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Israeli President Ehud Barak Addresses His Nation, Calls for PeaceAired October 7, 2000 - 2:14 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: We've got to go to Israel to the Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is addressing his nation.
BARAK (through translator): We are facing the beginning of a new situation in the state of Israel with a major escalation in violence going on in terms of our relationship with the Palestinians. The responsibility is to be borne by Yasser Arafat. He, on his own initiative, can put an end to the violence.
I call upon the Palestinians to put an end to the violence and to take up President Clinton's call of last week to meet soon in order to continue with negotiations. Israel will not conduct negotiations in parallel with any violence.
The same resolution with which we fought to pursue peace, we will apply similarly to combating violence.
So far, I have given instructions for there to be restraint only to react and not to take initiatives. But if, in the next two days, there are changes in the pattern of violence, we will consider this to be tantamount to a putting an end to the political track by Arafat, and we will instruct the security forces to use every resource available to them to put an end to the violence.
A new situation is becoming clear, and this is a new stage in the history of the state of Israel. It's a fight for our right to be here and to lead a free existence here.
And our steadfastness, which to a large extent determine our future, this will not be an easy struggle. This is likely to go on for a long time. There will be ups and downs, and as today, there will be very difficult moments and perhaps even more difficult moments.
But if we join ranks, we will win.
Since Madrid and Oslo, throughout an entire decade, we have made a determined effort, under three or four subsequent governments in Israel, to achieve a peace settlement with our Palestinian neighbors on the basis of the assumption that we have a partner for peace.
The situation that is becoming clear today is that apparently they may not be a partner for peace, and this truth is a very painful one, but this is the truth, and we must confront it with open eyes and draw the appropriate conclusion from it.
We will not give in to a violence. We are a small but strong and courageous people, and anyone who tries us with force will get back an immediate forceful reaction.
We will be united. We have nothing with which to beat ourselves. Our hands are clean. We have, indeed, left no stone unturned, and we have been prepared to discuss practically every idea in order to test whether on the other side there has been a willingness to follow the path of peace.
We can achieve an agreement, but the other side, by this choice, which is not an easy one for it either, between going to an agreement and choosing violence has apparently chosen violence, and it will bear the consequences -- or the responsibility for the consequences of this choice.
What has happened with respect to peace will strengthen us, and this is the historical moment for testing the peace process. And this is occurring as all the agreements signed between us and the Palestinians are coming to the end of their validity.
We must never lose hope. Peace will come. It will come if we are able to insist on our vital rights and the vital interests of the people of Israel, Israel's security, Israel's peace and Israel's holy sites.
We will insist together on everything that's important to us. And I call upon my friends in the peace camp to be prepared today, with all of us, to look at a partner who we hoped would have more willingness and readiness to achieve peace than we achieve -- than we actually see.
And I understand the anguish of those in the right in Israel who are trying to deal with the awareness of the fact that achieving peace will involve us having less than we dreamed of. But today it's the time to join hands to walk together towards the trials and tribulations facing us together.
Today, this afternoon, three Israel defense forces soldiers were kidnapped in the north of the country at Har Dov when they were making a border patrol near the gate leading to village of Shebaa in Lebanon. The three soldiers are now being held by Hezbollah. The government of Israel sees the Hezbollah and the government of Syria and the government of Lebanon as being responsible for the well-being of these soldiers, for holding them in proper conditions and returning them home quickly.
I say to the citizens of Israel, and above all to the soldiers families, we will spare no effort of any kind in order to bring our boys home quickly.
The way that one has to deal with kidnappings, as we know from our experiences, are a very, very difficult, painful area, and I would like people to understand that for obvious reasons, we cannot at the moment be more specific, either with regard to our operations or with regard to our intentions or with regard to our evaluations as to what's going on, in this respect, over the next few days.
I want to say to all citizens of Israel that we are now going through a period which is not easy, but we are full of confidence that we will come out of this confrontation and out of this situation strengthened and unified without renouncing our values as a Jewish and democratic state, maintaining our essential interests while continuing to strive for peace for Israel.
