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JIM LEHRER: Now, a matching pair of Israeli and Palestinian views. Avraham Burg is speaker of the Israeli Knesset, he’s a member of the Labor Party, which is part of the coalition government. Nabil Sha’ath is minister of planning and international cooperation in the Palestinian National Authority; he’s been an adviser to Yasser Arafat for 30 years.
Speaker Burg, how would you describe the state of the cease-fire right now?
AVRAHAM BURG: Very fragile if at all. I take it both sides are very frustrated from the situation and the very… coming visit of Secretary Powell is a very important one because the feeling we are having at least from the Israeli side is that President Bush is sending his highest diplomat to the region to draw a line in the sand that will be a very clear line. There is a coalition which is the peace coalition, the American oriented coalition which really wants to cease the fire, to cool off the violence and to resume peace talks.
And the question mark over the head of Yasser Arafat is a very simple one. Chairman Arafat, where you belong, do you belong to the Israeli-Egyptian-Jordanian-American-oriented peace coalition. Or are you part of bin Laden coalition? It’s a very clear and important question in the region. And the litmus papers of the cease-fire will prove the real intention of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Sha’ath, is that the question?
NABIL SHA’ATH: No, I don’t think that is the only question. Mr. Arafat is dedicated to make this peace process work. But there is also a question that has to be addressed to Mr. Sharon. Does he want to keep his tanks and his checking points mutilating the Palestinian territories or does he want to keep his siege, his collective punishment of the Palestinian people on? Does he expect that his seven-month activities will continue going on while he asks for a cease-fire? I think there is a responsibility from the two sides. It’s ridiculous to say that the problem is only Mr. Arafat’s. He is the leader of a people, of an occupied country. Israel is the occupation army.
JIM LEHRER: Is it your position, Mr. Sha’ath, that Mr. Arafat is doing all he can do to maintain the cease-fire?
NABIL SHA’ATH: He is doing all he can do given the present circumstances. He, his army has been, his police has been decimated. His — the residence has been destroyed. All our police stations have been destroyed and his policemen cannot even go from one area to the other. Their mobility is totally restricted by the Israeli army. We have only 18 percent of the West Bank under our control. The rest is under Israeli control.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Burg, is the Israeli government doing all it can do to maintain the cease-fire?
AVRAHAM BURG: No doubt and I wonder how Mr. Sha’ath whom I really appreciate and admire as one of the pivotal… of the pivots and the champions of peace really can come with this kind of argument because knows Mr. Sha’ath as well as so many others that the Israeli government after a couple of very tragic, painful bombers, suicidal bombers killed our kids, my children and the children of others. The Israeli government led by Ariel Sharon adopted a policy of controlling our passion, of containing our anger, of retaining our retaliation which is so legitimate… but we said no.
Peace is so important for us and we did what Yasser Arafat did not do. Mr. Sha’ath is an adviser to the Chairman Arafat, and I ask you, Nabil, my friend, tell me, we are members of this coalition. The impact that myself and Shimon Peres and my friends are having on Ariel Sharon to change his policy and to have this unilateral, no military initiative, this is an impact. What is your impact on Yasser Arafat? Why didn’t you arrest all the terrorists in the streets? Why didn’t you stop incitement? It will never take off if you won’t take the first step.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Sha’ath?
NABIL SHA’ATH: We have taken the first step and President Arafat has made it very clear in solemn declaration and commitment to a cease-fire. Given very limited resources and very limited mobility, he is trying his best. I appreciate very much your role Mr. Burg, not — not now but for a very long time as the leader of a peace camp in Israel and as a man of highest integrity. I believe that we, both of us have to do our duty. You are trying very much to keep Mr. Sharon under restraint. President Arafat is doing the same to keep restraint in a whole society which is suffering from a very difficult situation.
JIM LEHRER: What — let’s take a specific here. Mr. Burg just mentioned the arrest of the militants. That is also, the spokesman for the cabinet made the same point yesterday. Why have you not done more?
NABIL SHA’ATH: Because, like Mr. Burg who is himself a democrat and a real person who is after implication and implementation of the law and the right of human beings to fair trial. That the line between saving humans lives and saving human rights should not be trespassed without cause. You cannot just go about arresting people without a minimum amount of information about their potential guilt. Otherwise you will be totally trespassing on human rights. If come and you tell me somebody is planning an action tomorrow, yes, I could prevent the action from happening. I’ll arrest him first and then look into the papers next. But if you tell me just as somebody who might have done something in the past, who does not pose a threat now, I need a little bit more proof about his guilt.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Burg?
AVRAHAM BURG: Mr. Sha’ath is a bit of a surprising position I must tell you. As one really fully dedicated to the civil rights and human rights in Israel and all around the world and I take it that in the Palestinian Authority there are some, some room for improvement in this field. I ask you very simple question: What about rearresting all of these terrorists that were in Palestinian jails only couple of months ago after you processed them through the due process?
