CNN BREAKING NEWS
Six Palestinian Prisoners Await Transfer in Ramallah
Aired May 1, 2002 - 13:18 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: It was about 60 minutes ago when our crew on the ground there observed a convoy of vehicles heading into the compound of Yasser Arafat. It has been the scene of the world essentially since the 29th of March, when the Israeli incursion started in the West Bank, and Yasser Arafat's compound, early on a Friday morning, was one of the first focal points of the entire incursions. Yasser Arafat has not been out since that time, a substantial amount of damage has been done to his compound.
But we're awaiting essentially on two things right now, the transfer of half a dozen Palestinians, wanted by Israel, to a jail in Jericho. Once they arrive, they will be monitored not only by Palestinian police but also U.S. and British guardians, some have called them, monitors to make sure they stay in jail. That was a major concern expressed by the Israelis.
At the same time, this will also pave the way for Yasser Arafat and continued movement for the Palestinian leader. He's been confined essentially, dating back to December, about three months prior to when the incursions did begin. But where Yasser Arafat goes from here is a wide-open question. We do not know. And the other thing we do not know is when this transfer is going to take place. It is our understanding and our belief it will happen at any point. But whether or not that's a couple of minutes or a couple of hours, still is a wide-open question.
Back to the White House now and John King. And certainly, John, there must be a lot of attention right now given to this particular story. And is there any talk, or is this premature right now, any talk about when more conversations will be conducted in a face-to-face fashion with Yasser Arafat once his freedom is obtained essentially in Ramallah?
JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: U.S. diplomats in the region in constant touch with Mr. Arafat, Bill. No conversations at all about a meeting certainly at the presidential level. Mr. Bush has made clear over and over again including again and again in recent days that he still does not trust Yasser Arafat as this situation is resolved.
And remember, this standoff, a result of the latest bad news in the Middle East, if you will, the Israel military incursion, the tensions back and forth between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The administration hoping that this is a step forward. But the president has made clear that once Arafat is freed to move about, he expects to see firm and decisive actions. He expects to see him crack down on terrorism. So, no meetings with Mr. Arafat, certainly at the presidential level. U.S. envoys in the region talk to him on a daily basis.
HEMMER: John, stand by. I think we have reestablished the connection. And again, I apologize to our viewers. Perhaps three times is a charm right now. Nabil Abu Ruddeineh, an Arafat adviser inside the compound. Sir, if you can hear me this time, has the transfer...
NABIL ABU RUDDEINEH, ADVISER TO YASSER ARAFAT: Yes, I can hear you.
HEMMER: Super. That is really good news. Tell us, has the transfer taken place or how far are we away from that action?
RUDDEINEH: Bill, we are still in need of very few minutes. Everything is OK right now. The whole -- cars will start moving in a couple of minutes, or three to five minutes. And we hope this will succeed peacefully until we reach Jericho. The most important...
HEMMER: All six will be going, is that right?
RUDDEINEH: Yes. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that once the Americans got involved seriously, we succeeded in this small step. What we are in need of is to end the siege of Bethlehem and the occupation of Hebron (UNINTELLIGIBLE). This is a positive first step. We're looking forward for more American engagement in order to see the whole situation end immediately.
HEMMER: When will Yasser Arafat leave that compound, sir?
RUDDEINEH: This is the compound of President Arafat. This is his headquarters. He's not going to leave very soon. He will stay with his people. There are (AUDIO GAP). What we are in need of and seeing the withdrawal of the Israeli army from all (UNINTELLIGIBLE) areas according to the Security Council resolutions and according to what President Bush kept announcing publicly on the TV. They want to see this withdrawal take place, then the Palestinian leader will find the concepts for the future.
HEMMER: You mentioned Bethlehem. The blueprint we're working off of in Ramallah, where essentially half a dozen wanted by Israel will now be jailed in Jericho. We're getting word inside the Church of Nativity anywhere between 20, maybe up to 40 Palestinian gunmen are wanted by Israel as well. Do you see a similar scenario that may be able to be ironed out in Bethlehem that could end that siege in a similar fashion?
