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Newsmaker: Joschka Fischer

April 30, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Now, a Newsmaker interview with the foreign minister of Germany, Joschka Fischer. He’s in Washington this week for meetings with Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, and congressional leaders. The major subject is how to move toward peace in the Middle East. I spoke with him earlier today.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Fischer, welcome. On the Middle East, how do you read the situation now? Is it getting any better?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: Well, I think there are some successes, especially in Ramallah and hopefully also in the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. I think this is a success of American diplomacy, thanks to President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell. We’ll have a meeting this week of the so-called quartet, the European’s Secretary General with his representative, and the Russians together with the United States here in Washington.

And we must now try to construct– the vision of President Bush. It’s very important– two states peacefully living side together by side. But how can we reach these wishes, and how can we implement these wishes?

JIM LEHRER: How important was the Ramallah deal to get Yasser Arafat out of that surrounded compound?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: I think it’s very important because now we have a reduction of the tensions there. It was dangerous, and I think it’s a success. It’s a step forward, and we hope that we can now open the door to real… to a real political perspective.

JIM LEHRER: Of course, as we speak, Yasser Arafat is still in there, but you haven’t heard anything since you’ve been in Washington that would lead you to believe that it isn’t going to come off?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: Well, this is the Middle East.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah, right.

JOSCHKA FISCHER: I mean, things are changing hour by hour or sometimes minute by minute. I’ve experience it several times. But up to now I think there’s an important breakthrough.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of breakthroughs, one of the things that people are talking about in this country that is a breakthrough is the introduction of US and British observers to kind of make sure that both sides do what they say they’re going to do, particularly the Palestinian prisoners who are accused of Israel… of killing the Israeli minister. Do you see that as a major goose step in this whole process?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: Well, we appreciate it very much. By the way, we had the experience of so-called non- existing observers after the terrible terror attack on the kids in the dolphinarium in June 1 last year.

We managed it together with the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority and Bejala– south of Jerusalem, between Bethlehem and Jerusalem– to calm down and bring down the violence by the use of monitors, six people from EU member states, security officials.

And they did an excellent job. Prime minister Sharon several times said to me that they did a very effective job, but he was against internationalization, and therefore they were non- existing in the formal way. But as non-existing monitors, they did an excellent job.

JIM LEHRER: What do you mean non…

JOSCHKA FISCHER: So we appreciate very much, of course, now the step forward, and this is I think also an important step.

JIM LEHRER: You’ve been very outspoken in saying that you don’t believe the Palestinians and the Israelis can do this without outside help. Do you still feel that way?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: I think they have to be assisted. This is very important. My experience in the region is that if you put the implementation of an agreement only into the hands of both parties — of course both parties have to do it without the existence of a vital third party. This will be very complicated. I experienced it.

There was an agreement– say, hello. The interpretation of the one side is “good night,” of the other side is “good morning,” so this leads to nowhere. Therefore, you need a vital third party for the implementation.

JIM LEHRER: What would you think if this eventually led to the introduction of foreign troops on the ground– in other words, to literally hold these people apart while peace is implemented? Would that bother you?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: Well, I’m the Foreign Minister of Germany. We have a very tragic history. It’s our historic responsibility for the Holocaust — the Shoah — Germany is not in the role to give any advice or to send troops to the region. I mean, we have a very specific relationship to Israel. We are, after the United States, the closest friend based on our history, our responsibility. This is not an option for us. We follow there a policy of self- restraint based on the history.

JIM LEHRER: But as a diplomat interested in peace, just the fact… not necessarily German troops, but foreign troops, US troops, British troops, Turkish troops on the ground, to try to implement the peace– that as a principle you wouldn’t object to?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: I don’t know whether we should talk about troops now. I think the monitors are very important, especially now in the prison. And much more important is that we agree now to become an initiative. There are a lot of ideas — the Saudi ideas brought over to the meeting with the President in Texas, similar ideas created from the administration, from the European Union, from ourselves.

I think we have now to bring that in together into order along a road map, a binding time line, and to guarantee by an international third party led by the United States. This is very important. There, I think, the building of democratic institutions is also trust building in the process. I think this is crucial that if we think about a Palestinian state, this must be a democratic state.

This must be democratic institutions, division of power, independence of the judicial system. The police force must be under political control transparent, and independent public opinion. These are elements of trust building in a situation where trust is a very, very rare currency, and I think we must focus now on those political issues and on monitors. Therefore we appreciate very much the British and the US readiness to send their monitors for the prison.

JIM LEHRER: Speaking of trust, what do you make of Israel’s reluctance to allow this UN Commission to come into Jenin and investigate what happened, how many people died and under what circumstances in that offensive?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: I think it’s in the interest of Israel that the facts will be put on the table, and we should not live with the myth, I think. It’s in the interest of Israel, it’s in the interest of the friends of Israel, and hopefully there will be a solution. At the moment, they discuss the issue in the Security Council in New York City, so I don’t know the outcome yet.

