Frank Sesno: Well, good morning, everyone. It is an absolute delight to be here. I see people way in the back. How are you doing? Way in the back, not only are you here but you're awake. This is a good thing.
Tremendous amount of news, tremendous amount of topics to discuss. We have all seen changes in the Middle East unfold before our very and incredulous eyes. What does the Arab Spring mean for Israel, for America, for the region, for the world. What is going on with Iran and these talks that are underway, even as we gather? What does Israel need to do to keep its borders secure?
Well, this morning we have two excellent and incredibly timely conversations to help address and I hope answer some of these questions and many others. Ladies and gentlemen, this is "Foreign Policy in Focus."
Amb. Michael Oren: Good morning.
Frank Sesno: And our first conversation here is with the man who leads Israel's diplomatic mission to the United States, noted author and historian
Amb. Michael Oren: Thank you. Oh, boy.
Frank Sesno: - Ambassador Michael Oren. Not bad?
Amb. Michael Oren: That's my mother. That's why. And my wife. Thank you. Thank you all. Boker tov. Good morning. Thank you to all our friends at AIPAC. Greetings from the state of Israel. Thank you to the students for coming from around the country. Frank.
Frank Sesno: It's sort of nothing like starting off a Sunday with 12,000 of your closest friends.
So let me start with one of the things that we in Washington are watching most closely, and I'm sure you've been working it as well, and that is the President's upcoming trip to Israel. What are your expectations for the trip?
Amb. Michael Oren: First of all, we're very excited. This is President Obama's first trip of his second term abroad and it's a great moment. It's always an historic opportunity for the state of Israel to host the president of the United States, but this is very special and extremely timely.
The Middle East, as you know, is in turmoil. The people of Israel are facing great uncertainties. This trip he's coming to talk about important issues on the table, about attempts to reanimate the peace process, to address the chemical weapons threat from Syria, the looming nuclear threat from Iran. Of course, all of that is on the table.
But the trip is about a message. It's a message to the people of Israel that we're not alone. It's a message to the people of the Middle East that there's an unbreakable, deep alliance between Israel and the United States. It's a message to the world.
Frank Sesno: The White House is saying directly and indirectly that there are three main pillars—items on the agenda: Iran, Syria, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What is Israel's agenda for the trip?
Amb. Michael Oren: Again, we share the desire to reanimate the peace process. We are frustrated, I tell you honestly. We don't want just a peace process. We want peace. And Prime Minister Netahyahu has taken consistent risks for peace. In 2009 when he got up at Bar-Ilan University and made the two-state solution the official position of the Likud party, that was a risk. When he froze settlement growth for 10 months, that was a risk. When he got up and said in front of the U.S. Congress—a joint session—that he understood that there'd be settlements beyond Israel's borders in the event of a creation of a Palestinian state, that was a risk.
We need the Palestinians to take a risk as well. And we are ready to restart these peace talks not tomorrow, Frank. We're ready today. We're ready to do it in Jerusalem. We're ready to do it in Ramallah. We're ready to do it in the Washington Convention Center, right here. We're ready to do it. We want peace.
On the Syrian situation, Israel and the United States are closely coordinated and communicating about the control—or lack of control of the Syrian chemical arsenal. It's the largest chemical arsenal in the world. And we've drawn a very clear red line. If that chemical weapons or other game-changing weaponry passes into the hands from Syria to Hezbollah, Israel will not remain silent.
And the Iranian threat. Yes, Israel has the greatest interest in reaching a diplomatic resolution of the Iranian nuclear threat. But we have to be very realistic. Sanctions, though they've taken a huge chunk out of the Iranian economy, have not stopped the Iranian nuclear program. Diplomacy hasn't worked. And like the United States, like President Obama, we are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and we will keep all options on the table.
Frank Sesno: Well, as you know, the Iranians have been engaged in these conversations and there've been some conflicting signals out of the Iranian side as to whether there's a turning point, as one Iranian diplomat was quoted as saying, or whether nuclear weapons—or rather, "nuclear power" is the term that the Iranians used—is an inalienable right of the Iranians, as another cleric said recently. Prime Minister Netanyahu has voiced great skepticism about these talks. What is the Israeli read? What is your read on the talks underway right now involving the Iranians?
