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Peace, Without Talks, For Israel and Palestine


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Israelis see Syria convulsed in violence to their north; uncertain relations with a much-changed Egypt to the south; and many fear a conflict with Iran could be just a matter of time. But as if to remind us of the central dispute in the region, Palestinians launched a barrage of rockets from Gaza last week. Israel responded with airstrikes. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The violence began when Israel assassinated a leader of a militant Palestinian faction in Gaza.]

The on-again, off-again negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are decidedly off again, with no prospect of resumption anytime soon. Iran apparently wants to resume talks on its nuclear program, but this may be its last chance.


We're going to focus on a Mideast peace process without talks and later hear a former special assistant to President Obama argue that there's still time to talk with Iran. But first, what's the incentive for either side to talk now on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Robert Malley is a program director for the Mideast and North Africa Program at the International Crisis Group, co-author of an op-ed titled "Mideast Peace with Something Short of a Deal" - that appeared in the Washington Post. He joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

ROBERT MALLEY: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: His co-author, Aaron David Miller, focuses on Arab-Israeli relations at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He's also with us here in the studio, and nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

AARON DAVID MILLER: Great to be here, Neal.


CONAN: And Rob Malley, we'll start with you. What's the incentive for Palestinians to talk right now?

MALLEY: Frankly, there's not much incentive for either side to get anything done. On the other hand, people become addicted, and that includes Palestinian leadership and Israeli leadership, Americans, Europeans, Arabs, people have become addicted to the notion that you have to talk, there needs to be a process going, or everything is going to go in the wrong direction.

And I think that's been one of the problems over the last many years, that people are addicted to a process, even though they know it's going to fail. Now, that's beginning to change on the Palestinian side because they actually see a cost in continuing to talk, giving the impression that progress is being made when they're convinced progress will not be made. The problem for them is that they don't have an alternative.

CONAN: And yet they have internal divisions, and the politics on their side of the equation argues against it, it seems.

MALLEY: Well, I mean they are deeply divided, not just the obvious division, which is between Hamas, the Islamist movement, and Fatah, the sort of nationalist movement. They're divided within - each one of those organizations are now deeply divided.

When you're divided, it's probably not the best time to take a risk because then you're susceptible to being attacked, for giving in, for compromising, for being too weak by any of your opponents. So again, that's not an incentive on the Palestinian side to do anything major.

Talks, as I said, you've had talks many times which have been meaningless. I wouldn't be surprised to wake up tomorrow morning to hear that talks have resumed. I wouldn't be overjoyed either.

CONAN: And Aaron David Miller, on the Israeli side, is there an incentive to start talks right now?

MILLER: I don't think so. In fact, I think the problem is that there are other priorities right now. The Arab spring, Arab winter, the looming confrontation with Iran, internal divisions within Israel, a prime minister who is an authentic representation of a kind of conservative drift, mistrust, fundamental distrust of most Israelis of the region in which they're now living, all of these things have combined, it seems to me, to create not incentives at all but disincentives.

And Rob's absolutely right. I mean, we participated together in enough of our fair share of failures, and failure has a cost. The notion that trying and failing is somehow better than not trying at all is really not an appropriate policy for the greatest power on Earth. You've got to figure out how to succeed, and if you can't succeed, caution, risk aversion rather than risk readiness should be the rule.

CONAN: I wanted to read something from a speech that President - Prime Minister Netanyahu made to the Knesset today in which he said: I just returned from Washington, and I heard several members of the Knesset and others say very good, you raised the issue of a nuclear Iran to the top of the international community's list of priorities. But look, it's the Palestinian issue that's exploding in our faces.

Understand the dominant factor that motivates these events in Gaza, he's talking about the missile barrage that recently arrived, is not the Palestinian issue. The dominant factor that motivates these events in Gaza is Iran. Gaza, he said, equals Iran. So he's saying one of the major players on the Palestinian side not as an agent of the Palestinians but as an agent of Iran.

MILLER: Well, the prime minister has been singing this song for a long time. He's identified Iran's Islamic fundamentalism and extremism as a real threat. But you know, on this one, on the narrow issue of this latest barrage, he may be right. I mean, the fact is, Hamas was not interested in a confrontation with the Israelis. These are driven by pro-Iranian groups, popular resistance committees, Islamic jihad, and probably Iran sees Hamas drifting off the reservation.

So on this narrow tick-tock in Gaza, he may actually be right.

