Skip to main content /transcript



Conflict in the Middle East: Who's at Fault?

Aired August 6, 2001 - 19:30   ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, amid more deadly violence in the Middle East, who's at fault? And is it time for the United States to step in to try to end the bloodshed?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, Hasan Abdel Rahman, chief Palestinian representative to the United States, and in New York,, Ambassador Alon Pinkas, Israeli consul-general.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

From his ranch in Texas today, President Bush asked Israelis and Palestinians to stop the violence. Fat chance. As killing continues on both sides, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's get-tough policy now demands that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat arrest seven Palestinians designated by the Israelis as terrorists. Arafat refused, contending that these men will be added to the list of alleged terrorists eliminated by Sharon's order. Arafat now has written President Bush asking him to stop the Israeli practice of targeting Palestinians for elimination. That request is getting a cool response from the White House.

So where will the violence end? Which side is most at fault, and should the United States intervene?

Bob Shrum, the crack Democratic campaign strategist, is sitting in for Bill Press on the left -- Bob.

BOB SHRUM, GUEST HOST: Mr. Rahman, the Israelis have repeatedly called for an end to the violence on both sides and a return to the negotiating table. Does Chairman Arafat not want to do this, is he afraid to do it, or is he incapable of stopping what's happening?

HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN, CHIEF PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO THE UNITED STATES: Of course, we want an end to the violence. We want an end to Israeli occupation. We want an end to Israeli closure. We want an end to Israeli economic sanctions, collective punishment of the Palestinians. We want an end to the Israeli killing of innocent Palestinians. We want an end to Israeli (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We want an end of Israelis demolishing our houses. And we want the Israelis out of our country.

NOVAK: Ambassador Pinkas, does the Israeli government really believe that your government hitting and targeting agents of the Palestinians, like mafiosos attacking an enemy group in the mafia, really will bring peace to your region?

AMBASSADOR ALON PINKAS, ISRAELI CONSUL-GENERAL: No, no. That's not what we believe, Bob. And it's not mafioso. It's the right to self-defense, a right that is embedded in the national security of every country, as it does in the U.N. charter.

We don't think that this is something we like to do. We don't think that this is necessarily something that is constructive in the long run of a peace process or a political process. But this is something that we have to do. This is something that every country has to do. We are protecting our citizens.

And if I may, the entire list of things that Mr. Abdel Rahman specified or stated that these are the things that the Palestinians wanted were all things that we have given to them, were all things that have been discussed, were all things that Israeli was willing to negotiate and compromise on last year at Camp David. In response, we got a one-year concerted and deliberate campaign of violence.

And what we are doing in intercepting terrorists and the mastermind of terror activities is nothing but self-defense. Call it mafioso, call it assassination. Calling it by names will not change the fundamental fact. You're talking about terrorists. You're talking about people who kill, who maim, who mutilate. We are doing the most fundamental and basic thing that a country should do, and that is protect its citizen.

SHRUM: Mr. Rahman, Bob referred to the mafia. I call it organized crime, and it knows no ethnicity. To me the organized criminals are the people who plant the bombs.

You wouldn't make a commitment a few minutes ago when I asked you to end the violence on both sides. Just end the violence, go back to the negotiating table.

So let me ask you: What's wrong with the Israelis, if they know that someone is planning a bombing, going after those who are building the bomb, transporting the bomb or trying to plant the bomb?

RAHMAN: That's not what Israel is doing. And I think that you are reversing the facts. One is, first, we -- I said that the original sin is Israel's occupation of Palestinians.

Who in the world would tolerate a foreign military occupation for 35 years? The longest military occupation in modern history since Japan occupied Korea.

In the case of -- a similar case, Yugoslavia, Milosevic occupied Kosovo and did exactly what Sharon is doing to the Palestinians at this point. What did the United States and the international community do? They tried him as a war criminal and they defeated him in a war.

It is exactly -- the Palestinians are not occupying Israel. Israel is occupying the Palestinian territories. Israel is coming to our cities, towns, homes, and we are defending ourselves from Israeli occupation.

No amount of propaganda by Mr. Pinkas or the supporters of Israel will hide the fact that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians today is exactly like the mafia do to their enemies. It is a mafia-style execution, without due process of law...


SHRUM: Let me take this, let me take this...

RAHMAN: Would you tolerate...


SHRUM: Let me take this one step further and point out that you will not commit yourself to a mutual end of the violence.

RAHMAN: Of course -- of course, we did.

SHRUM: Right now? Right now?


SHRUM: You would right now today?

RAHMAN: After Israels stop occupying the Palestinian territories.

SHRUM: No, no, no, wait a minute.

RAHMAN: What do you mean?

SHRUM: No, no. Right now. Occupying is a word -- occupying is a word...


Wait a minute. Let me ask -- let me ask a question and then maybe you can answer it.