RUDDEINEH: First of all, President Arafat gave instructions for our people to find the solution for the whole problem. What we are faced now is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) which refuses to act positively with our delegation. If there is a really serious American and European involvement. And what happened in the compound, things might immediately. From (AUDIO GAP), President Arafat gave the green light for our people to find a quick solution and order to end the occupation of the church because the Nativity church for President Arafat is an immediate, important issue. It's much more important than anything else. He wants to see Bethlehem and especially the Church of the Nativity (UNINTELLIGIBLE) end as quick as possible.
HEMMER: What is Yasser Arafat's position, then? And what is the Palestinian position? What is your proposal to end this siege of the Church of Nativity?
RUDDEINEH: We've received, as a matter of fact, a proposal from the Europeans. And we are dealing seriously with this proposal. What we are looking for to see if the Israelis -- they act positively with these proposals and, as I told to you, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Americans and the Europeans would act more aggressively to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) finding a solution in Bethlehem. And this should lead to the withdrawal of the Israeli troops from Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah as well.
So we are talking about an improvement or a breakthrough in the whole situation. So far, things are still complicated. The Israelis are still increasing their attacks. We have several people being (UNINTELLIGIBLE) today, several people being killed yesterday. What we are looking for is seeing the withdrawal of Israeli troops and coming back to the negotiating table as soon as possible.
HEMMER: Understood, but more direct to the situation in Bethlehem, are the Palestinians willing to put the 20 to 40 men on trial that may end that situation there?
RUDDEINEH: As a matter of fact, we have a delegation who is negotiating with the Israelis, with the help of the Americans and the Europeans. I can't talk about -- I can't talk about the details, but that talk -- the most important thing is that President Arafat gave the green light for all delegations to proceed positively and to react with the Europeans and Americans as they should do.
HEMMER: OK. Give us a health condition on Yasser Arafat. You've been inside there since the very beginning. How is he? How is he doing? How does he feel?
RUDDEINEH: President Arafat is in very good health and his morals are very high. His spirit is very good. What is suffering him is the situation of his people, the occupation of the Israeli army to the Palestinian citizens. What he is looking for seriously, seeing an end for the suffering of the Palestinian people, seeing an end to the Church of Nativity, the siege of the Church of Nativity, seeing the situation come back to normality so we can start talking about the peace process again with the help of the Americans and the Europeans and the Russians and the United Nations.
HEMMER: OK, sir. And I know you mentioned before that Yasser Arafat, in your words, will stay in Ramallah for some time. Your words I think were to stay with the Palestinian people. But certainly he has talked about his freedom of movement. And when he talks about, where does he say he will go first? Is it Gaza? Is it Cairo? Is it neither?
RUDDEINEH: As a matter of fact, as I told you, his plans are still that he is going to stay in his headquarters unless things proceed in a totally different direction. He is willing to move, but he is not going to move hurriedly. As I told you, he's looking forward to seeing the end of the siege of Bethlehem and Ramallah and the occupation of Hebron. And then, he will make up his mind.
HEMMER: All right. Is your understanding that once the six are turned over and the convoy starts moving away from that compound, that the Israeli troops and tanks will do the similar thing?
RUDDEINEH: Yes, we would hope so. This is agreement which has been proposed by the Americans and the Europeans. According to these proposals, they should start withdrawing from the area immediately and we have to wait and see -- to see whether they have commit themselves or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) their commitment, as we are hoping to see so.
HEMMER: How many people are inside that compound at this date? It's been over a month now. How many (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
RUDDEINEH: There are hundreds of people.
HEMMER: And who are they? Are they -- they're more than just Palestinians. Take us through the list. Who is there?
RUDDEINEH: There are Americans. We have Europeans, French and British and German, those who are believing in peace. Activists are coming here in order to give support for the Palestinian people here. We have at least 40 or 50 Americans and Europeans are living with us for the last three, four weeks in order to show a signal of hope and a signal of peace, who have been here for the whole situation.
HEMMER: It has been almost three weeks since a suicide bomber has attacked inside of Israel, hitting Israeli civilians. What do we take from that? What are we to take from that from the Palestinian perspective about not only control of those who want to carry out certain acts, but also what's happening on the Palestinian side relative to how this was perceived not just in Israel, but around the world? Why is it right now been put on hold?
RUDDEINEH: I just want to tell you that we are a people under occupation. The Israeli army started these attacks and this aggression and you can remember what happened in Jenin refugee camps this past week. We are under constant Israeli occupation. We are under constant Israeli aggression. We are under constant Israeli siege.
