Cycle of Violence
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GWEN IFILL: One week ago today, two prime ministers, prodded by an American president, shook hands in Jordan. But by today, the talk of peace between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas had once again turned to talk of war. The cycle of violence is familiar, the path out of it, once again, unclear. To discuss the events of the last seven days, we turn to: Meyrav Wurmser, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute in Washington. She’s an Israeli who’s lived in the U.S. for the past decade. And Omar Dajani. He served as legal advisor to the PLO from 1999 to 2001, a timeframe which included the last Camp David peace summit. He’s an American of Palestinian descent.
Ms. Wurmser a week later after seeing what we saw in Aqaba, Jordan with these three leaders, did something go wrong or was this entirely predicable?
MEYRAV WURMSER: I think it was entirely predicable to be honest. I think that anyone who had followed closely Palestinian and Israeli politics could tell that once again nothing fundamental has changed. Granted, Mahmoud Abbas has been appointed as the new prime minister of the Palestinian Authority but he holds no real power. Fundamental power in Palestinian politics remains in the hands of Yasser Arafat who remains the really sole arbitrator of how Palestinian politics go. At this point Mahmoud Abbas simply doesn’t have the power to fight terrorism even if he wishes too. And so the bottom line is, you know, it’s more of the same. Almost immediately after the Aqaba talks, Hamas decided to break off talks with the PLO on a cease fire. Rantisi, the guy that Israel tried to assassinate, the leader of Hamas that Israel tried to assassinate, actually gave an interview in which he said that Mahmoud Abbas was nothing but an Israeli and American puppet.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Dajani, is that exactly the problem that basically the United States and Ariel Sharon were negotiating with the wrong man?
OMAR DAJANI: I don’t think that that is the problem exactly. I agree that what has happened in the last couple of days was entirely predicable and we should expect whether we pursue — continue to pursue the path of peace in the coming months and years or we move away from it, additional acts of violence to take place. But the question is how to contain them, how to fight war against terror that not only is sustained but is also sustainable. I think that there have been very significant transformations within Palestinian political spheres and I think that both with respect to the civil side and with respect to the security side there have been clear efforts, efforts that the United States, European Union, the Russians and the United Nations have all regarded as significant to transform the way in which Palestinian politics work internally.
GWEN IFILL: If that is so, then how do we come to the spot today where people are once again firing at one another, where there are assassination attempts, where there are suicide bombers? How did we get from this hopeful spot last week, baby steps as they were, to where we are now tonight?
OMAR DAJANI: Well, I think that everyone recognized even a week ago that obstacles remain. And I think the question is how can we create an enabling environment for the two sides to move beyond the patterns of past that we have seen in the last two days and toward a better dynamic. Now, one problem is the road map provides for both sides in parallel to take steps, political steps, security steps and with respect to institutional development and humanitarian development as well. And I think that what concerns many Palestinians is that in this context, where we have got two leaders on both sides shaking hands last week, you have a government of the state of Israel launching an assassination attempt against a political leader of a movement that represents 30 percent of Palestinian public opinion. I think Palestinians say why Rantisi, why now? He is not a ticking bomb of the type Israel has pointed to the past. This is a political leader who is opposed to the peace process but nevertheless is political not military.
GWEN IFILL: Ms. Wurmser, what’s the answer to that question, and why Rantisi, why now? Why an assassination attempt, and is that not a violation of the road map?
MEYRAV WURMSER: No, not really. Even before the assassination attempt on Rantisi there were several terrorist attacks unprovoked on Israelis following the Aqaba summit. Both Israeli civilians and military soldiers have died in these attacks. These were completely unprovoked. As to Rantisi, he is kind a leader who does not lead the military operations, but he inspires and trains and give direction to all those militants who end up being the suicide bombers. Moreover, Rantisi himself had become a problem not just for Israel but for Abu Mazen. Recent polls have shown that the vast majority of Palestinians support the Hamas. The Hamas and Rantisi will not accept Israel’s right to exist no matter how much Israel compromises, no matter how much Israel gives in to Palestinian demands. And, you know, Rantisi in the last few days, by basically declaring that Mahmoud Abbas was nothing more than an American and Israeli puppet has really challenged the leadership of the very guy in Palestinian politics that both Israel and the Americans and the European Union had deemed to be the right guy to deal with.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Dajani how about that? Is Mahmoud Abbas — also known as Abu Mazen – we keep using the names interchangeably, has his position been severely undercut now because of the suicide bombs that we saw, his inability – apparent inability — to rein in Hamas?
