Combating Terror, Waging Peace:

A Shared Israeli-Palestinian Challenge

Participants:

Yossi Beilin, former Israeli Justice Minister

Yasser Abed Rabbo, Palestinian Authority Minister of Information

Martin Indyk, Brookings Fellow

 

Moderator:

Shibley Telhami, Brookings Fellow

 

 

MR. SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Good afternoon. On behalf of the Brookings Institution and the Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, I would like to welcome our two distinguished guests today. I also would like to acknowledge Americans for Peace now, which has sponsored their visit to this country on a speaking tour, and we really are grateful to have the opportunity to host them here.

 

I think our two guests are very well known to you. Mr. Yasser Abed Rabbo is minister of information and culture in the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Yosi Beilin has been the minister of justice. Both of them have been prominent political leaders in Israel and the Palestinian community. And more importantly, in the past year, when we have had a lot of pain in the region, a lot of despair, a lot of loss of faith in the possibility of peace, they have been inspiring voices that reminded us of the possibilities, and we're very grateful to have them today.


What we would like to do is have it more like a dialogue. And what I will do is I will join them sitting down, and we will have a conversation. I will raise some questions, and my colleague from Brookings, Ambassador Martin Indyk, who is not new to you, who now has joined Brookings as a senior fellow, will also join in the questions, and then we will open it up for a dialogue with the audience. Thanks very much.

 

Let me just raise the question before I sit down to both of you. As we sit at this juncture, with people asking questions about whether peace is even possible between Israel and the Palestinians, given what happened in the past year, given the psychology that has been transformed, both in Israel and in the Palestinian area, is it at all possible to contemplate the kind of solution that you both are supporting -- that is, closer to what has been negotiated at Taba? I'd like you both to address that broadly. What would give you any hope that a settlement along these lines is feasible in the foreseeable future? Let me start with Mr. Beilin.
 
MR. BEILIN: Well, I first of would like to thank you for inviting us. And I would like to thank the audience for coming.

 

The question is a very important question -- the $64,000 question -- are we still optimistic? Is there still a possibility to make peace in the region? And we know that those who say that there is no chance to make peace, as long as the current leadership is in power, are the majority. Back in Israel, in the Palestinian Authority and in the United States. To say today that peace is possible since almost detached from reality, from naivete or stupidity, even worse than that, which speaks to old ideas which actually are not part of our reality. The big question is since we were there, and we are the witnesses; we were the negotiators and we touched peace, does it mean that if we were there and we didn't make it, that it is actually impossible to make it in the future? Does it mean that perhaps the context was wrong, that the timing was wrong, but the peace is possible because we touched it.

 

And, of course, we subscribe to the latter option, and we say that since we know that it is possible, since we know that the solution is there around the corner, that we've touched all the sensitive questions -- the future of the settlements, Jerusalem, the refugees -- and we find solutions which are more or less according to the guidelines of the Clinton plan. It is not a secret anymore. It is not a paper which is hidden in some drawer. It is there, out there. Everybody knows exactly now, or almost exactly, what the solution is. The only question is why cannot we have it now?

 

And my feeling is that since we know that the solution is feasible, and since we were the negotiators, we can witness that it is possible to make it even now. It is true that we contributed to the current situation -- we, even the negotiators. Maybe it was wrong to go to the Camp David summit when we went there. Maybe it was too late to negotiate in Taba. And here sits my good friend and mentor Schlomo Veneri (ph) who is a not a member of the non-peace camp, who was one of those who said, when we went to Taba, "Don't got there, it is too late." And I had my argument with him, and maybe he was right and I was wrong. Maybe we went to Taba too late.

 

The bad thing about Taba is that people said about it, "Since you did not make it, who could make it? And it's over now, there won't be a possibility for making peace." The good thing about Taba is that we had the sense that we could solve the issues. And that is why it is until this very day, you know, we balanced. I think it is possible -- they said that today we have a little bit different leaderships, doesn't make it easier, but to give up on peace in the Middle East while we have not only the permanent solution almost in place but also the interim solution, which is, in a way, the Mitchell Report, and the immediate solution for the cease fire, which is the Tenet Paper, to say that we are doomed, and that we in the Middle East are the only people do not deserve to have peace is a big mistake. In my view, it is do-able, and in a way we proved it in Taba.

 

MIN. RABBO: First of all, thank you very much for inviting us today.

