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Stalemate over Syria; Israeli-Palestinian Impasse

Aired June 7, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

There was a poignant, somber moment at the United Nations in New York this morning. The entire body stood for a minute of silence to mourn all of those killed by the brutality in Syria.

After recognizing the victims, U.S. Secretary-General -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called out the perpetrator without any diplomatic niceties.


BAN KI-MOON, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: For many months, it has been evident that President Assad and his government have lost all legitimacy.


AMANPOUR: Lost all legitimacy -- as another terrible massacre came to light. There were reportedly 78 civilians killed in the small village of al-Qubair, many burned to death, and we're still waiting for the details because U.N. monitors came under fire as they attempted to get in and see what happened.

The pictures are always hard to look at, and especially because, again, the victims are women and children. Why women and children? The man shooting this video is saying, "Take a look, Arabs. Take a look, Muslims. Were they terrorists? Take a look, Kofi Annan. These are children who just left their school to go home."

My brief tonight, the stalemate over Syria. So where does the world turn now? Kofi Annan is the author of the U.N. peace plan, and at today's U.N. session, he admitted that it hasn't worked.


KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY: Today despite the acceptance of the six-point plan and the deployment of a courageous mission of United Nations observers to Syria, I must be frank and confirm that the plan is not being implemented.


AMANPOUR: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that it is, though, still the only game in town. It must be implemented. But how, with Russia and China refusing to put any muscle behind the diplomacy. At a meeting in Beijing today, they condemned outside interference.

In a moment, I'll talk to Ivan Simonovic, the assistant secretary general for human rights, who also addressed the U.N. today. And later in the program, even as Syria's crisis worsens and other Arab countries rise up, there's no end in sight for the region's longest conflict.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Palestinians and Israelis, a 45-year faceoff across a great divide, a broken record that keeps repeating.

HANAN ASHRAWI, POL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OFFICIAL: Forty-five years is 45 years too long...

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Then --


AMANPOUR (voice-over): -- an unlikely bridge between Tel Aviv and Tehran with angry voices raised on both sides, another voice is heard by Iranians and Israelis. Can music go where diplomats don't?



AMANPOUR: We'll get to all of that in a bit, but first, war crimes? Is that what's happening in Syria now? The assistant secretary-general for human rights, Ivan Simonovic, joins me now.

Welcome to the program. You addressed the U.N. general assembly today in very passionate terms. Are we witnessing war crimes, crimes against humanity?

IVAN SIMONOVIC, U.N. ASSISTANT SECRETARY GENERAL FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Well, there are definitely indications that we, for a longer period of time, can speak about crimes against humanity. They are both widespread and they are being committed in a systematic manner.

Now what is being new (ph) is that there are some elements to conclude that situation, at least in parts of Syria, has reached the threshold to be considered as an internal armed conflict, from international legal perspective, that means that a part of crimes against humanity, there might be commission of war crimes as well.

AMANPOUR: So by that definition, does that mean there need to be indictments? What is the -- what is the consequence of you calling them crimes against humanity?

SIMONOVIC: It's a legal terminology. You have to reach a certain threshold of conflict to be proclaimed an internal armed conflict or a civil war. That means that intensity of fighting, duration of fighting and organization of troops, response to certain threshold, which is a threshold for an internal armed conflict.


SIMONOVIC: What are the consequences? The consequences are that then you start implementing international humanitarian law, customary law as well as Common Article III to Geneva Conventions, which are in addition to human rights and international human rights law now defined in constituation (ph). To put it simple, from the moment you have internal armed conflict, you also can have war crimes.

AMANPOUR: All right. What are the details of these crimes? Tell me; we've seen the massacres, we've seen the pictures of them. Tell me some of the other things that you are hearing about and discovering.

SIMONOVIC: Our mission has returned from the field a week ago. However, they were unable -- they were denied access to Syria. So they interviewed victims and witnesses in neighboring countries. And it's turned out that the crimes are continuing.

There is unselective shelling. There is deliberate targeting with live munition of protesters. There is systematic torture going on in prisons. And this is the torture of the worst possible form.

AMANPOUR: Systematic torture, what kind?

SIMONOVIC: Well, that torture includes -- and I will not go into details -- but it includes physical torture as well as psychological threats, threats such as raping members of family, direct torture involving putting people in the unnatural positions for a long time, torturing them by burning them and so on and so on.

AMANPOUR: It's really horrendous to listen to you. Do you have any - -

SIMONOVIC: (Inaudible).

AMANPOUR: -- indication (ph) that this is going to stop?

