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Profiles of Yasser Arafat, Ariel Sharon

Aired June 29, 2002 - 11:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up next on "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS," more on the Middle East crisis, the key players, the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Two very different leaders at a crossroads. We'll begin with Yasser Arafat. Here's Sharon Collins.


SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This week, President Bush announced conditional support for the creation of a Palestinian state.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My vision is two states living side-by-side in peace and security.

COLLINS: His vision for a peaceful resolution to the Mid East conflict included an important proviso.

BUSH: Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership so that a Palestinian state can be born.

COLLINS: His name was never uttered by the intention was clear -- remove Yasser Arafat from the Mid East peace process.

BUSH: I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror.

COLLINS: Two weeks ago, back-to-back suicide bombings in Jerusalem elicited a strong response from Israeli forces and shattered confidence in Arafat's ability to control the situation.

DAVID SHIPLER, AUTHOR, "ARAB AND JEW": It's a Catch 22 situation for him. The more moderate he becomes with the Israelis, the less credibility he has with the Palestinians. The more militant he is, the more credibility with the Palestinians and the less conciliatory the Israelis will be.

Now, how you work your way out of that, I'm not sure. Arafat doesn't seem clever enough to do it. He's a good survivor. He's not so good as a leader who can move a situation into a different era.

COLLINS: It's clear the United States doesn't think Yasser Arafat is the Palestinian leader who can bring peace, but it's not clear even with his popularity waning whether he will ever give up his struggle for statehood.

COLLINS: Yasser Arafat's life story is a reflection of the Palestinian movement. He was born in 1929, one of seven children. His birthplace, like other details of his life, is a source of some speculation. He claims to have been born in Jerusalem but his birth certificate says Cairo. His mother died when he was four and his father sent him to Jerusalem to live with his uncle for several years.

JOHN WALLACH, ARAFAT BIOGRAPHER: His childhood was painful for him. He was shunted back and forth from one relative to another. He never really had a mother and father that he knew very well. He likes to say today that that homelessness, that sense of not having a parent, not having a mother and father is parallel to the homelessness of the Palestinian people themselves.

COLLINS: In 1937, Arafat rejoined his father, three sisters and three brothers in Cairo. They lived in a mixed neighborhood, Arab and Jewish.

WALLACH: He had Jewish friends. He even played basketball on a Jewish team. So this is someone who has been familiar with the struggle, the Zionist struggle for independence from his early years or at least from his teenage years and I think that that had a deep influence on him.

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Do you think we will see Jewish children and Palestinian children playing together, growing together, being friends?


KING: Your cousins?

Y. ARAFAT: Yes, not to forget that we never said the other Jews. We used to condemn our cousins. This is the history. Abraham is our -- is mine.

KING: You never hated the Jews?

Y. ARAFAT: Never, otherwise I will not be a real Muslim.

COLLINS: The creation of Israel in 1948 drew Arafat to the ranks of Palestinian nationalists who wanted to destroy the Jewish state. While studying engineering at Cairo University, he arranged the smuggling of weapons from Egypt into Palestine.

WALLACH: He promoted himself as the leader of the Palestinian Student Union, that he was going into the desert to seize weapons that had -- old weapons that the British had left behind from the days when Egypt had won its independence.

COLLINS: When Egypt went to war with Israel in 1956, 27-year-old Yasser Arafat fought for the Egyptians. After the war, another Arab defeat, Arafat began to focus on displacing the Jewish state to secure a homeland for Palestinians. He co-founded Alpha Tau, which would later become the militant wing of the PLO and an instrument of guerrilla tactics and deadly terror.

WALLACH: Terrorist activities began against Israel in 1966 and 1967 when attacks took place in Israel itself, blowing up railroad stations and water facilities, dams.


COLLINS: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns, from militant warrior to national hero. Yasser Arafat engages a struggling people.



COLLINS (voice-over): June 1967, a dramatic and sudden shift in the Arab-Israeli conflict and a turning point for Yasser Arafat. Israel facing attack from Arab neighbors intent on destroying the Jewish state launches a pre-emptive military strike.

In six days, Israel triples in size, having captured territory from Jordan, Syria and Egypt and raises the Star of David over east Jerusalem.

