|THE SEARCH FOR PEACE|
July 19, 1999
TERENCE SMITH: For more on Israeli Prime Minister Barak's trip to the U.S. and on the peace process, we get four views: William Quandt served on the National Security Council staff and during the Nixon and Carter administrations and participated in the Camp David negotiations.
Joel Singer helped negotiate the Oslo agreements for the Israeli government and has served as a legal advisor to both the Israeli defense and foreign ministries.
Hisham Sharabi is chairman of the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, and Professor Emeritus of History at Georgetown University.
And Hisham Melhem is the Washington-based correspondent for As-Safir, the Lebanese daily newspaper. He closely tracks developments in Syria. Gentlemen, welcome to you all.
Bill Quandt, let me begin with you for the long view. You've been involved in the peace process one way or another for 25 to 30 years. Does this strike you and your ear as a promising moment?
WILLIAM QUANDT, former NSC staff: Yes, it does, although that's no guarantee it will turn out to be one. But after the three long years of Netanyahu's prime ministership where there was very little that counts as peacemaking, I think everyone has high expectations that there at least a possibility now that movement will take place on both tracks, the Syrian-Lebanese track and the Palestinian track.
I think Barak is off to a good start. He's made I think, a good decision to start by contacting his Arab neighbors and then coming to Washington, and his public statements at least change the tone, if not yet the substance of Israeli policy.
TERENCE SMITH: Joel Singer, there did seem to be a different tone, did there not, in that conversation that we just saw?
|A changing tone in peace talks|
JOEL SINGER, former Israeli peace negotiator: Oh, certainly. It looks like a whole new ballgame. I think that we are going to face now a very intensive period of negotiations, and that period will be riddled with problems. Let no one believe that suddenly peace will come by itself. The more the parties begin to deal with the how-to issue, the more problems will surface. But I am confident that we are now on the right track.
TERENCE SMITH: Hisham Sharabi, from a Palestinian point of view, is this a moment of opportunity or of pitfalls, or both?
HISHAM SHARABI, Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine: It was a moment which most Palestinians have been hoping would be slightly different, different in the sense that would be a proper continuation of from where the process started nine years ago at the international conference in Madrid, where the peace process had as an objective was to have land for peace, to carry out U.N. resolutions, including primarily 242, and in a settlement that would be not only a tactical political settlement, but one of reconciliation between the two peoples.
But of what we have heard, of what we have seen, from Mr. Barak and the Israeli position, the Palestinians are very happy that the peace process will be back on track, but they're very skeptical about its outcome.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, with history on their side, I suppose. Hisham Melhem, when you listen to all this, you see a hand extended to Syria. Is Syria ready to take it?
HISHAM MELHEM, correspondent, As-Safir: I think the Syrians, like all other principal parties at this stage, believe that there is a window of opportunity between now and the end of the Clinton administration.
And they would like to see that there is really nothing new in the Syrian position, the Syrians have all along, have been saying we would like to resume the talks from the point it started in 1996, when Israelis suspended talks, if you remember at that time. The Syrian position is not going to change. But the Syrians said are willing to match every positive move that Ehud Barak makes; we are willing to match it. So there is a different atmospherics.
The Syrians are working on an area that they have ignored in the past, i.e., public diplomacy. The fundamentals that the Syrians have on the question of withdrawal, total withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders, no settlements on the Golan, no listening stations, all these are part of what the Syrians call fundamentals. These positions are not going to change, come what may.
What will change, obviously, is issues of timetables, security arrangements as long as there is parity between the two. So on the fundamentals there is no change, but there is a greater flexibility in terms of timing and public diplomacy.
TERENCE SMITH: We can get back to the details of that in a moment. But Bill Quandt, Hisham Melhem just referred to the time remaining in the Clinton administration. It's less than two years. Is that enough time?