 

 And, I believe that what happened in Taba proved that the solution is possible on the one hand, and that the solution we reached at is the only possible one in order to reach peace between the two sides. As we say, we will turn every stone, and I'm always -- I belong to the camp who says that maybe there were mistakes in Camp David. Maybe Camp David was so arrogant and it needed preparations before it. Maybe all these things. But, we should look at the full half of the cup and not the empty half.

 

Camp David was an experiment. In Camp David, we failed to reach a comprehensive agreement, but we have defined what were the issues that are thorny and that needs to be addressed and to be solved. We specified them. We knew them concretely. And that's why the negotiations that took place after Camp David, five -- for five months -- some of them were open, some of them were secret, some of them were informal -- but they were trying to bridge the differences and to try to find a solution.


When the proposals came, and they were much more advanced than what was presented in Camp David -- and here I want to point out that all those who say that in Camp David there was Israeli generosities -- Israel came with a very generous offer, it was a complete shaped offer and was given to us, and we for a certain unknown reason, we had rejected this offer and we considered it unacceptable and we were greedy, and we wanted to destroy Israel by insisting on sending three, four million refugees to Israel in order to destroy the Jewish nature of the state of Israel. All of this, I believe, is propaganda that -- and sheer propaganda -- that was used after Camp David and after the crisis that we had faced in order to justify certain methods and certain policies that are being adopted today against the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian Authority.

That was not the case. And, in fact, between Camp David and Clinton parameters there was an interval, and there was developments in positions. And since Clinton parameters had answered many questions, but there were still some of them which were not answered and were left for the negotiations.

 

And in Taba, we took one further step, and the significance of Taba is that it had defined this framework, the outline, of the solution for every single issue. And that's why Taba said that a solution is possible. And this is the only possible solution which we had outlined or put its frame in Taba. And for this reason, I believe, a major historical step was made. It was not, of course fulfilled; it didn't reach its final end, and we were not able to make it a real agreement signed between both sides, but this is a document of these are the kind of understanding that we both fought for, the forces of peace, and the two, among the two peoples -- the Israelis and the Palestinians -- all the forces of peace internationally who supported us. We fought for this. This is the result of hundreds of meetings, seminars, discussions, studies, efforts made for years and years, and they culminated in the results that we had faced and that we had reached in Taba.

 

 And, I believe that this result we should all defend, because wouldn't some people say, "Well, look now, is it possible with the present circumstances, after one year of confrontation, we have an Israeli government which is representing the extreme right. You have the old policy. No. I believe that maybe the same arguments were used when we had Shamir in power 10, or 15 -- or I don't know when was Shamir in power? Long time. And I was listening to these arguments many time to convince us that despair is the only solution, and the only alternative. We know the moment is not so encouraging, the present moment, but this does not meant that the people who have fought for years in order to reach at this -- aim at this goal, should be discouraged and should feel that they have to surrender, and they should give the banner to these real forces in both sides and in both camps.

 

We believe there is a chance, and still there is a chance, but there is need to unite our will and to take certain measures and steps in the ground that will take away the thorns from our path. Some of them are steps that should be taken by us as Palestinians, and some of them, of course, are steps -- there are these steps should be taken by Israel as an occupying power. And there are also steps to be taken by the international community, especially the United States, because we believe that without serious intervention by the U.S. administration without a direct involvement and a role which will monitor, will supervise, will interfere, then implementing all these documents that carry American names, by the way, Mitchell, Tenet, there will be others, and now that we have President Bush statements of two days ago, so it needs this involvement.

Indyk: Don't forget Clinton. Clinton also is an American name.

 

MR. RABBO: Of course. (Inaudible) (Laughter.)

 

MR. TELHAMI: Can I follow up on this before I turn it over to Martin for his own question?

 

If you look specifically at what the administration can do now -- and obviously, the administration is thinking about what it must do on the Palestinian and Israeli arena specifically, and clearly the president's statements, the secretary's statements indicate increasing interest and understanding of the need to act. We know that the administration was already predisposed to act prior to September 11th, that in fact September 11th delayed American steps toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

 

Now, what would you expect, or what would you hope, each of you, that the administration would be doing that is realistic in the foreseeable future, that would help both sides to move forward? And what could you say to them, that is to the administration, that would address their fear that neither side is really ready for an agreement, their fear that if they get engaged they are bound to fail, just like Clinton did, and their fear of failure is one of the biggest deterrents in the face of this administration.