What we want the world to know, that this occupation should end. And the Palestinian people are committed to the peace process and President Arafat is committed, as he promised President Bush and the world community, that if the Israelis are ready, we are ready. But they should understand that this occupation should end immediately.
HEMMER: All right. More to the point though. This Saturday will mark the three-week marker since Yasser Arafat, once again in Arabic, publicly denounced the suicide bombings and the terrorism hitting Israeli civilians. It was a market in central Jerusalem where a Palestinian woman, a young Palestinian teenager, blew herself up, killed six, injured more than 80. Since that time and the public statement Saturday almost three weeks ago has there been more communication from Yasser Arafat to groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al Aqsa Martyr Brigade?
RUDDEINEH: You know, this is the Israeli version of things. I want to tell you again and again and again. President Arafat definitely is believing in the peace process. The peace which he signed with Prime Minister Rabin and the peace of Israelis he always condemns or attacking and killing any civilians, whether Palestinian or Israelis.
If the Israelis are serious, and the Israelis are interested in seeing a peaceful solution they should understand that they should end their occupation and sit on the table with the Palestinian as far as talking about -- about the peace process and how to end the occupation.
Security for all and peace for all. And that's what we -- are believing in. And these are the reflections of President Arafat; peace for everybody, for the Palestinian and the Israelis as long as the Israelis are ready to talk about peace and to react accordingly.
HEMMER: I want to get back to that point in a moment. But we are watching some vehicle movement inside. Does that indicate anything to you that the transfer is taking place?
RUDDEINEH: Yes, the movement should start any minute. And things are moving and we hope it would move in a couple of minutes.
HEMMER: President Bush has said repeatedly that Yasser Arafat must earn his trust. How will the Palestinian leadership make sure that the trust can be earned on behalf of the United States?
RUDDEINEH: As a matter of fact, what we are looking for is seeing the world of President Bush implement the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) . He said several times that he wants to see the Israelis immediately, now. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I think things would improve and the Americans should commit themselves (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to fully and push forward. They decided to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) see what's happened in the compound. We started that moving, and this is as I told you, is an important small step, but this should lead for more important steps Bethlehem and in Hebron, and implementation of the security council resolution and to start dealing seriously with all issues.
We are ready, President Arafat is committed to the peace process. Once he met with Mr. Colin Powell, twice here in Ramallah, there was an agreement on many things. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) If the Americans are going to stay, things will improve dramatically.
HEMMER: Nabil Abu Ruddeineh, adviser to Arafat, inside that compound in Ramallah. Sir, thank you and we appreciate your time in sharing what is happening on the inside of that compound. We will certainly be back in touch. Thank you for hanging with us until we could establish that telephone signal.
Back to Ramallah, Matthew Chance is near the scene we continue to watch here. We are going back and forth between pictures. Our CNN camera and the camera you see here by way of Al-Jazeera television.
Matthew, what do you have: your perspective there?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, interesting to hear the news from inside the compound from Nabil Abu Ruddeineh. From outside here, I can tell you there is a lot of activity, you know, you can hear the loud thundering movement of that Israeli tank as it goes past our position here overlooking that compound of Yasser Arafat. Very battered compound. It sustained very heavy damage. And we hope at some point when these troops have removed their security cordon, we will be able to get in and have a look at exactly what damage has been done to that compound as well of course, hopefully talk to the many hundreds of people, as we heard there from Mr Ruddeineh, that are still holed up inside the compound along side Yasser Arafat.
It is not just the six wanted Palestinians who are inside there with Arafat. There a lot of other people as well, many hundreds according to Nabil Abu Ruddeineh. The other point, Bill, I wanted to very briefly make, is that this isn't just the about, of course for the people of Ramallah, not just about the release of Yasser Arafat, the ability of Yasser Arafat to move freely.
There is security cordon around this area of ramallah, which, meant there has been a full curfew in force for this part of the town. Many thousands of people effected by that. They haven't been able to really, very easily at least, get out of their homes and go about their ordinary daily lives. That problem has been translated, diluted to a lesser extent around Ramallah at large; a city of 50,000 people, there is a nightly curfew here at 7:00 every night where businesses (AUDIO GAP)
from that perspective as well people will be very happy to see the siege around this compound end and the Israeli forces finally pull out of Ramallah, Bill.
HEMMER: Matthew thanks. We will continue to train our eye on this picture. Matthew Chance in Ramallah.
