm misquoting you quoting him, but he said, there is no military solution to this conflict. There is only a political solution to this conflict. And it has always struck me. I went to Israel, my wife and I went to Israel years ago, just a couple of years after Rabin was assassinated in 1995. We went to a lot of the historic and religiously important sites. Masada. Yad Vashem. The Temple Mount. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But I also made a point of going to Rabin Square because even then I felt like Rabin's assassination was a watershed event in the politics of Israel and the region. It seemed like it was an inflection point where the country could go one way or another. 

And I’m struck that we don't really talk about Rabin's assassination as the watershed event that I think it was because the country, if anything, has gone further to the right, towards the beliefs of, at least in terms of the political power, towards the beliefs of not Rabin, but of beliefs that shaped the ideology of Rabin's assassin, Yigal Amir. 

Ed Djerejian: Yes. 

Ralph Ranalli: Do you think a case could be made that Rabin was the last best hope for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians? 

Ed Djerejian: I agree with you on that because I worked very closely with Prime Minister Rabin when I was in Israel, and I admired the man because he was a warrior, an Israeli warrior who fought all of Israel's wars, and he was a military hero. And yet when he became prime minister, he realized he was responsible for the destiny of Israel. And he realized as a warrior that military action is not the real solution. That there could only be a political solution to Israel's relationships with its immediate Arab neighbors. And he became a statesman for peace. I'll tell you something, very few people know this. In the Bush 41 administration, and we were so close, and I was a former ambassador to—US Ambassador also to—Syria. We were so close in the fall of 1992 to a Israeli-Syrian peace agreement. Eighty percent of the negotiations had been completed, and Bush father was prepared right after the election and Secretary Baker to do some massive shuttle diplomacy, but to Damascus and Jerusalem and bring that home. We were. I'm not exaggerating at all, and I'll let the historians look at this, but the confidential archives will prove this. We knew that once we got that and we were so close that Arafat would have to come to the table, without any ambiguity, because he was pretty wily negotiator, and we would be at the cusp of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement also.  

Bush 41 lost the election. We are a democracy. Clinton became president. I continued as Assistant Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, but we lost the momentum. But Rabin was the man. He was the real interlocutor in Israel with Syria and with the Palestinians. And I believe that his death, his assassination by this right-wing extremist settler, was what you said. It was a turning point. It was a turning point. And we're not really, Netanyahu has made clear in various interviews that have been released that he wasn't really that serious about a two-state solution and that he could play the American card like no other prime minister of Israel could. And I agree with him. He's a very crafty politician, a very successful one. But his policy of deterrence, for example, of Hamas, has failed. It failed on October 7, and on playing off Hamas against the PLO and Fatah in Ramallah and the West Bank. A weak Palestinian leadership would not put Netanyahu in a position where he would have to negotiate seriously a two-state solution. That was the game that was played. It was a serious game, but it's resulted in this horrible tragedy. So yes, Rabin's death was a watershed, and that's one of the… It's akin to maybe like assassination of JFK. You don't know what the promise was of JFK going forward on his various initiatives. It was a historic tragedy, his death. 

Ralph Ranalli: You mentioned that the policy of playing off Hamas versus the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank was a failure. But you also in your paper said that the Netanyahu’s decision to prioritize the Iran issue over the Palestinian issue was also a mistake. Can you talk a bit about that? 

Ed Djerejian: Yeah. I mean, Netanyahu in deflecting from the Palestinian issue along the lines I've described, Netanyahu was the major proponent that the major threat to the region and to Israel and to the United States is Iran. There's no question that Iran is a geopolitical threat in the wider Middle East region, but Netanyahu almost made the Iranian threat a religion, and it was part of his overall strategy of marginalizing the Palestinian issue too. What I argue in the paper also is that, well under Netanyahu's premier ships. He opposed Obama's JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], which I thought was a terrible mistake because Iran today is closer to weaponizing a nuclear weapon than it was previously during the JCPOA. So is that a success? Is that a success? No, not in my eyes. Iran is more of a threat today than it was before.  

Ralph Ranalli: Just a side note here, the JCPOA is often colloquially referred to as the “Iran nuclear deal.” 

Ed Djerejian: So again, by addressing the land for peace equation of the Palestinian issue, if we move forward on that, that will do more to take the wind out of the sails of Iran's axis of a resistance than anything else. Look at the Houthis in Yemen. They've made it very clear that they're going to continue to challenge shipping in the Red Sea, in the Bab-el-Mandeb, which is a very serious threat to global commerce, 12% of container cargo, they will only stop if there's a durable ceasefire in Gaza. Well, there again, the Palestinian issue comes to the fore. So if we attack the core issue,  statecraft, diplomacy, multilateral effort, we shouldn't do this alone. Do what we did in Madrid, get a wide coalition behind us and with us, then we will do more to diminish the Iranian threat. But Netanyahu has an interest in bolstering the Iranian threat for the reasons I explained, and I think it's just proven to be a terrible failure. 

Ralph Ranalli: So say that this coalition is put together and you get things moving in the direction that you'd like to see. What are the big, longer-term steps that need to be taken to, you've said rebuild Gaza, but also beyond that, to begin to start to repair this tremendous damage that's been done to not just international relationships, but also to homes and people and people’s psyches and their sense of security. How do you rebuild all that? 