SIMONOVIC: Well, we are calling all sides involved to stop the violence and government to release arbitrarily detained persons. I remind you, it was one of the points of the special envoy's six-point plan. But this is not happening here. We did have a confirmed --


SIMONOVIC: -- release of a couple of hundreds of detained. But still we have thousands of detained and for some of them, we cannot establish their whereabouts.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Simonovic, thank you so much for joining us.

And we'll be right back after this.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. For so many years, like so many journalists, I've been watching and reporting on the hopelessness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We've listened to the same arguments from both sides over and over again. The tragedy is that now many journalists are ignoring the situation, tired of listening to what seems and sounds like a broken record.

So what about the dedicated people, who've been negotiating for as long as we can all remember? Tonight I talk to Aaron Miller, who spent more than two decades on the U.S. negotiating team.

But first, my convention with Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the PLO's executive committee, and herself a long-time peace negotiator.


AMANPOUR: Hanan Ashrawi, thank you for coming in.

HANAN ASHRAWI, POL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OFFICIAL: Thank you, Christiane, it's good to be with you again.

AMANPOUR: Thank you so much. And I want to ask you what everybody wants to know, is there any hope for a negotiated settlement?

And let me tell you why I ask this now, because Ehud Barak, the defense minister, former prime minister, has said that there should be a unilateral Israeli move to establish at least provisional forwarders and a provisional settlement. Is that a starter for you?

ASHRAWI: Unilateralism has always been the bete noire of any peace -- any serious peace negotiations, because unilateralism is based on power politics. The stronger side will dictate to the other side and will shape realities and preempt the outcome of any kind of talks. So they tried it in Gaza and it blew up in all our faces.

AMANPOUR: When Sharon pulled out --


ASHRAWI: -- of Gaza -- of course. They pulled out without even any negotiations, any discussion, any agreed arrangements. You cannot use your power as an occupier, or your military power to dictate realities on the ground and then hope that the weaker side will accept this.

AMANPOUR: Are you considering the latest letter from Prime Minister?

ASHRAWI: We considered it and we've decided it's a non-starter, because he refused to acknowledge the terms of return to '67 boundaries or to stop settlement activities. So what are you negotiating about? If you are continuing to steal more land, build more settlements and then talk about two states or talk about negotiations?

For 21 years, we lost more land, more lives, through negotiations. And Israel has been acting with full impunity and nobody has stopped this. So now we're getting to the stage where they could destroy the two-state solution singlehandedly.

AMANPOUR: You mentioned the '67 borders, that should be a starter for negotiations, the frame of reference. So let me just play you what President Obama has said about '67 borders just a year ago, and what the former Israeli prime minister has said about that, too.

ASHRAWI: All right.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.

EHUD OLMERT, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I proposed it. I am absolute confident that there is no one with greater pressure (ph) to the state of Israel than I am. I love my country more than anything else. I think that this proposal is the best for the future of the state of Israel.


AMANPOUR: So that's former Prime Minister Olmert, telling me that he had proposed to President Abbas before he left office, a solution based on giving back land, based on the '67 borders, and dividing Jerusalem and sharing Jerusalem. And yet President Abbas did not say yes. Now Prime Minister Olmert is very careful. He didn't say that he said no.

ASHRAWI: No, no. President Abbas did not say no. On the contrary, he said --

AMANPOUR: But he didn't say yes.

ASHRAWI: He came back and he told us that he had a very interesting proposal, that it is workable and he wants to see the maps. The problem is that Olmert had to leave office because he was being indicted for corruption and we ended up with no maps and therefore could not be considered for a final agreement.

AMANPOUR: I certainly hear young Palestinians saying, look, we're all connected now, the world is on Facebook and Twitter. We've seen what's happened around the Arab world. We want to have a different phase of our struggle.


AMANPOUR: Why do you think there's been no Arab uprising in the Palestinian territory?

ASHRAWI: There has been an ongoing uprising, actually. They called it the intifada of the Arab world because it's reminiscent of the Palestinian uprising of the late '80s and early '90s. The thing is we are under occupation. Our uprising is against the occupier.

If we want -- and in Palestine we have a very active and intrusive and critical civil society with its institutions. So -- and we have had elections and we want to have elections, even though we don't control all the factors of our lives. So it's not that we need an uprising to have elections or to change the regime.

We are quite willing. Actually, President Abbas doesn't even want to run anymore. So you don't have an entrenched power system.

AMANPOUR: President Obama came into office; the first act he did on the international stage was to try to revitalize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

ASHRAWI: (Inaudible).

AMANPOUR: He spoke very eloquently in Cairo. It's about three years since that speech this week. It hasn't happened.


AMANPOUR: Do you think it will in a second term? Do you expect more if there's a second term?

