Middle East Maelstrom
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MARGARET WARNER: We are joined by Lawrence Eagleburger, Secretary of State in the first Bush administration; Martin Indyk, who just finished a tour as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, and previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East; and Robert Malley, a former National Security Council staff member who participated in the Israeli/Palestinian talks at Camp David last year.
We have seen 14 months of this kind of attack and retaliation. But, Secretary Eagleburger, today both sides talked about war. Each side said that war had been declared on them.
Do you think this is basically more of the same or has this conflict entered a new, more dangerous phase?
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: I’m inclined to think, given what’s going on around them, that this is likely to become a new phase. It’s more of the same in terms of what — the back and forth, perhaps a little bit more strenuously, but what worries me, if worry is the right word, is…
What’s different, potentially different is here we have a war on terrorism going on at the same time, and if this becomes enmeshed in all of that, that’s a problem.
And, secondly, I think I have to say that the prime minister has laid it on Arafat pretty substantially now, and the question then becomes: What’s he going to do about it?
There he said that there would be a government meeting before too long and they would examine all of these possibilities; but he’s going… Given what he said today, he’s going to have a very hard time explaining– if he doesn’t do something very drastic.
MARGARET WARNER: He’s been calling on Arafat and so has President Bush for 14 months to quell the violence. Are you saying you read in what he said today or in his actions something more, something that puts him farther over?
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: Potentially more. We’ll see, but I am inclined to think this went… Well, it certainly has gone farther than anybody in recent years. I am inclined to think he’s probably serious, and remember what he said at the beginning. They want us out of here. Now we haven’t heard that from an Israeli leader in a long time either.
If he really truly believes that the fundamental objective of Palestinians is to destroy the state of Israel, if he believes that, then as prime minister he’s going to have some very serious things to say about it. Now he may have just used it as propaganda. If he means it, it’s also a very serious statement.
MARGARET WARNER: Martin Indyk how do you view what happened in the last 48 hours in terms of how serious, how dangerous?
MARTIN INDYK: I think it’s very dangerous. They’re really on the edge of the abyss now in a way that they haven’t been before.
And I say that because not… Not only because of the devastating attacks, which came so close together but they came at a time when the United States had launched a new initiative, one that this administration has not been involved in for all its time in office, with General Zinni on the ground there trying to get a sustained cease-fire and a roadway back on to the path of negotiations. So that the administration is engaged, Prime Minister Sharon has been involved in an effort basically to find some formula that will get Arafat to act.
He’s tried various different options going in a little bit of going out, but his preferred strategy all along the way has been massive international pressure on Yasser Arafat to confront the terrorists, combined by the massive threat of Israeli force. He would prefer that to work than to the alternative, which he’s now confronted with– and I agree with Secretary Eagleburger that basically he’s now in a corner where if Arafat doesn’t act, he is going to have to take drastic action. He hasn’t been quite in that corner before.
And I believe that unless Arafat acts in a very sustained way now, we are going to see that the Israelis have reached the point where they say enough is enough, we cannot tolerate this any more. We’ve seen the half measures from Arafat and the promises to take action and he never does it seriously, so what’s the point? We have terror with Arafat or terror without Arafat. Maybe we’re better off without Arafat.
MARGARET WARNER: Robert Malley, your view on the seriousness and do you agree with Secretary Eagleburger and Martin Indyk that it’s now in a way it’s really up to… It really is up to Arafat this time?
ROBERT MALLEY: I do agree with both Secretary Eagleburger and Ambassador Indyk that this is really a moment truth. We’ve known many moments of truth or what we’ve called moments of truth over the past year. I think we’ll only know when we’ve reached one after it’s too late and we’ll look back and see, well, this was a real one. But the exits are closing every day.