To the Arabs who are citizens of Israel, I want to say the following: We have together built a democratic country, built up of different ethnic groups and religions, based on the recognition first and foremost of the fact that we live together in a democratic country, under the rule of law.
And let me once again call upon you to continue with the pattern of behavior of the overwhelming majority of Israeli Arabs who are today behaving in a responsible and mature fashion, not being dragged in to action as instigated by provocateurs.
I call upon all of us to make sure that the rule of law is respected. No country can accept roads being blocked and villages and towns being blocked and vandalism against property.
We must all together strive for the supreme goal of bringing about peace and equality and the integration of Arabs in Israeli society within the framework of an open and progressive and law abiding society.
On the eve of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, I want to wish all Jews a good year and a (SPEAKING IN HEBREW).
QUESTION (through translator): Prime Minister, I understand that you spoke to President Clinton quite recently. Does he agree with your view that apparently there is no partner for peace, and that Arafat apparently doesn't want negotiations?
And if in the next two days that you just spoke about, in other words, the day after Yom Kippur, in other words, if you're pessimistic forecast comes about, will you contact Sharon and ask -- and suggest to him a national unity government?
BARAK (through translator): I have spoken to President Clinton on a number of occasions in the last couple of days, and there's no doubt that President Clinton and the entire administration are making major efforts to reduce the level of violence and to breathe new life into the spark of negotiations.
It's very difficult to determine what will happen subsequently. But the efforts are being made, and we wish to express our major appreciation to the president and the administration who are friends of Israel. They are very, very important to us, and there are very, very few presidents, such an attitude of support for the security and peace in the whole area.
I certainly do intend to act in respect of considering an expansion of the government base. I think given the situation that we are confronting today, which may further develop in additional directions, what is needed is broad-based unity in terms of action and the bearing of responsibility among the entire people and as broad- based as possible a government is the correct response to this challenge.
QUESTION (through translator): Mr. Barak, you're talking about as broad-based as possible a government. You say there is no partner. Does that mean all those ideas, what you said, were not officially valid that were raised in Camp David, all those "daring ideas" that Shlomo Ben-Ami called them, do you think they don't exist now? They've been shelved and you, as prime minister, now reject them and say, "Now we're focusing only on the external situation of fighting"?
BARAK (through translator): These ideas have been put on one side since the end of Camp David and they were waiting on the side for a response to the question: Does the chairman -- or is the chairman of the Palestinian Authority prepared or not to see them as a basis for discussion?
Given the violence of the last few days and given the lack of response, that is indeed the response to our question. These ideas, at this stage, have no significance. They are not valid and they will have to be re-discussed or raised again if and when negotiations reopen.
QUESTION (through translator): There's been a call for both sides to release their prisoners, the Hezbollah prisoners here and the three IDF soldiers who have been kidnapped. Could we have a response? Is there any negotiation going on?
BARAK (through translator): With regard to the details of my talks with the UN secretary general, clearly I cannot give you a response here and naturally I cannot reveal the nature of efforts being made to release and bring back the kidnapped soldiers.
As to your second question, we will take action. We have an outstanding army, we have an outstanding commander in chief, excellent commanders, people who are absolutely devoted who carry out the most excellent professional work. Without them, we would be in a real bloodbath in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza area. They are always very professional, and we will approve such action as is required by the situation and in accordance with military and political considerations.
QUESTION (through translator): You promised before and after the withdrawal from Lebanon that if there was any violence from Lebanon, it would be Lebanese government that would bear the responsibility and that would be a major response. That was your promise. Do you intend to make good on this promise to the public? And if the soldiers are not returned, do you intend to attack Lebanon, including attacking infrastructure -- roads, electricity, water, reservoirs, and so on? BARAK (through translator): Our position with regard to the situation of peace and quiet in Lebanon, as I've said for obvious reasons, at the moment it's not possible to discuss responses at this stage in the kidnapping of the soldiers because, obviously, by discussing our reactions publicly, this would impair our ability to act. The whole point is to get these soldiers home promptly and safely.
We're now prepared to take questions for the commander in chief, Shaul Mofaz, if anyone wants to ask him a question, if you want to ask questions of the C-in-C, please?