 

So, what would you tell them to assure them, and what would you expect them to do that's realistic, that you think would move the process forward?

 

MR. BEILIN: Well, there is no life insurance. And we cannot assure the administration that once it is involved in the Middle East process it will be a success story. I would like to warn the administration and to say if you believe that you have to know in advance that any step that you are taking in foreign policy will be successful, don't even dream about the Middle East. Continue your hands-off policy, and your let them bleed policy. It will succeed for sure. Now, if you believe that you are leading the world, if you believe that something happened on September 11th, the worst thing is to say we submit to terrorism, we wanted to do something in the Middle East and since there was the September 11th terrorism attacks we've put an end to it. This is exactly giving in to Bin Laden.

 

Now, I would believe that what happened on September 11th would be conducive to a policy which says now that we know that our enemy is the unknown is the threat to stability in the world, we cannot afford to have this regional international conflict. And we are trying to put an end to it in Ireland, in between India and Pakistan and with the Middle East.

 

Now, the good thing about the Middle East, among many other bad things, is that there is no other conflict with so many solutions. Everything is solved. Look just at the books at the entrance -- you can pick one of them -- you have all the solutions. Now, it is not -- it is not only a joke, because it is not that many people have ideas and they publish them, that these ideas were agreed upon by the parties, but nobody takes their agreement seriously, and that is the point.

 

I would say to them, the administration, look what happened. Sharon and Arafat are committed to Tenet and to Mitchell. It's a whole world. You could send somebody over and say, Okay, are you really serious? Mr. Sharon, to free settlements, even prevent the natural growth there. Are you really serious, Mr. Arafat, to decommission the weapons, or is it just a game? If you are committed, if you sign this, we want to see what is the common denominator. You may be surprised that the common denominator is very, very significant. Then you have components of the permanent solution, which maybe, and maybe not, be agreed upon by both Sharon and Arafat. You can deal with the commonest building measures. Don't wait for seven days of total silence to listen to the birds, because it will never happen. And it is just a shield before any negotiations, immediately begin the negotiations, find the common denominator, which is bigger than what you think about -- if I'm right, I may be wrong -- then go to negotiate in a -- (inaudible) -- way and the permanent solution. Fix a new date for the ending of the negotiations and the permanent solution, because now we don't have even a date for it after the first five years of Oslo, and another year which was given to us when Barak was the prime minister, and then we can begin the walk.

 

 I think that neglecting the Middle East is not only creating a situation which makes us there suffering, eventually there is a price for it because all the Bin Ladens of the world, and Saddam Hussein, will use the unending conflict in the Middle East in order to justify their lunatism. If it is not there any more, or if it is being solved, it won't be possible for them -- I mean, they will remain lunatics, but they will not be able to use us as a pretext for their bad deeds. And it will limit the scope of their activities. I think that this is actually calling for an action on the side of the only super power in the world, which is not an imposed solution, because it won't work. And it is not a unilateral decision by Israel to withdraw to an arbitrary border which is stupidity. It is just an agreement which is feasible between the two sides, with the help of the world, of the U.N., of Europe, or Russia, and first and foremost by the United States of America.

 

MR. TELHAMI: Yasser?

 

MIN. RABBO: In fact, I have a problem that I cannot disagree with him anything -- (laughter) -- what he has said.

 

 After the 11th of September, I believe, and I would say it hopefully and in short, that all those ideas that the United States can isolate itself form the complex of the Middle East, or from any other conflict similar to this one, and can adopt a selection policy -- a selective policy that they can be involved here, they cannot be involved there -- after 11th of September, this approach proved that it is not possible. It's not -- couldn't be applicable.

Now the war in Afghanistan I believe today -- if not today, tomorrow, next week, whatever it is -- it will reach an end. I mean, the military war, it will achieve its goals. But what is important is what is the aftermath of the war? Could this crisis -- these horrible attacks had revealed that the international responsibility of the United States cannot be avoided, especially towards the Middle East crisis. And whatever are the setbacks, whatever are the difficulties that we had faced in the past, and we are still facing today, this involvement in the solution of the crisis cannot be avoided. This, I believe, is one of the basic lessons. It's not the only lesson. There are other lessons.

 

But, on the other hand, we don't want of course the United States to come and solve it for us and outline what should be done, and detailed, and this is the solution, and take it or leave it. This is not the way. The experience of the past had shown us that this approach also will complicate things more. What we need is a role at least the first step to supervise and monitor the implementation of those agreements or papers or understandings that we all agree upon, starting with the so-called Tenet paper and Mitchell report.

