This past week’s Saban Forum, held at the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, few participants agreed with the outspoken vision of Israeli Commerce and Industry Minister Naftali Bennett, who openly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state. He said “that Palestinians deny the existence of a Jewish state, thereby threatening his children’s survival.”
The forum focused on the future of Israelis and Palestinians, the nuclear negotiations with Iran, the ways with which Israel and the United States are coping with the situation in Syria, and the looming threat of ISIS. So nothing major, really.
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The forum included webcasts with remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Isaac Herzog, Israeli chair of the Labor Party and leader of the opposition, and Naftali Bennett, Israeli Minister of Economy; Minister of Religious Services, Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs; Chairman, Jewish Home Party.
The Prime Minister was adamant in his views of Iran’s disregard for the given deadline for an agreement pertaining to their pursuit of nuclear weapons. He emphasized that “it is the most vital national security challenge we face”. He also said “Israel seeks peace. I seek peace, but for peace we need a Palestinian partner willing to stand up to Palestinian extremists. I hope we will find such a partner.”
Clinton, as a likely contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, has been accused of distancing herself from Obama, but now she forcefully endorsed the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that were insistently encouraged by the Obama administration and then resisted by both sides. Their absence, Clinton said, created dangers for Israel and “leaves a vacuum that is filled by bad actors, threats.”
Isaac Herzog said he was likelier than Netanyahu to conclude a deal with the Palestinians and to improve relations with the United States. Herzog claimed that Netanyahu was isolating Israel. “We can’t in this era dwell alone, ” Herzog said.
The word “alone” seems redundant after a panel of such diverse speakers from different countries maintained such an open, honest dialogue together, once again, at the Saban Forum’s eleventh year.