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Israelis, Palestinians Agree to Bring End to Violence

Aired November 2, 2000 - 7:00 a.m. ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: A developing story once again out of the Middle East, word of an understanding, some sort of an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians to end the five weeks of violence now.

We turn to CNN's Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna for the latest on this story -- Mike.

MIKE HANNA, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: Carol, within minutes we're expecting statements from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. These statements will be broadcast live on television in Israel and within the Palestinian territories.

The statements arise out of an overnight agreement reached between Mr. Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. The two spent some two hours of discussions in the course of the night and in the early morning and came to an agreement, an understanding which has been accepted by Mr. Barak as well as by Mr. Arafat.

We understand that this agreement is in relation to the Sharm el- Sheikh understandings that were reached some two and a half weeks ago. In terms of those understandings, Israel had agreed to withdraw its forces from where they were stationed in the Palestinian territories to move their forces back to the positions they occupied before the conflict erupted some six weeks ago. Both leaders would pledge to end the violence and both leaders will ask for a public -- make a public announcement asking for an end to the conflict. We're expecting these public announcements to be made within the next few minutes.

But the situation at present in the hours leading up to these public announcements by the two leaders, there has been ongoing conflict in several areas. At least one Palestinian has been killed in the course of the morning, shot by Israeli security forces.

However, in the course of the morning, too, we've seen the signs of this understanding taking root. There have been signs that the Israeli tanks have been withdrawing from their positions in Palestinian territories. There has been reports, too, that stone throwers in the Gaza Strip, in particular around Jewish settlements such as Netzarim, have been prevented from doing so by Palestinian police officers. This the first time in many weeks that it's been seen on the ground, the Palestinian police officers actively restraining any actions or any attempts to attack Israeli outposts. So we have seen both the promise of what could happen and both the disaster of what could happen should this agreement not be fully implemented. And the situation now, as I said, is that we are waiting the public statements from each of the two leaders.

This agreement brokered overnight by Shimon Peres, former Israeli prime minister. Perhaps a key to all of this is Mr. Peres's relationship with the Palestinian Authority president, Yasser Arafat. It's been no secret that Ehud Barak has not seen eye-to-eye with Mr. Arafat at all. There has been problems, perhaps, on a personal level. However, Mr. Peres appears to have had a warm relationship with Mr. Arafat over the years.

One must remember that they are Nobel Peace Prize laureates. They both were awarded the peace prize in the wake of the Oslo agreements signed some seven years ago, an award that they shared with the former Israeli prime minister, assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

So there does appeared to have been some kind of relationship between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Peres in which they were able to rekindle the trust between Israelis and Palestinians that had been so lacking in the weeks leading up to this -- Carol.

LIN: Mike, we are keeping an eye on Israel's Defense Ministry building, where Ehud Barak is expected to speak at any moment. We're also waiting for Yasser Arafat to make his remarks, which are carefully timed, in the world of diplomacy, to be broadcast at the same time on Palestinian television and radio.

And while we wait for these two leaders, I know you've gone into the relationship between Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat, but the relationship aside, what about the climate on the streets? The leaders have met, they've talked, they've agreed at Sharm el-Sheikh, and yet the people on the streets have been saying that the violence will not end because it is in a cycle of violence now. People are so angry that it goes beyond politics.

So what has really changed on the street that makes these leaders believe that another agreement can be implemented?

HANNA: Well, perhaps the very intensity of violence on the streets has made everybody aware of exactly what the alternative is to a peaceful negotiated settlement within the region. The violence has been intense. We have heard from the Palestinian side that the violence is going to continue, particularly from the extremist Hamas movement, which, in the wake of the agreement that was announced this morning, have called for the intifada on the streets to continue.

However, there has been a great deal of violence in recent weeks. There have been more than 170 lives lost, all but 12 of these either Palestinians or Arab Israelis.

So the cost of the particular conflict has been exceedingly high in terms of human life, and perhaps this is something that leads the leaders to believe that they will be able to sell any agreement to their followers.

And there is another very important issue here that makes it very different from the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement. This is an agreement brokered between Israelis and Palestinians alone. There were no mediators involved, there was no U.S. representative or U.N. representative sitting with Shimon Peres and Mr. Arafat in the course of the evening. It was, for the first time in many months and many years, an agreement that they reached between themselves.

And with the absence of any broker, some whom, on one side or the other, would see as biased within the process, this may give an increased hope, perhaps, that such an agreement could hold; an agreement that has been seen as not being thrust down the throat of one side or the other, as some previous agreements may have been interpreted as. It's an agreement that two equal partners have forged together -- Carol.

