|EMERGENCY PEACE SUMMIT|
September 30, 1996
Diplomatic efforts by the United States paid off today, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat agreed to come to Washington, DC, to try to mend the latest tear in the fragile fabric of peace. King Hussein of Jordan will attend the emergency meetings, scheduled to begin on Tuesday. After an update on today's events, Jim Lehrer talks to a Palestinian-American professor, an Israeli journalist and an American diplomat about the prospects for peace.
JIM LEHRER We get three further perspectives now, Israeli, Palestinian, and American. The Israeli is Yakoov Ahimeir, the Washington bureau chief for Israeli Television. The Palestinian perspective comes from Rashid Khalidi, professor of Middle East history at the University of Chicago, and a Palestinian-American. The American is Sam Lewis, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and director of the State Department of policy planning staff; he's now a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Mr. Ahimeir, what are the chances that these animosities that go back thousands of years are going to be resolved at a summit in the White House tomorrow?
YAAKOV AHIMEIR, Israeli Television: I doubt very much that the summit will resolve the so-called question of Jerusalem. I must be very frank with you. My permanent address is in Jerusalem.
I live in Jerusalem. I'm on assignment here. In a few months time, I'll go back to my city to Jerusalem. The divisions are so deep between the Israelis and the Muslims that I doubt very much that one act of diplomacy, a summit of few hours, will solve the question. As an Israeli, I express my own opinion. I think that Israel should control the whole of Jerusalem. This is not only my opinion, I studied it, I learned it, I heard it from various successive Israeli prime ministers, from Labor and Likud. Jerusalem is the eternal capital city of Israel.
JIM LEHRER Mr. Khalidi, what is your view of Jerusalem?
RASHID KHALIDI, University of Chicago: (Chicago) Well, my view is that a view such as we just heard is a recipe for a great deal of violence and a great deal of bloodshed simply because this is a city which is holy to three faiths. It is a city which is the capital for two peoples. And the attempt made by Israel to a certain exclusive claim is I think really the basic problem at issue today.
It is what drove I think the decision to open another door to this tunnel, another entrance to this tunnel. It's what drives many of the actions that the Israeli government has taken in view of negotiations to preempt negotiations to determine the outcome of negotiations.
And I think that if we cannot determine some way in which Palestinians can regard this city as theirs, just as Israelis regard it as theirs and which Muslims and Christians can be allowed exactly the same kinds of rights that Jews have attained in Jerusalem, the we are, in effect, saying that this going to be the core of a conflict that cannot be settled ever.
JIM LEHRER Amb. Lewis, there you have it, sir. How does this get resolved at the White House tomorrow, or does it?
SAMUEL LEWIS, Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel: This doesn't get resolved at the White House tomorrow.
JIM LEHRER So what happens?
AMB. LEWIS: What can happen at the White House tomorrow is to lower the temperature enough so that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mr. Arafat agree on a procedure to get back to the negotiating table and to agree certainly that violence must stop, must not be renewed. Now that's not saying a lot I guess in a sentence but it's saying more than it sounds like.
JIM LEHRER In other words, if they try to resolve what we just heard between Mr. Ahimeir and Mr. Khalidi--
MR. KHALIDI: Impossible.
JIM LEHRER --forget it, right?
AMB. LEWIS: You know, Jim, the peace process has been going on ever since 1967, pretty much continuously since the Six Day War, and in repeated efforts like the one at Camp David and others, it's been clear that the issue of Jerusalem was the nut that could only be cracked if cracked at all after the other issues involving the West Bank and Gaza and the future of the Palestinian people had been resolved first.
And, and the negotiating process has always had that as a kind of given. Now, at the Oslo Agreement, in the Oslo Agreement, Rabin very reluctantly did agree to a paragraph which said that all issues, including Jerusalem, could be discussed in the final status negotiations which were supposed to begin this year and proceed until 1999. That didn't mean that he was so confident they would be resolved because I think--
JIM LEHRER He just agreed to talk about it.
AMB. LEWIS: That's correct. And now there was a big change, though, because when the government changed at the end of June, uh, Netanyahu, on the contrary has made very clear publicly over and over again that whatever Oslo said on this subject, Jerusalem was not on the table, and that's at the heart of the diplomatic conundrum at this moment.
JIM LEHRER All right. Let's go to the violence question, Mr. Ahimeir. What is it that Prime Minister--your reading of the situation at least that back to your reporter hat for a moment, what is that Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to want to get in an agreement reached on a temporary basis to at least stop the violence when he comes here tomorrow?
MR. AHIMEIR: I think that the aim of the United States, the target of the summit, as I said, is not to solve the problem of Jerusalem. It's not even to solve the question of the tunnel. May I say--
JIM LEHRER Can it be resolved without solving the tunnel problem?
MR. AHIMEIR: I think so. I don't think that we should see the light at the end of the tunnel. There will--
JIM LEHRER To coin a phrase.
MR. AHIMEIR: Yes. They will discuss the question of redeployment in Hebron. They will discuss the question, the whole question of re-engagement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
JIM LEHRER Agree to start talking about?
MR. AHIMEIR: Agree to restart, to restart a new beginning of the talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The question of Jerusalem was remained, was left for the folks on the final status of the agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. I would like to remind you another factor in the situation. And this is the domestic, political domestic situation in Israel. I doubt very much if Mr. Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, has free hands to do whatever he likes.
JIM LEHRER He couldn't close that tunnel down again now, if he wants--
MR. AHIMEIR: I don't know what he can do, but he has an opposition within its government. I mean, he was their--he was elected directly but there are some opposition elements in the government of Mr. Netanyahu.
