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Mideast Peace Initiative in Jeopardy

Aired August 25, 2003 - 20:17   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The latest Mideast peace initiative could be in jeopardy, amid escalating violence between Palestinians and Israelis, both sides blaming each other.
And a little bit earlier today, I spoke with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, currently a member of the Israeli Cabinet.

And I started off by asking him whether he blames Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Arafat certainly doesn't want any peace. And he is quite open about it. And so, yes, he's to blame.

But the test of the Palestinian leadership like Abbas and others is, can they do the job? Do they have the political will and the political power to do the job? If they have neither the will, nor the power to lead -- and to lead means making a choice that they want peace with Israel, not peace with the terrorists -- if they have that power, they're leaders. If they lack either power or will to make that choice, then they're irrelevant.

ZAHN: So which is it in their case, lack of power or lack of will?

NETANYAHU: They have to fight really a few hundred Hamas operatives and Islamic Jihad militants. They can do the job.

But I think that they lack the will, because that's making a very tough decision. It is to say: I am taking sides. And, yes, there will be enormous risks to me, but I'm taking sides. I'm taking a step to be on the side of peace.

There is risk in that. And Anwar Sadat proved that. And King Hussein took risks as well. They're not, apparently, cut from the same cloth.

ZAHN: There is much debate about what role the settlement issue is playing in this ongoing cycle of violence. Do you think, if the Palestinians were convinced that the growth of settlements would be frozen, it would make any difference at all?

NETANYAHU: I think that if we just walked out to the '67 borders, dismantled all the settlements, it would do nothing, because the settlement that they want -- and I listen, unfortunately, to what these various groups, the more extreme and the -- quote -- "more moderate," talk about. They say: The settlement we're after is called Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa.

And that's the problem. The reason this thing isn't getting solved is that -- it is not that there are Palestinians there who say, OK, we want a state next to Israel, so let's work out the lines to how to do it. It is difficult, very problematic, I grant you, but not impossible to resolve that type of territorial conflict.

The problem and the reason it doesn't get solved is that there are too many Palestinians there who say: We don't want to have Israel next to us in any size. We want to get rid of it.

ZAHN: Finally, the Bush administration has made it clear for nearly a year now, they perceive Yasser Arafat as irrelevant. And yet Secretary of State Powell just last week called on Mr. Arafat to rein in Hamas. What was your reaction to that?

NETANYAHU: I think the U.S. has issued some correction on that statement.

And I think that, in general, the position that the U.S. has taken the last year is a correct one. That is, it is not that Arafat's bad influence is not there. It is there. And in that sense, he's irrelevant. The important thing is not to afford him legitimacy, not to engage him as a partner, because he is not a partner.

He lacks the two conditions necessary for a peace partner, one, to recognize that the state of Israel is there by right and will not be destroyed. And he still calls for our destruction through the flooding of Israel with millions of Palestinians. And, second, he has to dismantle the weapon of destruction, that is, the terror organizations. And Arafat persistently refuses to do either. And I'm afraid the same is true of the rest of the Palestinian leadership.

ZAHN: Bibi Netanyahu, thank you so much for your time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And shortly after talking with Mr. Netanyahu, I spoke with Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Shaath.

And I asked him whether Palestinian leaders have been doing enough to stop attacks inside Israel.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NABIL SHAATH, PALESTINIAN MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Mr. Abbas, with our meager resources, have been trying his best, with the support of President Arafat, to stop and put an end to all violence.

I know that they have not always been successful. The last suicide bombing in Jerusalem was a horrible thing to have happened. It horrified all of us. But, also, the daily assassinations by Israelis, sending rockets to burn bodies in automobiles in the last three days have been also horrible. If there is any agreement between Mr. Abbas and Abu Amr, Mr. Arafat, I would like to remind Mr. Netanyahu about the vast disagreements that sometimes erupt between him and Mr. Sharon.

ZAHN: Much of what Mr. Netanyahu just had to tell us on the air, essentially, he said the Palestinians are not serious about peace. He said Arafat, through his actions and Prime Minister Abbas, through his inactions, he said they are not standing up to terrorists, they're not jailing them. They're not interdicting them. Your reaction to that?

SHAATH: Both of us need to do a lot to move back to the peace process through a real cease-fire.

Just two days ago, the Israeli police uncovered rings of Israeli settler terrorists who had killed at least 10 Palestinians in the last few months. And the matter is really a war that is going on that we have got to stop. It is not a one-sided situation at all.

ZAHN: How much is Mr. Abbas' credibility undermined by the fact that the "L.A. Times" is reporting today that Chairman Arafat is in fact in control of two-thirds of the police forces?

SHAATH: We have a police force and we have a national guard that protects the borders and that has duties regarding the overall security of the Palestinian territories.

And what is being attempted today is to try to unify these two. It is just like trying to unify the Los Angeles police force with the Marines or with the Army. It's like trying to unify the FBI and the CIA. That's what we are trying to do, unify these two organizations. And it is not easy.

ZAHN: If Chairman Arafat wanted to stop the violence against Israelis today, could he?

SHAATH: Well, he has been really trying. And I think he could -- he had succeeded when we enforced a cease-fire upon all the organizations that lasted for 51 days.

During these 51 days, not one suicide bombing, not one rocket was fired. And things were moving fine. He did it by both, by persuasion and some disciplining.

ZAHN: What do you think will stop the madness you describe on both sides?

SHAATH: Now, I'm not calling for a U.S. invasion, no. I'm calling really for support and the development of the small number of monitors that the United States has been keeping in Israel and Palestine, led by Ambassador John Wolf, who have really been doing an effective job.

But he has very little resources. We need a much more effective U.S. presence. And we need the United States to stay the course.

ZAHN: Dr. Shaath, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate your joining us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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