Ed Djerejian: By taking a principled position on peace based on land for peace, putting spine in our diplomacy, making clear what the United States national security interests are globally and in the region. The United States has absolutely no interest in widening of this conflict in Gaza. It could lead us into yet another military adventure into the Middle East. The most recent catastrophic one was the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S. We don't need more U.S. military interventions in the Middle East. So that is a major national security interest—to limit and not enlarge the war in Gaza. And how do you do that? You do that by certain deterrence measures that we are taking, but at the same time providing a vision for peace along the lines I described. A comprehensive vision for peace. The United States coming out with a framework for peace or terms of reference for peace that are general enough for the two sides to consider seriously. 

Again, I think there are going to have to be elections in Israel and in the Palestinian community, which means both Fatah and Hamas to bring new leadership to the fore that will present their own initiatives for peace. It just shouldn't be the United States, but we need to hear what is the Israeli Peace Initiative? What is the Palestinian Peace Initiative? Make them come forth within the framework that the United States proposes. And we get the Arab countries, and I think we can get the Arab countries together—the Gulf countries, Saudi—all of them together to support such an American initiative. And then there's a roadmap, a vision and a roadmap, that we can point the parties to and then deal with the immediate, continue to deal with the immediate issues of hostage releases, ending the fighting on the ground and humanitarian aid, this tragic circumstance in Gaza. But it's going to have to take spine, it has to take political spine, and it has to take leadership. And that's where I am not sure that we may accomplish this because I'm not that sure that the leadership is in place. 

Ralph Ranalli: Both on the U.S. side- 

Ed Djerejian: All over. 

Ralph Ranalli: All over. 

Ed Djerejian: All over. I mean, I really, leadership is critical. I saw Bush 41 and Baker take some strong stances, and I knew how strong they were with both the Israelis and the Arabs. It's not a love affair, it's a question of respect. I was at Baker's side when we were negotiating with [Syrian President] Hafez al-Assad to enter into direct negotiations with Israel when Assad played a very clever negotiating trick. And I saw Baker just fold his leather notes in front of Assad and said, “Mr. President, I don't think we can do business together.” And we brought him right back where we wanted. That takes spine. 

And on the Israeli side, we said no to housing loan guarantees—$10 billion of housing loan guarantees—because the Israelis were continuing settlement activity and we didn't want those housing loan guarantees, which were connected to Russian immigration, and to Israel to be used for settlements. Money is fungible. That took spine. We need spine in our policy, but spine that is connected to a comprehensive strategy going forward along the lines I'm suggesting. 

Ralph Ranalli: Right. Do you seen any encouraging signs, any baby steps today, any of the policy approaches you’re advocating?  

Ed Djerejian: There are indications now. First of all, I'm a little bolstered by the fact that the administration is now talking about a comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian issue that has now become forefront. And the Saudi statement of yesterday just makes it even more clear that what has to be the focal point is a realistic roadmap to the creation of a Palestinian independent state. 

So that's one point. The other point is that the administration, as you mentioned, is beginning to note that the settlement project has to be clipped. It cannot go forth randomly as it has and settlements are illegal. Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and the Geneva conventions of 1949. We in past administrations that I've been involved in, as you mentioned since JFK, we called them illegal. But then we started fudging, oh, they're an obstacle to peace. They're a problem. No, they're illegal under international law and should not be permitted to expand. So we need spine in our policy linked to a realistic vision for peace. 

Ralph Ranalli: We’re getting close to the end of our time, but you wrote one other thing that I found interesting and that I was hoping you could elaborate on. And that was that you can't necessarily force the parties to the table. Instead, you said there's a need to create what you call “a political horizon and framework within which the parties can promote their interests, negotiate the necessary compromise, and try to find a common ground to come to an agreement.” What does that look like and how do you achieve it? 

Ed Djerejian: It's interesting that you focused on that because I'm getting reactions to my paper on that phrase like: “Ambassador, what do you mean?” Let me give you an anecdote perhaps to explain it. It's what we did at Madrid. For 40 years at that time—we're talking now, early 1990s—Israel had been demanding direct negotiations with its Arab neighbors. They did not want to go through the U.N. or any conference or U.N. format. They didn't trust the U.N. What we did, instead of just pressuring the Israelis and saying, you’ve got to get to the table or we'll do this, this, and that. What we did—and this was Bush 41 and Baker—what we did is that we created, as I put in the paper, a political landscape with these letters of assurance to each individual party that made it very difficult for them to say no to each other. Because what we said is that if you, Syria, if you PLO, if you Jordan, if you Lebanon, if you Israel, come to this format of peace negotiations, that the United States will assure you of this and that. And we will assure you, Israel, that you will be in face-to-face negotiations with your Arab neighbors. And we got Assad to agree to that. Now, when I was ambassador to Syria, that was a tough thing, but we achieved that through very rigorous, principled diplomacy.  

So my answer to that is that, so we created this political landscape where it was very difficult for Israel to say no. Yitzhak Shamir was the prime minister of Israel at the time. Right wing Likud did not want to be sitting down to negotiate, giving away Judea and Samaria. But how could he say no to the United States when we said, we are giving you direct negotiations. What you Israel have been asking for 40 years? He couldn't say no. That's what I mean. But it takes a lot of statecraft to do that, and we need leadership to be able to do that. But that's the way to go. Great. 

Ralph Ranalli: Thank you so much for being here, Ed. I hope you’re right that some lasting good can come out of this very difficult historical moment.  

Ed Djerejian: Thank you very much for having me. Pleasure. 

Outro (Ralph Ranalli): Thanks for listening. Please join us for our next episode, and subscribe to PolicyCast on your favorite podcasting app. If you have a question or a comment about this or any of our episodes, please drop us an email at So until next time, remember to speak bravely, and listen generously.