SHIPLER: Israel was the underdog before the '67 War and was celebrated triumphantly. It was seen as the David that had slain the Goliath.

WALLACH: This was such a devastating defeat for the Arabs that the Palestinians said to themselves, they're never going to be able to deliver independence for us.

COLLINS: Frustrated with the lack of strong leadership in the Arab world, the Palestinians turned to Yasser Arafat. He was elected chairman of the PLO with hopes of putting Palestine on the map and wound up on the cover of "TIME" magazine.

WALLACH: Arafat was now emerging as a figure who not only confronted Israel, but confronted established Arab regimes. This was the beginning of kind of Arafatism nuisance to the Arab leaders, which to some extent, he still is today.

COLLINS: Arafat's obsession with a Palestinian state has been on display ever since, even in the way he dresses. The traditional headdress Arafat wears, the Kuffieh, has symbolic meaning.

HANAN ASHRAWI, PALESTINIAN LEGISLATOR: He always wears it to look like the map of historical Palestine. So he combines many things, a political message of culture, the message of personal matters and a sign of continuity and commitment.

The Palestinians feel the kuffieh is a sign of plight, of dignity, of national identity, of a homeland.

COLLINS: A homeland that has so far eluded them. After the Six Day War, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled the West Bank in Gaza into refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The fate of these refugees, their yearning for their own state and Israel's need to guarantee the security of its own people, is at the heart of the conflict that has played out over the last 30 years, a struggle for land and peace with little common ground.

Y. ARAFAT (through translator): The establishment of a Palestinian state with holy Jerusalem as its capital is the only guarantee for security, peace and stability in the region and the world.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Arafat is out to destroy the state of Israel. So what did Arafat send out the PLO to liberate? What was the Palestine? And the answer is Israel, any part of Israel and any border.

COLLINS: Under Arafat's leadership in the early '70s, the PLO and its various factions turned terrorism into a household word. One of these factions carried out a series of hijackings in Europe and the Middle East, including five in one week in September 1970, which ended with three emptied planes being blown up in the Jordanian Desert.

Arafat never personally claimed responsibility for these acts, but he never condemned them either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The taking of civilian lives, the hijacking of airplanes, these are deemed to be terrorist attacks.

Y. ARAFAT: You are -- you are -- you are mentioning the hijacking. You are neglecting the crux of the whole issue. We are under occupation and according to the United Nations Charter and the resolution and decisions, we have the right to resist against occupation by all means.

NETANYAHU: He's an arch terrorist, he's a master terrorist, he's the one who brought to the world, the -- you know, the terrorist start-up of producing airline hijackings, of taking people hostage, of kidnapping and murdering diplomats, including American diplomats in Khartoum. You name a terrorist technique; he's either thought about it or perfected it.

COLLINS: Despite the terror attacks, Arafat was invited to speak to the U.N. General Assembly in New York in 1974.

Y. ARAFAT (through translator): Today, I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.

COLLINS: Israel boycotted, but for Arafat and the PLO, the implications were clear.

NASSER AL-KIDWA, PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO U.N.: What was significant, of course, was the symbol of the world buddy, recognizing the Palestinian National Liberation Movement and its leader, thus, recognizing the legitimacy of the Palestinians' struggle. COLLINS: Recognition by the U.N. did not change the ways of Arafat and the PLO. In 1982, the PLO now based in Lebanon launched a series of deadly attacks against Israeli forces.

Israel invaded Lebanon and troops led by then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon pushed all the way to the gates of Beirut, literally driving Arafat and the PLO out to sea.

Y. ARAFAT: I was under siege one year ago. And I am in another siege this year. What is different? It is contradicting. It is a revolution.

SHARON: We came here only for one purpose and that is to destroy, to destroy and to take this world -- to destroy the terrorists' PLO Palestinian organizations.

COLLINS: Arafat was on the run again. He went to Tunis. Then several years later, as Palestinians in Israeli occupied territories staged a violent uprising, Arafat finally indicated that the PLO might be willing to compromise.

At a special assembly of the U.N. in Geneva, Arafat not only recognized Israel's right to exist, he uttered the words many had been waiting years to hear.

Y. ARAFAT: I repeat for the record that we totally and absolutely renounce all forms of terrorists.

COLLINS: With a single speech, came hope that years of fighting just might come to an end. But the time for terror was over.

