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CNN CROSSFIRE

Israel Fights Back, Says Yasser Arafat to Blame

Aired December 3, 2001 - 19:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST: After a weekend of bombings, Israel fights back and says Yasser Arafat is to blame.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Arafat is responsible for everything that is happening here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: Tonight, reaction from former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And then a Palestinian representative and an Israel supporter go head to head. This is CROSSFIRE.

Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. Israel strikes back. In retaliation for a string of terrorist attacks over the weekend, Israeli fighter planes hit Palestinian Authority targets in both Gaza and the West Bank today, and that's likely just the beginning.

In an address to his country tonight, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon struck his most uncompromising tone yet. Yasser Arafat, he said, is responsible for everything that is going on here: terrorism and the Israeli response to it. So far the Bush administration has not disagreed.

And also tonight there are Palestinian claims that Israeli tanks have entered the Gaza City airport and are tearing up the runway. Is this the beginning of war in the Middle East or the end of Yasser Arafat?

In the CROSSFIRE tonight: Hasan Abdel Rahman, Chief Palestinian Representative to the United States, and Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida, a member of the House International Relations Committee.

But first, a short while ago, Bill Press and I spoke to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL PRESS, HOST: Mr. Netanyahu, thank you for joining us.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Thank you.

PRESS: Prime Minister Sharon has said today that Yasser Arafat is solely responsible for the terrorist acts in Jerusalem over the weekend. A very serious charge, acts for which is claimed responsibility. So I'm asking you what evidence do you have that Yasser Arafat ordered those suicide bombers into Jerusalem?

NETANYAHU: That's not what the Prime Minister said. He said correctly that responsibility lies squarely on Yasser Arafat's shoulder because Yasser Arafat in fact is equivalent to the Taliban.

His regime is the one that enables Hamas to operate with impunity, freely, to conduct suicide kindergarten camps in Gaza, to publish and promote the killing of -- the murder of Israelis, innocent Israelis.

Yasser Arafat has 50,000 guns he was given in the Oslo Accord to expressly fight Hamas and other terrorist groups. He is not doing anything with those guns. In fact, to the extent he's doing anything with them he's pointing them at Israelis. So he is doing damn all to stop terrorism and everything in his power to foster it. So the prime minister is right. It's Arafat's responsibility.

CARLSON: If that's true, Mr. Netanyahu, that he's -- as you implied -- a murderer and a terrorist leader, then why doesn't Israel kill him or arrest him? I mean, you could do it in an afternoon. Don't you have a moral -- doesn't the state of Israel have a moral duty to kill or arrest him?

NETANYAHU: I -- I think the issue is not necessarily the -- targeting Arafat personally, but it is to say to his regime what you are saying to the Taliban, which harbors Bin Laden and his terror organization. You have said to the Taliban, "surrender terrorism or surrender power." And indeed when they didn't surrender terrorism and the terrorists, you went out and threw them out from power. That's exactly what you are doing in Afghanistan.

And that's what we should do vis-a-vis Arafat this time. We should tell Arafat in no uncertain terms, surrender terrorism or surrender power. If he takes action -- I mean real action, not just revolving-door action where he put terrorists in and five minutes later they are out or has these tepid condemnations in English but in Arabic on the state media that he fully controls, he calls for the annihilation of Israel. If he takes real action, then he can continue. And if I doesn't, out he goes.

PRESS: Well, wait a minute. You said on Friday -- or the government -- I'm sorry, the Israeli government said on Friday that Yasser Arafat has to take real action after the last suicide bombing of the -- of the bus, that Arafat has to take some action.

Over the weekend he rounded up and arrested 200 members of these terrorist organizations. And then today you bombed his helicopter and his headquarters. So he took real action and then you went after him anyhow.

NETANYAHU: Well, he didn't take real action. I mean, this is a -- we've been through this -- oh God, I have seen this movie so many times before, including when I was prime minister. He would -- he rounds them up because of President Bush is rightly putting pressure on him and then he puts them under house arrest. Five minutes or five days later they are out.

