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UN Gives Palestinians Observer Status; Detailing Egyptian Situation

Aired November 30, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the special weekend edition of our program, where we bring you two of the big stories that we covered this week.

We begin with a historic moment: 65 years to the day after the United Nations first divided the land of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, the Palestinian people are one step closer to seeing their country back on the map.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): On Thursday, the general assembly recognized the Palestinian Authority as a non-member observer state. The government of Israel bitterly opposed the move. But a surprising development has been support within Israel for the statehood effort.


AMANPOUR: The former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, once went to war against the Palestinians, but now he says that he sees no reason to oppose the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition.

I spoke with him in New York as the vote was being taken.


AMANPOUR: You caused a bit of a stir by saying that you support this bid, because it's not what most Israeli politicians and leaders are saying right now.

OLMERT: Well, perhaps. Maybe.

AMANPOUR: Why do you?

OLMERT: But I've steered the political scene four years ago, when I proposed on behalf of the state of Israel and the Israeli government a peace plan to the Palestinians, which I thought, at that time, could have resolved the entire issue.

So regrettably, unfortunately, at that time, Palestinians did not say yes to this plan. But the basic approach of Israel on all the Israeli governments for many years, until 2009, when Netanyahu took over, was that we endorsed a two-state solution.


AMANPOUR: But of course --

OLMERT: And therefore, what the Palestinians moved today in the United Nations, I think, is in basic line with the strategy of a two-state solution.

And therefore --

AMANPOUR: So how do you answer, then, for instance, the United States, Israel's best friend, which says that, yes, we all agree with the two-state solution, but not unilateral moves and it must happen through final status, you know, peace process and an agreement between both sides.

OLMERT: Well, definitely there must be some concerns about this move. It's not a simple thing because, as you have said earlier, it can give the Palestinians a power to take certain initiatives against Israel, which can be a source of concern and which can aggravate a situation rather than --

AMANPOUR: Helping it.

OLMERT: -- change it and change the atmosphere and the tension.

So I guess that the United States government is also concerned about it. And since the United States is a good friend of Israel and Barack Obama, president of America, is a very good friend of the state of Israel, I think that he wants to express the concerns that they share with the Israeli government.

But in principle, I think the direction of this move is the right direction. We have to move rapidly for a two-state solution or we have to engage immediately in a dialogue. That's what I was doing with Abu Mazen for a couple of years.

And I think that Israel and the Palestinians -- and it's incumbent upon us, just as it is incumbent upon them -- we have to engage in a serious dialogue that will implement this basic approach, which will be approved today by the U.S.

AMANPOUR: So how do you react, then, to your own ambassador, or the Israeli government ambassador to the U.N. saying that this is a prize for terror?

OLMERT: I think here what the ambassador --

AMANPOUR: I'll tell you what he said.

OLMERT: -- yes and -- but I understand that you quote him and I don't agree that this step is dangerous. I think that this is a step that will lead to the actual implementation of the strategy of Israel and the international community of a two-state solution.


OLMERT: It's important for Israel --

AMANPOUR: But the prime minister --

OLMERT: -- no less than the Palestinians.

AMANPOUR: Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that this would just delay the eventual statehood.

OLMERT: Well, you know, I don't argue with my prime minister when I'm overseas, but I can say that my policy has been -- and it's been very clear -- that Israel has to engage itself seriously, rapidly and consistently in a dialogue with the Palestinians in order to achieve a peace treaty.

This is very important for us. It's -- time is running out for Israel more than for the Palestinians and therefore I think that we should not delay anything. We shouldn't look at anything as an excuse to delay what I think is very, very urgent.

AMANPOUR: So if you were advising the Israeli prime minister and actually the Obama administration, where elements, for instance, of Congress and elsewhere -- and maybe you're going to Washington and you'll talk to Congress -- they're threatening in some quarters to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars of aid.

Is that a smart reaction? Is that something that could backfire?

OLMERT: Well, you know, I'm not sure that the prime minister of Israel would like me to be his adviser. Certainly I wouldn't presume that the president of America will want me to be his adviser --


AMANPOUR: But is it smart to punish the Palestinians by keeping aid from them?

OLMERT: I heard that the Qatar were giving $450 million to the Hamas recently in the visit of the emir of Qatar. And I say, why do we have to punish those who want to make peace with Israel? Why do we have to punish those who stretch their hand and say they are against terror?

AMANPOUR: You mean the Palestinian Authority (inaudible).

OLMERT: Mahmoud Abbas is against terror. He is the leader of the Palestinian Authority. Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, he is against terror. These are the guys that we need to strengthen. Therefore, I think that I can speak for my country. I don't want to say to America, well, America should do.

I don't -- I'm not in that habit of telling America what it has to do.

AMANPOUR: No, but you can advise --

OLMERT: I can advise my own government that I think we could -- and we have to give the money that we hold to the Palestinian Authority. It needs to be strengthened. It's time that we will help Dr. Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad and the Palestinian Authority. They are the only partners we have for peace.

And there will be peace, Christiane. I'm telling you, there will be peace. We need to want it; they need to want it. We need to work on it. I was very close with Dr. Abbas to really achieve peace. And I disagree entirely with all this rhetoric (ph) that says that because of these obstacles, because of these difficulties, there is never going to be peace.

