|PATH TO PEACE|
July 17, 2000
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat continue second-round Middle East peace talks at Camp David.
JIM LEHRER: Negotiating peace in the Middle East, and to Gwen Ifill.
GWEN IFILL: While Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat have been meeting in the woods at Camp David, calls to abandon the peace talks entirely have intensified at home. In Tel Aviv over the weekend, tens of thousands of conservative Israeli protesters gathered in Rabin Square to demand that Barak leave Camp David now.
ARIEL SHARON, Israeli Opposition Leader; (speaking through interpreter) Ehud Barak's peace is a wrong peace, a bad peace, a peace of the moment. We need a proper peace, a different peace, peace with security forever.
GWEN IFILL: Conservative Palestinians are unhappy, too. On the West Bank, refugees forced into camps warned Arafat against compromise.
KHALIL MUSTAFA, Palestinian Refugee: I will not accept any solution. If we wait until judgment, we will return to our homes, even if that means death for everyone.
GWEN IFILL: Such turmoil at home highlights the already-intense pressure and expectations surrounding the Camp David talks. At issue as the talks enter their second week, three critical concerns: The status of Jerusalem, the fate of the Palestinian refugees, and of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza, and the borders of the Palestinian state. Militants on both sides argue against any Camp David peace deal. The spiritual leader of the Islamic group Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, spoke in Gaza yesterday.
SHEIKH AHMED YASSIN, Hamas Leader: (speaking through interpreter) We will consider any agreement in Camp David a failing agreement because it does not inspire the Palestinians and does not achieve the aspirations of the Palestinians and the whole of the Palestinian people in all its branches refuses any agreement that does not give them land, nationhood and future. This is refused by us and by all Palestinians.
GWEN IFILL: And the mayor of Jerusalem has also said Israel has nothing to gain.
MAYOR EHUD OLMERT, Jerusalem: There will be no solution that is based on a joint administration or a joint sovereignty or anything joint because it stands in total opposition to the desire for clear-cut separation between us and the Palestinian authority.
GWEN IFILL: Little is known about what is actually going on behind closed doors at Camp David. Reports from parties aligned with both sides have been pessimistic. And in an interview with the New York Daily News published today, President Clinton broke the mutually agreed secrecy of the talks. He suggested domestic political pressures have raised the stakes for Arafat and Barak.
What's really troubling the President said, is they know if they make a peace agreement, half of their constituencies will have to be angry at them far while. The President added, "I would be totally misleading if I said I had an inkling that a deal is at hand. That's just not true, but we're slogging." Deadlines loom. The first arrives Tuesday night.
President Clinton is scheduled to leave for an international economic meeting in Japan Wednesday morning. The second comes September 13. That's the date Arafat has said he will declare a Palestinian state, treaty or no treaty. Followers of the peace talks have only a few still photographs by which to gauge their progress.
JOE LOCKHART, White House Spokesman: As the President indicated in his remarks yesterday, this is hard going. He indicated that he's never experienced something that's this tough. And both on the issues and the process that they're going through, this is very difficult. So I don't think you would all believe them as authentic if I brought down a bunch of pictures with everybody smiling, giving the thumbs-up.
GWEN IFILL: Of greater concern, perhaps, are pictures like these, four Israeli busses stoned and set on fire on a road near Jerusalem Sunday after taking a wrong turn into a Palestinian refugee camp. The busses were on their way to pick up Israelis planning to attend the anti-Barak demonstration.
|Experts discuss the peace talks|
GWEN IFILL: For more on the domestic pressures facing Israeli and Palestinian leaders, we turn to four experts. Rashid Khalidi is a Professor of Middle East History and director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago.David Makovsky a former journalist, now senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Ehud Sprinzak, dean of the Lauder School of Government in Israel; and Mohammed Wahby a former Egyptian diplomat who is now a columnist for Al Mussawar Magazine.
Mr. Makovsky, what are the domestic pressures facing Ehud Barak?
|Domestic pressures facing Barak|
DAVID MAKOVSKY: Well, first, let's begin with the arithmetic. His coalition has crumbled. He's got only 42 supporters in the Knesset officially out of 120. Perhaps with some members of the opposition he could come close to half, but it's not more than half.
