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Getting the Palestinian Talks Restarted; Israel and Its Neighbors

Aired July 17, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour, reporting tonight from Jerusalem. And my brief tonight, Israel sits in the center of the world's most volatile region. So it's often difficult for Israelis to look at what's happening around them without feeling under siege.

First, Egypt next door, where the first democratic elections have brought a new Islamist government into power. How will that affect relations with a country where Israel has had a peace treaty since 1979? Israeli leaders say they're hoping for the best, while always keeping a wary eye out.

Or Syria, where the bloody uprising against Bashar al-Assad may, in fact, change things for the better where Israel's concerned, including weakening Iran, a country that Israel believes wants to acquire nuclear weapons and is a mortal threat.

The threat of an Israeli strike on Iran remains very real, while international diplomacy tries to head that off.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair is the rare statesman with both an inside and outside view of all these vital issues as a key player in the peace process. He's visited this region more than 80 times, and I'll be talking about all of this with him in a moment.

But first, here's what's happening later in the program.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): Is Israel close to striking Iran? And Israeli hawk says diplomacy can't last forever.

And looking back --


AMANPOUR (voice-over): The day Tony Blair said goodbye to public office -- or was it, "See you later"?

Sounds like you were keeping the door open there.

BLAIR: No, it's just -- it's --


BLAIR: -- it's literally -- I mean, maybe I should just shut it, but I just kind of think, "Why?"



AMANPOUR: We'll get to all of that in a bit. But first, I sat down a short time ago with Tony Blair, the former British prime minister. We started with how worried he is about the peace process, or rather the lack of one.


Tony Blair, thank you for being here in our Jerusalem studio.

BLAIR: My pleasure.

AMANPOUR: You're here to try and do everything you can to get this peace process jumpstarted.

I was interviewing the Palestinian prime minister, who I know you do a lot of work with on this issue, and he really was talking about a lot of frustration and worrying that, since this is going nowhere, it could lead to an explosion on the streets again. He was very worried. How worried are you?

BLAIR: I'm worried and frustrated, too. You know, I think we've managed to keep this whole process from collapsing, but that's not the same thing as getting it moving.

Now, if it does collapse, by the way, the consequences are really serious. You -- it's not just a question of sort of disorder and instability -- and though that's always a risk -- it's also that people end up losing hope in the concept of two states.

And you know, this is a -- one of the things that's most frustrating about this process is that, in some conflicts, there's no real agreement as to the eventual outcome. So if you take the Irish conflict, even, even though we got a peace process, the United Kingdom or United Ireland, this is not a position of the international community. The two sides still disagree. But they've found a way of living together.

Here you've got a stated agreement, a secure Israel, a viable state of Palestine, comprising the West Bank and Gaza, and issues, of course, about Jerusalem still to be decided. But there is a basic agreement as to the conceptual framework.

By the way, I'm still hopeful that, at some point over these coming months, we'll succeed. And the fact that it hasn't collapsed when, frankly, after the breakdown last September everyone thought it would is -- gives us some cause for hope.

AMANPOUR: We're sitting here in Israel, and all around there is instability and change. Let's look at one of the worst things that's happening, and that's Syria. Everybody seems to be wringing their hands, certainly in the international community.

What do you think should be the next move by the international community in Syria? More than just calling out the Assad regime and saying, well, Russia has to get on board. What tangible steps can be taken to encourage defections, to try to organize the opposition?

BLAIR: The main thing that has to happen -- and you know, I think we're quite close to this happening, by the way -- is that the regime knows that its days are numbered, that it -- there is a way out of this, which is by an agreement.

But there isn't a way of staying in power with a small minority running the country. And, you know, obviously the Americans are doing what they can to persuade the Russians, the Chinese to come to a consensual position on this.

But the only that's going to work now is the sense that there is going to be a new dispensation, that the country will be governed differently and then, frankly, we're going to have to work very hard, because the rancor and bitterness that will be is very, very deep now.

AMANPOUR: You say the regime's days are numbered. But clearly Assad doesn't think that or is not acting in that way, and we've been saying this, actually, for the last several months. And he's still in power.



BLAIR: Yes, absolutely.

AMANPOUR: Lay out for me how you and President Clinton dealt with something very similar in Kosovo, and you actually didn't end-run around the Russians and you got a coalition of the willing, and you achieved a change in Kosovo. How does that happen, and why do people feel paralyzed today?

BLAIR: Well, I don't think they're paralyzed, but they're worried about the consequences of acting in a way that precipitates something worse.