What we could test, what people could really see is that if he went to the offices -- mind you, the offices -- with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the half a dozen other terrorist organizations -- including those that report directly to Yasser Arafat -- that he went in, tore up the offices, crushed these organizations, arrested the thousands and thousands of operatives who are walking freely in the street with their Kalashnikov rifles, if he took the leaders and arrested them -- and he's not touching them -- if he -- if we could see over a demonstrable period of time that he is changing his message of hatred in Arabic -- the one that he gives to his own people -- to a of reconciliation, I suppose we'd -- we would have some thought. We would pause -- we would have a pause for thought.

But nothing of the kind is happening. And I'm afraid nothing of the kind will happen.

CARLSON: But -- but recently Arafat had a member of Islamic Jihad arrested -- just one -- and apparently riots broke out. And it raises the question -- certainly a lot of people in the United States are asking the question -- is he really in control of these terrorist groups? The secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was asked that this weekend on NBC. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: He is not a particularly strong leader. And I don't know that he has good control over the Palestinian situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: So he may be in sympathy with the terrorists, but do you really believe he's controlling all the strings? That he's the puppet master of terrorism?.

NETANYAHU: Well, it's one of two things. Either he can't control them or he won't control them. Either way, he's not a peace partner, because the whole premise of the Oslo Accords was we give Arafat territory, guns, a small army, money. We give him all these things and he promises in exchange to do one thing: to police those areas against terrorism.

If he can't discharge that simple responsibility that he promised to do over and over again and failed to do, then he's not a peace partner. I personally, by the way, think he has the power to do so. But he lacks the will. And the reason he lacks the will is not because he doesn't -- he can't physically overcome these terrorists. He could in a minute. He has got more armed police and armed personnel than any -- per square inch -- than any other regime in the world, bar none, I think including North Korea, by the way.

I think he could do it, but he won't do it because he would have to shed political capital. And he would have to pay a price. That's what leaders are expected to do. But he's not prepared to do that.

PRESS: Isn't it clear that these terrorists -- these Palestinian terrorists -- they are against Yasser Arafat as much as they are against Israel? They do not want him to succeed and they don't want Israel to succeed.

What they really want to do is blow up the peace process, cause so much violence that they provoke the state of Israel to respond again and to keep the violence going. So aren't you playing right into their hands, Mr. Netanyahu?

NETANYAHU: Well, I agree with you. They want to destroy Israel. But in this they're not different than Yasser Arafat, who delivers the same message in state-controlled media to the suicide kindergarten camps.

PRESS: But they are as much against Arafat as they are against Israel.

NETANYAHU: They have -- they have an internal rivalry, I don't doubt. But they put aside because they have a common goal: their hatred of Israel.

Let me tell you also that your theory would be a lot more substantial if it weren't for the fact that 50 percent -- mind you, half the attacks, the terrorist attacks that have been meted out to Israel in the last year -- have been carried out by Yasser Arafat's own forces, his own Fatah force, which just two days ago openly claimed responsibility for ghoulish acts of terrorism.

His own personal body guard, 417, that has been caught in the act of firing mortars at Israeli villages, kindergartens, his own (UNINTELLIGIBLE) forces.

So it's an even split. Half of it is done by terrorist groups that Arafat harbors and lets operate freely, half of it is done by his own forces that report directly under him.

He is both Bin Laden, a perpetrator of terrorism, and Taliban, a harborer of terrorism. And that's a unique distinction. I'm not sure I would be very proud of it, but that is what Arafat is.

CARLSON: Well, so if Arafat is Bin Laden, you can't negotiate with him in the future. I mean, isn't, he essentially needs to be replaced. So it strikes me Israel has to have some idea of who it wants to replace Arafat. If not Arafat, whom? And aren't you likely to get some one more radical than he is?

NETANYAHU: Well, it's like asking the question who is going to replace the Taliban. It's an interesting question, but you can't really engineer -- even though you are trying -- the exact replacement and the exact image of a government in Afghanistan. And even if you do, it could change shape in two minutes.

But I'll tell you one thing that I'm willing to predict right now. I think that whoever comes into Afghanistan, they will not allow any terrorist action to be conducted from Afghanistan against the United States. I don't know for 50 years, but for many, many years, for the simple reason that they will know that you will come to them and say what you have just said to the Taliban. Surrender terrorism or surrender power.