He doesn't need a deal because, not having one, he could probably necessitate that coalition, but he wants a deal. As Israel's Degaulle, a soldier statesman, he believes that peace and security is Israel's best chance. And if there's a reason why there's so many skeptics to Barak, I think, it's not because the skeptics don't want peace, but it's because they're skeptical of Palestinian intentions, and the fact that Mr. Arafat hasn't made one speech on reconciliation since the Oslo process began seven years ago is making Ehud Barak's job much harder.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Sprinzak, we saw tens of thousands of people in Rabin Square yesterday. That's a lot of arithmetic. How severe are Ehud Barak's problems at home?
EHUD SPRINZAK: Very much so. You just heard the situation in the Knesset. However, I would say that among the people, the situation is better. All the polls suggest that if he takes it into general elections, which is probably the most likely event in the case of an agreement, he may win. But he has a very tough opposition.
It's more than that. It's very active in the street. It was not just a few thousand last night. There are nearly 200,000. It's a big crowd and a representative crowd. It's going to be very, very difficult. I think that next week we're going to see the Israeli left trying to match that number. I am not sure they will do it. It's a tough job. I think Barak is a great risk-taker. He may win the elections, but it will not be easy.
|Domestic pressures facing Arafat|
GWEN IFILL: Professor Wahby, you are at Camp David. You've been there this week -- Mr. Wahby; I'm elevating you to professor -- covering the peace talks. I would like to direct the same question to you. What does Yasser Arafat face at home?
MOHAMMED WAHBY: Arafat -- actually, quite a number of people underestimate the danger that Arafat can be exposed to. Arafat is vulnerable even to his own constituency. I mean, regarding that, already there are some cracks within, and there is some resentment even. So that in case he makes concessions in which is not acceptable, the cracks will be widened. That's number one.
Number two, there is also the Islamic opposition led by Hamas. And again, they are looking for any loopholes in the agreement. And even the Palestinian street itself, the Palestinian street is actually not only... it's actually resentful to some extent because of what has been happening since Oslo until now, economic deprivation as well as the mismanagement by the PLO.
So any more concessions on behalf... by Arafat can detonate the situation in Gaza and Palestine. There is another front also that Arafat is vulnerable, too, and that is the Arab front.
And already Arafat is under notice from both Cairo as well as from Saudi Arabia today that he should never... that he has no right to make any concessions regarding Jerusalem. And by the way, the Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank do not have... do not have much belief in their own media.
They are more attuned to the Arab satellite television, and this has been proved actually by the different public opinion polls. And already a channel like NBC has made a statement yesterday saying that if Barak makes any concessions, it will be considered as part of the right of the Palestinians, but if Arafat makes a concession, he is selling the entire Palestinian cause.
|What do Arafat and Barak have to gain?|
GWEN IFILL: So Professor Khalidi, let's assume for a moment that that is true, that Mr. Arafat is that vulnerable. If that's so, what does he have to gain from even being at Camp David?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, he has a great deal to gain. I would add that he has another front of vulnerability, which is the more than 50 percent of the Palestinian people who live outside the frontiers of historic Palestine: The Palestinians in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and the Gulf.
These are people who feel very deeply about many of the issues being negotiated at Camp David, and even though it's not the primary constituency that Arafat has to worry about, it is a very large, important, wealthy, and influential part of the Palestinian people.
As to what Arafat has to gain if he can get an agreement which satisfies Palestinian aspirations as far as Jerusalem, refugees, borders, and sovereignty are concerned, then he can come home as a great peacemaker, and I think will have a great deal of credit. The problem is that he's unlikely to be able to get satisfaction on all of these, in fact, on most of these scores.
GWEN IFILL: But even if he doesn't, Professor, even if the doesn't get the satisfaction on all of those scores, what does he lose if he just showed up and then comes home and says, hey, I wouldn't give in?
RASHID KHALIDI: I don't think he has a great deal to lose. I think that of the three participants at Camp David, Arafat is probably the one who can go home after a failure and say to his people, "I've done the best I could. I'll just have to wait for another Israeli government and another American president." I'm sure he doesn't want to do that, but there's no enormous downside to him if that's what happens in the end, I think.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Sprinzak, you don't agree with that?