LIN: Well, Mike, what convinces the Israelis that Yasser Arafat -- what actions has he taken in the last several weeks that convinces them that they -- that he still has the authority with the people on the street to implement any agreement?

HANNA: Well, that remains an open question. What we have seen in the hours since the agreement was reached is Palestinian police officers on the streets restraining stone throwers from attacking Israeli outposts and Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories. That has been an immediate sign of an authority being exerted.

One of the questions that has been raised in the weeks of violence is the Israelis have maintained that Yasser Arafat has the ability, has the power to turn the violence on and off like a tap. Now, that may not be the case. The Palestinians for their part have contended that it is not Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority's responsibility for the conflict, it is, in fact, the Israeli government's; and most particular, it is the Israeli security forces and what was described as their excessive use of force.

Palestinians have contended, too, that the very presence of Israeli forces within the Palestinian territories, the very presence of Jewish settlements within Palestinian territories that the Israeli forces are there to defend, is in itself a constant provocation that makes it very difficult for the Palestinian authorities to restrain their followers.

So each side has blamed the other for this ongoing cycle of violence. This cycle of violence, though, a very astute comment made by Mr. Peres in the course of the morning after the agreement was reached, he says there needs to be a few days without a funeral.

On this day, indeed, there are going to be a number of funerals. At least seven people were killed in the course of yesterday's violence. Six Palestinians were killed yesterday; 3 Israeli soldiers were killed yesterday; another Palestinian died today as a result of wounds sustained in the conflict yesterday. There are a number of funerals today. Now, Mr. Peres has said that there needs to be a couple of days without a funeral in order for this agreement to take hold. Now, the significance of this has been the cycle of violence that one has seen over the last number of weeks. There have been people killed, there has been a funeral. In the protests of the funeral, more people are killed.

The point that Mr. Peres is making -- and it's a point that has been made by U.S. observers as well, such as U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- this cycle of violence has got to be broken. The only way the cycle of violence has got to be -- can be broken is for the leaders to start it from the top up, to call for calm among their followers and to ensure that their followers observe those calls -- Carol.

LIN: All right, thank you very much, Mike Hanna, for standing by there. We are still waiting for Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat to make their statements. But in the meantime, Leon, we're going to go to the White House.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Carol, as a matter of fact, we're just also getting word, late word right now from the Palestinian Authority, from spokespeople there within the authority, who are saying now that Yasser Arafat will not be making a statement, at least not for another hour or so. So we will stand by for that. We still have not heard anything about when exactly Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel is going to come out, and we'll keep our eye on the transmission that we have coming from Israel. Right now, I don't see anything happening in that room.

In the meantime, let's go to the White House, because President Clinton says that he is optimistic about the latest development in the Mideast.

And CNN's Kathleen Koch is there at the White House. She's going to give us the angle from there -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, there is a real sense of relief here at the White House this morning because former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres has been able to succeed where, up to this point, President Clinton has failed.

If you will recall that, only last week, Tuesday, President Clinton had spoken both to Prime Minister Ehud Barak and to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and was pressuring both men, inviting them to come to Washington to meet with him separately, to try to get these peace talks back on track, all to no avail.

So the president last night reacted to this announcement in a statement saying that, quote, "I welcome this development and I'm hopeful that it will lead to implementation of the steps agreed to by both parties at Sharm el-Sheikh."

Now, that agreement reached in Egypt last month called on both sides to take concrete steps to reduce the ongoing violence, called on both sides to set a concrete timetable, also, for renewing the peace talks, and also to set up a fact-finding commission that would evaluate exactly what started this latest round of violence.

Now, the White House realizes that all of this will be difficult, it will not be easy. President Clinton last week said that he knows that while Yasser Arafat cannot control all the Palestinians, the president said that he believed he could still dramatically reduce violence in the region.

So the United States continues to talk with both sides. The president remains very hopeful that he could still get one or both of the leaders here to meet with him at the White House. But at least at this point, this announcement keeps the hopes for peace alive.

Reporting live at the White House, I'm Kathleen Koch.

HARRIS: all right, thank you, Kathleen. We'll get back to you a little bit later on.

LIN: All right, we continue to keep our eye on events developing now out of the Middle East, a possible agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, once again, to try to end five weeks of violence. We are waiting for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to make his appearance. Live, you are looking now, at that the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv where the prime minister is expected to outline this understanding.

Yasser Arafat also expected to make remarks at the same time, but he has changed his mind...

HARRIS: That's been postponed now.

LIN: ... or postponed it.

HARRIS: Yes, we should hear from him, we expect now, according to the Palestinian Authority, we should hear from Mr. Arafat within about an hour or so. So, of course, as soon as we get that here at CNN, we will give it to you.



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