AMANPOUR: But even the Israelis say it would be worse if Assad stays in power. This is worse, what's happening now.

BLAIR: Yes. And so I think you've got to do a combination of things. I think you've obviously got to carry on trying to get Security Council consensus, but I think you've got also to be taking the moves, and as I say, creating sort of secure areas is one option, where, as it were, the regime knows that in the end we're not giving up and going away. So it's going to happen. The only question is how it happens.

And I think we're quite close, actually, to the regime understanding this. And we just need to keep ramping up the pressure all the time. But the way, you know, Kosovo obviously somewhat different situation, but in the end what was clear was that the way the persecution of the people was happening was unacceptable. And we were going to make sure it was not accepted.

AMANPOUR: So for somebody who took that decision, how much persecution of the Syrian people can the British government take, the American government take, the French government take?

BLAIR: Well, I think that patience has run out a long time ago. The question is now what are the practical steps that you take?

AMANPOUR: So what would be --


BLAIR: -- (inaudible) --

AMANPOUR: -- you talked about safe areas. Some of the defectors say we need those safe areas --

BLAIR: (Inaudible) --

AMANPOUR: -- to the north, to the south. (Inaudible) so we can defect safely --


AMANPOUR: -- so that we can get organized.

BLAIR: Well, I think this is -- this is one of the things that's got to be on the table and I think the reason why that is important is that it gives the opposition some sense that that support is there for them. But it also gives the regime a clear sense that their days are numbered.

Now, look, by the way, the aftermath is going to be very tough and, you know, as I know, having gone through Iraq and Afghanistan and so on, when you lift the lid off, these very repressive regimes, out comes religious, tribal, ethnic influences that are very difficult and require enormous amount of management.

But I think the sooner this happens now, the better, because as each day passes and more people die and, after all, you know, now the figure's around in the 17,000-18,000 people. That's a lot of people and that's a lot of families who are bereaved and a lot of bitterness and hatred.

AMANPOUR: You talk about the post-conflict situation. Again, here we are in Israel; next door is Egypt. You've got Mohammed Morsi, formerly of the Muslim Brotherhood, who's now president. How do you think that is being seen here, when you talk to the Israeli prime minister and officials here, do they see a potential friend in Egypt? Or are they concerned?

BLAIR: I think the truth is they don't know. And, by the way, that's probably the same for all of us. Now I think what's important in Egypt is that we engage with the new president and the government there, especially on the economy.

The thing that worries me most about Egypt is how do they get their economy moving? How do they get young people with jobs, with some prospects, some opportunity, you know, how do they revive their tourism industry? How do they get some strength back into the private sector? These are big questions. And if we can help on those questions, I think we should.

AMANPOUR: How can you help?

BLAIR: Well, I think -- I mean, first of all, there's very direct aid that's going to go in from the outside world to Egypt. But I also think we can help with expertise and with, also, you know, there's got to be a sense of engagement and a sense -- and challenge is maybe the wrong word, but this won't happen unless correct decisions are taken on the economy --


AMANPOUR: By them?

BLAIR: Yes, by them. I think for the politics, we've just got to remember there are, you know, as the election showed in Egypt, OK, the Muslim Brotherhood won, but you know, for the former prime minister of President Mubarak, to come back close, is also an indication there's a (inaudible) constituency out there.

And I think one of the issues is going to be how do the more secular- minded people in this region start to organize themselves and start to get their politics in shape so that they can have a decent platform and program? And then you end up with what is -- you know, I keep saying this to people in the region: democracy is not just a way of voting, it's a way of thinking.

And the way of thinking is essentially open-minded and pluralistic. So one of the things we've got to encourage as well is a sense that this -- the person who wins the election doesn't sort of win the country, you know. You've then got to have a lively textier (ph) democratic debate about policy, about direction and so on.

AMANPOUR: And Iran, clearly there's some -- the prime minister's played (ph) here. Do you think a military intervention in Iran is likely, an Israeli strike? Do you think diplomacy still has a way to go?

BLAIR: Well, I think it's diplomacy we should try. I think the sanctions are obviously biting. I think the new sanctions, the Americans (inaudible) renouncing (ph) will have a real impact on the Iranian economy. But, you know, part of the trouble with politics today, I mean, you can see this about the euro in Europe. You see, you come to a big choice and either way is ugly.

And the thought of a military intervention in Iran is, you know, very problematic, very unpredictable. Heaven knows what consequences flow from that. But, personally, I think Iran with a nuclear bomb is not something we should contemplate. So this is really tough.

