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Powell, Sharon Meet for Hours

Aired April 12, 2002 - 06:07   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: As we take another look at the site of a press conference, a news conference that's expected to happen at any moment; Ariel Sharon and Colin Powell meeting in there for about two-and-a-half hours. Colin Powell said earlier that it was a good meeting. He spoke briefly to reporters as he passed by.

We want to go to David Horowitz (ph) right now to ask him some questions about this. And I was told before earlier on on DAYBREAK how tense it is in Israel right now.

DAVID HOROWITZ (ph), CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There is -- first of all, there is the ongoing fear of suicide bombers. I am not sure how widely it has been reported. There was an Israeli killed at the Gaza border crossing this morning. There was a couple of apparent suicide bombing attempts intercepted yesterday.

And then there is the tension really in the relations between Israel and the United States at Colin Powell's talk so far today. The Israeli arguments to him, the government ministers have been telling him really that Yasser Arafat has set up what they call a coalition of terror. They are trying to dismantle it. And why aren't the Americans backing them?

COSTELLO: Is all of this hurting the relationship between the United States and Israel? Will that be the long-term outcome of this?

HOROWITZ (ph): Well, the Israeli government would hope that really they'll win over the Bush administration. They feel that maybe in the last day or so, there has been maybe a dawning realization, as they would see it, that the call on Israel to pull out its troops immediately, without delay, has receded a little, and the Americans seem to be being a little more tolerant.

Really, the Israeli argument has been that this American call on Israel to restrain itself is basically a message to Israel that it has to absorb terrorism, and they feel that a double standard has been at play here. They don't want a confrontation with the Bush administration. They understand that there is a fundamental strategic alliance here. They understand that American policy vis-a-vis Iraq for example is very much in Israel's interest.

But at the same time last month, for example, 126 Israelis were killed in suicide bombings, many of which were orchestrated from the heart of the Jenin refugee camp, which is why a reluctant Israel, as they would have been telling Colin Powell, went in there, having despaired of Yasser Arafat going in there. Remember, the Israelis armed Yasser Arafat. The Israelis set up the Palestinian Authority precisely to fight terrorism.

And those are the kinds of points they have been making to Colin Powell in the last two or three hours.

COSTELLO: Does Israel realize that world sentiment is kind of turning against it?

HOROWITZ (ph): Yes. Israel realizes that very strongly. It feels it is losing the propaganda war, and it thinks that this is very unfair. It thinks that the way that this intifada has been covered, really, by the television networks, by people like CNN, has displayed a lack of context, because in the Israeli government view, Israel, under the last government, under Ehud Barak, attempted to end the occupation. Yasser Arafat walked away. Yasser Arafat failed to tell his people what was offered and stoked them up to the despair that has now produced these terrible suicide bombings, which Israel has responded to.

And they feel that this wider picture has not been presented, and they feel that even in the last two weeks, when the army really launched this unprecedented military offensive in the West Bank, the fact that it was prompted by this incessant, almost daily series of suicide bombings. All of this seems to get pushed aside.

They have produced documents that they feel conclusively prove Yasser Arafat, far from preventing terrorism, is actually funding and initiating terrorism, and they feel that this has not been reported properly. And that their message of a desperate response to terrorism and a desire really for international pressure to do what (ph) just to stop the violence, this message is not getting out.

COSTELLO: Well, you're making it sound like Colin Powell's mission really is mission impossible, and that not much will come out of the meeting this morning.

HOROWITZ (ph): Well, you have to hope, first of all, that it is not mission impossible, because the level of violence here, the bitterness, the hostility somehow has to be reversed. And the very strong feeling on the Israeli side is that that process of reversal must begin first of al with Yasser Arafat changing the tone, a simple telephone call, an announcement in Arabic, we do not legitimize suicide bombings. They have to stop; hopefully, an effort to stop the bombings. Then Israel says, it will start pulling back its troops, and then both sides say they would want to get back to the negotiating table.

The reason why the Israeli government people don't think this Powell mission will work is if Colin Powell insists first of all on pressing them. They feel he has to first of all press Yasser Arafat.