Amb. Michael Oren: Well, again, we have the greatest skin in the game and we'd love to see the nuclear threat from Iran removed by—Frank Sesno: Some progress?
Amb. Michael Oren:—diplomatic means.
Frank Sesno: Do you see progress in these talks?
Amb. Michael Oren: No. On the contrary, we've seen years of diplomacy result in zero progress and that the Iranians have used diplomacy as a means of gaining time to spin out more enriched uranium and to advance their nuclear program, all the time that they are threatening to wipe Israel off the map.
Keep in mind that this is a regime that is the world's largest state sponsor of terror. It's assisting Bashar Al-Assad to massacre tens of thousands of Syrians. It has promoted or conducted terrorist attacks across five continents in 25 cities—including in this city, Washington, DC; they were going to blow up our embassy here and kill my Saudi counterpart right here in Washington.
This is a country that is developing the most massive means of destruction. And no country—it's not just Israel's problem; it's not even a Middle Eastern problem—it's a world problem. The world has to gather and prevent Iran from getting these weapons.
Frank Sesno: All right. You are a diplomat and you know this situation better than most. As you listen closely to these talks, as you listen between the lines, if you were to hear progress—what you would qualify as progress—what would that sound like?
Amb. Michael Oren: Progress means that Iran ceases enrichment of—Frank Sesno: Yeah, but it'll happen incrementally. They're not going to come out and announce we're stopping enrichment tomorrow, right? That's what negotiations are all about. What are you listening for in these talks?
Amb. Michael Oren: There's a small window for diplomacy, Frank, here. Last September, Prime Minister Netanyahu stood before the world at the General Assembly and said that there's one part of the Iranian nuclear program that we can monitor; that's the enrichment program. And we know at which point that enrichment reaches enough nuclear fissile material, enriched material to make a single nuclear weapon.
The other parts of the program—the missile part; the weaponization, the fuse part; they'll put that all together underground in a place where we won't know. And at that point, the question is not when Iran gets a nuclear weapon; it's when we will no longer be able to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And that time is not in the distant future.
So incrementally we don't have a lot of time to increment a solution like that. The Iranians are spinning for time. They're playing for time to advance their nuclear program. Again, we'd love to have a diplomatic solution. But imagine everything that Iran does without a nuclear weapon, imagine if they had that nuclear weapon. What is the price of inaction?
Frank Sesno: Let me move you to another group that has weapons and has used them, Hamas. In November we saw the group for the first time launch rockets from Gaza to Tel Aviv. What does it say about the weapons they've got, the growing sophistication? How does this affect the process?
Amb. Michael Oren: Well, let me first tell on a personal note. About six and a half years ago I was wearing a different uniform. I was in the Israeli army as a reserve officer during the Second Lebanon war. And I watched after wave and wave, barrage after barrage hit the Israeli northern communities of Kiryat Shmona, Rosh Pinna, and I thought to myself, we've got to have an answer for this.
Two years later I was back in uniform, Operation Cast-Lead, and I watched again as barrages of rockets hit Sderot, hit Beersheba. And I thought, we have to have an answer for this. And guess what? We came up with an answer. In record-breaking time—in three years, from drawing board to active deployment—we deployed the Iron Dome system.
The Iron Dome system is the first anti-ballistic system in the history of warfare to work in actual combat. And not just worked; it worked splendidly, taking down over 85 percent of the rockets fired at us. And it was definitely a game-changer. It gave us the time and the space to work out a ceasefire during the fighting last November. Because if that expanded to a ground operation, God knows where that would have ended up.
It gave us that space and time. It is a game-changer. It is not a game-ender. 15 percent of those rockets still get through, which is why Israel has of the most advanced civil defense systems in the world, and we have the Israel Defense Forces, which is the citizen's army—one of the largest armies in the world, that's going to defend us.
Last point. That would not have been possible—the Iron Dome system—without the support of President Obama and of the Congress, our friends here in AIPAC. You know, at the height of the fighting last November, we deployed a fifth battery just outside of Tel Aviv, again, through the help of the President and the Congress. And within one hour that battery already had taken down a missile aimed at downtown Tel Aviv.
