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Jerusalem Mayor Reacts to Violence

Aired April 4, 2002 - 12:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We continue our expanded coverage of President Bush's announcement that he'll be sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East. We have coverage coming from the White House, from Jerusalem, and we want to begin now from the White House. And that's where Kelly Wallace is keeping an eye on things there -- good afternoon, Kelly.


As you know, Fredricka, this administration really under increasing pressure from the Arab world, from lawmakers in the United States, even from former Clinton administration officials. All really saying that the administration needed to step up its engagement based on the situation on the ground. Clearly, the president announcing that he is stepping up the engagement, sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region next week. Mr. Bush making the announcement in the rose garden.

The president also doing something he has not done since today -- until today. He called on Israel to halt its incursions into the Palestinian areas and to begin to withdraw. The president really saying when it comes to the situation with the Israelis and the Palestinians, quote, "Enough is enough."

He also had strong words for the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, saying he can do much, much more. That he had promised to control the terrorism, that he is not doing so. He sent this message to the Palestinian leader and also to the Arab world.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I call on the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority and our friends in the Arab world to join us in delivering a clear message to terrorists. Blowing yourself up does not help the Palestinian cause. To the contrary, suicide bombing missions could well blow up the best and only hope for a Palestinian state.


WALLACE: The president also doing something else. Talking in great detail about his vision for the Middle East. His vision of an Israel and a Palestinian state living peacefully side by side. The president also looking to see Israel stop its settlement activity and withdraw from the occupied territories.

The president putting forward this vision, Fredricka, at a time when a lot of people had said based on the changing situation on the ground the administration really needed to change its approach. That simply focusing on trying to get a cease-fire and set up some security arrangements between the two sides was not going to work. That the Palestinians, for instance, needed to see some discussion of political issues, such as a Palestinian state, in order to agree such things as a cease-fire.

Clearly, the president and his administration indicating that they will be discussing these political issues at the same time that Secretary Powell will be trying to work out a cease-fire, trying to get the Israelis to withdraw from those Palestinian areas and get the two parties into these plans we've heard a lot about. The Tenet plan, named after CIA Director George Tenet, security arrangements between the two sides; and then the Mitchell plan, that's named after former Senator George Mitchell, a series of steps to build confidence between the two sides and ultimately to get them down the road to a final settlement -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kelly. Stick around for a moment. We want to go to Bill Hemmer, who is in Jerusalem there, to get an update on the reaction that may be coming out of Israel there. We are expecting that there may be an immediate reaction, as Israeli government officials are looking over President Bush's speech.

Bill, what do you have for us now?

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, to be frank, Fredricka, not a whole lot just yet. We have been in touch with the government here in Jerusalem. We do anticipate at sometime very soon they will come out and talk with us and give us some sort of reaction of what the president requested in the past hour.

In the meantime, though, let's go to the mayor -- the Mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert is with us by telephone right now. And, Mayor Olmert, initially, your reaction to what we heard from the White House 45 minutes ago.

EHUD OLMERT, MAYOR OF JERUSALEM: Yes. I think I was impressed by four major points that the president made. One, was the fact that he kept saying time and again that responsibility for the eruption of hostilities and the dramatic turnaround in events here is entirely on the shoulders of Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, who in his words, betrayed the hopes for peace by not acting against terror, by condoning terrorists, by not using the power of his position to stop it. And he kept saying it time and again.

The other point which was very important was the legitimacy of the Israeli operation to stop terror. I think it was clear that President Bush understands the need and justifies the feeling that Israel has that it has to do something in order to stop terror.

The third point, which was of great significance, was the fact that the president expressed the emotions in view of this terrible tragedy, and his empathy and understanding of tragedies was very moving. And the last point was that he expects that two things will happen: cease-fire and pull-out of Israeli forces. Even though the president didn't term it in so many words, it was clear that one depends on the other. That if there will be no cease-fire, no one can expect Israel to stop its legitimate military operation to stop terror.

And so Arafat will declare a cease-fire and we will be able to stop our action

HEMMER: Yes, Mr. Mayor, clearly, though, he said at this point the military activity has to stop and stop immediately. How will that be received by Ariel Sharon, his defense minister and others within his cabinet?

OLMERT: If I could just correct you, Bill, I don't think that he said that the military action has to stop immediately. I don't remember the word immediately. I remember that he said it has to be stopped. And there is no doubt that in the context of what he said he expects two things: that cease-fire will prevail and that the military action will stop.

I think that the attitude of the Israeli government to the president is enormously positive. I think there is a great deal of respect and admiration for the very staunch position that the president has taken all along against terror and against the violations of the Palestinian authority. And this position will be listened to very carefully.

And I think that the Israeli government will say that we will do everything in our ability and power to achieve the goals that were set forth by the president. That there will be a cease-fire so that we will be able to stop our military operation.

HEMMER: And, Mayor, based on your answer, the military operation at this point, will there be any breaks on it at this point, or will it continue full steam the way we have seen now for seven days time? Nablus being taken last night, half a dozen major towns in the West Bank now with the Israeli military fighting on the ground as we speak.

OLMERT: Well I think that the president said that Secretary Powell will come to the region next week. I think that there is a possibility that perhaps with next week there will be a dramatic change in the attitude. I hope so. All the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat towards a cease-fire, and that will allow Israel to reconsider its position about the military action.

