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Diplomatic Challenge: Colin Powell’s Trip

April 11, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: As Secretary Powell arrives, we find some debate among Israelis about his mission and about how Prime Minister Sharon’s government should respond to it. For our own debate we’re joined from Tel Aviv by two former cabinet members – both now members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. From Prime Minister Sharon’s Likud Party former Defense Minister and Foreign Minister Moshe Arens, and from the rival Labor Party former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin; he played a central role in negotiating the 1993 Oslo Accords. Welcome, gentlemen.

Mr. Arens, will Secretary Powell get what he wants from Prime Minister Sharon?

MOSHE ARENS: Well, I don’t know exactly what it is he wants. If he intends to ask Sharon to cease the present efforts to put an end to terrorism in the areas under Arafat’s jurisdiction, I think probably not very likely, not until the job is completed.

MARGARET WARNER: And how long do you think that will be?

MOSHE ARENS: I think that the army feels it needs about another two weeks.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Beilin, how do you think Prime Minister Sharon should respond if and when he’s asked to halt the incursion, as he already has been?

YOSSI BEILIN: Well, here the big question is: What is the real interest of Israel? It is not a matter of negotiations only with the United States and interest with the United States vis-a-vis an interest of Israel. I believe that this operation has cost us a lot, not only in our international image, which has deteriorated, but I believe that mainly we increased ambitions on the Palestinian side to take revenge, and we increased the hatred towards us.

I don’t believe that it is possible militarily to crush the infrastructure of terrorism, because it is there in the minds and the hearts of the people. And what has happened – besides I have to admit some preventions of concrete acts against Israel, which is of course very important, but the main thing is that I’m afraid it will increase the hatred and increase the risk, the needs for people to take revenge, and it is exactly contrary to our own interest.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Arens, Secretary Powell said much the same thing today, that this operation, one, will not crush the terrorism, and two, will just incite more hatred. What about that point?

MOSHE ARENS: Well, I think Secretary Powell knows that we have behind us 18 months of terrorism, which has resulted in carnage. We’ve lost close to 450 Israelis, most of them civilians, many of them women and children, and we have learned, I think, a lesson that we hear from President Bush as well, that the only way to fight terrorism is to fight it; you can’t appease it. You’ve got to fight it.

To sit back and allow the suicide bombers to come into our restaurants and into wedding halls and into Passover Seders and to sit back and accept all that and take the victims to burial day after day, day after day, that’s no way to fight terrorism. And what is being done during these past 10 days I think is a very serious effort and a very significant blow against the capability of the terrorists, who have been victimizing the people of Israel.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think it will end terrorist attacks and suicide bombings?

MOSHE ARENS: I think it will bring about a very significant deterioration – a very significant reduction in the number of terrorist acts, and I’m very concerned, and I think so is our Prime Minister, that if we were to stop halfway and not finish the job, we will simply have the recurrence of what we’ve had here for the past year and a half, and that’s something I think the people of Israel simply will not accept.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Beilin, could it be more dangerous to stop halfway, as Mr. Arens says?

YOSSI BEILIN: I believe that the effort to extinguish fire by more oil is a big mistake. I think that the most important thing would be to sit together with the heads of the American administration and to speak seriously not only about a cease-fire, which is a must, but also about the very clear commitment on the Palestinian side to distance themselves from terrorism, to fight terrorism, and a clear commitment of the Americans, of the Israelis to help them build again, rebuild their infrastructure, their Authority, because only when Israel has a Palestinian address, which is responsible enough, it is possible to crush together terrorism. And this was the case several years, until the beginning of the Intifada. What we have to do right now is to return to that point, which was a different life also, not only for us, but also for them; and this is possible.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Arens, do you think that should be on Secretary Powell’s agenda.

MOSHE ARENS: I feel I just have to say that, you know, Mr. Beilin has behind them large and long efforts at talks and negotiations with Arafat and his people, and the result of all that was terrorism. The present period of violence that has brought about so many victims, and also so much distress of the Palestinians was a direct result of these negotiations. They got us nowhere. They got us the present violence that we’re now engaged in.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Beilin, what guarantee is there, or even expectation, that if the Palestinian Authority is essentially reconstituted and Mr. Arafat once again can move about freely and run it, that the suicide bombings and terrorism would stop?

YOSSI BEILIN: Well, first of all, I would like to emphasize that the big mistake of Israel was not to implement the Oslo agreement. I’m not saying that the Palestinians did not violate the agreement. They did violate the agreement and very seriously. But the decision, which was taken by a government of Israel headed by Benjamin Netanyahu some years ago not to implement it after the five years of the interim agreement was a crucial and very, very problematic agreement and decision.