COSTELLO: Got you. I was just going to ask you about how the Israeli people are looking at Colin Powell's talk with Ariel Sharon this morning. How much importance do they place it? HOROWITZ (ph): Oh, I think the Israelis feel that it is critical. They feel that he has left it later than he should have done. They hope that the administration will have a better understanding of what is going on here. And there is this incredible apparent contradiction if you look at what the Israeli public is telling pollsters, because they are saying they overwhelming support the military operation, but they are also saying that they don't think that it is a long-term answer. And they are also saying they are very, very ready for territorial compromise.

They want to get that message through to the Americans. And really, what is it that the Israeli people would want Colin Powell to understand is that they would say the Israeli public desperately wants peace. It doesn't think it can make peace with Yasser Arafat, because it thinks Yasser Arafat really wants to eliminate the state of Israel. It wants him to understand the suicide bombings have taken place in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in Jerusalem. They have taken place in Tel Aviv and Netanya and Haifa, areas deep inside sovereign Israel. That's the message the Israeli people would want Colin Powell to learn from them.

COSTELLO: Well, let me ask it to you this way. This tit-for-tat violence that's going on right now, do the Israeli people realize that it's apparently not working?

HOROWITZ (ph): They don't think that the military incursions provide a long-term solution -- no. They do feel that there has been a drastic falloff. I mean, there has been a drastic falloff in the number of suicide bombings. It sounds pathetic, doesn't it, but there was actually, you know, nine days without a suicide bombing until a couple of days ago. That for Israelis was an extraordinary respite, and they put that down to the fact that the army has got the gunmen and the orchestrators of the suicide bombings on the run.

Long-term, they recognize that the incursion is causing tremendous bitterness among ordinary Palestinians. But again, they blame Yasser Arafat for this. They think that Yasser Arafat's people don't realize, as President Bush has said, that he betrayed his people, that he missed his opportunities, that the last government tried to make peace with him. They feel that if the Palestinian people knew the truth, they would want an alternative leadership, a new leadership that was genuinely committed to reconciliation, as the Israeli people feel that they are.

COSTELLO: OK. Talking about opinions and public opinion polls, David, stick about. But I just want to impart this to our audience this morning. Public opinion polls reflect very little optimism about Secretary of State Colin Powell's Mideast mission. In a quick vote, only 25 percent -- 25 percent say they think Powell's visit will result in progress towards peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. More than three quarters of the respondents say they do not expect any progress.

The "Jerusalem Post" asked whether Powell will succeed in bringing about a cease-fire. Only 11 percent of respondents said yes, a whopping 89 percent say no. Of course, that must not surprise you very much, David.

HOROWITZ (ph): No. It's indeed a fair reflection. The Israeli public, though, will tell you that they don't think that Colin Powell has much of a chance, because they don't think that Yasser Arafat really wants to stop this intifada. They have watched Yasser Arafat every day calling on his people to martyr themselves on the march to Jerusalem, saying that he hopes that God will grant him martyrdom as well.

They feel very strongly that they remember that a year-and-a-half ago, there was no Israeli army onslaught in the West Bank. The Israeli army certainly wasn't going anywhere near Jenin, which was, of course, controlled by Yasser Arafat. There were no blockades around the city. They feel that they have been pushed into measures of defense, defensive measures to try and prevent the terrorism that they feel that Yasser Arafat has incited here. They don't think that Colin Powell has a chance, because Yasser Arafat is still leading the Palestinian people.

COSTELLO: Well, the big fear here, of course, is that this will turn into a regional conflict. In fact, Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon are now -- or have been attacking Israeli targets over the border. This must create a lot more fear among the people of Israel.

HOROWITZ (ph): Yes. And again, understanding that context, why it is that Israelis are so mistrustful of the international community and the international enforcers, if you like. A couple of years ago, in May of 2000, unilaterally, without an agreement, the previous Israeli government withdraw its troops from southern Lebanon, where they had been serving in what Israel called a security zone, a kind of buffer zone to prevent these kinds of attacks.

