By Adam Lomax
On Wednesday 25th January the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Ambassador Arthur Koll, former Deputy Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to discuss Israeli-Palestinian relations after Obama and during the new Trump presidency. The event was chaired by Lord Turnberg and Tom Wilson, Fellow at the HJS Centre for the New Middle East.
Ambassador Koll began by referring back to the early 1990s, recalling how the recent end of the Cold War had meant that countries were no longer seen through the polarising prism as being either pro-West or pro-Soviet. This new era of international relations thus reflected an optimistic new beginning for Israeli-Palestinian relations as demonstrated with the 1993 Oslo Accords. However, as Koll noted, this newfound optimism soon faded with subsequent negotiation attempts including the 2000 Camp David Summit, the 2007 discussions between Abbas and Olmert, and most recently in 2013 John Kerry’s proposal for a nine-month plan which ultimately came to nothing.
Regarding the first two examples, Koll highlighted that both Arafat and Abbas had rejected the respective proposals made by Barak and Olmert during negotiations. From this Koll stressed arguably the most important message of his talk: that bilateral negotiations were essential for a successful peace agreement, a strategy which Palestine has repeatedly ignored in favour of encouraging international pressure on Israel. However, according to Koll, an imposed external solution is doomed to fail and it is for that reason that the recent Paris conference (which held neither Israeli nor Palestinian representatives) will ultimately have “zero historic significance”.
Ambassador Koll ended by reiterating his point that bilateral negotiations are essential for a successful peace agreement but added that time for such success is running out quickly. Koll also stated that, despite the failure of the current generation to successfully broker a peace deal, there is still hope that the next generation will be able to succeed where we have failed. The floor was then opened to questions from the audience.
The first questioner enquired as to how much freedom of movement Netanyahu really has in government and to what extent his actions are impeded. Ambassador Koll replied that Netanyahu believes that he has a carte blanche following the recent election of Trump. However, as Kroll pointed out, Netanyahu’s party only received 23% of votes in the 2013 election and since then Naftali Bennett has been consistently critical of Netanyahu in order to make life difficult for the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, Koll admitted that he did not foresee a possible peace agreement between Palestine and the current Israeli coalition.
The second questioner asked about the probability of Trump actually moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Kroll replied that Trump is not the first US President to consider this relocation: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both promised the move during their campaign trail. Congress even passed the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act during Clinton’s first term. But since then successive Presidents have signed a waiver every six months to block the legislation’s enforcement, convinced that national security is better protected by remaining in Tel Aviv. However, Trump is much more unpredictable than his predecessors and so may well fulfil this promise, although it would still be possible for him to recognise Palestine if the embassy were moved to West Jerusalem.
Lastly, when asked how realistic a peace agreement actually was, Ambassador Koll replied that he could not allow himself to be a pessimist on this subject and that he wants a better future for his children, both of whom live in Jerusalem. At which point Lord Turnberg thanked Ambassador Koll for coming and the lecture was adjourned.
For a transcript of this event click here