British Foreign Minister Jack Straw
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JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, welcome.
On the Middle East, sir, in light of the latest suicide bombing, do you expect Israel to launch a military action against the Palestinians?
JACK STRAW: Well, I’m not going to second guess the decisions of the Israeli cabinet but judging by the reactions of the Israeli cabinet in the past, that is definitely likely.
What’s important in terms of international community is alongside the necessary and appropriate security measures that Israel may take, which Israel is responsible, must decide.
We, it seems to me, have to ensure that we get a pathway to peace back on track, and that is why I’ve been here in Washington discussing Secretary Powell’s proposals for a regional conference, which could lay out an agenda for that pathway back to peace.
JIM LEHRER: But there is no pathway now as a result of what happened yesterday, is that correct?
JACK STRAW: No, I wouldn’t say that. And one of the frustrating issues in recent months has been that there is a greater degree of unanimity I believe in the international community and in many ways between the Israelis and various people among the Palestinians about the overall framework of a final settlement, a two state solution – with the issues of refugees of Jerusalem and of the physical settlements in the occupied territories resolved as well.
What it seems to me, however – I know this is very difficult for the Israeli government, but it is absolutely essential – is that we cannot have a peace process and the prospects that provide for a way out of this despair and cycle of killing — we can’t have that continually derailed by further actions of the terrorists.
And I note too that the situations are different. But I would say that there is some parallel with our experience in Northern Ireland, where in the end, thanks to the courage – above all – leadership of our Prime Minister Tony Blair — he recognized that peace processes were being derailed by the terrorists, and he finally decided that we simply weren’t going to have that anymore, and set out a pathway to peace, which with all sorts of fits and starts – has provided a far more peaceful future, of peaceful prospects for all the people of the island of Ireland than ever there was before.
JIM LEHRER: As you know, Prime Minister Sharon has said that Palestinian Authority President Arafat is responsible for this latest round of suicide bombings. Do you agree with him? Do you believe he should be responsible?
JACK STRAW: Well, if I understand, Hamas, the rejectionist organization, is the one that has claimed responsibility for this latest suicide bombing, and set of killings, and they’re not directly related to the Palestinian Authority.
But what I do believe, what I have long believed is that President Arafat of the Palestinian Authority and the Authority as a whole could and should do more to control the rejectionist terrorist organizations in their midst, and, therefore, I understand why Prime Minister Sharon is talking about responsibility. There have been periods where thanks to the crackdown by Arafat there have been days and some weeks in a couple of periods of complete calm, which in a sense illustrates the potential power that Arafat does have, and it’s extremely important now – now that he’s been released from the siege in Ramallah — that he uses his freedom to ensure that there is – as far as humanly possible – a period of tranquility in the occupied territories and in Israel.
JIM LEHRER: But of course as we’re speaking now the possibility of tranquility, the possibility is just the opposite, is it not, if in fact you’re correct, that it is likely Israel will take some military action, then who knows what comes next, correct?
JACK STRAW: Well, in the immediate term, yes, your surmise is a correct one, but all the more reason why we have to keep our eye on that track of a pathway back to peace.
One thing is certain – that this present circle or cycle of violence cannot go on forever. There has to come a stop to it. There are 3 ½ million people in the occupied territories, six million people living in Israel, including a million of those people living in Israel, are Arab-Israeli citizens. They can’t all kill the one or the other. They have to have a process and an accommodation with each other’s existence, and that requires in turn an agenda for a pathway back to peace.
So however desperate the situation or in many ways precisely because the situation is desperate, all the more reason why we have to search for that pathway to peace, and why I applaud the efforts being undertaken even now by the Bush administration through President Bush and Secretary Powell and all their other colleagues in the administration.
JIM LEHRER: How does one bridge – whether it’s President Bush, Secretary Powell or anybody else – how does one bridge this basic division of position right now, the Israeli side, Sharon, saying that there must be interim agreements on security before there could be any talk about any long-range solution; the Palestinians and the Arabs saying there will not be security unless there is discussion about a long range solution?
JACK STRAW: Well, I think you aim for these two sets of statements because I think I see them as opening bids.
How do you get back down this pathway, I think by taking steps the Bush administration has already decided upon. The director of the CIA, George Tenet, is going back to the region to look at the security situation. That seems to me to be the inevitably sensible and wise step, if you like, if you will, to getting the original Tenet plan, the Mitchell proposals, back on track. Then there will have to be some meeting of the people in the region backed up by the United States, the EU, the UN, and the Russian Federation, so-called “quartet,” to set out immediate steps and to agree to immediate steps for the reconstruction of the occupied territories and for further security for Israel and for the people within the occupied territories, but at the same time I think that it would be essential that that regional meeting or regional conference should have a clear sense – although it need not be a detailed sense – of where the final settlement will lie, what its architecture would be.
JIM LEHRER: So you don’t see the divisions as wide as I portrayed them?
