WSJ columnist to speak at Israel Bonds Dinner

Bret Stephens, who writes the “Global View” column on foreign affairs for The Wall Street Journal, will speak about the threats to, and opportunities for, Israel when he gives the keynote speech at the Israel Bonds Dinner Dec. 5 at Traditional Congregation of Creve Coeur. The dinner will honor community leaders Frank and Ilse Altman.

Stephens says the threats are obvious, though the best responses to them are not: Iran’s nuclear bid, Palestinian political turmoil, trends in the Muslim world, and so on. “But we also need to be attentive to the opportunities, and how we can seize them. I’m an optimist when it comes to Israel’s future, in part because it has surmounted equal, if not greater, odds in the past,” said Stephens, whose column appears in the WSJ every Tuesday in the United States and is also published in the European and Asian editions. He also served as editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, the English-language daily newspaper in Israel, from 2002 to 2004.

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Raised in Mexico City and educated at the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics, Stephens is married and has three children. He resides in New York.

Stephens, who frequently writes about the Middle East, was interviewed prior to his visit here by the Jewish Light.

How do you assess the overall foreign policy approach of the Obama Administration — and how does it compare to previous administrations?

The Obama Administration came to office with the apparent view that America’s foreign policy problems were, to a very large extent, a public relations problem to be solved by a new president and a series of gestures, such as the Cairo speech or the (promised) closure of Guantanamo. But the serial diplomatic rebuffs handed to the Administration from Iran, North Korea, Russia and China demonstrate the shallowness of that analysis.

In this respect, at least, President Bush was closer to the mark because he understood that our adversaries typically hate us for who we are, not what we do, and that good will alone does not a problem solve.

Iran’s president has once again backed away from a commitment to ship its uranium to Russia and says it will not be deterred from going forward with its nuclear plans. Do you think it is time to abandon the diplomatic approach and get tough?

It is past time. If diplomacy had any value, it was to test Iran’s sincerity while demonstrating to the American voter that the U.S. government was prepared to walk the last mile for peace. Iran has now amply demonstrated just how little interest it has in reaching an accommodation with the West: Far from meeting conciliation with conciliation, it has merely upped its demands on the West, most recently by demanding that the “price” of Iranian good will is the Western abandonment of Israel. And this, while taking American citizens hostage, putting dissidents in front of kangaroo courts and condemning them to death.

What do you think are the odds that Israel will give up on hopes that talks will work with Iran and take unilateral military action against nuclear sites in Iran? What about the chances that such a strike could succeed (as compared to the 1981 attack in Iraq and 2007 attack in Syria)?

In answer to both questions, I think the odds are better than 50-50. The Israelis have been preparing a strike for years while their confidence in effective Western action diminishes by the day. The Israeli military is powerful, capable and resourceful

What do you think of the decision by Mahmoud Abbas not to “seek re-election”? Is he serious or is this just a ploy to stay in office and avoid a defeat by Hamas?

Very hard to say. But whatever Abbas decides, he cannot remain in power forever — he is nearly 75 years old as it is. He represents a PLO “old-guard” that is destined to be replaced by a younger guard of Palestinians, such as Mohammed Dahlan and perhaps Marwan Barghouti (now in prison), who actually spent most of their lives in the West Bank or Gaza.

I do think that Hamas would stand a very good chance of winning an election if it were freely and fairly contested. And this is not something anyone should want, least of all the Israelis.

Please comment on Israel’s decision to build 900 new units in East Jerusalem?

I’m not a great fan of the settlement movement, but at the same time it ought to be quite clear that settlements are not the core problem: Otherwise, the removal of settlements from Gaza in 2005 ought to have turned the Strip into a peaceable kingdom. The sad fact is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not territorial; it is existential. It is equally clear that the war many Palestinians would like to re-fight isn’t the 1967 war, but the 1948 war. So while Israel may irritate the Obama Administration, and perhaps world opinion, by building a few additional units, it would have gained nothing from the Palestinians by not building those units.

I also think that until Palestinians are genuinely willing to come to terms with the idea and reality of the Jewish State of Israel, further territorial concessions are a mistake.

Israel needs a two-state solution, but not alongside a state intent on going to war with Israel the moment it has the means to do so.

Any other thoughts going forward?

For all the dangers, we should be optimists when it comes to Israel. It is a remarkable country with remarkable people, who turned a barren and poor strip of land into a thriving, democratic, innovative and beautiful place in the space of only 60 years. And for all their menace, we shouldn’t forget that Israel’s enemies are also their own worst enemies. To adapt and perhaps paraphrase the words of Led Zeppelin, their time is gonna come.

Israel Bonds Dinner

WHAT: Annual event supports Israel Bonds Drive. This year’s event honors community leaders Frank and Ilse Altman. Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal columnist, is guest speaker

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5

WHERE: Traditional Congregation of Creve Coeur, 12437 Ladue Road


MORE INFO: Call 314-576-5230 or visit