Return to Transcripts main page


Diplomats Discuss Prospects of Middle East Peace

Aired November 13, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, hopes for peace in the Middle East lie in tatters again. So what are the chances of ending decades of this conflict?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

It's one of the most intractable wars of our time, the struggle between Palestinians and Israelis over land, the holy land. The past 60 years have seen violence and uprising in the Middle East and interrupted only briefly by moments of hope.

U.S. President Obama began his administration appointing a high- profile envoy and promising to break the logjam, but 10 months later, it's still deadlocked.

We're joined now by Aaron David Miller, a longtime American diplomat who's now at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. For two decades, he served six U.S. secretaries of state, helping formulate American policy on the conflict.

And we're also joined by Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who writes for the leading Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz as correspondent in the occupied lands. That is her title. She also recently received a lifetime achievement award here in the United States from the International Women's Media Foundation.

Welcome to you both. Welcome, Amira. Welcome, Aaron David Miller.

AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER DIPLOMAT: It's a pleasure, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: So, so much promise, and now, 10 months later, it just seems to be literally going nowhere again. The peace train is stuck in the station.

MILLER: I think that's fair. And nobody ever lost money betting against Arab-Israeli peace. And the current -- our current president, Barack Obama, probably won't lose money, either.

AMANPOUR: But Barack Obama has been nominated and will achieve the Nobel Peace Prize. And when he came to office, his first major declaration was this is going to change under my administration.

MILLER: No question. He came off faster, harder and louder with respect to his rhetoric than any previous president on the Israeli- Palestinian issue, and yet he's confronting fundamentally difficult problems, both structural, substantive, and with respect to the two men on which so much of this depends.

AMANPOUR: Yes, I was going to ask you about the two men. I want to ask Amira, though, who spends her time literally immersed in this conflict. What motivates you essentially to leave your tribe and go to the other side and try to tell the story? Why?

AMIRA HASS, HA'ARETZ CORRESPONDENT: I'm a journalist. If I were a journalist in France, I would have been in Paris. So as a journalist who covers Israeli occupation, I'm in the heart of occupation. I mean, it was Gaza; now it is Ramallah. But it is the heart of Israeli occupation.

AMANPOUR: And what is it that you are telling that -- is anybody else there telling that same story?


HASS: Yes, there are quite a few Israeli journalists, not -- not necessarily live in the occupied territories, but we all tell a story or we're all concerned, actually, we're all concerned with -- as Israeli citizens with the future of our state, because we see that a state -- a state which is built only on -- on military superiority cannot last forever. We need other paradigm, other parameters in order to live in a region which is all -- Arab, Muslim, and non-white (inaudible)

AMANPOUR: I'm going to ask you again, what about the two people or the two leaders involved here? Is it a question of not having the courage to actually take the difficult choices?

MILLER: I think it's bad. And the reality that these two men -- Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas -- are prisoners, rather than masters of their political constituents. And I -- I may be too much of a student of history, a prisoner of the past, but when there are breakthroughs -- Sadat, Begin, Arafat, Rabin, Hussein -- it is -- it is when leaders find a way to master their political constituents, create some measure of hope and vision, and incorporate at least part of the narrative of the other side into theirs.

Right now, we don't have that. We have zero-sum game politics. My gain is your loss, and vice versa. And there's no way you can move based on that kind of approach.

AMANPOUR: I'm going to play something that Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told -- told this program a week ago about the current deadlock and about the viability of what you've all been working for and what you just mentioned, the idea of having two states.


SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Mr. Netanyahu, he made the choice. He had the choice between peace and settlements, and he chose settlements. And Abu Mazen must make the choice.

AMANPOUR: Between?

EREKAT: Between continuing following in order his dream and our dreams and our ambitions to achieve a state and the fact on the ground that Israel is undermining the two-state solution. And maybe we should go to see other options. Maybe the one-state solution is the option now.


AMANPOUR: What would that mean for Israel, a one-state solution?

HASS: It is -- it is already the one-state solution. It is a one state now. It's Israel. It's a one Israeli government which decides about the future and the well-being of two peoples who live in the same territory, between the river and the sea, but they don't have the same rights. They are confined to two different sets of laws, of infrastructures, of judicial system, of education system, so a form of apartheid, the word that nobody likes to hear.

But this is very -- in -- in -- in that sense, it is similar, because there are two people in one territory, and not with the same rights. I live in Ramallah. People in Ramallah do not have the right to go and -- and not only to settle in Tel Aviv, but also to travel to Tel Aviv. But every Israeli in Tel Aviv has the right to move on that very spot to Beit El, a settlement near Ramallah, and get -- and be a full Israeli citizen.