SHRUM: The question is, will you commit yourself to an end of the violence, to an end of the celebration of terrorism, to an end to tolerance for people who plant bombs that kill 20 people at a Tel Aviv nightclub? Just stop it. Stop the violence on both sides, go back to the bargaining table, and try to come up with an agreement, which the Israelis came very close to with you a year ago and you walked away from.

RAHMAN: No, we did not. Let me tell you what happened at Camp David, because I was the spokesperson for the Palestinians in Camp David.

What the Israelis are lying about today, saying that they offered us the moon and we rejected it, has been made clear by no other than the security adviser to President Clinton, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) who is (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and I suggest to everyone to read it. It is coming out in "The New York Review of Books." Where it says that the Israelis offered the Palestinians much, much less than what the Palestinians require as a minimum.

We are saying -- we accepted the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) proposals (UNINTELLIGIBLE) proposals do, say. Israel withdraw its army from the cities and towns and the villages of the Palestinians. Stop the vigilante activities of the Israeli Jewish settlers who are armed by Israel, 200,000 of them.

We handed Israel 60 -- the names of 60 Israeli Jewish settlers who killed Palestinians. Would Israel arrest them? OK.

NOVAK: Ambassador Pinkas, yesterday on American television your prime minister, General Sharon, said something that I don't think I have heard, at least in the last half century, from a head of state of an important country. He was on "Fox News Sunday," and let's listen to what he had to say.


ARIEL SHARON, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: I wouldn't like to kill anyone. Every casualty is a tragedy, but we have to avoid, I would say, massive strategies, and that's the only way we can do...


NOVAK: Ambassador, you have a reputation as a reasonable man. Do you really believe the only way that you can deal with the situation is to have assigned gunmen kill the opposition leaders that you suspect -- without trial, without indictment, without any legal process? Do you really believe that's the only way you can do it, as General Sharon said?

PINKAS: No, I -- that's not what the prime minister has said, Bob, but let me answer your question nevertheless. No, this is not the way we think things should be done, and this is not the way we're doing things. And let's remind the viewers of something that Mr. Abdel Rahman forgot to say, and that is that in 1947 there was a partition discussed between Israelis and Palestinians, between Jews and Palestinians, and the Palestinians refused. And they refused again in the '70s, and they refused again in the '80s. And they refused again last year in July at Camp David. So as the American -- as the great American statesman once said, it's like deja vu all over again.

However, we are not targeting opposition leaders. We are targeting perpetrators of terror attacks. In fact, Bob, we have submitted those lists to the Palestinians even before Sharon was prime minister, during the prime ministership of Ehud Barak.

Last year, we submitted names of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Fatah activists, which were directly involved in planning and executing terror attacks. Those people were freed from Palestinian jails by no other than Mr. Arafat himself, the great statesman. And regardless of our pleas and in complete defiance of every agreement that he has signed since 1993 -- and we're talking unfortunately about a serial violator and breacher of agreements.

But in total defiance of those agreements, he has freed those people, failed to rearrest them. And although we have warned him in the last six months that he should exert his authority, that the premise of the Oslo process, that the premise leading into Camp David was that he is the leader of a state in the making, of a quasi-state, that he controls 98 percent of the population -- not as Mr. Abdel Rahman said, that they are under occupation -- 98 percent of Palestinians..

NOVAK: All right. Ambassador...

PINKAS: Go ahead.

NOVAK: Ambassador, let me ask you a question that puzzles me. The other day we had an incident where a couple of Jewish settlers in the West Bank ambushed a Palestinian taxi. They didn't know who was in the taxi. It had Palestinian plates. They killed three people, including a 3-month-old baby boy.

The Palestinian -- the Israeli government in response to the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) said, we can't do anything about that. Isn't that precisely what the Palestinian Authority says about acts of violence? In other words, it's OK for you to say we can't do anything about this violence, but you will not accept that they don't have complete control over every act of violence on the other side?

PINKAS: Well, the fact -- it's a fair question. The fact of the matter is what we are doing things about this, and in fact, this abhorrent and despicable act has been denounced and condemned by Israelis from left to right, religious, secular, old and young.

There was a wall-to-wall condemnation of this horrendous, murderous act on the settlers. And you know as well as I know that Israeli police and other security organs are doing their best to apprehend those responsible.

Nowhere, nowhere, Bob, did we say that there was nothing we could do about -- about vigilantes. In fact, the head of the Israeli General Security Services, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), appeared in front of the Knesset committee on foreign security affairs, on foreign affairs and security affairs the other day, and provided a list of activities that they are overseeing in the settlement community.

But we are talking about less than 1 percent of the people: 99 percent of the people you call settlers are law-abiding, hardworking people, whose lives are threatened every day, every night, on the roads and in their homes.

SHRUM: Let me get in one more question for Mr. Pinkas, because you were talking about...

