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GWEN IFILL: For more on where today’s bombing leaves the diplomatic process, we turn to Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, and Raymond Tanter, a senior National Security Council staffer on the Middle East during the Reagan administration.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Pleasure.
GWEN IFILL: We were expecting the President to give a big speech this week outlining what the U.S. policy would be in the Middle East. Does today’s suicide bombing — this morning’s suicide bombing change what he has to say or what he can say?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well it certainly changes the timing a bit. No question the President was not about to give a speech to be followed by some operations by Sharon to respond to this attack that will then get a different kind of reaction in the region, and also would have been sort of in bad taste to give a speech on a day when so many people have lost their lives.
So it was certainly the timing is an issue, but I think there’s more to it than that. I think the administration clearly is reconsidering some of the issues it’s been thinking about to include in that speech.
They’ve been hearing a lot of criticism from across the political spectrum including in Congress about the ideas that were floated. And I think they have not yet fully decided on what should be included in that speech. It’s still under consideration to this minute.
So there is more to it than just the issue of the bombing today. There is truly still a debate within the administration about the nature of the policy.
GWEN IFILL: Does this bombing change what the administration has to do now?
RAYMOND TANTER: Well, clearly the bombing changes the timing, as Professor Telhami suggests, but I think eventually the President will put forth his vision, sort of a road map, of where he would like the Middle East to be in the next few years.
And in this respect an interim Palestinian state will be a part of that road map. This is not the time to put it forth, as the Professor suggests, but eventually that idea is going to be floated again.
GWEN IFILL: So you say all that will change as a result of today’s events is timing not content?
RAYMOND TANTER: I think the timing, not the content, but the timetables will be put forth at some point later as well. The Mitchell and Zinni and Tenet proposals all had built within some kind… built within themselves some kinds of sequence. Mitchell, for example, said it’s very important to have a cease-fire and then confidence- building measures followed by political negotiations.
GWEN IFILL: Ariel Sharon today at the sight of this bombing said Palestinian state, what Palestinian state, looking at the bodies of the victims of the suicide bomber. But yet you’re suggesting that there is still room for Israel to accept an interim Palestinian state as the trial balloon that’s been floated?
RAYMOND TANTER: I think that Ariel Sharon right now doesn’t want to talk about a Palestinian state at all. So I think that eventually the timing will be ready… he will be ready to talk about a Palestinian state.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Telhami?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, you know, there’s no question that in the moments like this where you have so many people who are killed who are innocent it’s hard to contemplate ideas for peace.
But frankly anybody who looks at it and understands that there is one possible solution ultimately and that is a two- state solution, one for the Palestinians, one for the Israelis. The question is how to get there and how to draw the boundaries. This hasn’t changed.
This is the American position. It is really the position that is articulated by vast majorities of Palestinians and Israelis to this day even despite all of this violence. The problem that we have now for the United States is how do you get a process that would have the confidence of the parties particularly if it’s not a process that is going to lead to immediate results?
GWEN IFILL: But let me ask you again about today’s events. We are holding our breath expecting an Israeli response. Do you think there will be one?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: There is one already as we speak. I expect that it’s going to be possibly reoccupying parts of the West Bank. And I don’t think it’s going to be a one- or two-day operation. And that clearly has to go to the think of the President in terms of timing.
GWEN IFILL: What about the potential for deporting Yasser Arafat?
RAYMOND TANTER: I think Arafat outside of the box is much more of a danger to Israel than within the box. That is to say Arafat in Ramallah is less of a danger to Israel.
So he could wind up being like the flying Dutchman going from port to port to port creating diplomatic havoc. So I would say don’t exile Arafat – don’t destroy the Palestinian Authority yet.
GWEN IFILL: But the President’s National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was quoted this week as describing Arafat as corrupt and saying that he cavorts with terror. That’s pretty tough language if you want to do business with them.
