JIM LEHRER: For more on the Arab and Israeli reactions Hisham Melhem, Washington correspondent for the Beirut newspaper As-Safir, and Nathan Guttman, the Washington correspondent for the Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz.
Nathan, how do you read the Israeli reaction to what President Bush said 24 hours later?
NATHAN GUTTMAN, Ha'aretz newspaper: Israelis are very pleased with the speech of President Bush, and I think they have good reasons to be pleased. The notion in Israel is that the message was finally received in Washington.
After Sharon was saying for months that Yasser Arafat is not a partner for any kind of negotiations finally the President understands that and the Israelis are pleased with that. And they think that's the way to oust of Arafat and move on forward.
JIM LEHRER: So they essentially -- Israelis see this as an adoption of the Sharon attitude toward Arafat, right?
NATHAN GUTTMAN: Indeed.
Not only that -- they feel also the fact that President Bush didn't say anything about Israeli incursions into the territories.
While he's speaking, Israeli tanks are surrounding Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah. That's sort of a green light for Israelis to continue their military actions in the West Bank.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Hisham, in the Arab world, at least at the governmental level, it's been, it's been very quiet. How should we read the silence from the Arab world?
HISHAM MELHEM, As-Safir newspaper: Reaction on the official level?
JIM LEHRER: That's what I mean -- the governmental level?
HISHAM MELHEM: It covers also the whole spectrum of views and feelings and emotions.
People were puzzled; people were angry; people were surprised and shocked and others are facing us with deafening silence.
The Syrians and the Saudis for right reasons have been silenced.
The Saudis were miffed because Crown Prince Abdullah's peace initiative was ignored by the president. The Syrians were miffed and angry because the president essentially challenged him to deal with the question of the Palestinians who are being harbored in Damascus.
The Jordanians were very vociferous, almost explicit in their becoming the most welcoming country among the Arabs. The Egyptians were a bit cautious, sitting on the fence, some have been saying, the speech has been balanced but we need more clarifications.
So the reaction on the Arab official level has been on the whole a bit surprised and a bit disappointed; but they are not going to react quickly. They will consult among each other and they will consult with Colin Powell before they come up with a broader Arab reaction.
JIM LEHRER: Is the reaction going to be words only? I mean, do they see this -- at least based on your reporting today -- do they see this as something new and dramatic and potentially good, whatever the words are, or do they see this as something they can just react to and move on?
HISHAM MELHEM: With the exception of Jordanians who are claiming, or maybe hoping, that this may be the beginning of the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, I did not see that kind of enthusiastic reaction on the part of any Arab government, including those like the Egyptians and the Saudis, who are likely to focus on the positive elements in the speech -- that is a Palestinian state, an end of the occupation, an end of the settlements -- but they need... if this is essentially a road map towards a peaceful solution, they need to know exactly what is going to be on the road there.
What are the mechanisms that will lead us there? They were very disappointed because there was no reference to an international conference as Colin Powell wanted to at one time. And they see it as American commentators and Israeli commentators that the issue was settled at the expense of Colin Powell and that the hard liners in the Bush administration have won the day.
JIM LEHRER: Do the Israelis see this as a road map -- to use Hisham's term -- or does Israel have to do anything or wait for, does Arafat go first and then if Arafat doesn't go, then Israel doesn't have to do anything, or how do they read this as far as what happens next and all of that?
NATHAN GUTTMAN: I think Israelis understand this more as a permission to sit down and relax and look at what is going on, on the other side right now.
The Israeli government would like to continue what it's doing -- fighting terrorism as they understand -- in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while the Americans pressure the Palestinians to change their institutions, to change their government.
And Israel would like to see this as a road map, but as a very long-term road map, which means that right now Israel doesn't have to do anything and maybe further on if the violence really calms down, and if there are reforms in the Palestinian government, then Israel can start debating about doing something on its own side.
JIM LEHRER: Well, as you know, Ari Fleischer, the White House Press Secretary, issued a kind of clarification today, saying there are things Israel should do before or could do before there are elections in the Palestinian territories if things calm down, whatever.
But it's not read that way in Israel?
NATHAN GUTTMAN: Not at all. And it reminds us of the time we were talking about seven days of quiet before you get into negotiations.
How will Israel know that things are calmed down and that Israel has to do its own part to stop incursions or to stop settlements?
Who will declare that things are quieted enough so Israel should start working on that? And I guess that will be the next big debate.
JIM LEHRER: Now, on the issue of Arafat, Hisham, is it likely that under whatever... now today as we just reported there's going to be elections in the Palestinian Authority -- in the Palestinian territories some time after the first of the year.
Is it likely that the Palestinian people would replace Yasser Arafat? What is your reading of that now?
HISHAM MELHEM: I don't see it right now. But who knows what happens six months from now down the road. Obviously I would expect Arafat to run. Arafat is not going retire.
