Dror Moreh, Director, "The Gatekeepers" Interview
Mark Danner and Dror Moreh
MD: Dror I want to congratulate you on an illuminating kind of world view changing film. It seems almost ironic that at a time when the American administration has joined many others in abandoning a two-state solution, your film shows in almost heart-breaking detail how close it came. Um, what led you to do this film at this moment?
DM: Well, I’ll tell you. I’m doing another project which will hopefully be finished next year, it’s – it will be called Corridors of Power and it’s about how decisions are made since the fall of the Berlin Wall, especially in American administration concerning genocide. When the evidence of genocide is coming, and how do they treated, so I know that you have been working on that as well because I read some of your articles and part of the research on Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Syria, all of that. So I wanted to interview a lot Henry Kissinger, and at one point I asked Dennis Ross who helped me in this project, “can you connect us?” And he said yes, and we met Dr. Kissinger in his office. Dennis came with me and Kissinger said to me, you know Dror later, let me speak to Dennis. It was 2016, it was just before the nuclear deal with Iran—you know beginning of 2016, in the middle the nuclear deal with Iran was signed, and I think Dr. Kissinger was supposed to come to the Congress or to the Senate to give a testimony and he sat with Dennis, and he kind of interrogated him, kind of a scenario, what will happen, kind of different scenarios, what will happen with the supreme leaders, with President Obama, with Netanhayu, all of them. And I was sitting there quiet for twenty twenty five minutes and it was fascinating just to sit there and to see how a brain, as Henry Kissinger, interrogates Dennis and kind of tries to weigh the option what happens there. And when we finished the meeting, I finished the meeting with Kissinger and I said to Dennis when we went out it was for me just like to sit in the White House to see how the president is using his advisors in order to achieve things. And that’s the xxx that for me, always since you were involved in the negotiation about the Israeli – Arab peace deal since the collapse of Berlin Wall, I want to really hear what happened inside the rooms there, what was inside the room, not what we hear outside the room, what we see all the people come out and give testimonies. But I really want to understand what went wrong, really from your point of view, from the negotiators point of view. But really you have to tell me what happened in those rooms. And he said, let me think about it. And then he said OK. And the journey started from then. Just to really understand for me, as an Israeli, you can understand that this is very very important and trying to understand why it failed. Why are we now in a completely—even worse situation than we were 30 years ago, 25 years ago. So this was the goal, to understand, to try to understand what went on there.
MD: What – let me ask you, did you have difficulty getting people to actually talk frankly about what went on in the room. Because of course, diplomats spend their lives being trained not to reveal what went on within the room.
DM: Look, I can tell you—I did long—as you know me, I do very long interviews, so I spent—Dennis was, he was the most I spend a lot of time with him, I think it was around 40 hours of interviews with him only. Then with the others I did at least 12,13 hours with each one of them—at least, so and they all wanted to speak. They all were very very candid, and they wanted to speak, they wanted to share their experience, I think also what contributed to that, is where they see the lack of peace process between Israel and the Arab World compels them to speak again frankly.
MD: What did you learn about the dynamic between advisors and so-called principals? How does advisors work their influence if one could put it that way. Do you believe that they spend a lot of their time actually trying to influence their own principal, or what did you learn about what advisors, these advisors who I thought after all very sophisticated very knowledgeable people. What did you learn about which ones are effective and how they’re effective?
DM: I think it’s a n excellent question, excellent question, and I think it varies—definitely as you saw I concentrated on the Clinton administration, and in the Clinton administration there was group of people that were there near Clinton and advised him, led by Dennis Ross most of the time until the end. And you know, it’s interesting because the first rough cut of the movie was 36 hours, and I said –
DM: I Said, here I’m laughing also
MD: I wanna see that version!
DM: Yeah, so you know, when I showed it to the Israeli broadcasters here, and they asked me—when I showed the first cut of the movie which was around three and a half hours, they said we want you to do a series in Israel. And I said, well how long are you going to give me because I saw thirty six hours which was very xxx (interesting?) for me. And you know, and the reason why I called the movie The Human Factor is because I – when you kind of crystalize what went on there, or what went on throughout those, the people who were involved in this negotiations, I think that the dynamics, the human dynamics between the characters, the leading characters Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, Bibi Netanyahu, Ehud Barak,were really- and Assad as well, were really the core of why there is not—where we are now. The influence of the advisor is definitely there, and I – you know, I couldn’t put a lot, there is a series of six hours which is going – is commissioned by the Israeli broadcasters, it’s much more wide, and I deal with that as well. I think being a negotiator is very very tough, and I think that I address that in the movie as well, during Camp David as well, where if you ask me as an Israeli it’s very hard to say, but I think America is not xxx negotiator (11:13), it is as they say in the movie, they are not—at the end of the day, you – it’s hard to say, but they failed. All of them. Because the goal is to reach an agreement. And they failed. So influence or no influence, they failed, all of them, miserably.
MD: You know, there is something vertiginous, dizzy-making in seeing the gradual progression from somebody like Rabin and Clinton to the very end of the clip where you have Trump at the very end in the press conference with Netanhayu. Do you think the film reveals anything about the kind of progression or deterioration in political leadership?
