Israeli journalist Hoffman hopeful for peace in region

Bill San Antonio

The rivalry between Israel and Palestine has been long and bloody and stubborn. Iran seems determined to further develop its nuclear weapons program. And recent reports say that last month, Syria used chemical weapons against the rebels in a brutal civil war that continues to rage on with no end in sight. 

When it comes to the Middle East, Gil Hoffman has seen and covered it all.

Hoffman, the chief political correspondent and analyst for the Jerusalem Post, is also widely believed to be among the most hopeful people in the region that peace in the Middle East – particularly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – can come sooner rather than later. 

He explained why during an hour-long lecture and question-and-answer session at Temple Sinai in Roslyn Heights Monday, even rebutting the words of the temple’s most recent, more “distinguished” lecturer.   

“When I heard that Bill Clinton came here and said that he doesn’t think that with the current makeup of Israeli politics, that there could be movement toward peace in the Middle East, I’m sorry to say, you didn’t get your money’s worth – because that’s not right,” he said. “If there’s not going to be movement in the peace process, it’ll be because of mistakes made in Ramallah and in Washington.”

As the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians has intensified over the last four years, after negotiations between the two nations to reach a peace agreement have stalled, many expected Israelis to elect a conservative government whose primary concern would be securing the nation and keeping its people safe. 

But in January, Israelis elected a Knesset – the Israeli government’s legislative branch – that nearly has equal representation among conservatives and liberals, Hoffman said, leading him to believe voters didn’t go to the polls solely with Palestine in mind. 

“What our elections showed is that we are going to be dealing now with who we are as a people,” Hoffman said. “We’re not going to wait anymore for these big heavy subjects to make the necessary changes inside our society.” 

The naming of Tzipi Livni as the nation’s minister of justice also leads Hoffman to believe that Palestinians cannot avoid negotiations for much longer. 

“I can understand that Palestinaians didn’t come to the negotiating table for four years, they didn’t think that [Benjamin] Netanyahu would have given them what they wanted – that’s a logical guess, though it’s wrong – but now they can’t say no to Tizpni Livni, who negotiated with them for a full year before and who, desperately, for Israel’s own good, wants there to be two states for two people as soon as possible,” Hoffman said.

Since John Kerry was named secretary of state, Hoffman said, he has dedicated his efforts toward solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel in March served as an indicator that he and Netanyahu are willing to resolve the differences regarding the conflict that came between them during Obama’s first term. 

“Even though they are still two different people, they’ve learned a lot from each other in the last four years to become a lot closer on all the key issues of the day,” Hoffman said.

One of the key issues involving both nations, Hoffman said, is in preventing Iran from fully developing its nuclear program.  

Conflicting reports cloud just how close Iran is from nuclear capability, but Hoffman, who wrote for the Miami Herald and Arizona Republic before moving to Israel, said that with strict economic sanctions, coupled with heavy financial losses on its nuclear program and civilian unrest over a lack of democratic elections, Iran may be stopped from nuclearization without military action, though the outlook would seem brighter with a strong military presence backing it. 

“There is hope that the sanctions can work, but as Netanyahu has pointed out, it would be a lot easier to work if they’re combined with a credible military threat,” he said. “The only time Iran ever has stopped its nuclear program was in 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq, and Iran thought, ‘we must be next.’” 

But, Hoffman added: “Obama went to Israel and said ‘I will not let Iran get the bomb, period.’ For Israelis, that’s the most important thing to hear.” 

Though the U.S. and Iran considered Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons in its civil war as a “red line,” there is concern that the United States would intervene in the conflict, which may, in turn, accelerate rivalries with Iran. 

“A lot of Israelis are concerned that if there are red lines set by the administration in Washington and are not kept, that it makes us also think that on Iran they also won’t be kept,” Hoffman said. “The truth is, the dialogue is going to be constant on both of those issues.”

Though relations between Israel and Syria have also been historically hostile, Hoffman said that with more than 70,000 reportedly killed during the civil war, Israel “sees what’s going on as a terrible tragedy,” but will not pressure the United States to become involved. 

But, he said, “For us, just to see that the Syrian army, which was created to destroy us, has self-destructed, is not bad news, so the very fact that Syria will be too busy to attack us for quite some time is not so bad.” 

Recent clashes in Egypt against President Mohammed Morsi could signal more political unrest in the region, Hoffman said, as the nation takes further steps to be more democratic and peaceful.

“In Egypt, the fact that people are frustrated with their government and will not be focused on us is so bad,” he said. “They’re sending the message that Islamic fundamentalism is not really the way to go. Just the fact that the regime is so beholden to American aid, and listening to American in a way [former Egyptian Prime Minister Hosni] Mubarak never did and has stopped smuggling weapons into Gaza that Hamas has used to attack us [is not so bad].”

With pressure of attacks from its longtime enemies seemingly beginning to dwindle, and more peaceful resolutions are being sought, Hoffman said Israel is “finally maturing.” 

“We’re going to work on what it means to be a Jewish state and a democratic state at the same time,” Hoffman said. “We are going to strive to be the light into other nations that our prophets said we would be.”

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Bill San Antonio

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