JACK STRAW: I’m not arguing that they are wide, but I don’t think they’re unsurpassable. Sure, there are big gulfs in understanding, and they’ve been exacerbated by increasing anger and hatred on both sides in recent months. But I don’t think they’re unsurpassable, and I use a different example than Northern Ireland, because — although that is one example — there’s been in Sri Lanka of South India an even worse, if you can imagine this, terrorist circumstance from that which has existed in recent years in the occupied territories and in Israel, with a violent terrorist organization, the Tamil Tigers, LPTE; I’ve been witnessing that terrorist outrage for many months. I know a good deal about it. And if you’d asked me a year ago whether I thought that was capable of resolution by negotiation, I would have laughed.
But there has been a very carefully orchestrated peace process being run by the government of Norway with our backing. The result of that has been a declaration of a ceasefire, which is now holding, which will now be followed by an active political process. Well, that shows in the face of real divisions, a real gulf, what can be done if you finally get people to the negotiating table.
JIM LEHRER: What about Sharon’s position, which he put on the table, even before – while he was in Washington yesterday, before the bombing back in Israel – that Arafat should be essentially sidelined, if you’re going to have a kind of a negotiations, the pathway to peace that you’re talking about, Mr. Straw, and that also the whole Palestinian Authority should be reformed, and that should be a condition — those two things should happen before there can be meaningful talk. Do you support Israel’s position on that?
JACK STRAW: I understand Israel’s position, but what I say is that we in the international community have to deal with the leaders who are there – we can’t pick and choose them. I mean, the world would be a very different place if we could.
So President Arafat, he’s there, he’s the leader, and as long as he is the leader, the authority of the other people, who may well be easier to deal with, derives from Arafat. That’s just a reality. And I don’t see any way of walking around that reality.
The second question was, should there be reform of the way which the Palestinian Authority operates? My answer to that is an emphatic yes. The start — the organization of their security apparatus into seven or eight separate and to some extent counter-posed organizations have not been satisfactory — and it has in many ways made the exercise of their authority within the area of the Palestinian Authority much more difficult, so that means reorganization. So too do the similar institutions, to make them more democratic, more transparent, and less corrupt.
JIM LEHRER: Your government, the British government, there’s been a lot of reporting here in the United States about British public opinion, as well as European public opinion generally, that is kind of on the other side, as far as the United States and British government policy is concerned, more pro-Palestinian, than pro-Israeli.
Give us a feel for that, for what your understanding of where the public of your country and the rest of Europe is now on this issue.
JACK STRAW: I speak principally for the United Kingdom.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
JACK STRAW: — rather than for the European Union. It is certainly a case and it is noticeably the case that whereas in the United States public opinion is emphatically pro-Israeli full staff; in the United Kingdom, I’d say it’s both pro-Israeli, a very powerful commitment to the right of Israel to exist and to celebrate its existence, but it’s also pro-Palestinian, and I think that in many quarters there is more sympathy, more empathy with the Palestinians than there is here.
As for the rest of the European Union there is a disparate range of public opinions there, but broadly, it’s the same as the United Kingdom or more emphatically pro-Palestinian than the United Kingdom, where certainly we in the government have worked hard to maintain a very balanced approach to the issue, and to ensure that any anti-Semitism — to take an issue which has great sensitivity on both sides of the Atlantic– is dealt with very firmly and very quickly indeed.
JIM LEHRER: How do you account for the differences between the United States and United Kingdom and the rest of Europe?
JACK STRAW: Well, differences between the Europe and the United States or differences between -
JIM LEHRER: All the differences. Why is this seen so differently in different parts of the world? What divides it up?
JACK STRAW: I think it’s partly the greater geographical proximity, differences in long-standing political associations between the countries, and different reaction to September 11th.
On one level the reaction to September 11 in Europe was exactly the same as that in the United States, indeed, the reaction was so close September 11 might just as well have happened in Europe, within the United Kingdom, such is the powerful sense of this big an attack on all of us and all our values.
At the same time, there’s a point that Jim Hoagland with The Washington Post made three or four weeks ago in a very interesting commentary here — the background in Europe is one where Europe has since the collapse of the Berlin Wall been feeling increasingly secure in the context in which it has lived for decades with a prospect of war and insecurity and the knowledge at least of older generations of what it’s like to have been involved in a war on its own territory.
Here in the United States there hasn’t been or had not been a conflict on the scale that we saw in September since the American Civil War, so there was a real sense of security, and although, for sure, America had played an absolutely critical role in saving Europe twice in the space of 25 years, which we never forget, it’s still different from having your own territory invaded, and I think that the positions were inverted on September 11.
The Americans feel a greater sense of security and when it sees terrorism taking place in Israel and the occupied territories, it equates that very straightforwardly with the kind of terrorism that led to September 11, whereas, in Europe, people tend to see it in a rather different context.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Straw, thank you very much.
JACK STRAW: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Later today after that interview was taped, President Bush told reporters that he hoped Israeli Prime Minister Sharon would keep a vision of peace in mind as he decides how to retaliate for yesterday’s bombing near Tel Aviv. He also praised Arafat’s statement condemning terrorism. He said it was incredibly positive.