 

There are steps in these papers and recommendations that will give confidence to the public opinion on both sides, the public opinion in the region as a whole, that there is a serious process coming. And it is a promising attempt by the United States to change the course of events as it is going now -- going for the past year.

 

This is I believe the one basic idea. And there is a need, of course, to open dialogue about how to restart again the negotiation between the two sides, and how to launch again the peace process in order to achieve the final status agreement. This is the basics. I think that with the speech we heard -- we listened to two days ago, which spoke about a solution of two states, Israel and Palestine -- this speech of course is a first attempt, is a beginning. It raised the expectations in the region and among the two sides. But what is important is until today nobody took -- or maybe nobody dared to take -- a negative reaction towards what was declared. This is also very significant and important. It raised the expectations; that is, the people now are waiting to see what will come -- what will be the next steps. Because if it will stay as it is -- and I don't think those who declared this position think that this is enough and they will stop there. But supposedly if we say it stops there, the result will be very negative. This will reflect itself in a very, very negative way on the situation in our region, because the people will lose the confidence and the trust that something genuine, something forward, will happen. That's why we believe there is a need of a process. There is a need of involvement -- a process and an involvement which does not need maybe hundreds of Americans to come or armies or whatever. We need monitors to come, to monitor implementing what was agreed upon. The two papers that carry American names -- to point their fingers at those who violate their commitment in accordance with these papers. And to stop all forms of games played in order to undermine these papers or commitments, and to escape from the moment of the truth according to the papers and commitments.

 

This is what we think is needed. And it is possible. It is possible to be done. There are maybe five or -- I don't know eight -- Europeans who are on the ground and who are trying to mediate between the two parties in certain areas, certain regions, in order to pacify things, in order to solve problems -- even on a very low level. And they succeeded, and they are still there. And they are maybe indirectly cooperating with the Americans. So why not widen this (now ?) with American presence to guarantee that things will improve. This should go parallel with political efforts, political roles played in order to restart again the negotiations for the final status.

 

MR. TELHAMI: Let me turn to Martin, and then we'll open it up for questions.

 

MR. INDYK: Thank you. I want to add my welcome to Yasser and Yossi. You give new meaning to Churchill's injunction to his people never ever ever to give up. And I think we all admire you in the circumstances.

 

I have separate questions for each of you. So I'll ask Yossi a question first. You are widely credited as being probably Israel's best politician. But I think it's probably also true to say today that there isn't a lot of support for your position inside the Israeli policy. How do you bring Israeli public opinion back to believing that peace is possible and negotiation is possible after all of those experiences in the last year?

 

MR. BEILIN: Well, actually, there is an agreement about division of labor between Mr. Sharon and myself. (Laughter.) It's a very important agreement, because he is proving every day that he has no solution, neither for security nor for peace. And that was his claim to fame. He actually was elected on this old basis of "I'll bring you peace, I'll bring you security." The security is worse and peace is even more -- it's further than it was than when he was elected.

 

And people understand now better that this magic of the right -- that they will show the other side which understands of course only force -- and everybody is saying it's about the other side. And by force it will be better. And by reentering to Zone 8 will be better. And by selected killings it will be better. And all these things are creating exactly what we had said all the time -- a vicious circle of violence. I mean, it is so obvious that even to repeat it it seems to me a little bit childish.

 

So all this happened -- people understand today that there is no alternative to what we did. But they still don't believe that the alternative which we supported still exists. And this is now much easier than eight or seven or six months ago.


What we have to do is to prove to both parties -- I was thinking about my constituency, but it is not very different from the constituency of Yasser Abed Rabbo -- to prove that there is a partner and that there is a program. It is easier when we do it together, when we issue joint declarations, when people on both sides are signing on these declarations, are meeting together, are talking -- asking very tough questions -- very tough questions about the intifada, why it was not stopped by Arafat immediately -- not that Arafat planned the intifada -- I don't believe in it. But he could have stopped it had he wanted. And that was his biggest mistake. And this is always the Israeli question.

