Return to Transcripts main page


Peace Talks Go Silent; Jailed Journalist's Parents Speak; Imagine a World

Aired April 9, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN HOST: Good evening and welcome to the program. I'm Fred Pleitgen, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

Coming up, an emotional interview with the parents of jailed Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, held in Egypt since December.

But first, to the stalemated negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, now in serious danger of failing altogether.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): This picture says everything about the state of the process. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who pushed with such vigor for a deal, slowly starting to realize that he, too, might join the ranks of American leaders who tried and failed to achieve a two-state solution.


PLEITGEN: But the negotiations are not quite dead yet, and they remain vital to achieving stability in the Middle East. That is something both Israelis and Palestinians clear crave.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Recent numbers show that 65 percent of Israelis and 50 percent of Palestinians favor negotiations. But in a condemnation of their political leaders, 73 percent of Israelis and 69 percent of Palestinians believe negotiations will ultimately fail.


PLEITGEN: Well, one of those who wouldn't shed a tear is Naftali Bennett, Israel's economy minister and the head of the pro-settler party, Jewish Home. He joins me now live from Tel Aviv.

And Minister Bennett, thank you very much for being on the program.

To recap a dispute that was going on, the negotiations were ongoing; then there was trouble with Palestinian prisoners who were supposed to be released. That took a while and then the housing minister, who is a member of your party, went and issued permits to build 700 houses in East Jerusalem. And with that, everything went south.

I want to play you a clip of John Kerry as he evaluated that situation and I'd like you to comment on it.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Unfortunately, the prisoners weren't released on the Saturday they were supposed to be released. And so day went by; day two went by; day three went by. And then in the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and poof. That was sort of the moment.


PLEITGEN: "Poof. That was sort of the moment."

Sir, your reaction?

NAFTALI BENNETT, LEADER OF JEWISH HOME PARTY: No, that doesn't portray what actually happened. What actually happened is that two weeks ago Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, announced that he would never be willing to even discuss recognizing Israel as the Jewish homeland.

So basically what he's telling us is, yes, you recognize the Judaea and Samaria as the Palestinian homeland but we will never, ever recognize the Jewish state. The reality, Fred, is that the era of these negotiations is over. It's time for plan B. It's time for a new approach. And that new approach is massive economic investment on ground for the people, Israel applying Israeli law on the Israeli areas within Judaea and Samaria and the Palestinian-controlled areas will have their own economy, the approach that we've been trying for 20 years now clearly has reached its end.

PLEITGEN: So basically what you're saying is that settlements are going to continue; there's going to be more investments in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. I mean, that's something that the Palestinians just can't go for, is it, especially if you factor in East Jerusalem as well.

BENNETT: Well, first of all, Fred, Jerusalem is -- has been the Jewish capital for just about 3,000 years. And just like I would never suggest freeze building in London where you're there right now or suggest that the Palestinians freeze their building, why is no one talking about the Palestinian building?

So only we're supposed to freeze our building in our own state? That's unacceptable. We have to also realize that Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is constantly funding Hamas with hundreds of millions of dollars every year and Hamas is applying terror o Israeli citizens even today, even today missiles have been shot from Hamas onto Israeli cities and everyone's silent about it.

Clearly, Abu Mazen is not seeking peace. He wants no Israel. And it's time for the world to recognize that this approach, where we're supposed to give up the heart of our land to someone who blatantly is saying that he will never recognize Israel, just doesn't make sense. It's time for a new approach.

PLEITGEN: But, sir, I realize that there has been Jewish life in Jerusalem, obviously, for thousands of years. There's been Palestinian life there for thousands of years as well. And clearly they see it as their capital. And what the international community is trying to do is find a solution. And in this case, even the chief negotiator --


PLEITGEN: -- let me finish, sir.

Even the chief negotiator for Israel says that your housing minister torpedoed the negotiations.

BENNETT: Well, you're talking about a Palestinian presence. Has there ever been a Palestinian state? Show me what its flag was. Show me what its anthem was. Show me who its leader is. Show me anything that mentions the word Palestinian more than 65 years ago or 80 years ago. That's wrong. There has never been a Palestinian state. That's one of the big lies that they've managed to press forward.