CONAN: And as we turn again to the Palestinian side of the equation, there is a major succession argument underway. Mahmoud Abbas, who's been the head of Fatah, one of the two big factions, is clearly on his way out at this point. So who's going to take over? How are they going to reconstruct a government? There are talks about integrating Hamas and Fatah, but we haven't seen it yet.

MALLEY: This is much more than a succession. This is turning the page in a part of the history of the Palestinian national movement, of which Mahmoud Abbas is arguably the last representative. It's had Yasser Arafat, you had Mahmoud Abbas. They were representatives of a time in which the national Palestinian movement was represented by people who could encompass the entirety of the Palestinian cause, the diaspora, but also those in Palestine, Gaza, West Bank.

I think what we're seeing, when Mahmoud Abbas resigns or doesn't run again - and by the way, he's been saying that for some time, so it may not be tomorrow - I think we're going to see a very different chapter. It's going to go through probably a very - a long transitional period before we see what the face of the new national Palestinian movement is going to be.

CONAN: And is that new leader or leadership going to be strong enough to say: And this is our position, and this is what we're going to give up?

MALLEY: Not at the beginning, which is why - you know, you could argue if you want to get a deal, now is the time to get it with somebody like Mahmoud Abbas. For the reasons Aaron and I have said, that seems extremely unlikely. It's going to be much harder, and anything that Mahmoud Abbas hasn't accepted is going to be very hard for his successors to accept.

I would say one thing, though. We could talk about how much the incentives don't exist, and this is not at the top of the issue. Gaza was one reminder that we're only always just one crisis away from a major escalation. And if nothing were to happen, if people simply said, well, there's no incentive, you could see an explosion in Gaza, you could see one in Jerusalem, you could see one in the West Bank.

So it's not a reason to be complacent. The fact that today is no incentive means we have to think of a new way to move forward, not simply staying still.

CONAN: Rob Malley, who's program director of the Mideast and North Africa Program at the International Crisis Group and co-author of an op-ed we're talking about, "Middle East Peace with Something Short of a Deal"; Aaron David Miller is his co-author. They - he's at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. He's also served as a negotiator. Both of them served as negotiator in several administrations on the Middle East. They're here with us in Studio 3A.

What's the incentive for either the Israelis or the Palestinians to negotiate at this moment? Call us, 800-989-8255. Email is And let's start with Peter, Peter's on the line with us from Berkeley.

PETER: Hi, Neal, thanks for this. It seems to me the incentive for both sides is to prevent a catastrophic war and realize their responsibility to the whole globe not to trigger exactly that, a huge global conflict where the two worlds, so to speak, would line up against each other, and we might have a nuclear war that could end it all.

And my question is: Why is Israel so set on insisting that it only have bilateral negotiations instead of accepting help and opening up to a global discussion? It seems to belie a lack of faith in real justice and the balancing effect of more minds and hearts everywhere. And yeah, I do think we need a new way to move forward.

How can we break through that particular part of it?

CONAN: Aaron David Miller, Israel does not see a lot of friends outside of the United States.

MILLER: No, and the other reality, you know, Faulkner wrote in "Requiem for a Nun" that the past is never over, it's never even past. And the reality is that if you look at the models for successful Israeli-Palestinian (unintelligible) negotiations, they really are comprised of two elements.

They are bilateral, usually secret negotiations.


MILLER: Right, Oslo, the Egyptian - forerunner of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, private conversations between Moshe Dayan and Sadat's advisor, Tahami(ph). Israeli-Jordanian negotiations were done in secret. Then they are complimented by a third party. So the model has been bilateral negotiations, the Israelis and the Arabs start, with the Americans being fair, tough and reassuring. And we haven't had an administration that's prepared to be fair, tough and reassuring for quite some time.

It's the marriage of the two that has led to success in the past. I just can't conceptualize a new paradigm for this because the negotiations have to create trust, but you also are going to need a third party in order not just to monitor but to help broker the deal.

MALLEY: One point I think it's important to note, from an Israeli perspective, and (unintelligible) one could take this point however one wants to, but there's not really an incentive not just not to talk but to change the status quo. I mean, just look at the situation in Israel, in a common economy, doing very well. OK, there was a flare-up in Gaza, but for the most part the security situation has been quite good.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has managed, I think - you know, I think you could give him quite a few good marks for the way he's managed the Arab spring and his relationship even with the U.S. There's no real incentive for them to move. Why would a prime minister take the political risk, and it would be quite a political risk to reach a deal with the Palestinians and all the concessions that would entail and displacement of settlers, when there's no pressure on the other side?

