September 12, 1997
After two days of meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Secretary of State Albright has admitted failure in mediating peace in the Middle East. After a background report, Margaret Warner will analyze this development with former Secretary of State James Baker and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.
MARGARET WARNER: On Tuesday Sec. Albright left Washington for her first trip to the Middle East since becoming Secretary of State eight months ago. Her mission was triggered by an Israeli-Palestinian peace process in crisis, as demonstrated by two suicide bombings in Jerusalem, which left 20 Israelis dead and by Israeli counter-terror measures against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. For two days, Sec. Albright traveled back and forth between meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian leader Arafat in the West Bank. But by yesterday she was making her disappointment clear. And this morning she said she saw no point in continuing her mediation efforts there. She spoke on the NBC News "Today" Show.
A RealAudio version of of this segment is available.
September 9, 1997:
Jim Lehrer discusses former American secretaries of state in light of Madeleine Albright's trip to the Middle East.
September 4, 1997:
Suicide bombs in West Jerusalem put the peace process in jeopardy.
May 14, 1997:
A Newsmaker with Madeleine Albright.
April 4, 1997:
Middle East Forum: Mohammed Halaj and Amos Perlmutter answer your questions.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Middle-East.
The United States and the Search for Peace in the Middle East
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Jerusalem Post
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Secretary of State: The week after next, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat are going to send senior advisers to Washington to meet with us to talk about how we can get the process back on track. And the week after that, I have invited, and I will host Foreign Minister David Levy, and Abu Masim, the Palestinian deputy, in talks in New York. In terms of how often I will come here, I think, as I said, there are small steps and big steps need to be taken and I want to make--I will come here when there are big decisions made. I'm not going to come here to tread water.
MARGARET WARNER: With us now to analyze this development, Former Secretary of State James Baker and former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. Dr. Brzezinski, those were blunt words. What do you make of them?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, Former National Security Adviser: They were blunt because bluntness was needed. It seems to me that there are two ways to move towards peace: either for the United States to be massively engaged, with the President personally committed and the Secretary of State working with him, or waiting until the parties, themselves, come to their senses and realize that they have a fundamental stake in peace. I take it she concluded that the moment is ripe for the second method.
MARGARET WARNER: Sec. Baker, what's your interpretation of those remarks?
JAMES BAKER, Former Secretary of State: (Houston) My interpretation is pretty much the same as Zbig's, and I agree with him on his assessment. There are two ways the United States can go and can try and advance the process. I think the far better way is to be hands on and really involved, submitting bridging proposals and being very active. I think the one thing the United States should never do is let our presence, if you will, be taken for granted, and that's what I think Sec. Albright was saying. And I totally agree with that. I think if the parties think that they can fiddle around and that the United States will be there under any and all circumstances, you're not going to have any significant movement.
Why so little progress?
MARGARET WARNER: Sec. Baker, help us understand why she was unable to make so little progress, I mean, briefly. She went there to solve this immediate crisis, this immediate problem, and she asked each side to do a couple of steps. Why can Yasser Arafat not give her what she was asking for, which was full cooperation in the fight against terrorism, against Palestinians, in this Hamas movement?
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Well, I think it's important to realize that neither side gave her what she was asking for. Arafat gave her rhetorically what she was asking for, but politically he probably is incapable of delivering what she's asking for, contrary to the position that he was in politically maybe a year or a year and a half ago.
MARGARET WARNER: Can you explain that a little more, what do you mean, incapable?
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Well, I think politically it's very difficult for him to eliminate the Hamas infrastructure. Today he's weaker. He's weaker because the peace process has foundered over the course of the past year or so. Frankly, it's gone downhill since the government in Israel changed. Much of the heavy lifting for peace had been done by Yitzhak Rabin, the former Israeli prime minister. He and Arafat had a good partnership; there was a modicum of trust there, or maybe more than a modicum of trust. And you saw the peace process move forward. That has all evaporated now with the election of a new government in Israel.
Now, when I say that, I am in no way suggesting that the Palestinians are not at fault and that Arafat does not also bear some responsibility. Because he--he needs to make a 100 percent effort, but that is really the most, I think, that we can require. She asked both parties to do a number of things and they were unable to or unwilling at this time to do that.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Staying with Arafat's situation for a minute, Dr. Brzezinski, do you agree that he's politically unable to do it? I mean, explain that. Do you agree? And explain it.
DR. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, just take two facts into account. First of all, the Israelis were in charge of the West Bank for 20 years, more than 20 years. And they couldn't extrapate terrorism, even though they had all the power in their position, probably much more than Arafat has, they use all sorts of means--intimidation, suppression, even according to Amnesty International torture. And they couldn't wipe it out. It's very hard for him to do better than that. And secondly, it's very difficult for him to do better than they in the absence of tangible movement towards peace.
Unfortunately, over the last year, ever since Netanyahu and his ruling party coalition Likud came to power, the Netanyahu government has engaged in actions, which stimulate more resentment, more radicalism, more extremism, and play into the hands of those who oppose the peace process. In a way, we have here a paradoxical situation. The Likud strengthens Hamas, the extremist coalition among the West Bankers, the Palestinians, and Hamas strengthens Likud. When labor was in power, and when PLO was stronger, there was much more movement towards peace.
MARGARET WARNER: And then going to Sec. Baker, the other point, of course, she asked Netanyahu to take certain steps. Why do you believe he was unable or unwilling to do the steps she asked him to do and to free up some of the tax money? For instance, Palestinians have paid and they've impounded, or have a timeout on settlements.
Netahyahu: A different concept of peace?