It's going to happen and both sides will make all the necessary efforts. I think we have to do it. I think they have to do it. I think it's possible. So I'm optimistic. And I think that today's event is not that revolutionary. But if it expresses the desire of the international community for a solution that we say that we support, I see no reason why we should oppose it.

AMANPOUR: There seems to be a little, to me, anyway, as a reader of what's going on, a little bit of panic going on, that, oh, my goodness, we'd better give Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen something, because Hamas has emerged in many people's perception as quite elevated after the latest Gaza war.

Do you buy that? Do we need to save -- does -- do you? Does the United States need to save the Palestinian Authority by allowing this move?

OLMERT: Well, I perhaps wouldn't have used the same terms as you use, or the terms that some people use about the status of the Palestinian Authority. But we definitely have to support them. We have to help them.

What happened in the last few years is the reluctance for dialogue caused a certain reduction and erosion in the status of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority was weakened.

And I don't see any reason that any policy of the State of Israel or the friends of the State of Israel will ignore the need to support Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad and the Palestinian Authority because they are the genuine partners that we -- we have no others. They are the ones and they need to be strengthened and certainly Hamas was not weakened as we expected them to be weakened.

AMANPOUR: Neither in your move, Operation Cast Lead, which I covered four years ago.

OLMERT: I think then they were very weakened for 21/2 years. They didn't shoot anything against Israel.

AMANPOUR: Why weren't they not weakened now and for another 21/2 years hang out?

OLMERT: Because there were, I think there was a different attitude of the Israeli government, first of all, for not supporting Abu Mazen. You should remember that when I was in charge of the Israeli policy -- and some people disagreed with me, obviously -- I first of all negotiated with Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians to reach peace.

And I proposed them a peace plan which, according to the then former - - foreign minister of the state -- of the United States, it was shocking. She said that she couldn't believe her ears when she heard what I proposed to Abu Mazen, it was so far-reaching and forthcoming and so creative, according to her. So that was number one.

AMANPOUR: You're talking about Condoleezza Rice?

OLMERT: Condoleezza Rice.

Number two is that we fought against the terrorists which are the enemies of Abu Mazen and Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad just as well. And they were weakened. They didn't shoot against Israel for a quite a time after Cast Lead operation. So it wasn't unsuccessful operation.

AMANPOUR: Let me move to January, where you're having an election in Israel. Will you run?

OLMERT: I say that I will make an announcement about it when I'm Israel, not overseas.

AMANPOUR: Can you tell me?

OLMERT: I could tell you privately to your ears, but not to the --

AMANPOUR: Does it begin with a Y or an N?


OLMERT: I will be very much involved in the attempt to change the policy of Israel towards a much more forthcoming, creative and flexible policy that will help bring peace between us and the Palestinians -- is, I think, is the most important priority of the State of Israel. This is what we have to do and I will be very helpful in this direction.

AMANPOUR: Former Prime Minister, may be running for prime minister again, thank you very much for joining me.

OLMERT: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And as the U.N. vote was happening, I also spoke to the long-time Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat. He told me the U.N. bid is not about confronting Israel; it's about restarting the peace process before it's too late.

And it seems that this is the season in that region to solidifying new states. Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, is debating its own path to democracy. We'll talk to a man who you might call the father figure at the center of that debate, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Across the Arab world, nations are struggling to translate revolution into democracy.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Egypt this week saw a full-blown constitutional crisis over presidential powers, complete with protests in Tahrir Square. Tunisia has taken a smoother path, but it, too, had to wrestle with how much Islam to insert into its constitution. And earlier this week, I spoke to Rached Ghannouchi, the cofounder of Tunisia's ruling Ennahda Party, which was banned before the revolution.


AMANPOUR: And I asked him about the struggle to get this document right.


AMANPOUR: Rached Ghannouchi, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Now Egypt and Tunisia are going through their constitutional processes. We haven't seen this kind of instability in Tunisia over the constitution.

Why do you think it's happening in Egypt?

GHANNOUCHI (through translator): The situation is different, either that the Egyptian society and the Tunisian society are similar somewhat, and that's why I believe that Egypt will reach the point of harmony as -- and Tunisia as well on its way to harmony.

AMANPOUR: Obviously everybody is looking very, very closely at the constitutions, not just in Egypt but also in Tunisia. You were the beginning, the father of the Arab Spring there in Tunisia.

What is the status of the constitution and how much sharia law will be enshrined in the constitution?

GHANNOUCHI (through translator): We have bypassed that problem already. A few months ago, there was some dispute about entraining (ph) sharia, but we in Ennahda prefer to take that dispute about that matter away, so that we can reach a constitution of harmony. And that's why we had to push away the -- that controversy.

And we settled for what was said in the 1959 constitution about Tunisia as an Arab country. That's why our road is now -- is clear to enact the new constitution, which is a process that will be complete within a few months. And I believe that the elections will be at the beginning of the month, God willing.

AMANPOUR: The beginning of which month?

GHANNOUCHI: The beginning of June, next June.

