On Thursday, November 13, 2014, GMF’s Berlin office held its first Transatlantic Talk with Robert Wexler, former U.S. Congressman and president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace in Washington, D.C., to discuss the multifaceted challenges the transatlantic partnership faces in the Middle East, including the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Syrian civil war and ISIS. GMF’s Berlin office director, Heike MacKerron, offered opening remarks. Judy Dempsey, senior associate at Carnegie Europe and former Germany correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, moderated the discussion.
The first part of the discussion focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in particular the role Germany should play to break the ongoing diplomatic impasse to a two-state solution. Congressman Wexler highlighted the importance of Berlin, stating that while naturally Paris and London are key to finding a transatlantic response to the regional conflict, “amongst equals, Berlin is the most equal,” and thus must be a leading partner. In response to Dempsey’s question on whether President Obama has done enough to stop Israeli settlements, Wexler argued that the EU and U.S. approaches are not fundamentally different, and that settlements must be seen as only one out of several equally important areas. Situating the conflict within the wider context of regional stability, Wexler asserted that the “people need to be honest about the rightful place of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” which should not diminish its importance but acknowledges that its resolution will not help solve other conflicts, such as Syrian war or political disintegration in Libya and Yemen. Asked whether Europeans and Americans can do anything to stabilize the region at this time, Wexler argued that these two players are in fact the only powers suited to play a constructive role - as opposed to regional powers or Russia and China. As an example he cited the case of Iran, which is only at the negotiating table thanks to the concerted efforts of the transatlantic partners.
The remainder of the discussion focused on questions of governments’ political will on both sides of the Atlantic that may be hampered by a growing reluctance of the public to support involvement in the region. Questions by Dempsey and the audience explored the predictability of U.S. foreign policy after the midterm elections, the role of TTIP in boosting a new Western liberal order, as well as Russia’s controversial role as a player in solving regional disputes. Circling back to the German debate, Dempsey highlighted the serious German concern about a potential fraying of the security structure in Eastern Europe. In response, Wexler pointed to the intellectual inconsistency between such concerns and the lack of a public debate regarding what Germany could potentially do as a response to this concern, say, through a more robust foreign policy. As Wexler forcefully argued, “the world requires that Germany has that debate.”
GMF’s Transatlantic Talks series pairs high-level policymakers from one side of the Atlantic with senior journalists or experts from the other side to discuss the issues most relevant to the transatlantic community.