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Jumpstarting Mideast Peace Talks: Will It Work?

September 1, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Gwen Ifill talks to the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Steven Hadley about the issues at stake in a new round of direct peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
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GWEN IFILL: We are joined by two people who have been at that familiar table before. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright helped organize the Camp David summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in 2000. And Stephen Hadley was President Bush’s national security adviser when he helped plan the 2007 Annapolis conference that brought together Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas.

So, you have both been there, done that.

Starting with you, Secretary Albright, what about this meeting, if anything, makes it different from the past?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Former U.S. Secretary of State: Well, I think it’s a very important meeting, and what makes it different is that I think that this is a great moment of opportunity, because both the leaders, as the president just said, seem to have a very reasoned time to come here at this particular moment.

Things have deteriorated in many ways. And I think that they see this as an opportunity, with the United States really getting them together. I think it is really important that President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Senator Mitchell have really made it very clear that it is the role of the United States to bring the parties together, but that they are the ones that have to make the decisions. And, so, I think it is — I’m — I’m optimistic about it. I am an optimist who worries a lot, but I do think that this is an important moment.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Hadley, are you optimistic? And is this picking up from where you left off?

STEPHEN HADLEY, Former U.S. National Security Adviser: Well, there’s a lot of skepticism out there. You know, we have had, through two decades of violence, recrimination, a couple failed processes that came close, didn’t get it. So there’s a lot of skepticism out there. But I think there is ground to be hopeful. I think one other thing that is important is what is happening on the West Bank with President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad building now the institutions of a Palestinian state, taking responsibility for security.

The Israelis are cooperating, stepping back. What that does is, it gives the Palestinian people a sense that a Palestinian state is possible. They see it beginning to come in before their eyes. And it gives Israel assurance that that state will be under the rule of law and will have security forces that are committed to fighting terror. So, I think that’s also a — a positive development that wasn’t there in either of our prior efforts.

GWEN IFILL: Let me make the skeptic’s argument. Right of return, freezing of settlements, there doesn’t — they don’t seem to be any closer on these two key issues that either side wants than they were when you were having this conversation.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, you know, what is interesting, Gwen, actually, there were solutions to all those issues. They are laid out a lot in terms of the final parameters that President Clinton put down and various other issues that you and President Bush worked on.

So it isn’t as if there aren’t solutions. What is lacking — or was lacking — was the political will to make them happen. And, so, I think that is the part that we have to look at. And I — I listened very carefully to what Prime Minister Netanyahu said. I think that was very encouraging and sober, in terms of the ideas of the violence that had taken place.

Mahmoud Abbas has come. He — and I fully agree with you, Steve, about what is happening on the West Bank, because that is Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, that is showing that there is a life for Palestinian people. And I think that that helps to give President Abbas a sense that this is possible, that political will that is necessary for this. But the answers are, frankly, all there. I think we — we know what they are.

GWEN IFILL: Domestically, are either of them, politically, that much stronger, especially in the case of Abbas, who is dealing with this Fatah challenge — I mean, this Hamas challenge at home?

STEPHEN HADLEY: Well, it’s difficult. Prime Minister Netanyahu has a real reputation, rightly, deserved, for being concerned about Israeli security. And that, in a way, puts him in a terrific position, if a peace agreement can be obtained, to sell that credibly to the Israeli people as the basis for a long-term security for Israel.

President Abbas, there is the problem, the split with Hamas. On the other hand, President Abbas has — has opted for peace, rather than violence, as the way to get a Palestinian state. And, at some point, he needs to show that the path of peace and negotiation produces.

And I also think that, in a way, getting Gaza back, the best way to do that is to have an agreement that provides a Palestinian state, because, at that point, Hamas and the people of Gaza will have to decide whether they want to continue on a path of violence or whether they want to be part of a Palestinian state.

So, there are — there’s some potential, really, for both of these leaders, who do have real political problems. There’s no doubt about it, but there’s some upside as well.