ASHRAWI: Look, President Obama talked the talk but failed to walk the walk. That was the problem. He backed down very quickly. He said the settlements should stop. The Israelis said no. He said, OK, what else can we do? No, the settlements are illegal and they are destroying the chances of peace. They have to stop.

Israel is the greatest beneficiary of American funding, even now, not just $3.5 billion annually in outright cash. Even now, when the U.S. is strapped for funds, Congress is voting billions more for Israel in terms of weapons, in terms of the support and so on, while the U.S. has not used its power in order to safeguard its own national interests and (inaudible) --


AMANPOUR: So you think President Obama will? Do you expect that in his second term?

ASHRAWI: I don't expect in the second term that we would see an 180- degree turn. I think that there are special interests here entrenched. I think that there is a very strong lobby. I think that there are party interests. I think that there are interests for elections coming up, even after presidential elections, that will not allow a serious change in American policy. I think he may be able to try.

But I doubt whether he will succeed to hold Israel accountable, which is the essential requirement of peace, to curb Israeli violations, to provide the Palestinians with protection, the protection of the law. And to serve the cause of peace, it takes courage. It takes courage and principle, not just narrow self-interests.

AMANPOUR: It is also the anniversary of the 1967 war.


AMANPOUR: How much longer is this -- I'm sorry -- broken record going to keep playing?

ASHRAWI: Yes. Yes, it does sound like a broken record, but it's extremely painful, loss of life, loss of land, loss of hope, despair, and it is a festering wound that is infecting the whole body of the Arab politick, the region. And it could have a spillover effect throughout the world. This has to be resolved.

Forty-five years is 45 years too long for an occupation and enslavement of a nation to continue. I think it is time that we have courageous world leadership to step up -- and because everybody knows what is needed to have peace, to step up and to make it happen.

AMANPOUR: Hanan Ashrawi, we thank you very much.

ASHRAWI: Thank you, Christiane. It's good to be with you.


AMANPOUR: So will it happen? I turn now to Aaron Miller. He played a key role on the U.S. negotiating team, advising six U.S. secretaries of state and presidents on the conflict.

Aaron, thank you very much for being here.


AMANPOUR: Take off that negotiating hat. You're not an official right now. You're not looking at the map. You're not in the negotiating room. What is your human reaction to that cri de coeur, really, from Hanan, who you know so well?

MILLER: Well, it was a cri de coeur, and Hanan is a very effective spokesperson for the Palestinian cause. And she's absolutely right in terms of how grim the situation is. And she's also right that it's going to get worse before it gets worse.

Where I think she isn't right is seeing the complexity and the comprehensiveness of what needs to be done if, in fact, you're going to have a serious negotiation and an agreement. And it's really -- it's simple. There's no reason that Israelis and Palestinians cannot have a conflict end in agreement. It just takes three things. Those three things are missing.

Number one, you need leaders who are masters of their political houses, not prisoners of their constituencies. Two, you need urgency. You really do need sufficient pain accompanied by gain to move the Israelis and Palestinians from their positions.

And number three, you need an effective third party, an American administration, prepared to be tough, fair and reassuring, and who knows what he or she, in terms of the president, is doing.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's take all of those. And, first of all, you talked about more pain and you also said it's going to get worse before it gets worse. And that wasn't a misspeak. You think it's going to get worse.

MILLER: I do, because we don't even have a credible process. You know, in the last century, you had a war in every decade, in '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, major Arab-Israeli war. The '90s was the only decade in the last century in which there was no Arab-Israeli war.

Why? Because you had a credible process, not an open-ended directionalist process like we've had for the last decade, but something that actually makes sense. You had Madrid, you had Oslo, you had serious Israeli-Syrian negotiations, a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. You have none of that.

People are losing faith in the very premise that talking rather than shooting is the way to get what they want.

AMANPOUR: So you talked also about a key ingredient being political leaders, martyrs of their constituencies.

Let's just take the prime minister of Israel, who you referred to, and others, as now King Bibi of Israel. He's got an amazing coalition. He is more powerful than ever. Surely this is the moment. Will he do it?

MILLER: That is the question, maneuverer or prospectively great Israeli prime minister? And nobody knows the answer.

Look, in my view, Bibi, the tough-talking Likud politician, is at war, literally, with Netanyahu, the man who wants to go down in the history of the state of Israel as the greatest prime minister - Herzl envisioned the state, Ami Ayalon said Ben-Gurion created it. And it's up to Benjamin Netanyahu to secure its democratic and Jewish future. Is he up to that great moment? That's the real question.

AMANPOUR: And what is he afraid of, then, if he's not up to it? Do you think he's up to it?