 

And the question on the Palestinian side to the Israelis: Why did you continue the settlements under the government of moderate prime ministers like Rabin and Peres and Barak? And all these questions. And all these questions are very legitimate questions. But at least there is a dialogue. And I believe that if we continue the dialogue, including what we are doing today -- and Martin you know the region better than many others, and you can imagine how difficult it is for us to appear today, and what kind of criticism we get at home, both of us, when we appear together. It doesn't happen to us everyday. But we decided to do it, because we feel that we owe it to our respective peoples, because they lost faith in peace. And maybe when they see us together, the weaknesses of the negotiations, those who participated there, those who know that it is feasible -- they will believe eventually -- I'm not speaking about the extreme right and the extreme religious people, but I am speaking about the main road of the people on both sides -- those who want to believe, those who say Arafat is not a partner, and still are waiting for a good sign from Arafat that somehow we'll talk different -- we'll not suggest that we will drink the water of the Dead Sea or whatever, and we become again a partner. And the same goes for the Palestinians. They would like to see Sharon or the leadership of Israel as partners.

 

And there is another point here which I am dealing with and which I think is very important. I think that if there is a possibility to continue the work of Taba in a very informal way, to continue it in such a way that eventually people will say, Hey, it is possible there is a detailed plan, and both sides agree that this is the solution. The more detailed it is, the bigger the book of solution is there when both sides agree that this is -- once you get there, once you pay the price, you will get it -- the easier it will be to convince people that it is feasible.

 

And one of the things which I am involved in right now is the informal work of referring to the details of the different issues on the agenda in order to prepare it for the moment when it will be possible to publicize it and to say, Hey, this is the solution. I believe that people are not too happy to think that they are doomed, that there is no chance for peace in their lifetime, that their children will have to follow their own experience of another war, of another intifada, of throwing stones or shooting those who throw stones, or shoot at them. And I think that if we give them a ray of hope, which is not just a dream of a lunatic, but something which is based on our reality, on our experience with witnesses from the other side, we will win the day.

 

MIN. RABBO: Can I have just a small comment? The polls -- the Israeli polls and our polls show a very significant thing in relation to the question you raised there, Martin. Look at the Israeli polls. When you ask them -- you ask the Israelis, do you support harsh measures or more measures, restrictions against the Palestinians? Thirty percent say yes. Do you support even the assassinations or the closures or whatever it is? Seventy, 65 percent say yes. Do you support -- still support the Palestinian state? Sixty percent to 70 percent say yes. Do you support the resumption of negotiations? They say -- 10 percent say yes.

 

If you go to the other face of the coin, the Palestinian polls, it is quite similar. Do you support the continuation of the intifada? Ninety percent yes. Do you support facing the seculars and their atrocities and what they commit? Yes. Do you support a two-state solution? Eighty percent, 90 percent, yes. Do you support the resumption of negotiations? Yes.

 

This reveals something very important, that the Israeli public is extremist when it comes to security, and moderate when it comes to political solutions and politics. And when -- if we change the terminology here or there, this is the same situation when it comes to the Palestinian people. So that's why we are not exaggerating when we say that still the chance is great. In spite of all the difficulties of the moment, still there is a hope, and still we believe this is the only option, the option we are talking about, the kind of solution we are defending is the only option and the only outlet from these present conditions.

 

MR. INDYK: Could I -- in a way it's a bit of a follow-up, the question I wanted to ask you, which is Sari Nusseibah was quoted here in the New York Times in a presentation which he gave a couple of weeks ago in which he criticized his side, the Palestinian side, for two things. First of all, he said the that the intifada was a disaster and counterproductive, because it destroyed the Palestinians' greatest asset; that is, the support in Israel for the peace process, particularly on the left in Israel. And the second thing he said was that it was a mistake to push the right of return, that the Palestinian people would need to come to understand that right of return insofar as it meant going back in large numbers to Israel, was simply not going to be acceptable and sent a very counterproductive message to the Israelis.

 

Can I ask you how you view those two critiques of Palestinian policy in the last year and a half?

 

MIN. RABBO: Well, they are other criticism as well. I mean, the list is much more greater than this. (Laughter). But nevertheless, yes, there are voices along the Palestinian society which maybe say that there are negative aspects for the intifada. One of the negative aspects is that we embarrassed or we had drawn the carpet from under the feet of the Israeli -- (word inaudible).

 

And I don't think, and I cannot say, that a movement like the intifada, which is an expression of the Palestinian frustrations and despair, and the Palestinians feel that the years of occupation will be very long and the occupation will be our eternal destiny -- I don't say that there are no negative aspects. I'm sure there are some of these negative aspects. I was one of those before the Israeli election who stood said and said clearly, it's not to say that Sharon and Barak represent the two faces of the same coin. Our people said, and people said, No, they are the two faces of the coin, et cetera. You know, I mean, with this atmosphere we are having, you find such positions and such arguments.