Frank Sesno: In terms of the—and the Iron Dome is an astonishing thing. And for a lot of the skepticism that has existed in the wider world about whether that technical capability exists, I think it's answered it rather dramatically. Nonetheless, the question about Hamas and Hamas aiming at Tel Aviv, the question I've got is how does that affect the calculus? How does that affect trying to get talks restarted at any level?
Amb. Michael Oren: Well, we're not going to be having talks with Hamas.
Frank Sesno: Any time.
Amb. Michael Oren: The quartet has set down three clear conditions for Hamas joining the peace process. They have to recognize Israel, they have to disavow terror, and they have to accept all previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Hamas has categorically rejected all three of those. So they're not a party to this.
We want to have a negotiation with the Palestinian Authority, with President Abbas. And again, we are willing to meet him without preconditions today, anywhere, to make that happen.
Frank Sesno: Where do you see the Abbas-Hamas equation?
Amb. Michael Oren: Well, we hope that President Abbas will not follow through on reconciliation with Hamas. We see that very much as a game-blocker. And we hope that President Abbas will rejoin us at the negotiating table.
Our position and the position of the Obama administration is identical—immediate, direct talks without preconditions on all the core issues leading to a solution of two states for two peoples: a Palestinian state living side-by-side with the nation-state of the Jewish people, the state of Israel.
Frank Sesno: Let's turn our attention north for a few minutes to Syria. As the fighting continues there and the toll just rises and it's just an awful thing, we'll see Israel focus some military resources on the Golan Heights. How concerned are you that the violence in Syria spills into Israel?
Amb. Michael Oren: Well, there has been some spillover to—and we've had mortar shells just firing yesterday. They aren't necessarily aimed at us. They may be aimed at rebel forces that are aligned along the border. Our major concern there, again, is watching for chemical weapons and other game-changing weaponry that could pass from the hands of Syria into the hands of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. And we're watching that carefully. As I mentioned earlier, we have a red line and we will keep that red line, I assure you.
But keep in mind that on June 4th, 1967, on the eve of the Six-Day War, the Syrian army was 10 yards away from the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Can you imagine what it would be like today if the Syrian army was 10 yards away from the Sea of Galilee? All I can say is thank God—thank God the Golan Heights was in the hands of the state of Israel.
Frank Sesno: Let me ask you one more about Syria, and specifically reports that Hezbollah and Iran have put forces on the ground there to help the regime. What do you see for the future of Syria and Israel's northern border there and the role of Iran?
Amb. Michael Oren: Well, I come from Jerusalem, but I am not a prophet, and nobody can tell you exactly what's going to happen in Syria, you know, not only two weeks from now but two hours from now.
But I can tell you this. We have long wanted Bashar al-Assad to depart, even before the outbreak of fighting. You know, his father, Hafez al-Assad was ruthless but somehow responsible and predictable. His son is ruthless and reckless. He provided help—with Iran, helped provide 70,000 rockets to Hezbollah. He tried to create a secret nuclear facility, which does not exist anymore, thankfully. Reckless. We want him to depart.
I think that his departure—and may it be quick—will deal a tremendous blow to Iran, a tremendous blow to Hezbollah, and that will be not only for the benefit of Israel but the entire region and the world.
Frank Sesno: One more on Iran that's really interesting and that everyone's watching very closely, although I'm not sure necessarily why, and that's the election in Iran this summer. Not exactly like democrats are going to come, you know, galloping to the rescue there. What are you watching? What are you keeping your eye on? What do you expect to see out of this process that they've got, as dynamic as the society is?
Amb. Michael Oren: Well, Iran has elections, but they are corrupt and rife with intimidation and physical violence. We had that example in June 2009. Ask anyone from the Iranian resistance, their opposition, just how democratic those elections were.
At the end of the day we're not expecting great changes. Decisions are made by the supreme leader, and the supreme leader is looking through a jihadist-extremist lens at the world, wants to dominate the Middle East, wants to wipe Israel off the map and to spread his brand of radical Shiism throughout the Middle East and beyond. And so we don't see the elections as a milestone in Iranian foreign policy.
We think they will continue to try to deceive the West, try to expand their nuclear program, to put it underground, to install more advanced centrifuges and get to the point where they can achieve the linkage between the most radical ideology and the most devastating weapons in the world.