You released them because of political reasons. Rearrest them based on the previous accusation you had on them, and then deal with the others. But actually it is not a question of illegal positioning. Neither yours nor ours. It’s a very simple thing, Mr. Sha’ath. You know as well as I do that Yasser Arafat takes his decisions alone, and you have unfortunately very little influence on him and you know how much influence we have on our own Ariel Sharon.
And the very simple question I ask: Where is the Palestinian peace camp? Where are your peace activists talking, not outside to the western world, not here in Washington or New York? What are you saying in Nablus, what are you saying in Gaza? When will you stop the incitement? This is the real question. Don’t talk to me from the Western side of your mouth; talk to me from the inner territory side of your mouth, then I’ll be really convinced that you mean business.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Sha’ath?
NABIL SHA’ATH: Mr. Burg, this very interesting conversation is required at a much closer ground. We need to sit and talk together. I don’t really accept your accusation that we talk with a forked tongue. Otherwise that accusation belongs to many more quarters than ours. What I think we are after is that we want to stop that conflagration — that confrontation and go back to the peace table. We are the occupied people and I wonder if you really have looked at the way our people are suffering under your siege.
And civilians who have nothing to do with the fighting are paying a heavy price. 80 percent of the people in Gaza and 60 percent of the people in the West Bank are unemployed. And we have a situation of grave danger to the continuation of our people. You have to consider that very seriously before making condemnation of who is at blame. I don’t think that what matters is who is at blame now. What matters is that we together should put a stop to this violence and move to end the growth of settlements and move back into making negotiations on the ground and we should cooperate in doing that. And we are ready.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Sha’ath, what about the role now of Secretary of State Powell? What does the Palestinian Authority want him to do next week?
NABIL SHA’ATH: We would like Mr. Powell when he is going to the area to make sure a timeline is put, a time schedule to implement the whole of the Mitchell report and not only…
JIM LEHRER: Not just the cease-fire.
NABIL SHA’ATH: Well, the cease-fire needs to be sustained. That’s what Mr. Mitchell says. Mr. Mitchell says you have to start with the cease-fire but if you want to sustain it you have to have a freeze on settlement and a return to the political process. That is what Mitchell says. And we accepted Mitchell all together without reservations. I’d like Mr. Powell to see to it that the timeline is put, that as we are stopping our fire the Israelis too will start putting their tanks and ending their siege of the people, of the civilian people. That Mr. Powell gives a sign of his continued engagement together with that coalition of peace that also includes Europe, which has tried its best to help in the past period. This is important because this will give assurance to the two parties. We want him to give hope to both people.
JIM LEHRER: And he can do that?
NABIL SHA’ATH: He can because the role America plays and because of the personal trust that people in our country and in Israel also have in him.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Burg, how do you see the role for Secretary Powell next week?
AVRAHAM BURG: From a rhetorical point of view, I almost fully agree with Nabil Sha’ath about the potential ability of secretary of state — which I’ve met the day before yesterday for a very long discussion about these issues — to introduce or reintroduce hope into the region. But I hope that calling Colin Powell while coming with his military experience, with his personal integrity and with his full commitment to the value system that all of us democratic people really believe in, I hope he will succeed to persuade the Palestinians that bombs and shootings cannot be part of the democratic process.
JIM LEHRER: What about –
AVRAHAM BURG: When I have closures in some of the places and in most of the places the closure was raised, it is only in places in which the local Palestinians do not obey to the instructions that maybe they got, maybe they did not get from Yasser Arafat, and therefore, they endanger my children. As long as my children will be in danger and threat by local terrorists, my army will defend them. That is the role of the army. The minute the Palestinians will say — and I’d love to hear Yasser Arafat, not Nabil Sha’ath, deliver it from the uniformed the leader himself — stand up and say, no more war, no more blood shed, I would like him to say like Ariel Sharon, I, Yasser Arafat, unilaterally stop the fire. Then we go back to the table and processing…
JIM LEHRER: What is Yasser Arafat’s rhetorical response to that sort of challenge from Mr. Burg?
NABIL SHA’ATH: Mr. Arafat has done a unilateral unconditional immediate cease-fire in the presence of Mr. Fischer, the foreign minister of Germany, and Mr. Terry Larson, representative of the United Nations secretary… Mr. Kofi Annan.
AVRAHAM BURG: How come we bury so many of our kids, Nabil? Nabil, how come with this unilateral cease-fire we buried so many of our kids?
JIM LEHRER: Let him finish please. Go ahead.
NABIL SHA’ATH: We have buried a lot of our kids too. And your settlers are going on a rampage in the West Bank, burning and destroying every where in the presence of the — let me finish, in the…
JIM LEHRER: One at a time. Gentleman, one at a time or this isn’t going to work. All right. Let’s go.
AVRAHAM BURG: … a place for kids to be happy….
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Sha’ath, go ahead and finish please.