 

 But I would like to say something. Now it is one year of -- over one year of confrontation. We are here. I can leave it for historians or some scholars to decide and to say -- not to decide, to discuss this issue, whether there were mistakes, what are the mistakes, how big these mistakes were. But now we are here. And there is a confrontation, and there is a kind of lack of confidence which we didn't have between the two sides for a very long period. How are we going to regain that once again? This is the question that we both are applying, in fact, to ourselves. This is one thing.

The other thing about the right of return: I believe that some who say they have fallen in the trap of certain people who try to show as if the Palestinian position, official position was in Camp David and after Camp David -- and I said, when we want 3, 4 million Palestinians -- (word inaudible), we -- the propaganda, the Israeli propaganda, official propaganda, and some of the friends of Israeli, and try to show the position as this: Israel was generous; Barak was very generous; he give them everything -- nearly 100 percent of the land of yours back -- everything. Jerusalem? Good-bye, Jerusalem.


What do you want more? When they saw that there is such a generosity from Israel, they became more greedy, and they asked for the destruction of the state of Israel. Some very serious persons, Israeli serious persons, used this argument and tried to spread it and wrote it. I don't want to mention -- (off mike) -- although this serious person was involved in our negotiations until the last day and moment of Taba, and he knows this very well -- that this was not the case. It was really the Palestinians, and it was published and well- known.

We and the Israeli counterparts in the negotiations about the question of the refugees, we suggested that there will be five categories of refugees and five forms of resolving the problem of refugees. We asked for the principle of the right of return, but the implementation of it, it should be discussed in a very practical and even pragmatic way, without affecting or without -- yes, without affecting the Jewish nature of the state of Israel. We said it. This was our position. And I'm not saying this today.

 

And when we spoke about five categories, we spoke about five forms -- the first form, their return to Israel; second form, their return to the Palestinian state; third form, to be settled in the country where they are; fourth form, to go to a third country, to another place they choose; and a fifth form -- what is the fifth form?

 

MR. :Swap territories. Swap territories.

 

MIN. RABBO: To swap -- the territory that could be swapped, this territory could be used as a place for returning part of the refugees.

And we discussed in Camp David and after Camp David in details, figures, numbers, et cetera, et cetera. I don't say that there was an agreement -- a full agreement, but there was a different approach, completely different approach, from the approach that we are accused of having used in the past, during all the time of negotiations.

 

There was a campaign of disinformation, a campaign -- and I call it of brainwashing -- and this campaign, the aim of it was to justify the repressive measures that were used against the Palestinian people in the past year. Why? Because it wants -- it wanted to say these Palestinians, because they are greedy, because they have a crazy leadership that had rejected this generous offer, because they wanted -- not everything; they wanted to destroy their counterpart, they wanted all this, they deserve -- they deserve to be punished for that, they deserve all what face, they deserve Sharon and what Sharon is doing to them. This was the argument, and this argument is very dangerous. And I don't want to call it names or give it names, but this is -- this was not the case, this is not true. And we don't deserve it. We -- both peoples don't deserve what is going on.

 

And what we deserve, in spite of what happened in the past year, is to start a process that takes into consideration the lessons of the past, mainly the lessons of the past year, and to start a genuine process of negotiations.

 

MR. TELHAMI: I'd like to open it to the floor.

Just a follow-up on this issue, Yasser, on what you said about Sari Nusseibah's statement. It is certainly -- your argument is that there's been a campaign of disinformation about the Palestinian position. Fine. But the truth of the matter is that when Sari Nusseibah said it with clarity, it was heard. When the Palestinian Authority said it officially, it wasn't heard. So there's got to be some interesting reason for that. It was heard despite of everything that you've said. And the clarity is interesting. So perhaps when we come to the discussion, it would be interesting to see how you --

 

MIN. RABBO: Shibley, I discovered that whenever something is negative about our position and our policy, and especially when it comes from inside our ranks, it becomes very famous as a scandal, not as a political position. Every scandal is famous more than serious things or positions.

 

MR. INDYK (?): It happens in Israel, too. (Laughter.)

 

MIN. RABBO (?): It happens, of course.

 

MR. TELHAMI: Very rarely.

Let's open it up to the crowd. Yes?