ASHRAWI: He moved to peacemaker because he made the historical decision. He did that and that had to be recognized and he did change the course of history.


COLLINS: But more than 10 years later, Arafat's words are being used against him. That story when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.



COLLINS (voice-over): Having opened the door to peace with his historic speech to the U.N., Yasser Arafat was still a man without a homeland.

Y. ARAFAT: You know it is not an easy life to live every night in different place and on different beds.

COLLINS: He had so many enemies; he practically lived on an airplane and rarely slept in the same place.

Y. ARAFAT: In this airplane, even my colleagues don't know where we are going to. COLLINS: But Arafat would prove himself the consummate survivor. In 1992, his plane crashed in a sand storm in the Libyan Desert and he escaped with his life. He developed a blood clot on his brain afterwards but beat that too.

Shortly after his brush with death, Arafat went public with surprising personal news. A year earlier, he had secretly married a Christian-Palestinian woman who was half his age, a woman some had mistaken for his mistress.

SUHA ARAFAT, WIFE: It was terrible for me because when I'm married to a man and the entourage would say, "It's his mistress." It's too much this political entourage of the peers, all which is gossiping all the time.

ASHRAWI: I really think it's a very, very simple case of falling in love with a younger woman, who was working in his office, and they wanted to have a more permanent relationship.

COLLINS: Newly married and in declining health, Arafat seemed more reflective, more intent than ever on finding peace, according to people close to him. And in September 1993, the life-long warrior for Palestine sealed an important agreement by shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The Oslo Accords put in writing that the Jewish people were entitled to a state of their own and Arafat was vilified by many Palestinians for signing the deal.

Y. ARAFAT: Making the peace is more difficult than to make war. Any -- and so any -- any officer, any general can make a peace -- they can make war, but to make peace, it means the courageous man to implement peace.

COLLINS: Israeli hard-liners didn't like the Oslo deal either. Among other things, it allowed Arafat to move to Gaza and establish the Palestinian Authority there. Now, the Israeli's mortal enemy would be living in her midst.

MORTIMER ZUCKERMAN, CONF. OF PRESIDENTS OF MAJOR AMERICA JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS: They thought for a moment that he was going to become like Mandela in South Africa or Gandhi in India or indeed even David Bendure in Israel, but was it willing to make the necessary compromises to bring about a peaceful resolution? It turned out that this was a false hope.

COLLINS: Despite anger on both sides, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts though the award itself was controversial.

NETANYAHU: Does anyone take seriously Arafat's Nobel Prize? I think it was one of the low points of the Nobel Prize.

COLLINS: By this time, the pursuit of peace and the Palestinian state was all consuming for Arafat. He and his wife, Suha, had a baby girl in July of 1995, but their family life was somewhat unusual. Suha had her own apartment upstairs where Arafat seldom ventured. He claims that he didn't have time for his own daughter because he was father to all Palestinian children.

S. ARAFAT: It's a strange relation. She sees this man 10 minutes in the morning and he goes, surrounded by bodyguards. And she sees his pictures on the TV. She sees his pictures on -- in the pipes, in the lunar pipes, in the little gardens around. I say "papa," but she doesn't understand what is this man.

ASHRAWI: I told him once, "Don't you miss her?" And he said, "Yes, but I can't afford to think about it." So his life has been taken up with the struggle. It doesn't mean he's not a father and he's not -- he doesn't have these human or paternal feelings, but I think reality has deprived him of the chance to express them, to exercise them and to be with his family.

COLLINS: The personal and political spears so often separate converged for Arafat in September of 1995 when an Israeli right-wing extremist assassinated Prime Minister Rabin. It does a blow to the peace process and a personal blow to Arafat.

S. ARAFAT: I got this phone call and he was -- he stayed all night without saying one word. No, but it was -- it was that his partner at peace was killed.

AL-KIDWA: I remember seeing him once in his office after the assassination of Rabin, a few days after and he was really in distress.

COLLINS: Whatever Arafat's personal distress, Rabin's killing put the peace process on life support where it remained until 1998 when the two sides held peace talks again.

At Camp David, in the fall of 2000, the Israelis offered the Palestinians much of the land Israel had occupied after the 1967 Six Day War. One sticking point was that the deal did not include total Palestinian control of Arab East Jerusalem. Arafat rejected it and the two sides haven't been back to the peace table since.

