KWAME HOLMAN: Secretary Powell was in Cairo today, a center of the Arab world and his second stop in an Arab capital. He met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Bush Administration's strategy for bringing about an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire involves rallying moderate Arab nations to condemn suicide bombings, and to pressure Yasser Arafat to lower the violence.
But Powell has been running into Arab resistance and demands that the U.S. pressure Israel to end its recent military incursions into Palestinian territory. That's the same message Vice President Cheney got from Arab leaders last month when he sought their support for a possible U.S. campaign against Iraq. At the start of Powell's tour yesterday, he was asked by Morocco's King Mohammed why his mission didn't begin in Jerusalem. And during a meeting with Powell last night in Casablanca, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah said the U.S. must do more to stop the Israeli military campaign against the Palestinians in the West Bank.
Abdullah is the author of a peace proposal that drew unanimous backing last week from the Arab League. It calls for the Arab world to establish normal relations with Israel in return for Israel's withdrawing to its 1967 borders. Anger has been on the rise on Arab streets, especially in countries whose governments are friendly toward Washington. Coverage of the Palestinian Intifada and the Israeli response that has left hundreds of Palestinians dead, has been non-stop on Arab television networks.
In Egypt, after days of demonstrations -- some calling for a holy war -- the government there severed most official relations with Israel. Egypt was the first Arab nation to recognize Israel. Morocco, long considered moderate and friendly to the U.S., saw tens of thousands protest the Israeli offensive in the West Bank. And in Jordan, Queen Rania led more than 1,000 demonstrators on the streets of Amman.
QUEEN RANIA, Jordan: Well, I think what we are trying to do here is highlight the flagrant violations of human rights in the occupied territories, and we want the international community to put pressure on Israel to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, and to give humanitarian workers access to families who have been deprived of water, electricity, medicine, food. We need the humanitarian workers to have access to the families and to be able to provide the services that are much needed at this stage.
KWAME HOLMAN: Secretary Powell left Cairo today for Madrid and meetings with European Union and Russian officials. From there he goes to Jordan, and on Thursday to Israel. Meanwhile, fears of a wider war in the region grow. On Israel's northern border, Hezbollah guerrillas have stepped up shelling from their enclaves in Lebanon. Today, Israeli jets responded with at least three air strikes on a southern Lebanese town.
MARGARET WARNER: To analyze Powell's challenge in trying to enlist help from the Arab world, we go to: Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. David Shipler, former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief in the early 1980s, and author of the Pulitzer-prize winning book: Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land. And Mary Jane Deeb, an Arab area specialist at the Library of Congress. The views she expresses this evening here are her own. Welcome to you all.
Shibley Telhami, why is Secretary Powell having such a difficult time getting these Arab leaders to say publicly what he wants?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: You're going to have a sense of what the Arab television is covering. You got a little bit of that this evening but I've been watching this over the weekend. What is being reported on Arab television is that massacres and genocide have taken place. They are reporting pictures that really are emotional pictures to the public. They're infusing that with pictures and images similar to the 1980s invoking the relationship of Sharon.
What they're conveying to the public is a sense of desperation, a sense of helplessness, a sense of "it must stop now. It's not stopping." What you hear is people calling from all over the Middle East live on these shows, calling for the removal of Arab governments, calling Arab governments servants of the United States, calling on people to demonstrate, to put pressure on their own governments.
So this is the environment they're facing. And it's hard in this environment to have an Arab leader standing next to the U.S. secretary in order to then condemn terrorism, because what happens is instead of delegitimizing terrorism in the minds of the region, they will delegitimize themselves.
MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Deeb, how do you see it? Do you agree that it's the pressure really from the street fueled in part by the television coverage?
MARY JANE DEEB: In part but of course there are also the claims that have been made by bin Laden and by Islamic leaders that, in fact, the... Islam is under siege, Muslims are under siege and the Arab-Israeli conflict is an example of what happens when non-Muslims are dominating a region.
So, in fact, the conflict exacerbates an already very tense situation and Arab leaders find themselves in a bind because on the one hand, they'd like to see that conflict come to an end and on the other they realize that as long as it's lasting, the streets are being mobilized not only in support of the Palestinians but also the fear is that Islamists can take the lead and radicalize people in the street.
