From November 14 to 16, 2009, I participated in the Saban Forum, an annual dialogue between high-level Americans and Israelis organized by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings. We convened this year’s Forum in Jerusalem and Ramallah, the administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority.
Participants on the Israeli side included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Leader of the Opposition Tzipi Livni, Head of Military Intelligence General Amos Yadlin, Head of the Internal Security Agency (Shin Bet) Yuval Diskin, and Israel Bank Governor Stanley Fisher.
The American side included Bill Clinton, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Senator Lindsey Graham, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard Berman, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Foreign Operations Nita Lowey, and Dan Shapiro, Senior Director for Arab-Israeli Affairs at the National Security Council.
As part of the dialogue, the American and Israeli participants traveled together to Ramallah to engage in a dialogue with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad – the first time an Israeli delegation was permitted to enter Ramallah since the outbreak of the intifadah in October 2000. The American delegates also participated in a meeting with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat.
Because the majority of the sessions were held under the Chatham House Rule, the following account captures the main points covered and the perspectives represented, while identifying sources only when they were speaking on the record.