JIM LEHRER Mr. Khalidi, from the Palestinian point of view, from the Arab point of view, is it possible to resolve this on a temporary basis without dealing with the tunnel problem?
PROF. KHALIDI: Well, I think the tunnel is symptomatic of a whole set of larger issues. What has been happening in Jerusalem over many years has been a slow process of alienation of land from Arab owners, the establishment of Israeli neighborhoods in Arab East Jerusalem, such that we now have a larger Israeli population in the occupied Arab Eastern part of Jerusalem than we have an Arab population, and at the same time incredible pressures on the Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem to leave: denying identity cards where possible, preventing people from building homes or even expanding their homes, such that the population has grown and the housing stock has not been allowed to grow. Housing services and other services have not been provided.
So what we have here is what we have had here for decades, has been an attempt by Israel to unilaterally squeeze the life out of Arab Jerusalem, while all the while protesting, oh, of course, we can negotiate it--at least that's what Prime Minister Rabin said--umm, and now we have from Prime Minister Netanyahu a statement that he's not willing to discuss some of these things. I don't--I think the tunnel is important. It's important because it's the latest of a series of moves which, in effect, dictate the outcome before negotiations can even begin.
JIM LEHRER Well, let me ask you the same question in a reverse form. What would it take for the Palestinians on the ground who are throwing the rocks, who are upset about the tunnel, to stop doing that in terms of what kind of agreement Arafat would have to get up on the table and go back to the West Bank and Gaza with an order to stop that?
PROF. KHALIDI: Well, I think that the question of violence and the question of stopping this or not is not really as important as whether Arafat can come back from Washington with something which represents progress on agreements that have already been signed or movement on things that have--that are supposed to have happened that haven't happened.
JIM LEHRER Like--well, you mean, would you agree with Mr. Ahimeir, things on Hebron and those things might do it as much as having something that's specifically to do with the tunnel?
PROF. KHALIDI: I think that both progress on issues like Hebron and progress on issues like safe passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, things that Israel was supposed to do over the past several months and that haven't been done are important, but so is freezing this constant bulldozer of settlement and expansion in the Jerusalem area which has been terrifying people on the Arab side.
They have seen Arab Jerusalem being alienated from them by Israeli actions while nobody seems to be able or willing to do anything to stop it. And I think that's where a lot of the frustration has come from.
JIM LEHRER So, Amb. Lewis, there are some possibilities in there, as you said earlier?
AMB. LEWIS: Well, I think so. I don't want to be terribly optimistic, but I--you know, when the President of the United States gets leaders to come to Washington at a moment of drama of this kind, it's really in everybody's interest, his certainly, but even more so the leaders, not to allow the thing to go empty-handed at the end.
I have a feeling they will find some approach toward the Hebron issue and towards some of the other issues that will enable the parties to say to both sides, to their own publics when they get back, we, we've got to calm things down, we're going to get back to the table immediately, and we're going to work on these issues, and surely there are plenty of things to work on beside the tunnel and Jerusalem's ultimate character.
JIM LEHRER Based on your experience in diplomacy, is it a misreading to suggest that the fact that they agreed to come means something in and of itself, that they want, they want to do something, right?
AMB. LEWIS: I think it means--
JIM LEHRER That they couldn't do on their own.
AMB. LEWIS: I think it means that both sides were quite shaken in different ways by the events of the last few days, had gotten out of hand, beyond certainly what either man intended, whatever the intentions were, and that they couldn't find a face-saving way that both could accept to deal with it directly in the region, uh, and they take advantage of the fact that the U.S.'s longstanding role as, as a mediator, as a third party, gives them a way to come to Washington to do something that was a little harder to do elsewhere.
JIM LEHRER You read it the same way, Mr. Ahimeir?
MR. AHIMEIR: I would like to raise another question, another element. Maybe the Oslo Accords are too fragile. In the first test of the Oslo Accord, in the first major test of the Oslo Accords, the other side, the Palestinian side, I mean, they opened fire. I mean, don't you have a means before you open fire, before you start violence? Maybe you should ask the United States, you approach the United States. There is a common steering committee of Israelis and Palestinians. There are many--
JIM LEHRER They were upset because of the closing of the tunnel. There was something to do--I mean, the opening of the tunnel was something to do before.
PROF. KHALIDI: I think there's an issue of sequence here.
JIM LEHRER Yes, sir, go ahead.
PROF. KHALIDI: I think there's an issue of sequence here. Fifty odd Palestinians were killed, 14 Israelis were killed, dozens, hundreds of Palestinians were shot down by Israeli troops before Palestinian policemen lost control and started firing. So, yes, Palestinian policemen opened fire but after massive provocation, after many hundreds of people had been shot down by Israeli troops, there was this breakdown. I think that the sequencing is absolutely essential.
We've had a series of gross violations of the Oslo accords. I think the Netanyahu government is doing its best to break down the Oslo Accords. It has failed to keep a whole series of provisions of these accords, and finally patients, I think, wore out on the Arab side. And I think you had a very largely spontaneous outburst.
JIM LEHRER On the Khalidi, do you quickly agree that the fact that Arafat and Netanyahu, along with King Hussein have agreed to come here, that there is a desire to work out something they couldn't do on their own, they need the United States to try to do this?
PROF. KHALIDI: I think there is but I would be very skeptical that from the Palestinian or the Arab side there's going to be any possibility of much more than an holding action here. There are very deep problems here, and I'm not sure that a two-day summit in Washington can even begin to address that.
JIM LEHRER And you agree too?
MR. AHIMEIR: I think they will talk but they will not find a formula.
JIM LEHRER All right. We will see that happens. Thank you all three very much.