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Secretary Clinton in the Middle East; State of Palestinian Peace Talks; Ultra Orthodox Israelis and the Military

Aired July 16, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour, coming to you tonight from Jerusalem, site of intense diplomatic activity today.

The U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has arrived for high- level meetings, and that's close on the heels of the U.S. national security adviser and ahead of the U.S. Defense secretary, who's due here next week.

The agenda for all these top-level U.S. visitors? Convincing Israel that the U.S. really does have its back and trying to hold off any Israeli plans to strike Iranians nuclear sites, while also soothing Israeli nerves as the Muslim Brotherhood takes over in next-door Egypt.

Tellingly, the Palestinian peace process is towards the end of that long list and the forgotten peace process is my brief tonight.

Clinton did meet with the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, the American-educated economist who's won the admiration of Western and even Israeli leaders for his skillful management of the Palestinian economy and security in the face of extraordinary obstacles.

This is a time of great frustration for Prime Minister Fayyad. The Palestinian authority is broke; there's no international push to get Israel back to the negotiating table and Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is digging in, building settlements and barriers on the occupied West Bank.

In the Middle East, frustration is the fuel that often sparks an explosion and I heard Salam Fayyad's frustration loud clear when I spoke with him earlier. And we'll get to that in a moment. But first, here's what's happening later in the program.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): In Israel, everyone is a soldier unless you're unorthodox. Religious freedom or a free pass?

And Israel may see Iran as its archenemy today, but in ancient times, Jewish prayers were answered by a Persian king. We'll explain.


AMANPOUR: We'll have all that in a bit. But first, I traveled across to the West Bank to the city of Ramallah to talk to the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, about the challenges he's facing today.


AMANPOUR: Prime Minister Fayyad, thank you for joining me. Thank you for having me in your office here in Ramallah.


AMANPOUR: Hillary Clinton -- you've been meeting with her. What is it that you want to tell her about the peace process, if there is one?

FAYYAD: I think that (inaudible) is a foregone conclusion that we won't be able to (inaudible), given the pressures on it, both political as well as economic and financial.

AMANPOUR: What are your financial pressures?

FAYYAD: Severe financial crisis. We've been having and we've been facing serious national difficulties for more than two years now. And the crisis, as has become indeed very acute, to the point of us being unable to meet such basic obligations as wages.

AMANPOUR: Wages? You can't pay wages?

FAYYAD: That, yes, (inaudible) for last month was not fully paid --


AMANPOUR: How many people are not getting paid?

FAYYAD: About 155,000 people.

AMANPOUR: So but where will you get this money from?

FAYYAD: Donors. We --


AMANPOUR: Which (inaudible)?

FAYYAD: Mainly donors in the region.

AMANPOUR: Arab donors?


AMANPOUR: Who are simply not stepping up to the plate?

FAYYAD: Well, not all of them. Some have (inaudible) their commitments. Yesterday I got a call from Saudi finance minister, who informed me that the kingdom was about to transfer $100 million. We're grateful to Saudi Arabia for that, but not all our countries, donor countries, are in full compliance --


AMANPOUR: Give me one who isn't.

FAYYAD: You -- there are a number of them that have not fulfilled their obligations under the Arab League resolutions.

AMANPOUR: So many people assume that you are busy here building a state from the ground up, private enterprise, the state structures that you're building and that even if the peace process wasn't going anywhere, this would work in the interim.

But you're not telling me that's in danger? There's also no peace process happening.

FAYYAD: Without that, and with the sense of the -- sense of hope about that proceeding, a lot of people begin to view what we have been doing on the track of getting ready for schedule as the next does in that potential reality of prolonged occupation.

AMANPOUR: You said it. I mean, I could say that some people think that you're just trying to make occupation palatable.

FAYYAD: That really is not -- was not our intentions, certainly not our objective. Our objective was to do that which is necessary from the point of view of our chief goal. Our chief goal is to be able to live as free people with dignity in a sovereign country (inaudible).