Aaron has the full right to go -- Aaron has more rights as a Jew. He has more rights in Israel and Palestinian than any Palestinian who lives in Palestine and in Israeli and abroad.

MILLER: Amira's observation is an interesting one. And -- and the conditions she's -- she's described are not only unfortunate, but tragic, but they're a pathology based on an objective set of circumstances. You've got an occupation. And in an occupation, you have a dance. You have a dance between the occupied and the occupier.

Now, diplomacy is designed to deal with remedy, to produce a change in that situation, so I'm not yet prepared to assume -- a one-state solution is not a solution. It's an outcome. It's a historic outcome, if, in fact, Israelis and Palestinians may not be able to reach through diplomacy separation through negotiations.

But that's the question, and I would argue, despite the despair and the cynicism, that's what we ought to be focused on. Is a two-state solution possible? And if not, what does an administration, an Israeli government, and a very divided Palestinian national movement do about it?

HASS: But it's possible -- it is possible if we -- if we put all the cards on the table and say, "It is impossible without the settlements," but all the settlements -- 500,000 Israelis who live in settlements, including East Jerusalem, a two-state solution is possible if Gaza goes back to the - - to this -- to this formula, not being thrown out, as -- as it has.

AMANPOUR: But the settlements right now seem to be what's caused it to collide to a halt, to crash to a halt again. The administration of Barack Obama said total freeze or else there are no talks.

MILLER: Right. And I would argue that...

AMANPOUR: Right or wrong? Was that the right thing to say?

MILLER: A comprehensive settlement freeze, including natural growth, unattainable. No Israeli prime minister would ever willingly have agreed to that. I think the administration got off on a very wrong foot on the issue of settlements.

Settlements are a huge problem. They prejudice and predetermine the outcome of negotiations. They humiliate Palestinians.


But you solve the core issue, you solve the territorial border issue, and the settlement problem will be manageable and may ultimately disappear.

The key issue now, the key question is, can Israelis and Palestinians reach an agreement on the four core issues that drive their conflict, borders, security, Jerusalem, and refugees? That needs to be the focus. If not, we've got to find this out, because 10 years after Israeli- Palestinian negotiations began, we still don't know.

HASS: I think it's much in a way simpler than that. It's -- it's simpler and more complicated. Do Israelis want to be an episode -- a historical episode? Or do they want to continue -- do we want to continue and live in that region? This is...

AMANPOUR: You've -- you've also said that, being in the heart of the Palestinians, you see their politics as that of a liberation movement still, rather than as diplomatic.

HASS: No, it -- it should be. They -- their big mistake is that they chose the road or they pretended to be a state -- this was the mistake of Arafat from the beginning -- that he -- he preferred to present himself as a leader of a state, somebody who heads a state, and forgot that he is the head of -- or should be the head of a liberation movement. Liberation movement also has its -- its moral constraints and diplomatic constraints...

AMANPOUR: Many people...

HASS: But the same thing that he -- this is a government, help the world or assist it in -- what I see as an Israeli, even plan to portray to conflict as symmetrical, between two independent entities, the Palestinian so-called state, which does not exist, and the Israeli state.

AMANPOUR: Many people get very frustrated -- and this is a question for both of you, because whatever you're saying, there have been certain opportunities, for instance, when Yassir Arafat and everybody went to the Camp David in 2000, rejected it, there was a second intifada, and then, months later, Yassir Arafat said, "I accept the Clinton-Camp David parameters."

And then Ehud Olmert started talking about giving back land in East Jerusalem and sharing of the holy sites, and the Palestinians didn't accept that, and now they say, "Well, we couldn't, because he was disempowered." Is there a certain amount, also, of -- of all sides shooting themselves in the head?

MILLER: There's no question that -- that opportunities have been missed. But I'm not -- I'm not -- a symmetry of power is correct. Israelis wield the power of the strong. It's the capacity to impose: settlements, bypass roads, collective punishments, targeted killings. But the Palestinians wield another power, which I would call the power of the weak. And the power of the weak allows you to basically say the following: "I'm under occupation. I have my rights taken away. Therefore, I can use any means at my disposal, including acquiescence in terror and violence, in order to accomplish my objective."

When you combine the power of the strong with the power of the weak, you get what we have, which is dysfunction, which is no solution. And the question is, can a third party or can the parties themselves finally come to terms with what -- what price they each need to pay in order to end their conflict?

