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Mitchell Commission Faults Israelis and Palestinians for Regional Violence

Aired May 21, 2001 - 10:05   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A little bit of breaking news now. Senator George Mitchell, former senator, releasing his report on his plan for easing the violence in the Middle East. Live to Washington.


GEORGE MITCHELL, FRM. U.S. SENATOR: ... foundation for resolving the current crisis and preparing a path to resuming meaningful negotiations.

Unfortunately, those generous words were followed almost immediately by a dramatic escalation of the conflict. In the past few days, dozens have been killed and scores wounded. These tragic events add urgency, if any were needed, to our principal recommendation that the violence be ended.

Just a few weeks ago, on our committee's last visit to the region, leaders on both sides told us in virtually identical words that "life has become unbearable" for their people. They said that the violence has to end. But it has not ended. It has gotten worse.

And it will keep on getting worse unless the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority take swift and decisive action to end the violence, rebuild confidence and resume negotiations. That is the principal message of our report, six months in the making, delivered to the president on May 1 and made public today.

We call on the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to implement our recommendations. First, end the violence. That must be the immediate aim. The cycle of violent action and violent reaction must be broken. We call upon the parties to implement an immediate and unconditional cessation of violence.

Part of the effort to end the violence must include an immediate resumption of security cooperation between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at preventing violence and combating terrorism. Political leaders on both sides must act now to reduce tension and stop the violence, then rebuild confidence.

The restoration of trust is essential. We recommend several steps to this end. Given the high level of hostility and mistrust, the timing and sequence of these steps are obviously crucial. This can be decided only by the parties. We urge them to begin the process of decision immediately.

Among our recommendations are: The Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel should work together to establish a meaningful cooling-off period and implement additional confidence-building measures, some of which were detailed in the October 2000 Sharm El- Sheikh statement and some of which were offered by the United States on January 7, 2001, in Cairo.

The Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel should resume their efforts to identify, condemn and discourage incitement in all its forms. The Palestinian Authority should make clear through concrete action to Palestinians and Israelis alike that terrorism is reprehensible and unacceptable and that the Palestinian Authority will make a 100 percent efforts to prevent terrorist operations and to punish perpetrators. This effort should include immediate steps to apprehend and incarcerate terrorists operating within the Palestinian Authority's jurisdiction.

The government of Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including the natural growth of existing settlements. The government of Israel should ensure that the Israeli defense forces adopt and enforce policies and procedures encouraging nonlethal responses to unarmed demonstrators with a view to minimizing casualties and friction between the two communities. The Palestinian Authority should prevent gunmen from using Palestinian-populated areas to fire upon Israeli-populated areas and IDF positions. This tactic places civilians on both sides at unnecessary risk.

The government of Israel should lift closures, transfer to the Palestinian Authority all revenues owed and permit Palestinians who had been employed in Israel to return to their jobs. And should ensure that security forces and settlers refrain from the destruction of homes and roads, as well as trees and other agricultural property in Palestinian areas. We acknowledge the government of Israel's position that actions of this nature have been taken for security reasons. Nevertheless, the economic effects will persist for years.

The Palestinian Authority should renew cooperation with Israeli security agencies to ensure to the maximum extent possible that Palestinian workers employed within Israel are fully vetted and free of connections to organizations and individuals engaged in terrorism.

The Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel should consider a joint undertaking to preserve and protect holy places sacred to the traditions of Jews, Muslims and Christians. The government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority should jointly endorse and support the work of Palestinian and Israeli nongovernmental organizations involved in cross-community initiatives linking the two peoples.

Excerpts of our report have become public over the past two weeks, and some of our recommendations have received more attention than others. We believe that all of these measures will help the parties to rebuild confidence and resume meaningful negotiations, and we urge that all of them be implemented. But no measure is linked to or is a precondition to another. We repeat our belief that the timing and sequence of these confidence-building steps can be decided only by the parties, and we encourage them to begin the process of decision immediately.

Finally, resume negotiations. The parties must find a way back to the negotiating table. A halt to the violence, a resumption of security cooperation and steps to restore trust cannot be long sustained without serious negotiations to resolve the underlying causes of the conflict. It was not within our mandate to prescribe the basis or agenda of negotiations or to recommend how the parties should ultimately settle the difficult issues before them. But if they are to succeed in doing so, they must find a way to renew a spirit of compromise, reconciliation and partnership so that negotiations can lead to a just resolution of the conflict.

Fear, hate, anger and frustration have risen on both sides. The greatest danger of all is that the culture of peace, nurtured over the previous decade, is being shattered. In its place there is a growing sense of futility and despair and a growing resort to violence. Political leaders on both sides must act and speak decisively to reverse these dangerous trends. They must rekindle the desire and the drive for peace. That will be difficult, but it can be done and it must be done, for the alternative is unacceptable and should be unthinkable.