EHUD SPRINZAK: Well, listen, I'm not an expert on the Palestinians, but you have to remember a few things. First, Arafat is not very young. Assad has just passed away. In addition, he doesn't know what will be, what will happen in Israeli politics. He may very well get a much tougher opposition from Israel. He may lose the chance of becoming the first Palestinian prime minister, or he may drive the whole thing into bloodshed. There are lots of things that he has to consider before he goes home.
DAVID MAKOVSKY: Again, I'd just like to say, I mean, professor Khalidi I think speaks very confidently about Mr. Arafat can just wait. Well, he'll be around, but Barak won't be around. And I think history will judge very harshly if the Palestinians miss this Barak moment. There will not be a more forthcoming Israeli government. I mean, now, according to reports, Barak is willing to give around 90 percent -- some say a little more, a little less -- of the West Bank. That's certainly more than a 50/50 split.
And Israel has certainly gone the extra mile. Barak could totally collapse if he's seen as giving away the store. Mr. Arafat, who won with a 90 percent majority the presidency in 1996, he will be around, like Professor Khalidi said, but Barak won't be. And I think it would be horrible for the Palestinians if they miss Barak, because there will not be a more forthcoming government.
GWEN IFILL: Just describe for me what you mean by a "Barak moment."
DAVID MAKOVSKY: I mean that you, this is like lining up the sun, the moon, the stars. You don't get this very often, that you get the most decorated soldier in Israeli history, he's been in the Israeli military for 35 years, a protégé of security-minded Yitzhak Rabin, intellectually very formidable, someone who is a centrist in his soul.
He's unique that he can persuade the Israeli public. Perhaps the people to his right have the strength and don't have the will... to his left have the will and don't have the strength. He gives this peace process a political viability by fusing both. And if they let Barak collapse, then they have no one to blame, I think, than themselves, the Palestinians. And therefore, they shouldn't miss this moment.
RASHID KHALIDI: I think what David is saying represents the argument that Barak and the United States are probably making to Arafat: Take whatever's offered to you now, you won't get anything as good later. That may be true for Yasser Arafat, the individual. I'm not entirely sure that as far as Palestinians are concerned that's necessarily true.
It very much depends on what Barak is offering. You say 90 percent of the West Bank. If that includes sovereign access to the West Bank instead of just Palestinians being penned up as they currently are with an Israeli corporal essentially deciding the fate of every single Palestinian being able to move from here to there, then most Palestinians would not feel it's a great deal.
If, on the other hand, you mean real sovereignty in almost all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian capital and Jerusalem, some implementation of the right of return or compensation, then Palestinians will say, yes, this was an historic moment, and Arafat should have seized it.
I think you should remember that Arafat had 90 percent in what was probably a free vote five or six years ago. He has much under 40 percent in every single poll over the last year. So public opinion is not enchanted with the deals that he's made since 1993 in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and I think the numbers are even lower among Palestinians outside of Palestine.
|Making concessions over Jerusalem|
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Wahby, this has been going on, these latest negotiations, for seven years, so we five are not going to figure it out today. But the big emotional tug, the big issue is about Jerusalem. Do you have any sense of movement on that at Camp David?
MOHAMMED WAHBY: Let me first of all also say about the argument that David is making is rather weak, because it does not mean anything if Barak survives and Arafat himself loses completely his place in history. And Arafat is very aware of the fact that he should not go down in history as the one who sold Jerusalem.
It is extremely important. Regarding your question, there is now an attempt to... a big provision regarding Jerusalem which will, for instance, would go like this: That the Israelis would recognize sovereignty of the Palestinians in the Eastern part of Jerusalem government. Now, the word "Jerusalem government" can be interpreted by both sides differently. By the Palestinians and by the Jordanians it means actually the whole government, which includes the Israelis, it means only Jerusalem East and West Jerusalem and the other suburbs.
So both sides can sell this formula to their constituencies. Some say that can be done provided, and that's extremely important, that there should be no provision, no preamble at the beginning which says that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has come to an end. If Arafat accepts this, that will be again his demise. Why? Because once he signs on something like that, it means only one thing, that the Palestinians will have no leverage regarding the implementation of whatever is going to be agreed upon.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. Well, let's assume for a moment that this is what they bring home and try to sell at home. Is this acceptable?