I don't expect...

HEMMER: So bottom line right now today, you don't think...

OLMERT: ... that something will be done today.

HEMMER: OK. So what you're saying then is the military operation, as best you understand it, will continue and possibly for a week longer until Colin Powell is in the region. OLMERT: No, I didn't say that. I said that the president offered a time framework for two things to happen: for cease-fire and for the end of the Israeli military action. And, therefore, I think that we have to relate to this time framework as a relevant time framework for the time being.

HEMMER: OK. All right. Clarification well noted. Mayor, thank you. Mayor Ehud Olmert here in Jerusalem. We'll continue to gather more reaction. I understand there is more news back in Atlanta. Back to Fredricka now who has that -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks a lot, Bill. And we'll see you a little bit later on in this hour.

For more now on the president's policy shift and Secretary of State Colin Powell's plans to travel to the Middle East, from CNN's State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel, she joins us now live.

Well we know that Colin Powell will be making his move next week. What more do we know about his travels and that plan?


What we do know is Secretary Powell is supposed to be leaving anyway next week for a two-city stop in Europe. Our understanding is that he would then tag on the Middle East to the end of that trip. I've a feeling that they're in the midst of trying to make all the arrangements right now.

But what I can tell you as well is that what President Bush said, irrespective of what the mayor from Jerusalem was just saying, was a dramatic policy shift by the Bush administration. There is now quite a bit of daylight between the United States and its close ally Israel.

Last week, President Bush gave what many had interpreted as a green light to the Israelis to continue with their military incursion. He painted it as a very black and white situation. The Israelis had to do what they had to do to fight terrorism.

It's not that President Bush has backed away from Israel's need to defend itself, but what he is now saying is that they must withdraw from all of the cities. They must withdraw, and the implication is that they must withdraw as soon as possible, if not now.

The other thing that President Bush said today which is worth noting is that -- is that Yasser Arafat, while he needs to abide by a cease-fire, is someone who is trying to -- whose hands are basically tied. What he said is basically that -- that all the pressure that had been on Arafat now is now shifting in a more evenhanded manner. President Bush said, "Enough is enough."

I mean, in effect, what you're looking at right now, the pictures of Anthony Zinni's last meeting with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, his mission -- Zinni's mission has gone nowhere. And in recognition of the fact that Palestinians and Israelis -- but right now more Palestinians -- are dying. Palestinian civilians are dying. President Bush and the Bush administration made the decision that they had to do something now, that they had to do more.

We've been watching photos, video, reading articles from many of our very brave colleagues who have been in Ramallah, been in many of these -- Bethlehem, other Palestinian cities in the last week, and finally it appears those pictures have gotten through, as well as the calls from the Arab world, Fredricka. Calls from close U.S. allies, like the Egyptian and the Jordanian governments, for the Bush administration to try to shake it up and try to get it to do what it has announced today, and that is to send Secretary of State Powell to the region -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, Andrea, it seems like this about face can certainly be associated directly to those Arab nations, including Egypt, who said, "If the U.S. doesn't show some fairness in its appeal for peace, then you're going to have a difficult time getting our cooperation in the ongoing war against terror."

KOPPEL: Absolutely. And beyond that, or included in that, any U.S. hope of having Arab support for military action against Iraq. We know -- CNN learned yesterday that the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, who was faced with demonstrations like you're looking at right now -- I'm not sure which city this is. But there were about a million protesters I was told out on the streets -- Egyptian streets in recent days. That President Mubarak wrote President Bush two angry letters according to Arab diplomats, in which he as much as demanded that the U.S. president do more.

Arab governments under tremendous pressure from their own people, Fredricka, to respond in some way. And we heard yesterday the Egyptian government firing somewhat of a symbolic shot across Israel's bow and saying it was going to end all contacts with the Israeli government, with the exception of contact that had to do with the Palestinian people.

WHITFIELD: All right. Andrea Koppel, thanks very much, from the State Department in Washington D.C.

HEMMER: I mentioned Ben Wedeman, he was there earlier today and filed this report. And Ben basically says it is a ghost town right now in the city of Bethlehem.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): It is still not clear what exactly has happened at the Church of the Nativity here in Bethlehem this morning. The Palestinians, and also people within the church itself, are saying that a blast occurred -- several blasts occurred this morning in the area. One of them destroyed one of the church -- or rather one of the doors to the Church of the Nativity, which, of course, is historically believed to be the site of the birth of Christ.

Now the Israeli army denies that any such event has occurred. We spoke to an Israeli army spokeswoman who says that it is purely Palestinian propaganda. We spoke to soldiers on the scene who deny it as well. They say that they have no interest in going inside the church and that they want to resolve the standoff peacefully.

However, we -- when we tried to get to the church, we were told by the Israeli soldiers on the scene and also by a spokesman that we would not be allowed there, that it is dangerous, which it is. That it is a closed military area, and we were told to leave. So the controversy remains. No independent clarification at this point what happened at the church.

Here in Bethlehem itself it is a ghost town. Nobody out in the streets. It is the scene of some destruction, and you just heard that blast go off nearby. It sounded like a concussion grenade. Another one going off as well.

So as you can tell, there is still some fighting, some danger here in Bethlehem. And that's where I'm going to end it and leave this area.

I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Bethlehem.





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