Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Notes from a journalist who has "been everywhere, man"

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Israeli journalist Boaz Bismuth has had a remarkable and fascinating career, having covered several war zones such as Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo and having managed to find ways, despite his Israeli nationality, to interview some of the world's most infamous leaders - Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Having visited 91 countries in his journalistic role, Bismuth is currently the Foreign News Editor and Senior Analyst at Israel Hayom, and prior to this role served as Israeli Ambassador to the Islamic majority state of Mauritania, from 2004 to 2008.

At an August 13 journalist briefing, Bismuth discussed the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, arguing that they are necessary to "keep the candle burning" and support moderates on both sides, but is sceptical that a breakthrough is imminent without significant change in public opinion.

He believes this change has already occurred on the Israeli side. He noted that under Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in the 1970s, 75 percent of Israelis opposed the creation of a Palestinian state, but today around 80 percent of Israelis support a two-state outcome, with a majority even among the right wing - which shows how far Israeli opinion has evolved. But Bismuth believes that the Palestinian leadership has not prepared their people for the concessions that must be made, as for many it is still an "everything or nothing" approach, with the notion of a "Jewish state" remaining "unacceptable." Bismuth notes that this is also the problem with the notion of imposing a solution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as some commentators recommend, because even if a Palestinian state was established and there was international recognition of borders, there would still not be an end to the conflict, because Israel's existence as a homeland for Jewish people would not be accepted.

Regarding the broader region, Bismuth notes the great instability in the aftermath of the Arab Spring has meant the weakening of Arab states, while non-Arab states like Turkey and Iran have gained "more influence." Bismuth views Iran as a "puzzle" that is both the "most threatening country and the most promising country." He sees Iran as threatening because of the nuclear risk, noting that the regime will not stop developing towards nuclear weapons capability because a nuclear capable Iran would assure "the safety of the regime." Yet he is also hopeful that Iranian public opinion on Israel and the West is considerably less hostile than the regime, especially in light of the good ties that existed between Iran and Israel under the Shah prior to the Iranian revolution. However, in the meantime, Bismuth warns that, from his own contacts with those involved in the nuclear negotiations, it is clear that Iran is simply using negotiations to play for time, and the international community should not be fooled.

Sharyn Mittelman

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