|CLOSE TO A DEAL?|
October 21, 1998
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Israeli and Palestinian leaders have been negotiating at a conference center in Wye River, Maryland, since last Thursday, trying to arrive at an agreement over more land for the Palestinians and more security for Israel, among other issues. President Clinton has spent more than 50 hours at the talks, and we turn now to three journalists who have been watching the negotiations closely: Dean Fischer, diplomatic correspondent of Time Magazine; David Makovsky of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz; and Hisham Melhem of the Lebanese daily As-Safir. Thank you all for being with us. Hisham Melhem, you've just come from Wye River, Maryland. What is happening? Bring us up to date.
The Seventh Day
HISHAM MELHEM, As-Safir, newspaper: Well, on the seventh day no agreement was created, but nobody rested either. It was a day of gloomy predictions, posturing, charges and counter-charges between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Israelis threatening to walk out, the Americans saying essentially we don't believe this, but the most important thing obviously is that today there is a text, and this is - this is a major qualitative development for the first time in seven days.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Explain what the text is and who provided it.
HISHAM MELHEM: We don't know - the American side provided it. We assume that it includes some of the American ideas, proposals. Remember, for the last seven months the Americans have been negotiating with the Palestinians and Israelis their own ideas verbally, orderly, but no written text. For the first time we have a text now, so this is an important qualitative development. We assume also that they would include bridging proposals.
And I would argue - judging from what I witnessed there - what the Palestinians have been telling us and also indirectly what the Israelis are saying, that there is no - there is not much daylight between the Palestinians and the Americans on some of these substantive proposals. For instance, the Palestinians have essentially accepted most of the American bridging proposals on the issue of security, on the issue of amending the Palestinian charter and what not.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. I'll come back to that. Let me just ask you one other thing about today. Is there any word on whether President Clinton will return this evening to the talks?
HISHAM MELHEM: Well, the American side is saying essentially that after the meetings with the secretary of state is going to conduct with both the Israelis and the Palestinians, she will consult with the president, and then she will brief him. And then the president will decide whether it's worth the time and his effort, and his prestige to go back to the summit. I mean, after all, as you said, you spent more than 50 - 50 hours. This is almost unprecedented since Camp David, although I don't want to compare Camp David with the Wye.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. David Makovsky, what are you hearing from the Israelis?
DAVID MAKOVSKY, Ha'aretz, newspaper: They feel that basically they're looking forward to seeing the U.S. bridging proposals that as Hisham pointed out are put in writing for the first time. They said, you know, we still haven't gotten the Palestinian work plan on security. There is principles, but we want to see this translated into operation. In other words, what's going to actually happen in the fight against terrorism?
Now, there's been a lot of discussions with CIA Director George Tenet, who's out there as well. But the point is this, is that the jitteriness on security is not just related to the fact that there was this attack in Barsheeba this week, where 66 people were injured and the guy's a Hamas person, who came from Hebron and a city under the authority of the Palestinian area, but it goes beyond that, because essentially there's an asymmetry here. Israel is being asked to give land, and it's clear that it's giving it. I mean, that's not even an issue.
This 13 percent that we've been talking about, which brings Palestinian to either full or partial control of the West Bank to 40 percent, that's done. Everyone knows that's done. The issue is: how do you stop guys like this guy in Hebron in a systematic way, because what we've had is Israel giving the land in the way that's irreversible, but Palestinians have arrested people in the past.
It's not a question of arrest. But, like the Humphrey Bogart movie "Casablanca," round up the usual suspects, and then when no one's looking, these guys are let out. So the question is: How do we do this systematically so that if what Israel is giving is irreversible, what Israel is obtaining in security is not just the 12-week passing phenomenon but something that's permanent.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And just briefly, how serious was the Israeli threat to leave?
DAVID MAKOVSKY: It's unclear, and we had his luggage - Albright saw like thirty or forty pieces of luggage out on the grass. We don't know. I want to say that anyone walk out - I mean, both sides need an agreement and I think we'll have to withhold judgment.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Anything to add to this, Dean Fischer?
DEAN FISCHER, Time Magazine: Well, on the subject of security, I think it's important to point out that according to my understanding of the American proposals to CIA is expected to monitor and to see to the implementation of what is agreed to, and my understanding was that that was acceptable to the Israelis.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay.
DEAN FISCHER: But there is still a hang-up in that regard. It surprises me.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. I want to come back to the CIA too, but let's go through this somewhat systemically now. Hisham Melhem, what were two - one or two of the key Palestinian goals and how close do you think they are to achieving those goals?
HISHAM MELHEM: One goal is the withdrawal from 15 percent, and -
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let's put a map up to explain this. Okay. We've got a map that shows how much is controlled now by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
HISHAM MELHEM: Keep in mind that five years after Oslo the Palestinians, the Israelis still controlled more than 70 percent of the West Bank.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I think you can see that on the map. There is the map now.
HISHAM MELHEM: And 40 percent of Gaza. What the Palestinians do have total control of is over the cities, seven cities, so what you have is a like a big Swiss cheese, almost like Bantu stands - they cannot really control them very well -
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Almost like Bantu stands in South Africa.