The reality is that it's been the Jewish land for 3,000 years. It's still our land. Yes, there are 2 million Arabs live in Judaea and Samaria and yes, I don't want -- I do not want to control them. I want them to have their own entity, to have their own government, to have their own flag, do whatever they want. I have no desire to control the Arabs.

But clearly, trying to inject the Palestinian state and granting it to someone who is saying -- they're not even hiding it, they're saying we will never accept Israel as the Jewish nation state.

How does that make sense? Why does that make sense to anyone? It's time to think differently.

PLEITGEN: But thinking differently is something that would involve a whole new process. And clearly, if you look at the polls in Israel, then you see that most Israelis want the two-state solution because they're just sick of what's going on right now. They're sick of the attacks on them. They're sick of the military operations that are going on.

Aren't you acting against the interests of the Israeli people when you do this?

BENNETT: Quite the contrary. The party that was favoring the Palestinian state got 5 percent of the votes in Israel. We -- my own party got double -- more than double that amount.

The majority of Israelis and Palestinians and the world realize that this process is going nowhere. Everyone understands it's going nowhere. Everyone in the world gets it.

So why are we bashing our heads again and again? You're talking somehow this bringing peace. You know, we handed over the entire Gaza Strip to the Palestinians. We hoped it would become the Singapore of the Middle East. Instead they have become the Afghanistan of the Middle East. The moment we handed over Gaza to the Palestinians, they started shooting missiles on our main cities. That doesn't work. If we hand over Judaea and Samaria, we're going to have Tel Aviv under constant fire. Why would anyone do that? You know, I want peace more than anyone. I've been in the Israeli military as a commander for over 20 years. I served in all the conflicts. I've lost friends. I want peace more than anyone. But this is not the way to achieve peace. The way to achieve peace is to invest massively in the economy, in the quality of life of the Arabs and Israelis alike on ground and build it bottom up.

PLEITGEN: All right. Naftali Bennett, thank you very much for joining the program.

And now for the Palestinian view, I want to bring in Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the PLO's Central Council. He joins me now from Ramallah.

Mr. Barghouti, first of all, would you like to react to what Mr. Bennett just said?

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, PLO'S CENTRAL COUNCIL: Well, I would like to react. But unfortunately, I did not hear anything from what he said. But I know Mr. Naftali Bennett's positions. And I know his party positions. And basically he and other extremists in the Israeli government are the ones who are obstructing the possibility of peace based on two-state solution.

This man and his party are publicly demanding the annexation of the occupied territories in the West Bank. And they are -- they want to deny the Palestinians the right to have an independent Palestinian state.

And basically the negotiations are in crisis and in trouble because the majority of the people in the Israeli government today and the majority of the people in -- who are supporting this government in the Knesset are against the establishment of a Palestinian state.

So they are against two-state solution and against peace based on two- state solution.

And basically they are hurting not only the interests of the Palestinian people and the interests of peace in this region, but they are even hurting Israel itself, because what they are advocating is the continuation of the longest occupation in modern history and they are advocating the consolidation of a system of apartheid and racial discrimination much worse than what prevailed in South Africa at one point of time.

PLEITGEN: But sir, there were negotiations going on. And granted, they were hitting some pretty rough waters. But they were still going on. And then Mahmoud Abbas went and filed that application to join the 15 international organizations, which, of course, is something that absolutely derailed everything.

Why do that at that point in time? Why not be more patient and wait for things to unfold?

BARGHOUTI: No, Palestinians have been very patient. As a matter of fact, since we applied and got the acceptance as non-member state in the United Nations, Palestinians abstained from applying to different U.N. agencies and gave a chance to the so-called peace process. And there was a deal; there were two deals to have negotiations until the end of April. And another deal, another agreement that Israel would release 104 Palestinian prisoners, who should have been released, by the way, 20 years ago when Oslo Agreement was signed.

And in exchange for that, the Palestinians will not -- will suspend their applications to different -- and their signature of different treaties.

Israel violated that agreement. That's exactly what Mr. Kerry said. Israel violated the agreement. Did not release the last portion of these prisoners, 30 of them. And kept giving promises. There were nine promises given by Mr. Kerry and his team to the Palestinian side that the release would take place and the nine promises were broken. And then Palestinians had to act.

