MARGARET WARNER: For more on what today's development may mean, we turn to Martin Indyk, former assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, and former ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration. He's now director of the Saban Center for Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington; Rob Malley, former director for Near East Affairs on the National Security Council in the Clinton years, and a participant in the July 2000 Camp David peace talks. He now directs the Middle East program at the International Crisis Group in Washington. 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 Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Middle East history, and director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago. He is of Palestinian descent. We will welcome to you all. Let's start with today's news.
Martin Indyk explain to us what was this struggle all about. Why was there such a bitter stand off over the make up of this cabinet?
MARTIN INDYK: Well it was struggle for power, essentially. Yasser Arafat understood that this could be in some ways his last stand. He had conceded on massive pressure to appoint a prime minister, but I think he was hoping that he could preserve the form and avoid the substance of actually empowering the prime minister and losing power himself. He understands very well that this is an effort to push him upstairs to a purely ceremonial role. And he's very reluctant to agree to that. So he was resisting.
And the way he was making his last stand was over the security portfolio where he did not want Mohammed Dahlan to be working with Abu Mazen partly to make the point that he wanted to control that portfolio, partly because I think he understood that Dahlan and Abu Mazen have it in mind to pursue different policies than the one he's pursued which is basically to stop the violence and terrorism and return to negotiations.
MARGARET WARNER: So Rob Malley, then why did Arafat back down?
ROBERT MALLEY: Well, I think what Martin said is basically right, but I think on the other hand you have to look at this in a different level.
It's true Arafat comes out of this weakened because he's had to accept Abu Mazen as prime minister. But he's weakened by his own hand. It became absolutely clear in the last 24 hours that he was the decision maker. Everyone was going to him. You had phone calls from Tony Blair. You have a visit from the Egyptian intelligence chief, other heads of state calling him. He may have been weakened, but he decided he would be weakened, and in that way he reaffirms his relevance and the fact that he's indispensable. So, he may have been playing brinkmanship in order to reaffirm the fact that no one could ignore him.
By the same token, Abu Mazen comes out strengthened because he's now appointed the prime minister, but he was done so through the help of the international community and in particular the United States, which may not be the best way to be strengthening himself among Palestinians -- who view the United States with great suspicion.
So both are winners, both are losers. And it's unclear at this point whether Arafat is really going to be in simply a ceremonial post and whether Abu Mazen will be as empowered as the United States claims he is or wants him to be.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let's look at this new team.
Professor Khalidi, tell us a little bit about Abu Mazen. He's sometimes described as a moderate; he's sometimes described as a reformer. You heard Saeb Erekat say these were the labor pains for a new political era for the Palestinians. How do you see it?
RASHID KHALIDI: I think to describe someone who has been a colleague of Arafat for his entire political career as representing a new era is probably mistaken. This is someone who has worked very, very closely with Yasser Arafat, but unlike Arafat he's not elected. Arafat was elected in a contest which was supervised by international observers -- and he has no popular base, no broad support among the Palestinians.
So he is also a figure who doesn't have a public persona. He doesn't speak frequently. He doesn't give many interviews. He's not someone who is at ease with crowds. So he is in some ways certainly different from Arafat. He's come out very explicitly as opposing Palestinian violence. But in terms of his modus operandi, in terms of the kind of people he's surrounded himself with throughout his career, in terms of the way he's operated, he's indistinguishable in my view, from Arafat.
I think that the main difference here is that the international community, the United States and Israel, have someone who will be much less able to stand up to external pressure, which is why everybody seems so thrilled -- except the Palestinians.
MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Wurmser, how do you see it indistinguishable from Arafat except that the international community accepts him?
MEYRAV WURMSER: No I actually think that Abu Mazen, is or has been for the past half year making himself more and more distinguishable from Arafat.
I agree with some of the other speakers here who have said that he is indeed an American and Israeli puppet and he's viewed as such by many in the Palestinian street. But we have to remember that Abu Mazen during the last Mokata siege actually tried to stage a coup against Arafat.