COLLINS: Long before the current crisis, pressures were mounting on Arafat from all sides, pressure to once and for all denounce terror and to put a stop to the attacks.

Y. ARAFAT: Did President Bush succeed to stop the attack of bin Laden? You have the biggest power all over the world. I am doing a 100 percent of my effort, but no one all over the world can give 100 percent of that.

ZUCKERMAN: He puts a lot of tigers into a cage. He organizes these tigers in different cages and then, he says to the people who control the gates to the cages, "Why don't you open those gates?" And then he says, "Oh, my goodness, the tigers are killing people. I'm really shocked."

COLLINS: A one-two punch of suicide bombings two weeks ago that left 26 Israelis dead is the last straw for President Bush. He held Yasser Arafat ultimately responsible. BUSH: Today, Palestinian authorities are encouraging not opposing terrorism. This is not acceptable. And the United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure.

COLLINS: He called for the Palestinians to elect new leaders, demands that the de facto leader of the Palestinians leave office.

Y. ARAFAT (through translator): He spoke about a Palestinian state and elections, that we consider our state will be democratic with the coming elections. The last elections that took place on this land were under the auspices of the international community.

COLLINS: The Palestinian Authority has promised new elections in January. And in a move that seems to gloss over Bush's vote of "no confidence," Yasser Arafat has vowed to be a candidate.

In the meantime, Israel troops have moved into Palestinian controlled territories and strict curfews have been imposed. Tensions are still high.

Arafat's goal, a sovereign Palestinian state, may become a reality. It is his role in that reality, however, that remains uncertain.


COLLINS: Up next, on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, while the Palestinians are battling to forge a nation, he's fighting to protect one.


SHARON: Peace might be discussed only when the full cessation of terror...


COLLINS: An in-depth look at Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.


WHITFIELD: Now back to "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS" and our look at the key players in the Middle East crisis.

For nearly six decades, Ariel Sharon has been a presence and a force in Israel, first as a soldier, then a politician and now, prime minister. Here again is Sharon Collins.


SHARON: Peace might be discussed only when the full cessation of terror activities is in sight.

COLLINS: It's a stance Israeli Prime Minister Sharon has held for many years. And this week, President Bush President Bush echoed his sentiments.

BUSH: And United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against the terrorists who dismantle their infrastructure.

COLLINS: One week earlier, Sharon had appeared at the site of a suicide bombing that killed 19 Israelis. It was a strong gesture from the Israeli head of state.

There he promised Israel would take control of Palestinian territories until the terror stopped. As the tanks rolled in, it was clear that the situation in the Middle East had reached another boiling point and that, again, Ariel Sharon was at the center of a vicious cycle of violence in retribution.

ASHRAWI: To the Palestinians, Sharon is a black fisted murderer, ruthless, cruel, no regard for human life.

ZUCKERMAN: I think they feel strongly about Sharon, because they know what a formidable enemy that he has been. He has fought them for 50 years, and he has fought them effectively and beaten them at that game.

COLLINS: A soldier with roots in the Holy Land; Ariel Sharon was born in 1928 on a farm outside Tel Aviv, where he grew up with his parents and an older sister. The family had come to Israel from Russia seven years earlier to farm the Promised Land. They were part of a huge wave of Zionist immigrants, who worked to turn desert and swamp into fertile ground.

SHIPLER: Sharon loves the land as a farmer does, and has always regarded the land as integral to Jewish identity in that place, that Biblical place. I think it's a very secular, but still rather mystical view of land, and its importance.

COLLINS: Despite his land for the land, Sharon admits in his autobiography that he never felt the warmth of a family until he joined the army as a teenager.

DAVID CHANOFF, CO-AUTHOR "WARRIOR, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ARIEL SHARON: The military really became his family, and I think all of that kind of warmth, all of those kinds of relationships that you have with the people who suffered through things with you, affected him profoundly.

COLLINS: In Israel's 1948 war for independence, Sharon was shot in the abdomen, but that didn't deter him from a lifetime of military service.

DORE GOLD, SHARON ADVISER: I think Ariel Sharon feels a historical responsibility to save the Jewish State. He's a man, who for his entire life, has been called to duty in critical moments.

