THE SEARCH FOR PEACE
May 11, 1998
Although a Washington summit failed to materialize, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to meet with Secretary of State Albright later in the week. Elizabeth Farnsworth talks with Dore Gold, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, and Uri Savir, former Israeli diplomat, about the future of the peace process.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: There might have been a Mideast summit in Washington today but it never happened. Why not? We get the perspectives now of two Israelis who have been deeply involved in the peace process with the Palestinians. Dore Gold, now Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, was a foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Netanyahu from June 1996 until last summer and was at that time directly involved in negotiations with the Palestinian. Uri Savir was Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians from 1993 to 1996 under a labor government. His book on those negotiations entitled The Process has just been published in the United States. Thank you both for being with us. Mr. Ambassador, what didn't Prime Minister Netanyahu come to Washington today?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
May 6, 1998
From London, Madeleine Albright discusses the meeting between Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
May 5, 1998
The Middle East peace talks end in London without a breakthrough.
April 30, 1998
Israel celebrates its golden anniversary.
November 7, 1997
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to keep his coalition together.
November 5, 1997
The political choices facing Chairman Arafat.
November 3, 1997
An interview with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
September 12, 1997
James Baker and Zbigniew Brzezinski discuss the peace process.
September 4, 1997
Three bombs explode in a Jersualem mall.
March 4, 1997
An interview with the Palestinian Minister of Education Hanan Ashrawi.
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Amb. Gold: "The meetings in Washington were impossible to meet at this point because we have a gap between the parties. "
DORE GOLD, U.N. Ambassador to Israel: Well, I think what the prime minister has been saying repeatedly is that we have to have an understanding with the Palestinians in order for this to work. The meetings in Washington were impossible to meet at this point because we have a gap between the parties. There are proposals out there for Israel to do certain size of further redeployment. Many of you have heard about different percentages--10, 11, 13. None of these percentages exist in the agreement. What we have to do now is go back to the Oslo agreements and have Israel decide to further redeployments, as was originally agreed in the Oslo agreements, and reaffirmed in letters of assurances that we received from former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and in other U.S. documents that were given to us.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ambassador, was the key problem that the United States was sending their percentage, or that it was too high, or that it was an ultimatum? What was the key problem?
Amb. Gold: "I think there was a perception of an ultimatum...It was probably an incorrect perception...."
DORE GOLD: Well, I think there was a perception of an ultimatum that came out after the London meetings. It was probably an incorrect perception, but, nonetheless, the perception was out there and should have been handled. No prime minister of Israel can come to Washington under the cloud of the image of an ultimatum. What's important to remember is that the prime minister feels obligated to do whatever the Israeli government has done since the peace process began after the '73 war, to be responsible for Israel's security. Only he can decide the size of these further redeployments in the interim period. That's consistent with the Oslo agreements.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Uri Savir, why do you think the prime minister didn't come to Washington today?
URI SAVIR, Former Israeli Diplomat: Well, probably for the reasons that the ambassador's enumerated, but looking at it in terms of a longer process, I think there is a lack of direct talks with the Palestinians. I'd rather have the prime minister go to Gaza and Mr. Arafat meet him in Ramallah or elsewhere. It's there where the peace must be worked out. I think by stalling the process actually the sides and the prime minister invited United States in to take positions where it was not necessary. It's true that Israel has to decide unilaterally over the further redeployments. That was the Oslo agreements. And I'm happy that the Netanyahu government today accepts the Oslo agreements. Yet, by making the first proposal that was not sufficient, by stalling the process, by really creating a crisis of confidence between the two sides, they don't talk to each other enough, there's not enough secret diplomacy. There's a lot of public diplomacy, press conferences. One day we see Netanyahu, one day we see Arafat. They travel both to London in order to meet Sec. Albright. They should meet in the region, secretly work out the deals. The alternative would be to invite United States in even its interest and the United States making proposals, they are not going to be easy for either side.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Savir, what about the domestic political considerations in all of this, what are they for the prime minister, in your view?
Mr. Savir: "...stability in the West Bank are very much related to the stability of the coalition...."