QUESTION (through translator): Commander in Chief, tomorrow morning is IDF going to change its arrangements, its form of action in the territories or in South Lebanon?
SHAUL MOFAZ, COMMANDER IN CHIEF OF THE ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES (through translator): Good evening.
Given what happened in the north, with the kidnapping of the soldiers, this is a very difficult situation and a very painful one. The possibility of kidnaps up on the northern border had already been considered, and forces on the northern border have been drilled. There is still a great deal of awareness of the situation, but unfortunately, in the events today, we were not able to prevent the kidnapping of our three soldiers.
My heart goes out to the families, and I hope very much that the soldiers will come home very soon to their families and their units.
On the northern border, we are making major efforts in all activities in order, first and foremost, to provide defense and security for the residents of the north.
We also undertake a major range of activities in order to protect the lives of the Israel Defense Forces soldiers.
Since the redeployment, one must remember, we have been constructing a system along the northern border. There are certain Achilles heels there, and one of these was taken advantage of today by Hezbollah.
We will continue with the activity on the northern border, providing the maximum possible protection to the IDF soldiers, and we will investigate what happened today in order to apply lessons for the future.
As far as the territory is concerned, I would comment as follows.
The violence which started on the initiative of the Palestinians, as far as we understand, will be escalating. IDF's hands are not tied. Up to today, we have acted with restraint, applying consideration and taking account of the situation. And had it not been for this action on the part of the commanders in the field, the numbers of Palestinian casualties would have been far, far greater. Because of the restraint on the part of IDF soldiers, many Palestinian's lives have been spared.
MOFAZ (through translator): We don't want any escalation, and IDF is taking every possible step to avoid escalation. But if we are required to act differently, we shall do so in order to assure the security of the residents of Judea-Samaria and Gaza and in order to protect the lives of IDF soldiers.
QUESTION (through translator): You say that the IDF is really doing everything it wants to in order to protect itself. Let me understand this. A political ultimatum has been given of 48 hours. If, during those 48 days (sic), which includes Yom Kippur, during which you will act with restraint, if you don't get the soldiers back during those 48 hours, when they know it's an ultimatum, what will you do?
MOFAZ (through translator): IDF soldiers were briefed. Our operations plans exist. They've been well-practiced and drilled, and our forces know what to do in all sorts of situations. If they're required to act differently and to act in a more active fashion in accordance with a government decision, believe me, IDF will be able to do this perfectly well.
The prime minister (UNINTELLIGIBLE) respond in English.
QUESTION (through translator): Prime minister, is this the end of the peace process with the Palestinians, or are you...
RANDALL: Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel and his chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force, Lieutenant General Shaul Mosaz. These joint appearances in Tel Aviv were prompted immediately by the Hezbollah capture of three Israeli soldiers today along the Israel- Lebanon border.
Mr. Barak says it is holding the Hezbollah, Syria, and Lebanon all responsible for the well-being of those three soldiers. Mr. Barak also have given Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat 48 hours, two days, to end the violence by his followers in the Palestinian territories.
In Jerusalem, listening to all this has been Jerrold Kessel, our bureau chief there. Jerrold, what do you make of what you have just heard?
JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Gene, I think on two fronts there the Israel prime minister really embattled as that situation now that's been evolving in Lebanon following the kidnapping by Hezbollah of three Israeli soldiers, that is pre, absolutely uppermost on Israelis' minds at the moment. Mr. Barak addressed that in a sort of careful way, because although he held the Hezbollah, Syria, and Lebanon responsible for the welfare of those soldiers, he said Israel will spare no effort to get them home, to return them home safely.
And he implied that there was preparations going on on two fronts, perhaps also on the military, perhaps on the diplomatic, as he seeks to drum up the international community, including the United Nations and other international bodies to bring about the return of those soldiers. That is the prime preoccupation at this hour of the Israeli government.
But Mr. Barak was absolutely adamant on the question of the Pales -- the situation with the Palestinians. He almost said, We have no peace partner, that Israel is on the verge of saying that, that there is no peace partner. But he stopped short of saying that, and I think that was significant. He said there is still a possibility for peace. He said the next 48 hours for two days, he said, in two days we will be able to assess whether there is indeed a peace partner or not.
