MARGARET WARNER: Where does yesterday's bombing leave the Bush administration-backed road map for peace? To assess that, we're joined by: Edward Walker, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, and former assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs during the Clinton administration. He's now president of the Middle East Institute in Washington. Dennis Ross, who spent more than ten years as the State Department's chief Middle East negotiator in the Clinton and first Bush administrations. He's now director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Said Arikat, Washington bureau chief for the Palestinian daily newspaper al-Quds. And Drora Perl, the Washington bureau chief for Israeli Defense Forces Radio. Welcome to you all.
Said Arikat, give us the latest from the ground. I know you've been talking to people there in Ramallah where Yasser Arafat is, of course. What are they saying, what's happening?
SAID ARIKAT: As you mentioned there's a lot of movement of Israeli military equipment and tanks around Ramallah. The sky was being filled with helicopter over flights and so on. There's a lot of trepidation, a lot of fear, people are anticipating that's on the street level. On the political level there's been rumors that the Palestinian prime minister is going to submit some sort of an ultimatum to the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to go ahead and approve whatever measures they need to take against Hamas and move forward on this. So that is the latest from Ramallah.
MARGARET WARNER: Drora Perl, what do you hear from your sources in terms of particularly what Israel's intentions are? Do you see a military reprisal in the process of unfolding or something short of that?
DRORA PERL: I wouldn't call it reprisal but there is going to be probably an Israeli military response, and the extent of it will be and is dependent on what will be done from the Palestinian side. There is a lot of talk-- I just talked with some people over there too-- that the Israeli government is in very, very close contact with the American administration and the American administration basically saying give us at least a little bit of time. We are trying to work things out.
There are reports in Israel about measures that are going to be taken maybe even tonight by the Palestinian Authority, maybe arrests, stopping any media by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad and other things. And the Israeli government is waiting to see what's happening and doesn't make it a secret that the response will be accordingly.
MARGARET WARNER: Does it sound that way to you, Dennis Ross, that the Israelis, while poised are going to give Mahmoud Abbas a little window here?
DENNIS ROSS: That's the way I read it. I think their view is, "All right, look, this is his moment of truth. We always knew it was going to come." Maybe they thought it was going to come a little later than it has. They knew it was going to come. If this is a moment of truth they're going to see can he pass it or not? They will give him a window of time but they won't give him a lot of time. They won't look this from the standpoint of smoke and mirrors. It's going to have to be real steps that are credible that show that a threshold has been crossed.
MARGARET WARNER: What kind of real steps? Just give us a couple of examples.
DENNIS ROSS: I think, A: arrests; B: I think going after some of the bomb-making labs; C: people who they may not be arresting putting under a kind of surveillance; D: actually going after the money; E; going after arms. There's a whole series of things that they will do, I think that the Israelis will be looking for to see is this for real or is it just another effort to sort of convince us that it's for real.
MARGARET WARNER: Is this a moment of truth for Mahmoud Abbas?
EDWARD WALKER: I think it is, yes. I'm not sure he can do it all alone. He needs our help. He's going to need to have some cooperation from the Israelis but this is a moment of truth from two perspectives, one in terms of his role in charge of the Palestinian Authority but also vis-a-vis Arafat. Will he be able to proceed with the direction he clearly wants to go or will Arafat block his way? If Arafat does so, then I think the prognosis is going to be extremely bad for the Palestinians.
MARGARET WARNER: There were wire reports that in this meeting of the Palestinian cabinet, in fact, that Mahmoud Abbas essentially said-- and these were just sourced from other minister there-- that he wasn't going to take steps until Yasser Arafat approved them but that, following up on what you'd said, Mr. Arikat, that he was going to put Arafat to the test. What exactly would he want Arafat to okay that Arafat hasn't so far or is blocking in some fashion?
EDWARD WALKER: Well I think he would want Arafat to make good on the agreement he signed back at Wye all those years ago because every step that we've been talking about, that Dennis was talking about was in that agreement. Arafat supported that agreement, signed on to it. He's never implemented it. I think that's, that is really the litmus test.
MARGARET WARNER: Would you say, Mr. Arikat, that this forever... or definitely ends what Mahmoud been trying to argue to the Israelis, which is look I don't have to round these militants up, I don't have to put them in jail. If you will give me back security control of these towns and I've got a cease-fire with them, I can control them. Is that out the window now?
SAID ARIKAT: Well, Mahmoud Abbas has his work cut out for him, for sure. When he came and met with the president back on July 25, there was a lot of good will feelings. I mean people felt good. He felt that he has to go back with tangible results that he can show the Palestinians that peace actually has dividends. People look back at the hudna or the truce since June 29, and they see that 32 Palestinians have been killed, that incursions have continued, that home demolitions have gone on and on, that prisoners were not released, then there are no tangible results -- while the United States will pay lip service to this thing has not really delivered the goods.
They need to give Mahmoud Abbas something tangible. They need to show the people that there is improvement in these impoverished territories. Going back to what Drora said, incitement and so on, and your report, there's actually been tremendous [inaudible] incitement. There's been a remarkable adherence to the truce by the Palestinian forces. In fact they went over and, you know, painted over a lot of the slogans in these refugee camps, impoverished areas and so on.
Now they need Israel to show some good will, a measure of good will to stop the settlement activities as has been called for in the road map. I believe if that happens, if the president steps in and pressures in that direction, then Abbas has a chance of survivability.
MARGARET WARNER: But Drora Perl, from what we're hearing from the White House the president called Sharon. He did not call Abbas today. He had his spokesman say publicly when asked about the possibility of retaliation Israel has a right to defend herself. How do you read the way the Americans are now communicating with the Israelis about this? In other words, do you see any sign that Sharon feels under any pressure now to do some of the things that Mr. Arikat is talking about that are in fact in phase one of the road map.