WILLIAM QUANDT: Well, peace doesn't have to be concluded on Clinton's watch. It is, after all, a peace between Israel and the Arabs, and they will be here long after Bill Clinton. But if he is going to play an effective role, I think it has be in the next six to nine months to really get this opportunity exploited as quickly as possible, because there's a tendency in the Middle East for things not to remain on track indefinitely. There is a real need to build momentum.
So Clinton's useful time as a facilitator-mediator friend, whatever you want to define the role is limited. By next spring, the American election campaign will be underway. And he will simply be taken less seriously. It's not that he won't still have the authority of his office, but he won't have the special authority that comes from a President who seems in the peak of his influence.
|Running out of time?|
TERENCE SMITH: Six to nine months, Joel Singer, sound breathtakingly short for a problem like this, but Prime Minister Barak has some time pressures on him as well, doesn't he?
JOEL SINGER: He does. But regardless of the time pressures on both Clinton and Barak, you need to understand that-- let's take the Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese track. You have here basically an equation with at least four variables. You need to time together, an Israeli-Syrian agreement and an Israeli-Lebanese agreement. So you need all three parties to sort of coordinate their efforts. But then you need to take Iran out of Lebanon.
So you have a fourth party. And how about water issues? Israel wants Syria to guarantee the continued flow of water from Syria to Israel. Syria is saying, hey, Turkey is sitting on our water sources. So you have another party. And to put all of this - these cast of players into one timetable, which is very short, is very difficult. And I haven't spoken yet about the Israeli-Palestinian treaty, which is more complicated.
TERENCE SMITH: Right. Which is more complicated. Hisham Sharabi, there are time pressures as well, I suppose, on Yasser Arafat.
HISHAM SHARABI: Well, of course. The thing that we have to keep in mind is that the real problem of the Arab- Israeli conflict has as its core the Palestinian problem, the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation. So what's happening -- it's not a question of time. The time framework is really a secondary consideration when you think about the outcome that we are heading to. If a bad agreement is reached, that's not a good outcome, even though an agreement has been signed. And I'm afraid, frankly, that's what's going to happen. I think most Palestinians would prefer no agreement at all rather than a bad agreement.
TERENCE SMITH: A bad agreement that stops short of Palestinian basic aspiration, is that what your talking about?
HISHAM SHARABI: That stop short of practically all the declarations made at Madrid for the objectives of the peace process in which we are in after almost a decade. And it's going to end in what seems to be an inadequate agreement.
TERENCE SMITH: Hisham Melhem -
HISHAM MELHEM: I'd like to respond -
TERENCE SMITH: Go ahead.
HISHAM MELHEM: -- to what was said about Iran in Lebanon. Iran is not in Lebanon. I'm sure he's referring to Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a Lebanese, grassroots-based organization. It has a Lebanese agenda.
It has a good relationship with Iran, obviously, it has a good relationship also with Syria. It receives supports from those two states. But I don't think Iran dictates to Hezbollah what to do. Hezbollah was created from the rubbles of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It's a Lebanese phenomenon with a Lebanese agenda.
When the Israelis leave South Lebanon -- and they will be leaving South Lebanon because Hezbollah made sure that they will pay a price for that occupation, Hezbollah, I'm sure, will stop operations. Nobody is talking about liberating Jerusalem from Lebanon. If the Israelis are willing to extricate themselves from Lebanon - and they know what are the conditions -- to get themselves out of the Lebanese quagmire , they know that they have to move Southward and that's the only way. The point is to do so - Barak and every Israeli knows - to do so, you have to deal with the Syrians.
By dealing with the Syrians, you achieve peace on the two northern fronts. It's not as complicated as Mr. Singer is saying. In fact, there is no major issue between Lebanon and Israel. We have an international border. All they have to do is just to pack up and leave. With the Syrians, there is also an end game that is very clear. On the Syrian front, you do not have the interim agreements and the complexities of the variety of measures that you have -- we were forced to take on the Palestinian track. So the end game is known.
It's not vague, it's not ambiguous, and every Israeli, especially the military people like Barak, know that the Syrians are going to insist on total withdrawal. And that's why - it's not really - and when the foreign minister of Syria says that we can wrap up a deal, we think it should be within months or maybe even within weeks, he's referring to a substantial agreement that was achieved between the Syrians and the Israelis when Rabin and Peres were in charge.