That seems to be his position, literally leaving Yassir Arafat a 48-hour window in which to get the violence stopped and return to the peace table for an emphatic bid to conclude a peace deal.
I think this was something that the Israeli right wing was not wanting to hear, was not willing to hear, was not keen to hear. In other words, they wanted Mr. Barak right away to say, There is no peace partner for Israel, we're now going into a national unity government, we're in an emergency now.
Mr. Barak seemed to be leaving the door open for the United States to step in, to put pressure on Yassir Arafat to get -- to stop the violence, to get back to the peace table. But he made no bones about the fact that he believes Yassir Arafat is the one responsible. With a single decision, he said, by Yassir Arafat, the violence can stop.
And we shall see how Palestinians respond to this, and we heard just an hour or so ago Yassir Arafat returning to Gaza, also using very, very tough language, saying that what we're seeing, what the world is seeing is Israel stepping up the pressure, stepping up this as -- escalated violence against the Palestinian people, against the Arab nation.
It is time for tough talking. We shall see, though, whether the next two days will change that direction -- Gene.
RANDALL: All right, Jerrold, if you can stand by there in Jerusalem of a few moments, we'd like to call in Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and also welcome our viewers on CNN International.
Mr. Satloff, how do you size up what we heard from Mr. Barak and his chief of staff?
ROBERT SATLOFF, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: The 48-hour timetable, I think, is quite clear. This is a last-ditch effort for Arafat to finally say whether or not the violence should end, and then the violence will end. It's rather remarkable after 10 days we haven't heard a statement from Arafat calling for the violence to end.
Secondly, the Israeli-Arab community. This is -- this was a huge issue inside Israel, a terrible development that expands the conflict inside Israel proper. And now the potential for a state-to-state conflict that expands to include the Lebanese, the Syrians, and Hezbollah, which is beholden to both these parties. So I think that we have now the potential, it's not quite there yet, but the potential for the expansion of this now to three full fronts.
RANDALL: What do you think Barak was saying when he gave Yassir Arafat 48 hours to end the violence in the territories?
SATLOFF: Well, I think he was giving a very clear message that 48 hours from now, if the violence is not concluded, he will turn to a national unity government. And the purpose of that unity government will be to face internal pressures and external pressures.
The PLO has made a huge diplomatic achievement from the last 10 days of violence, and only with national unity would Barak believe that Israel can withstand politically, militarily, and diplomatically the pressure that the international community, the Arab world, there will be an Arab summit in 10 days from now, and Arafat -- and Barak knows that the pressure will be huge on all sorts of states in the region to ratchet up against Israel.
And I think national unity 48 hours from now is a likely -- is the likelihood if indeed violence doesn't stop, national unity being bringing the Likkud into government with the Labor Party.
RANDALL: Mr. Satloff, if you can stand by a moment as well, we'd like to call in Ahmad Qorei, the Palestinian parliament speaker who should be on the phone with us.
Can you hear me, Mr. Qorei?
AHMAD QOREI, SPEAKER, PALESTINIAN PARLIAMENT: Yes.
RANDALL: What is your reaction to what Mr. Barak has said?
QOREI: Well, really, we are surprised to hear that this sort of -- Barak today, he's distributing ultimatum here and there. He give ultimatum to Lebanon, he'll give ultimatum to Syria, and now he is giving ultimatum to the Palestinians. I don't understand why. Who started this conflict? Who started this problem? Who started the visit to the Mount and created the problem? Who are shooting the innocent civilians people everywhere? Why? Before no reason, just only for -- because they are demonstrating.
And they are shooting with cold blood all the Palestinian here and there. I thought that Mr. Barak will come, withdraw the army, to go back, to sit together and to agree for an international committee, independence committee, to investigate to see what started this problem. That's what we are expecting, not to receive an ultimatum. And the culture of the power, the balance of power, that cannot make peace. It can make conflict only. This is what the...
RANDALL: Mr. Qorei, Mr. Qorei, when Pal -- when Israeli troops backed away from Nablus today, there was anything but peace by the Palestinians who were left there.