And Taliban like Arafat are not particularly concerned with their people, but they are concerned -- very much concerned -- with the future of their own regimes.

I think that if we announce the same policy that you are putting forward to Afghanistan to Arafat and we said to him, "now surrender terrorism or surrender power, the jig is up, you cannot have it both ways, you cannot talk peace in the West and practice terrorism in the East or in the Middle East. You are going to go if you don't stop this." Then I think there's a good chance he would stop it.

He certainly did during my three years in office and the terror rate dropped precipitously, by over 90 percent, not because of my blue eyes -- which I don't have -- but because I gave him that message. Surrender terrorism or surrender power.

I think we have to repeat that message now and I think we should do so with the backing of the United States and the free world.

PRESS: Mr. Netanyahu, we thank you very much for joining us on CROSSFIRE.

NETANYAHU: Thank you.

PRESS: All right. Good evening.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

PRESS: Well, it's been a day in which there has been much debate over what's happening in the Middle East. And that debate will continue now right here on CROSSFIRE with two outstanding spokespersons for either side. Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida and Hasan Rahman, who is the spokesman for the Palestinian Authority here in the United States. They will join me and Tucker, continue the debate. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. According to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel and the United States are engaged in the same war against terrorism, and Yasser Arafat is as guilty as Osama Bin Laden. But is it that simple?

Joining us now to debate who is responsible for the weekend terrorist attacks and where we go from here, Congressman Robert Wexler, Democrat of Florida, and Hasan Abdel Rahman, Chief PLO Representative to the United States. Tucker?

CARLSON: Mr. Rahman, you heard Benjamin Netanyahu. You probably didn't agree with a lot of what he said, but he raised an interesting question I would like to get your answer to. He said that Chairman Arafat either controls the terrorists who committed these acts over the weekend, or he doesn't. So in other words, he's either powerless to stop terrorism or he's abetting terrorism. Which one is it?

HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN, CHIEF P.L.O REPRESENTATIVE TO THE UNITED STATES: First, let me say something about what Netanyahu said tonight. Netanyahu is known to have lied to everybody who knows him. He lied to his wife. He lied to his Cabinet and that's why he was kicked out of office in 1999. And he lost the election because he lied to President Clinton and he lied to us and he reneged on every agreement that we signed with him.

CARLSON: But if he still raises a fascinating question, what's the answer?

RAHMAN: Yasser Arafat controls, but he needs a partner. Yasser Arafat has two problems to face. One is logistical and the other is political.

Yasser Arafat is not the -- an Israeli puppet. Yasser Arafat's responsibility first and foremost is for the Palestinians who have been living under Israeli occupation for the last 35 years, denied their basic human and political rights and they are robbed of their dignity and their freedom and their livelihood.

For 35 years Israel has stolen Palestinian land, built Jewish settlements, imprisoned Palestinians, demolished their houses, kept them in slavery. Yasser Arafat at this age is not going to be an Israeli agent. Yasser Arafat's responsibility is to his people.

When there is a partner in Israel for peace, Yasser Arafat acts. Yasser Arafat kept the Palestinians for seven years under control when there was a possibility for peace. But when the Israeli government reneged on the commitments under the Oslo Accord and kept building settlements and kept its occupation practices, Yasser Arafat had to turn to his people.

PRESS: I know you want to respond. I have got a question. Do you want a question or do you just want to go?

REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT WEXLER, (D) FLORIDA: Well, Mr. Rahman raises the issue of partner for peace. The Palestinians have actually had many partners in peace. For decades, the Israeli government has gone out of its way to negotiate. The last partner for peace was Prime Minister Barak and he more than met the Palestinians halfway.

And what was Chairman Arafat's response? Unfortunately it wasn't a counteroffer. I need a little bit more land. I need a little bit more part of East Jerusalem. His counteroffer, in essence, was the intifada.

And the only ultimate issue at this point is, is Chairman Arafat willing and capable of stopping terrorism? And the unfortunate facts on the ground -- without insinuating anything to anybody -- the unfortunate facts on the ground is that to date Mr. Arafat has failed in that attempt. That is undeniable.

