LINES IN THE SAND
MARCH 4, 1997
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added another chapter to the strained relationship between the Isrealis and Palestinians last month when he approved a new Jewish neighborhood, to be called Har Homa, in East Jerusalem. Israel has the right to build new settlements in the holy city, Netanyahu said, because Jerusalem as its capital; however, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and President Clinton have criticized the proposed neighborhood as detrimental to the peace process. Charles Krause talks about the Har Homa development with Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Arafat advisor.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Yasser Arafat and his entourage from the Palestinian National Authority arrived in Washington on Sunday. The visit came amongst a new flare-up in the peace process: the Israel decision to go ahead and build new housing for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. The Israelis call the area Har Homa. Meeting with Arafat yesterday President Clinton criticized the Israeli decision, saying it builds mistrust. Arafat's visit followed a trip by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu three weeks ago. At that time the NewsHour interviewed Netanyahu's foreign policy adviser, Dore Gold. This morning we interviewed Arafat's minister of higher education, Hanan Ashrawi.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
Related NewsHour Stories
February 13, 1997:
Charles Krause discusses the meeting between Clinton and Netanyahu with Dore Gold, foreign policy aide to Netanyahu.
January 15, 1997:
Jim Lehrer leads a discussion of the Hebron deal.
December 18, 1996:
Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski debate a letter sent by eight former U.S. foreign policy chiefs to Israel criticizing settlements in the West Bank. -
October 15, 1996:
Warren Christopher discusses the state of the peace process.
October 2, 1996:
A NewsHour interview with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk.
October 1, 1996:
A NewHour look at the emergency White House Peace Summit between Netanyahu and Arafat.
May 31, 1996:
Israeli Election Forum : Reporting from Jerusalem, the NewsHour's Charles Krause answered your questions about Netanyahu's victory.
May 23, 1996:
Seeing the Future : a look at the Israeli elections.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Middle-East.
Madam Ashrawi, thank you very much for joining us. How do you interpret President Clinton's statement yesterday critical of the proposed new Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem? Did he promise to intercede on your behalf?
HANAN ASHRAWI, Palestinian National Authority: When we discussed this in detail during the meeting, he showed serious concern. He knew that our priority was that the peace process and that Israel is taking unilateral measures to totally destroy this process, and he was quite willing to take necessary measures, given the fact that there is now a limited opportunity for political and diplomatic intervention to prevent further deterioration. We said we didn't want reality to overtake and supersede the talks, and create facts on the ground that cannot be reversed.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Understood. But did the President give you a promise? Did he say that he or the United States government in some form would intercede with the Israelis?
HANAN ASHRAWI: Well, I cannot really repeat what the President said in detail. I think you should ask him. But he was quite positive and cooperative, and he did show serious understanding of what needs to be done. The issue is that we also set up a mechanism for a follow-up, and there were some concrete proposals raised that I think that the President will follow up on
CHARLES KRAUSE: There were reports today that despite your concerns and despite the President's statement that Israel will proceed with the Har Homa construction. What will the reaction be from your side?
HANAN ASHRAWI: Before we start projecting the actions I think we should assess what is happening on the ground. It is not just proceeding with a settlement in and around Jerusalem which violates agreements. There is a kind of arrogance, a one-sided approach to the peace process and to the realities of the region and globally, actually. This is entirely out of step, not just with a global discourse on peace but with agreements and with the terms of reference of the peace process. And for Israel to hijack the peace process, and to hijack the potential for peace in the future. And to create a situation of tremendous instability and volatility is certainly an act of supreme irresponsibility, to put it mildly. And, therefore, this should be placed in context. There has to be an international will; there has to be a political will to put limits to Israeli behavior, to prevent Israel from dictating its terms on the rest of the world, and to rescue the peace process, and partly this is, you know, one of the objectives of our visit, is to create a rescue effort, a joint rescue effort in order to prevent Israel from totally derailing the process and creating a chain reaction in the area which would de-stabilize not just the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, or reality on the ground, but the region as a whole.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Would this new settlement by that serious a breach in the process?
HANAN ASHRAWI: Yes. Certainly. This new settlement is extremely serious.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Why?