NOVAK: Mr. Rahman. SHRUM: Mr. Rahman. Excuse me. Because you were talking about what you knew about the Camp David process. I had the honor, and the pain in the second case, to work with Ehud Barak through two campaign for prime minister of Israel. The night he got elected the first time, he said, now we're going to find out whether the Palestinians really want to make peace, because I'm going to go the extra mile. President Clinton says he did that, and I think President Clinton knows more about what went on at Camp David than almost anyone else. And Ehud Barak lost his prime ministership because of this.

Why do you believe that escalating the terrorism, defending violence, and continuing to come up with excuses not to stop the violence and not to go back to the negotiating table is going to get you a better agreement than the one you could have had before?

RAHMAN: Mr. Shrum, it seems that like many people in Washington (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Israeli story about Camp David and about...


SHRUM: I'm sorry. I was in Tel Aviv. I know the story from Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv.

RAHMAN: If you'd allow me, I'd like to finish. About -- and also about the Intifada.

Remember that we went back to the negotiating table after Camp David. We went to Taba and we continued to negotiate with the Israelis. The problem is that when the Palestinians protested after the provocation by Sharon in his visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque, 49 Palestinians were killed in cold blood by the Israeli army in the first week of the Intifada.

Remember that so far, Mr. Shrum, 650 Palestinians have been killed, and when Mr. Pinkas speaks about targeting terrorists, I believe that the two children that were killed in Nablus the other day, he might also count them among those terrorists.

Let me...

NOVAK: We have to -- all right, just wait a minute, Mr. Rahman. We have to take a break. And when we return, we'll inquire into whether there is any sentiment on either side for the United States to try to settle this bloody affair.


SHRUM: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Bob Shrum, sitting in for Bill Press on the left.

Only a year after peace in the Middle East seemed almost at hand, the Israelis and Palestinians are again gripped by escalating violence. What's the right American role, the activism of Bill Clinton the peacemaker or the more laid-back approach of George W. Bush and Colin Powell? And if push comes to shove, whose side are we on, our historic ally Israel or the Palestinians? With us are Hasan Abdel Rahman, the chief representative of the Palestinian National Authority in the U.S., and in New York, Alon Pinkas, consul-general.

We know whose side you're on, Bob. Go ahead.

NOVAK: I'm on the American side, always, unlike some other people, Bob.

Ambassador Pinkas, we -- we heard from Israeli, from Palestinian as to the desirability of these targeted attacks on Palestinians. But I would like you to hear now from the secretary of state of the United States the other day.


COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This kind of response is too aggressive and it just serves to increase the level of tension and violence in the region.


NOVAK: Now considering the long alliance that the United States has had with Israel and the amount of money that the United States pours into Israel for your defense establishment, do you think perhaps it might be wise to give some consideration to what the secretary of state has to say?

PINKAS: Absolutely. We do. Everything an American secretary of state says, everything an American secretary of defense says, everything an American vice president, not to mention the president, says is taken extremely seriously in Israel and is given every consideration possible. And I think we're taking what Secretary Powell has been saying in the segment that you just showed very seriously and into consideration...

NOVAK: But you're still continuing -- but you're still continuing to -- the same process that he's deploring? The same procedure?

PINKAS: I think that the Americans basically are understanding of the trouble that we have, of the problems that we have, of the intricacies of dealing with terrorism. America is right up there in the forefront of a world or global war against terrorism. And as -- as a fellow democracy, I think that the American administration, this administration, the American Congress and previous administrations are extremely attentive and responsive to what Israel is going through and supportive of everything we're doing against terrorism.


If this -- let me -- just one last sentence. If this or that policy that Israel is forced to make, if this or that action that Israel has to do, to carry out, meets American criticism, we will take it into consideration. We will always listen to what the Americans have to say. But at the end of the day and in the final analysis, as you say, the responsibility lies with the Israeli government, and that prime responsibility or the prime (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is to protect its citizen.

SHRUM: A lot -- great sentence. But you know, Bob likes to selectively quote from the administration. So for Mr. Rahman's benefit I'd like to put up for our viewers a quote from Vice President Dick Cheney, whom I'm not usually quoting, but something he said last week.

"If you've got an organization that has plotted or is plotting some kind of suicide bomber attack, and the Israelis have hard evidence, I think there's some justification in them trying to protect themselves by pre-empting."

Now, I suspect that's pretty much closer to the administration's attitude than what Bob suggested. Chairman Arafat's now written this letter to President Bush, who doesn't appear likely to intervene. And I think if the terrorism continues, there's going to be increasing pressure in the U.S. Congress to cut off aid to the Palestinians.

Why should George Bush help you or U.S. taxpayers fund you if you're launching terror attacks against one of our closest allies?