COLLINS: After the war, he took time out from the military. In 1953, he married Margalit, a young Romanian woman he had met years earlier on a neighboring farm. CHANOFF: I think he looked back on that as being a moment that was just extraordinary for its peacefulness, for its joy. He felt as if he has spent his childhood at hard labor and then his youth at war, and that he had missed so much.

COLLINS: But his hiatus from war was cut short. In response to a wave of terror attacks, the army asked him to come back for a special mission.

SHIPLER: When Arab terrorists infiltrated into Israel from Jordan, Sharon who headed an army unit, called Unit 101, went into a Jordanian border town called Qibya and blew up 45 houses in retaliation. Sixty-nine Arab villagers died. Sharon said that he didn't know the houses were occupied.

ASHRAWI: He personally was in charge. When he heard the women and children yelling and screaming in the homes as they demolished them, blew up, and he's carried that legacy throughout. It's a pattern consistently.

COLLINS: The U.N. Security Council condemned the Israel action. Sharon called the civilian deaths a tragedy, but he says Qibya was meant to teach a lesson. For every act of Arab terrorism, there would be a heavy price to pay, a lesson he would return to again and again in the years ahead, as he moved from the battlefield into the political arena.


COLLINS: That story, when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.



COLLINS (voice-over): In June 1967, Ariel Sharon, now general, was back at war. This time Israel faced a massive attack from Arab neighbors bent on destroying the Jewish State. Israeli forces launched a preemptive strike to devastating effect. In six days, Israeli-controlled territory tripled in size.

For Sharon, the victory would soon be tempered by crushing personal news. In October, during the Jewish New Year, Sharon's 11- year-old son Gur died of a gunshot wound. He had been playing with one of his father's antique guns.

CHANOFF: Sharon heard a gunshot. Gur was lying there with a terrible facial wound, and he stood there yelling for someone to bring a car. It went to the clinic. The doctor at the clinic said you must get him to the hospital immediately. They got back into the car, and the boy died in Sharon's lap.

COLLINS: It was Sharon's second personal tragedy in five years. His wife, Margalit, had died in a car accident in 1962.

In 1973, Sharon decided to retire from the military and purchased a ranch that would become his sanctuary in the years ahead. By now, he was remarried to Margalit's sister, Lily.

But later that year, he was again called to fight when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel's holiest day. Sharon led the reversal of Israeli fortunes in the Yom Kippur War with the capture of the Egyptian third army, leading 200 tanks and 5,000 men across the Suez Canal, a feat many consider his greatest military triumph.

GOLD: And it was Sharon's bold generalship that led to the crossing of the Suez Canal, the encirclement of the Egyptian Army, and basically bringing about Israel's victory in that war.

COLLINS: Hailed by many as a war hero, and by now disillusioned with the liberal Labor Party that controlled the Israeli government, Sharon decided to pursue politics. He was convinced that his experience in battle would help forge peace and security for Israel.

SHARON: And I saw all the -- the whole Holy War. I lost my best friend. I was very badly injured in -- twice in battles. Therefore, I believe that I understand the importance of peace.

ZUCKERMAN: One of the things about generals that you learn is that essentially they're pragmatists. I mean their military theories and strategies better work. If they don't work, they lose the battles. Well, he's won a lot of battles because, in fact, he has had brilliant strategic and tactical instincts, and I think a lot of those are now being applied from a political point of view.

COLLINS: Sharon helped form a right wing coalition of opposition parties called the Likud for unity, and he was elected to the Israeli Parliament or Knesset in 1973.

Later in the Israel Cabinet, Sharon's focus was on security. As Minister of Agriculture, he was the prime mover behind the settlement of Israelis in the occupied territories.

SHIPLER: The first time I ever met him was on a settlement in 1979 in the West Bank, where he came roaring up the hill in a Jeep, pulled out his maps, he loves maps, and started talking about security. And he said, "if you raise a child so that he knows every valley and every hill and every spring and every stone, he will consider the land his, and he'll fight to defend it." That's Sharon's view.

COLLINS: To build the Jewish settlements, Sharon deployed bulldozers, and when Israelis came under attack, bulldozers and explosives were used to flatten the homes of Palestinian terror suspects, and homes built outside designated areas. Some nicknamed Sharon "the bulldozer."