QOREI: Well, this is a people, civilian people, after those -- many people being killed there in this place. I don't say that this is a correct act, but after they have seen many people being killed today, that's the people who did that. And this can be corrected (UNINTELLIGIBLE). This is not the problem. The problem is the shooting of the people. I don't want to remind you about that boy, Muhammad (UNINTELLIGIBLE), who been killed, 12 -- 9 years old, I mean, between the arms of his father.
And there is -- we have not heard of any kind of condemnation (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from the Israeli. We have not hear the whole story about the bloodshed (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from the Palestinian everywhere and all around West Bank and Gaza.
RANDALL: Mr. Satloff, are you still with us?
SATLOFF: Yes, I am.
RANDALL: And how do you interpret what you have just heard from the speaker of the Palestinian parliament?
SATLOFF: Well, I think it's very sad that even until this point, we have yet to hear a Palestinian leader, like the speaker of the parliament, say, End the violence, stop the violence, stop the shooting, stop the rioting, and let's get back to the table. I think, Gene, what you said about Nablus is very instructive.
There is a Jewish religious site in the middle of the town. By agreement, Israeli soldiers are to be there. When the soldiers left, the site was ransacked, books were burned, the place was taken apart.
I think it's very difficult to imagine that a culture of peace can take hold in an environment when the attack on a religious site like that is permitted under the Palestinian Authority.
RANDALL: Mr. Speaker, is it time for a Palestinian of authority to say to the Palestinians in the territories, It is time for the violence to stop, and we call on Israel to do the same thing?
Mr. Speaker, are you still with us?
Well, I guess he is not.
The question of Hezbollah's capture of these three members of the Israeli Defense Force, Mr. Satloff, is that liable to be the fuse here that really sets things off?
SATLOFF: It's a definite possibility that this could expand the conflict into the northern border. Hezbollah was very active until the Israelis finally withdrew under U.N. Security Council resolution, so it's not just the Americans and the Syrians and the Lebanese. The Security Council, which is today debating a resolution criticizing Israel, bears responsibility for ensuring calm along that border as well.
It does have the potential to drag in a renewed conflict in a state-to-state format. Now, there's a new president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, who has been betting heavily that Syria can remove itself from the isolation of his father's 30-year rule. This is his first big test. This will show whether he has the mettle to ensure calm where Syria has promised calm will be along that border.
RANDALL: All right. I understand we have our phone connection back with Mr. Ahmad Qorei, the Palestinian parliament speaker.
Mr. Qorei, what we have just heard, we have heard before this week, and that it is the complaint that no Palestinian leader of authority has yet said to the Palestinians in the territories, it is time to stop the violence, it is time for the Israelis to do the same thing.
Should there be such a statement from a Palestinian authority?
Mr. Qorei, can you hear me?
Well, I guess not. We'll take a break and come right back.
RANDALL: Welcome back. I'm Gene Randall in Washington.
A few moments ago we heard from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force. The background for the appearances in Tel Aviv, the capture by Hezbollah of three Israeli soldiers today along the border between Israel and Lebanon.
Mr. Barak says Israel is holding the Hezbollah, Syria, and Lebanon responsible for the well-being of those three soldiers. He said that his military would spare no effort to get those three soldiers back, that there would be spared no diplomatic activity as well.
He also has given Palestinian Authority leader Yassir Arafat 48 hours to order Palestinians to end the violence in the Palestinian territories.
John King is at the White House for us. John, I know the president has canceled a political trip to keep his finger on the pulse of events in the Middle East. How do you suppose the administration is apt to react to Mr. Barak's deadline of 48 hours for Mr. Arafat to end the violence?
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Gene, the degree of urgency and sensitivity here reflected in part by how little U.S. officials will comment on these developments we've seen today. We know the president is in the White House working the phones. He has spoken twice to Mr. Barak today, once to Mr. Arafat, once as well to the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.
Other calls in the works, including discussions among the president's Middle East peace team.
