Few people follow the Middle East closer than David Makovsky.
An award-winning journalist, Makovsky covered the peace process from 1989 to 2000. He is the former executive editor of the Jerusalem Post, was diplomatic correspondent for Haaretz, and is a former contributing editor to U.S. News and World Report.
He’s currently director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and recently co-authored a book with Senior White House Advisor Dennis Ross, “Myths, Illusions, & Peace: Finding a New Direction in the Middle East.”
So when Makovsky speaks about the peace process, people generally listen — even if they may not like what he’s about to say.
Such was the case Monday — the eve of the second round of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt — when Makovsky took questions from journalists during a conference call sponsored by The Israel Project. He said plenty of things that plenty of people may find troubling to accept.
Here are just a couple:
• Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has changed — “Bibi,” as he’s called, is no longer the conservative ideologue of the 1990s, Makovsky said. He’s more of a strategist — someone fully aware of the demographics challenge facing Israel and the threat of regime changes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia (both countries could see more radical regimes face their current aging rulers). Netanyahu is apparently looking for a way to assure Israeli security in the future without estranging his powerbase.
Makovsky called this morphed Bibi “Netanyahu 2.0.”
“He (Netanyahu) sees the changing Middle East, and when he says Abbas is a partner [for peace], I think it’s an important phrase,” Makovsky said. “I do believe there’s a change; whether that change is going to be enough given the opposition remains to be seen, but Netanyahu didn’t talk that way in the ’90s.”
That assessment won’t sit well with many on the political left who see Netanyahu as intractable, either incapable or unwilling to make difficult decisions to achieve peace.
• Likewise, those on the right will be unhappy about Makovsky’s take on Abbas. He said the Palestinian Authority president, like his prime minister, Salaam Fayad “have stuck their necks out,” for a two-state solution, and despite rhetoric from several conservative groups are indeed taking steps to assure Israel’s security.
For instance, the P.A. has purged mosques of imams calling for suicide attacks on Israel (a claim, Makovsky said has been confirmed by Israeli sources) and he said security cooperation between the two sides has increased.
Not that these facts change the situation on the ground entirely. P.A. textbooks still teach hatred for Jews and town squares are still named for Palestinian terrorists.
But the progress that is made on both sides of the Green Line passes with little attention from the media, or, more importantly, Israeli and Palestinian leaders, who fear acknowledging such progress from the other side could put more pressure on them.
That’s a failure of both sides in this peace process, he said, but one that can be reversed.
(Lee Chottiner, executive editor of The Jewish Chronicle, can be reached at email@example.com.)