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Former State Department Spokesman James Rubin Discusses Middle East Violence

Aired March 29, 2002 - 10:22   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.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Once again, we want to remind our viewers that Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to make comments from the State Department in about sometime in the next 10 minutes. When he does speak, you'll see those comments live here on CNN.

Joining us now to talk more about the situation in the Middle East, someone who knows a lot about the State Department, Former State Department Spokesman James Rubin. He served in the Clinton administration under Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- Jamie, hello, good to have you with us.

JAMES RUBIN, FMR. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Nice to be with you too.

KAGAN: First of all, looking forward to these comments from Secretary of State Powell. What can we expect to hear from him, at this point, given we haven't heard from any high-ranking U.S. official since this all blew up starting early this morning?

RUBIN: Right. What Secretary Powell has to do is find a way of balancing our appreciation for why an Israeli military incursion into Ramallah is justified. Because, certainly, any American who saw what happened in this Passover massacre in Netanya can understand the rage in much the same way there was rage in the United States after the attack on the World Trade Center.

The question, though, is not whether it's justified. The question is whether it's wise, whether it will be productive. And here I would hope that Secretary Powell makes clear that the United States and Israel cannot expect Chairman Arafat and his Authority to control the Palestinian territories and prevent terrorist activities if they're cutting off the electricity, their cutting off the telephones, and they're destroying the infrastructure of power of Chairman Arafat. They can't have it both ways.

If he's to blame, then they have to say that Chairman Arafat will have the capability to crack down on terrorism. If they take away that capability, then it's very hard to complain when he doesn't do anything.

KAGAN: Well, but to follow up on that argument, Jamie, the Israelis could point out, "Well he had the electricity earlier this week and he had the infrastructure, and yet look what happened on the first night of Passover and look what happened today at the supermarket in Jerusalem." He didn't seem to be controlling that even with all those options of power.

RUBIN: Well, absolutely. I'm not suggesting that he's not responsible. I think the question is not whether it's justified to retaliate against the Palestinian Authority. The question is whether doing so will make it easier or harder for terrorism to take place in Israel. And it's -- all of these attacks that have taken place against the Palestinian Authority -- this has been going on for months by the Israeli defense forces -- have not yielded fewer terrorist attacks in Israel.

And so the question is whether these justified responses are productive. Are they working? Is this wise policy? Not is it justified, is it wise? And here there are real questions.

KAGAN: Well, and speaking of wise policy, what about U.S. policy and U.S. involvement? This has to be very frustrating for you on a personal note, who was at Camp David and saw what seemed to be almost like an agreement and the Palestinians. That must seem like a lifetime ago from then to where we are today.

RUBIN: Well interestingly, if you look at the large sweep of history and go back prior to Camp David and look at how all of the Arab states and the Israeli government, none of them had a vision for peace. What would a peace plan look like that would give security to Israel and security to the Palestinians and all of the Arab countries?

Ironically, even while this terrible murder and mayhem is occurring on the ground in Israel, with the Camp David proposal by the previous Israeli government, which essentially called for the return of the West Bank and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, and Barak's previous proposal to return nearly all of the Golan Heights, what you had yesterday in Beirut is all of the Arab states saying if the Israelis did something like that, the Palestinians and the Arab countries would have no further claim on Israel. So at the highest strategic level in the grand historic sweep of things, we've actually seen in the last two years a real vision for peace on the part of all of the Arab states and the previous Israeli government. The tragedy -- the great tragedy is that the two leaders of the Palestinians and the Israelis aren't even close to agreeing to that kind of vision that the previous Israeli government and now all Arab states, including the Syrians, including even the Iraqis, have agreed to.

KAGAN: Well -- and, indeed, yesterday was a historic day. Even to see Arab leaders address Israel, just the fact that it exists, just acknowledge its existence. And, yet, as is the classic case of the cycle in the Mideast, one step forward, two steps back. The very next day you have yet another suicide bombing and then you have this attack on Ramallah. It seems like we're farther behind than we ever were.

RUBIN: Well, again, there's nobody who is going to say that the events of the last 24 hours in Israel and the Palestinian Authority are promising or positive. And I think it has -- the security situation on the ground in Israel and the Palestinian territories has deteriorated dramatically in the last couple of years. But at the governmental level, never before have all the Arab governments said what it would take for them to end their state of war and develop -- and this is a key word -- normal relations with Israel.

And, similarly, the previous Israeli government laid out what it was prepared to do. And those two positions are not that far apart if there are leaders in place who decide that peace is a better way to achieve security than war. Let's remember the Israelis right now are not going to allow the Palestinians to win political victories through the tactics of terror. And that's why every time there's a terrorist attack, the Israelis want to give less in the form of political concessions, not more. Similarly, the Palestinians are saying, "You cannot have this occupation of our territory and expect us to negotiate peacefully," and that "We're going to resist this occupation."

And so the two sides have completely rejected negotiations as a way of resolving the problem, even while at the highest governmental level the differences, while critical -- including right of return of refugees and very difficult problems are there -- the big vision for peace now exists now in the Middle East. And as someone who was involved in this before, I just hope in my lifetime there are some leaders in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority who live up to fulfilling that vision.

KAGAN: To that vision and getting past the personal grudge match. Well, Jamie Rubin, thanks for helping us see a ray of hope on a day that has been filled with so much violence in the Middle East.

RUBIN: I'm trying.

KAGAN: Yes, we appreciate it. We appreciate your insight from London. Thank you very much.

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