ASHRAWI: "The bulldozer" is very appropriate. And sometimes we call him "the Raging Bull" but I don't want to insult Native Americans. I think of him as being obsessive and driven and in many ways quite evil.

GOLD: The "bulldozer" term really refers to a minister who gets things done and doesn't throw up his hands and say, "The bureaucracy has made it impossible." Some may try and use it (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but that's what it really meant. It means someone who gets things done.

COLLINS: To Palestinians, the settlements amount to an illegal land grab and a permanent occupation of their territory.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: We want peace! We want peace!

COLLINS: For some Israelis, they are an impediment to peace.

Even more controversial than the settlements, Sharon's military campaign in Lebanon. In 1982, Yasser Arafat and the PLO were using war-torn Lebanon as a base for deadly attacks on Israel. Sharon, now Minister of Defense, led Israeli forces through South Lebanon, all the way to Beirut.

SHARON: We came here only for one purpose, and that is to destroy, to destroy and take this world, to destroy the terrorist PLO, Palestinian organizations.

COLLINS: Sharon later told CNN he ordered Arafat's assassination 13 times during the Lebanon campaign, though more recently he sidestepped the question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you sorry you didn't kill him then?

SHARON: Look, I don't think that we have to deal with everything in the past. I think we have to look forward, how we can reach an agreement, cease-fire, peace.

COLLINS: Israeli forces were able to drive Arafat and the PLO out of Lebanon, but Sharon's triumph was short lived.

SHIPLER: After Arafat and the PLO left West Beirut under a kind of safe passage guarantee from the Israelis, the Israelis permitted Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia to go into two Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Chatila, where they massacred 700 to 800 people.

Sharon was forced to resign as defense minister after that. He was investigated by an Israel commission, which found that he should have known, as defense minister, that this massacre would take place, if he allowed the Phalangists to go in there. And they found indirect responsibility, as they put it, by Israel for the massacre, not direct, but indirect.

COLLINS: After the massacres, Sharon was by his own account isolated within the government, consigned to a series of lower level posts, and he was vilified by Arabs and Jews alike. Sharon retreated to his ranch to refocus on family and his roots.

ROBERT MORGENTHAU, FRIEND OF ARIEL SHARON: He really loves the land and he loves growing things, whether it's watermelons or citrus or sheep. The strain of sheep that he has go back to the Biblical days. The thing he wants most, I think, is to go back to his farm and live there in peace, you know, beat the swords into plowshares.

COLLINS: But peace down on the farm would not last. The occupation continued. The settlements grew. Israel faced more terror, and the lifetime warrior was embroiled in another fight.


COLLINS: That story, when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.



COLLINS (voice-over): September 1993 brought hope of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. With President Bill Clinton looking on, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands, sealing a landmark agreement.

In the Oslo Accords, as they were called, the Palestinians recognized the right of Israel to exist, and the Israelis acknowledged Palestinians could have a state of their own. They also allowed Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to move to Gaza and Jericho on the West Bank. Ariel Sharon and Israeli hard-liners hated the Oslo deal.

Sharon, who was again serving in the Israeli Parliament, referred to it as "a moral error of the first order."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Jewish people are against the agreement with the murderer Arafat, and we will not leave. We will stay here in all Israel.

COLLINS: Two years after Arafat and Rabin shook hands, the peace process was dealt a shocking setback. An Israeli right-wing extremist assassinated Prime Minister Rabin. Rabin's killing brought a surge of support for the doves in Israel, who wanted to build on the Oslo Accords, but Palestinian terror attacks several months later gave a boost to Sharon and the Likud hard-liners as national elections approached.

SHARON: We live in a -- the old belief. There are many, many problems in the Middle East that have not changed. My grandfather faces terror. My parents, myself, my children, and all families here that have been facing this Palestinian terror now for five, six generations.

COLLINS: Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister and the old warrior, Ariel Sharon, returns to the fold as a member of the cabinet. Two years later, in the fall of 1998, Sharon was at Netanyahu's side when Israel and the Palestinians resumed peace talks at the Wye River in Maryland. With little fanfare, a limited agreement was signed, but Sharon refused to shake Yasser Arafat's hand.