AMANPOUR: We're going to pick up right there right after a break. We're going to ask Amira what she sees from young Palestinians in Ramallah or Gaza.








AMANPOUR: So that was Amira Hass in the documentary about her work. Amira Hass and Aaron David Miller join me again.

We showed that, Amira, because of the human interaction. And there's very little of that when you -- everybody talks about the policy, the politics all the time, the intractable nature of this. What do you find when you are so-called behind the lines and you talk to the people, their hopes?

HASS: Hopes are -- is very...

AMANPOUR: Do they have hopes?

HASS: Hope is very, very, very difficult to find now. The hopes are confined much more now to every family so they would look for ways to send the children to study abroad or to extend their knowledge inside. This hardly exists in Gaza, which is a huge prison, as you know, and people cannot depend on -- on -- on anything which is available all over the world and not things that are available in Gaza because of these conditions.

AMANPOUR: See, when I was there, when we did this documentary over -- over the summer, I talked to a lot of university-age young people and sort of high school, middle school age, and I was stunned by, despite the conditions, what they actually did want and see for their future, the fact that, yes, hope is at a -- a -- is very, very difficult commodity right now, but they do want to be connected to the world, to get out of what you call this prison of their own, you know, government there and also of the Israeli walls.

HASS: (inaudible)


HASS: First of all, it's the Israeli prison, and it has not...

AMANPOUR: And you don't think Hamas has anything -- anything to say on this?

HASS: There is a problem, that Israel wrote a script of imprisonment, and both Fatah and -- and Hamas went along this script in their stupid policies, let me say, and their competition with each other. But the script has been written by Israel, the script of imprisoning Gazans, and disconnecting Gaza from the West Bank and actually maybe throwing it back to -- to the Egyptians has been -- it's a script that has been written by Israel since '91, not 2005, not 2007, since '91.

And this is something that people completely omit when they analyze Israeli policies.

AMANPOUR: But your point is what?

HASS: My point is that this -- first, this is huge Israeli success in that matter and that, since the early '90s, when there was talk all over the world about the two-state solution and its feasibility, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, et cetera, Israel lost a golden opportunity, but deliberately, a golden opportunity to have the two-state solution.

AMANPOUR: You were involved...

HASS: To disconnect -- just I want to finish -- just to show that there is no link of dispossessions between '48 and now, that we are not a colonialist state. Israel (inaudible) in its settlement policies that -- that only enhanced -- was enhanced after '91 show that we are a colonialist society.

AMANPOUR: Aaron, you were involved in many of the peace negotiations. And the years that Amira is talking about, deliberate loss of a golden opportunity by Israel?

MILLER: Deliberate loss, look, Amira and I are going to have to disagree on this. The Arab-Israeli conflict is not a morality play which pits the forces of goodness on one hand against the forces of darkness on the other. It's complicated. Each side has competing needs and requirements. They've got to be addressed.

Michael Jackson, who's not a preeminent philosopher, wrote a song called "Man in the Mirror." And you know what he said? You want to make a change in your life, the place to start is by looking in the mirror.

Israelis and Palestinians both have to look in the mirror. They haven't sufficiently. Palestinians have a divided national movement, which in 50 years has not managed to come up...

HASS: We don't disagree.

MILLER: ... come up with a coherent strategy. Is it armed struggle? Is it diplomacy? And the Israelis have not yet made a decision on what price they're prepared to pay. On Jerusalem, do they want it all or part? On borders, do they want it all or part? On refugees, are they prepared to acknowledge some historic responsibility, while not turning the state of Israel into the recipient of millions of Palestinian refugees? And on security.

This conflict is resolvable. It requires bold leadership, and I would argue, despite poor performance to date, a credible American mediator who's prepared to be smart, tough, and above all -- and I know Amira will appreciate this -- fair...

AMANPOUR: I -- I want to ask you something.


I heard a speech by a former U.S. president who basically said that, to get over these intractable issues, whether it's genocide in Rwanda or the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they -- they have to get over it, literally. Leaders have to change their mindsets. Do you think it's possible for the Palestinians who you cover...

HASS: It's the Israelis -- it's Israeli society that has to give up its privileges...

AMANPOUR: What does that mean?

HASS: ... for the future. Water, land, the enormous benefits that we get for being such a security superpower, that we produce security -- security knowledge and expertise that the whole world uses, and this is based on our expertise as occupiers. So all this will -- it will change the life of Israel if -- if we -- if we have a solution to this -- to this conflict.

AMANPOUR: So -- so when you say this, Aaron talked about holding up mirrors and people being able to look accurately at themselves in the mirror, when you report from the other side, you're holding up a mirror. What is the reaction in Israel to you and your reports?