TERENCE SMITH: Joel Singer, you were nodding your head at the notion that the basic issues are not that far apart between Israel and Syria. Is that -
JOEL SINGER: Exactly. However, the negotiations that Hisham has alluded to -- I was present at them. And I know how difficult it is to move-- I mean, every concession takes so much time when it is subdivided into small sub-steps. It just takes time. I've been there. I know that.
TERENCE SMITH: Bill Quandt, we heard earlier the notion of the President and the prime minister meeting every four months. It suggests a much higher level of U.S. involvement, very direct, even presidential involvement. I wonder what you think of that.
WILLIAM QUANDT: I think on the whole it's a good thing if the decisions are going to be made to reach a comprehensive peace, they're going to have to be made at the highest level by Assad, by Barak, by Yasser Arafat and his inner circle.
And I think you can spend an awful lot of time with the bureaucrats, with all due respect to the bureaucrats, I've been one and I admire them, but they aren't the ones who can make the hard decisions. Hard decisions have to be made by those with ultimate responsibility in their own political system.
So I think Barak is signaling that he wants to deal directly with Arafat. He would like to deal directly will Assad, but that's not a possibility now, so he's talking to President Clinton, I assume, in order to get Clinton engaged with the Syrians to open up that channel.
I think he wants this negotiation to deal with the broad picture initially and to get those decisions made by Assad, by Arafat, by himself, and then the negotiators can work on the details. And that may take a considerable amount of time. But I think Barak has a general's view of how you approach this. You get the strategy right and then you worry about the tactics, and I think he's right on that.
TERENCE SMITH: Professor Sharabi, what is Yasser Arafat's willingness to move ahead at this point?
HISHAM SHARABI: Mr. Arafat is a sickened old man. He has been defeated. He has cried uncle. And he wants a settlement that would give him something that will be called a state.
TERENCE SMITH: He'd like to be the man who created the Palestinian state.
|A willingness to move ahead|
|HISHAM SHARABI: An entity, whatever that entity might be, that he can
call the state. And I'm afraid that such an entity as we have a ready
now on the ground will be a farcical state.
TERENCE SMITH: What's your view?
HISHAM MELHEM: On the Palestinians?
TERENCE SMITH: Mm-hmm.
HISHAM MELHEM: Look, I mean, I think the problem since Oslo, is that Oslo was seen by many Palestinians as not satisfactory. But they later on -- but they dragged their feet, and the difficult implementation, it became as a panacea - with Wye, which is really nothing but ratifying some of the agreements of the Israelis, who were supposed to carry out - which was really a tiny agreement.
Now Netanyahu put it on hold. And now Barak is saying, yes , in theory, we are committed to implementing it, but we want to combine it with the final status talks. My hunch and my fear is that the Palestinians will accept that. And Arafat was very accommodationist. He met with Barak. After the meeting, he called him a partner and a friend -- Arafat calls everybody a partner and a friend.
And he was very forthcoming on the Geneva conference. In essence, he canceled that conference in Geneva that was supposed to deal with the Israeli practices in the occupied terrorists. He is very accommodationist, and he's seen as such in the Arab world, and I think in the end, Professor Sharabi is correct. There will be a Palestinian state of some sort. But, look, this is not going to be resolved.
This conflict - I mean -- just briefly, if you have peace with Syria and Lebanon, you will have an end to the convention and the Arab-Israeli conflict, i.e. between states. With the Palestinians, even if you sign a series of agreements now, the communal historical conflict will continue in one form or another. These two communities are wedged together; they live together. They are in the same bedroom, and it's a communal issue. It's not going to be resolved easily unless you have historic reconciliation on both sides. And I don't see that on the part of many Israelis, and there are also some Palestinians who are not there yet.
TERENCE SMITH: I'm afraid we're out of time. Thank you all very much.