HANAN ASHRAWI: Because, first of all, it strikes at the core issues of negotiations: permanent status issues, Jerusalem, settlements, the land itself, borders. Israel is creating faction unilaterally on the ground to preempt the outcome of negotiations and is defying the international as well as the agreements, and therefore, this strikes at everything that the Palestinians hold dear and consider to be the basis of any future peace and not just the Palestinians but the Arab world as a whole.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Now, of course, the Israelis say--Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that--there will be houses built for, apartments built for Arabs as well; that this will be an integrated neighborhood of some sort. You're laughing. Why?
HANAN ASHRAWI: We've heard that before. I wish I had not a dollar, a cent for every time I heard that promise. For 30 years Israel has been confiscating our land in Jerusalem, has willfully and systematically prevented any building in Jerusalem, Palestinian building, while it systematically brought in Israeli Jewish settlers, and around Jerusalem, has isolated Jerusalem from the rest of Palestine. It has besieged Jerusalem within a sea of settlements, and this latest settlement will close the ring around Jerusalem and totally cut it off from the rest of the Palestinian territory.
CHARLES KRAUSE: There were also reports today from Israel that the withdrawal scheduled for later this week will proceed and that the Israelis will withdraw from six to 10 percent of the rural areas on the West Bank. Is that a positive sign?
HANAN ASHRAWI: Again, that is a manipulation of agreements. The redeployment, the withdrawal, has to take place, as per the agreement, which talks about three phased withdrawal, the first from Hebron and then in six-month intervals to withdraw from all the areas of the West Bank, with the exception of permanent status issues that are defined as Jerusalem, the settlements, and agreed security locations, or specified security locations, to be very accurate. And these do not need to be defined.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Understood. But the fact is that there was some talk in Israel, anyway, that they would not meet this week's deadline for the first phase of this withdrawal. They now they said they will. Is that a positive sign?
HANAN ASHRAWI: Let's say that this is an attitude that we have seen all along. You know, Israel has constantly had to be dragged kicking and screaming to peace talks and to implementation. They resist up to the last minute. I mean, this type of brinkmanship doesn't work when you are living on the edge of a volcano or an abyss. So the fact that they are going to start redeployment is not something that they're doing--is not a favor they're doing us. It is an implementation of a commitment, and it took us years and months to get that commitment finally translated into reality. And it shouldn't be subject to Israeli interpretation.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The last time we talked at your home shortly after the elections last May in Israel you were willing to give Mr. Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt at that time. How do you view him now? Is he interested in peace from your perspective?
HANAN ASHRAWI: You see, I never close off doors. It's always important to keep a door open for any leader to try to break through. If you label Netanyahu and corner him and say he's absolutely not interested in peace, and that's it, then you certainly will be guilty of projecting a self-fulfilling prophecy. But at the same time there is a sense in which we feel there's an absence of wisdom in terms of policy making; that public relations cannot replace policy. And commitments that are internationally witnessed and guaranteed are a source of credibility and legitimacy of any sovereign state. And you cannot renege on those, and you cannot sort of decide to recreate the world in your own image or in the image of your own ideology. So this--it's taking some time for the transformation of Netanyahu from a public relations person into a prime minister who is serious, but at the same time he is captive to certain domestic conditions. Right now he is facing a serious scandal about the appointment of the legal adviser to the government and this could have serious implications. He could be impeached or removed. He's facing a problem domestically within his coalition, so again he's trying to divert attention from domestic politics by provoking again a confrontation with the Palestinians.
CHARLES KRAUSE: A last question. You sat in on the meetings between President Clinton and President Arafat yesterday at the White House. You have observed this whole process. Do you think from your perspective the United States understands your point of view and even shares your point of view at this point with regard to the settlements in Jerusalem and the overall dynamic of the peace process?
HANAN ASHRAWI: I would say that there is an improvement and a constant growing awareness and an improvement in the Palestinian-American dynamic. The meetings yesterday went very, very well. The level of understanding--let's say the chemistry--between and among individuals was quite good. The substance of the talks was serious and to the point. It wasn't diplomatic. It was very candid, and there is a shared understanding of the need to take responsible decisions and measures in order to work together to save the peace process. This, to me, is a positive step not in an abstract form but translated into follow-up mechanisms and into shared concepts, a convergence, let's say, of worlds. Now whether this convergence translates itself into actual steps to prevent further deterioration and to lift the peace talks to a higher plane, higher level, this still remains to be seen, but I would say all indications are quite positive.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Hanan Ashrawi, thank you for joining us.
HANAN ASHRAWI: Thank you. It's my pleasure.