Two proud peoples share a land and a destiny. Their competing claims and religious differences have led to a grinding, demoralizing, dehumanizing conflict. They can continue in conflict, or they can negotiate to find a way to live side-by-side in peace. We urge them to return to negotiations however difficult. It is the only path to peace, justice and security -- Senator Rudman.

WARREN B. RUDMAN, FRM. U.S. SENATOR: Thank you, George.

I will be brief.

First, I want to thank my friend and colleague, George Mitchell, for his extraordinary leadership of this panel. Secondly, I want to pay homage to President Demirel, Minister Jagland and Mr. Solana for their intense participation and contribution into what is essentially an international group that was formed under the auspices of the president of the United States.

Let me simply say -- and this statement represents my thinking as well as Senator Mitchell's -- that if there is a lesson that I have drawn from what I have seen, it is simply this, that the leaders of these two peoples must put aside old beliefs and old canards and must get ahead of their own constituencies and take substantial political risks.

If they do not, and they're not willing to take those risks to reach out to one another and follow the outline of these recommendations or similar recommendations, then I fear that we will see this deteriorate into a conflagration that could be far worse than anyone has imagined.

I sincerely hope that these recommendations are followed for the good of the people, particularly the children, of these two competing groups.

O'BRIEN: A pair of former New England senators releasing a significant report offering what they say is a blueprint for peace in the Middle East. Senator Mitchell, former Senator Mitchell of Maine, saying fear, hate, anger and frustration have risen on both sides and the greatest danger is that the culture of peace is being shattered with a growing sense of futility and despair.

These words coming at a time of increasing violence in the Middle East, as Israelis and Palestinians continue on a cycle of violence. Let's turn it now to Foggy Bottom, Washington -- the State Department -- where David Ensor has been listening in.

David, a sense of the tone here; the tone is one that indicates the urgency of the situation. I'm curious if it will fall deaf ears in the Middle East at this juncture, sort of muffled by the sound of shots, gunshots, that is.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That is certainly the worry in this building, Miles. Secretary of State Colin Powell has read this report very closely in recent days. He, of course, had a copy before the rest of us are getting it today, and his aides say he takes it very seriously.

He regards the report as very well put-together and he will be making a statement a little bit later this morning to talk about how the Mitchell report might be used by the parties and by the U.S. as a kind a framework within which to try to decrease the level of tension and violence and get back to the table and get back to real talks.

At the same time, he's not expected to make any proposals for a special ambassador, special envoy, special meetings and there is a rather gloomy sense among U.S. officials at this point that things are really quite bad and they could easily get worse.

Still, he is going to make a very firm appeal to the sides to try to step back from the abyss that they are appearing over, as the U.S. sees it, and he is going to try to get the sides to consider these very blunt recommendations from the Mitchell report: that they simply stop the violence; that, for example the Israelis stop all settlement activity.

There are a number of quite difficult points that the two sides are going to have a lot of trouble doing, but that is what is needed in the view of Secretary of State Powell and we'll hear that later this morning, Miles.

O'BRIEN: David, one thing Senator Mitchell did not mention; he spoke of the anger and frustration and despair that exists among the Palestinians and the Israelis, I guess you could say that the sense of frustration and despair exists within the halls that you walk right there. How much is that manifesting itself in whatever plan comes out that Secretary Powell will discuss later?

ENSOR: Well, they are very frustrated and worried about the situation. At the same time, very wary about getting too far involved in it as a U.S. administration. There was a sense, when the Bush administration took power in January, that President Clinton and his aides had become too day-to-day involved in the minutia of the Middle East negotiations, and that that was not the right way to go, not the way that this administration wants to go.

Secretary Powell is very worried about his. He wants to do what he can to try to decrease the violence. At the same time, there is still a sense of caution about getting too heavily involved in this matter at this time. A sense, frankly, that the situation is bad, it may get worse and there may not be all that much that the U.S. can do about it, at least in the short term -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: There are some critics of the Clinton administration, David, I know you've talked to them, who would tell you that the Clinton administration essentially laid the groundwork for what we're seeing by forcing Ehud Barak so strongly to try to broker for peace and ultimately bringing down his government. What's the feeling there in the State Department? Is there a lot of traction to that idea?

ENSOR: Well, they don't look back too much. They're looking forward and dealing with the situation they have now. I haven't heard them criticizing Mr. Clinton in that specific way. I have heard that criticism elsewhere around town.

At the same time, he made a good-faith effort. There is that feeling here, too, and they don't really want to second-guess the past administration. They want to figure out what they should do. But it just isn't clear where to go. It's very, very difficult to see.

Secretary Powell said on Friday that if he saw a way forward, if he saw a step he could take that would make a difference, he'd take that step. But it's very difficult to figure out what that step would be at this point.

They are working on it. They are thinking it through and you may see -- Mr. Powell is, of course, leaving tomorrow for a trip to Africa. There is some talk that he might add stops in the Middle East to the trip, although no commitment at this point -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's David Ensor at the State Department



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