What I want to say is that there were several years in which people, Israelis, would go to Jericho to gamble, to Obedia, which is a Palestinian village, to buy furniture, to Ramallah, to the restaurants, without any security. We had different life. When the Authority was strong, when there was an address, when it was not contaminated with terrorism, when there was hope for a political horizon, we lived in a different world, and that is what makes me optimistic about the future. I don’t believe that we are doomed, because I’m afraid that the right doesn’t have the real solution, a real hope for Israel. We do have a hope.

Of course it is not very simple. Of course there are bad people on the other side. There are good people there too. We have to recreate the coalition of sanity between the two sides. And if we have the American help, maybe even the American kind of supervision or observers who can tell us what is – what does it mean – the violation of a cease-fire agreement, something which has not happened so far, then it might be easier for us to open a new chapter in this miserable story.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Arens, does that sound feasible to you?

MOSHE ARENS: Well, you know, I think that Mr. Beilin is one of the very few Israelis who still have any kind faith in Yasser Arafat. I mean, this is the man that launched this terrible wave of terrorism, not talking about the many atrocities that were committed by him in years past. He has launched this wave of terrorism. He’s behind this terrorism. He has encouraged and continues to encourage these suicide bombers. To think that you can appease this terrorist is a grand mistake. And it’s a mistake that Israel is not going to make.

YOSSI BEILIN: If I may say, it is not a question of any affection to a personality. I can join my good friend, Mr. Arens, by choosing a kind of suggestion for the Palestinian people. But, alas, this is their leader. We’re speaking about a national movement. It is not a group of terrorists like al-Qaida with bin Laden. It is a big group. It is a big nation, with several millions of people who wanted their state, and they chose Yasser Arafat 30 years ago, more than that, and we have to face it – that what happened to us was our stupidity and mistaken attitude – that we made Arafat, instead of isolating him, as Sharon wanted, we made him the most important personality in the world.

Everybody is now watching Arafat and praying for his health. And this is the attitude of a rightist government in Israel. I believe that even it had to admit that Arafat is there, that he is the address, and if Mr. Powell will visit Mr. Arafat, he admits that he is the address, not because he likes him, not because he admires him, but because he is there, and with him eventually we will have to find a solution. We don’t have an alternative, and we cannot replace the leadership of another people; it is impossible.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Arens, do you think that the Sharon government will ultimately have to deal with Yasser Arafat?

MOSHE ARENS: I don’t think that’s very likely. We’ve struck very significant blows against this whole terrorist network, and if we’re allowed to complete the job, I think that will bring about a very serious reduction in the level of terrorism, in the number of victims, and I think also hopefully in the career of Yasser Arafat, the arch terrorist.

MARGARET WARNER: And so then what is the alternative?

MOSHE ARENS: What is the alternative amongst the Palestinians? Well, first of all, I think it’s clear to everybody by now that there can be no useful negotiations with anybody as long as we have this kind of terrorism. Terrorism and negotiations simply don’t go together. It is only after an end has been put to this kind of terrorism that there will be a chance for negotiations. Now that’s a necessary — it may not be a sufficient condition – that’s a necessary condition that we put an end to this kind of violence.

Hopefully there will be Palestinians – not necessarily the kinds that were imported from Tunis by the Oslo agreement but people who are the local constituency, who have real concern for the destiny and for the fate of the Palestinian population, that will come forward, and then we’ll be able to negotiate. I think they as well realize there can be no negotiations as long as there is this kind of level of terrorism.

MARGARET WARNER: So you’re saying that when Secretary Powell says, as he said today, that he wants to couple getting a cease-fire with an immediate, accelerated set of political talks, that as far as the Sharon government is concerned, that’s not going to happen?

MOSHE ARENS: Well, I wish I could be hopeful, but you know how many times and for how long this question of the cease-fire has already been talked about and negotiated. General Zinni was sent here by President Bush; he’s been here for weeks. He’s put forth all kinds of proposals. Mr. Arafat is simply not interested in a cease-fire. And so I’m sorry to say I don’t think that Mr. Powell will be any more successful than has been General Zinni, who I think was sent by him, or by the President, in bringing about a cease-fire, because Arafat simply does not believe in a cease-fire, and doesn’t want a cease-fire. He’s going to have to be forced into a cease-fire.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Beilin.

YOSSI BEILIN: Well, I believe that it’s not this all pessimistic. Actually there was a kind of a cease-fire, even if you know it was not a 100 percent cease-fire, between December 16 last year and the first week of January. And, regretfully, Prime Minister Sharon was not ready to acknowledge that it was a cease-fire in order to begin kind of negotiations with the Palestinians. So we need another referee. It cannot be one of the parties because we will never be objective about each other, and the referee, in my view, should be the Americans or an American-led mission towards a political horizon. And I believe that if we can speak today about an international conference like the Madrid Conference of ’91, I believe that such a conference can really launch a new chapter. We don’t have to live another generation by our sword. There is no need to spill more blood for nothing.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Yossi Beilin, Moshe Arens, thank you both very much.