 

Q Jerome Segal (sp) from University of Maryland. My question is to Mr. Abed Rabbo. When you just spoke about right of return, you put it in the context of explaining what the Palestinian position was at Camp David, so it was a little bit --

 

MIN. RABBO: Taba.

 

Q At Taba. -- a little bit looking backwards. I'm just wondering if you'd be prepared to just simply state straight out today, as the PLO spokesman, that the position of the PLO with respect to right of return is that its implementation must be done in such a way as to not adversely affect the Jewish nature of the state of Israel.

 

MIN. RABBO: I said it in these same words, but you said it in more eloquent English. I said it with my poor English.

 

Q So that is the PLO position. Okay.

The second thing I wanted to ask is this: When that's stated, some people hear it as basically a conflict between, as it were, questions of justice and questions of power. In other words, all the right is on the side of the Palestinians, but of course they can't bring back all of these people, so out of pragmatic concerns, they accept the reality that the implementation can only be partial.There's another way of looking at it, which is to say --

 

MIN. RABBO: What do you care about our -- our -- yani (ph) -- what? -- the roots of our position? What do you care? Maybe for pragmatic, maybe because we see and we saw how history has developed. There are various reasons for why the people, any people, can change their mind. Okay? So leave it for us. I mean, this part is -- it concerns us. Maybe it will be God had inspired us that this is not the way, and this is the Holy Land, you see, and we should take all of us back. I don't see a problem here.

 

You -- look, I once heard -- I'm sorry to interrupt you. I once heard -- I don't know who used it, but maybe Shamir used it when the Americans came to Shamir and told him, "Well, look, the Palestinians want change their position. They accepted 242, they accepted the right of Israel to exist. And so they changed their position; let us open a dialogue or a way with them."

And he said, "Let them change their guts. I want them to change their guts." And I don't know how we are going to change our guts. You want me, as a Palestinian who was born in Jaffa, to forget my personal thing, my attachment as a person to the place of my birth? I will not do that. But you want me, as a serious politician responsible for the future of my people, and as a person who wants, really, to put an end to these agonies, to take a position which hurts me; I should take it.

I will do that. This is the difference.

 

MR. TELHAMI: So okay, I'm sorry. I'm going to go to somebody else.

Go ahead.

 

Q I am from Hungary. My name is Peter Zentayan (ph), the radio correspondent. Any my question, also to Mr. Rabbo: If it will be smart on the side of the Palestinians to unequivocally say that the suicide attacks against Israeli innocent people have the same character as the September 11th attack --

 

MR. RABBO: Has the same character as what?

 

Q The same quality -- this is the same -- innocent people are dying in Israel, and innocent people died in America. So what I understand that there are double standard in that two respect.

 

The second is a phenomenon from Europe. I am coming and -- in Hungary first of all, but all over in Europe, there is a phenomenon which helps, I think, the Jewish nature of Israel the way that a lot of Jews will escape from Europe nowadays because on the ground, many, many people think that what's happened here on September 11th was some act of the Jews --

 

MR. TELHAMI: Make it a question, please. Make it a question.

 

MR. RABBO: Of what?

 

MR. TELHAMI: Make it a question.

 

Q Of the Jews, in generally.

 

MR. RABBO: Of what? Mossad -- was some act what happened in New York -- -

 

Q Yes, yes, yes, yes. The Mossad or the Jewish people -- that is the general atmosphere --

 

MR. RABBO: Who's saying that?

 

Q In Europe on the ground, if you ask people, they say that is because America is helping Israel --

 

MR. RABBO: How can I help you with that, then?

 

Q Sorry?

 

MR. RABBO: How can I help you with that? (Laughter.)

 

Q In that way, for example, the way that you are saying in your propaganda that it surely not was Israel behind that kind of thing because probably it was not. Probably not the Jews in generally in the world were helping Osama bin Laden in generally.

 

MR. RABBO: Excuse me because I'll say something. It was not we who said in our propaganda that as we -- as you are launching war against bin Laden, I am launching war against my bin Laden. We did not make this comparison between them. You know who made this comparison, right? But, on the other hand, I don't know -- how can I help you, if you think that in Europe they believe it's a Jewish -- (word inaudible). I don't know which --

 

MR. TELHAMI: What does that mean? (Laughter.)

 

MR. RABBO: It means I want you to answer. Maybe you are involved in it. I don't know, you see. (Laughs.)