This is before the Americans or the Israelis have tried to help him out or work for his appointment. He had almost succeeded and would have possibly succeeded in forcing Arafat back then to appoint a prime minister. One of the only reasons why this didn't happen is because Arafat... the siege was lifted, Arafat came out of the Mokata, and Abu Mazen actually left the country until he and Arafat were able to make up. So I don't think that he's exactly indistinguishable from Arafat.
MARGARET WARNER: Martin Indyk, do you think... well, first of all, what's your take on him? But do you think that Abu Mazen and the new security chief have both the will and the ability to curb Palestinian violence and what is that really going to entail?
MARTIN INDYK: First of all, my take on him is similar to what Rashid Khalidi talked about. He's certainly a member of the old guard, the fact that he has an "Abu" attached to his name gives you the indication of that -- but he's different from Arafat, his history is different from Arafat.
He was responsible for persuading Arafat to take the Palestinian cause when it was thrown out of Beirut in 1982, to Tunis, to make it independent of Arab game playing. And he then had responsibility for reaching out to the Israelis, laid the basis for the ultimate negotiations, which he oversaw, and has been the primary advocate of achieving Palestinian objectives through negotiations.
That's why he broke with Arafat over the intifada. He came out from the beginning and made it very clear publicly that this was a disaster for the Palestinian cause, as indeed it has been.
So now he has a chance to try his hand. You're right. The question is will he be able to stop the violence and terrorism? And that's why it's been so important to have Mohammed Dahlan in position, in responsibility for security, because Dahlan has the ability to use the Palestinian capabilities that still exist in Gaza to deal with Hamas, and I do not think Abu Mazen is the confrontational type.
That's where Rashid is right. He's an old guard Palestinian politician. So he will try to co-opt Hamas much as Arafat did, but his program will be much clearer in terms of stopping the violence and basically having a houdnah [ph], basically what they call a cease-fire, so there will be a chance for negotiations.
Then, if he succeeds on the violence and terrorism, and it will be up to the United States and Israel, who have indeed wanted Abu Mazen because of the course that he represents, the strategy that he represents, then we -- the United States and Israel -- will have to respond to him, help him prove to his people that he can deliver where Arafat has not been able to.
MARGARET WARNER: Rob Malley, well first of all, weigh in on that point about what he will be able to do on the security end, and do you think Arafat will be supporting him in this? Do you think he will be trying to sabotage him in this? What will his role be?
ROBERT MALLEY: Well, there are many keys to whether the security plan will succeed.
One of them is in fact whether Abu Mazen and Dahlan will be able to muster the power to either co-opt or to crack down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad. That depends on what kind of security facilities still exist, whether they have popular support. But then there are other actors as well. One of them is Arafat, you just mentioned it. I think the problem for him right now is, it's hard for him to see an incentive to make him succeed. There may be many reasons why he doesn't want them to fail and to go and to have the PA, the Palestinian authority, be destroyed. On the other hand, if they succeed, they succeed to some extent at his expense. So I think one has to look at him to play different games so long as he sees that he's not being rehabilitated by the international community.
The other key actor obviously is the Israeli prime minister. I don't think it's simply a matter of Israel responding to what Abu Mazen and Dahlan might do, but facilitating it from the start. That's the whole point now, is not to have a sequential but a parallel approach where the Palestinians take security measures at the same time as Israel takes measures to help empower the Palestinian security force, to help empower the new prime minister and Dahlan to be able to take those measures.
I think people expect that Abu Mazen or Dahlan will either have the capacity or the political will to crack down on Hamas before there's any gesture on the Israeli side that shows that there's something to be gained by that, I think that would be an illusion.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay, Meyrav Wurmser, let's talk now about prospects for this road map and particularly are the Israelis ready to do what the road map calls for?
MEYRAV WURMSER: It certainly seems so. About two weeks ago or so, Prime Minister Sharon gave a long interview in which he specifically mentioned giving up on settlement activity, and even he mentioned that he was willing to agree to withdraw from some of the settlements, and named a few of them.
That is a major breakthrough in the way this Israeli government has traditionally been thinking. On the other hand, I don't agree with Robert Malley in claiming that the road map is a parallel approach. In fact, it is sequential. Terrorism has to stop. Israel will not be expected to do much even by the guidelines of road maps before all terror stops.