DRORA PERL: Noticeably, all the spokespeople didn't even call for a measured response. They didn't say that Israel should consider the consequences, what we've been hearing for a month now, and they did emphasize the self-defense angle.
What the Israelis feel-- and I just came back from Israel-- that we want to hold on to any hope that we have. It's impossible to even describe what these five, six or seven, depends on how you count it weeks looked in Israel. People became free again. In Israel people feel that we did make concessions. We gave up some outposts. We did release some prisoners. It's not right to say that we did not. It's a beginning. It's a beginning very hesitant on both sides. And every side wants to see the other one.
But there is nothing, nothing that can work out when you have bombings, when you see children within the first hours you hear that about four kids died because you cannot even count them. Nothing will work out and people now even in Israel just tonight say we know that now we'll have again retaliation and we'll have to stay home. We cannot go out in the street. We cannot go to restaurants again.
The feeling is that we want to do... the public is ready for concessions. They believe that Sharon is the person to do it as we stand now, but they feel that you need a partner. And as the president said many times first you have to stop the terrorism. You cannot do anything if you have the threat of bombing on anybody.
MARGARET WARNER: This is an old question. We've asked it many times before but I think it bears asking now. Does Mahmoud Abbas actually have the power to stop something like what happened yesterday? I mean, it's been pointed out by some Palestinian spokesmen that this bomber lived in Hebron. Hebron is still under Israeli control.
DENNIS ROSS: I think you have to look at it from several different stand points. When you talk about power, power is also a function of an environment. Now Said is saying he doesn't have enough to show that he's delivered but he has something else right now: He has an unmistakable violation of what was a Palestinian understanding, and he can say that we can't achieve anything, we have no possibility of achieving anything so long as Hamas, Islamic Jihad feel free to carry out these kinds of attacks. These are an attack on us. It's not just an attack on the Israelis; this is an attack on us. If we're going to achieve anything, we have to move --
MARGARET WARNER: Us meaning he has to say it's an attack on the Palestinian Authority.
DENNIS ROSS: Yes but I think he needs help from other sources. He needs the Arabs. He needs President Mubarak; he needs Crown Prince Abdullah; he needs King Abdullah. He needs them to condemn what happened yesterday and to justify moves against those who were responsible for these acts. He needs an umbrella of legitimacy to help create an environment for what it is he does and he needs them also to deal with Arafat.
They have to go to Arafat and say to Arafat ,if you block what he's trying to do-- and he still controls half of Syria apparat-- if you block what he's trying to do then we'll make it clear you're part of the problem as well. He needs the Arabs. He needs in a sense us as well because we have to be out there publicly saying it's important that he do these steps and it's important that, in fact, if he does, that we will get back to a process in which the Israelis must also fulfill their obligations but it's not going to happen otherwise.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that assessment and is the United States then key to making any of that happen?
EDWARD WALKER: I think the United States is key to making it happen. I do agree with Dennis' assessment. I would just add one major element though. Hamas is popular in the Palestinian Authority. And one of the reasons it's popular is it has one of the most effective social programs in the entire area. It's the only hope for many people. That has to be replaced. That has to be replaced by a much greater effort on the part of the United States to bring resources to bear on the part of the Europeans. It's time for them to measure up and to start giving Mahmoud Abbas the support he needs to show that the Palestinian Authority can do the job and they don't need to have Hamas.
MARGARET WARNER: Meanwhile though, Mr. Arikat we have got Israeli tanks outside Ramallah, Israel from what you all are saying is looking for something quick. I mean the next 24 hours. Can Abbas take the a couple of the steps that Dennis Ross mentioned without sparking real civil war, real civil strife of the kind that he has warned could happen?
SAID ARIKAT: It is very difficult because it is seen that he would have to do this while Israel is waging a war on the Palestinians, so any steps that he might take, that is, you know, anything that is beyond certain symbolic arrests and so on will be perceived by the Palestinians as cowing down to Israel's pressure and doing Israel's bidding so to speak.
MARGARET WARNER: How long do you think Sharon will give him to do something?
DRORA PERL: I think it's between hours and a couple of days. It's very clear that everybody is expecting it and also within Sharon's government even the Defense Minister, Mofaz, made it very clear that he advocates a very serious, wide operation and now Sharon has to be sure that he does something and doesn't reflect weakness which is part of the equation.
MARGARET WARNER: I want to ask you both a final question, which is to quote to you something that actually a former colleague of yours, Martin Indyk, said today, which is -- he didn't use this word but it's time for something for something really radical and different.
We've sat around this table and had the same conversation so many times. Agreement, agreement, broken, violence, et cetera, maybe taking over -- having the Palestinian territories put under some kind of international force until the Palestinian Authority can build up, get the space to build up its own power. Do you think it's time for something really radical and different like that?
EDWARD WALKER: I have great respect for Martin. I don't happen to agree with him on this concept. He's been saying it before. I think that you put an international organization or an international police force into the middle of a civil war at that point; they become the target. We've seen something of that in the Iraq situation already. I think this has to be worked out by the parties themselves. It can't be worked out by external pressure and force.
DENNIS ROSS: I agree with Ned, but I would add the following. One of the things we didn't do with the roadmap was provide a clear set of definitions of what was really required. We never established standards of performance. What is ultimately going to be required is a sense of accountability and you can't have accountability until everybody knows exactly what is required of them precisely, not abstractly.
MARGARET WARNER: And that's our job?
DENNIS ROSS: That is our job.
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you all four very much.