Frank Sesno: Mr. Ambassador, we're almost out of time here, but last one on sort of the relationships—the U.S.-Israeli relationship? What are you doing? What do you think is most important for this community to do to continue to strengthen the U.S.-Israeli relationship at this stage?
Amb. Michael Oren: First of all, continue doing what you do, because what you do is so deeply appreciated by all the people of Israel. Go out to your communities and bring the message. Bring the message that there is one country in the Middle East that is militarily and economically robust; that has an army—again, which is one of the largest armies in the world, which has never known a second of non-democratic rule. Puts us in a very small group, along with the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia—never known a second of non-democratic rule. And a country which is unequivocally, unabashedly, unreservedly pro-American.
Reach out to the churches in your community, to the African-American/Latino community, to the mosque. Reach out and bring this message. But in addition to that, next time you have a vacation, know that there's a country that has fabulous beaches, world-class food, mountains, deserts 3,000 years of spiritual and cultural history. And it's a country that belongs to you in the way that no other country in the world can belong to you. You don't even need a passport and you don't even need a visa. Come and join us in the state of Israel.
Frank Sesno: I'll really test your diplomatic skills here. Do you have a favorite beach, a favorite place to go?
Amb. Michael Oren: Oh, they're all wonderful.
Frank Sesno: See, I knew it.
Amb. Michael Oren: They're all wonderful.
Frank Sesno: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.
Amb. Michael Oren: Thank you, Frank. Bye-bye. Thank you all.
Frank Sesno: Thank you, sir. We will take a short break before we welcome our next guests.
Frank Sesno: (In progress)—working with both of them in Washington for many, many years. And actually be a next-door neighbor to one of them for many years as well, as fate would have it. They have logged incredible hours and miles on behalf of the United States and diplomacy and looking for answers to very serious and vexing web of challenges. Please join me in welcoming the former deputy national security advisor to President Bush, Elliot Abrams.
Elliot Abrams: Thank you.
Frank Sesno: Elliot's latest book, by the way, if you haven't seen it, Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
And Dennis Ross, who served as special assistant to President Obama among many positions over many years in the Middle East peace process. Now, he doesn't have a book that's just published; he has a book that will publish. And after all, I think equity is necessary here. So it is entitled—or will be entitled—let's see if I got this right—Doomed to Succeed: U.S.-Israeli Relations During a Time of Change. Right?
Dennis Ross: Yep.
Frank Sesno: Okay. We'll sign up for it now. Let me ask you both. You heard what the ambassador had to say in his survey of the region, talks with Iran under way right now, anticipation of President Obama's trip. Response?
Dennis Ross: Well, I think that he framed the trip very much the way I think it is seen not only by the United States but also by Israel. I think it is a time for a new beginning. I think it's a time to send a message. I think one of the points he made at the end is very important to keep in mind. We're in a period of enormous unprecedented upheaval in the Middle East. There's one country, for all of its changes internally, the reality is, it is a democracy and it is stable and it is always going to be an American friend. If you're looking for one pillar in the Middle East during a time of change, it's Israel.
Frank Sesno: And no real expression of optimism expressed over the talks with Iran?
Elliot Abrams: No. Look, I think it is great that the president's going. Israel's a close ally. Just as any president should go to Canada or Japan, he should go to Israel. I think his challenge is to persuade Israelis that deep down he understands them and the challenges they face. He's going to need to show a kind of delicate medical procedure was conducted here, a kishka transplant.
Frank Sesno: You want to talk about that some more?
Elliot Abrams: I think that's the challenge for the president. And I think it's unfortunate in the sense that he didn't do this in 2009 because it's harder now in 2013. But I think it's terrific that he's going to Israel.
Frank Sesno: Dennis, you advised the president. What's your take on that? Some convincing to do here?
Dennis Ross: Well, I think there's always a convincing to do, in truth. I mean, the fact is, particularly now, if you're sitting in Israel and you're looking at what's going on around you, this is a time of enormous uncertainty. It's a time of unprecedented challenge. And I think from the standpoint of the Israeli public, having the American president come, having this American president come as the first trip of his second term, it actually does create an opportunity.