Which mean that before any other move, first, the new Palestinian prime minister will have to show his ability to disarm Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa martyrs brigade which are actually a part of Fatah Organization, which is Arafat's own organization. Arafat said several times that he believes this will lead to a Palestinian civil war. Will it? We'll have to wait and see. We don't know. But certainly unless terrorism is stopped or seriously fought against by the new administration, Israel will not make any move.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that how you read the road map that first the Palestinians have to essentially stop all the terror and disarm the militias before the Israelis take steps?
RASHID KHALIDI: I think that what we've heard from Martin Indyk and from Ms. Wurmser represents why the road map will probably not succeed.
Expecting the Palestinians to guard expanding Israeli settlements and protect the continuance of the Israeli occupation which is the Sharon-Bush interpretation of the road map, i.e., the Palestinians serve to protect their occupiers and their colonizers, is not going to happen. Whatever Dahlan tries to do, whatever Abu Mazen wants to do, whatever the neo conservatives in Washington and Likud and Israel want, it's not going to happen, I'm afraid.
So the question really will be, will this be a parallel process where Israel will take concrete steps to stop settlements and dismantle, begin dismantling its occupation, while the Palestinians stop resisting that occupation and stop carrying out attacks inside Israel -- or will this be another failed attempt to impose something on the Palestinians and to try and create a sort of surrogate force for Israeli security, which is what the Israeli interpretation and the interpretation of what I think is probably the dominant faction in the Bush administration seem to expect. That will not work. This will be road kill; it will not be a road map, in my view.
MARTIN INDYK: Can I just respond to that, Margaret on this point?
MARGARET WARNER: Yes.
MARTIN INDYK: Because I think we shouldn't get too hung up on whether it's parallel or sequential. That's a trap for both sides. The Israelis go need to take steps, as Abu Mazen takes steps. And Sharon has already indicated willingness to do this.
For example, they should stop the targeted assassination of terrorist leaders as the Palestinians start to take steps. They can remove some of the checkpoints, and ease some of the pressure. They can facilitate workers and an improvement in the economic conditions as the process goes forward. So I do think that what matters here is getting moving.
Obviously Abu Mazen has to show that he can deliver. Obviously fighting terror is going to be very important to the Israelis, and stopping settlement activity is going to be very important to the Palestinians.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Martin Indyk, though, add in the President Bush component. I mean, how important is it that the Bush administration will push with this, and what level of commitment to do you see to do that?
MARTIN INDYK: It's absolutely critical. And it won't happen. We've seen before the agreement on various reciprocal steps. That's what the tenet plan was about. That's what the Mitchell recommendations were about. They never happened -- even though both sides agreed to them.
In this case, both sides haven't agreed to the road map. But if the president himself fulfills his commitment to Tony Blair and the world that he's going to make a personal commitment to this, that he's going to work as hard on this as Tony Blair worked on Northern Ireland, then I think something very serious can happen.
You also have it happening in the context not just of new leadership on the Palestinian side, but also of an exhaustion both on the Palestinian and the Israeli sides with the economies of both places on the ropes and a willingness to try to find a way out of this situation.
So if the president gets involved, then I do believe that we will see a very different process underway on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.
MARGARET WARNER: And briefly Rob Malley, do you think that the war on Iraq and the outcome gives the president increased leverage in this situation, and do you see a commitment there to use that leverage?
ROBERT MALLEY: Well, it obviously gives him more political influence. It gives him the ability to do things that he may not have been able to do before. But I think it would be a mistake to exaggerate any link between Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is no logical link.
Iraq has long ceased to play any role in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. And so this is now really back to the basics of what is regulating the lives of Palestinians and Israelis, and how their relationship is going to move forward.
I think one of the big paradoxes is that the road map has wide spread international support, almost unanimous international support, but that unanimous support is matched by unanimous international skepticism about it being implemented and if it were to be implemented about its success.
But I think the point right now... it's the only game in town. And the United States has to push it. And it's going to be a real test of whether President Bush is going to live up to his stated commitment to move forward.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you all four very much.