Slate: Is the Palestinian drive for statehood a late manifestation of the Arab Spring?
Gold: The Palestinian agenda is very different from the agenda in the Arab countries. I think the actual drive for statehood, away from the context of negotiations, began in 2008, when the Palestinians saw Kosovo declare independence and seek U.N. membership. What’s happening now has its roots in that development, I think, and not in the Arab Spring.
Slate: How has the Arab Spring changed things for Israel?
Gold: The Arab Spring raises a great deal of uncertainty about Israel’s strategic environment. Nobody can write a guarantee to Israel that the regimes surrounding it today will be there in five years. Moreover, in Egypt’s case, Israel gave back the whole Sinai Peninsula, a huge amount of territory, to create a stable peace with Egypt. Now many voices coming out of the Islamist parties are calling for altering the peace treaty.
Slate: Has working on the Arab-Israeli conflict affected your view of human nature?
Gold: I believe that people are fundamentally good. I have spent many many hours as a negotiator with Mahmoud Abbas, with Yasser Arafat, and with the entire senior Palestinian leadership. I’ve also been an envoy to Arab countries—Jordan, Egypt, Gulf states—and I believe that there are sometimes conflicts that are very difficult. It’s not a question of a personal rapport. Nobody has solved the Kashmir problem. Nobody has solved the issue of the Kuril Islands, which are Japanese but occupied by Russia. No one has solved the dispute over the Western Sahara or Northern Cyprus. So you have many challenging issues and you should work together to resolve what you can. But you should not give up because you can’t bridge every single issue on the negotiating agenda.
Slate: Do you think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved?
Gold: I think the Israelis and the Palestinians have fundamental interests in surmounting these problems. But we’re in a difficult period. The Muslim Brotherhood is victorious in Egypt and may come to power in Syria. That only strengthens Hamas and makes it more difficult for Fatah to make the concessions that they will need to deliver at the negotiating table in the future.
Slate: Do you consider yourself an idealist or a pragmatist?
Gold: [Laughs] Let’s put it this way: Idealism is the gasoline of political action. But pragmatism is also very much a part of my own personal approach. You need to understand the world you’re facing and try to make arrangements and take reality into account.
Slate: Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated that the most he can hope for from a corrupt United Nations is the support of a “moral minority.” You were a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. Do you share his low opinion of it?
Gold: What happened at the U.N. was a tragedy. When it was created in 1945, the initial members had to be countries that had declared war either on Nazi Germany or on imperial Japan; in essence, they were Allies. Because of the power of the democratic coalition in those early years, even countries like the Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia had to acquiesce to the values of the United States and its allies, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Then, during the 1960s, new members from the Third World joined, some of which were Soviet client states. The whole tenor of the U.N. changed. Many of these countries became automatic adversaries of Israel. For instance, Arab countries came to certain African states and said, “We expect your support on this issue and then we’ll help you with your issues.” Even though Israel has excellent relations on a bilateral basis with many countries in Asia and Africa, picking on Israel became a part of U.N. bloc politics.
Are you getting all this? I’m giving you a lecture in international history.
Slate: My tape recorder is getting it! I can’t type that fast.
Gold: Fine. Look, in spite of everything I’m saying, we have to continue and try to find a way to peace. It’s doable but you have to learn the lessons of past failures and chart a new course. You have to reach agreements where you can.
Correction, Jan. 6, 2011: This interview contained a reference to the Gaza Strip that should have referred to the West Bank.