Now but if you do not have a political process that's functional or perceived to be capable at some point of delivering on the -- on bringing Israel occupation (inaudible), there is that (inaudible) and certainly something to -- that we have to contend with.

AMANPOUR: So do you believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu intends to end the occupation?

FAYYAD: You know, what I really believe is not important, is for the Israeli body politic, the Israeli government and the Israeli prime minister, to once and for all answer a very simple question: is the government prepared to accept a solution to this conflict, longstanding conflict?

AMANPOUR: What do you think?

FAYYAD: If we're a sovereign state of Palestine and the territory occupied in 1967, yes or no. Is very little (inaudible) to have sense of assurance when all of this talk about (inaudible) political process takes place against the backdrop of continued settlement activity, continued construction of the wall and most recently, a finding by a commission -- yes, sure, it has not been adopted by the government, but the commission that actually is saying, well, after all, there's not an occupation to begin with.

AMANPOUR: What was your reaction to that? You're talking about the Levy (ph) commission, who said there is no occupation and the government should actually build more settlements?

FAYYAD: Well, thankfully, the (inaudible) by the government (inaudible). I hope they wouldn't, but --

AMANPOUR: Do you think --

FAYYAD: -- (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: -- the prime minister should denounce that and say very clearly that he doesn't believe in that?

FAYYAD: I think honestly it's in the best interest of the state of Israel for him to do that, because if after all these years you have a government that is silent on something like this, what does this do to what remains of the viability of the -- or continued viability of that two-state solution concept?

I mean, it's all rest on the notion that there is an occupation that has been here, that has been around for more than 45 years, that needs to end. If now someone comes and says what this commission has said and for the government of Israel to either be silent on it or worse, to (inaudible), then what does that do to the political process, to the basic precepts of that process?

AMANPOUR: Prime Minister Netanyahu has an unprecedented coalition. He's able to do things that perhaps he couldn't when he was dependent on smaller parties. Do you think that coalition will last? And do you think he will take what you're calling for, those brave steps to enact the two- state solution?

FAYYAD: I think for the government of Israel -- and we need to be able to (inaudible) that have (inaudible) and because of elections, it really has to come to grips with this reality, that we will have to answer this basic question. Any prime minister --


AMANPOUR: But I'm asking you what you think (inaudible). You're friends --

FAYYAD: It doesn't --

AMANPOUR: -- you're a partner with them.

FAYYAD: -- it doesn't really take much to come to the conclusion that we will be very far from that point. It doesn't appear as this government is going to be in a position of doing that which is necessary to at least begin to give us Palestinians and the international community at large (ph) a sense of assurance as to where this process is headed.

AMANPOUR: Do you think the United States is doing all it could, all it can to be that honest third broker?

What should President Obama do?

FAYYAD: Well, for one thing, I think notwithstanding the arms, notwithstanding the difficulty of doing what we've been able to do on the occupation, an oppressive occupation, I must say, we have managed to project the reality of (inaudible) on the ground despite the occupation, despite its (inaudible) regime in the form of well-functioning institutions of state, adequate infrastructure, so much so that international community has to consider that we have actually have crossed a threshold of readiness for statehood by both regional as well as international standards.

AMANPOUR: Even the Israelis (inaudible) --


FAYYAD: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think the most important thing is to give (inaudible) political credibility and content to that state- building effort, which succeeded, to a large extent, in projecting the (inaudible). Among other things by -- and this is something we look to the United States to do, something basic. I talk about (inaudible) it's not the only problem.

AMANPOUR: You sound really frustrated. Here are the prime minister, frankly doing everything the international community has asked, demanded, whatever, doing everything Israel wants. And yet you sound like you're not getting anything back in return.

FAYYAD: Imagine, imagine how much better this effort would look in terms of its transformative potential, not only to us (inaudible) also to the Israelis. If the Israelis were to stop military (inaudible), that would begin to suggest to people this state is actually happening, because there's nothing, nothing, absolute nothing that defines a state better or more than what its (inaudible) services are.

