WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE PEACE PROCESS?
NOVEMBER 6, 1995
After the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, Charlayne Hunter-Gault hears four views on the future of the Middle East peace process.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: For many Americans, the most dramatic recollection of Yitzhak Rabin was his meeting with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn in 1993. There, Rabin took the first public step to peace with a bitter enemy.
YITZHAK RABIN: (September 13, 1993) Let me say to you, the Palestinians, we are destined to live together on the same soil, in the same land. We, the soldiers who have returned from battle, stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we who have attended their funerals and cannot look into the eyes of, of their parents, we who have come--who have come from a land where parents bury their children, we who have fought against you, the Palestinians. We say to you today, in a loud and a clear voice, "Enough of blood and tears. Enough."
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: A speech, followed by a dramatic handshake, which Rabin later acknowledged made him very uncomfortable. Two years later, Rabin and Arafat were back at the White House, signing a second accord to transfer more West Bank authority to the Palestinians. Rabin spoke of the drama of this occasion and the risks ahead.
YITZHAK RABIN: (September 28) Together, we should not let the land flowing with milk and honey become a land flowing with blood and tears. Don't let it happen. If all the partners to the peacemaking do not unite against the evil angels of death by terrorism, all that will remain of this ceremony are color snapshots, empty mementos. Rivers of hatred will overflow again and swamp the Middle East.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Now to discuss the peace process without Prime Minister Rabin we get four views. Akiva Eldar is U.S. Bureau Chief of the Israeli daily newspaper, "Ha'aretz." Khalil Jahshan is a Palestinian-American, born and raised in Nazareth. He is president of the National Association of Arab Americans. Hisham Melhem is diplomatic correspondent for the Lebanese newspaper, "As Safir." And joining us from Houston, Edward Djerejian, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Syria. He also served as Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs during the Bush administration. Now, he directs the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. Gentlemen, thank you all for joining us. And starting with you, Mr. Eldar, in general, what impact is Rabin's death going to have on the peace process?
AKIVA ELDAR, Ha'aretz Newspaper: In a way, we are very lucky that the assassinator didn't get his hand on Mr. Peres, and that we have Mr. Peres to pick up from where Mr. Rabin left. I believe that Mr. Peres will vigorously pursue the peace process even more than he did before. It may even cause a kind of a change in the sequence, because we were dealing with interim agreement--we were not in a phase of implementing Oslo II, and we are not in the business of now bargaining with Palestinians on more territories. In a way, Rabin didn't give an inch to the Palestinians so far, and there are some people, among them Shimon Peres, who told me once that he believed that Israel shouldn't pay twice to the Palestinians; once during the interim agreement and then for the final phase. So--and Josef Belin, who will, maybe will be the next foreign minister, believes in jumping directly to discussing with the Palestinians the final phase. So in a way, I think that there is a possibility that this may even accelerate the peace talks.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Hisham Melhem, what's your view of it?
HISHAM MELHEM, As Safir Newspaper: I think if we limit our analysis to the Israeli dynamics or the Syrian dynamics, we would lose sight of the broader picture. There has to be a bigger role for the American sponsor. We haven't seen that role being realized in the last few months.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Okay. I want to get to that in a few minutes.
MR. MELHEM: Yeah, sure.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But in general, do you believe that--
MR. MELHEM: I don't think there will be a radical change in the status quo. I think the Syrian talks have been stalemated for five months now. On the Palestinian side, there will probably be implementation of Oslo II, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were some delays. This has been the path of every agreement Israel has signed with the Palestinians. On the Syrian side--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: We'll get to Syria in just a minute, but just--in general, I mean, you don't think that this is going to decelerate or throw the talks off track?
MR. MELHEM: No, I don't think so, because Mr. Peres will be focusing on the domestic front. He will have to keep his eye not only on his own--on the Likud but also on his potential rivals within Labor.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Do you agree with all of this so far, Mr. Jahshan?
KHALIL JAHSHAN, National Association of Arab Americans: Not fully. I think Rabin's absence in a way is going to complicate decision making in Israel. The--Rabin's reputation as a military leader has facilitated certain decisions on the part of the government that would be very difficult to take in his absence.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: For example?
MR. JAHSHAN: Basically, I think his ability to, to win support, or at least to neutralize people to his right, to the right of his government, and be able to take risks. That type of ability is not enjoyed or, or possessed by Mr. Peres. He lacks that type of depth, if you will. At the same time--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Because the people believe that Prime Minister Rabin--
MR. JAHSHAN: Well, it's credibility that Rabin has earned throughout his career.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And that he always put security at the head--
MR. JAHSHAN: Exactly. He's endeared by the Israeli public as "Mr. Security." This was lost in a way during the negotiations, but he still, I think, for a certain sector of Israeli society, he had a certain appeal that very few other Israeli leaders have. So in the short-term, I do not expect any changes. I agree with what Hisham said. But in the long-term, the peace process and Israel's role in the peace process will be facing some challenges; No. 1, in terms of the implementation of Oslo II, there's already some talk about freezing the redeployment for a short period of time. That could be disastrous. Second, in terms of activating the Syrian and the Lebanese tracts that has to happen soon, and if the peace process is to keep its integrity. Third, we have a problem in terms of starting permanent status negotiations in May of '96. And if Israel is in the middle of deciding who the next leader is, this is going to be a very problematic step. And, fourth, in terms of Israeli elections, who's going to be the next prime minister, that's also going to have a very serious impact and presents a challenge to the process.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. I want to get to some of those specifics that you just outlined in a moment, but let me just get a quick reaction from Mr. Djerejian in terms of the overall impact of the prime minister's death on the peace process. Will it accelerate it, slow it down, not have an impact one way or the other? What do you think?
