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CNN Today

Crisis in the Middle East: Barak and Arafat to Meet with Mubarak Tomorrow in Egypt

Aired December 27, 2000 - 1:31 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will meet tomorrow in Egypt. This is the latest attempt to revive a peace process which has essentially been in shambles for months now.

Our Matthew Chance joining us now from Jerusalem.

Matthew, hello.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Daryn.

Well, that is right. The future of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process now hanging in the balance, as the leaders of both sides are prepared to attend a summit in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el- Sheikh on Thursday. That submit to be host the by the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and expected to be the place where both sides at least get together to discuss their respective positions on the U.S. -- excuse me -- proposals offered earlier, you know, offered in Washington earlier this month.

Well, Shimon Peres is a former Israeli prime minister. He is also one of the original architects of the Oslo peace process, and is now a senior figure in the Israeli cabinet. Let's listen in to what he had to say earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHIMON PERES, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: The feeling is, that this is the time of the decision. And you cannot say, yes, or and maybe, you have to say either yes and no. And my feeling is that the tendency is to say a clear yes.

I think our particular concern is about the mountain, the Temple Mountain, which is very holy to us. And here we have to look for a language, which will enable all people to play to the same laws, in different languages, without anybody monopolizing, disguise and doubts.

From the Israeli standpoint, the right of return is not negotiable because this is like committing suicide, it is to convert a Jewish majority into a Jewish minority. It means that Israel will have to give up our sovereignty, that somebody else will decide instead of us, who can come in or won't come in. So this is not really negotiable.

By in large, it is a time of decision. It's a cabinet that is ready to decide. It's a cabinet that knows not only the prize that we shall have to pay historically, but also a prize that you will have to pay politically. It won't be easy to sell it to our people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHANCE: A lot of differences between the two sides still on the key issues. Ehud Barak, though, the Israeli prime minister, said that he would accept the U.S. proposals on the condition that the Palestinians did the same. For their part, the Palestinians have all along been pretty downbeat about these U.S. proposals, saying they are looking for more clarification.

Saeb Erakat is the senior Palestinian negotiator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: What you need here, you need details. You cannot going on vagueness. We are not seeking a declaration of principles. We are not seeking to mandate issues. We are not seeking to defer or delay any of the issues. What we need are sets of details, including geographic maps, very detailed, and including the details on the subject, themselves, because any vagueness will lead to, even if it's what people are calling constructive vagueness, may lead to an explosion later on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHANCE: Well, if the summit does go ahead on Thursday, it will be the first time the Israeli leader and the Palestinian leader have met face-to-face since October. And after so many weeks of violence and confrontation since then, it is going to be a pretty key test of how far each side will go to try and make those painful concessions for the sake of peace.

Daryn, back to you.

KAGAN: Matthew Chance, in Jerusalem, thank you very much.

You know members of the White House will be watching those meetings very carefully. The meeting could be the final push for peace during the Clinton administration.

Let's check in at the White House with our Major Garrett.

Major, hello.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Daryn. How are you?

Well, a couple of key things in that Shimon Peres interview. He talked about right of return. What that really is talking about is the refugee issue, and it is really one of the crucial issues yet to be resolved. There are about 1 1/2 million Palestinian refugees. These are people who fled the state of Israel when it was created, or fled thereafter. They would like to have the right to return.

Now what Shimon Peres was saying is, we can't let these people all come back, 1 1/2 million, because if we did, we would lose our own sovereignty, we lose control of our own nation state of Israel.

And what really is being talked about behind the scenes is a mechanism where by which the Israelis would acknowledge that in the creation of their state, they created a refugee problem for the Palestinians. And they also, the Palestinians would like them, in addition to acknowledging that, would agree to participate in some sort of international fund that would act as a mean of compensating those refugees who will not return, who will have to make their lives, as they are now, in other places; Lebanon, Jordan, for example.

The other thing he talked about was the Temple Mount, and the question of sovereignty over that and other parts of Jerusalem is also on the table. And both sides, behind the scenes, have been narrowing those differences. And U.S. officials tell CNN that, right now, they're not monitoring with tremendous scrutiny all the public comments from the Israelis and the Palestinians because, behind the scenes, they have been talking very carefully, very closely for weeks and weeks now. They do sense the differences are narrowing. There's a long, long way to go to establishing a final peace deal. But, here at the White House, there is some quiet, and I would underscore the word cautious, optimistic -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Major Garrett, from the White House. Thank you very much, Major.

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