And I think one thing that's going to have to change, and when I speak of a different way forward and breaking this addiction to a process that has served the interests of elites in Israel and Palestinians, it's served the U.S., it served the Europeans, everyone wants to play in this peace process even though it doesn't yield anything - one way to break it is to try to change the incentive structure.

And one thing I would hope, one of the lessons the Palestinians could learn from what happened in the Arab spring, is the power of nonviolent resistance. Are there ways the Palestinians could start shaking things up not through violence? Because that is really not just an impasse but it actually hurts the Palestinian cause.

Negotiations, I could see why they don't believe in them anymore. It's been 17 years. It hasn't given them anything. In some ways they consider they're worse off today. But not doing nothing either. Perhaps one game-changer could in fact be taking a page out of what's happened in Egypt and Tunisia and get the Palestinians to try to exercise a form of pressure which would be different from the kinds they've exercised in the past.

CONAN: We did see some demonstrations where Palestinians and others marched to the borders of Israel, to places where they regard it as occupied, and tried to pressure Israelis that way. It seemed to last a weekend, maybe two, and then that was over.

MALLEY: And they haven't been very effective at it, and there are many reasons for it, by the way: the divisions among Palestinians, the fact that most Palestinians still remember what happened in the second intifada, which was a violent uprising. But they're still exhausted. They're still licking their wounds from what happened then. They're barely recovering.

Neither Fatah nor Hamas has an interest in seeing a nonviolent movement because they might lose control.

CONAN: Peter, thanks very much for the phone call, 800-989-8255. Email us, What are the incentives now for Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate? We're talking with Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller, and if you'll stay with us, we'll be back after a short break. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in another part of that speech to the Knesset today said there are many reasons to come to an agreement with the Palestinians: because we want peace, because we want calm, and he said because I do not want a binational state.

The peace process, though, was mentioned only briefly and only as a means to refocus attention on Iran. Tensions continue to grow over Iran's nuclear ambitions and as Netanyahu and other world leaders focus on the potential threat from Tehran. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians appear to have much incentive to return to the negotiating table.

But that doesn't rule out other steps they might take towards peace. Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller lay out options for Mideast peace even without negotiations in an op-ed that ran this month in the Washington Post. You can find a link to that at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

They're our guests here in Studio 3A. What's the incentive for either side to talk on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute? You can also join a conversation on our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION. The phone number, 800-989-8255. Email And incentives, well, may not be there for negotiations, but you wrote in the op-ed there may be other steps that Israel, for example, could take unilaterally. Rob Malley?

MALLEY: Well, Neal, you mentioned the risk that some Israelis feel of a sort of demographic threat, that if nothing happens, then over time you might see a majority Palestinian population that's going to demand equal civil rights and a single binational state, which is something obviously Israeli Jews strongly resist.

One step the Israelis could take, if in fact that became more of a threat, would be to disengage, to leave from parts of the West Bank. They (unintelligible) this concept before. They actually did it in Gaza. Prime Minister Olmert, the former prime minister, intended to do it in the West Bank and then wasn't able to, but it's something that's there, the notion that...

CONAN: Also a reason he's the former prime minister.

MALLEY: Exactly, well, perhaps. But one of the ideas is unilaterally for Israel to decide we can't reach a two-state agreement right now because the Palestinians aren't ready, they're not interested, their demands are incompatible with ours. We could detach ourselves. They could govern over 60 percent of the West Bank. If they want to call it a state, be my guest.

And that way, they really do undermine or neutralize this demographic threat. In some ways, for some Palestinians, that may be a way to get what they want without conceding anything up front, the kind of things that the Israelis are asking of them - recognizing it as a Jewish state, giving up on the right of Palestinian refugees to return.

And for Hamas, it's also something that is very consistent with what they've said, which is we're prepared to have a truce with Israel, we're prepared to take our territory back, we're not prepared to reach a deal in which we'd have to make any concession, or even - let along recognize Israel.

So you might have a de facto arrangement on the ground, which by the way is what's happened most of the time between Israelis and Palestinians. Unfortunately, the reality has been because of what they've done on the ground, not because of what they've agreed.

CONAN: Aaron David Miller?

MILLER: We raised this issue in the op-ed, but history is not a kind teacher on this one. I mean, you have Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000. You have Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, even coordinated unilateralism.