Back here in the U.S. to Andrea Koppel, by telephone from the State Department, with more news and more developments on the diplomatic front. Before we get to Andrea, though, we should make mention that just at the White House briefing today we know that King Abdullah of Jordan will be in Washington some time next week, and we do anticipate Ariel Sharon, the prime minister of Israel, also to make a trip soon to the White House, possible at the end of next week, earlier in the week we were told two weeks, but at this point no firm date has been set.
Once again, Andrea Koppel is standing by. So too in San Francisco is Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel. We are going to go to San Francisco and join him right now. Mr. Ambassador, good afternoon to you. I want know from you what you are seeing right now, where does this take us in the big Middle East picture? You will get your wish on the Israeli side. All six Palestinians will be held in confinement in a Jail in Jericho. Yasser Arafat, however, will have freedom of movement. Your perspective now as we watch this picture live in Ramallah.
MARTIN INDYK, FMR. U.S. AMB. TO ISRAEL: It is an important small step forward. And if the standoff in Bethlehem is resolved, that will create some momentum. There is also activity going on between Saudi Arabia and the United States, which provides a broader umbrella. And the challenge here is to connect these positive steps on the ground to the broader diplomatic process to get a negotiation going.
Pretty soon we will come to a crunch when Arafat is out of the compound and then under pressure to act against those who would still want to conduct terrorist activities. That will be the moment in which this whole effort will be tested. He will no longer have the excuse that he can't operate against them, although his capabilities will still be in question. But we will have to then see whether he is going to do something to stop the violence in terrorism.
As we have seen before, Bill, it is the violence of terrorism that swamps these kinds of baby steps.
HEMMER: Your government has called Yasser Arafat irrelevant. But it is quite clear with freedom of movement and the strong possibility that he many be meeting soon with world leaders that he will not be irrelevant much longer. And if that is the case, Israel right now willing to change its stance, that hard line stance that you have taken against Yasser Arafat, and essentially sit down and talk to him, knowing that he is the Palestinian leader, and to get to peace, you have to go through Yasser Arafat.
INDYK: I think there may be confusion, Bill. I was the U.S. ambassador of Israel, I don't represent the government of Israel. I can give you commentary from the U.S....
HEMMER: Certainly, I misspoke, I apologize. Clearly I understand that, but from an Israeli perspective, how are they able to go forward knowing that they have laid these terms essentially on the table. At some point it appears they may have to back track on those words?
INDYK: Well, this is an important question. The Israelis have not just labeled Arafat relevant, the Israeli government, the full cabinet including labor party ministers from the left have labeled him the enemy four weeks ago at the start of the Israeli offensive. They have no interest in doing another cease-fire deal with him because they don't believe that it will amount to anything.
However they are now engaged in a process in which Yasser Arafat is again going to be put to the test by the United States. So I think the answer is, if the violence and terrorism stops, then the Israelis will have to rethink their position. But if it doesn't, then I think that Ariel Sharon will proceed with his ultimate objective for this campaign. Which is to evict Yasser Arafat.
HEMMER: What do you attach the significance of Prime Minister Sharon's visit to Washington? All this coming on the heels of those meetings, five days of meetings in Crawford, Texas with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. What are we do glean from a physical trip to Washington, D.C. at this point?
INDYK: I think it is very important, part of that broader diplomatic activity that I was talking about that has to be connected to what is happening in Ramallah and Bethlehem. Prime minister Sharon is coming here essentially to coordinate with President Bush and I think it is a very important meeting for that reason.
The United States, the president, has, I think, discovered that when he wags his finger at the Israeli prime minister, it doesn't work very well. When he calls him up privately and says, listen, I have the crown prince here and I need something from you to help me, he can get the prime minister to respond. So the same kind of discussion that he had with Crown Prince Abdullah in Crawford, Texas which appears to have produced the kind of new partnership between Saudi Arabia and President Bush, needs to be paralleled by a new understanding between Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush about the political way forward.
HEMMER: OK, Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, in San Francisco. I will ask you to stand by, essentially. We believe there might be movement right now in Ramallah.
Matthew Chance again live in the West Bank. Matthew, what are you seeing?
CHANCE: Bill, we are still standing out here looking at this Palestinian residential compound. We are having a few technical problems here. I don't know if you can hear me.
HEMMER: We sure can. Go right ahead, yes.