But not only that. Israel made sure and, I mean, people in Israel's government made sure to provoke the Palestinians by announcing 720 new settlement units in the area of Bethlehem. And of course, the reaction was that since Israel broke their part of the agreement, Palestinians went to the U.N. agencies.

And my question here really is what makes Israel angry about Palestinian future state being a democratic country? Why are they against us doing any agreements that respect the rights of women and the rights, the human rights and the rights of people with disability?

Why are they against us signing an agreement to fight corruption? What's wrong with that? Why --


BARGHOUTI: -- international treaties.

PLEITGEN: One of the things that Naftali Bennett says he was particularly angry about is that Mahmoud Abbas said that he would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Why not?

BARGHOUTI: Well, first of all, Israel itself did not recognize itself as a Jewish state. When Mr. Ben Gurion declared Israel, he did not declare it as a Jewish state. This whole invention by Mr. Netanyahu and his government is an atypical thing to put the ball on the Palestinian side. In reality, Palestinians recognized Israel back in 1993 and Israel in return did not recognize a Palestinian state. hey recognized only the PLO as representative of the Palestinian people.

But that's not the only issue. There are other issues. There are 20 percent of the people who carry Israeli citizenship are Palestinian citizens. How can we tell these people that they don't have equal rights in the country they live in? Why would we accept a system of apartheid and discrimination against them?

What the Israeli government wants Palestinians to do is to deny the narrative, to deny the right to be in this land, to deny the right for equality and that's exactly what Naftali Bennett meant when he tried to say that Palestine is a Jewish land, but Palestinians have no right to it. We lived here for thousands of years. We are asking for two-state solution, for equality and other side wants to consolidate a system of discrimination. And the racial discrimination in particular. And this is against the interests of everybody. There is nothing to be proud about in the 21st century by being an apartheid system, by being a system that discriminates against other people and especially in this manner against the Palestinian population. There is nothing to be proud about having segregated road and two different laws for two people living in the same land. (INAUDIBLE) recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would mean.

PLEITGEN: Mr. Barghouti, I want to thank you very much for joining the program. Thank you.

Now as both sides dig in their heels, as you've just clearly seen, the Palestinian Authority is looking for a few good men and some good women as well. The first female members of the Presidential Guard -- until now an all-male corps assigned to protect President Mahmoud Abbas -- are breaking new ground in the West Bank. Still, a fairly male-dominated society.

And after the break, we'll turn to Egypt, where three journalists have been detained -- have been denied their freedom simply for doing their jobs. You'll meet the parents of one of them. A heartfelt appeal for justice when we come back.




PLEITGEN: Welcome back. I'm Fred Pleitgen, in for Christiane Amanpour.

They spent more than 100 days in an Egyptian prison. On Thursday, three Al Jazeera journalists will appear in a court in Cairo, accused of conspiring with the now-banned political organization, the Muslim Brotherhood.

The men say they were just trying to report the news. Al Jazeera launched this international campaign demanding their release.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Imagine being kept in the dark about major global events.

MARK FERGUSON, CHANNEL 7 NEWS: Imagine being silenced when speaking out --



PLEITGEN: In the past nine months, more than 60 journalists have been detained in Egypt. That's according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Most have been freed, but 12 remain behind bars.

Among the Al Jazeera journalists appearing in court on Thursday is Peter Greste. His parents joined me earlier from Brisbane, Australia.


PLEITGEN: Lois and Juris Greste, welcome to the program. Thank you for being with us.

We heard that you got a phone call from Peter today. You were able to speak with him on the phone.

What was he saying? How's he doing?

LOIS GRESTE, MOTHER OF PETER GRESTE: He sounds good. He sounds brash. He said they have their down days and their good days, like we do. We have our down days and good days, too. He was asking about the family and what we'd been up to and just a general catch-up and chitchat, because we haven't spoken to him for more than a month now. And I was very thrilled to hear his voice and very happy.

JURIS GRESTE, FATHER OF PETER GRESTE: What gave me a big lift was to hear him actually have a laugh, have a chuckle. Anybody who can do that on the eve of a very unpredictable next court case obviously, you know, must have it reasonably well together. And I feel very thrilled and very proud about that.

PLEITGEN: So how much contact are you able to have with him?

