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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Michael Doran
Senior Director for Near East and North African Affairs
National Security Council
May 24, 2006

Michael Doran
Good afternoon. The President and Prime Minister Olmert had an excellent visit yesterday, in which they discussed a number of pressing issues, including the Roadmap, the Prime Minister’s efforts to advance peace, the common threat we face from Iran, the assistance that we are providing to the Palestinian people in order to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

Clayton, from Washington DC writes:
Dr. Doran: How should Palestinians defend themselves against encroaching Jewish settlements and acts of violence by fanatical Jewish settlers?

Michael Doran
Thanks, Clayton. Settlements are, of course, one of the most contentious issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians. As such, they are treated in the Roadmap, the President’s guide for finding a way out of the most controversial issues. Violence – either by settlers or Palestinians – is unacceptable. One step for addressing the issue of settlements is to encourage settler withdrawals, such as we saw during the Gaza Disengagement last year. In fact, one potentially positive aspect of Prime Minister Olmert’s ideas on settler withdrawal from the West Bank (which he presented to President Bush yesterday) is that withdrawal could further reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians, and open the way for the two-state solution that President Bush envisions.

Richard, from Washington D.C. writes:
What are the chances of letting Israel become members of NATO??

Michael Doran
Thanks for this thoughtful question. As you know, NATO is a security alliance of European nations. It has no non-European members. Given NATO’s increasingly global role in the world, however, NATO does have partnerships with non-member countries. In the months ahead we will be exploring with our allies partnerships with like-minded countries who are located outside of Europe’s geographic boundaries. A partnership with Israel is within the realm of possibility, somewhere down the line.

Melissa, from Washington DC writes:
The Israeli unilateral disengagement from Gaza empowered Hamas to claim victory for resistance tactics at the expense of PA President Abbas and Fatah and the program for negotiated settlement. Subsequently, security in the Gaza Strip has been in a downward spiral as Fatah and Hamas struggle for control of the streets and ultimately the PA.

Does the USG believe that continuing unilateral steps in the West Bank will have a different outcome vis a vis Hamas a second time around? Alternatively, is the US considering President Abbas' requests to resume negotiations as the best way to strengthen Palestinian moderates and return to a path of peacemaking? Thank you.

Michael Doran
Thank you, Melissa. Hamas might have claimed victory for Gaza Disengagement, but the fact is that it was a triumph for Israel, because it implemented a highly controversial, yet courageous plan. The Palestinian Authority also deserves credit for its role in facilitating Disengagement under very difficult circumstances.

Regarding President Abbas, President Bush said yesterday that he and Prime Minister Olmert spent time discussing the importance of engaging with President Abbas. Our preferred option, of course, is a negotiated settlement between PM Olmert and President Abbas. On the other hand, if Israel is unable to find a partner in peace while Hamas is in power, we welcome efforts to move the process forward while we wait for Hamas to accept the conditions of the international community: recognize Israel's right to exist; renounce and abandon terrorism; and accept previous agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority.

We support President Abbas, because he was elected by the Palestinian people, he renounces terrorism, and he stands publicly for peace and negotiations. Yet, the Hamas-led Palestinian government does not.

John, from Texas writes:
I read a column in the Post about your water polo career and am curious as to what position you played? Could you tell us a little about your water polo career?

Michael Doran
I played four years in high school and one year in college. I went to Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, California. The water polo coach was Jim Sprague, who now coaches for Servite in Anaheim. I had no natural talent, but I was a high school All-American, thanks to Sprague, who devoted six hours a day to our program. Today, Servite is tops in its League, again thanks to Sprague. When you look back on your life, you realize that people like him never get the thanks they deserve.

Bennie, from Maryland writes:
Dr. Doran, Is one of PM Olmert's goals on his visits here to help prevent the US, and hence the Quartet, from caving and subsidizing the Hamas gov't? thanks for your time, Bennie, Bethesda, MD

Michael Doran
The US position on Hamas is as much a matter of law as it is policy. We do not subsidize, nor do we have contact with, terrorists. So don't worry about us caving. Both we and the Israeli government, however, are very concerned about ensuring that the Palestinian people do not suffer a humanitarian crisis as a result of our policy to isolate Hamas. For this reason, we are exploring ways of delivering direct aid to the Palestinian people. We are working with our Quartet partners for developing a temporary mechanism for delivering such assistance.

Jay, from California writes:
Dr. Doran, I recently read your book, "Pan-Arabism before Nasser", and thought it was compelling and fascinating. I have two questions for you:

(1) Is it not true that the analytical rigor in your book concerning the Middle East's ideologies and rivalries has been sorely missing from the US's policymaking institutions, our media, and its intelligence community, thus contributing to a poor understanding of the regional politics and hence, bad policy?