PRESS: But that -- that begs the question which -- and you heard Mr. Netanyahu say that Yasser Arafat is both Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban. Meaning that he is a terrorist himself and he is openly supporting and condoning terrorists. Look, you met with him last week.

WEXLER: I did.

PRESS: You know that's not true. You know he does not control Hamas. You know he does not control the Islamic Jihad. Aren't you just -- aren't the Israelis just trying to demonize Yasser Arafat in order to get us on their side?

WEXLER: Mr. Arafat is the chairman of the Palestinian -- Palestinian Authority. He is the representative of the Palestinian people. The day I was in Ramallah, that day there was an attack in an Israeli town, Afulah (ph), a northern Israeli town. One of the killers was in fact a security agent of Fatah, which is Mr. Arafat's security arm, Mr. Arafat's party. It wasn't Hamas. It wasn't Islamic Jihad. It was Mr. Arafat's own security operation.

Does Mr. Arafat have total control over Hamas? Of course he doesn't. But he is responsible for the actions in Gaza. That's an -- in the Area A place. The Palestinian Authority controls it entirely. The Israelis gave it back. That day when there was an attack in Afulah (ph), the Israelis removed their tanks from the town of Jenin that morning only for two hours later the killers can leave.

CARLSON: I sense agreement here. Both of our guests seem to be in agreement that Yasser Arafat controls the Palestinians who committed these terrorist acts. So you are saying, Mr. Rahman, that if Yasser Arafat wanted, the suicide bombings could stop immediately?

RAHMAN: No. That's -- that's not what I am saying. What I am saying is this. Yasser Arafat can do what he needs to do. But in order to do what he is required to do, he needs from the Israeli to change their behavior. How can Yasser Arafat ask his people not to defend themselves, when 1,000 Palestinians...

CARLSON: Defend themselves? Let me just ask you then. Is setting off a human bomb in a pizzeria defending yourself?

RAHMAN: No, no. No, no. I want to explain what I'm saying. Yasser Arafat saw that within the last year Israel has killed 1,000 Palestinians. Wounded 20,000 others. It is imposing collective punishment on every single Palestinian.

The Congressman knows. And he's saying that one Palestinian killed Israelis in Afulah (ph), But the day before he was there, Israelis killed five children through a booby trap bomb planted by the Israeli army on the way to school where five children, age six to age 14, were killed.

You did not see them. You know why? Because CNN did not carry it live the way it carried the bombs. I'm not trying to justify what happened yesterday. I condemn it.

CARLSON: That was reported on CNN, by the way.

RAHMAN: I condemn what happened yesterday. I condemned it and Yasser Arafat condemned it. And as everybody knows, Yasser Arafat moved to arrest those who are responsible. What was the response of the Israelis today? Attacking the home of Yasser Arafat. Attacking his helicopter using F-16s and helicopters.

WEXLER: Let's talk about the response.

RAHMAN: Let me -- let me just finish this. Using Apache helicopters to attack Palestinian civilians. Do you know who did that the last time? That was Milosevic. And where is Milosevic today? He sitting in prison in Holland for attacking the civilian population.

WEXLER: Let's talk about that.

RAHMAN: That's where Sharon belongs.

WEXLER: Let's talk about that response for a moment. Over the weekend, 26 Israelis lay dead in the street from suicide bombers. What Prime Minister Sharon responded to is he went after infrastructure. He went after security, he went after symbols of Arafat's freedom as a leader. Are there -- is there carnage in the streets of Gaza or Ramallah?

RAHMAN: Absolutely.

WEXLER: Has there been indiscriminate killing? Absolutely not.

RAHMAN: Of course there is.

WEXMAN: There hasn't been a single death reported, even though 26 Israelis were killed. But it all goes back to the same question. Is Chairman Arafat willing to take risks for peace? Is he willing to say he's going to be a leader that's going to stop terrorism. That was his ultimate obligation under Oslo and unfortunately he hasn't done it.

