War or Peace
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MARGARET WARNER: To assess the challenges confronting Powell in his new assignment, we get two perspectives: David Makovsky was executive editor of the “Jerusalem Post,” and diplomatic correspondent for Israel’s leading daily “Ha’aretz.” He’s now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy — and Hisham Melhem, Washington correspondent for the Beirut newspaper, “As-Safir.”
Welcome back both of you.
Hisham, how is President Bush’s speech being read by first of all the Palestinians and by the Arab government.
HISHAM MELHEM: The Arabs and the Arab governments and the Palestinians have always wanted a presidential role, a hands-on approach. They were very disappointed last year because the president was either disinterested or gave his tacit blessing to the policies pursued by Prime Minister Sharon.
They welcomed his reference to a cease-fire, to a withdrawal and also basically to that major linkage between security arrangements and providing the Palestinians with the political horizon, a promise that they will be, at the end of the road, a Palestinian state, that they will achieve their yearning for nationhood. They were very unhappy, of course, because he didn’t call on the Israelis to withdraw immediately.
Also, they were taken aback by the scathing almost personal critique that he leveled at Yasser Arafat and they felt that maybe the president is looking for a Palestinian alternative leadership — something I don’t necessarily agree with but that’s the view in the Arab world.
There is a great deal of anticipation against the background, deepening sense of resentment directed not only at the Israeli incursion but also at the American tacit support for it and also against what they perceive as the official impotence of the Arab states.
MARGARET WARNER: And, David, what would you add to Jim Bennet’s – first of all, do you agree with Jim Bennet’s assessment of how it was created by the Sharon government?
DAVID MAKOVSKY: Yeah. I do. I would say though at the beginning that they had a sense, listening to Bush and his body language, that he had a kind of instinctive sympathy for Israel’s plight and for the plight of both peoples, I might add.
And at the same time to echo what Hisham said, I would call it like a visceral antipathy to Arafat’s track record. So that part they clearly liked. The second part of it, I agree with Jim, that they were surprised by his call for the withdrawal, although I have to believe that military planners knew this was always a possibility.
What I understand from Israeli military officials, it is a four plus four idea. First four weeks, you do these operations. And the next four weeks, based on the intelligence you gather you, you then do pinpointed operations.
So I think by the time Powell arrives, and as Hisham said, it isn’t immediate, I think they feel they’ll probably wrap up most of that first phase. So that part was instinctive sympathy but at the same time the one part where they were very – not just surprised but I think kind of angry, is what they would call a double standard; that here when the United States is fighting its war for self-defense, it doesn’t limit itself. It’s gone on for six months.
And I don’t want to get into a comparison with Afghanistan and this, because there are differences but the fact that the United States does not limit itself when it’s self-defense and here it is making the demands of Israel. A top columnist for Israel’s leading paper, who’s a liberal, said it is infuriating.
MARGARET WARNER: So how cooperative is Powell going to find the protagonists when he gets on the ground — first of all, Arafat and the Palestinians?
HISHAM MELHEM: Arafat of course is the biggest predicament of his political, long political career obviously. Although his stature symbolically has grown in the Arab world because he was under siege, as he was in 1982, and as he and the rest of the Arab world are listening again 20 years later to Sharon’s charge that we have to– they have to destroy the terrorist infrastructure.
When he went into Lebanon in ’82, he created Hezbollah and now I don’t know how many suicide bombers they’re creating. I shudder to think about that. Arafat will cooperate as much as he can.
The problem is that even in his incredible predicament, Arafat cannot cooperate unless he is presented with a package that would include security arrangements to satisfy the Israelis but also quick measures and returns to the political process. I don’t know how Powell is going to reconcile these two.
I don’t know if he has any new ideas or whether he is going to rely on Mitchell recommendations, which include a cessation of all forms of settlements. This is going to be the biggest challenge with the Israeli side.
But with Palestinians, he has to help Arafat later on if he agrees to deliver on the security measures because Arafat — what has been left of his security apparatus has been destroyed completely.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. But let’s back up just a little bit because Powell obviously needs to get Arafat to at least say publicly what he has been called on to say. And of course this call has been going on for literally months, the better part of two years. Is there– that is for Arafat to renounce the violence–
HISHAM MELHEM: He did that.
MARGARET WARNER: He hasn’t done what the Bush administration wants him to do. And my question is: does the fact that President Bush himself got involved, does that change things at all for the way Arafat looks at it?
HISHAM MELHEM: I think so because Arafat cannot ignore the fact that the prestige of the President of the United States now is on the line and that he knows I think implicitly, Arafat, from all these hints and messages that are being sent to him from the American administration, that this may be Arafat, that is, your last chance for us to deal with you. You have to deliver this time or not. I think this is unfair the way they framed it but I think Arafat will get the message.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And how cooperative do you think Sharon is going to be?
DAVID MAKOVSKY: I think it’s clear that there is no more bombs, there will be no more incursions. I think it’s really that simple. I understand Powell stopping in the Arab world before he deals with the Israelis and Palestinians and hopes to build some momentum for his visit.