GWEN IFILL: As two people who have been at this table before and understand that one man’s terrorism is another man’s security issue, and they both accuse the other of the same thing, what are you listening for as these talks get under way as signs that either or both of them are serious about moving ahead?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think what is very important in any negotiation is to try to see the extent to which one party puts itself into the shoes of the other one, to really be able to see it from the other perspective.

And what they need to see is that security for one is security for the other. It’s not the opposite of violence for one is…

GWEN IFILL: Have you heard them sound like they’re saying that?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think we have to see. I think that is one of the issues, in terms of, the truth is that, if you look at what’s happening on the West Bank, is that they also feel more comfortable when — the people there and the leaders — when there isn’t violence.

And what has been so interesting, I have been involved in a project through the Aspen Institute of the Middle East Investment Initiative, where we have been giving, with the help of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, money to small- and medium-sized businesses, so people create jobs, and then they then see that violence undercuts them. So, I do think that, if they can see strength in the other one as being strength for them, that’s what you’re looking for.

GWEN IFILL: What are you listening for, Steve Hadley?

STEPHEN HADLEY: I think it’s the same thing. I think it’s, for example, the — a recognition that terrorism is a threat to each of them. It is a threat to Israel, but it is also a threat to the Palestinian state that President Abbas and Salam Fayyad are trying to build, which is based on rule of law, not violence.

I think also a recognition that time is not on their side, that, if this is going to happen, it needs to happen soon — and it’s interesting — the secretary and I were talking before the show — that everybody has agreed to talk about trying to get it done in a year. Generally, time — people don’t like deadlines or even time horizons in the Middle East. And the fact that everybody has agreed that the next year is critical…

GWEN IFILL: And you think that’s a good idea?

STEPHEN HADLEY: I think it’s — it is — it indicates that all the parties understand there’s an opportunity here, and the opportunity may not be open forever.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about all the parties, because a key person at this table, obviously, is always the U.S. president. And you both have been there with U.S. presidents who have tried to, in a physical sense sometimes, pull these two together, these two groups together.

Does the process — is President Obama in a position to make that happen?

You wrote in your book, for instance, that one of the biggest mistakes you can make with P.R. is set expectations too high, especially in this kind of process.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: Is the president setting expectations too high?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think what they have done is a very interesting kind of step process. What is clear is, Senator Mitchell will continue to be the kind of day-to-day negotiator. And one of the things, Gwen, I think is so important with this year framework, these have to be continuous talks. We can’t just have talks for a couple of days in Washington, and then let it sit.

And, so, I’m going to be looking to see at what level these are going on at various times. So, Senator Mitchell, Secretary Clinton will, obviously, be involved. But then it does — in many ways, the president is the closer.

And I do think that President Obama has laid out, first of all, a statement again he made very strongly about the security of Israel being very important. And, at the same time, he has, in so many ways, indicated that he wants to have a different relationship with the Muslim world and Muslim community. So — and he is somebody that is patient and has the capability of calmly bringing people together.

GWEN IFILL: Steve Hadley, does the president have to be the closer?

STEPHEN HADLEY: I think the president has to be the closer. I think Senator Mitchell is a terrific person to serve the role that Secretary Albright said. I am encouraged that Secretary of State Clinton is going to take a role. I think that is a positive sign.

But, in the end of the day, Middle East peace is presidential business. And I think there have been some false steps along the line, but I think the president has now positioned himself with both Israelis and Palestinians, that he’s in a — in a good position to try this.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: One other thing, Gwen, that I think is so interesting about these talks is that President Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan are here.

GWEN IFILL: Yes.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: And I think that one of the parts that was not always present, at least in some of the negotiations that we had, was to make sure that so-called moderate Arabs are in there to support the Palestinians in what they’re doing.

STEPHEN HADLEY: Right.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: The Saudis have to be brought into this. There is an Arab initiative that is out there. So, I think that there are some very interesting aspects to this set of talks.

GWEN IFILL: All right. Well, we will be watching these talks, as we always do. Madeleine Albright, Stephen Hadley, thank you both very much.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Great to be with you.

STEPHEN HADLEY: Thank you.