Do the Palestinian people have legitimate rights? Of course they do. But they are not going to realize their legitimate rights of -- of determination by killing people and supporting suicide bombing.

RAHMAN: You are saying that the Palestinians are hostages now in Israeli hands for the last 35 years. That's what you are telling me, Congressman, and you are condoning that -- condoning that.

WEXLER: I am not...

RAHMAN: How can you condone the -- the enslavement of Palestinians for 35 years?

WEXLER: The Palestinian people...

RAHMAN: Jews must be the first people on the face of earth to object oppression and the oppression of others.

WEXLER: The Palestinian people have legitimate rights. I recognize those rights. But you will not attain them and should not with suicide bombings.

RAHMAN: How they are going -- how are they going to realize them? When, you know, the intifada is considered...

WEXLER: By negotiation.

RAHMAN: The occupation is 35 years old.

PRESS: Let me ask you -- let me cut in here with a question, if I can, because in this -- with this peace process and one of the steps that -- I don't know whether it's the biggest point. Certainly one of the biggest sticking points are the settlements on the West Bank.

Ariel Sharon comes into office. He knows the United States has asked him, "Stop these settlements. Dismantle some of them." He not only has not dismantled any, he is still building more. Basically baiting the Palestinians and inviting more people to come into Israel.

Don't you think that Israel maybe could take that step that would be the biggest possible step toward the peace process? And why don't they?

WEXLER: The American position has always been to oppose illegal settlements, and I support that position. And the place in which to resolve that conflict is at the negotiation table. Prime Minister Barak offered the deal of a lifetime to Chairman Arafat 14 months ago.

Bill, one thing is undeniable. Chairman Arafat didn't come back to Prime Minister Barak and say I need more. He came back and said here's my intifada. Here's my incitement of violence.

Here. I'm going to let Hamas out of the prison. I'm not even going to arrest anyone anymore. I'm going to start a campaign of violence and hope that you overreact. And in fact, that's what he has asked his people to do. Look at what they are teaching in their schools. Are they teaching peaceful cooperation? Unfortunately no.

RAHMAN: Mr. Wexler...

(CROSSTALK)

RAHMAN: What you are saying is absolutely incorrect. Mr. Barak did not offer the Palestinians the deal of the century. Mr. Barak offers the Palestinians another form of occupation. I was at Camp David. You were not there. I know what was offered and what was not offered. And Mr. Barak offered the Palestinians...

WEXLER: Did he offer more than 95 percent of the West Bank?

RAHMAN: No, he did not offer...

WEXLER: Yes, he did. RAHMAN: No, he did not. You are confusing what Barak offered with what Clinton offered. Barak never offered the Palestinians...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: OK. We're going to have to -- Mr. Rahman and Mr. Wexler, we're going to have to leave it there. So many questions unasked. Bill Press and I will ask them both and answer them when we return with our closing comments. We'll be right back on CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Tucker, this is tough. I have to tell you I'm a strong supporter of Israel. I'm also a strong supporter of an independent Palestinian state and I used to have some faith and hope in the peace process. After tonight I'm not sure.

CARLSON: The peace process? One side is acting like barbarians. You will notice, you know, you hear "oh, well, they both committed atrocities."

But in fact, only the Palestinians set off human bombs in shopping malls and restaurants and kill completely innocent civilians. There's no excuse for that. And I hope they are not rewarded in any way for that kind of behavior and I hope Arafat is taken out for that.

PRESS: There is no -- there is no excuse for that. And I'm not trying to say they are on equal level here. But I don't think Israel ought to be assassinating Palestinian leaders, either, with American gunships. I think Yasser Arafat has to got to stop terrorism. Israel has got to stop the settlements and stop assassinating political leaders...

CARLSON: There is no...

PRESS: And George Bush has to get off his butt and bring them together.

CARLSON: There is no equivalence. There is not equivalent between assassinating a political leader or a terrorist and killing teenagers who are out at the mall. There's none at all. And it's not self-defense, like Mr. Rahman is saying. It's appalling.

PRESS: It's not self-defense to assassinate Palestinians. Both are wrong. You have got to admit that.

CARLSON: One is far more wrong than the other.

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE. See you then.

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