In this region, particularly now, given the turbulence, unless you get reciprocity, unilateralism is interpreted as a sign of weakness. And I would argue that unless the Israelis get something in return, even though the Palestinians ideologically will argue, well, why do we need to pay them for withdrawing from our land, it's going to be very difficult to do that, particularly in the West Bank, because proximity here becomes a critically important issue.

CONAN: We have an email in from Bruce(ph) in Tucson. You stated that Palestinians launched missiles into Israel, and Israel responded with airstrikes. Everything I've read indicates that this round of violence initiated last Friday when Israel used an airstrike to assassinate a Palestinian leader, then the Palestinians responded. Please correct the fact on-air.

And he is correct on that point, and we apologize for the error. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Ed, and Ed's on the line with us from San Francisco.

ED: Yeah, I have three points. I'll make them very quickly. Number one, the ruling elite in Israel and the support from the United States, including AIPAC and the rest of the, you know, very pro-Israel groups, don't have any interest in making settlement(ph) or peace whatsoever. Clearly they don't, and Obama just has been pretty much doing the same thing as far as that issue goes. He has done nothing (unintelligible).

Number two, the time is not really on the side of Israel. It is like a cancer. Once you don't treat it and make a solution for it, you know, it's going to kill the patient, and the patient is the Middle East, the whole Middle East.

Number three, how can you have peace between two sides? One is armed to the teeth, to the point of the third or the fourth strongest army in the whole world against (unintelligible) using stones or, you know, second-rate rockets (unintelligible). And again, I'd like to repeat this thing. I am Egyptian, not Palestinian. And I saw the thing(ph) , I was in '56 in Egypt with bombs falling actually above my head in the streets of Cairo in 1956, the Israeli, English, French attack.

I'd like to see a peace down there, but over the seas(ph) talk about war, the Iran war, the (unintelligible) war, just total (unintelligible) of Israel is an expansionist state, just take more land, take more control. And as long as the lobby in America totally controls the foreign policy of America, you will never see peace in the Middle East, and hence you will not see a solution, and the only solution is going to be a one-state solution, where everybody can live there regardless of their religion.

People should realize that the old Egyptian flag, until 1952, was a crescent and three stars. The three stars was Islam, Christianity and Judaism. (Unintelligible) have been very tolerant, very different from European(ph) total disgusting behavior like Nazism and the rest of very bad religious hatred. That's all I have to say.

CONAN: All right, Ed, thank you.

MALLEY: The caller has raised so many points, but the most glaring one is the notion some - this canard that the government of Israel basically has held American foreign policy hostage. I mean, this is simply patently untrue, and the reality is that our support for Israel is a mix. It's a mix of value affinity, domestic politics and our own national interests.

And it's seamlessly intertwined. You're not going to be able to unwind it. The question is: Will an administration use its special relationship with the Israelis appropriately and wisely? That's the key, and that will depend on whether or not the administration assesses that there's an opportunity to succeed. Right now, there isn't.

CONAN: Let's see if we have this email from David in West Hartford, Connecticut: Prime Minister Netanyahu does not care about making peace as much as he cares about protecting Israel. For better or worse, he's not concerned with the legacy of making peace as much as every American president since Jimmy Carter has been.

And, well, obviously his prime responsibility is the protection of the state of Israel.

MALLEY: That, you know, a U.S. president, you could say the same thing. Everyone - every leader's rightful first priority should be (unintelligible) the question is: Are Israeli leaders actually today promoting the long-term interests of the state of Israel? It's a big question people could raise. President Obama has raised it himself by asking whether, in fact, a perpetuation of the status quo, which seems very comfortable today, is in the interest of Israel in the longer term.

I would raise the same question because, as I said, you know, the status quo today does appear to be sustainable. At some point it's almost inconceivable that you're not going to - to imagine that you won't have a new flare-up. Again, Gaza may not have been the best example for the reasons that Aaron said, but the West Bank at some point, it may not be this year, may not be next year, but at some point they will react because people simply as a general matter don't accept foreign occupation.

So the question is not so much is Prime Minister Netanyahu defending Israel's interests as opposed to defending peace, the question is whether promoting peace is not, in fact, consistent with Israel's national interest.

CONAN: Are there not some short-term, at least, reasons why Israel may want to wait at this moment? Hamas has alienated its backer, Iran, by - over the Syrian situation. The government in Syria is in danger of falling, and that would imperil Hezbollah, the other Iranian ally, and at that point Israel seems to, at least in the short term, see some benefits by waiting.