DM: Definitely. Definitely, I think that the film’s – my objective was to show what really went on behind those closed doors- and look, Mark as you know, as the film shows, the amount of energy, talent, brain power, resources that the Clinton administration put into the peace process, is unprecedented. After that- after the—I think the death of the peace process was when Rabin was assassinated. Everything went downhill from there, and the character that were there, were essential to the success of the peace process. You know, when I did The Gatekeepers, the head of the Shin Bet Yuval Diskin said to me you know the history give us a really small windows of opportunity when things can change diplomatically or to change the life of a nation. And those, you need really, unique moments in history, where you find, where there is really a struggle or a war or between two nations, that you really need uniquely xxx on both side, you have that with de Klerk and Mandela in South Africa, which changed completely, I think you had it with Reagan and Bush with and Gorbachev and –
DM: Yeah, and you know, the collapse of the Soviet Union which ended out peacefully, amazingly. And we had such a brief moment with the Rabin and Arafat—Arafat is a complex character as we see from the movie, the doubt whether something could’ve been finished with Rabin and Arafat is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I don’t have an answer for that, I don’t have an answer but the possibility died with Rabin. This is what I feel now. Because the character of the people that came after him Netanyahu, and Barak, kind of, with the help of Arafat, killed the peace process.
MD: Yeah, the word character is indicative that one of the dramatic achievements of the film is as a character study notably of Rabin. Rabin comes through so vividly. Mainly in the reflections of the other characters, and the impression that he made on them. You know when Ross talks about bursting into tears when he hears of his death, it’s really gripping and moving I think. I just have one more question and it’s the inevitable one which is, what does all your work in this incredible film leave you thinking about the two-state solution today?
DM: [sighs] Look, I will go back a little bit and then I will go to the two-state solution. The movie was very very hard to make because the main characters of the movie are people that the other people are speaking about. You know, you get the impression of Rabin, Arafat through the binoculars, through the eyes of other people. So Arafat, all of them you see them through the eyes of the negotiators, and for me the biggest challenge was how do you manage to create—as you say, create a character which is full, which you understand the motivation, where it comes from, and how do you relate to that. So it was a very big challenge for me to create, and I’m very very happy about what you say about Rabin, about how I portrayed the characters that was there because it was one of the biggest challenges in the movie. One of the biggest advantages that I had is to have those amazing photos which I discovered throughout making the movie, which documented all those moments. Because you know, most of the movie is behind closed doors. And to have those photos—I remember just waiting to get those photos from the – for example from the Clinton library, and just getting the contact sheets of the negatives and seeing those moments that you know they told me about so much, and then you know seeing those moments where for example Hussein says to Bibi you are not a leader, you have to learn to be a leader, or Clinton holds Arafat’s hand when he tells him about the prospect of the Palestinian State. It was amazing to have those things and one of the challenges was also to kind of bring it to life with those amazing photos. So I will be forever grateful—
MD: Yeah those photos were incredible—
DM: So I will be forever grateful to the White House photographers for doing this amazing job. Now to tell you truth, coming back to your question about the two-state solution, I don’t believe it exists now. If the change in where I am—where I was six seven years ago when I did The Gatekeepers, it was the last moment for the two-state solution. I don’t think it exists now. I think that it’s basically dead because I don’t see any kind of leadership neither on the Israeli side, nor on the Palestinian side, nor in the American side, but mainly in the Israeli’s and the Palestinian’s side that can take the burden of what needed to be done in order to create a two-state solution. There is no--we don’t have those kinds of leaders. And the second thing is that I have to tell you that for—from—for an Israeli political point of view, there is no incentive to go there. There is no incentive to go into a two-state solution. Mark, I mean listen, it’s basic negotiation to –the leader—if you see the gap between what Israel owns and what Israel has, in terms of power, in terms of controlling all the assets, in terms of military power—doing—you need someone to believe strongly and deeply that this is for the benefits of Israel. I mean to separate from the Palestinian to create a two-state solution. Because the price is very very high. As we see in the disengagement, as we see the price will be enormously painful. And for what? I mean and speaking now from the perspective of an Israeli leader, not from my point of view. From Netanyahu’s point of view for example, why should we do this? He has his base, his base supports him all the time for whatever he does and he will go for two-state solution why? Why would he do that? Give me one—from his point of view, one good reason why should he do that?
DM: I didn’t believe that we have to separate, but.
MD: In a way you—you know in a sense the film is a study in the deterioration of the character of leaders, or a loss of the ability to imagine their task is to protect the future of Israel’s future, that their constituency includes not only Israelis who back them today, but those who aren’t born yet. And it’s interesting that many of the leaders in The Gatekeepers, could see that constituency in the future. Because perhaps as they’re intelligence people and they are about thinking about the future, but the current leaders seem unable to grasp it in their imagination. I mean I agree with you about self-interest and politics, but there’s also an element of character that Rabin had and that present leaders don’t.
DM: Yeah, and this is the sad, the sad reality all over the world, what you say about leaders and leadership.
DM: Yeah, and I think what the—what the—and this is also true to America—I think that the, the finishing sentences of Gabal ... one of the finishing sentences, where he says that the leaders today are a reflection of their own societies. I think it’s very true.
DM: It’s very very true, and it’s very very sad.
MD: And it is true indeed. And what you convey in the movie at the end of the day is a rather bitter truth. And congratulations again about an incredible work, incredibly important work.
DM: Thank you very much Mark, it’s always a pleasure, and I would love, I would love to sit with you in Telluride, I have a lot of things to discuss with you about Corridors of Power, what I’m doing now, because I mean, it’s really a huge project of eight chapters. IT will be in Showtime it will be also a movie, I’m – flying more above, beyond The Human Factor which I did, but it’s a really sad grim look into leadership, American leadership, and the world after the promise Never Again (xxx) and Never Again (Xxx) and I would love to discuss it with you and see how we can collaborate also.
MD: Well I will do that, I wrote about exactly that question for years so I would love to talk to you about it—
DM: I know! [laughs]
MD: Dror it’s a pleasure to talk to you and I look forward to seeing you in Telluride and you should take at least one minute to have a coffee and say “even though I’m worried about the next work I did great on the current one”. I know you’re on the next one already, but you know, you really achieved something extremely valuable and lasting so I hope you take at least a minute think of that and enjoy the thought.
DM: Thank you very much.
MD: My pleasure.