I think what Michael said is exactly right; it creates an opportunity. It creates an opportunity not only for a new beginning between the president's second term and the prime minister of Israel who is beginning a new term—assuming he puts together a government, which I think he will. But I think it also is a chance to create a connection with the Israeli public and to demonstrate unmistakably when the president says that he's determined to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons, he isn't saying that from a distance. It's not an abstraction. He can go and he can address the Israeli public directly.
When talking about, you know, common interests that we have in terms of what's going on in Syria. Even, I would say, common interests as it relates to the Palestinians. It's not just the issue of trying to preserve two states. There's a common strategic interest in preserving the Palestinian Authority so that the future identity of the Palestinians isn't an Islamist one.
Frank Sesno: You have both mentioned the enormous upheaval in the region. The Arab Spring obviously continues to ripple on. So let's go country to country; we can call it a little bit of a lightning round here because there's so much to cover. Let me start with Iran, with the talks that have been under way. As you say, I asked the ambassador about conflicting signals coming from Iran. How do you size them up?
Elliot Abrams: I worry about what I've seen in the newspapers because it seems to me that there is a weakening of the P5+1 conditions.
Frank Sesno: There appeared to be some offer to drop oil for gold business.
Elliot Abrams: Right. It looks to me as if we're negotiating with ourselves. We've seen no concessions on the part of Iran. So we make an offer; they don't accept it or they walk away. Months go by, we make another offer, a better offer. The message to Iran I think is, just wait. And meanwhile, of course, they do get closer and closer and closer in their nuclear weapons program on the missile side, on the warhead side, and on having more enriched uranium.
Frank Sesno: Play for time?
Dennis Ross: Well, I think the Iranians have been playing a rope-a-dope strategy. There's no doubt about that. I think the question is, did the P5+1 approach this negotiation from the standpoint of trying to deny the Iranians an excuse? If the Iranian excuse is you're not offering us anything when you're asking us to give something, maybe trying to deny an excuse is something that could work. The question is, if you're denying an excuse and the Iranians don't respond right now, then I think the posture on the 5+1 has to be, all right, you know, we are beginning to lose patience now. And the 5+1 may have to begin to begin to shape a timetable to say when diplomacy no longer is working.
Frank Sesno: Here's a quote from a Western diplomat, unidentified—or from a diplomat: "This was more constructive and more positive than previous meetings because they were really focusing on the proposal on the table." What are we hearing?
Dennis Ross: Well, I think the Iranians have a strong interest to portray this positively.
Frank Sesno: Maybe that was an Iranian—Dennis Ross: It was Salehi. No, it was—yes. I think the foreign minister of Iran talked about this being very positive.
Frank Sesno: Oh, he called it a turning point.
Dennis Ross: Jalili described it as a turning point, who is their negotiator. But I think the more interesting thing is that they listened and offered nothing. Now, the 5+1, as I said, if they're taking away excuses, that's fine. Then the next round then you say, all right, you didn't come with anything; now you're revealing yourselves. At some point the negotiations have got to focus on clarifying is diplomacy going to work or not?
One of the reasons I've been in favor not of a step-by-step approach—because I think it plays to the Iranian instinct of playing for time—is to go to an end-game proposal that sort of says, look, you say you want civil nuclear power. Here's a definition of civil nuclear power. You can have it. If you're not prepared to accept it, then we know diplomacy isn't going to work.
Frank Sesno: Not work.
Dennis Ross: If you are prepared to accept it, then we know we have a deal. It's time to clarify.
Frank Sesno: Elliot, in the—in the New York Times today, "Seized Chinese weapons raise concern on Iran. Capture of vessel off Yemen alarms region." What's going on?
Elliot Abrams: Well, Iran is continuing to build up not only its nuclear program but its allies in Hezbollah and in Syria. You know, we know that Iranian revolutionary guards forces are in Syria, small numbers. We've seen reports—you still read the New York Times?
Frank Sesno: I read everything.
Elliot Abrams: Okay. Some excuse.
Frank Sesno: I have a quote from Haaretz too, so—Elliot Abrams: Okay. We've seen—Dennis Ross: Full service.