MARGARET WARNER: David Shipler, what are the chances do you think that maybe at least privately leaders like Mubarak or King Abdullah in Jordan are willing to lean on Arafat, say, when he gets to the meeting with Secretary Powell later this week, to call for a cease-fire and call for an end to the violence. Do you think there's any possibility there's a private message?
DAVID SHIPLER: Well, there may very well be a private message. I'm not sure that that supersedes the importance of the public message. I remember once having a discussion with an American official during a George Shultz mission to the Middle East. We were just leaving Saudi Arabia and the official was saying, well, privately, the leaders say this or that. And I asked him why he thought it was that the private comments were the truth and the public comments were not. I mean, I think Shibley summed up the situation very well in terms of the Arab leaders' difficulty. They are walking a tight rope between what they probably believe is the best solution for the region and for their relations with the United States versus how they have to deal with their own populations.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Telhami, Fouad Ajami, whom you know, the scholar and writer of books about this part of the world, has said also that in his view the Arab governments have for too long used the Palestinian issue to divert the public's attention from their own problems and these governments' inability to deliver. Do you think that's a factor here too?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: There is no doubt that this has happened in the past but the reason they use it is because it works, because it resonates. And my public opinion polls show that the public really cares about this issue. What's happening now though I think is a slightly different phenomenon. No question that it serves the interest of some, but most of them are very terrified by it; they're terrified by the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators; they're terrified by the idea that these may turn against them. This is a very, very powerful trend out there.
I think we have a different kind of phenomenon. We have the globalization phenomenon, the information revolution. In the past decades ago governments could monopolize information. They could put out their own twist on it; they contain public opinion. They could help shape it. Today we have a completely different phenomenon. You have a market-driven satellite phenomenon. Many people in the region see news not through their own television stations but some other television station. The governments cannot control them.
And what these guys are doing, those who are being watched, the television stations that I'm speaking of, they're watched because they're delivering what the public wants all over the Arab world and governments can't control that.
MARGARET WARNER: There's been no love lost between Yasser Arafat and some of these Arab governments as we know -- Lebanon and Jordan to name two. Do you think there's any prospect, Ms. Deeb, that any of these governments would be party to any sort of game plan that it would involve going around Arafat.
MARY JANE DEEB: I think at this point they cannot do that. I mean it is very clear that Arafat is the Palestinian leader, the choice is the Palestinians' and no one else's. And I think that if they went around Arafat, they would be completely discredited. There is no way that anyone in the Arab world, especially now when Arafat is under siege, when Arafat is talking out, when the Palestinians are seen to be under siege, that any leader can possibly say, well, you know, let's forget Arafat and let's go to someone else. That would completely discredit Arab leaders.
DAVID SHIPLER: It's also Sharon's habit to try to change Arab leadership by military means and given that he's essentially said that that's his goal it makes it even more difficult for Arab leaders to go along with that idea. Arafat's popularity....
MARGARET WARNER: Even though President Bush obviously has made it clear he also thinks Arafat's discredited –
DAVID SHIPLER: That's right.
MARGARET WARNER: -- but what you're saying there's no chance of getting the Arab leaders to go along with this.
DAVID SHIPLER: Not in the middle of this situation, no.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: And the interesting thing is that Arafat in some way has been restored in Arab public opinion. I mean the guy has not been particularly popular even within the Palestinian areas but he has become the symbol of resistance. He has become the symbol of the Palestinian suffering. And today that's all that's left. And Arafat's institutions have been practically destroyed at least in the West Bank but he remains as the symbol. In some ways he's also probably now the card that would be able to legitimize any kind of deal that has to be there. Arab leaders, without a Palestinian legitimizer aren't going to be able to clinch a deal.
DAVID SHIPLER: There's a bit of little history to this, which probably is worth mentioning too in terms of the Arab world, which is that they missed some opportunities along the way. Everyone has. The Israelis have made mistakes. Arafat has. But in the midst of the peace process there were two bedrock issues that the Palestinians fixated on, that the rest of the Arab world did not try to dissuade them from attaching themselves to.
One, -- and Arafat was an instrument in this -- one was the notion of exclusive Arab sovereignty over Jerusalem, and the statement that Arafat has made and Islamic clerics have made. Jews have no temple here, which strikes terror in the hearts of Israelis essentially. It means they're not legitimate; they don't belong. And the other issue is the right to return to Arab villages that were destroyed in the 1948 war. Now this is being taught in refugee camps. It's even more vivid an issue now for Palestinian children than it was 20 years ago I think.
