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U.S. Mideast Peace Plan

June 24, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: Late today, the Israeli and Palestinian government’s reacted to the president’s speech.

A statement issued by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called it a “serious effort to push the peace process forward.” The statement did not deal with the president’s call for new Palestinian leadership.

A statement from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office said: “When the Palestinian Authority undergoes genuine reform and the new leadership takes its place at its head, it will be possible to discuss ways of moving forward by diplomatic means.”

For additional reaction to President Bush’s Middle East plan, we get four views: From Yuval Shteinitz, a member of the Israeli Knesset from Prime Minister Sharon’s Likud Party; Ziad Abu Amr, chairman of the Political Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council; Robert Pelletreau, a former U.S. Ambassador to three Arab countries– Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain– who was assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs during the Clinton Administration; and Martin Indyk, who held the top Mideast policy jobs at both the National Security Council and the State Department during the Clinton Administration. He then served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel. He’s now director of the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution.

Welcome to you all.

Mr. Abu Amr, your reaction. It sounded as if the president was saying before anything can happen, the Palestinians need new leadership. Did you read it that way?

ZIAD ABU AMR: Yes, and I think here the president is taking sides and he is trying to be patronizing and he is pressuring the Palestinian people and putting conditions on them; forgetting the fact that the Palestinians are the occupied side. And he should have exerted and exercised pressure on the occupier who has asked to withdraw his troops, that is Sharon, from West Bank cities and towns at a time he is continuing his offensive and occupying more Palestinian towns and more Palestinian villages and refugee camps.

So we expected the president to be consistent with the administration’s policy, acting as a primary sponsor of the peace process and honest broker, not to issue a verdict that says Arafat is guilty and Sharon is innocent. That is not fair handedness in our point of view.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Shteinitz, what did you think of it?

YUVAL SHTEINITZ: Well, I think it was a very good speech but I was frustrated on several points. First, it was a very nice vision but unfortunately this is exactly the vision that the state of Israel was trying to achieve in the peace process for nine years. And what really happened, the reality on the ground was any partial Israeli withdrawal was immediately used or actually abused, not to foster peace, but to promote terrorism and terrible incitement.

Then we found ourselves not giving land for peace but giving land for war and terrorism; and, therefore, I would expect the president to realize that now, after nine years of terrible violence and agreement violations, it is high time for Israel to strike back and to fight back and the only chances to create new chances, new prospect for peace — not just to regain the personal security of the people of Israel, but to create new chances for peace, is by deleting, by destroying this corrupting and terrorist supporting regime.

And this can be done exactly like in Afghanistan, just by using the sufficient force and to put an end to these terrorist supporting regime. There is no other way. The Palestinians themselves will not uprise against the dictatorial regime.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Pelletreau.

ROBERT PELLETREAU: I found the speech disappointing. It didn’t have immediacy. It placed some burdens on the Palestinians to do things over a certain amount of time, to hold elections before the end of the year. But nothing in it projected a forceful American involvement to end this terrible cycle of violence and counter violence of retaliation and counter retaliation. There’s no call for an immediate conference that is was being talked about, and there’s no call for Israel to show any kind of restraint until the Palestinians have done several specific things. So I found it disappointing overall.

MARGARET WARNER: Martin Indyk, you’re the last one that can have a more upbeat assessment. How did you see it?

MARTIN INDYK: Well, Margaret, I’ll give the president’s two thumbs up: First of all for the act of clarity. I think he’s right to say that there has to be a new Palestinian leadership. Arafat has failed the test of leadership and he’s failed to live up to his commitments. And it’s important to end the ambiguity in America’s own position on that.

I think he was also very clear about the need for a Palestinian state; that the United States was going to help achieve that as long as the Palestinians understood that it was not going to be achieved through violence or in place of Israel.

Where I think the speech was lacking was as Bob said, any indication of some kind of sustained American engagement. It’s not at all clear that the conference that was touted before the speech is going to be pursued. It is not even clear that the Secretary of State is going to go out to the region to push the processes of reform, political reform and security restructuring that the president has called for.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Abu Amr, do you think that the Palestinian people and leadership below Mr. Arafat are ready for a change in leadership? Aren’t you a member of the Palestinian parliament that needs to have more power?

ZIAD ABU AMR: We have been pushing for elections. We were hoping the president would talk about conditions that would enable to the Palestinian people to conduct free and democratic elections. A new leadership for me is a leadership that is democratically elected. So how can we do elections when Israeli tanks are rolling in Palestinian streets and Palestinian towns and villages?

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, though, that if there were conditions in which to hold elections, that new leadership would be elected? That Arafat would allow new leadership to be elected? Or is it — as Mr. Shteinitz said — that the Palestinian people will never on their own remove this leadership?

ZIAD ABU AMR: That’s not true. We had free and democratic elections and many people attested to that there was international monitoring. President Carter was there and many other people in 1996 when we had free and democratic elections. Mr. Arafat and nobody else can stop the Palestinians from exercising their right of choice and I think this is the only solution.

But the problem is that we need to create the political environment to enable the Palestinian people to freely and democratically elect their representatives. And that cannot happen while Israel and Sharon to today just said that he is going to stay there as long as it takes. And we are hoping to conduct elections in the coming few months.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Pelletreau how realistic do you think this call is for new leadership, and what would it take to have that happen?