How much do you know about his emotional well-being and also his physical well-being?

LOIS GRESTE: He's only allowed now one -- two telephone calls a month to us.

JURIS GRESTE: Yes, I have to add that my impression is that unless you are disciplined in a physical sense, in a mental sense, in a spiritual sense, it can be very difficult to see it through. You can easily capitulate and crumble. And we are pleased to know that Peter is certainly very disciplined and strong and keeping himself very well together.

PLEITGEN: Yes, it seems like it. There was this amazing picture of Peter in the courtroom when the three of them were brought in, where he turned around and smiled at the camera.

So you must be very proud of him for that resilience that he's also displaying publicly, just to show that all of this is not getting him down.

LOIS GRESTE: Oh, absolutely. And you know, we're very proud of everything that he's done. Up until a couple of weeks ago, they weren't even allowed reading material. And so to keep themselves occupied, they used anything, off labels, off plastic bottles and food containers. And they made a mural on the wall, which said, "Freedom now." Unfortunately, that had to be pulled down because the prison authorities considered that as a slogan.

But instead, he's got more creative and out of foil made a sun with rays that go out to a meter wide. It's arranged so that the sun hits the foil and lights up the whole of the room. So I think that's wonderful.

PLEITGEN: There's nothing more difficult for parents to deal with than to see their children in a state of duress. And you say that you have your up and down days.

What do you find most difficult to deal with in this phase?

JURIS GRESTE: Really, there isn't a most difficult or an easy day. It truly is a roller coaster ride in a very literal sense. And so we're sometimes living not only from day to day but from moment to moment. And that can be very wearing. And I have to say that after this afternoon's or this evening's call, I feel quite upbeat and yet undeniably after the previous court case, the way it ended, really shattered us. And it took us just about the rest of the week to put ourselves back together again.

PLEITGEN: What do you hope happens next?

What do you hope the immediate future will bring? Because the next court date is very soon.

LOIS GRESTE: Well, the next court case is tomorrow, Thursday morning in Cairo. And we hope in our hearts that of course it will be all over and Peter will be free. But you know, hence we are trying not to expect too much.

JURIS GRESTE: I also wanted to say that we know and be assured that what keeps Peter going is knowing that people like Christiane and other international media are taking an interest in it. And that buoys him up no end.

PLEITGEN: But Mohamed Fahmy, who is in prison with Peter, was my producer for a very long time and I did several documentaries with him. And I do believe that the whole thing is an absolute outrage and you know, in the -- in the realm of international reporters, we don't really have any competition with each other. We do support each other. And we know that he would be doing the same thing for us.

So it is definitely an effort that's going to keep going. But I do hope that it ends well for you tomorrow.

Thank you very much for being on.

LOIS GRESTE: Thank you very much.

JURIS GRESTE: Well, so do we.

LOIS GRESTE: Thank you.

JURIS GRESTE: Our pleasure.

PLEITGEN: And after the break, we'll turn from a country where democracy remains a work in progress to the world's largest democracy, India, where hundreds of millions of voters are going to the polls.

You'll meet a very unique one when we come back.




PLEITGEN: And a final thought tonight, while democracy and self- determination are up for grabs in Egypt and the Palestinian territories, India, the largest democracy on Earth, is going to the polls this week. A staggering 800 million voters, a number that eclipses the populations of both the United States and Western Europe combined, will elect a new Lower House of Parliament as well as the next prime minister.

Now imagine a world where one person, one vote is more than just a slogan. It's a life's work. For while younger voters are expected to have a major impact, no vote will mean more than that of a 97-year-old man who has cast his ballot in every single general election since 1951, soon after India declared its independence from British rule.

Google India has made Shyam Negi, the poster boy for its Get Out the Vote campaign, chronicling his journey from his Himalayan village to the polling station.


SHYAM NEGI, ONE OF INDIA'S OLDEST VOTERS (from captions): Today is a very special day. Come rain or snow, this is one thing I never fail to do.


PLEITGEN: Very inspiring. And the amazing Mr. Negi will actually cast his vote on May 7th, along with his wife, who is a youthful 91 years of age.

And that's it for the program tonight. Remember you can follow me on Twitter, @FPleitgenCNN. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.