EDWARD DJEREJIAN, Former Assistant Secretary of State: (Houston) Well, Charlayne, evidently there will be a temporary pause during this period of mourning for Prime Minister Rabin, but I think there will be an immediate setback in terms of the peace process because all the parties within Israel, outside of Israel, who are involved, will be assessing the future capabilities of the government of Israel as to its ability to carry forward on any commitments that might be negotiated. I agree with the participants who stated that a real effort has to be made now on the Palestinian track to consolidate this second stage of Palestinian agreements and to live up to the commitments that have been made between Israel and the PLO. Without any ifs and buts, that should go forward as swiftly as possible in the momentum generated. And, of course, Shimon Peres, as the acting prime minister, has the negotiating cards in his hands. He was instrumental in many ways in that track. But the thing that has happened in Israel is that this superb political marriage between Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, Peres, the visionary, and Yitzhak Rabin, the warrior statesman, who had exactly this credibility of representing peace with security for Israelis, that is now gone. And therefore, there's a question mark in the peace process.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Eldar, what do you think about that, especially the comments that Mr. Jahshan made, that Shimon Peres doesn't have the credibility with the Israelis that the prime minister had, especially on questions of security? Now, we've got the Golan Heights issue looming out there. How do you see that?
MR. ELDAR: Well, I'm afraid that people have very short memories. Shimon Peres was a very successful and popular prime minister between '84 and '86. He was actually the most popular prime minister since Ben Gurian. He had more than 80 percent approval. He pulled Israel out of Lebanon, and he diminished the inflation from 600 percent to single digits, and he was the minister of defense and he told me once that his greatest achievement is that he brought Israel to the point where it is strong enough to make concessions for peace. He invented the nuclear plant in Damona and the military industry.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But what about now? Because I understand what you're saying, but I've also read some analysis that supports Mr. Jahshan that currently there are concerns.
MR. ELDAR: Well, this is--the common notion is that Mr. Rabin was "Mr. Security," and Mr. Peres was "Mr. Peace and Vision." But I disagree with it. I think that Shimon Peres can get the acts together, can get the support of the Israeli public first of all because Mr. Rabin was not anymore "Mr. Teflon," and I think that you mentioned it, somebody mentioned it before, that his dole in outfit of an SS was put in a rally of the Likud--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Right.
MR. ELDAR: He was labeled a traitor. He paid with his life.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Right. Well, let me ask you this in terms of the things that you articulate. I mean, what are the biggest--which of the problems that Mr. Jahshan outlined, the status of Jerusalem, the redeployment, the settler issues, which one of those presents the biggest challenge right now?
MR. ELDAR: Well--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Let me just ask Mr. Melhem. What is your view of that?
MR. MELHEM: On the Palestinian track, I think the redeployment, probably they will delay that redeployment. There is a question mark about the elections. There is also the variable of how the settlers will react to the redeployment, how the Palestinians would react to the redeployment. Not all the Palestinians are in on Oslo II, as you well know. So there are many variables here that preoccupy Shimon Peres on the Palestinian track.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Djerejian, what do you think is the biggest problem now facing--challenging the peace process?
MR. DJEREJIAN: Well, first, I think it's the ability of the Israeli people to gather together in the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin and to support the future government of Israel to proceed on the peace process based on the fundamental principle of land for peace. And, again, this is the essential equation. And I listened with great interest to the first part of your program with Jim, and I was struck by the divisions, obviously, that are in Israel, and that were behind the assassination of Rabin. There was a caller in a radio show today from Israel, and asked for her reaction, and she said, "Well, Rabin made a speech a couple of months ago in which he said the Bible is not a land deed. God has now answered him." It is the depth of that type of feeling that gets to the essence of the peace process. The peace process is based on the concept of "land for peace." Shimon Peres represents this fully. He is--he is an inspired leader, but the question is going to be whether there is the political constituency in Israel behind the new government that will be able to pursue the peace process. And, again, the most important thing is to move swiftly and quickly on the Palestinian track, and then beyond that, looming there, is the Israeli-Syrian track, and it is essential that that front be addressed, and be addressed in a timely manner for peace to be consolidated.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Melhem, do you think that that is going to be severely affected, the Syrian- Israeli track, by Prime Minister Rabin's death?
MR. MELHEM: I think this will be effective more than the Palestinian track obviously because Shimon Peres does not have the reputation as someone who, who could deliver necessarily a major decision on the Golan. The bottom line, as far as the Golan is concerned, is very well known, from Damascus. There will be no peace signed with the Israelis unless there is full, complete withdrawal, unequivocal withdrawal from the Golan Heights, with no residual Israeli presence under the guise of an early warning station or whatnot. Unless that condition is meant, there will be no peace with the Syrians. Come what may, regardless of the government in Israel, regardless of the administration here in Washington, that's why if you leave it only to the Syrians and the Israelis, there are significant major gaps between the two. The only conceivable way for this gap to be bridged somehow with some creative options, especially the question of implementations and guarantees, that requires a greater, more forceful, more balanced, more balanced American approach to the peace talks. If you do not have that, the stalemate is very likely to continue.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Do you agree with that, Mr. Djerejian, just briefly, that the U.S. has to be involved now?
MR. DJEREJIAN: Oh, it's essential that the United States be involved, because, first of all, Hafas Al- Assad demands that the U.S. be the intermediary. He's not interested in back channels or Oslo type agreements, and he looks upon--he wants two things. He wants a peace with Israel that will get him the Golan back, but also he wants the American grace, which is very important in his view for Syria's future standing in the region.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Well, Mr. Djerejian, Mr. Melhem, Mr. Jahshan, and Mr. Akiva Eldar, thank you all for joining us.