Now, the U.N. certified that withdrawal. It said, yes, Israel has indeed pulled back. There is a small area of disputed territory, which the U.N. agrees actually belongs to Syria. And yet, day after day, I think nine days in succession now, Hezbollah, unrestrained by the international community, has been pounding Israeli positions in what is Israel now. Israel pulled back to the border. Hezbollah is firing over the border.

So the Israelis say to themselves, and they say to the world, in this area, we complied with every international pressure on us. We did what the community was telling us to do at considerable risk to our civilians. Now, we are being attacked in our own country, because we pulled back.

Now, if that's what happened to us on our northern border, how can anybody reasonably expect us to pull back to the sovereign boundaries of Israel, in the West Bank, in the Gaza Strips areas? We don't believe that the international guarantees will protect us. And most of all, we see every day a Palestinian leadership inciting its people to violence inside our sovereign country.

I think that Lebanon element of this conflict underlines very strongly how deeply skeptical, how great the Israeli misgivings are about the international community and about international fair- mindedness in approaching this conflict.

COSTELLO: Well, along those same lines, there have been big protests in places like Jordan. In fact, our Christiane Amanpour talked to King Abdullah of Jordan. We want to listen to a little bit of what he had to say.


KING ABDULLAH II, JORDAN: We have never, ever supported. We have always stood against extremism. And I think the Jordanian position has been very clear, and we have always spoken out against any acts of violence that ends up with the loss of innocent lives. And in that respect, I believe that other Arab leaders have also stoop up against extremism, and even Arafat not long ago had stood up to say that what was happening against Israeli civilians was something that was wrong.

But you have to understand at the same time, as you alluded to, that there is desperation, there is anger. And unfortunately, when you get to the extreme level of hatred that is now on the street, desperate people would do desperate things, unfortunately. And we have to realize that it's the humanity has gone out of the window, and we have to bring some sort of balance and fairness. I mean, at the same time, atrocities are happening across the board.


COSTELLO: Your reaction to that, David.

HOROWITZ (ph): Well, I watched that interview with fascination, and I felt tremendously sorry for the king of Jordan, who is in an impossible position. I think he is a fair-minded man. I think he was very careful with what he said about Yasser Arafat. I think implicit in what he was saying, and the things that he didn't say almost, was some of his disappointment in the way that Yasser Arafat has behaved. I think he is right to talk about the desperation.

The key point that the Israeli government and the Israeli public would want the international community to understand is that they feel that this is a desperation that was unnecessary, that this whole 18 months of the intifada was futile, but it was embarked again very -- embarked upon very deliberately by Yasser Arafat after he failed to get everything that he wanted at the Camp David summit.

Again, in one of the poll findings that you didn't cite yet, in an Israeli newspaper poll this morning, along with this overwhelming endorsement of the military operation, there was a majority support in Israel -- I mean, this sounds almost unbelievable -- for the Saudi initiative. What does the Saudi calls? Well, it calls for Israel to withdraw from all of the territories basically that the Palestinians are seeking. The Israelis are saying, most Israelis are saying they would support doing that.

So why, therefore, they are so supportive of this government, which won't do that? Because they feel that with this Palestinian leadership, there is no hope. And that to capitulate, if you like, in the face of Palestinian terrorism would merely invite further attacks inside sovereign Israel. And they believe that Yasser Arafat has whipped his people up into a desperation that is designed not to bring about an equitable agreement with Israel, but to bring about the destruction of Israel.

COSTELLO: When Colin Powell meets with Yasser Arafat on Saturday, he is expected to be very tough and say, renounce terrorism or the United States will sever all ties with you. Do you think that Yasser Arafat will go along with Colin Powell? Or do you think that that threat will be an empty one by Colin Powell?

HOROWITZ (ph): I think Yasser Arafat believes it will be an empty threat. I mean I think Yasser Arafat may very possibly make some kind of a statement. He's made many such statements in the past year and a half supposedly calling for an end to terrorism and so on.