JIM LEHRER: Have you expressed this to Israel?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: Yes, of course, several times.

JIM LEHRER: And what kind of response do you get?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: Well, Shimon Peres, we had a meeting in… last EU meeting in Valencia in Spain. And Shimon Peres announced there that the Israeli government will support such an independent commission, and we hope that in the end there will be an agreement between the UN Security Council, the UN Secretary General, and the government of Israel.

JIM LEHRER: The two leaders, of course, who are central to this conflict– Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat, Palestinian Authority Chairman– what’s your reading of the way these two men have handled this crisis between the two of them?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: My impression is that this is a very tragic and bitter conflict, and we are used in the media society to focus on the leaders, but I think this conflict is much more deep- routed, and the only way out is a compromise. It must be a territorial compromise based on the right of existence and security for Israel and for the citizens of Israel.

I think this is crucial, but also there must be a perspective for the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a known state, and I think this is the vision of President Bush and we should follow that line and bring that forward and implement a strategy, which will lead us together, because this will really then bring an to end terror and violence in the region. And we have a common interest in that.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read the outburst of anti-Semitism in Europe since all this broke out?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: Well, I think we have to fight against anti-Semitism, and especially in Germany it’s our commitment, German democracy of our democratic institutions, that our Jewish citizens should never stand alone if there are anti-Semitic attacks.

Therefore we will fight against anti-Semitism. But, of course, there are different perspectives, perceptions in Germany and the United States, and we have to discuss the reasons for these different perceptions. We are fully aware. I mean, we were shocked all together about this terrible crime on September 11 in New York City… with the terror attack on the citizens and on the government of the United States.

It was an emotional shock, and we are very close together in enduring freedom and the mission against the military campaign against this terror. We have lost now, for example, Germany has lost 13 innocent citizens. Two women died yesterday. They were victims of a terror attack on a beautiful old synagogue in Tunisia. We are very close to this crisis region, and we are fully aware that we have to solve these crises in a peaceful way based on the right of existence for the state of Israel.

The anti-Semitic feelings in Europe, there might be some neo- Nazi groups, there might be some right-wingers, as you have it in other countries, too. But the majority of criticism in Europe is not based on anti- Semitism, especially in the younger generation.

I’m very concerned about the reaction of the younger generation because they watch the TV. The generation of my son and my daughter, 18 years, 23 years old. There is no form of anti-Semitism, but there are serious questions, and therefore, we must bring forward the peace process and explain what is going on.

JIM LEHRER: Meaning, what you’re saying is that it would be a mistake to automatically assume that anybody who has taken the Palestinians’ side in this dispute in Europe is doing it because they are anti-Semites. Is that…

JOSCHKA FISCHER: We have a strong Muslim minority in Europe. I mean, Prime Minister Sharon asked me why there are demonstrations in Europe. And so I said, Prime Minister, look to the press photos.

You will see that these are mostly members of our Muslim minority. You have the Muslim minority from the subcontinent… Indian subcontinent in the United Kingdom, in Great Britain.

You have the minorities from the Maghreb in France, and you have the Turkish and Kurdish minority in Germany. Millions, almost three million of them live in Germany, and of course the reaction of the Muslim minority is different, so we have to deal with that, immigration in that form.

The United States are used to a country of immigrants to deal with such issues. Europe is different, but anti-Semitism has no chance in Europe. We will fight against it.

JIM LEHRER: Do you believe that the leaders of the other countries of Europe agree with you and are doing what can be done to stop this?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: Definitely yes. And if I wouldn’t… this is not political speech. This is not the talk of politician. This is too serious. If I would think that there would be a real anti-Semitic threat, I would tell you that in a very honest and loud way, because this would be a real danger.

JIM LEHRER: Is it a misreading of public opinion, say, in Germany that it is more pro Palestinian than it is Israel, forget the Semitic part of it?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: The discussion is difficult, but especially in Germany every… the majority knows about our historic responsibilities. I mean, our responsibility as a country for what Hitler did, this terrible crime against mankind, the genocide against the Europeans Jews, we never will forget that. I mean, this is part… unfortunately, but this is part of our identity as a democracy. And therefore we have a special responsibility and relationship with Israel.

But there are serious questions about what is going on. Is this really bringing more peace and less terror? Will this… is this a strategy, which will end terror? And of course there are also people, which are one-sided. Therefore, we have to explain that it was not Israel who has broken down the peace process in Camp David.

It was not Israel who has started the second Intifada and there is no, no reason, no acceptable reason to go into a pizzeria and kill people. Whole families disappeared or people sitting in a coffee shop enjoying the evening and got killed by a murderous attack. This is unacceptable. There is no political reason, so we tried to explain it to our people.

JIM LEHRER: Are they listening?

JOSCHKA FISCHER: Yes, of course. I mean, we have a debate in the parliament last week, and we had a unified position, also with the opposition, not only the coalition, so there is a very broad majority in the parliament backing our position.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Fischer, thank you very much.