RAHMAN: I am -- I am sure that Vice President Cheney does not condone assassination of community leaders of Palestinians or children who -- like those who were killed in Nablus the other day. Those are people who are targeted by Israel because of their role as community leaders.

Mr. Sharon would like to describe them as terrorists in order to cover for the crimes that he and the Israel army is committing in the Palestinian territories.

SHRUM: But they're -- but they're -- but Mr. Rahman, they're willing to stop all the violence. Why won't you stop the violence instead of making unfounded charges about community leaders who are in fact terrorist leaders?

RAHMAN: Can -- can -- those two children were terrorists, Mr. Shrum?

SHRUM: No, no.

RAHMAN: Listen...

SHRUM: And when we bombed Osama bin Laden for the same reason, there was damage to civilians, and I think that's what Dick Cheney means. You have a right to pre-empt.

RAHMAN: Can -- can you allow me to finish my sentence?

SHRUM: Yes, absolutely.

RAHMAN: I was saying that there were 600 Palestinians killed in the last 10 months by the Israeli army: 90 percent of those were civilians who had nothing to do with any acts of violence against Israel.

SHRUM: Where does this statistic come from? I...

RAHMAN: They come from me, and they come from -- they come from the Israeli (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and they come from the international organizations and they come from...


SHRUM: I don't that's right.

RAHMAN: They are -- they are...


NOVAK: Ambassador -- Ambassador Pinkas, I would like you to listen to a statement, a remarkable statement by the Palestinian information officer last week on the question of American intervention in this deplorable affair. Let's listen to him.


YASSER ABED RABBO, PALESTINIAN INFORMATION MINISTER: We need an American (UNINTELLIGIBLE), a serious one, and not American just watching what is going on and then commenting on it, and sometimes they condemn this incident or that. We need to see that there are here Americans observers to monitor the implementation of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which guarantee the cease-fire...


NOVAK: Why in the world, Ambassador Pinkas, is your government opposed to American observers? These are not United Nations observers. These are American observers from a country that has stood up for Israel for a half century in the United Nations. Why do you say -- why does General Sharon so arrogantly say, no, we don't want any American observers?

PINKAS: Prime Minister Sharon. He's no longer a general, Bob. But the fact is -- the fact is that we're not opposed to American observers. We were not opposed to American observers. In fact, both Prime Minister Sharon, Foreign Minister Peres, even and Defense Minister Ben Eliezer have said that they would welcome American observers. But I don't think American observers...

NOVAK: That isn't what -- that isn't what General Sharon said.

PINKAS: Well, Prime Minister Sharon.

NOVAK: That isn't -- that wasn't what the prime minister said.

PINKAS: No, the prime minister said, as has said the government -- and I will repeat that not because I'm paid to do so, but because I believe in it -- that any international force of observers is an exercise in futility. But on the issue, on the issue of American observers, we said that we have no problem. But that's not on the table.

Incidentally, I agree with the statement made by Mr. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I think that America is indeed the indispensable nation, and I think that an American involvement in the peace process is not only welcome, it is necessary. The question is to what extent and how deep. And that is up to your administration. As Bob Shrum said before, the Clinton approach versus the Bush approach. Not for me to decide.

NOVAK: Well, do you want to get the last word quickly?

RAHMAN: Yeah, yeah. We have called for international observers to come and observe who is violating the cease-fire. Israel refuses that, because Mr. Sharon does not want any witness to the atrocities that are being committed against the Palestinians.

NOVAK: All right, we're out -- that will have to be the last word. Thank you very much, Mr. Rahman. Thank you very much, Ambassador Pinkas, in New York. And Ambassador Shrum and I will be back with a closing comment after these messages.


NOVAK: Bob, you questioned Mr. Rahman's casualty figures. Let me give the casualty figures supplied by the Reuters News Agency, which is non -- which is unbiased. So far killed since last September, 513 Palestinians, 131 Israelis, 13 Israeli Arabs. You see, that's what happens when you have missiles against stones, and if it were any other country except Israel, you as a leftist would be up in arms.

SHRUM: Bob, Bob, Bob, the fact of the matter is that when Ronald Reagan retaliated against Libya, a lot more Libyans died than Americans. In fact, no Americans died. I don't think you would justify Libyan terrorism that way.

NOVAK: That's the silliest argument I ever heard in my...

SHRUM: The violence was started -- the violence -- no, you don't have an answer to it.

NOVAK: I have an answer.

SHRUM: The violence was started by the Palestinians, and Yasser Arafat, at the rate he's going, is going to have to give back his Nobel Peace Prize.

NOVAK: There has never been a case of an occupying force slaughtering the people it occupied.

SHRUM: Not slaughtering.

NOVAK: And General...

SHRUM: It's not slaughtering.

NOVAK: And General Rabin wanted to get out of there.

SHRUM: From the left -- from the left, I'm Bob Shrum. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE!



4:30pm ET, 4/16

Back to the top