MALLEY: There are at least two major reasons why - you know, there are some legitimate, some contextual(ph) reasons why Israel waits. To mention the legitimate ones, at least two. First, the division among Palestinians, which we spoke about earlier, which means it's not clear who they'd be making peace with, could the peace hold, could President Abbas sign, sell and implement a peace deal, assuming he could reach – one were at hand.

And second is the insecurity in the region and the uncertainty in the region. For years when I spoke to Israelis, they told us, well, if we take risks with Palestinians, we don't know what might happen tomorrow in Jordan and in Lebanon and Syria, et cetera.

And I used to sort of brush it off. Today you'd have to say they have a point.

CONAN: And Aaron David Miller, for example in Egypt, you could say you don't know what the policy is going to be, it's unclear what the new government there is going to be, but you can guess it's going to be less friendly to Israel.

MILLER: Yeah, I mean the space available to the Israelis and the Americans are shrinking rapidly in Egypt. But it's good news, bad news. The fact is you've got a peace treaty that essentially is still holding. When 75 percent of the Egyptian parliament is controlled by Islamists, Salafis and the Brotherhood, if that peace treaty survives, I think it'll be an important indication of seriousness.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to Sandra(ph), Sandra with us from Franktown in Virginia.

SANDRA: Yes, I was wondering if your guest could discuss the possibility of peace if Jerusalem were internationalized, which was stipulated by the U.N. in 1948, when Israel was created. And I was thinking essentially taking that off the table, and then they can argue about the other things later.

CONAN: Jerusalem clearly one of the major sticking points of a final agreement. Of course we're not at a final agreement yet, but - and there are other ones. But could Jerusalem be internationalized?

MILLER: There may be an international component, but as Rob well knows, we spent 12 days at Camp David; on the eighth day the discussion turned to Jerusalem and not very profitably. I mean, this is a competition for sovereignty. It may be symbolic sovereignty, but it is going to be sovereignty. So the notion that somehow Jerusalem should not belong to the Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and Muslims and Christians, and somehow - should somehow be - sovereignty should be reposit(ph) with the international community not as the essence of the agreement. You might be able to use the international community very profitably here, but it's not going to be, in the end, an international solution.

CONAN: Rob Malley?

MALLEY: You know, I think - I mean, I think that's right, but, you know, there are many creative solutions one could think of, I think. Unfortunately, at this point, given that the two parties have become entrenched, in some ways, in their stances, it's going to be hard to introduce a new idea, however interesting it might be. And frankly, I think when I speak about breaking with the addictions from the past, one of them means thinking of new ideas, new solutions, trying to address some of the core fears of both sides which haven't been addressed.

On the Israeli side, the notion - why they're asking for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, because it's a big question in their minds whether Arabs will accept it. And that's the essence of the Zionist project. On the Palestinian side, whether, in fact, Israel is prepared to come to terms with what happened to the refuges in 1948 and give a measure of justice to the several million Palestinians who are now living in the diaspora.

CONAN: A measure of justice, though, Israelis say the right of return is not acceptable.

MALLEY: That's right.

MILLER: Maybe there are other ways, not the right of return, but some acknowledgement. I mean, the Israelis, at this point, are hesitant even to acknowledge what they did to the refuges, which, you know, that is one of the stumbling blocks, not the only one. But it's - coming back to some of these core issues, it's not simply a matter of drawing a line on the map.

CONAN: Both of you - and, Sandra, thank you very much for the phone call. But both of you have been involved in negotiations that seemed to arrive at the cusps of important breakthroughs and fell at the last minute. Have those old formulas gone by the way side? Do we have to start from square one?

MILLER: No. You need to inject three missing ingredients, and they're fundamental. Number one, the absence of leadership. We do not have leaders who are masters of their political houses. You need - and we are in the post-heroic phase of Arab-Israeli peacemaking. Rob talked about it with Mahmoud Abbas. You could say the same thing about Olmert, Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. There's no urgency. The pain and the gain required to get these guys to the table, to make decisions, isn't there. And you do not have a third party that is prepared to be fair, reassuring and tough. Give me those three things, you can do this.

MALLEY: I'm not quite so optimistic. I think we spent years - or I've spent years saying we know what the outcome is. All you have to do is have those ingredients. We didn't get there despite all kinds of configurations of leaderships, of circumstances. You had strong Israeli leaders, you had strong Arab leaders, you had strong American leaders, and you still didn't get there. At some point, I think we do have to go back to basics, not necessarily reinventing the wheel but rethinking some of these solutions to find a way to give both sides what these peace negotiations haven't given them yet.

