BACK ON TRACK?
May 5, 1998
Although the Middle East peace talks in London failed to break the current impasse, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat agreed to continue the dialogue. Secretary of State Albright described the pace of talks among Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, and British. Phil Ponce and guests discuss the recent round of talks and the future of the peace process.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
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The United States and the Search for Peace in the Middle East.
PHIL PONCE: Now we get the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. Lenny Ben-David is the deputy chief of mission or number 2 diplomat at Israel's embassy in Washington. Hassan Abdel-Rahman is the chief Washington representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. And gentlemen, welcome to both of you. Mr. Ben-David, your assessment of how the talks went in Washington and London.
LENNY BEN-DAVID, Israeli Embassy: I have spoken to people in the prime minister's party. They're cautiously optimistic. They think there's a very good chance that they will be back in Washington on Monday. And there was a movement on a broad range of issues, and they suspect that the negotiators who still remain in London will be able to move things ahead. And I should note that all parties, the secretary, Chairman Arafat, and the prime minister all felt there was progress.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Rahman, your assessment.
HASSAN ABDEL RAHMAN, Palestine Liberation Organization: Well, obviously, the talks in London were inconclusive due to the fact that the Israeli side did not accept the ideas presented by the secretary of state, which we did accept, in fact. Those ideas were a compromise between what we think is our right and between what the Israelis presented as their position. The Americans came with a compromise to salvage the peace process and reactivate the negotiations. Unfortunately, Mr. Netanyahu did not accept those ideas.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Rahman, briefly, what are the main points of the U.S. agreement that the Palestinians have agreed to?
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: We accepted the percentage the Americans proposed, which is 13 percent, 13.1 percent. Why we asked for 30 percent, according to the agreement that we had signed with the Israelis before.
PHIL PONCE: You're talking about much land--how much--
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: Yes.
PHIL PONCE: How much for a withdrawal from the West Bank?
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: Yes. A fraction of what we feel that is our right under the Oslo accord. Second, we accepted the idea about cessation of Israeli settlement activity, which is confiscation of land, Palestinian land, construction of homes, building of settlements, et cetera. Those are unilateral actions done by Israel in violation of the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accord. And, third, we accepted American proposal for security arrangement between us and the Israelis. After we implement all of those, we move to final status talks.
PHIL PONCE: Final status dealing with a large--
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: Yes. Resolve issues--the borders--
PHIL PONCE: --the borders--et cetera--
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: The settlements--Jerusalem, the refugees, all the issues that are left to be discussed between us and the Israelis.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ben-David.
LENNY BEN-DAVID: I'm not surprised that some of these issues the Palestinians were willing to accept. First of all, receiving land virtually without surrendering anything in return. Of course, they'll accept that. On the issue--by the way, there's no statement in Oslo of the percentages that one has to give up. In fact, the United States very clearly stated in a letter from Secretary of State Warren Christopher to Netanyahu that Israel determines the--what it has to give up for its security. And so that's an issue based on American assurances that we will determine, and we're very close to the American idea. But that's a principle we have to agree to. Moreover, there's no mention in the Oslo Accords of the settlement issue. Where there is mention is confidence building measures. And I have to state on the issue that you're so magnanimously granting us the security measures we're willing to take, those security measures Hassan, you agreed to in the Oslo Accords and in the Hebron Accords 18 months ago. And we have yet to see a proper number of policemen, we've yet to see confiscation of the weaponry that is held illegally. We've yet to see a bonafide crackdown on the terrorism structure. There's been a start but even Jamie Rubin says it's only a start and more is expected.
PHIL PONCE: Jamie Rubin, the spokesperson for the State Department. What is the reaction to the security concerns?
Mr. Abdel-Rahman: "...according to Oslo, Israel should withdraw from 90 percent and not only 13 percent. "
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: This, the whole Oslo Accords, this whole peace process is based on the principle of Israel returning the land it occupied in 1967 in exchange for peace, land for peace as per Resolution 242 and the Oslo Accords and the Madrid Conference. The Oslo Accords stipulate that Israel should withdraw all its forces from all the West Bank and Gaza, with the exception of those areas that will be discussed in the final step, mainly the settlements and Jerusalem and the borders and the military locations. In our estimations, those are 10 percent of the West Bank, therefore, according to Oslo, Israel should withdraw from 90 percent and not only 13 percent. Israel return to the Palestinians 27 percent in the first phase. The second phase the Americans proposing 13 percent and then we will have a third phase which the government of Mr. Netanyahu agreed to. Now, as far as the settlements is concerned, the Oslo Accords stipulate clearly that Israel should and the Palestinians cease all unilateral action that will prejudge the outcome of the final status negotiations. This include the settlements and Mr. Rabin, the late Rabin, did not expand the settlements and did not build any new settlements, and not only that, but he stopped all the incentives given to these settlers, which--
PHIL PONCE: I'd like to get Mr.--
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: --this government restored.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ben-David.
LENNY BEN-DAVID: Hassan, nowhere in Oslo does it talk about 90 percent. Nowhere in Oslo--
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: I didn't say 90 percent.
LENNY BEN-DAVID: Yes, you did.
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: I said all the West Bank accept.
LENNY BEN-DAVID: And you said, your estimate--
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ben-David, go ahead, continue.
