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Has the Israeli-Palestinian Violence Put an End to the Peace Process?

Aired October 12, 2000 - 1:20 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: It's a tumultuous day in the Middle East. And joining us for a closer look now is Edward Djerejian. He is the director of the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. He served as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs in both the Bush and Clinton administrations. He's been ambassador to Israel and ambassador to Syria. He joins us today from Houston.

Mr. Ambassador, are you alarmed by what you're hearing of events in the Middle East?

EDWARD DJEREJIAN, DIR., BAKER INST., RICE UNIV.: Certainly alarmed. The situation is going into a worst case scenario, where the violence on the ground is now turning into military escalations. And the killing on both sides has put an end, obviously, to the peace process.

And the immediate objective, obviously, is to try to get a sustainable cease-fire, and then to try to get the parties to start contacting each other in direct communications, and then picking up the pieces, and seeing if we can put the framework of piece back together again.

WATERS: OK, the big question is, of course, how do you do that? We have Arafat this day saying the events of the day are a declaration of war. He's referring to the helicopter gunship reaction to the killing of two Israeli soldiers. We have the Israeli minister of communications saying: This is the end of the peace process.

So there are forces on both sides who are saying: This is it. We're back at it again.

DJEREJIAN: Well, this is because the passions have been so inflamed on both sides that we are hearing this type of rhetoric. But the fact is that there is no military solution to the issues at hand between the Israelis and the Palestinians. There has to be a negotiated settlement at the end of the day.

So the judgment that has to be made is: How much more killing, how much more bloodletting has to go on before the parties eventually get back to talking with one another? So that's why the important task of the Arab and the Israeli leadership, the American leadership, the international community, is to obtain a sustainable cease-fire, and to start getting the parties together.

Now, in the backdrop of this, I think it's important to state that, when the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at Camp David ended without an agreement, and the issue of Jerusalem was given such a profile, that the incidents that happened in and around Jerusalem in which people started going out into the streets and the violence started, shows you the deep frustration on both the Israeli side and the Arab side as to the peace process not achieving any benefits that the people of the region can enjoy.

At the same time, you have a group like Hezbollah in Lebanon, who is sending a message to Yasser Arafat: Forget about the Oslo peace process. Do what we did. Force the Israelis out of occupied Arab territory through resistance.

So these messages are being picked up in the street. Concomitantly, you have a situation where, within Israel itself, the inflamed passions have brought the Israeli-Arab citizens into the street in solidarity with the Palestinians in the West Bank. And the Israelis look at a situation where the threat is not only from without, but also from within. So the situation is highly inflamed. And it must be brought to a peaceful end immediately.

WATERS: When we heard a couple of months ago that the peace process was moving along, and the only remaining high-intensity problem was the issue of Jerusalem, there are some within Israel and the Palestinian community who thought: What happened? We were almost there, we thought.

DJEREJIAN: Yes, it's like a difference between day and night. But the point was that they weren't there -- unfortunately. Some very imaginative ideas were discussed at the table in Camp David on these final status issues. And it wasn't only Jerusalem, but also the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

But certainly Jerusalem had -- is the most sensitive of all the issues, because of the religious and the ideological overtones of the Jerusalem issue. And I think that the sense of failure, the disappointment on the ground, and then we had the visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount -- the Palestinians taking unilateral actions on the streets -- the Israeli reaction to that -- the communities both being inflamed in both Israel and the Arab world.

And what we have is a situation where what seemed to be a peace process was abruptly put to an end. And now we have a violent confrontation.

WATERS: What can the United States do now? Can the United States do anything right now?

DJEREJIAN: Well, I think the United States can do a great deal. We still have a great influence. The president of the United States has been active in the peace process in the talks. The United States has very important relationships, obviously, with Israel, with key Arab states, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, others in the region. We have a strong relationship with Yasser Arafat, Palestinian National Authority. We have influence. We have a strong political and economic and military presence in the region. So the United States can exert influence, and is exerting influence. But the important thing is that we do this with great speed, with great decisiveness, and that we try to bring in our partners in the Arab world, and Israel, and the Europeans, the United Nations, to work in a coordinated matter to bring this violence to an end.

WATERS: Is there a new political dynamic vis-a-vis Syria's involvement in this after the death of Hafez al-Assad? Is there any reason for hope there?

DJEREJIAN: Well, I think that much progress has been made on the Israeli-Syria negotiating track over the years, since 1991 when we constructed the Madrid Peace Conference. The issues on -- between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights are not ideological issues. They're not religious issues, like on Jerusalem.

They are issues of land, peace and security -- and water. And much has been done to narrow the gap on those issues. And that certainly is a negotiating track that I believe can be brought to fulfillment and can help stabilize the strategic equation of peace in the Middle East.

WATERS: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador -- Ambassador Edward Djerejian joining us from Houston, we thank you.

DJEREJIAN: Thank you.



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