NABIL SHA’ATH: I don’t think this blaming game plays any advantage with the great imparity of power between us and the great imparity of difference between being occupier and being occupied. We are the party that needs security as much as your people need it. And we are a party without security whatsoever. And under the full control of your army and your settlers. I’m not in any way shirking my responsibility.
I think we have also a responsibility to do our best. But you are in the powerful position of taking control of our economy, of all our movement, of all our people. Be fair. You also have to do things to create that peace, that hope among the Palestinian people so that they will be in a consensus supporting Arafat’s further actions to consolidate the peace process.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Burg, do you give any sympathy for that position?
AVRAHAM BURG: But of course, but of course, I mean, I’m the one who belongs for so many years to the peace camp in Israel because I believe that occupation corrupts, it corrupts the occupier and it corrupts the occupied. But a situation changed dramatically since Oslo and on. 80 percent of the Palestinians are under the sovereignty of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. We speak here about land and not about people. Land is to be negotiated — not to be keeled over by terrorists who try to veto the peace process. A minute Jim. Just one minute with your permission.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.
AVRAHAM BURG: And here comes a very, very important segment of this. Ehud Barak a couple of months ago — who was the most reconciliatory prime minister ever — offered the Palestinian 97 percent of the land and the rest was under debate. Instead of hearing what is the Palestinian alternative, what is the positive response, what are their reservations and motions, we heard shootings. This is not a very persuasive democratic argument I will say. We should process it differently.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Sha’ath, do the Palestinians assume any responsibility for the failure of that, of that, of the — of that having not worked? I mean, Mr. Barak did offer this and it didn’t happen and the Israelis always say this, what is the Palestinian response to that?
NABIL SHA’ATH: Mr. Barak offered in Camp David something totally different from what he offered in Tabba. In Camp David we were talking at best at annexing 15 percent of the West Bank, and leaving us 85 percent of the West Bank, which is altogether 22 percent of the whole area of Palestine upon which Israel has started and then occupied the rest of the West Bank and Gaza. Between Camp David and Tabba there were improvements. Until it reached the 94 percent plus 3 percent swap — which would have given 97 percent of the area occupied in 1967.
Camp David had absolutely nothing offered on the refugees, nothing serious offered on Jerusalem as the capital of the coming state of Palestine and the state of Israel, East and West Jerusalem within the system we had agreed. In Camp David as well as in Tabba, Israel wanted to keep at least in Tabba eight military bases in the Jordan River, wanted to continue full control of the skies of the Palestinian state; wanted borders without any real sovereignty to the Palestinian state.
There were some things we found acceptable, there were things that we needed to renegotiate. Mr. Barak tried to impose a “take it or leave it” to our proposition in Camp David which we could not have taken. But we should have continued. In Tabba we were not responsible. In Tabba Mr. Burg himself felt that it’s immoral to sign a peace in Tabba when there was a week after that and elections were going to be. We were not the party that delayed Tabba.
JIM LEHRER: Going from here now, from this point on, Mr. Sha’ath, you first, and then to you, Mr. Burg. Is it impossible for the two sides, you two — I don’t mean you two individuals — to work this out by yourselves, is it always going to require the United States and the Europeans and whatever?
NABIL SHA’ATH: I negotiated with Amnon Shahak in 1993-94 alone the Gaza-Jericho agreement without intervention not once from the United States or any party. When there was trust between the two parties, when the late Yitzhak Rabin led Israel and was a real partner in the peace of the… with President Arafat, it was possible. I think it’s still possible. In Tabba we were alone, the Americans were not in Tabba. But we’ve got to extricate ourselves from the position we are in now. We have to get away from the abyss into negotiations again.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Burg, I don’t hear a lot of trust here from either of you.
AVRAHAM BURG: There will be trust because peace is between… with enemies who later on should become friends. A couple of days ago I talked to my daughter. And we spoke about peace and she told me, daddy, you must understand it is much more difficult to be hopeful after you disappointed then being hopeful before you are disappointed. And at least from the Israeli point of view, I take it from humanitarian point of view, from the Palestinian side as well, people are disappointed.
Now it’s upon us, the leaders, to look inside ourselves and say are we ready to make an historic compromise with our dreams? And after I compromise my dream, I can come out and talk to the other side. You know, at this time of the year, after nine months that we feel on the receiving side and I do not want to underestimate the frustration and the anger at the Palestinian side because there are angry and because they are frustrated. I really feel for it.
But still over 60 percent of the Israelis are ready to make painful compromises in order to achieve peace. This is the human ground and the popular vote for making peace. I’m not at all sure that as for now we have 60 percent of the Palestinian, Nabil Sha’ath’s people, who are ready to make peace. If there are 60 percent like this on their side, so all of us and all of them will make it better for the children of us all.
JIM LEHRER: Is there 60 percent?
NABIL SHA’ATH: We have that majority. And we are ready to continue to reach for peace.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.
AVRAHAM BURG: Thank you very much.