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Q&A 14:30

Aired May 30, 2003 - 14:30:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas hold another meeting on the roadmap to peace.

The discussions in advance of a coming summit with U.S. President George W. Bush. On the table, the pullout by Israeli troops from Palestinian areas and an end to attacks by militant Palestinians on Israelis.

The Palestinian prime minister says he expects to reach an agreement with some of those militants within a week.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The new prime minister is formally committed to the defeat of terror.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the question is, will the Palestinians disarm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we will achieve real results within days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Our children will live together in peace and security, and we say enough of the bloodshed.

HOLMES: On this edition of Q&A, is this the beginning of the end to the violence?


And welcome to Q&A.

Well, time and again from the Middle East we have heard the occupation by Israeli troops must end, and the terror attacks by militant Palestinians must end too. Hopes for a breakthrough are being pinned on Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. He says he expects he can still secure an agreement with at least one Palestinian militant group, Hamas.

Is peace just around the corner? Well, with us, from New York, Gal Luft, founder and co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. He's also a former lieutenant colonel in the Israeli Defense Force. And also, Muhammad Muslih, an associate professor of political science at Long Island University.

Professor, I'll start with you first. Why would Hamas agree to a deal when for so long they have said no deals?

MUHAMMAD MUSLIH, LONG ISLAND UNIV.: Well, Hamas now reads the situation in a pragmatic way. They see that there is a lot of pressure coming from many directions, from the Arab direction, from the direction of the United States, from the direction of Israel, and from the direction of the Palestinian Authority, which is now headed by a prime minister.

The question is, will the Israeli military forces respond in kind. My understanding is that Hamas as in principle accepted the idea of truce, but it is a conditional acceptance -- conditional in the sense that if Israel refrains from attacking Palestinian civilians and from attacking Hamas activists and Hamas political leaders.

If there is reciprocity from the Israeli side, it is my understanding that Hamas will honor the truce.

HOLMES: Are you surprised that they blinked first? For so long now it's been, well, you pull out and we'll have a truce, and from the other side it's been, you have a truce and we'll pull out. Are you surprised that Hamas may be agreeing to this first, if you like?

MUSLIH: No, I'm not surprised, because they did that in the past. They accepted a truce in 1996 and the truce worked until the fall of 2000, and the principle leaders from Sheikh Yassin down have talked about a truce. They started talking about it in 1989, then again in 1993.

So I'm not surprised, because Hamas has the ability to adapt to new realities in the Palestinian occupied territories as well as new realities in the region and new realities globally. There are new realities now, and Hamas is willing to listen and talk about it.

HOLMES: Gal Luft, you have a very unique perspective, having served in the IDF. Do you have faith that Hamas will follow through? And do you think that the IDF, or at least the commanders, Ariel Sharon, is willing to pull out and pull out genuinely?

GAL LUFT, ANALYSIS OF GLOBAL SECURITY INST.: Experience tells us that any of these statements by Hamas don't carry any weight.

We have seen that they have violated any of their commitments that they have taken before.

But I think that the main issue here is, are we interested in what they define as a cease-fire, a hudna (ph), which means, basically, that they reserve the right or they are still loyal to the ideology of the destruction of the state of Israel. They want to derail the peace, and all they promise is to delay their activities and to.

HOLMES: Well, they're saying they're going to have a cease-fire until they see what happens on the other side. Surely, you can give them that.

LUFT: But what they're asking is sanctuary for a limited period of time, which allows them to regroup and resume violence when there is a next round.

This is something that we cannot allow. And I think that -- and even Mahmoud Abbas said that he would like to see much more than a hudna (ph). He would like to see a disarmament, a crackdown on Hamas, collection of the weapons and really serious treatment of the infrastructure of terrorism that Hamas has developed. A hudna (ph) will not do.

HOLMES: Professor Muslih, tell me I'm wrong, but Hamas disarming unilaterally, that's not going to happen, is it?

MUSLIH: Well, we have to put the entire discussion, I think, within the context of Israeli occupation.

The West Bank and Gaza are occupied by Israel and Israeli occupation is very brutal. It has targeted civilians. It has targeted infrastructures. It has targeted homes. There are over 9,000 Palestinian prisoners, et cetera, et cetera.

Now, the -- we have to look at it as a gradual process. The first step is to reach a truce, and Hamas, I think, and the Palestinian Authority, have in principle reached, accepted, the idea of a truce.

Now the next step would be what Israel asks for, which is the dismantling of what they call the infrastructure of terror in the occupied territories. To disarm Hamas and disarm other groups, there has to be a process which will lead to the end of Israeli occupation, because the bottom line is to rid the Palestinians of Israel's occupation.

And for the first time, Sharon himself, the prime minister of Israel, has acknowledged the fact that the Palestinians are living under occupation. Once the occupation ends, then there will be no need for anyone to carrying weapons in the occupied Palestinian territories.

HOLMES: Gal Luft, do you see things going that way?