And if we are not in control of our own territories, and people are, again, going to (inaudible) by what we were doing, (inaudible) this is the key deliverable. We're looking to it. For the Israelis, one day we will see that.

When they see that we have (inaudible) beginning to be projected, it is going to be a lot easier for any Israeli leader to convince skeptics on the Israel side when the time comes for agreement by saying, look, the state exists already. What are we talking about? There is an enormous potential that's being wasted.

Let me tell you, I personally am not looking for yet another declaration of statehood. All that was done to death in June 1988. (Inaudible) Yasser Arafat. I'm not looking for (inaudible). We have a flag, we have passports, we have stamps. We have all these symbols of statehood.

What we really are looking for is a general (inaudible) for our people can exercise their right to (inaudible) can live as free people with dignity. That's what I'm looking for.

AMANPOUR: And one final question, the controversy over President Yasser Arafat and whether or not he was poisoned, number one, do you believe he was poisoned by the Israelis by polonium or anything? And, number two, do you support the exhumation of his body?

FAYYAD: I think there's no alternative to the exhumation of the body, given evidence recently reported on Swiss lab findings that there were traces of polonium on personal belongs to the president. Under these conditions, I personally believe, as does President Abbas, that this must be done. (Inaudible) --


AMANPOUR: Some of your officials have said that, see, we believe he was poisoned by the Israelis. Do you believe that?

FAYYAD: Well, you know, that's a presumption. Presumption all along is that he has died, again, not -- it was not a natural death; it was not - -

AMANPOUR: But by the Israelis?

FAYYAD: -- it was -- there is that fear --

AMANPOUR: But do you believe it?

FAYYAD: There is that fear. I mean, again, we do not -- we will not know unless, you know, there is evidence and what I can tell you for sure is obvious, that President Arafat died, has had (inaudible) after a prolonged period of siege (inaudible) for a number of years by the Israelis for certain.

AMANPOUR: Prime Minister Fayyad, thank you very much.

FAYYAD: My pleasure.

AMANPOUR: And even all these years later, what happened to Yasser Arafat is still of great interest to so many Palestinians. Now since its founding in 1948, Israel has known war with its neighbors. But I'll ask two Israelis on opposite sides of the current raging debate here: could the fight over religion be an even greater threat?

But first, take a look at this picture. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as we've said, is in Israel now. But first she stopped in Egypt, where protesters greeted her with the now-traditional show of disrespect. In addition to that shoe, there were tomatoes tossed at her motorcade. So much for diplomatic immunity. We'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program from Jerusalem tonight and now we turn to the wall within Israel.

At issue is the military draft and whether ultraorthodox Jews, also known as Haredim, should be exempted while the rest of their country men and women are required to serve.

It's a debate that could bring down Israel's ruling coalition and an issue that raises fundamental questions about Israel's identity as a Jewish state.

Here with me to discuss all of this tonight is Einat Wilf, member of the Israeli Knesset, from the Secular Independence Party; and Yitzhak Pindrus, he's the deputy mayor of Jerusalem and he's from the United Torah Party.

Thank you both very much for coming to discuss this. And there have been protests just around the corner, Deputy Mayor, ultraorthodox were protesting just this evening, children as well, wearing handcuffs as if to say, "Dare us. We're going to jail."

What is so wrong with asking such an important part of the Israeli society to serve, to help share the burden?

YITZHAK PINDRUS, DEPUTY MAYOR, JERUSALEM: The question is not for a person to have to serve or doesn't have to serve. The question we're facing now is a young boy that's studying the Torah, should he be stopping to study the Torah and go into the army in the same time, or keeping on studying?

In our belief, it was very obvious that our right to be in this country, and after 2,000 years that we were exiled from this country, is the Bible, OK. And if we don't have those young children studying the Bible, some people have in our tradition. And there is no doubt, and I think everybody agrees that what got us back here after 2,000 years all around the world is the tradition.

