Q & A


Aaron Miller, president, Seeds of Peace

January 14, 2003

After 25 years of laboring to advance Middle East peace, advising six secretaries of state, Aaron Miller, 53, is leaving the State Department to head Seeds of Peace, a 10-year-old private organization that fosters ties between young people from Israel and the Arab and Muslim worlds, as well as between Indians and Pakistanis.

His departure comes at a time when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more violent than at any point in recent decades and when a new peace initiative drafted by the United States and Europeans has yet to get off the ground. Last week, Miller sat down with The Sun's diplomatic correspondent, Mark Matthews, to talk about his career change, the Middle East and American policy. Following are excerpts:

Why are you leaving now?

I've been offered ... the chance to run an extraordinary organization, which has been remarkably successful in changing perceptions and attitudes among Arabs and Israelis, Indians and Pakistanis. [This is] combined with my belief that the time line for a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been extended. It's going to take a hell of a lot longer to resolve this problem than we had anticipated.

The point that connects the two is my concern that the [conflict is damaging] an entire generation of young Israelis and Palestinians. There's very little hope; there's a lot of despair, and there's a loss of faith in two realities: that there is a solution to this problem and that the way to do it is through negotiations.

What's your view of the Bush administration's [Middle East] policy?

They were confronted with an extraordinarily difficult challenge. The consequences of the intifada [uprising] left the administration with probably the worst set of circumstances that I have seen in 25 years. ... This administration has done some things, capped by the president's June 24 [2002] speech, which, frankly, have been unprecedented.

That speech created a new normative baseline: two states living in peace and security, an end to terror and violence, [an Israeli] settlements freeze. This is a very important commitment. ...

Sooner or later, if progress is going to be made in turning this situation around, the United States will have to play a greater role. The timing is not right now. Nobody is listening now. You have Israeli elections set for Jan. 28. You have the prospect of a major military confrontation in a war with Iraq on the horizon. Trying to do Arab-Israeli peace in this kind of environment is not going to happen. There may well be opportunities afterward. ...

Even in those negotiations where the parties themselves initially took bold and historic steps - Egypt-Israel, Israel-Palestinian and Israel-Jordan - the U.S. role became extremely important. Without the United States it's impossible to sustain any meaningful process of peace.

We have never played the role of judge and jury. I'm talking about a U.S. role in a very intimate, involved way as a friend, as a supporter, someone who can keep the parties focused on the important issues.

Without a more determined American role - under the appropriate circumstances and at the right time - it's going to be very difficult to unwind this. ... There are no quick fixes anymore. It's going to take a huge effort to get out of this.

Many Israelis and Palestinians accept the idea of two states divided roughly along the 1967 lines. What makes it so hard to build on that?

What is impeding a solution is not the problems that have to be resolved at the negotiating table - I believe there are fixes for each of the four or five core issues - it is the politics and the psychology: domestic politics, politics of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and the psychology. This is something we paid very little attention to over the course of the last 10 years. ... The various ways in which Israelis and Palestinians looked at a resolution of the conflict were in some respects completely divergent. Those different narratives have become so fundamentally opposed right now. One side sees it totally in terms of terror and violence, the other totally in terms of occupation.

Next time, the process has to have a much more solid basis of public support in order to sustain the kind of choices leaders need to make at the negotiating table.

Did [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat reject a generous offer from [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak at the negotiations hosted by President Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000?

Arafat's transgression at Camp David, the Palestinian transgression, was not that he didn't accept what Barak put on the table. I think it would have been impossible for him to accept [the offer] in toto. His transgression was his passivity, his lack of responsiveness and his refusal to credit Barak and in doing so create a sense that he had an Israeli partner who was serious.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.