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TERENCE SMITH: That American perspective comes from these commentators: Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Lee Cullum, a columnist with the Dallas Morning News; Nolan Finley, editorial page editor of the Detroit News; and from John Diaz, editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Welcome to you all. Cynthia Tucker, given the attitudes that you just heard described on both sides in the area, what do you think the U.S. role should be at this point?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Well, Terry, I confess that the attitudes expressed made me feel a little bit more hopeless than I had previously. But I also think that it has become acutely clear that the United States has absolutely no choice but to be involved, very deeply involved, in helping find a peaceful settlement between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.
I think President Bush was elected thinking that he could ignore the conflict in the Middle East. In fact, I think that he had one foreign policy principle — if Bill Clinton had done it, it was the wrong thing to do. And since Clinton had invested so much in the Middle East, President Bush was going to ignore it.
It has become clear to him since September 11 that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians affects not just that small area, but affects the world more broadly and affects peace and security here within our borders in the United States.
So I’m not sure what exactly the United States should be doing, but I think a step in the right direction was the Bush Administration’s pushing for this United States resolution, which calls for a Palestinian state. That’s a rather remarkable step forward for the Bush Administration, and I think it was certainly a step in the right direction.
TERENCE SMITH: Nolan Finley, what did you think of what you just heard — the attitudes and the obvious difficulties?
NOLAN FINLEY: Well, I don’t see what the United States can do until the two parties get weary of killing one another and get ready to talk peace. I think the United States, its only role can be assuring Israel that it has the green light to protect itself and its citizens.
And also, pressuring the Palestinians to disavow terrorism as a tactic. I think the move this week was a horrible mistake, and it signals that, to terrorists, both in the Middle East and everywhere, that terrorism works, that there’s a payoff.
TERENCE SMITH: Which move this week?
NOLAN FINLEY: The U.N. resolution. The U.N. resolution.
TERENCE SMITH: That’s the U.S. support for the U.N. resolution calling for a Palestinian state?
NOLAN FINLEY: The U.S. Introduction of it.
TERENCE SMITH: Yes.
NOLAN FINLEY: And I think no steps should have been taken in that direction until the Palestinians stop their terrorist activity and prosecuted the terrorists.
TERENCE SMITH: Lee Cullum, what do you think?
LEE CULLUM: Well, I don’t agree completely with what Nolan just said. I think the resolution was a good thing and a useful thing. I do share Cynthia’s real dismay about what we’ve just heard earlier in the program and dismay about what we’re reading in the papers and seeing on television every day.
You know, there was a young man, a Palestinian, in Dallas the last three weeks who works with the Episcopal bishops in Jerusalem, also a Palestinian, and he said, “I am not optimistic, but I do have hope.”
So I see no reason for optimism and I think our hope has to rest with new leadership on both sides. But listening to Mr. Shikaki in Ramallah just before us makes me wonder about this new guard. I hope very much they can come up, this new guard, with leadership that really can be constructive and productive.
TERENCE SMITH: Cynthia Tucker, why do you think it’s important to step in now? You mentioned this before. I wanted to go back to it. At this point, given the realities, why do you think now?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Well, I think the Bush Administration has a very practical reason for wanting to… for having decided to take an increased role at the moment. Vice President Dick Cheney is in the Arab world at this very moment trying to gain support among our Arab allies for some sort of crackdown on Iraq.
And it has become very clear to the Bush Administration that we are unlikely… this is a tricky issue with our Arab allies anyway, but we are certainly unlikely to get any support from them for any increased pressure on Saddam Hussein as long as Arab television is filled every single day with these horrible images of Palestinians being, especially children, being killed in the streets.
Now, it is certainly true that Arab television is biased, that they’re only showing the images of Palestinians being killed and not of Israelis being killed.
Nevertheless, it is a political problem for us that this violence has so escalated just at a time that we’re seeking support for a crackdown on Saddam Hussein.
TERENCE SMITH: John Diaz, what did you think of both the attitudes you heard from the region and your colleagues?
JOHN DIAZ: Well, first of all, Terry, the images that we’ve seen in the past few days and red about in the Middle East make it abundantly clear that it is going to take some kind of outside force or third party to come in. And there’s no question about it that the United States, for all the reasons that have been outlined, has to take the lead.
The other, though, outside element that gives us some cause for hope is the Saudi initiative that’s come through recently where the Saudis have talked about some kind of plan where, if we went back to the pre-1967 borders and the Arab world were to recognize Israel’s right to exist, that then that could be at least the basic framework for some kind of peace agreement.
Obviously, there’s a lot of thorny issues that are unaddressed in there, things like Jerusalem or the right to return and the settlements certainly. But that… it is obviously going to take some kind of outside intervention, as Cynthia mentioned, not just for the President’s possible ambitions in Iraq, but also for the very war on terrorism. We need that Arab coalition to stay together, and it’s hard to imagine it happening as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to flair it has been.
TERENCE SMITH: Nolan Finley, is that, in your view, a reasonable position for the U.S. to pursue, the Saudi plan and the negotiation that would go with it?