(2) Now that people like yourself are in government, is the understanding of the region improving and becoming institutionalized in our government? Presumably, you won't be at the NSC forever, which is unfortunate.

thanks very much Jay

Michael Doran
Jay, you are one of the only people who have actually read my book. Even my brother only got to page three. I admire your fortitude.

Andrew, from Washington, DC writes:
Will low-level Fatah-HAMAS conflict continue at the present rate into the near future, or will it escalate into a civil war? How should Israel and the US react to Gaza infighting?

Michael Doran
That's a very good question. It is up to the Palestinian people to settle their differences peacefully. We do want Hamas to be held accountable before the court of Palestinian public opinion for carrying out policies that isolate the Palestinians from the international community.

Marilyn, from Texas writes:
What are the U.S. and Israel planning to do about Iran's threat to wipe both nations off the map? Please thank President George W Bush for his relentless service in striving to free and keep the world safe for democracy

Michael Doran
Thank you for your support, Marilyn. I'll pass them along. We are working hard to isolate the Iranian regime in the international community. As you know the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the UK) are currently discussing with us, the Russians, and the Chinese on how best to proceed in the UN Security Council in order to compel Iran to give up all enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. As President Bush has said, we cannot accept a nuclear-armed Iran. But we do support the Iranian people's right to a civil nuclear power program.

Daniel, from Lakeville, CT writes:
Does the US government agree with Olmert's position to, if need be, draw Israel's borders unilaterally? Thanks.

Michael Doran
Thanks, Daniel. As President Bush said yesterday, a negotiated final status agreement best serves both the Israelis and the Palestinians. So we are encouraging PM Olmert to work with President Abbas to find a way forward. If the intransigence of the Hamas government should make progress impossible, then PM Olmert's ideas may be helpful in bringing the two sides to realize the President's vision for a two-state solution.

Maya, from Israel writes:
Is it realistic to believe that there will be any resolutions concerning Iran's nuclear threat during Olmert's visit? And if so, what sort of resolutions should be expected?

Michael Doran
There is no link between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's visit and a United Nations Security Council resolution on Iran. We are working closely with the United Nations Security Council to urge Iran to end its enrichment and reprocessing activities. The European Troika will soon present a package of incentives and sticks to the Iranians designed to persuade them to return to negotiations. The United States fully supports these efforts. Moreover, we are working with our allies on a United Nations Security Council resolution that would make it obligatory for Iran to end enrichment.

Eran, from Israel writes:
Hello Mr. Doran, My question is - When will the administration feel the time is right to go ahead with PM Olmert's plan for withdrawal in the West Bank, in the face of an impasse in negotiations and no political change in the PA? In other words - what would have to happen for the administartion to "give up" on waiting for Hamas' downfall and a revival of the Road Map?

Michael Doran
Great question. As the President said yesterday, both we and the Israelis would prefer a negotiated settlement, and we recognize that President Abbas seeks, in good faith, to work with the Israelis toward this. We encourage President Abbas and PM Olmert to negotiate with each other. Having said that, the Prime Minister has bold ideas which he believes could help lead to a two-state solution if the path ahead remains blocked by Hamas’ intransigence. There is no timetable, and we remain committed to the Roadmap.

ashley, from washington schol writes:
what is it like to be at your job?

Michael Doran
Thank you for asking. My job is very challenging, humbling, and fun. It is challenging because the issues are difficult. Humbling, because there are no easy answers, and because I am surrounded by people who are much more intelligent and accomplished than I am. It’s fun for all of the reasons above.

Steve, from Brian writes:
I'm a student, I just want to know something about the people who live in Isreal. Are they as safe as us who live in the U.S.. Thank you

Michael Doran
Israel is a vibrant democracy, with a strong economy and a high quality of living. However, Israel faces threats on a number of levels.

The Israelis have suffered from terrorism for many years. During the first Gulf war, Israel suffered casualties from Iraqi missile strikes from Iraq. They continue to face rocket attacks from Gaza on a frequent basis (although these rocket attacks have not resulted in major casualties or damage, the threat persists).

Politically, the new Palestinian Authority is led by Hamas, the charter of which calls for the destruction of Israel. Additionally, there are several states in the region that remain in a state of war with Israel, and Iran’s President – currently seeking to obtain a nuclear weapons capability – has suggested that Israel should be wiped off the map.

In total, this is a large burden for Israeli society to bear, and we are committed to helping in a number of ways – including through economic and military funding, and strong political support. We provide this support on the basis of our shared values and friendship with Israel, but also because we believe that helping Israel serves our national interests.

Michael Doran
Thank you all for these excellent questions, and for taking the time to send them in. I hope my answers were helpful to you. Please stay tuned to this website and hopefully we will communicate again soon!

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