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Background: Push for Peace in the Middle East

June 25, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Middle East reaction to President Bush’s proposal. We start with this report from Gaby Rado of Independent Television News.

GABY RADO: Hebron this morning, and Israeli forces bore heavy machine gun fire into the Palestinian Authority headquarters. Two policemen are killed, and two other people die elsewhere in the city. A reported 150 suspects are rounded up. (Explosion) The house blown up was allegedly used for making bombs in Hebron by the extremists of Hamas, whose terrorism has indirectly weakened the Palestinian Authority itself.

The Israeli government hopes President Bush’s speech has likewise exploded the belief that only Yasser Arafat can speak for Palestinians.

MEIR SHETREET, Justice Minister, Israel: We believe that yesterday the President had pulled out a red card to President… Chairman Arafat to leave the leadership of the Palestinian people and put a challenge to the Palestinian people to change their leadership, to change their attitude, and really to go to a different way, if they want really to fulfill their own aspiration to be a Palestinian state.

GABY RADO: Just in time, Yasser Arafat received a diplomatic helping hand from the French, whose new Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, visited the Palestinian leader in his battered, besieged compound. It enabled Mr. Arafat to make a statesmanlike stand.

YASSER ARAFAT, Palestinian Leader (Translated): We consider our state will be democratic with the coming elections, and the last elections that took place here in this land were under leading international supervision.

GABY RADO: In the shadow of Israeli’s tank turrets, Mr. Arafat yesterday signed a decree ordering Palestinian elections at the beginning of next year. But at the French minister’s next port of call: This from one of Mr. Arafat’s inner circle, a man regarded by some as a potential leader himself.

AHMED QURIE, Speaker, Palestinian Legislature: I feel somehow disappointed. I were expecting to receive from President Bush, who is a very serious man, that he will come with a solution to the people. The Palestinian people are not happy about this speech.

GABY RADO: When he returned from exile in 1994, the adulation given to Yasser Arafat appeared to confirm him as the Palestinians’ past, present, and future leader. But today his record is questioned in the cafes by ordinary Palestinians.

OMAR ABDUL SHAFI, Surgeon: The conduct of the authority during the past years wasn’t really wasn’t… wasn’t really the way we had hoped for. And I think changes have to happen, you know. We need, you know, proper people to be put in the proper place, and a better administration.

ADNAN AWEIDAH, Businessman: We need a new leader. Sure, we need a new leader, and everywhere they change. But here they don’t change, like Arab… present Arab government. They never change.

GABY RADO: Despite that, there’s no real challenger to Yasser Arafat, and no one has any doubt that he would easily win elections.