HASS: Well, it varies, you know. There are -- some would say that I'm a traitor, and some would say that I'm -- they just would dismiss me, and some would say that I'm an anti-something, Israeli or Zionist or Jewish or self-hating Jew.

But many others will say -- will remember the things that I wrote in '93 and became true...

AMANPOUR: Such as?

HASS: ... and my warnings that this is not a peace solution, that it is a way for Israel to impose a surrender arrangement, that it won't -- it won't work, that -- that Palestinians will explode sooner or later. I said it in '96. I said it before 2000.

So it's not -- I mean, I don't say -- I didn't have a crystal ball. I mean, I lived among the -- the -- the people. So it is about -- it is a concern about the two peoples, of course. But with the Palestinians, I agree. I totally agree, and I said it already before in several occasions. There has to be a change of policy in -- in Palestinian analysis of the Israeli -- of the Israeli policies.

For example, I think that the so-called armed struggle only assists Israel, which is completely -- I mean, this ridiculous armed struggle and the deification, even, of the armed struggle assists Israel in always upgrading its military capacities.

AMANPOUR: Talking about the leaders, in '93, she's obviously talking about Oslo. Here you are. I don't know what date this is, but this is with one of the architects of Oslo, Abu Mazen, the current president. There seems now to be a headlong rush to yet another crisis. He apparently is not going to seek re-election or to stand. I asked whether this was a bargaining ploy, a sulky moment, and they seem very strong on this now, the Palestinian leadership, that, no, enough already.

MILLER: This is a good man whose intentions, in my judgment, are beyond dispute caught in a hopelessly complicated situation, a triangle, really. On one hand, he's got Hamas, who has tremendous legitimacy on the streets. On the other, he's got Benjamin...

AMANPOUR: Still tremendous legitimacy in Hamas?

MILLER: I think, absolutely, despite the fact that they haven't produced economically, that...

AMANPOUR: Or in any way.

MILLER: Still legitimacy. In the absence of Mahmoud Abbas' capacity to produce an end to the Israeli occupation, to show that negotiations work, Palestinians will always be angrier at the Israelis than they will their own leadership.

You want to -- I mean, and Amira is the expert here. But it would strike me that -- that one of the keys to Hamas' continued success in Gaza is that philosophical issue that Palestinians will always resent the occupier more than the dysfunctional leader who governs themselves.

AMANPOUR: And let me ask you, because it's obviously front and center. The whole Goldstone report about the war in Gaza, which assigns charges on both sides, but many in Israel have been very angry about it, a lot of pressure for the Palestinians not to move forward with it, and now the street sort of rising against Mahmoud Abbas.

Was that fair, wise, I mean, trying to engineer the politics of this Goldstone report? Was it wise?

MILLER: In my view, on the part of the administration, if they brought heavy pressure to bear, no. And I understand the logic. Why -- why get off on a distraction? But there's a complete inability to understand the domestic political requirements and needs of Palestinians. We do this on the Israeli side all the time. We're incredibly forgiving. But on the Palestinian side, there's never a capacity to understand what legitimacy means, what authority is required.

So, no, I think the administration -- I think Goldstone -- Palestinians should have allowed Goldstone to play itself out. The administration will ensure that Goldstone never becomes operative.

AMANPOUR: What do you think on the ground?

HASS: On the ground, four months ago, there was a delegation of officials from the Israeli -- from the Israeli civil administration coming to the states to advise the military, American military about the -- how to run a civil administration in Iraq.


I think that Israel gives some services to America, and this is the reason why America sides with us in such a way, and -- and does not do what people expect it to do, and this is good reason to Israeli leaders' minds.

AMANPOUR: Both of you, thank you very much, indeed, Amira Hass, Aaron David Miller. Thank you for joining us.

And next, on our "Post-Script," a special moment where art meets the politics of this conflict.


AMANPOUR: Now for our "P.S.," our "Post-Script."

The Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago, but walls and barriers are still being built. They separate people all over the world, including Palestinians and Israelis. On a visit to Berlin several years ago, Amira Hass encountered a sculpture by the American artist Richard Serra.


HASS: It's like the work of the -- it's like the Palestinian workers going to work, you know?


AMANPOUR: This was artwork that echoed -- literally here -- the experience of those confronted by walls around the world. To find out more, go to our Web site,, where we have interactive videos in which young Palestinians tell us about their aspirations for the future.

That's it for now. Thank you for watching. And for all of us here, goodbye from New York.