URI SAVIR: Well, I'm not sure if I am the one to speak for the prime minister, but I think the general view in Israel is that actually the percentages in the West Bank or the security, stability in the West Bank are very much related to the stability of the coalition, and it's not an easy coalition to go towards an implementation of an agreement. A great part of our coalition these days is anti-Oslo. It's very difficult to implement Oslo to such a coalition. I would say in terms of permanent status talks, after we've overcome this crisis, which I believe is superfluous, if we are moving towards a national unity government, I cannot see progress otherwise.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. And, Mr. Ambassador, I'm going to come back, by the way, to the question of how much the U.S. should be involved in this, but on the domestic political implication--or domestic political considerations at work here--explain that.
DORE GOLD: Well, to tell you the truth, I disagree with the supposition of the question, for one simple reason. I know how this works. The prime minister consults with the Israeli military. The Israeli minister of defense, Yitzhak Modechai, the chief of staff, Anmon Shahak, come to the cabinet meetings with maps showing what Israel, what are the implications of these different size pullouts. You know, many times this whole question of 13, 10, 11, 9 percent sounds like a tedious debate over a tip in a restaurant. It isn't. Each percentage is 55 square kilometers. That's the area of Tel Aviv. So when you say to the Israeli army, well, somebody wants you to deliver 4 more percent, they say, where does it come from, does it come from the area over the Western Aquifer, where 40 percent of Israel's water supply comes when you don't have an agreement with the Palestinians over control of the Aquifer? Does it come from the Allon Plan area, where the strategic defense of Israel against Iraq is located? Do we have to neutralize an early warning station for observing movements of eastern air forces? So it has to come from somewhere, and the security establishment, as well as the government, is concerned that an excessive further redeployment, which is completely unnecessary under the agreements, will hurt the security of Israel.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And yet, Mr. Savir, when you were negotiating with the Palestinians, the same army did agree to larger pullouts earlier, right?
URI SAVIR: Well, the discussion with the army was over a third further redeployment because--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I'm sorry, what?
Mr. Savir: "Security is also a result of a quality of relations that we develop with the Palestinians...."
URI SAVIR: A third further redeployment. We're talking now about the second, and the third is the most critical one because this is where the agreement specified that Israel has to redeploy to specify security locations and to settlements. And there the talk was, as I say in the book that was published now about 50 percent of the West Bank would be needed by Israel in order to protect not just the security of Israel. To a large degree, it's our right to protect the settlements and the settlers, which is Israel's sole responsibility. So I'm not sure that everything is just the issue of the defense establishment. There is obviously politics involved. But, by and large, I would say that Israel needs to determine itself but to do it in a reasonable way because we have to understand that it's not just the percentages. It's not just the game between 9, 11, and 13. It's not just--security is not only a result of percentage in the West Bank. Security is also a result of a quality of relations that we develop with the Palestinians, that we develop with Jordan, with the rest of the Arab world, Israel's relations with the United States. All of that is also security and not just a percentage or two of the West Bank. And I think these relationships are now suffering from the current crisis and--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Savir, are you saying that precisely because the United States is so involved, there is not a more direct contact between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Is that part of what you're concerned about right now?
URI SAVIR: I think the opposite is true. I would like very much that this government to which I don't belong would bring about peace with the Palestinians as an Israeli. I don't think it is possible without direct secret negotiations. Because we have not seen direct secret negotiations, because it's too much finger pointing between Netanyahu and Arafat, because it's too much polemics right now in the press, this is what drew the United States in, and I hope that all sides, including our own government, will draw the right conclusions.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So do you--I'm just trying to get clear--do you think the U.S. should not be as involved as it is right now?
URI SAVIR: Given the present stalemate, there was no choice. The United States--every Israeli knows--cares about peace in the region, is a friend of Israel. This administration is friendly to Israel. There's no doubt about that. If we make progress with the Palestinians, they will not volunteer, they were never inside the negotiating room when I negotiated with my Palestinian partner or when Mr. Rabin negotiated with Arafat. When there is no negotiations, they will move in because these are American interests. We have common interests of Israel and the United States. What I'd like to see in the future is bilateral negotiations and a better Israeli-American coordination about the purposes of permanent status.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Dore Gold, where do you come down on that, the need for the more face-to-face negotiations?