DAVID MAKOVSKY: Well, the notion that somehow what Barak can make any concession on Jerusalem, even I think if it's some form of municipal autonomy, without getting the end of the conflict and no new claims and keeping the conflict open for another generation is not only bad for the peoples of the Middle East because it perpetuates conflict, but it's political suicide for Barak.
In other words, give up all the territorial cards so to speak, but don't get closure on the issues at hand. I mean, I think the irony is that for most people, a broader deal, a more ambitious deal has political marketability if people say, "that's it. Finally, a hundred years of this. We can now get on with our lives." A more modest deal, which you leave open some of these issues will be seen as another piece of salami and will be rejected. So the irony is a bigger deal could be a better deal and the modest deal will be the harder part.
GWEN IFILL: A modest deal that's open to interpretation from each side or a big, broad deal?
EHUD SPRINZAK: First, we kind of started negotiating with the Israelis and Palestinians. Let me suggest this: There is a need for great creativity, great creativity. And this is exactly what the American role is, to come up with some concept which on the one hand would not destroy the Barak constituency but on the other hand will help Arafat save face. This is one of the challenges of the Camp David.
And it's not something that we know about, but I think this is why Americans are working very hard, because obviously they cannot carry clearly in a way that both sides will be satisfied. So you'll have to find some kind of vague formula which on the one hand would bring, from the Israeli perspective the conflict to an end, but from Arafat would ascertain and assure some implementation in the future.
There is a lot of room for creativity. I think this is what happened
at the original Camp David, sort of letters, all kinds of things like,
this person posts a letter with the president. Another person, this
is the role of American diplomacy. This is why President Clinton is
absolutely essential for this. Without him nothing would happen.
GWEN IFILL: Professor Khalidi, is it possible... is there a consensus really that exists for peace among Palestinians in a way that Yasser Arafat can actually bring home a deal?
RASHID KHALIDI: There is a consensus for peace. The question is: Are the Israelis willing to bite the bullet and accept that they're going to have to, for example, share Jerusalem. I frankly doubt it. I think the Israelis can have it one way or another way. They can have an end to the conflict, but that means they have to look into their hearts and see, how did this conflict begin, where did the refugees come from, what is Israel's role, what should Israel do?
And secondly, how can we live side by side with the Palestinians and not give them sovereignty, access and so forth to the city to which they consider their capital. The problem is the Israelis seem the want it both ways. They both want the conflict to be ended and no more claims, and they want to avoid facing the hardest of these claims regarding Jerusalem and regarding refugees.
If Palestinians cannot go through or to Jerusalem, I would suggest that whether Arafat signs a piece of paper saying the conflict is over is irrelevant. It will not be over. If Palestinians from the West Bank continue to be denied access to Jerusalem, if Palestinians from the Gaza Strip cannot go to the West Bank, if Palestinians from outside cannot go inside without, as I say, some Israeli border guard deciding their fate, the conflict is not over, whatever Arafat signs at Camp David.
So I think it really, it is a difficult issue for the Israeli domestic consensus, but I think the Israelis have to decide, are they willing to bite the bullet, resolve all these issues in a way that is marginally fair to both sides or not?
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Makovsky?
DAVID MAKOVSKY: I just want to say one thing. I agree with Ehud, and I don't know if Professor Khalidi and I were disagreeing that much. I think that what has to be understood is one thing: Creativity is needed because of sensitivity, yes.
There's the theology, Jerusalem, the holiest city, the Jews third holiest to Muslims. But it's more than that. Professor Khalidi said, "how did it all begin?" And it began the last time we all sat around the table and tried to resolve these issues, and people talked about giving the Jews access to the holy sites. Those promises of implementation were not implemented, and, in fact, there was a Berlin Wall, and for the next 19 years the Jews had no access to anything, and that exacerbates the sensitivity.
So here's a vote for creativity so we can try to resolve these issues, but people should understand the sensitivity. The notion of sharing might sound very simple to everyone, but there's a history here that has to be dealt with. And it's 19 years or so...
RASHID KHALIDI: There are two histories, David.
GWEN IFILL: I'm going to actually have to leave it here and cut this off because, as I promised, we would not be able to solve this today, but thank you all four very much.