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Interview With Daniel Ayalon, Omar Dajani

Aired June 24, 2003 - 20:04   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: To the Middle East now. Israel says most of the 154 Palestinians arrested today in the West Bank have ties to Hamas terrorists but the Palestinian Authority is accusing Israel of trying to sabotage peace efforts.
We're going to hear from both sides now. Let's start with Daniel Ayalon, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States. He joins us from Washington this evening. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Ambassador.

DANIEL AYALON, ISRAELI AMB. TO U.S.: You're welcome, Paula.

ZAHN: First off, when you look at the timing of this roundup do you understand why there are those watching this broadcast tonight who believe at a time when the Palestinian prime minister was close to what some believe was forging some kind of truce with Hamas that this could be viewed as trying to sabotage the process?

AYALON: No, Paula, not really because there is no good time or bad time. Timing is not the issue when you fight terrorism, when you fight al Qaeda. When you know where the operatives are you go and catch them or you try to prevent them perpetrating their terror. We are talking here about saving lives and many lives are here on the line.

We're talking also about saving the process because if terror doesn't stop the process cannot begin and we really would like to have the Palestinians fight the terror and make good on their words in order to move the process forward. In order to make the road map a success it has to be implemented and each side have to take steps.

ZAHN: I hear what you're saying about saving lives.

AYALON: Israel took steps. They have to do that.

ZAHN: I also hear what you're saying about trying to save the process but is there any way you see this roundup getting you any closer to a truce with Hamas?

AYALON: No, I don't think there is a truce with Hamas. Hamas is al Qaeda type organization. It's been on the destruction of Israel indeed. In its vision there is one fundamental Islamist-Palestinian state, not side-by-side Israel, but instead of Israel, Hamas as the president and secretary of state said, is an enemy of peace.

Hamas is also a challenge to the new Palestinian prime minister. They have to be fought. Ideally, and we would like to see the Palestinian Authority fighting Hamas and stopping them. But in the absence of any action by them, we have no choice but to do that ourselves.

ZAHN: So, are you saying, sir, that even if the Palestinian Authority thought it was going to have success in creating some kind of truce with Hamas, Israel would not accept it?

AYALON: What I'm saying is that we need to have the road map implemented and for the road map to be implemented first phase, which talks about the end of terror, the end of violence, the end of incitement, calls for the dismantling of terror organizations, first and foremost is Hamas.

Now, how they do it we're not telling the Palestinians how to do it but they have to start doing it and the goal should remain not truce with Hamas but dismantling the organization, like you wouldn't have any truce with al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. It's very, very clear.

ZAHN: Ambassador Ayalon, thank you so much for your perspective this evening.

We're now going to move on to the Palestinian viewpoint. Joining us from Boston is Omar Dajani, former legal adviser to the PLO. I don't know how much of my conversation you heard with the ambassador but he made it very clear that he believes the Palestinian Authority shouldn't be negotiating with Hamas. It should be dismantling Hamas. What do you say to that?

OMAR DAJANI, FMR. PLO LEGAL ADVISER: I think that the Palestinian Authority doesn't have much of a choice right now. I think that where we were five years ago then that would be a decision that the Palestinian Authority could take.

But right now, it lacks the political legitimacy in the territories because of two years of intifadah, because of the continuation of Israeli settlement building and what Palestinians perceive as a lack of confidence building measures on the Israelis' part.

And, on top of all of that, it lacks the capacity and capacity in this context has a lot to do with politics because what Palestinians need to do in order to effectively prevent acts of terror against Israelis or anyone else is be able to apprehend, to anticipate attacks and apprehend people before they go out and bomb a mall or a disco or any other spot and that requires intelligence. Intelligence requires a network and a network requires good relations with our public which they can't do with a violent crackdown at this time.

ZAHN: But, Mr. Dajani, you heard what the ambassador just had to say that Israeli is never going to accept a deal between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas if they continue to believe that Hamas is an organization that is dedicated to its destruction.

DAJANI: I think it's a difficult dilemma that Israel faces in much the same way that it's a hard dilemma for the PA. But I think that the key is to fight a battle against terror that's not only intense but that's also sustainable. I think the Israeli government was facing some of the same difficult decisions in the mid-'90s and made the decision notwithstanding the fact that there was violence going on on both sides to engage in withdrawals from Palestinian cities.

And what was striking at that time was that you saw Palestinian polls report a radical change in Palestinian public opinion where 80 percent of Palestinians at that point in time after the Israelis had withdrawn from Palestinian cities were in favor of more severe measures against Hamas.

Now, I think that what Israeli should be looking for is what works, not what is politically saleable in Israel but simply what will move us onto the next page which is the road map.

ZAHN: So, a final one word answer here, you're optimistic or pessimistic that any of this is going to be resolved?

DAJANI: I'm afraid that with this government I'm pessimistic.

ZAHN: OK, Omar Dajani appreciate your perspective as well.

DAJANI: Thank you.

ZAHN: Thank you for dropping by.


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