LENNY BEN-DAVID: In any case, Oslo was built on confidence building, and it's not a question of Israel giving and the Palestinians taking. It's a confidence building whereby there would be interim steps. We were to give up 80 percent of Hebron, our second holiest city, in return for things such as the security issue. It's a confidence building. Hassan, this is the period, this is a time when we can build confidence on both sides, therefore, this is a time for the Palestinians to live up to those agreements that were made 18 months ago that we've yet to see enacted. This is a time to stop the incitement. This is the time for--I would call on Chairman Arafat to issue a statement to the minister of education to say stop television and radio incitement against Jews, to stop the praise of the bombers. This is a confidence building time. I welcome Secretary Albright's involvement and the president's involvement in this. Let's move ahead on a broad range and move ahead towards the next final--the final step. But nowhere has anyone agreed to 90 percent.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Rahman, let's move on to another issue, and that is the dynamics of the current state of the peace process. Would you say that there is increased pressure from countries other than Israel and constituents, other than the Palestinians, that there is increased pressure on the two sides to come to a deal?
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: Well, we are willing to come to a deal. We have done everything possible to come to a deal. We said--I said that we came from 30 percent, which we feel that it is our right to accept 13 percent, the American proposals. The American proposals by no means are our position. They are a compromise. I agree that confidence building measures are needed between us and the Israelis, but I want Mr. David to tell me how building settlements and confiscation of land can build settlements with the Palestinians. This is--really goes against the whole spirit of the peace process. Why we did not have the same problem that we are having with this government with the previous Israeli government? There was confidence between us and the Israelis, because they treated us as their partners in this peace process.
PHIL PONCE: A quick reaction, then your thoughts on increased pressure from the outside.
LENNY BEN-DAVID: On the issue of settlements there have been no new settlements built under the Netanyahu government either. But the principle that was held under the Rabin government, which there was expansion of settlements, the natural growth of settlements, these communities, these towns and villages that Hassan calls settlements are not military camps. This is where people live, and these people will grow, people will have families, people will--and these communities will grow, as do the Palestinian communities, and, in fact, the amount of building that's been done in the Palestinian communities is vast and goes far beyond legal limits as well.
PHIL PONCE: And the issue of pressure, Madeleine Albright said that if the U.S.--the U.S. would have to re-examine its position in the peace process if this latest initiative fails. More pressure on the Israeli side?
Mr. Ben-David: "We want peace, and we want peace in a way that we can live in peace with our neighbors in security."
LENNY BEN-DAVID: I think it's pressure on all of us, but as far as Israel is concerned, the pressure is internal. We want peace. We want peace, and we want peace in a way that we can live in peace with our neighbors in security. We don't want terrorism growing. We don't like to know that there's a bomber in the next community. And even if that bomber should blow himself up in an accident, he'll be praised as a martyr. We would like to sit with neighbors in a neighborly relationship.
PHIL PONCE: So what happens next?
LENNY BEN-DAVID: What happens next is I hope that the negotiators--my colleagues in London--can sit with Mr. Hassan's colleagues and with Americans to work out this broad base of issues. And it's not just an issue of settlements, and it's not just an issue of territory. We are willing to open up the Palestinian airport in Gaza. We are willing to open up an industrial park to help employ 20,000 Palestinians. However, at this stage I hope that our colleagues can go and build the confidence, can move ahead on this. This is part of the issues.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Rahman, do you believe the two sides will meet in Washington next Monday?
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: I'm sure that they will meet in Washington.
PHIL PONCE: You're optimistic it will happen?
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: It will happen, but let me say something. You know, this whole issue--peace between us and Israelis--is based on the principle of two people living next to each other in two separate states. Either Israel accepts the right of the Palestinians to self-determination on 20 percent of historic Palestine--while we accept them on 80 percent--this is the whole concept. But come and talk to me about an airport or about safe passage, those are very important issues, but those are not the basic issues that concern the Palestinians. The Palestinians want to live as a free people without Israeli domination or anybody else's occupation.
PHIL PONCE: Do you feel equally confident that the two sides will meet in Washington on Monday?
LENNY BEN-DAVID: I feel confident they will, especially since 98 percent of the Palestinian people now live under the Palestinian authority. And it's an issue that we're helped in the confidence building measures, we will help to build the Palestinian entity that you seek, which requires an airport, which requires employment, and let us build these confidence measures together. Don't--
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: But let's build Palestinian state next to Israel--
LENNY BEN-DAVID: That's an element, as you agree--
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: Next to Israel to live in peace--
LENNY BEN-DAVID: That was agreed upon to be negotiated in the final status, Hassan, so you can't jump ahead. Let's build the confidence till we get to that point.
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: We have to lead to that.
LENNY BEN-DAVID: Correct. Don't jump ahead.
The search for peace in the region.
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: Absolutely. So you and I agree that the Israeli state next to a Palestinian state--living in peace--as good neighbors in cooperation. And I assure you then we will have a lasting and permanent peace in our region.
LENNY BEN-DAVID: Hassan, give me the confidence, build the confidence among the Israeli people--
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: We will do it.
LENNY BEN-DAVID: --and the American negotiators that you will want to live in that status, go after the terrorism, close down the terrorist organizations.
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: We have done everything possible, and we will continue to do it.
LENNY BEN-DAVID: I hope that was the case.
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: That's not the issue. The issue is whether Israel will withdraw from Palestinian territories that it occupied in 1967, where we can build our state next to your state and live both of our people as equal people, in freedom, dignity, and as good neighbors.
PHIL PONCE: Gentlemen, I'm afraid that's where we have to leave it. I thank you both for being here tonight.
HASSAN ABDEL-RAHMAN: Thank you.
LENNY BEN-DAVID: Thank you, Phil.