CHANCE: But let me tell you, we are overlooking this presidential compound of Yasser Arafat. We are still waiting for the cars to come out carrying the six Palestinians that are wanted by Israel. There are 12 cars inside that we saw go in there in what, just over an hour ago -- from now -- ago, to that compound.
It is not clear how long it'll take before the actual formal process of transferring those prisoners from the custody of the Palestinian authority into the custody of those international guards agreed upon by the Israelis and the Palestinians suggested by the United States initiative.
What we do know is that both sides have been looking for different requirements from this deal. And the Israeli side, they have been looking for guarantees, assurances that a revolving door situation would not emerge, whereby if they give the order to pull out of Ramallah, pull their forces out of Ramallah, these six Palestinians would not simply be allowed to walk free. That's the big Israeli concern. Concerns also on the Palestinian side. They have concerns about the security of these Palestinians once jurisdiction for them, responsibility for them is handed over to the team of U.S. and British security experts. They have been asking for a letter of guarantee assuring them that they would be kept in a secure environment, secure from Israeli attacks and they would never be handed over to Israeli custody.
The agreement that has been reached involves taking these Palestinians as we have discussed along this road in front of us here, in these armored cars from the British and American teams of delegations, away out of Ramallah, into the West Bank town of Jericho, where a Palestinian prison facility has already been inspected and prepared to house these prisoners under international guard.
Obviously, we are in a good vantage point here to tell you what's happening as the situation develops. And it is very difficult for me to see with my naked eye exactly what is going on there. Obviously darkness has fallen in a very thick way here in Ramallah. We can't see any activity inside the compound itself. There is a lot of Israeli military activity around the compound, though. We will know when these people come out, that's going to be very obvious to us, they are going to have their headlights glaring in front and it will be very easy for us to pick them out in this darkness, Bill.
HEMMER: All right, Matthew, thanks, in Ramallah back to San Francisco, Martin Indyk standing by, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Clearly, Mr. Ambassador, what is going to happen at this point once Ramallah starts to subside there will be a full focus on Bethlehem and how the end of the siege of the Church of the Nativity. Are you getting any word or any indication as to what sort of proposal might break what appears to be an absolute stand-still there just off Manger Square?
INDYK: No, I don't, Bill. But I think that we can see in the precedent in Ramallah the elements of a solution in Bethlehem as well. That is, first of all, American and European engagement as the third parties, who take on some responsibilities for themselves so as to break the impasse. In this case of Bethlehem, there are gunmen holed up there, that the Israelis want it take into custody.
That was the same in the case in Ramallah, although there it was of course, people had been responsible for the assassination of Israeli cabinet minister. So I think the same solution lends itself to the Bethlehem situation where these gunmen would be taken into some kind of third party custody perhaps with the United States and Britain acting as jail wardens again, they would be put through the Palestinian judiciary system such as it is and perhaps also jailed in some way.
HEMMER: Palestinians have been talking recently about the possibility of Gaza. I don't know if that is an option but at this point it has been talked about publicly. Certainly it could be a possibility anyway. INDYK: Yes, the Israelis I don't think will go for that. They want to kick them out completely, have them not come back again, either to Gaza or the West Bank. And so because there is a kind of stand off there in the negotiations, that is what will lend itself to some international mediation with the United States again playing the role of filling in the gap.
And I guess Bill, this is perhaps the most important point about what's happening here, is for the first time the United States, president himself, Secretary of State Powell of course, and our diplomats on the ground have been directly engaged in the negotiating the outcome in Ramallah and hopefully if Bethlehem as well and that kind of American engagement is starting to pay off.
But it comes with a price. In this case, a relatively small price but a new precedent of American jail wardens taking responsibility. But one can see how the United States will be drawn into playing more and more of a role in terms of bridging the gap, much as we have done in the past.
HEMMER: Just a second, passing along to our viewers, the transfer is starting right now which one would suspect that at some point very soon the convoy will roll out and away from Ramallah, east toward Jericho in that awaiting jail.
Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, our guest from San Francisco. Certainly we appreciate his comments and thoughts. There is a lot to talk about. Back to Ramallah and Matthew Chance once again.
Matthew, your perspective?
CHANCE: Yes, Bill, a little bit more movement we're witnessing here from our vantage point overlooking the presidential compound. Overhead, you can't hear it right now, but overhead, there is a helicopter that's been hovering around, presumably performing some kind of monitoring function in the vicinity of this presidential compound.