NOLAN FINLEY: Well, the Saudi plan is hopeful if it’s an entryway back to the bargaining table. If it’s an ultimatum to Israel, take this or leave it, I think it’ll do no good. I think what we can’t forget that this 18 months of violence started when Yasser Arafat walked away from a very good peace proposal that was placed on the table by Bill Clinton and former Prime Minister Barak. So I don’t know what more you can do. I don’t know what’s out there.
TERENCE SMITH: Lee Cullum, what’s the next step, from your perspective?
LEE CULLUM: Well, I think the President outlined it very sensibly yesterday, Terry. The next step is to try to bring these parties together into the Tenet plan, the George Tenet plan developed when he was there several months ago, which is to accomplish a cease-fire — this leading the way to the Mitchell program, which brings about true negotiations once again.
I think that’s what the President is trying to accomplish, I think he’s absolutely right, and that’s what we have to hope happens. Oh, as he said, if they can at least create an atmosphere where the Tenet plan could even be discussed, that would be wonderful.
NOLAN FINLEY: Both Tenet and Mitchell predicated their plans on an end to the terrorist activity, and we haven’t seen that yet.
TERENCE SMITH: Cynthia Tucker, there was a definite change in tone from President Bush yesterday as he discussed the situation on the ground there. He was more critical of Israel than he had been before. Did you think that was the right note to strike?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: I absolutely did. I think that, while it is absolutely true that one of the predicates for negotiations has to be an end to these terrorist attacks, it is also true that no one can expect that the PLO is going to come back to the bargaining table as long as there are Israeli tanks in Palestinian towns and in refugee camps.
I think that, as Bush himself said yesterday, it is one thing to defend yourself, but Israel’s latest actions have gone beyond that. I think it’s also probably a good idea for President Bush to reiterate that with Sharon privately. What he said… what Bush said yesterday may be… may have been largely for public consumption, for our Arab allies to hear, and Sharon may interpret it that way, that he didn’t really mean, that he was just saying that to placate our Arab allies.
So I think President Bush needs to get on the phone to Israel and talk to Sharon and say, “I meant what I said. You’ve got to pull back some if we’re going to get both parties back to the negotiating table.”
TERENCE SMITH: John Diaz, what would you think of that?
JOHN DIAZ: I think that makes sense. I think we are at the point right now where President Bush– and there’s plenty of indications that he recognizes at this point he has to move increment ally, take it one step at a time.
And one of the specific steps that I think that he can work for, especially with General Zinni in the Mideast right now, is to get Ariel Sharon to loosen up on the travel restrictions on Yasser Arafat so that he can attend this first meeting on the Saudi initiative in Beirut later this month.
We’re a long, long way from talking about any kind of comprehensive long-term settlement or going back to Camp David. Right now, the immediate objectives have to be the cease-fire and at least begin to get the parties to the bargaining table on this Saudi initiative.
TERENCE SMITH: Lee Cullum, one of the provisions of the Tenet plan, named after George Tenet, the head of the CIA, that you’ve mentioned would involve placing U.S. monitors on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza to monitor a truce. That gets U.S. personnel much more intimately involved. What do you think of that?
LEE CULLUM: I think it may be necessary, and as I understand it, Israel is now willing to accept or even entertain this idea. I think it’s something we are going to have to do. I understand we’re now leaving our forces in Sinai, of course they are observers there, we had thought of withdrawing them, Secretary Rumsfeld had thought of it.
Now, that’s not going to happen. That’s a good thing.
I do think, also, we have to recognize that Sharon has never had peace negotiations in mind from the moment he took over as prime minister. He wanted a cease-fire, he wanted calm, that’s all he ever intended to accomplish.
And it may be that’s all he’s ever willing to accomplish. So when I speak of the need for new leadership, I think on the Israeli side, it would be very helpful down the road, as well. But meanwhile, I see no way around these monitors from our own forces.
TERENCE SMITH: Nolan Finley, what do you think of that idea, of Americans as monitors, as playing a more intimate and direct role?
NOLAN FINLEY: I don’t think we have any business being the police force there. I think Israel is perfectly capable of protecting itself and of putting an end to this terrorism. What we should do is give them the green light to do so.
TERENCE SMITH: Cynthia Tucker?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Well, Israel’s efforts to put an end to the terrorism simply aren’t working. That’s the problem with what’s going on at the moment. It is not simply a matter of saying, well, Israel is much better armed and their occupation is unfair and immoral. From a very practical standpoint it’s not working. Every week, every day, not only do Palestinians die, but Israelis die, also.
And I don’t think that’s going to stop, no matter how many tanks Sharon chose to put on the ground there. So as for the idea of monitors, I really think it’s come to the place where we don’t have any choice. Of course the Bush Administration hesitates to get any more deeply involved there, to actually put Americans on the ground in the middle of this horrible violence, but I really don’t think we have any choice at this point.
TERENCE SMITH: John Diaz, we can get a final word from you as to that and anything else you see we should do.
JOHN DIAZ: Well, just a quick point I would make on that, is I would think a pre-condition to having American monitors were to have the two sides agree that they’re at least trying to get some common objective for peace because the situation as it is right now, and I think one of the reasons that the U.S. has so much trouble with the Arab world is right now, in much of the Arab world what Israel does is indistinguishable in their mind from what the United States is doing. And I think, at least as the situation is going right now, that is at our peril as we try to achieve these other objectives in the world.