JIM LEHRER: Why not? Why would he not?
HISHAM MELHEM: Unfortunately, the political culture that is prevailing in the Arab world, Arab rulers either die naturally or die by violent overthrow, but not necessarily through the election process, which is really one of the biggest disappointments in the current political culture throughout the Arab world. But that's a long story.
I expect Arafat to run and Arafat, as a very well practiced autocrat, will probably win.
I don't see an alternative leadership right now. The problem is that most Palestinians are squeezed between essentially failed leadership represented by Arafat today and the extremists and the hard liners, on the other hand -- the Hamas and the Jihad and the others -- who do not have a political and social solution to the problems of the Palestinians.
I think the majority of the Palestinians believed at one time that the Oslo process could lead to a gradual political process and change and that if they get their own state, probably they would elect Arafat to retirement, to early retirement. I would expect them to grab to Arafat if the president of the United States appears to them -- as he appears to a lot of Arabs -- as he's in engaged in huge political and economic social engineering from the outside.
One ambassador told me today that what the president of the United States expects from the Palestinians is to bank on sweeping fundamental radical change creating Plato's Republic, or as the Arab philosopher in medieval times would call it, the "Virtuous City," after 35 or 36 years of brutal, paralyzing pulverizing occupation in an area that does not have these kinds of democratic cultures.
One ambassador told me today, how come did they not ask the Egyptians to embark on such reforms before they signed the peace treaty with the Israelis, how come they did not ask the Jordanians to embark on such a sweeping economic reform, political reform before they signed an agreement with the Israelis?
So there would be many people who with argue, as I heard today from my anecdotal contacts with people, that the president of the United States cannot deal with the Palestinian people as if they would be on probation for three years and that he will be the judge for their performance in conjunction with his friend, Ariel Sharon.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see this?
NATHAN GUTTMAN: I think the main question now is if there will be any government in the Israel, which will be dealing with Arafat if he stays president of the Palestinian Authority. Sharon himself already declared that he is not going do that and I think that Bush's speech from yesterday just encourages Sharon to keep on and hold that view.
So I don't think there will be any on the Israeli side right now at least who would be willing to deal with Arafat.
JIM LEHRER: Even if he were reelected in a free and open election?
NATHAN GUTTMAN: I think that can only change if the United States will change its view concerning Arafat.
If the president of the United States will say, well, he was elected in free elections and we accept him as a leader, I guess Israel will have no choice but accepting him as well.
JIM LEHRER: What kind of scenario do most Israelis... or do you see, you don't have to spoke for most Israelis, you can just speak for yourself as a reporter -- in terms of looking at it from the Israeli point of view -- what kind of scenario do you see that would lead to the removal of Arafat in a way that would move the process along from the Israeli point of view and of course now I guess from the U.S. point of view and of President Bush?
NATHAN GUTTMAN: I think what Israelis are waiting to see is pressure mounting from the United States on the Palestinian, pressure also to remove Arafat and also to show the Palestinians the gains that they can achieve by removing Arafat, the economic gains, the political gains.
And while that will start moving, I think Israelis expect the Palestinian people somehow to change Arafat, to understand that Arafat isn't leading them anywhere. That's what Israelis would expect.
JIM LEHRER: I read today, Hisham, that some people believe that this outside pressure could make Arafat even stronger rather than weaker within the Palestinian people, do you agree?
HISHAM MELHEM: Absolutely. Remember when he was under siege in Ramallah a few weeks ago?
Many Palestinians supported him, including those who criticized him, because they did not want Sharon to change him or to exile him or kill him or to make him irrelevant. They would like to have that right themselves.
I think the President was correct on one fundamental issue yesterday when he said that the Palestinians are talented and educated and politicized. I do believe that. And I think if you allow the Palestinians to deal with the question of reform, they have been asking for reform, Jim, since the early 1990s.
JIM LEHRER: Within the Authority you mean?
HISHAM MELHEM: Exactly. We were criticizing Arafat because his administration was marred by corruption and graffe and violation of human rights. Jim, my colleagues and friends, the journalists -- there were no protests from Washington and Israel at the time.
And many Palestinians will tell you this is really hypocrisy.
JIM LEHRER: Is the next step up to the United States and Secretary of State Powell?
NATHAN GUTTMAN: Well, the next step is a difficult one of really materializing this program into a plan all around and I think the devil is in the details.
How do you sequence this plan now? Who starts doing what? When does Israel have to take it next move? How many things have to happen on the ground before Israel has to show something on its own side? If it's opening territories, if it's retreating its forces from around the cities, the question will be now and I think that's the great task that the secretary of state will have is to get the details worked out and get both sides to agree on certain sequence for this process even if the sequence isn't all the way.
JIM LEHRER: All the way to the end?
NATHAN GUTTMAN: All the way to the end and the goal they wanted.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.