But why should he believe that the Bush administration is serious when President Bush just eight days ago in that -- in that extraordinary landmark speech in which he accused Yasser Arafat of betraying his people, missing his opportunities, being largely responsible, as the President put it, for the position that he is in today, why a week later Yasser Arafat will be saying to himself, if the Americans think so little of me is Colin Powell here meeting with me? Well he's meeting with me because of course they know that I am the key to everything and therefore I don't think he's going to feel particularly intimidated by the Americans. I think he's going to feel that basically by coming to see him, Colin Powell is almost endorsing what has been happening under his Palestinian leadership.

COSTELLO: David, stick around.

We want to go to our Jerrold Kessel who is also live in Jerusalem this morning. That meeting between Yasser Arafat and Colin Powell is expected to take place on Saturday. What arrangements have been made?

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, interesting, Carol, that compared to when General Zinni, the special U.N. envoy, was allowed by Ariel Sharon to break that splendid isolation, if you like, that had been imposed on Yasser Arafat in his headquarters in Ramallah, then there were Israeli security men who accompanied General Zinni to that meeting, didn't actually go into the building of course, but they were outside as the motorcade, the U.S. motorcade came into Ramallah. The Israeli tanks were there, as they have been for the last 16 days, outside the compound right (ph) peering in and that was the manner in which General Zinni went in there.

Now it seems inconceivable that that's the way in which Secretary of Powell will go in, literally under the turret of an Israeli gun. And we did hear from senior officials that the Israeli tanks and troops will be withdrawn. No one -- one doesn't know how far back from that headquarters and how Mr. Powell exactly will travel in there in a way that kind of avoids the Israeli reoccupation of the Palestinian town of Ramallah. A complicated issue of logistically apart from anything in a security wise from -- of that meeting that Mr. Sharon has called a tragic mistake. But I think if you know want to pick up what one of the -- one of the things that the -- your analyst was saying there about what Yasser Arafat's response will be, a key will be it seems what Colin Powell will be bringing to him from his tour through much of the Arab world in advance of coming here. You'll remember there was a lot of criticism, especially in the Arab world but elsewhere in Europe, why didn't the Secretary of State come directly? Well he met first with the Moroccan king, with the Saudi Foreign Minister, the Egyptian president and of course last night after -- as we heard in that interview of Christiane Amanpour with Jordan's King, all key players.

And I think the key will be what message does Mr. Powell bring, either in his own voice or through them to Yasser Arafat to say how do we proceed from here in terms of meeting the president's requirements. The Israelis have to pull back is the president's requirements. Yasser Arafat has to take and has to be seen taking a very clear position on suicide bombers and on terror. That...

COSTELLO: And, Jerrold,...

KESSEL: ... would be the key to this mission.

COSTELLO: Right, Jerrold, I understand that Mr. Powell had convinced Ariel Sharon to allow the Egyptian Foreign Minister to meet with Yasser Arafat. Has that taken place already today?

KESSEL: That was -- that permission was given yesterday. And Ahmed Maher, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, we understand will be flying in via Jordan and then in a Jordanian helicopter come across from Amman to the compound in Ramallah and will be meeting later this afternoon or this evening with Yasser Arafat as he is besieged there. That in advance of Mr. Powell's mission. And I guess you could say, and it's right that you point that out, that could underline what I was saying about that is the handle perhaps with which Mr. Powell will handle this mission -- this -- the conversation.

COSTELLO: Yes, I was just going to ask you...

KESSEL: There has to be conversation to be had...

COSTELLO: I was just going to ask you, Jerrold,...

KESSEL: ... with Yasser Arafat tomorrow.

COSTELLO: ... why that was important and how that could be helpful? What will the Egyptian Foreign Minister say to Yasser Arafat?

KESSEL: Well you know it was very interesting listening to Christiane Amanpour's interview with the king -- King Abdullah yesterday when he said -- when she said to him how does Yasser Arafat handle this and he said yes of course he is the key man. He has got so much support now from his people. He has got so much support from the -- within the Arab world. And then the king voiced this hope that he would use that to create some kind of vision, and that is the key what we'll hear from Yasser Arafat tomorrow and after that meeting with Colin Powell -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Jerrold Kessel, you stick around.




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