GOLD: He certainly shared responsibility for the signing of the Wye Agreement, along with the rest of the Netanyahu government at the time. But I think at the same time, he had a reading over who Yasser Arafat. He read the intelligence reports about how Arafat had failed to fight terrorism, and perhaps was affecting the green light to terrorism, and therefore I think he felt the handshake was symbolic, that the handshake would have been inappropriate, given what we knew about Yasser Arafat already in 1998.

COLLINS: Sharon's doubts about his lifelong adversary, Arafat, only grew the next time peace talks were held. When Israel made what it considered its most generous offer to date at Camp David in 2000, Arafat didn't counter and President Clinton blamed him for the breakdown in talks.

SHIPLER: There may have been reasons that would make you understand why he did, but the fact that he did has convinced most Israelis that he doesn't want peace. So most Israelis would be willing to get out of the territories and would be willing to have the settlements dismantled, but they're afraid to because they think that without their army in there, their security would be at risk. And I think Sharon is absolutely convinced of that.

COLLINS: After Camp David, Sharon and other hard liners feared that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak might still be prepared to surrender control of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians, and in September, Sharon visited one of the holiest sights there, one claimed by both sides.

SHIPLER: When Sharon went to the Temple Mount, he exercised his right as an Israeli citizen to go there. So he didn't do anything illegal, but he certainly did something nonsensical, and he, by surrounding himself with lots of security people, he basically committed what many Muslims regarded as a sacrilege.

COLLINS: A sacrilege to Palestinians, compounded because Sharon was already so hated by so many.

AL-KIDWA: This was the powder keg, which then exploded and caused explosion of the whole occupied Palestinian territory.

COLLINS: Crowds of Palestinians attacked Israeli security forces. The uprising or intifada returned with a vengeance.

ASHRAWI: He knew that the situation was explosive. It was volatile, and he wanted to ignite the spark that would blow up the whole place and he did it. He wanted to create a situation of insecurity, instability, and fear in order to exploit that to get into office.

GOLD: The visit of Israeli members of Knesset on the Temple Mount is something that had been done in the past, and something that was completely normal and acceptable for an Israeli leader. The intifada had already broken out before Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount.

COLLINS: Intentional or not, Sharon's visit paid political dividends and he decided to run for Prime Minister. He campaigned on a message of peace through security. His key opponent, the prime minister, portrayed him in campaign ads as a ruthless warmonger. And yet, he was elected in February 2001 in the largest landslide in Israeli history.

Sharon's moment of triumph was tempered by personal loss. His wife Lily had died 11 months earlier. The day of election, Sharon visited her grave.

MORGENTHAU: I think he was lost for quite a while. I mean you could just see that a very important aspect of his life was missing. I mean he was -- they were very close.

COLLINS: In office, Sharon's son, Omri, has served as a trusted adviser, acting among other things as a go-between with Arafat.

GOLD: He's been a very important conduit for sending messages directly to Yasser Arafat in a back channel where a highly trusted person could be used for passing the most sensitive messages.

COLLINS: A year-and-a-half after his election, Sharon is in uncharted territory. The role of his rival has been called into question.

As Colin Powell prepares for another round of diplomacy, Israel's battle-hardened prime minister must prepare to navigate the tricky waters of Palestinian politics.

GOLD: In the military, generals give orders and they're immediately implemented. In political life, you have to persuade people of your position. He understands you have to build consensus around ideas that you want to get implemented.

SHIPLER: He fancies himself as a strategist, but I think he has some blind spots. One of those blind spots is his lack of understanding of Palestinian politics, of what life is like for Palestinians under Israeli occupation. I don't think he's ever grasped how difficult and how enraging daily experience can be for the Palestinians.

ASHRAWI: I think Sharon, as always, will keep going. As they say, he never stops if there's light, so he will keep going until somebody stops him.

COLLINS: Sharon's supporters hope he won't stop until Israelis feel safe on their own soil.

GOLD: Security means your children can go to school and you don't have to worry about whether there's a security guard in the nursery or the Kindergarten. It means your teenagers can go to a discotheque at night on Saturday night and you don't have to fear they may not come back. Security means what it says, the people of Israel staying alive.

COLLINS: For now, it seems Ariel Sharon is still applying the lesson he first learned 50 years ago -- for every act of terror, there is a price to pay.





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