AMANPOUR: Do you buy that, Einat? You are as Jewish and as faithful as anybody here. Do you think that in order to maintain Israel and the Jewish people that there has to be this group of students, who's exempted from the kind of service that all the other Israelis have to perform?

EINAT WILF, ISRAELI PARLIAMENT MEMBER: I don't believe it's an either/or situation. This country was built by people who fought for it, who built it and who also kept the traditions. I think you can do all of these things.

I think there's nothing to prevent you from serving in the military and then studying religious texts for the rest of your life. I don't think that your degree of observance should mean that you have extra rights in society. And if you're actually arguing for that, it means that you don't really share in the society.

AMANPOUR: So let's frame this -- we'll frame this sort of controversy right now in that, for a long time, the ultraorthodox were exempted and now the Supreme Court has struck that down. And the argument now is how to get them to serve, and what will be penalties, if at all, and when they should serve.

I guess people are saying that what we all know about Israel, about this state, is that the military has been a central focus. This is the unifying factor ever since its founding. And not only that, this is what gives young men and women a leg up in the economy afterwards. So, again, with 56 percent of ultraorthodox in poverty in this country, wouldn't it be better for them?

PINDRUS: First of all, we're not there yet, you know? Maybe I would be in a different job if it would be 50-60 percent of this country.

AMANPOUR: But it --


PINDRUS: I wouldn't be deputy mayor --

AMANPOUR: -- percent.

PINDRUS: I would be sitting right by that group in the Knesset. I don't think the issue is if Haredi will serve or not serve. That's not the issue. I serve -- a lot of my friends -- Haredi -- serve in the army. That's not the issue.

The issue is, again, are we going to limit the numbers of people that could study? Are we going to take people that are over those numbers and put them into jail? Those are the things that are now talked about.

Those are the things that the committee that was established to talking about. We're not talking about to have any benefits or new opportunities for orthodox that want to go to the army, how to serve in the army, how to serve any other public service. Those are not the issues now. The issues --

AMANPOUR: But it does --

PINDRUS: -- a lot more, I would say, trying to use for political reasons, giving certain numbers that -- limiting the numbers, like what do they want to happen? A father will decide, OK, one child is going to study, the other three will go to the army?

If you want to give benefits kids who go serve in the army, no problem. You want to help them to have opportunities to go in the army? No problem. But the issue is right now --

AMANPOUR: But, Mr. Mayor --

PINDRUS: -- issue that since the country was established has been going on.

AMANPOUR: Yes, but the father of this country, David Ben Gurion, had 400 Torah students to worry about. Now it's something like 60,000 and they are getting benefits. They're almost being paid not to work and not to go to the army and it is total welfare. And so people are saying we can't do this anymore. There has to be a shared burden.

But let me ask you this. Would it help the idea or hurt it to have this population in its ranks? They say they have to have special food and special kitchens. They have to be segregated from women. They're not educated in many of the secular, let's say, the intellectual sciences that most people are in the army. Would it be more of a hassle?

WILF: If they insist on all the things you've mentioned, and most of them do, it would be more of a hassle. I think that Israel should not agree, for example, to segregated units, where they're considered sterile (ph) from women, no women are in sight.

I think this is something we should not agree to. Many of them demand to be drafted at a much later age, at which point the military pays them a lot of money. They do -- not really serving. I believe that either you serve like everyone else under the same conditions. And if you do, don't, but then the state will only provide its benefits to those who serve. Solidarity is a two-way street.

AMANPOUR: So obviously this is something that's going on in the Knesset right now.

WILF: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Your prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has an unprecedented coalition. And I know he has been trying to figure out a way to deal with this, but some are saying that, you know, he's basically capitulating to the ultraorthodox because he did disband part of the committee that was -- that was meant to deal with this.

Do you think he will deal with this or, in other words, how do you think he'll choose?

