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Peace Effort Continues To Dwindle As Israeli Military Kill Hamas Leader

Aired August 21, 2003 - 20:09   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The Middle East peace process further unraveled today after Hamas called off its cease-fire with Israel. The decision came after Israeli forces killed a senior Hamas leader. While the killing itself was in response to Tuesday's bus bombing in Jerusalem, can the peace process get back on track?
I'm joined now from Maine by former Senator George Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell has served as a Middle East envoy and mediator in the Northern Ireland peace talks.

Good of you to join us. Welcome.


ZAHN: So how would you break this deadlock?

MITCHELL: There is no easy way.

And there has to be more of the same, with patience and perseverance, to try to get the parties back to the road map, to recognize that, for both sides, there is no military solution to this conflict. And if they don't want a repetition over the next three years of the past three years, more than 2,000 Palestinians killed, their economy devastated, their lives miserable, almost 1,000 Israelis killed, their economy badly hurt, their lives filled with fear and anxiety, the only way not to have that is to go back to the negotiating table.

ZAHN: But, Senator Mitchell, you don't believe anybody really wants this to continue, do you?

MITCHELL: Well, certainly.

Those who did the killing, the suicide bombers and others, are committed to violence as a way of getting a complete, 100 percent satisfactory-to-them outcome. That's not going to happen. There has to be compromise on both sides. That means there has to be negotiation. I think there are fringe elements who don't represent the majority. I think the vast majority of Palestinians and Israelis -- indeed, the polls show that two-thirds on both sides want a negotiated settlement of a two-state solution. But there are some who don't and will continue this very unfortunate and tragic violence.

ZAHN: If you could make an analogy to what you finally encountered as you cobbled together a peace in Northern Ireland -- I think you told me in the past, you just felt, at a certain point, both sides just got absolutely fed up and exhausted by the killing and the destruction. And you don't think people have reached that point yet here?

MITCHELL: I think they are at or very close to it in the Middle East.

The single most important factor in Northern Ireland was exhaustion with conflict. People got sick of the war, 30 years of killing, death and destruction. Even though the numbers were not as great as they are now in the Middle East, people were worn out. And while the differences still remain -- there have been tremendous difficulties in implementing the agreement. It is not yet fully implemented, indeed. I think that the absence of conflict is a demonstration of the fact that people just got sick of it.

I think much the same thing is happening in the Middle East. Indeed, Paula, on my last visit there, which was some time ago, both Prime Minister Sharon and then Chairman Arafat said to me separately on successive days: This must end, because life has become unbearable for our people.

And it has since then become even more unbearable. I think, in the end, that will be the compelling force, exhaustion with conflict on both sides and a mutual recognition that the current course will not get for them what they say they want. The Israelis want security. The Palestinians want a state. The Palestinians will never get a state if the Israelis don't have security. And I don't think the Israelis can get any sustainable security until the Palestinians have a state.

ZAHN: It might be worth noting at this point something Secretary Powell said at the U.N. today when he talked about the risk of this peace plan failing.

Let's listen to what he had to say.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: The end of the road map is a cliff that both sides will fall off of. And so we have to understand the consequences of the end of the road map, so it is not the end of the road map.


ZAHN: So what do you view as the risk of failure here?

MITCHELL: Well, it's a very high risk.

Each new outburst of violence is more intense, more destructive than the previous outburst. That was the history in Northern Ireland. That's been the history of regional conflicts really over the past half-century. Bloody and as difficult as the past three years have been, it is likely to be even more bloody and more difficult over the next three years, or whatever period, until both sides come to recognize that there is not a military solution to this conflict. I think that is what happened in Northern Ireland, Paula. And if I could just say, the negotiations there, which I chaired, lasted for two years. The cease-fires were repeatedly broken. There were assassinations, bombings, killings, attempts to intimidate and end the peace process. In a very real sense, we had 700 days of failure and one day of success. This process is not for the timid or the tentative, for those who say, well, it has to work tomorrow.

You have to keep at it, patient, persevering. I hope the administration will continue the effort that's been under way. And I think, ultimately, leaders on both sides will come to recognize that the current course of action will not get for them what they want. Neither side can attain its objective by denying to the other side its objective. There has to be compromise if they're going to get what they want.

ZAHN: Senator Mitchell, I can only give you 10 more seconds. You say you hope the administration will continue to focus in an aggressive way on this issue. Are you optimistic the Bush administration will?

MITCHELL: Yes. Yes, I believe they will.

I think the president is committed, the secretary of state is committed, and all those in the administration who participate in the ultimate decision-making process I believe are committed to continue.

ZAHN: Boy, can you take a cue. You did that in nine seconds. We're going to give our next guest that extra second back.


ZAHN: Senator George Mitchell, thank you for joining us tonight.

MITCHELL: OK. Thanks, Paula.


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