And each time something like this happens I think symbolically today the Israelis destroyed Arafat’s helicopters, which one could read as a way of saying you’re not going to go parade out and go to your Arab League meeting that you’ve called. You’re staying here. Either you act, or there’s no other choice for you anymore. You are not going to be on the international stage. I do think that qualitatively this seems different, but again we’ll only know it after we’ve seen it.
MARGARET WARNER: So what are Arafat’s options? I mean, as you know, there’s a kind of growing body of analysis, even apparently from Israeli intelligence, at least this was reported last week, that he really no longer has at least the political clout or maybe even the physical ability, period, to stop the violence.
ROBERT MALLEY: Well, I think so much of the focus has been on U.S. diplomacy and Palestinian- Israeli relations, the one dimension that really needs to be looked at is the domestic Palestinian one which goes to your question.
What has happened on the Palestinian side over the last eight years but especially over the last year has been gradually an erosion of legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority and therefore of Arafat who now finds himself in this choice between cracking down on people who are in some respects as popular as he is–.
MARGARET WARNER: If not more so.
ROBERT MALLEY: If not more so — Losing domestic legitimacy or not cracking down and losing international legitimacy. And he’s facing probably the most difficult choice he’s faced in his lifetime.
MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Indyk, your view on that. You’ve just recently returned from there. I mean does he have the ability, does he have the will–which are two different questions I know.
MARTIN INDYK: Indeed. Let’s take the first one. I believe strongly that he does have the capability. It’s harder for him now, as Rob says, because killing Israelis is popular in the Palestinian streets because of the anger there at the rising death toll on the Palestinian side.
But Yasser Arafat has nine security organizations who answer to him directly. He has at least 30,000 men under arms. It’s true that some of them have joined forces with Hamas and Islamic jihad and are engaged in these terrorist activities but most of them are not. And Arafat does have the ability to establish some discipline in the ranks.
Thirdly, he has demonstrated in the past in difficult situations an ability to crack down. He did it in 1996 against Hamas, and he did it so effectively that he hasn’t had to… He doesn’t have to do it so effectively this time. He could as he did after Sept. 11 convince them to stop their activities.
In Palestine’s Islamic Jihad is a small terrorist organization which enjoys funding and direction from Tehran–by the way as a footnote we should be going to Iran and the Europeans should be too and telling them very clearly to call off their dogs at this particular moment–but Arafat can arrest these people.
He showed that he could stop the shooting that was coming from Bejala on to the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo. He even dealt with the situation in Rafa in southern Gaza, which was a very hot situation, basically a warlord was running things down there. It was a daily pitched battle against the Israeli forces who were patrolling the border between Gaza and Egypt.
And he finally acted. He kicked out the governor. He moved in his police in cooperation with the Israelis and he’s established quiet in Rafa. So he does have the capability.
Now, the question of intention is really what’s at the heart of the matter. Does he have the will power to do it?
MARGARET WARNER: Secretary Eagleburger, take that.
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: Well, I’m… I am beginning to think that he does not have the ability. In fact… Well, that’s wrong. I shouldn’t say it that way because I have believed for some time that it was probable that he didn’t have the authority any longer or the ability or the will to really bring this all to an end.
And I know you were involved in all of this so you have a better view of it than I do, but the fact of the matter is that the failure to reach an agreement during the latter days of the Clinton administration, which was largely a failure of Arafat — I think — demonstrated to me at the time that it was a really very serious question.
One, whether he felt he could do it if he had to or whether his people would come out from under him or he’d end up dead, and two, whether he really wanted it or not if for no other reason than– if I may be Freudian for a minute– when he became leader of a state he could really manage that state. And I’m inclined to think he felt — I think there’s good evidence that he’s correct if he did — that he couldn’t manage it.
All I’m really saying to you is I haven’t believed for some time that Arafat was really able to do much. I’m inclined to think even more so now.
MARGARET WARNER: But then you have to ask the question and Saab Erekat, a Palestinian official said today, I invite Mr. Sharon to describe to me what the day is like, the day after Arafat is gone. I mean if it’s not Arafat — now I’ll go back to where the Israelis sit — what’s the alternative?