WILF: The problem is that all the solutions right now on the table are a different form of bribery. And I believe that one should not be bribed into doing the right thing. And all the ideas right now are about giving benefits and money in order to get -- let the Haredi serve.

I say they either serve like everyone else or if they don't, it means they have taken themselves out of Israeli society and they're not part to our social welfare and benefits systems. And the prime minister right now, I believe, is choosing between many bad choices, all of which are a form of bribery. And that's not the way to go.

AMANPOUR: How do you respond to that?

PINDRUS: Because we're talking about something that we really believe in, I don't think that any financial moves will do anything like -- OK. So they don't want us to have benefits; they don't want us to have rights. They don't want us to have health care, we'll deal with it.


PINDRUS: But the -- because we believe in it. I mean, we're, for 2,000 years, we went with the same -- the -- everywhere in the world. It's not something that started in Israel. We believe in what we believe.

We believe that that's our right for our lives in this part of the region. I mean, these threats and these talks don't -- are not going to lead us to anywhere. I don't think it's going to -- if you want to really do something to get the orthodox to feel more comfortable, there are many things that could be done. But I don't think --

AMANPOUR: Do you admit --

PINDRUS: -- any threats and any kinds of laws that will be passed against orthodox, no matter how big the coalition, is going to change a belief -- our belief, our tradition or our way of life.

AMANPOUR: Do you not admit that actually there have been a number of Haredim, of ultraorthodox, who've gone into the military? There are some - -

PINDRUS: It's not a large number --

AMANPOUR: A thousand or so.

PINDRUS: (Inaudible) -- there should be a larger number. But it's not --

AMANPOUR: -- they've done better when they come out. They've gone into jobs which are to help them out, no?

PINDRUS: I don't know what if -- what you are talking about, better. I'm out in a job, I have brothers that are sitting in study and I admire them. And I think that whoever could put his life into sitting and studying the tradition, it is a lot more important than a person like me that went out and got a nice position outside.

AMANPOUR: All right. And what if the rule comes down that, OK, this is the way it's going to be; the numbers are going to have to be increased?

PINDRUS: I believe that everybody knows, OK? Everybody knows. I believe 100 percent of the people that are dealing with it (inaudible) say no, that a law is -- that type of law of putting that type of pressure is not going to change the situation. There's other ways of doing it. And I think it's been done for a lot more for political reasons.

AMANPOUR: We'll be watching this incredible story. Einat Wilf, Yitzhak Pindrus, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

PINDRUS: Thank you. Welcome to Israel.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

WILF: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much indeed.

The history of the Jewish people is filled with archenemies, from Haman to Hitler. But there have also been unexpected allies. You'll meet them, from the most unexpected of places, ancient Persia, which is now Iran, when we come back.


AMANPOUR: A final thought tonight: Israel and Iran on the brink with tensions mounting and U.S. envoys scrambling to find a peaceful solution, you might think the two nations have always been mortal enemies.

But imagine a world where Iran helped save the Jewish people. Of course, in those days, Iran was known as Persia. In 960 B.C., King Solomon built the first temple here in Jerusalem and for the next four centuries, it was the spiritual heart of the Jewish faith.

But in 586 B.C., the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and exiled the Jewish population to Babylon. The Diaspora could have been the death blow to an entire people. But the Jews turned disaster into hope, believing that one day they would be delivered from exile. And their prayers were answered by a Persian king, Cyrus the Great, who conquered Babylon in 539.

An enlightened ruler, tolerant of other faiths, Cyrus encouraged the Jews to return to Jerusalem and promised to rebuild their temple.

King Darius kept that promise and in 515 B.C., the newly completed second temple was dedicated on what might be the most bitterly contested piece of land in the world, the Temple Mount. It would survive the conquest of Alexander and the crucifixion of Jesus only to be destroyed again by the Romans in 70 A.D.

But for five centuries, it stood as the glory of the Jewish faith and the unbroken promise of two Persian kings.

And that's it for tonight's program. Meantime, our inbox is always open, Thank you for watching and goodbye from Jerusalem.