DR. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Because fundamentally what she's asking him to do collides with what he wants to do and wants to accomplish. His concept of "peace" is really very different from the concept of peace that labor embraced and which I suspect we support. His concept of peace is essentially a very close equivalent of what the white supremacist apartheid government in South Africa was proposing at one point for the Africans--a series of isolated--lands--broken up, not contiguous territory, essentially living in backward villages, surrounded by white islands of prosperity.
This is the Likud image of solution for the Palestinian problem, and, therefore, when he's asked to stop building settlements, to stop engaging in actions which would make peace possible, instead of subverting them, he's being asked to change his policy, and he has no incentive to do that unless he feels that America will disown him, or unless the Israeli public disowns him. And I think we're gradually moving towards a point in which both of these things might happen. The Israeli public is getting impatient, and clearly, Sec. Albright has signaled that we look with disfavor on many of his activities.
MARGARET WARNER: Sec. Baker, your view about why Mr. Netanyahu did not give her what she asked for.
SEC. JAMES BAKER: I think Zbig was right on when he said that it collides with his view of what he would like to see happen and where he would like to be and where he would like to go. He does have some political constraints on him. He's got a very, very hard line government. But the fact of the matter is that Bibi Netanyahu is in a position--he has at least the power to provide her with what she asked for. He could--he is empowered to do it, were he willing to do it. Yasser Arafat, on the other hand, I think is being asked, at least by Israel he's being asked to do something that he is not powerful enough to do. He can't do better on terrorism as Zbig said than Israel did for many, many years. And he is far weaker today because the peace process has foundered, and that has caused the radical Arab elements in the region to become more powerful and those Arab elements that have committed to peace with Israel to become weaker. So I think that's--that's it in a nutshell. And we've seen this phenomenon before. And every time that we get into this type of situation in the Arab-Israeli conflict, we have an escalation--tragically an escalation of the violence.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think--staying with you for a minute though--whether she intends it as a sort of strategic gamble or not, it could have that effect, that is that this might put pressure on both sides or not?
SEC. JAMES BAKER: Well, the fact that she went to Israel and publicly called upon Israel to live up to its obligations under Oslo is significant, that really have not happened at least in that way before. I wish--I wish that they had not departed--you know, settlements, part of the real problem here is the way in which settlement activity of the Israeli government operates contrary to peace. You can't have a negotiation over land at the same time that someone's going out there and creating facts on the ground that preclude negotiation. We've gone from calling these settlements illegal, which is what they were referred to and when Zbig and the Carter administration were in power, we called them obstacles to peace when we were in the government of the United States. The government today, the Clinton administration is simply saying they're not helpful. They're far worse than not helpful, but at least she did--she went to Israel, she made it clear that there are obligations on both sides of the equation here, and yes, there are obligations that Arafat must fulfill with respect to making a 100 percent effort against terrorism and to provide security.
MARGARET WARNER: What effect do you think her statement and her leaving is going to have?
Albright's departure: "a bucket of cold water."
DR. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think it's a bucket of cold water. I think it's going to make it more difficult for Netanyahu to pursue a policy of allegedly seeking peace, while in fact, making more difficult to move towards peace. And, of course, it puts more pressure, as one should, on Arafat to do more about terrorism. I think it was President Clinton I think who said a couple of weeks ago that we expect from Arafat a 100 percent effort, not 100 percent success, but 100 percent effort. I think he has to deliver on that, but he can't deliver unless the Likud government stopped subverting the Oslo peace process, but begins to implement it, and I think that's a message that she conveyed very clearly.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you something that gets really back to the U.S. role. Tom Friedman, the New York Times foreign affairs columnist, wrote yesterday that after the Cold War, Mideast peace in traditional terms is no longer a vital interest to the U.S.. The Secretary of State should be involved only if the parties are ready to make big decisions. Otherwise, as they said, she should walk and let them have their little war in peace. Do you think he's (a) that that's a correct assessment about U.S. interest and (b) do you think war can be the consequence?
DR. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think he's partially right, but I don't think war is the likely consequence. What makes me feel he's partially right is that in the short run this may be useful tactic to employ because it puts more pressure on both parties and will make Netanyahu particularly think as to whether he really is helping Israel's future by the way he's conducting himself, but in the long run--in the longer run, I think the risk is that our position in the Middle East could be gradually undermined. Saudi Arabia is going to I think stay out of the forthcoming economic conference. I think there's more frustration in the Arab world. In the longer run that could be the price that we would be paying.
MARGARET WARNER: Sec. Baker.
SEC. JAMES BAKER: I think, Margaret, we still have a vital interest there, notwithstanding the end of the Cold War, for any number of reasons, some of which Zbig just alluded to. The Middle East peace process has a way of playing out among countries in areas that are adjacent thereto. It's really important in the overall struggle against radical Islamic fundamentalism and Arab radicalism. So I think we have a vital interest. I think, Tom, I think it was absolutely right, though, in his prescription, and that is that we ought not to be taken for granted. And we ought not to be there unless the parties, themselves, are serious.
But I remember when I used to make all those trips over there and used to say ad nauseam we can't want peace more than the parties, themselves. They will bear a heavy burden; if things continue to degenerate, both sides will bear a heavy burden, and the United States has to make it clear that we--we are the only country in the world, frankly, that can really have the major substantial influence on the peace process that we can have because of our close relationship with Israel, but we ought to make it clear to both sides continually that we're not going to be there if they're not willing to demonstrate the political will and take the steps that are necessary to get to peace.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, Sec. Baker, Dr. Brzezinski, thank you both very much.