ROBERT PELLETREAU: Well, to begin with, leaders are chosen by their own people in one way or another, and calling from the outside for the election of a new leader or the selection of new leaders and disallowing all the present leadership, strikes me as quite unrealistic.

I also share the point that we do not see how the Palestinians could actually organize a new election under the current pressures. We all have sympathy for Israel faced with suicide bombers and Israel has not found, as yet, the right formula, the right solution to end this terrible horrific scourge.

But at the same time, to say that all this must take place under vigorous Israeli intervention in the Palestinian area strikes me as quite unrealistic.

MARGARET WARNER: Martin Indyk, how do you see the prospects and how realistic it is to have some way of choosing new Palestinian leadership?

MARTIN INDYK: Well, there’s certainly a problem that Ziad and Bob point to but the president also has a problem. He has got to come up with answers to two problems before any process can succeed. The first problem is that there isn’t a responsible Palestinian leadership that is willing to fight terror and enter into negotiations with Israel on that basis.

And there isn’t an Israeli leader from Yossi Sarid on the left to Benjamin Netanyahu on the right that will engage with Arafat anymore in any kind of negotiations. So he has got to define a process that can produce a more responsible representative Palestinian leadership.

At the same time, in order to get the Israeli army out of the Palestinian areas, so that Ziad Abu Amr and the others can push for these political reforms and contest these elections, there has to be a security mechanism in place on the Palestinian side that will fight the terror instead of the Israeli army.

And so that’s why he is calling for the restructuring of the security services, calling on the Arabs, particularly the Egyptians and Jordanians to help in that process. If those two processes can move ahead, perhaps then we can see a viable negotiation coming about.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Mr. Shteinitz, let’s turn the tables now. And I’d like to know what you — how you read the president’s speech in terms of what he was asking Israel to do. He said at one point, “As we make progress for security, Israeli forces need to withdraw fully to the lines of September 2000 and consistent with recommendations of the Mitchell Committee, Israeli settlement activity has to stop.”

What time frame does that suggest to you?

YUVAL SHTEINITZ: Well, actually it is only in our hands because to improve the security conditions now, the Palestinians leadership is unwilling or unable to do it and it’s only in our hands. So the only chances to improve security and then maybe to improve conditions for Palestinians to some kind of democratic transition, is only if we will put an end to terrorism and, for this aim we need to put an aim to the terrorist supporting regime of Yasser Arafat. Nobody can ignore it.

Second thing is Mr. Ambassador, the Ambassador mentioned, the leaders have been chosen by their own people and not by foreign intervention. This is true. But dictators cannot be removed many times by their own people, and needs foreign intervention, and therefore I must say that I do agree with the two former ambassadors that it seems very unlikely that the Palestinians will be able to remove this dictator and terrorist-supporting regime by themselves and the occupation is not a problem.

Let me mention that terrorism began to escalate against Israelis in the Middle East after we already made partial and very significant withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank. Only then those territories given up became a basis for terrorism and terrible incitement. So the occupation is not the problem. Maybe the end of the occupation started the current problem.

MARTIN INDYK: Now, I think occupation is exactly what the problem is because people will always resist occupation.

YUVAL SHTEINITZ: But Mr. Ambassador, the main problem that those Palestinian terrorists and also… unfortunately this is a prevalent philosophy in the Arab world is not Palestinian independence but the destruction of the Jewish state. You cannot ignore this.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Shteinitz, please. Ambassador Indyk, what did you hear the president asking Israel to do and did you see any parallel effort he was asking Israel to make, or is it really all contingent first on total end of terror and a change in Palestinian leadership?

MARTIN INDYK: Well, I looked carefully at the language, and it was carefully crafted, and as I understand it, he was saying as the security situation improves, the Israeli army should withdraw to back out of the “A” and “B” areas it has moved into since the intifada started back in September of 2000.

But secondly, he called for a stop to settlement activity consistent with the Mitchell report. What that means is all settlement activity including natural growth. And he did not condition that statement. He just called for a stop to it. I think that was clear. That is a parallel process, not a sequential process, then he called for Israel, over time, to end the occupation in the context of negotiations that would lead to this Palestinian state, but he didn’t define what ending the occupation meant in terms of whether it meant all of the territories occupied as a result of the ’67 war or some of them.

MARGARET WARNER: Your view on whether there was… what was asked of Israel.

ROBERT PELLETREAU: I think Martin had it quite right, but I did not sense that there was an immediate call on Israel to do anything other than what it is doing right now. There seemed to be general recognition that Israel was responding to terrorist attacks and that the United States would understand that this response was going to take some time and be very severe and be very thorough.

So I did not sense that there was any real call on Israel to show restraint or to show proportionality or any other…

ZIAD ABU AMR: I think it can be construed as a green light to the Sharon government to continue his military offensive. But let me say that political problems cannot be solved by security and military means. Political problems require political solutions. And we all agree there, at least, that occupation is the ultimate source of violence. If occupation goes, 90 percent of the existing problems with go with it.

YUVAL SHTEINITZ: I don’t agree. (All arguing)

MARGARET WARNER: Gentlemen…

ZIAD ABU AMR: The existence of Israel seems to be the source of violence in the Middle East…

MARGARET WARNER: Gentlemen…

ZIAD ABU AMR: …And believes that occupation is the ultimate source of violence.

MARGARET WARNER: We have to leave it there. Thank you all four very much.