AMANPOUR: What sense do you get from talking to officials here?

BLAIR: It's lots of conversations that you have in this -- not a lot of point in discussing it very openly, but I think everyone here recognizes what a profound decision it is, that the consequences are difficult either way.

But you know, you're Israel. You're sitting here. You've got a country that wants to acquire a nuclear bomb and says that basically shouldn't exist as a state. I mean, it's -- you know, if you were an Israeli, you'd be worried.

AMANPOUR: Is there more public office in view for Tony Blair? Everybody's talking about how you're positioning yourself to make a comeback.

BLAIR: I'm not really. It's just that people ask you the question in a way that says, you know, rule it out, and I kind of think, well, why should I? But that's not the same as planning to do it. You know what I mean?

So I -- it's -- I'm a public service person. I would have liked staying as prime minister. I would have taken the European job had it been offered me. So that's my preference. But I'm also enjoying the life I've got and doing lots of things and, you know, I kind of let the future take care of itself.

AMANPOUR: You didn't want to step down?

BLAIR: I mean, it was -- you know, became very difficult for me to stay, other than there was a lot of damage dealt my party, but also possibly to the country. So I decided to go. And I've done it. And 10 years is a long time.

AMANPOUR: Sounds like you're keeping the door open, though.

BLAIR: No, it's just -- it's --


BLAIR: -- it's literally -- I mean, maybe I should just shut it, but I just kind of think, "Why?" I mean, you know, the -- so, look, I've still got plenty of ideas and energy. But I can't see anything happening on the horizon. I'm not planning or plotting or scheming.

AMANPOUR: All right. Tony Blair, thank you very much indeed.

BLAIR: Thank you. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: Later in the program, I'll have a little more to say about Tony Blair's political future. But when we come back, Prime Minister Netanyahu has fashioned an unprecedented coalition giving him extraordinary power and a lot of leeway. But could that coalition be fraying at the edges now that a major partner has pulled out? I'll ask a member of Netanyahu's inner circle.

But first, take a look at this picture. That little girl is running past a giant poster on the highway that leads to the Egyptian resort of Sham al-Sheikh. I drove past it myself not so long ago, and the face of Egypt's former president, Hosni Mubarak, was still there. But if you look closely, you'll see Mubarak's face has now been removed, a stark reminder that all power is fleeting. We'll be right back.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program from Jerusalem tonight, where a major political shakeup occurred just hours ago here, as the Kadima party quit the ruling coalition, dealing what could be a major blow to Prime Minister Netanyahu. The breakdown happened over a draft law which, as Kadima wanted, would end the exemption of ultraorthodox men from serving in the Israeli military.

This happened as a parade of top U.S. officials have come to Jerusalem to talk about Iran. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton insisted that the U.S. and Israel are on the same when it comes to Iran's nuclear ambitions.

But not everybody in Prime Minister Netanyahu's government believes that. His deputy, Moshe Ya'alon, has been one of the loudest critics of U.S. policy, accusing President Obama of caring more about his reelection prospects right now.

I spoke to the deputy prime minister about all of this a short time ago.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Ya'alon, thank you very much for joining me.


AMANPOUR: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been here this week. So has the U.S. national security adviser and the Defense secretary is coming. We believe they're on a "Please, Israel, don't bomb Iran" tour. Is that the impression you're getting?

YA'ALON: For us, as we believe, not just for us, for the entire world, Iran has become to be the main threat. No doubt that this is the main generator and instigator for instability in the Middle East. Their negative involvement in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Syria of today, in Yemen, in Bahrain, the Palestinian arena and in South America as well.

And this messianic apocalyptic regime aims to gain hegemony and to impose their way of Islam, whether by undermining pro-Western regimes and supporting terror factions. And their idea and their goal, their objective to require military nuclear capability should be a nightmare for any party all over the globe wishing for peace and stability.

AMANPOUR: I know that's your view, and as you know, President Obama has said an Iran, nuclear armed, is non-negotiable. We won't allow it. It crosses our red line. My question to you is, is the United States, with all these high-level, top-level officials, trying to persuade you not to take military action?

YA'ALON: We have open channels with the U.S. administration. And we appreciate it. And we are on the same page when it comes to the intelligence, the information as well as assessment, and sharing the same objective to prevent a military nuclear Iran.

But when it comes to the clocks, the ticking clocks, the technological clocks, the impact of the sanctions clock, there are a lot of issues to discuss between the administration and us as well as our parties in Europe as well.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe these unprecedented sanctions -- which are, I think, you admit yourself, hurting in Iran -- do you think the U.S. and international pressure is sufficient right now?