Elliot Abrams:—we know that Hezbollah fighters are backing up the Assad army in Syria. So we see Russia and China playing this game. Meanwhile, of course, if you look at the P5+1, who are they? You've got Russia and China in that group. I'm afraid that—that the person who's nuclear—who's Iranian nuclear policy has been successful for about a dozen years now is the Ayatollah Khomeini. He's doing great. We're not. They get closer and closer and closer every year to a nuclear weapons capability.
We have a sanctions program that is damaging the Iranian economy. And if our goal were to damage the Iranian economy and raise the price of foreign cars in Iran, it would be a great success. The goal, though, is to prevent them from getting closer to a nuclear weapon. And we're failing to do that.
Frank Sesno: Dennis, last very quick question on Iran. You advised Barack Obama, the president is going to Israel; do you expect anything definitive from this trip on the subject of Iran and these negotiations?
Dennis Ross: Well, whatever might be definitive will not be out in the public. You're going to have the—the president and the prime minister talk about Iran. I suspect that in their private conversations they will focus a good deal on the meaning of prevention and what's the point at which prevention as an objective could be lost. Neither side—not the president, not the prime minister—wants to make the kind of commitment that so ties their own hands in terms of what they do that they're limited in terms of the future.
But I think they do want to have more of an understanding between each other not only on the assessment of where the Iranian program is, where I would say there's no gap between the two sides, but more of a sense of what's the point where prevention as an objective begins to lose its meaning? Because that's the point where if diplomacy hasn't worked, then force becomes inevitable.
Frank Sesno: All right. Just a few minutes left, so back to the lightning round that hasn't been so lightning, because this is complex stuff. But to Syria; 70,000 dead, something like a million displaced. Is there an end game for Assad in this?
Dennis Ross: Well, I think for Assad the only end game is he leaves. There's no other end game than Assad leaving. The real question is, what has to be done, A, to accelerate his departure; B, to try to produce a transition that doesn't yield a failed state that's totally disintegrated and it gives al-Qaeda and Jihadists all sorts of access; and C, what do we do to try to influence that landscape?
Frank Sesno: You want to take on A, B and C?
Elliot Abrams: Well, I agree. That's what we should be doing. I think it's tragic, frankly, that we have been so slow in responding. Iran has not been slow. Hezbollah has not been slow. Secretary of State Kerry announced last week that we would henceforth be giving our humanitarian aid to the opposition to strengthen it. I think that's terrific and I think the fact that it happened so early in his tenure as secretary of state is a good sign.
But think about it for a minute. February 2013. We've given hundreds of millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to Syria and guess what? It has gone through the Assad regime. It's gone largely through the Syrian Red Crescent, which is controlled by the regime. And Doctors Without Borders reported in late January that there's much, much more humanitarian aid available in the government-controlled areas than in the opposition-controlled areas. It's incredible that it has taken us until February 2013 to make that switch. I just hope it isn't too late to strengthen the more moderate forces among the Syrian opposition against let's say the extremists or Jihadi forces.
Dennis Ross: I agree with that plan. I mean, the fact is the administration has given about $360 million in humanitarian assistance aid, does it through the U.N. The U.N. has been working through the regime and through regime-controlled organizations until a week ago. And the fact is—Frank Sesno: Why? Why did it take so long, Dennis? You were there.
Dennis Ross: They were focused on, I think—the U.N. was focused on the kind of legal circumstances under which it provides assistance. And I think that has to change. I think as—I think it's very good that, as Elliot said, Secretary Kerry is focused on how you do things differently.
My own view, and has been this way for some time, we have got to provide lethal assistance. Because if you're going to influence the realities on the ground, you have to basically affect the balance of forces among the opposition. You can't do that only through non-lethal assistance.
Frank Sesno: Let me move you on. You both mentioned Secretary Kerry. Let's go to Egypt now for a moment and his visit there. He was leaning on Egypt for Syria's economic and political reforms. What's the outlook? What do look to be happening?
Dennis Ross: Well, I think there's a huge challenge in Egypt because if the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't improve its approach to governance, you're going to see increasing instability. One of the things that has surprised me is not that they would seek control—that was obvious—but I thought that they would be smart enough to realize that it was in their interest to be more inclusive. Because if they're not inclusive, their ability to govern is going to be very limited. They're not going to be able to deliver.