MILLER: I think it's ideology. I think it's family history. I think it's the current environment in which Israelis find themselves with the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty under strain, and perhaps the Israeli- Jordanian peace treaty as well.


AMANPOUR: (Inaudible) Arab Spring.

MILLER: Right, whether it's the stock market or Arab-Israeli peace, people don't do well in periods of uncertainty. And what you got here, from one end of the Middle East to the other, from the Israeli point of view, is uncertainty. That, too, shapes Benjamin Netanyahu's view. I think he has the power to do this. The question is, does he have the incentive?

Abbas on the other hand, probably has the incentive, but lacks the power and the capacity. And the question is, can you marry the two? Can you find an Israeli and Palestinian leader who actually, in the -- at the same time, motivated by the same urgency, are willing to pay for this? That's the problem.

AMANPOUR: But let me drill down a little bit on Benjamin Netanyahu, because this is, of course, not the first time that he's been prime minister. I covered the first time he came into office, in the '90s, as you say, and you were on the negotiating team and you've recently written that Netanyahu is the first Israeli premier to trigger truly bipartisan recoil here in the United States.

MILLER: True. Part of it's longevity; he's only the third Israeli prime minister to serve twice in non-consecutive terms. But the fact is Baker banned him from the State Department temporarily for impolitic remarks. Madeleine Albright described him as the American Newt Gingrich, and Madeleine did not intend, I assure you, as a compliment.

Bill Clinton, in a word I cannot use on -- even on CNN, described his first meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu back in 1996. So -- and it wasn't, again, in complimentary terms. So there's no question that Benjamin Bibi Netanyahu clearly brings out the worst in American secretaries of state and politicians and presidents.

But he's also a legitimate, authentic representation. That's why I called him King Bibi. He's here to stay. He's an authentic part of the political landscape. He's the only Israeli politician that has the political smarts, the toughness and the constituency to do what he did, which was to put together this 94-person-deep coalition, which is arguably the deepest bench, so to speak, in Israel's political history.

AMANPOUR: And what about your third ingredient, a strong, committed third party U.S. president?

MILLER: You absolutely need that, because I don't think --

AMANPOUR: So a second term, Obama will do what didn't in his first?

MILLER: It -- let me --


AMANPOUR: Hanan doesn't think so.

MILLER: Let me start this way. It was Larry Summers. who once said to me that, in the history of the world, nobody ever washed a rental car. That's the most profound piece of philosophy I've heard in a long time. Why don't you wash rental cars? Because you care only about what you own.

You get an Israeli and Palestinian to own this process, you get an American secretary of state and a president and who knows what they're doing, you can have an agreement. And I've been --


MILLER: And I've been annoyingly negative. You can have an agreement.

AMANPOUR: But why don't they know what they're doing? They've been at it for decades.

MILLER: Well, you need raw material. But then you need a strategy. Look, Barack Obama, long on intentions, short on strategy. He comes into office determined, second day after his inauguration, appoints George Mitchell special envoy. Going to take this on, going to take on settlements. Settlements, as destructive as they are, is -- are not the issue.

The issue that is worth fighting with the Israelis about? It is whether or not you can narrow the gaps on the core issues: refugees, borders, Jerusalem, security. And the fifth issue that Netanyahu has added, the recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. That's a fight worth having with Israelis and Palestinians.

But Obama goes after settlements, and guess what? He wants a freeze. He pushes a lot of public rhetoric and then, Netanyahu or any Israeli prime minister, says no. And then you see the walk down, the slow walk and the back down.

So Obama loses credibility everywhere, Israelis, Palestinians, no street credit (ph) because in the end, you need an American president that people aren't going to say no to.

And today, sadly, everybody, Arabs and Israelis, say no to America without cost and consequence.

AMANPOUR: To be continued. Aaron Miller, thank you very much for being here.

MILLER: Pleasure.

AMANPOUR: And if hope for peace in the Holy Land remains elusive, the threat of armed conflict between Israel and Iran remains all too real. But in the fog of warlike words, another sound can be heard if you listen carefully, a different tune, when we return.


AMANPOUR: And finally, civil war in Syria, conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the world is shouting but no one is listening. So imagine a world with a musical bridge between two enemies.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Rita Yahan-Farouz is Israel's most famous female singer. She was born in Iran. She came to Israel when she was 8, and her latest album, "My Joy," is filled with Persian oldies sung in the Persian language. It's already gone gold in Israel, to everyone's surprise, but it's also a huge underground hit in Iran.

John Lennon once sang, "Imagine," and in her own way, this Iranian- born Israeli says that she's singing the same hopeful tune.

That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, our inbox is always open, We read all your emails. Imagine that. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.