YA'ALON: According to the consequences, not. You know, we appreciate the sanctions. We support more sanctions to be imposed on the Iranian regime.

The fact this regime is ready to suffer, actually, to sacrifice when it comes to their economy, which is in shambles, but not to have any concessions when it comes to the discussions between the P5+1 and this regime as it appeared in Istanbul, Baghdad and recently in Moscow --

AMANPOUR: Do you (inaudible) --

YA'ALON: -- it means that they are determined to acquire a military nuclear capability. Unless they are ready to have any concession, we worry very much.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe the diplomacy will work?

YA'ALON: We hope so. But this is not the case so far.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe the United States has your back?

YA'ALON: You know, we have, as I said, open channels. We share our views, our assessments, and a lot of issues to be discussed. Then why we have now the U.S. officials coming to Israel.

AMANPOUR: Because you know that clearly the Obama administration does not want this to become a military confrontation, doesn't want to be dragged into it, doesn't want you to do it. And even here, in your own country, former military people, former intelligence people, they disagree with what you say.

They say that Iran is not a messianic apocalyptic country, that it's actually a rational country and it would be suicide to even think of threatening Israel in that manner.

YA'ALON: Generally speaking about analysts, those who are --

AMANPOUR: These are not analysts.

YA'ALON: I appreciate --

AMANPOUR: These are former practical serving military and --

YA'ALON: You know, I am sure, you know, watching carefully the Iranian regime since I served as the head of the intelligence in the '90s, for sure, this is a messianic apocalyptic regime.

AMANPOUR: So what do you say to people like Meir Dagan, who say, no, that's not true?

YA'ALON: No, it's --

AMANPOUR: And others who say they're rational?

YA'ALON: No, he doesn't claim that it's not a messianic apocalyptic regime. I agree this regime might be rational if it faces real pressure. That's what I agree with. That's what I agree with.

The Supreme Leader Khamenei, the ayatollah, in 2003, decided to suspend the military project, rationally, why? Because he faced pressure. He thought at that time that he might be targeted by the American offensive, phase I in Afghanistan, phase II in Iraq.

The main question among (inaudible) in our region was who might be targeted next. At that time, Moammar Gadhafi of Libya gave up his military nuclear project and Khamenei decided to suspend in order to avoid. In this regard, he's rational. But his ideology, which is a political, religious ideology to impose his own Islam is not rational.

And if he's ready to sacrifice so much regarding the Iranian economy for the nuclear project, it means that he's deterministic to acquire military nuclear capability. Now as a former warrior serving in the military, it is my personal experience regarding war, I will do my utmost to avoid war.

And anyhow, the military operation should be last resort. There's no dispute around the Israeli government table about it, that it should be the last resort. But the question is when is the last resort, as we claim, when we feel the knife reaching our neck? That should be discussed with our counterparts in Europe and in the United States.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Ya'alon, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

YA'ALON: Thank you, Christiane. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And with a major coalition partner pulling out, we'll see how Prime Minister Netanyahu governs going forward.

One leader who did let go of government, albeit reluctantly, was my first guest tonight, Britain's former prime minister, Tony Blair. That was back in 2007. And when we come back, we'll take a look at his final bow to the House of Commons. Was it really the beginning of his comeback?


AMANPOUR: And a final thought tonight, imagine a world where goodbye actually means until we meet again. That's all too true in the world of politics, where leaders exit the stage with a flourish, only to return for an encore. Earlier in the program, I asked Britain's former prime minister, Tony Blair, if there might be a second act to his political career.

I tried to pin him down, but like all good politicians, he neither confirmed nor denied it.


AMANPOUR: Sounds like you were keeping the door open there.

BLAIR: No, it's just -- it's --


BLAIR: -- it's literally -- I mean, maybe I should just shut it, but I just kind of think, "Why?" I mean, you know --


AMANPOUR: It sounded like perhaps a resounding maybe. And it made me think back five years ago when I covered Prime Minister Blair's last day in office. That day he said goodbye to the House of Commons. But what might have been a final farewell became instead an impassioned dissent of public service.


BLAIR: Some may belittle politics, but we who are engaged in it know that it is where people stand tall. And although I know it has its many harsh contentions, it is still the arena that sets the heart beating a little faster. And if it is, on occasions, the place of low skulduggery, it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes. And I wish everyone, friend or foe, well. And that is that. The end.



AMANPOUR: And he told me tonight that he remains passionate about public service. So perhaps he was leaving the door open, even then. You decide.

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