Egypt's economy is sinking. And if they don't deliver on this score, their own capacity to remain in power will be in question. So I think one of the things that Secretary Kerry is trying to do is to forge more of a consensus within Egypt on what they will do about the economy. That's obviously a starting point.
Frank Sesno: Elliot, what's your big picture view of Egypt and the implications for America, Israel and the broader region?
Elliot Abrams: You know, we can't save the Egyptians from themselves. The problem with—I think is we would; I would, anyway—like to see the Muslim Brotherhood fail, but I wouldn't like to see Egypt fail. We certainly don't want chaos in Egypt. I agree completely with Dennis; Morsi and the Brotherhood are governing as if they had just won an election with 99 percent of the votes. They won 51-48 but they're disregarding the rest of the Egyptians, people who don't really want a Brotherhood government.
So as long as they consider that—first of all, we don't have enough money to continue to bail them out. This is not, you know, little Tunisia. The World Bank, IMF can give them $4 billion. Okay. That's a month or two. That's all. And that's all I'll advise you. I think unless this government of Egypt changes the way it's governing, I don't think it'll be there a year or two from now.
Frank Sesno: With even more implications for the region.
Elliot Abrams: With implications—Frank Sesno: I want to get to another place before we're out of time.
Dennis Ross: One more point.
Frank Sesno: Okay.
Dennis Ross: We don't have an interest in Egypt being a failed state because it'll radiate outwards. But the fact of the matter is, we need to maintain a set of principles that are also practicalities as it relates to Egypt. The end of the day, the Muslim Brotherhood needs to observe its international obligations, meaning peace with Israel, or it's not going to get help from the outside. It needs to respect minority rights; so if all the Coptic Christians begin to flow, you're not going to get help or investment from the outside. It needs to maintain political pluralism or you're not going to have stability on the inside. These are all practicalities; they also fit out principles.
Frank Sesno: Let me ask you both, because this is a stop we have to make before we wrap up here, and that's the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Do you expect some kind of reconciliation between Abbas and Hamas?
Dennis Ross: Well, by my count we've had I think five reconciliation agreements so far. And obviously none of them have happened. That's not an accident. The reason they don't reconcile is not because they're not under pressure from the Palestinian public that would like to see the Palestinian community, the Palestinian political entity, unified. It's because they're real rivals.
Now, the fact is—Michael Oren said it correctly—as long as Hamas doesn't meet the quartet's conditions, it can't be a partner. I'm hoping that what we'll see is an effort on the part of the Palestinian Authority to focus on how it can actually begin to achieve things with the Israelis and not how it can try to reconcile with Hamas.
Frank Sesno: So Elliot, last question to you. A rocket from Gaza hit Israel last week.
Elliot Abrams: Yeah.
Frank Sesno: But otherwise, it's been very quiet since November. What's going on in Gaza? What do you think Hamas is thinking?
Elliot Abrams: I think Hamas is trying to figure out ways of getting into the Palestinian Authority government and, big point for them historically, getting into the PLO, which they've never been in and which actually Arafat kept them out of. My fear is that we're going to see people, starting with the Europeans, deserting those quartet principles. My own conversations with Europeans suggest to me that at the first show of leg on the part of Hamas, they'll start compromising.
Ambassador Oren said rightly that Israel would not negotiate with Hamas. I am not so sure that the Europeans won't be negotiating with Hamas and trying to bring about a coalition between Hamas and Fatah, that if it happens is going to make peace negotiations impossible.
Frank Sesno: I'm going to be terribly nasty to both of you and I'll give you each one last question, one last response. You get one sentence.
Elliot Abrams: Okay.
Frank Sesno: Looking forward over the next few weeks and months, one prediction or one big thing you're looking for from the region. Dennis?
Dennis Ross: I think the focus in the immediate term is on Syria. And I think the key here is a greater degree of activism to ensure that in fact we try to affect the landscape there.
Elliot Abrams: I agree with that. On Syria I would say you will see perhaps an agreement between Hamas and Fatah on paper. It will never be implemented and it will break up once again. But while it exists, it will make any progress on negotiation connected with the president's trip impossible.
Frank Sesno: Elliot Abrams, Dennis Ross, thank you for your insight and for all that you have done. Ladies and gentlemen, please give them a big hand. Thank you for joining us this morning. Have a great conference. Enjoy the show.