LUFT: No. I think that it's wrong to identify Hamas as a group that fights the Israeli occupation. Hamas, its very clear message, they have repeated it many, many times, including this week, their spokesman said that they will never accept a Jewish state in the region. They don't hide it.

They're not fighting against the Israeli occupation. They are fighting against the notion of Israel, period. And as long as you have a group that carries the banner of the destruction of Israel, and is dedicated to derail the peace process anytime that the peace process makes progress, then we have a problem.

I want to remind you that the biggest wave of suicide attacks took place in 1995 and 1996, when you had Rabin in Paris, as prime minister, people who were very, very active in promoting the peace, and this was exactly when Hamas started blowing up buses, in order to destroy the prospect of peace.


HOLMES: Well, on this occasion now, 2003, as this summit in Jordan approaches, and there's already been meetings between the prime ministers, do you think, though, that Hamas may just be serious, if there is a withdrawal. Do you think that the Israeli military has perhaps not helped things when there is targeted assassinations, something that I know you think does work, and when there are still killings every day within Palestinian areas.

LUFT: It's not a matter of what I think. It's a matter of what they say, and as long as they are saying these kinds of things, I take them for their word. I mean, I don't think that there is any doubt that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are terrorist organizations. There are recognized by all the world as terrorist organizations.

We are talking about an establishment of a Palestinian state. Now, if this happens, this state will immediately have to join the list of states who sponsor terrorism if they allow organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad to operate in their midst.

HOLMES: Muhammad Muslih, one thing that is going to be of concern is, even if Hamas leadership agrees to a truce, agrees to this process, such as it is at this very early stage, there is going to be a problem with those who do not agree with the leadership, who do want to continue to take the fight to Israel, be it within Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa. How does the PA keep the lid on those who would derail this?

MUSLIH: We are talking about a process. We have to start somewhere, and a very important step in the direction of bringing about a workable cease-fire is for the Palestinians to take certain steps, which have been discussed so far, and for Israel, which is the occupying power, to reciprocate and take steps that will reassure the Palestinians that there is a peace process which will, in the end, bring a conclusion or an end to Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

And on this note, I would like to say that Hamas's position on the question of the existence of Israel is not really as clear-cut as my colleague has just said. Hamas has bee oscillating on the question of whether to recognize Israel or not, but the bottom line for Hamas at this point, as well as in the past, was to accept to live with a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

HOLMES: I come back to that original question I asked you, though, professor, and that is why now? Why now? This is not something they've agreed to in the past. Why -- are they just fed up themselves?

MUSLIH: Actually, they have talked about accepting simply a Palestinian -- the total liberation of the West Bank and Gaza. And to live alongside Israel, on the basis of a truce. They talked about that 10 years ago. Even before 10 years ago.

Now, why now? What is happening now is that there is a lot of pressure on the Palestinians. There's a lot of pressure on the Arabs. And that pressure is also exercised against Hamas. And Hamas accepted the idea of a truce now.

We don't know the response of the Israeli government on the ground. I mean, every day the Israelis -- yesterday, for example, the Israelis arrested a Hamas member in Nablus. The Israeli Army storms houses and arrests Palestinians and if this continues to happen, I really don't think that the cease-fire is going to work.

HOLMES: Gal Luft, do you agree with that to a point? While Israel is making targeted killings on Hamas leaders and the like, from helicopters, firing missiles into vehicles. Do you think that encourages Hamas to want to do a deal?

LUFT: Well, it's a very difficult proposition to make the connection of the causality. We would like to see the Palestinian Authority taking these steps.

It doesn't give Israel any pleasure, any satisfaction, to go after Hamas terrorists, but this is something that needs to be done, because no one else is willing to do it.

Now, the Palestinians have undertaken many times to fight terrorism. They have never delivered. Now it is up to them to prove that they are serious about.

HOLMES: They say this time they're serious. They do say that. I'm sorry to interrupt. We do have limited time, and I do want to ask you a security question. Given your experience in the IDF, and you have been to the territories and seen it first hand, do you believe that, given the destruction that took place last year of the security infrastructure, that the PA is equipped to handle that, even though they say they are? Do you think they can handle security in the region?

LUFT: There is no doubt that the security infrastructure of the Palestinians has been degraded significantly. But they still are one of the most heavily policed territories in the world.

We have about one Palestinian policeman for every 50 Palestinian residents, which means that they have still a very, very significant capability to crackdown on these organizations.

We've seen in 1994, when they wanted to do it, they were able to do it, and they did it in Gaza, when the PA killed 18 Hamas members in riots and flashes (ph). They did it when it threatened them. And it is up to them to do it again, because it is threatening, them, and I hope that they will do it.

HOLMES: OK. Gal Luft, founder and co-director of the Institute for Analysis of Global Security, also a former lieutenant colonel in the Israeli Defense Force; also Muhammad Muslih, associate professor of political science at Long Island University. Gentlemen, I do wish we had time, and I would like to get you both back on as this process continues. Thank you so much for your input.

LUFT: Thank you.

MUSLIH: Thank you.

HOLMES: And that is all for this edition of Q&A. More news in a moment.



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