Now, from senior officials, though, we do have this to say in reaction, one official telling us, quote, "It is not helpful." That was referring to Palestinian leader Arafat's statement, when he landed back in the region, blaming Israel for the violence, equally this official says, it is not helpful when any leader in the region issues an ultimatum. That, a reference to Mr. Barak's ultimatum of 48 hours until he no longer considers the Palestinians partner for peace.
However, at the same time, this and other senior officials telling us, Don't put too much stock into any one statement or any one episode played out between the leaders in the region, these officials telling us obviously it's a very volatile situation, and that -- to remember that both Mr. Arafat and Mr. Barak are in delicate political situations of their own, the president working the phones, as we said, trying to bring calm to the region, obviously frustrated by the developments so far, we're told.
Again, though, U.S. officials saying, Don't read too much into any one statement. We know the president has been in touch with the leaders in the region, and we expect those calls to continue throughout the day and into the evening.
The president, as you mentioned, was to travel domestically, Democratic Party fund-raising trips. He has canceled those. He was supposed to go up to New York to night to see his wife, the first lady. He will not make that trip. Even plans to go to New York tomorrow after her debate in her political campaign on hold as the president monitors the very tense situation in the Middle East.
RANDALL: Our senior White House correspondent John King, reporting from his post on the North Lawn.
Now once again to the phone, Ahmad Qorei, the Palestinian parliament speaker. Are you with us, Mr. Qorei?
RANDALL: Let me repeat the question that I asked before, and that is, a number of people in this country and elsewhere have complained over the past week or so that no Palestinian of authority has yet issued a call for an end to Palestinian violence in the territories.
Now, is it time for such a Palestinian official to say to both sides, the Palestinians and the Israelis, it's time to stop the violence, but beginning with the Palestinians, since they are your followers?
QOREI: Well, first of all, let me say that we are not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the blood of our people. We are careful about each drop of the blood of our people. We are -- our role is to protect our people and to protect the national rights of our people. But when we face such kinds of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I'm saying, it's a kind of aggression, shooting the people. In this way, it is so much difficult for us.
I believe that Mr. Barak, he can do it immediately, he can declare, first of all, about what's happened here and there, about the killing of the people, then he can agree for an international committee to investigate how it started, not because wants to blame only the moment, but because we want to build the foundation for tomorrow, to protect our people for tomorrow.
Who can guarantee the protection of our people for tomorrow? For this reason, we want from Mr. Barak's side, from the Israeli government side, to stand so courageous and to say, This is a big mistake, we are sorry for that, let's sit together, let's see what we can do.
But to blame us and to kill us, that we cannot accept this, really we cannot accept this.
RANDALL: Mr. Qorei...
QOREI: The tension here and between all the Palestinians are so much very bad, it's very, very bad tension. It's very high tension. It's very high tension because we are facing the killing. They are killing us (UNINTELLIGIBLE) each day, everywhere. Why? Because we are demonstrating, just only against the killing of our people.
We are sorry for...
RANDALL: Mr. Qorei...
QOREI: ... what happened in Nablus. But we -- they should be sorry about all that they've made in Gaza and Hebron and Ramallah (ph) and Jerusalem and Nablus and everywhere. This is the way. But today, to issue an ultimatum and 44 -- 48 hours to stop the clashes (UNINTELLIGIBLE), if we started this problem, he know, Mr. Barak, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) who started this problem.
RANDALL: Mr. Qorei, Mr. Barak casts doubt on the concept that Yassir Arafat is still a partner for peace. Do you believe he is?
QOREI: Mr. Arafat, he is a very, very good partner of peace. He wants peace, he wants an agreement. He wanted yesterday, not even today or tomorrow. But also he wants from the Israeli side a good intention. He wants them to respect the rights of our people. He wants them not to impose by the power of -- the balance of power, their -- to dictate their positions and their (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we are sorry to say that what we are seeing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of negotiating by arms, it is not a negotiation for peace.
RANDALL: Mr. Qorei let me ask you one more question. If the Israelis were to say today, The violence must end on our side, would you as the Palestinian parliament speaker say, The violence must end on our side as well?
