Elusive peace

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

Audio Transcript:

Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Aaron David Miller, an advisor on the Middle East during the past five administrations and author of the book, The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace.

MARCO WERMAN: Aaron David Miller has been an advisor on the Middle East during the past five administrations. How much different do you think this event has made the U.S.-Israeli relationship now?

AARON DAVID MILLER: I don't think it's fundamentally affected at all. In fact, I think the administration has made a decision after 16 months that fighting with an Israeli Prime Minister while necessary, is not going to get you where you want to go and that you're going to have to not only be tough, but also be extremely reassuring. So I think the administration had made a decision that if they want to succeed on Arab-Israel negotiations, they're going to have to find a way to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu and that in fact he is a political reality that is here to stay.

WERMAN: It does feel today though after the events on the Mavi Marmara that the United States is kind of the last man standing, if you look at world reaction. The dynamic is qualitatively different today.

MILLER: Well there's no question about it. In fact, that may well, I'm not sure this was an intended consequence, but I think the administration may well pick up points with the Israelis for it. It's a paradox. When the Israelis are isolated and alone, feeling abandoned even though that abandonment may well come from a policy decision or a military decision that was unwise and untimely, the United States does in fact serve as Israel's best friend. The United States understands that once the dust settles, this crisis will pass by the way, and on the other side of it will remain a huge problem between the Arabs and the Israelis. America has a unique role to play, even while I'm doubtful as to whether or not they could ultimately play it, with the State of Israel and that means maintaining a sense of trust and confidence. So it's a strategic judgment reached not just by this administration but by Republican as well as other Democratic administrations. That yes, you may fight with the Israelis, and those American Presidents who have succeeded have fought with the Israelis, but the reality is you also have to work out a relationship with an Israeli Prime Minister if you want to succeed.

WERMAN: Do you think the Obama-Netanyahu relationship as a result of this flotilla crisis, do you think it's bound them in a way that will be productive, or are they closer together in a way that will not be productive?

MILLER: Marco that's a very interesting point because you've noticed in the low key, very measured, sober reaction of the United States a clear difference in the way we are reacting to this crisis than just about everyone else, including the other permanent members of the Security Council. Look, I think if we're prepared to have a special relationship with the Israelis, but not allow that relationship to be exclusive, if we're prepared to talk honestly and openly to the Israelis about things that they do that we don't like and even impose some measure of accountability, if we're prepared to adopt our own positions in negotiations, not just ones that fundamentally accord first and foremost with Israel's interests, if in fact we're prepared to do all that, we can actually use our relationship with Israel to get somewhere in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The real question is can we be Israel's best friend and an effective broker of Arab -Israeli peace? I would argue we played that role at least three times in the course of the last forty plus years. And maybe we can play it again, but we're going to need an enormous amount of help, not just from the Israeli Prime Minister, who is far away from making the kinds of decisions on issues like Jerusalem, borders and refugees that are required. We're going to need a lot of help from Mahmoud Abbas who is presiding over a divided and dysfunctional Palestinian National Movement, and we're going to need a lot of help from the Arabs who have been very reluctant to stand up on this issue until they saw the color of our money.

WERMAN: You noted earlier the U.S. government's very measured response to the Mavi Marmara crisis and you noted that America has lost the capacity to be independent of Israel, to be honest with it when it does thing we don't like. Why do you think Washington can not be honest with Israel?

MILLER: Well first of all, we can and we demonstrated our capacity in several other administrations in the past to essentially be tough and reassuring. We did it under Kissinger, we did it under Carter, and we did it under Bush 41 and - - . We just have taken about a 16 year vacation from finding the right balance in our relationship with the Israelis. Whether or not Barack Obama has the will and the capacity to reset the U.S.-Israel relationship, I don't know, frankly, whether or not he is prepared to do that. I think they're smart in not hammering the Israelis right now along with everyone else. I think if they can find a way to maintain their credibility with the Palestinians, they will weather this crisis, but it's going to take finding a better balance in our relationship with Israel.

WERMAN: Aaron David Miller is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His latest book is the "Much Too Promised Land; American's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace". Thank you very much.

MILLER: It's a pleasure Marco.