HISHAM MELHEM: In South Africa. In the old days, apartheid days. Obviously, they don't want that. Until today, the Israelis did not provide the map that would include where these areas - the 13 percent are going to be. So they haggled over that one too. The Palestinians also want the Israelis to come back also, a third withdrawal. They already to that one. And they want it to take place before the beginning of the final status talks on May 4, 1999. So that's also a stumbling block. Another one is safe passage between the land-locked West Bank and Gaza.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We have a map that shows this too, that shows us how Gaza and the West Bank are separated in the - and it could be a way to travel between there for -
HISHAM MELHEM: Precisely. Also opening up an airport. I think there is an agreement also on the airport. Safe passage is still a very difficult issue. The third withdrawal - the Israelis are not signing in on it. In fact, Netanyahu is telling the Palestinians I will withdraw from 1 percent, which is ludicrous for the Palestinians. And I think the Americans probably sympathize with that Palestinian position. So these are some of the issues. The problem with attempts at security and what the Israelis are asking the Palestinians to do -
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I'm sorry. The problem with -
HISHAM MELHEM: Security. The Israelis are asking - that's what the Palestinians say - they are asking the impossible. They want us to go and conduct a frontal assault on everybody who says that he or she supports Hamas, which means plunging the West Bank into a civil war. Arafat cannot, as David said, the analogy of "Casablanca" rounding up the usual suspects and then releasing them. Every time there is an attack like the one that occurred a few days ago it embarrasses Arafat.
It weakens his authority. It weakens his standing. But Arafat cannot conduct the kind of fight that Israelis are asking him to do at a time when the Israeli settlers are not being reined in, and also it looks ludicrous for the Palestinians, when they are asked by the Israelis to deliver Palestinian suspects to Israel and the Israelis would not even consider delivering any armed settler who conducts their own version of terror against the Palestinians to the Palestinians. So that's what we have here. And unless the Americans intervene and read the riot act, nothing's going to happen.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Does that pretty much summarize it for you and the way that -
DAVID MAKOVSKY: We have just a bit of difference of opinion, but I think what has to be clear on these pullbacks, I'm afraid the viewers are going to get confused here, they're really beyond the control of the cities.
There are three pullbacks that are happening, which is Israel giving them the Palestinians, that is short of what we call the end game, so we still have what's called a third pullback to come, but the big enchilada, the end game, which is the final disposition of the territories, is still ahead.
So, if we're starting that, with the Palestinians having jointly - and anything that's joined is conceded by Israel will be exclusively Palestinians - in other words, they have 40 percent of the West Bank now, and then they will probably get much more in an end game. So we're - I mean -
DEAN FISCHER: 50 percent joined.
DAVID MAKOVSKY: I said either full or part now, but it's understood that anything that is joined will be exclusively Palestinian but the point is it's in mid gear, and what has to be understood here is we haven't even gotten to the end game when there's much more territory to be given, and, therefore, I mean, for some - for a Likud government which is against form of territorial giving - started 40 percent and with still much more territorial concessions to be made, I think it should be seen in that light, point one, and let me just add one quick point - on the security - nobody wants a civil war in - under the Palestinians. It's not good for anybody.
The key thing is to do something that's systematic, that's targeted against the key people, and we haven't seen that, but the problem here is, is that we could be approaching a May 4th deadline. Wasa Berakat gave a speech last week here in Washington and said guess what, it we don't get what we want, we're going to charge the Allenby Bridge and the Jordan River, and we will have warfare. I don't think you can hold a gun to people's head. There has to be an understanding nothing happens here unilaterally; everything has to be negotiated.
|Threats To Leave|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let me just say that I just got word that Netanyahu's office just said that they would leave by 10 PM if some of these issues are not agreed to by then. So that - I mean, you can see from this what the disagreements. They are quite serious. The CIA role in all this - CIA Director George Tenet has been there the whole time. This is quite unprecedented, isn't it? Explain what the CIA has to do with all this.
DEAN FISCHER: Well, it is, indeed, unprecedented because the CIA is a spy agency, and they've preferred to operate in the shadows, and they're going to be playing a highly visible role in the verification of the security of arrangements if they are agreed to, and -
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For example, if Palestinians arrest somebody that the Israelis want but they keep him in, in the West Bank, CIA would make sure that they stayed in prison, that sort of thing?
DEAN FISCHER: That's correct. That's correct, because the Palestinians are reluctant to hand over suspected terrorists to the Israelis. They prefer to deal with them on their own. But in order to satisfy the Israelis that their security concerns are being met, it means that somebody has to monitor it. And that's where the CIA comes in.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what do you make of the fact that we just heard that Netanyahu's office has said they would leave by 10 o'clock, what does that say to all of you, just briefly?
HISHAM MELHEM: Well, the Israelis - the Palestinians have been saying all along that the Israelis have not come to the Wye to conclude a complete agreement on these interim missions. They wanted always a partial agreement, and this is something that the Americans have not favored, the Palestinians did not favor. I think now that it's up to the United States really. Otherwise, if you lead these two parties to their own devices, they're not going to reach an agreement. As I said, most of the compromises that Americans came up are accepted to the Palestinians because the Israelis were not accepting them, and now it's up really to Washington.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think about the 10 o'clock, just very tough negotiating?
DAVID MAKOVSKY: All I can say is we've been here for a week and so far there's about eight or nine issues on the agenda the Israelis were hoping for Palestinian concessions on some of those - on some of that list - and it hasn't happened. So I would hope that they would not leave but they are frustrated.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you all very much.