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: Well, you know, if I may say so, you’ve asked that now several times.
I will tell you just to show you how pessimistic I am about all of this, I don’t think there are any alternatives right now. I think that the fact of the matter is that General Zinni can parade around Israel and maybe he’ll make some difference. I doubt it. I think that this is now, if not out of control, at least so close to out of control that it’s going to be very difficult to pull all of this back. I don’t know whether we’re going to have war or not. But
I do believe that what we’re seeing in the way of blow and counterblow is going to continue. I do not think we’re going to stop it.
MARGARET WARNER: I want to go quickly around and get to everybody.
Starting with you, Rob Malley, where does this leave the U.S., one, does it have any leverage or ability to shape this thing? And what does it do to the anti-terror coalition — in other words, the U.S.’ two imperatives here?
ROBERT MALLEY: Well, what the U.S. needs to do now is and what it wants to do is to put the pressure on Arafat. I think that’s certainly the feeling we’re getting after the meeting with Prime Minister Sharon, the statements we’ve heard over the weekend and today.
I think combined with that has to be some sense that if Chairman Arafat does do what they’re asking him to do, there will be a political prospect because for him to crack down simply for the sake of cracking down will make him look like a collaborator at a time when there is complete national unity on the Palestinian side not in favor of Arafat but against the Israelis.
In terms of the anti-terror coalition certainly this complicates matters. If this develops into an all out war, it makes it all the more difficult to sustain the coalition. We know that part of the increased U.S. involvement now is a function of pressure from Arab countries whose support we want in that war. They’re going to be putting pressure back on us to save the Palestinian situation.
MARGARET WARNER: Martin Indyk.
MARTIN INDYK: First of all, as far as putting pressure on us, we should be putting pressure on them to pressure Arafat as well. They got us into this. We responded to their demands that we do something.
MARGARET WARNER: The Arab states as part of the coalition.
MARTIN INDYK: I’m talking about Saudi Arabia and Egypt that insisted that we take a Palestinian initiative. Now they have a responsibility to be partners with us and make it very clear to Arafat that he’d better act. They need to be pressing him too. We need them on our side rather than having them keep on pressing us in this regard.
But in terms of what we can do– and I think what the president and secretary of state are doing– is making clear to Arafat something we haven’t made clear to him before, which is that there are real consequences this time if he doesn’t act.
The Israelis are unable to make that so clear to him because I don’t think he really believes that Sharon, with all the constraints on him, is really going to act to get rid of him. We need to make it clear to Arafat that either he acts against the terrorists or we will treat him as a harborer of terrorists.
MARGARET WARNER: All right.
MARTIN INDYK: What all of that means in terms of severing our relationship with the Palestinians.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Secretary Eagleburger, same double question about the U.S. leverage and the terror coalition.
LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: With all respect to Ambassador Indyk, we can say all of these things, we can point our finger at him and say we’re going to make life miserable for you if you don’t do A, B, C and D. I’m not sure if we can, in fact, make life any more miserable for him than he already potentially sees himself.
If his situation domestically and within the Palestinian state is as weak as it may well be, we can point to him, bang him on the head, do anything we want, he’s not going to do much if he feels that if he does do something, it’s going to lead to his downfall. So that’s one piece of this thing.
Double question, again my point here and throughout the whole issue here is that right now I don’t think either side or the United States has many alternatives other than to… we can talk, we can scream, we can try, but most of the alternatives at this stage, I think, relate purely and simply to trying to stop the violence. And I’m not sure it’s possible. I think we are likely to see a continuation of the day-to-day banging at each other. I’m not at all sure that anything we can do is going to make a difference.
I will agree with the Ambassador, I think the main target here has got to be Arafat. He’s the culprit in this basically. But I am not at all confident that we can make him behave.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. On that pessimistic note, we’ll leave it there. Thank you, gentlemen.