Within the compound itself, we have been seeing some movement detected by the cars. There is no movement out of the compound by the cars. Though we are told by people inside the compound that the formal transfer of these prisoners, these six wanted Palestinians wanted by Israel, has now taken place. They are now formerly, according eyewitnesses, inside the compound under the jurisdiction of the U.S. and British team of security experts.
That of course takes us one step closer to what we are standing here waiting for, which is for these cars, the 12 cars that moved inside there to come out carrying those prisoners along this road in front of us here and out of Ramallah towards the West Bank town of Jericho where as we have been reporting, that they will be held under international guard in accordance with the U.S. initiative to bring to an end the siege that has really a gripped this part of Ramallah and certainly the area around Yasser Arafat's compound not allowing him to come out for a period just over a month. Things though are moving pretty slowly on a real-time basis here. Still very dark. The compound is very quiet. We are seeing a little bit of military activity around the outskirts. The Israeli patrols are continuing and their tanks and armored personnel carriers, you can see one of them making its way down the road towards us right now, only after the transfer has taken place and the prisoners have been moved out of Ramallah we are told by the Israeli defense force, Israeli army, will they begin to pull out of Ramallah and thereby enable Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, to move outside of that compound for the first time since the end of March -- Bill.
HEMMER: All right, Matthew. Matthew Chance in Ramallah. He has a bird's eye perspective right now of what's happening at the compound.
Back in this country now by telephone, Andrea Koppel has been waiting patiently, I will add. A diplomatic movement, Andrea, from the State Department. What do you have?
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, I was going to explain to our viewers, why as Matthew just eluded to there, perhaps it is taking as long as it has to complete the transfer and to get these six prisoners in those cars on their way to Jericho and the State Department officials are telling me that basically the main reason, and it really is, that it is not as simple as just walking in the compound and taking over custody of six individuals.
I can tell you having been in that compound just a couple of weeks ago, it's full as many as 200 people. We don't know just how many Palestinians are there are inside there. In point of fact, State Department officials say they are trying to verify the identity of those six prisoners. These are not people as who are as well known or as recognizable for instance as Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader.
And so they have to make sure that there is not going to be in the words of one State Department official, a bait and switch. So they are going through methodically right now inside that compound to try to figure out if in fact the six individuals that the Palestinians are handing over are in fact the six wanted men by Israel.
And in addition, Bill, State Department officials say that actually the jailing that is going to take place in Jericho, at the moment is only going to include British officials. They have as yet to figure out exactly who on the U.S. side will be there guarding these six men. But presumably they would come from the police or security background. And they also, Bill, have no idea how long the U.S. and British will be guarding these men who will technically still be under Palestinian authority control.
HEMMER: There is also talk about the U.S. pushing for the possibility of a retrial. Is there still talk about that, Andrea?
KOPPEL: I think at the moment the talk is really of getting this handover completed and really that's the focus of all of the energy right now, is to try to resolve one of two big problems that they have had, remaining problems in the West Bank, that is the standoff at Yasser Arafat's Ramallah headquarters.
I think once they get these six wanted men into the Jericho jail, then perhaps they can start looking into whether or not there may be another trial. At the moment, the energy of the Bush Administration is focused on resolving once and for all the Ramallah standoff. Of course the ongoing standoff of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
HEMMER: Andrea, you bring up a really interesting point in your first answer, about trying to ID the six who are wanted. Was there any process described to you? Is this the possibility of fingerprinting happening inside there?
KOPPEL: One of the things that was mentioned and this official didn't elaborate, but one of the things that was mentioned was dental records. I don't know if that means that the U.S. and British have gone in with dental records in hand or if they are asking the Palestinians to provide dental records, which would seem rather difficult to do, considering that there there's been so much destruction in the West Bank, not only in schools and of the infrastructure but also of various other facilities. So I don't know how they would get their hands on those dental records, but that was one thing that was mentioned.
HEMMER: Did they say why the jail in Jericho was the spot that was chosen? Some suggested there was no damage there. Is there more to it than that though, Andrea?
KOPPEL: I think you hit the nail on the head. There has been so much damage in the West Bank, and there are very few buildings, I'm not sure if this is the only remaining standing jail that's in a condition to actually house prisoners, but that's the main reason, is that is in the West Bank, therefore still under Palestinian authority control.