DORE GOLD: I partly agree with Mr. Savir. I believe the best way to reach peace, the way we did it with Egypt, and the way we did it with Jordan, and the way we did it with--we should do it with the Palestinians--is direct contact between Israel and our Arab neighbors. We helped and invited in the United States because we inherited a failing peace process, a peace process in which we had unprecedented--an unprecedented upsurge in terrorism in the heart of our cities, and we had hoped that American influence would lead to Palestinian compliance in fighting terrorism. Well, things have gotten a bit complicated. But I think if we take our three steps back and we think about where we want to go, we want to improve our relations, of course, with the United States, we want to re-establish our strategic coordination, but at the same time, we have to re-invigorate certain principles that have been forgotten, and that is that Israel must determine its own security, especially in these interim pullbacks.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ambassador, is a compromise in the works right now on the 13 percent and other matters?
DORE GOLD: Well, the prime minister has been actively involved in trying to find creative solutions to break out of this impasse. A few weeks ago, he spoke about the idea if we can't reach those numbers, if our security establishment says that certain numbers are unsafe, maybe we can give quality instead of quantity, giving contiguity to the Palestinians, which addresses their concerns. We raised some of these ideas before. We raised new ideas in London that are presently being worked on. The prime minister is determined to break out of this impasse, to hold on and preserve and improve our close relationship with the United States, and try and take an impaired peace process in which we've had tremendous losses from terrorism, and make that peace process work.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Ambassador, is that what the prime minister will be discussing with Secretary of State Albright on Wednesday?
The meeting between Sec. Albright and PM Netanyahu.
DORE GOLD: I'm sure they will be discussing some of the new ideas and the creative ideas that he has been working on, and I think he will be trying to improve the environment of our relations but he will also be insisting that certain principles be preserved. And that is in the interim period, not in the permanent status talks, in the interim period, that it is Israel that decides the size of these pullbacks. That's what's stated in the letter of Warren Christopher to us, and in other understandings we have, and that's what's in the Oslo accords that Mr. Savir negotiated.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I have a question for both of you. You have both been involved in negotiations with the Palestinians you have long experienced with Israeli politics and with the United States. Beginning with you, Mr. Savir, how--how serious is this current impasse between Israel and the United States? Are you worried about this?
Mr. Savir: "I'm not sure that I know where the Israeli government is heading."
URI SAVIR: I'm worried that we got to this point because I believe that the perception in the region is that there is friction between Israel and the United States. That perception weakens Israel's position. I don't think we had to get to that point. I think we have to draw conclusions. The first conclusion is that the government must determine where it's heading. Today I know where the Palestinians are heading--permanent status. I'm not sure that I know where the Israeli government is heading. On this there has to be coordination. There has to be coordination on the various issues related to permanent status, and then to negotiate with the Palestinian side. I think that an historical breakthrough to which President Clinton was a witness, was a party to, which the United States worked with us very thoroughly was late Prime Minister Rabin, there was a deep understanding between Rabin and Clinton, a deep friendship. And that was part of the perceptions of Israel's strength in the region. I think we have to go back to this type of relationship in an historical process, rather than what you see today, taking the historical process, micro-managing. I don't think Israel's security will gain out of it. The fight against terrorism is an ongoing difficult struggle, and on the other side, negotiate with the Palestinians as partners, not issue orders, not issue ultimatums, understanding there has to be a basic equality with the Palestinians. It's moving towards permanent status based on equality. I think that this is really--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me. I just want to get Mr. Ambassador on this, and we don't have that much time. Ambassador Gold, your view on how serious this is.
DORE GOLD: Well, I think we have a common strategic aim with the United States, and that is to bring peace and security to the Middle East. The differences we have now are largely tactical. They're in interpretations of past commitments, interpretations of what's in Oslo. But we have a common strategic aim. Now we have problems that have occurred in the Middle East since Prime Minister Rabin shook hands with Yasser Arafat in 1993. At that time the Soviet Union had broken up. Today Russia is active across the Middle East, transferring technology to Iran, trying to help Iraq break out of sanctions, making new security contacts with Syria. Iraq was a defeated power then. Today, Iraq is trying to break out of the U.N. special inspection system in the Security Council, and is acting not like a defeated power but a power that's about to re-enter the Middle East balance. And at the time it was assuming that the Palestinians had made a strategic choice to leave aside the option of armed struggle, but over the last year we've had slip-ups by Mr. Arafat, including a green light to Hamas to assume terrorist attacks against Israel. So we have to improve our strategic partnership to address both these larger regional and local problems in the Middle East. If we address them and we address them as allies together, we can make the peace process work. If we have tactical battles over the percentage of further redeployments, forgetting the commitments that were made in the past, that Israel must decide these further redeployments, then I think we're going to be in trouble.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Thank you both very much for being with