AMANPOUR: You're telling me that there will be no sharia, no blasphemy laws in the Tunisian constitution, correct?

GHANNOUCHI (through translator): That's correct.

AMANPOUR: There are critics and people inside Tunisia who do fear the Salafists, particularly the violent Salafists. And they worry that they are just waiting to take over.

Do you think that's possible? Can Salafists, can violent Salafists who want an Islamic state, take over in Tunisia?

GHANNOUCHI (through translator): No, I have no fear about that. I'm not worried about that, not because I'm being confident or because I trust Salafists or any other group that wishes to control the society. Salafists, by the way, are different groups. They are not all the same.

And what I see is that the Tunisian society, the Muslim society, but a moderate one. That's why there is no hope for any radical group to control the Tunisian society, because it's a society which went through a revolution against dictatorship and will not allow any group, even in the name of a religion.

They -- so Tunisian society is religious but moderate and it perceives Islam as something that does not -- that does not contradict democracy. Democracy and Islam can work side by side.

AMANPOUR: You remember what happened in September when violent Salafists attacked the U.S. embassy.

What is your concern about that, particularly in regard to building Tunisia's economy and keeping Tunisia as a destination for investment and for tourists, which has always been the backbone of your country's economy?

GHANNOUCHI (through translator): That was -- that was unfortunate, which was something we condemned. It was an event, an isolated event. And it represented some type of -- some type of security failure. That security plan to protect the U.S. embassy was not good.

And we express our anger. We visited the U.S. ambassadors and we said we didn't want that to happen again.

A week later, when they tried to repeat the same act again at the French embassy, they were not able to do it because Tunisian security was able to protect it. And we think that such an event will never repeat itself, because it violates Islam.

Islam grants immunity to ambassadors. They are immune by Islam and by law, and that offends the reputation of Tunisia, offends the revolution and the -- and the tourism. Tunisia is safe. We received 5 million tourists this year. And the investment is flourishing, which means that such an incident was isolated and does not represent the Tunisian politics.

AMANPOUR: You just mentioned tourism. You know, will Tunisia still be a place where men and women can come and mix on the beaches, even wearing bikinis? Will Tunisia still be a place where men and women can drink in the bars?

GHANNOUCHI (through translator): We always said during our election campaign and during our practice or exercise of power that it is not the role of the government to impose anything on citizens, anything of related to what they wear or what they eat or what they believe. These are matters of personal freedom.

Every person is entitled to his or her own opinion and choose the lifestyle they wish. The role of the government is to preserve security and provide services to citizens, not impose a certain belief or a certain type of food for people to eat.

AMANPOUR: Do you think Tunisian society remains divided? Is it a dangerously divided society today?

GHANNOUCHI (through translator): It is dangerous for society -- for the Tunisian society to be divided over religious lines, between secularists and Islamists. That's why we have been keen on following a coalition government between the moderate Islamists and the moderate secularists.

We are in alliance with two secular parties and we are determined to continue that alliance, even after elections, even for that alliance to expand, because we believe that democracy in the transitional period, in particular, can be -- has to be built over harmony, not on the 51 percent logic in the -- under certain -- under normal circumstances, 51 percent is enough for you to win -- to win -- to win elections.

But now we need consensus between different parties, particularly the Islamists and the secularists. If there is a polarization, that should not be ideological, but should be between the people who are for the revolution and the people who are against the revolution.

AMANPOUR: You were in London on 7/7, the 7th of July, 2005, when terrorists blew up buses and the Underground Subway. And you noticed how it was dealt with.

What were the lessons that you learned from that?

GHANNOUCHI (through translator): The rule of law is very important, because, despite the fact that Britain was threatened and harmed by a small group of Muslim youth, it did not -- did not wage a war against the Muslim minority. It applied -- just applied law.

The rule of law is very important. The state of law is very important to apply the law, And applying the law is sufficient to overcome terrorism, dictatorship and to -- and to defeat small groups, which wish to exercise violence.

I was in Britain on July 7th; I did not see mass arrests for all Muslims or all Muslim youth. What I saw was selective arrests for those who are suspects. If they investigate someone and the town (inaudible), they would leave him alone. The lesson is that applying the law is very -- a successful tactic in the fighting terrorism.

AMANPOUR: Rached Ghannouchi, thank you so much for joining me from London.

GHANNOUCHI: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And when we return, a final note on the struggle for Palestinian statehood.




AMANPOUR: And a final thought, this week's vote in the United Nations marks an historic moment for the Palestinians. But let's look back almost 30 years. There were no talks between Israel and Palestinians and the PLO chief Yasser Arafat was a guerilla fighter.

But in 1974, he decided to try diplomacy and he game to the general assembly, the site of this week's Palestinian vote.

Now imagine a world where a leader had hope in one hand and a threat in the other.


YASSER ARAFAT, FORMER CHIEF OF PLO (from captions): I come to you bearing an olive branch in one hand and a revolutionary gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.



AMANPOUR: Now Palestinians say they're extending another olive branch. And time will tell if there's cause for hope or another 30 years of conflict.

And that's it for our weekend program. Meantime, you can always contact us at our website, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.