OMAR DAJANI: I think that his position has been undercut by the circumstances of the last 48 hours absolutely. But I wouldn’t necessarily point only to the suicide bombs. To dwell for a second on the issue of assassination, the whole point behind the road map was to turn a new page to say we have had problems for the last three years. We have had two parties who have been utterly incapable together of resolving the crisis when left to their own devices. And so what we have here is innovation in two respects. One is that you have got parallel implementation with both sides meant to observe obligations and the other is that you have a third party role in ensuring that things don’t get out of hand and that we have got clarity about what should happen.
GWEN IFILL: Did you see any signs of parallelism being played out this week?
OMAR DAJANI: I didn’t, and that’s what’s of most concern. You take something like assassinations. In the road map it provides that Israel should not take steps that undermine Palestinian trust — even putting aside this document, which was done with extensive consultations with both parties – what you have is over the last number of years a series of assassination attempts and successes by Israel, precisely at the times when peace efforts seemed to be launched. And I think that for many Palestinians on the street what they are saying is why is it that every time we get moving either we have Yehiya Ayash, assassinated in 1994, or we have Raed Karmi in — just two years ago in January of 2001 after what had been a three-week period with no Israeli deaths, or Salah Shehada last July; and what they say is, coming back to the question that you raised, maybe Abu Mazen can’t do it. Maybe we don’t have a partner for peace in Israel. And I think that’s why it’s imperative for both sides to do what is called for here and for the United States among others to say please stick to your obligations.
GWEN IFILL: Ms. Wurmser, does Israel believe that they have a partner for peace with the Palestinian Authority?
MEYRAV WURMSER: Israel was certainly hoping that Abu Mazen would be the new partner for peace. Did they think they had a partner for peace in the Palestinian Authority before his appointment as prime minister, no, absolutely not. One thing we have to remember is we’re in fact not talking about a cycle of violence. It’s not an action- reaction thing that starts from nowhere. More frequently than not, there are Israeli concessions. That is exactly what happened after Camp David. There are Israeli concessions and the responses from the Palestinian side is terrorist attacks. The first responsibility of the Israeli government is to defend its citizens and so it does. And the response at this point or an effective response at this point has been targeted assassinations.
GWEN IFILL: Do you think that targeted assassinations was part of what was on the table last week when they were talking in Jordan?
MEYRAV WURMSER: Absolutely not. People were hoping the targeted assassinations as well as terrorist attacks will actually come to a stop. I mean, that was the whole point. The whole point was to hopefully launch a process in which terrorist attacks stop or you have somebody in the Palestinian Authority who can bring an end to them.
GWEN IFILL: I guess then that brings me to what the president’s role is in this, if nobody in good will last week thought that targeted assassinations would be happening this week or thought that there would be another car bomb happening this week in Jerusalem, then what should the president be thinking? President of the United States be thinking about his role in this? Should the United States even be involved? Should he just throw up his hands and walk away?
OMAR DAJANI: I think that the United States’ involvement is absolutely imperative. And I think that the best thing that the United States could do at this juncture is simply be perfectly clear about what both sides’ obligations are and about the steps — extent to which each side is fulfilling it. Is Israel doing what it was called on in the road map? Is it immediately dismantling all outposts erected since March 2001? Is Israel ending actions that undermine trust? And on the flip side: are the Palestinians taking every step within their capacity to ensure that their capacity to fight terror is restored and that capacity is actually exercised?
GWEN IFILL: Ms. Wurmser, the president today that he called on people to cut off aid to terrorists. That was his response to the day’s events. Who do you think he was speaking to and how effective do you think his call will be, given the events we have seen?
MEYRAV WURMSER: I think that at least some of the people he should be speaking to are some of the U.S.’s closest allies such as Saudi Arabia who are known to support and fund terrorism including Palestinian terrorism. And so that call should be directed at people who we consider to our allies and I think we should have something to say about that and about their contribution to terror in the Middle East. As far as the American involvement in the peace process, I think that the president had outlined the perfect answer to the current terror in his June 24 speech when he called for a new Palestinian leadership one not involved in terror and not involved in corruption and one that is more democratic. Unfortunately and for whatever reasons, the administration had decided to step away from that speech. There’s no way one could square what is going on currently with the president’s call for a new Palestinian leadership. This is not new Palestinian leadership. This is still Yasser Arafat.
GWEN IFILL: Is the road map alive or dead?
OMAR DAJANI: I think the road map is alive but it’s ailing. And I think it can continue as long as we have clarity from the quartet and seriousness from both sides, particularly Israel right now.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. We’ll have to leave it there for tonight. Thank you both very much.
MEYRAV WURMSER: Thank you.
OMAR DAJANI: Thank you.