But you would then have U.S. and British security officials who would then be on the ground playing the role of jailers to make sure there isn't, as we have heard over and over again, the revolving door that prisoners would be let out once no one is looking.
HEMMER: Fascinating stuff, certainly. One assumes this is a 24- hour job for the monitors, be it U.S. or British, that they will man the post and watch to make sure the six stay in jail. That's been a concern for the Israelis the entire time. They talked about resolving door scenario in a number of Palestinians prisons. This is one thing they wanted to avoid. Andrea Koppel, thanks from the State Department. Come back when you have more. Much appreciated, thank you for that bit of information.
Back to San Francisco. Martin Indyck, former U.S. ambassador to Israel is our guest once again. I want to bring you back in here, Mr. Ambassador, because it was my impression, frankly, from spending a bit more than three weeks in the region recently, that you talked to a lot of people on both sides and, frankly, they are just exhausted from the fighting. It may not be there in terms of the military side or at the top of leadership helms of either side, but you talk to normal folks and boy, they seem very tired from the current conflict. Do you get that same perception. Is that feeling one that could drive the two sides together?
INDYK: Yes, exhaustion is perhaps the most important factor in the Middle East diplomacy. It may well have been the factor that led Crown Prince Abdullah to decide to step forward. If in fact both sides have now taken -- trying to catch their breath, it does present a moment of opportunity.
The people on both sides, Bill, are schizophrenic because of the violence and terrorism, strong majority of Israelis support the Israeli offensive against the terrorist infrastructure. But that same strong majority wants a political solution and supports a two-state solution. And you exactly the same kind of phenomenon in Palestinian polls, where large majorities support suicide bombings, but also significant majorities support a political solution with Israel.
And so the question is, how to seize upon that positive aspiration and the exhaustion factor that you referred to, and turn that into something that the leaders will respond to and thereby produce a political negotiation to resolve the problem. We all know what the solution is, the problem is, how do you get out violence and terrorism to get there?
HEMMER: Your answer there brings up an interesting prospect as well. If you look at the history for this region, the conflicts pitched in battle anyway, have been relatively brief. Six days in 1967, about three weeks in 1973, the current incursions have lasted anywhere between three weeks to a months time. And that leads us to the point where we are now; the recent incursions and also the suicide bombings that have taken place in Israel.
Where did me move the Middle East ball in your perspective as you watch the history, the region, and also the possibility for forging some sort of lasting cease-fire?
INDYK: Well, I would like to believe that it moved the ball in a positive direction in the sense that both sides came to understand that the they can't achieve objectives through terrorism on the Palestinian's side and through use of force on the Israeli side.
But I'm not that optimistic. We have seen this before, this is not just a one-month campaign that's gone on. This is a violent uprising that started some 15, 16 months ago and we have had some lulls, and we have had some positive developments and then the suicide bombers have come back and I fear they will come back again and swamp everything. That's why we have to move very quickly at this slight opening to try to insure that there is more positive momentum.
The fact that the United States is now much more fully engaged is perhaps the most positive development, in my mind, because left to their own devices, the parties will not be able to break out of this. HEMMER: Back up just a little bit. You say the suicide bombings right now, in your estimation, are just a lull. That's what I take from your answer and you believe they are going to come back. What gives you that opinion at this point?
INDYK: Well, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and quite possibly the Tanzun militias have not accepted Yasser Arafat's condemnation of their activities. They never listen to him...
HEMMER: But they have essentially held their fire for almost two and a half, almost three weeks running now.
INDYK: It is not at all clear that they have held their fire. They haven't been able to fire because they have been very much on the defensive because of Israeli operations. It may take them a little while to recover from those very strong operations.
But I don't see any change in their basic attitude. They will want to show the Israelis and the United States that the efforts of the Israeli army or the efforts of President Bush have not succeeded here and that they still intend to continue. And then it is only a question of taking one of those money volunteers for these suicide/homicide missions and strapping a belt of explosives on him or her and infiltrating them into an Israeli city like Jerusalem, then we have another crisis on our hands.
HEMMER: All right. Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, live in San Francisco -- indeed -- we'll talk again as we continue to watch the pictures here in Ramallah. We are coming up now on the 2:00 Eastern hour, 11:00 a.m. on the West Coast.
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