It seems to me that, you know, we’ve had a Mitchell plan, a Tenet plan, a Bush speech, Powell speech, three Zinni missions, two U.N. Security Council resolutions and I could go on and on.
You have got to say what is different this time? Why should this work that all the other things haven’t worked. And it’s true, the president himself has gone forward. And we’ve heard this is Arafat’s last chance so many times that it’s hard to know is this really going to be it?
But would I say this. Two things have to happen to make this different. Even if Powell brings a temporary halt to things — two things are going to make it different in my view.
And I take the cue from what the president said. Muslim states, Arab states calling on Arafat that suicide bombings is an illegitimate political instrument. And that is very crucial given we just had an Islamic conference meeting this week in Malaysia where everybody but Malaysia and Bosnia I think said, no, it is okay.
And I think until Powell gets the Arabs to change on this– because the Arabs say, they say you, the United States, you’re the patron of Israel — put pressure on the Israelis. I don’t understand and I maybe Hisham can enlighten me on this.
But I don’t see what the moral justification is to tell the U.S. to press Israel if the Arab states aren’t pressing Arafat. The second thing is consequences for both sides. Unless there’s consequences here, it isn’t going to work.
MARGARET WARNER: Are the Arab states going to do this? Because the President made it pretty clear he wants them to.
HISHAM MELHEM: Let me enlighten David if I can.
MARGARET WARNER: By all means.
HISHAM MELHEM: Look, if you are going to ask the Arab states to issue a blanket statement condemning any kind of resistance against the Israelis, no Arab leader will do it.
If you are going to ask the Arab states to issue a clear cut, explicit condemnation of attacks on civilians, that is different and that should happen. And that will happen. I don’t find too many Arab leaders willing to defend suicide attacks against civilians.
At the same time, no Arab is going to look these Palestinians in the eye and tell them have you no right to resist the instrument of occupation, i.e., Israeli soldiers sitting in your own homes, on your own territory, or other settlers are stealing your land and incorporating it into what they believe to be a greater Israel.
We have to make a distinction like that. This is not part of the American war on international terror as Sharon would like to paint it. This is different. The president of the United States should show greater nuance and understanding of the situation.
DAVID MAKOVSKY: This is crucial what he said because if Hisham at least, if they would do what Hisham said publicly, which they haven’t done, that would already be progress – I would argue insufficient but it would be something. I would like to tell you what a senior western diplomat who met Arafat told me a story.
And this will sound very ironic to American ears who have been always saying this about Arafat. And the senior diplomat brought a letter to Arafat in December and said here’s a letter from Hosni Mubarak. He said crackdown on Jihad and Hamas.
You know what Arafat told him. He said I will believe what he tells his people in Arabic. Now that to me is a seminal thing because he is daring these Arab leaders — go public. In other words, what they say privately to Zinni, to Powell doesn’t mean a thing — these diplomatic messages. The key thing is going public. And if they do that, they will put the heat on Sharon, in my view, to take the next step.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now let’s turn to Sharon in the couple of minutes we have left. Powell made clear again today that he feels that the political settlement talks have to move up and be done almost concurrently with security. That’s not what Sharon wants. Is Sharon going to cooperate?
DAVID MAKOVSKY: Well, you know, I can’t say for sure he will. I think it will be hard to define political process. I think if we are going to shoot the moon and go for the grand deal, which is not doable, then he is not going to.
I think if you would talk something less than a grand deal he may. And I would argue this. If he does not, the Israeli public will move. Because the secret of Oslo has been for five Israeli prime ministers and one Arafat.
And when the Israelis aren’t getting blown up, they go to the ballot box and vote for moderates and they vote for moving this process forward. When they’re getting blown up, they can’t make it to the ballot box.
And so, therefore, whether Sharon goes or not, we’ve soon now during the eight years of Oslo, that the Israeli public will vote based on how the Palestinians act. And I think, I’m very optimistic about that.
HISHAM MELHEM: The biggest flaw of Oslo is that it allowed the process to be an end in itself, not peace. But if you are a 22-year-old Palestinian man or woman today, you look at the last ten or twelve years of the peace process that began at Madrid, what do you see – an endless series of interim arrangements, half baked solutions, cease-fires, little agreements on Hebron or on this and on that, and no end in sight.
And that’s why the Palestinians are not interested—and I’ll tell you bluntly. No Palestinian is interested in cease-fire although they live in hell, unless the cease-fire is going to lead quickly and I think Colin Powell understands this and maybe the President is beginning to understand this I hope — unless it leads quickly to the final statehood that they’re seeking.
We know what are the contours of the agreement. The president said it. David is correct. We have a full library, plethora of peace plans but two states living side by side and the president has to read the riot act to both sides and to be explicit and to put pressure on both sides to reach that kind of coexistence between two states living with equality.
DAVID MAKOVSKY: Can I just say one word on this? The public will go for a grand deal if they think it makes them more secure and not more vulnerable. If that can be demonstrated, you will have the Israeli public.