CONAN: Rob Malley and Aaron David Miller have both been involved in negotiations on behalf of several U.S. administrations. Rob Malley, now program director of Middle East and North Africa program for the International Crisis Group. Aaron David Miller, a distinguish scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's go to Hamad. Hamad with us from Oakland.

HAMAD: Hi. Thanks for taking my call. One of the things that I've observed - I'm sure lots of people have talked about it. There - it might not be that powerful, but the Arab Spring is an important change. The youth in the Middle East are tired of these old leaders. They're tired of these old ways. Hamas, some of their earlier leaders - Ahmed Yousef is one of them - have said that we are interested in nonviolent resistance. You're never going to get the Palestinians to just lay down.

But if there are people that are willing to commit to nonviolent resistance, peaceful change, they should be encouraged. If Israel is truly interested in peace - and that's a big if - if they're interested in change, they should encourage this kind of movement.

CONAN: And, well, how would they do that?

HAMAD: Come to the table with them, offer them real support, offer them real concessions, be willing to negotiate with these people under these conditions, encourage the Arab Spring. It's a movement. In Egypt, it was a peaceful movement and a beneficial movement. If we support democracy, we should support democracy.

CONAN: Aaron David Miller.

MILLER: Yeah. The - look, the arc of change on the Arab Spring/Arab Winter is going to be a very long one. And it's very unclear to everyone, including me - I put myself at the top of the list - exactly what ultimately is going to evolve here. What is clear that is not going to evolve are stable democracies any time soon. So the notion that somehow the Arab Spring could be interpreted as a positive opportunity, real moment. You don't invest in the stock market amidst great uncertainties.

And people are not going to invest in existential concessions when, in fact, agreements they've already made are threatened, like the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. So I think this is, frankly, a constraint. One additional point, with the Arab Spring-Arab Winter, you have the sweeping away of America's traditional friends and adversaries. All of the authoritative leaders - the Mubaraks, the Ben Alis, the Assads, the Saddams - they're all gone. And we're not sure what is going to replace them.

Those Arab leaders are critically important, both for covering Palestinian concessions at the table and for reaching out for the - to the Israelis. And we don't have that right now.

HAMAD: If our idea is to support democracy, then even by rhetoric we should support these leaders within these factions that are talking peace, that are talking democracy because that's our principles, that's our shared values. So if we're not moving in that direction, not giving signs that we're moving in that direction, we're wasting an opportunity.

CONAN: Rob Malley, did those groups exist in the Palestinian side?

MALLEY: I mean - I think it's one of the ironies. The Palestinians have almost - historically, almost always been at the forefront of Palestinian move - of Arab movement and of the Arab cause. They've been the ones sort of at the head. And others have been - looked for inspiration, to the Palestinians. This is a kind of odd moment and a very painful one for the Palestinians where they're sitting by, watching the rest of the Arab world move. They'll going to have to catch up, and that's why I said, earlier, I don't think one could expect Israel to encourage even nonviolent resistance.

Few countries encourage - few states encourage violent - nonviolent resistance by their own people, let alone by people under occupation. But for the Palestinians, for once, to take a page out of what's happening in the Arab world, with all the uncertainties that Aaron mentioned, the one thing that came out so clearly in Egypt and in Tunisia was the power of mass protests, the power of ordinary people to change things. One would like to see - again, I'm not particularly optimistic - but that would be a major game changer.

Could you imagine, in this context, how would Israel react to a mass, nonviolent, popular protest, and how would the U.S. react to Israel's reaction, after having applauded what's happened in Egypt and throughout the Arab world?

CONAN: Rob Malley, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

MALLEY: Thank you.

CONAN: And Aaron David Miller, thank you for coming in. Thanks very much for your time. Their op-ed, you can read by going to, clicking to - on TALK OF THE NATION, and there's a link there. When we come back, we'll focus on Iran, growing fears of Tehran's nuclear ambitions, hang over any development in the Middle East. We'll talk with veteran diplomat Dennis Ross who says there's still time to talk. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 16, 2012 at 9:00 PM PDT
In the introduction to this conversation, we said that Palestinians launched a barrage of rockets the previous week, to which Israel responded. That was inaccurate. Later in the segment it was noted that the violence started when Israel assassinated a leader of a militant Palestinian faction in Gaza.