QOREI: Of course, we are not happy to see the violence. We are not happy to see the violence. We are happy to see our people, the well-being of our people. We are happy to see our people achieve their goals for independence. That's where we'll make us happy, not the violence, not the killing of our people.
RANDALL: Ahmad Qorei is the Palestinian parliament speaker. Thank you, Mr. Speaker, very much for taking the time to be with us.
Let's go over to the State Department now here in Washington. Andrea Koppel is there. Andrea, what have you got for us?
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Gene, you could hear there from the speaker of the parliamentary -- of the Palestinian parliament some of the frustration voiced on his part, and also can shed a little bit of light as to the tremendously difficult task that lies ahead for officials, not just in the Middle East but here in Washington.
You heard John King a short time ago talk about what the president had done earlier today, President Clinton. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also involved in what one official described as a full-court diplomatic press, burning up the phone lines. Secretary Albright spoke with the Syrian foreign minister, Farouk Ashara (ph), and with the Lebanese president, Amil Lihud (ph). Her message to them, please do whatever you can to rein in Hezbollah.
In addition, U.S. officials are saying because the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, a country known to be a strong supporter of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the U.S. has also been urging the French to use their influence in Tehran to try to not only stop the violence but also to get Hezbollah to release those three Israeli soldiers.
One thing that is complicating things, Gene, is the fact that in Syria there has been a change in power there. The previous president, the previous president died over the summer, turning over the reins of power to his son, Bashar Assad, and Mr. Assad is not somebody who's known to have very strong ties within his military, let alone to Hezbollah. In fact, one official said even when his father was around, President Assad, he had difficulty in convincing Hezbollah to release previous Israeli soldiers in an expedited manner.
And so clearly we have a situation right now, Gene, in which the U.S. is trying to do whatever it can to not only get the release of those three Israeli soldiers but now we've just heard form Prime Minister Barak to get Yassir Arafat to publicly make an end, publicly call for an end to the violence amongst the Palestinians.
This is going to be a day full of phone calls, you can bet, between Washington and capitals around the world. Secretary Albright has et up a task force here at the State Department to monitor developments.
Gene, for many of those here in the State Department as well as in the White House, members of the president's peace team, this must be an extremely frustrating and disappointing time, to think that just a few weeks ago, they felt that an Israeli-Palestinian permanent peace was within their grasp, and now they're seeing that we are on what appears to be the verge of a new war in the Middle East -- Gene.
RANDALL: All right, Andrea, thanks very much.
Let's go back to Jerusalem and Jerrold Kessel.
Jerrold, you probably heard John King a few moments ago saying that the administration takes a dim view of ultimatums from anybody in the region.
KESSEL: Yes, I think we heard that from both the Palestinians as well. They see it as an ultimatum, but I think we should see that Prime Minister Barak is in a very difficult position, politically, domestically, he's in a difficult position vis-a-vis the peace process. It is falling apart about him, and the violence is not stopping.
He is -- he has had this extra front opened up with Hezbollah kidnapping the three soldiers, and it is a major predicament for the Israeli prime minister.
But I think what was interesting in that press conference from the prime minister just a short while ago was the fact that he said, even as he delivered an ultimatum, which clearly the Palestinians don't like, about getting down to the peace, back to the peace table, ending the violence, he said emphatically that he believes peace was in with the -- was -- was -- remains within grasp of the two sides.
And we heard the Palestinian speaker, a very influential man in the Palestinian side, Ahmad Qorei (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is his name, as he's known, as a very close confidant of Yassir Arafat, saying, Yassir Arafat wants a peace deal not, not today or tomorrow but yesterday.
The two sides say they remain committed to a peace deal. The question is, how to get that violence stopped if it's true that Yassir -- that Mr. Barak, Mr. Barak alleges that it's Yassir Arafat who can call it off at one stroke and one decision.
Well, that remains something in doubt. The distrust on both sides is enormous, but it does seem to be the time when if anybody needs to take a bold stroke for peace, this is that time -- Gene.
RANDALL: CNN's Jerrold Kessel in Jerusalem. Jerrold, thanks very much.
We, of course, will have continuing coverage on this breaking story in the Middle East, and we'll be back in just a moment.
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