Arafat has not tried to wean his own people away from this idea, and the rest of the Arab world, even the so-called moderate Arab leaders have not given him the kind of rhetorical or conceptual context in which he could do that. And that was a terrible failure of the peace process.
MARGARET WARNER: Which of course raises the question, how much assistance would the Arab leadership give -- let's say, a cease-fire were arrived at -- would give to actually coming up with a political solution that involved compromise.
MARY JANE DEEB: I think at this point it would. There is no doubt that the meeting of the Arab league and the fact that Crown Prince Abdullah came out with a proposal -- and you have to remember he's coming from the most conservative part of the Arab world, you know. It is Saudi Arabia, Mecca and Medina, all symbols of Islam. Yet he comes up with a proposal, which had been there before. It's not new. But he voices it at a critical juncture.
In other words, he is saying that the Arab leaders are willing to come and to help out and to find a negotiated solution. Once the Israeli forces are withdrawn, once some kind of an environment in which negotiations can take place. He seems to be putting the weight of Saudi Arabia behind it. And I think this is very important. It is important because he's not speaking only for himself. He's not even speaking for Saudi Arabia or for the Arab world. He's speaking for the whole Muslim world.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: There's no question that that is true but I think we have a dynamic coming up that may be out of control because if Israel stays longer it's going to be a problem. When Israel withdraws, the focus will be on the suffering of the Palestinians. It's going to raise a lot of anger. It is likely that there will be additional attempts at least at suicide bombings that we cannot control. We have a cycle. And I think that a process cannot withstand that unless it's comprehensive.
MARGARET WARNER: And that raises, of course, the question about U.S. interests in the region. We just heard Secretary Powell say that he thought this incursion was very negative, not only to Israeli standing in the region and relationships, but to America's long-term interests. Do you....
DAVID SHIPLER: Because America's long-term interests have to do with very good and cooperative ties with the Arab world especially in the war on terrorism. We cannot simply ignore the damage that's done to our relationship in the Arab world. On the other hand, you know, President Bush has conducted this war on terrorism. Sharon says, look, that's what I've got on my hands, a war on terrorism. So the question is, how do you find the political exit to this because there is no political exit when you're fighting al-Qaida, but there is a political exit between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
One of the problems with the Arab world right now is that they seem to have forgotten what Barak offered at Camp David in 2000. It's as if that event never happened. It's been taken away from the historical time line. It's an intellectually dishonest statement to go through all of the litany of Israeli violations and never remind the Palestinians that they turned their backs on an offer, which could have led to a Palestinian state.
Now there may have been problems with that offer, maybe they didn't believe it because when they looked out their windows they saw Israeli settlements continuing to be expanded. There are all kinds of other issues but to simply forget it and imagine that it never happened creates a problem for Israel in terms of Israel's perceptions of whether the Arab world can be dealt with.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: On the other hand, isn't it the case that at least that has not been on the table since Sharon has come to power?
DAVID SHIPLER: That's true.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: And so... and that's the time when we've experienced the worst possible violence during this period.
MARGARET WARNER: But Professor Telhami, this does raise the point that someone made earlier, which was that the Arab governments at the time of Camp David also gave no cover to Yasser Arafat to make any kind of deal.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: But you know why?
MARGARET WARNER: Has that much changed?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Do you know why? Because we did not ask them to. The fact is Mr. Barak wanted to conduct the negotiations without consulting with Arab states before. And that has been a problem and clearly it was a problem. The U.S. is not likely to repeat that. But second, you know, there are different narratives of what happened at Camp David. We don't want to rehash them here but there's more than one. Certainly they have their own narrative of what transpired at Camp David.
MARGARET WARNER: Your thought about U.S. interests in the region and how threatened they are.
MARY JANE DEEB: I think they are threatened definitely because if there isn't a very quick resolution to this conflict at this point, then we will see an increase of terrorism not only in the territories but outside. And we may see attacks on the oil facilities. Bin Laden has been very clear in his many videos about attacking U.S. economic interests. And U.S. economic interests in the region are very much linked to the oil. So, we have to see the broader picture, and the broader picture is rather grim, I'm afraid. So it is vital that this immediate conflict be resolved quickly.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you all three very much.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: A pleasure.
DAVID SHIPLER: Thank you.
MARY JANE DEEB: Thank you.