RAYMOND TANTER: Well, in fact Arafat is corrupt and he does cavort with terror. And I think she’s right. But in fact what I would suggest is that Arafat is in a position where he could do much more damage if he’s cavorting with the Iranians, with the Iraqis and other terror- sponsoring states if he’s outside of Ramallah.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Look, I mean there’s no question the Palestinian Authority needs reform. The Palestinians recognize it on the inside. Arabs recognize it broadly. The Europeans recognize it broadly.
The question is whether it happens from the outside or from within. It has to happen from within. The second thing is I think the institution of the Palestinian state should be built on a sounder basis than the Palestinian Authority was built. These are things that resonate with the Palestinians, that resonate with the United States. That should not be an issue that is a pre-condition for negotiations.
It should be an issue that’s built into the negotiation. I think is the… the intent is to have a timetable in which we… progress is made both on reform and on implementing the creation of a Palestinian state and Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.
GWEN IFILL: There was a suggestion today that Colin Powell would be the next broker to go back to the Middle East on this. Is it worthwhile for him to go and is he a credible broker in the eyes of all parties at this point?
RAYMOND TANTER: I think that Secretary Powell has to go back. The President wants to keep the ball in play. The President is going to kick the ball down the field and Secretary Powell is going to continue to move the ball down the field.
So I would say that magic… that momentum is the magic of diplomacy. I would recommend that Powell go back to the region, but I would also caution that he might be welcomed by another suicide bombing attack because every time Powell goes, or Zinni or Tenet, every time they go there’s some kind of a violent reaction.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, Mr. Powell is a respected leader in the international community broadly and certainly in the Middle East he’s probably more trusted than almost anyone else from the United States.
However, at the same time, people don’t know often whether he is speaking for the President or not. Clearly he has to make sure that he has a mandate when he speaks.
Two, I think no matter what, it is not going to matter unless there are ideas to discuss. It’s not the visit as such. I mean visits in and of themselves don’t do much. They hold hands. I mean, people want to see results. If there is a specific mission particularly in this case I think the idea was that the Secretary would go to help arrange for the conference that is proposed by the President. Then it’s that idea that would have to be implemented and he would have to take that with him.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Tanter just suggested, however, that sometimes events outpace diplomatic efforts. For instance, if Powell were to go or Zinni were to go or Tenet were to go, all of the emissaries who have been on the ground for the United States, and they are greeted with another suicide bombing or act of violence, that this could continue to derail the process. What would be different this time?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, there are two things. One is that, first of all, we have to understand know… that if we don’t move forward in the Middle East political process we move backwards because groups will preempt; they always preempt; And, therefore you have to have something on the table.
Second you can’t assume that violence can end through violence. We have to have a political… there’s a catch-22. Therefore you’re just going to have to find a way, despite the violence, to move forward, because you can’t make every act that happens something that would stop you from moving forward.
RAYMOND TANTER: Excuse me. There was a political process that President Clinton put forth and he was greeted with violence. So I would disagree that a political process is necessary condition for ending the violence because the violence often occurs irrespective of that process. I’ve read your research on this.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: But aggregately, though, aggregately at the level of the total incidence of violence during the entire Oslo Accords they went down every single year. Yes they were going on occasionally but they went down every single year and the — by the year 2000, which the year of the Camp David negotiations that failed, the incidence of terrorism in the Middle East was the lowest of any incidence of any other region around the world so clearly while there were ups and downs you have to look at the big picture. Today we have more terrorism since the collapse of negotiations than we’ve had throughout the entire period of the Oslo agreements.
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you another question about something happening right now, which is the building of this fence on the West Bank. To what degree is that going to provide a spark or could that provide a spark to the conflict?
RAYMOND TANTER: I think what the fence will do is to force people to go through checkpoints. One of the things that in effect electronic sensors do along Gaza is to force would-be terrorists to go through check points and they are intercepted.
GWEN IFILL: You think it will successfully stop infiltration.
RAYMOND TANTER: The 215 or 220-mile long line between the West Bank and Israel proper is a place where a fence could do some good in conjunction with electronic sensors and checkpoints.
GWEN IFILL: That’s all we have time for today. Thank you very much for joining us.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Pleasure.