 

Q In the Arab world --

 

MR. RABBO: Just a moment. Just a moment. Please. I don't know what Europe you are talking about. I have been in Europe, and I read European newspapers. I didn't see that. Maybe there are -- everywhere, there are a few lunatics. Of course. I mean, and that's why they can -- it was your bad luck that you maybe had an encounter with them. I don't know.

 

Q Even in the Arab world you can see, so the question is: Don't you think that you should say something about the suicide attacks against Israel the same way as you are judging the --

 

MR. RABBO: No, no, no. Look: I don't like this comparison. I don't like to compare between two things. We condemned the suicide attack. We condemned any attack against civilians. This is something. And we don't compare it with anything else.

 

Maybe sometimes -- to be frank with you, in Israel they don't like to compare the Holocaust with other sufferings and agonies, you see. And especially with our -- when we say it's "our Holocaust," they say no, don't compare this with that. Okay. I agree with them. I -- personally, I agree with them. This is something and that's something.

 

But I don't agree -- the other -- I don't agree with the other kind of comparison, which is more dangerous, which says that Sharon is acting against terrorism as the United States is acting against terrorism in Afghanistan. I don't know that the United States had occupied -- I'm sorry -- had occupied Afghanistan. I don't know that the United States had sent American citizens to settle and build settlements in Afghanistan. I don't know that the United States did so and so. The comparison here should not be made at all. These two separate things, they have different reasons and we have different approach in dealing with them.

 

MR. TELHAMI: The lady back there.

 

Q Hi. I'm a student at the University of California, San Diego, and I'm just wondering -- this question is addressed to Dr. Yossi Beilin. The past 10 years have seen a lot of, you know, change in leadership in Israel, you know, the Labor-Likud, you know, split. What role do you think this has played in the peace process and the leaders abiding by the government that preceded them and Palestine's view of -- you know, viewing Israel as credible because of, you know, the different ways they've approached it? And how do you think you can constrain against this and, you know, make the peace process progress?

 

MR. BEILIN: Well, Israel is suffering from something which all the democracies in the world are suffering from, and this is a change of the guards and different governments from time to time. And this is the best thing which happens to us. And some of our neighbors had the same leaders for 30 or 40 years, which did not make us envy of them.

 

And the fact that during these 10 years there were some changes of government is something that our neighbors have to live with and to understand -- that more than they want, their own behavior does have an impact on the public opinion in Israel and the way they vote. I believe that one of the main reasons why Barak lost the election, besides his own mistakes, was the belief that he went a very long way and was not reciprocated by the other side. Whether it was right or wrong is another question. But that was the general perception.

 

And if this was the way that a better choice was to elect a prime minister who would show the Palestinians that only by force Israel can win, of course they were wrong. But this was the result of the elections, and we have to take it, as we take in a democracy, a change of guards, and to see what can be done with the current prime minister.

 

And I believe that it would be wrong for us to give up on Arafat and to say that he is not a partner. It would be wrong for the Palestinians to give up on Sharon and to say that he is not partner. These are now the leaders of both peoples, and they have to negotiate, and don't make their life too easy. (Laughter.)

 

MR. TELHAMI: Yes. The gentleman in the back.

 

Q My name is Frans Tupard (ph), U.S. House of Representatives. If we were to take the Bible or the Torah or the Koran in the historical perspective, we know that the people in the area always fight -- the people who are fought. That was before Greek civilization, before the Roman Empire, and before our time.

 

Why do you think that peace is possible now? What is so important about our time?

 

MR. TELHAMI: This is a question for Yasser Abed Rabbo? (Laughter.)

 

Q Any one of you. (More laughter.)

 

MR. BEILIN: I'll tell you, I think that the history is full of wars mainly because these events are very colorful and very exciting. History, for example, the time of Pax Romana, which was more than 200 years, was quite boring because the Temple of Janus was closed, there was no war. There were very few things to tell about. When there was war before and after, it was a big story. So since the history doesn't refer to boring stories, usually, it is full of wars.

 

Look at Europe, for example. From morning to night, the 30 years, the 100 years, the First World War, the Second -- everything happens there.

 

MR. RABBO: A whole century they were fighting.

 

MR. BEILIN: Yeah. So you can -- you have -- really, I mean, if you take the abridged story of the history, you see that it is a story of wars. It is, of course, a very sad story, and it is a story of wars not because people fought all their lives, but because these were peaks in the history of the human beings. And I don't suggest to be led or misled by this fact. I want to read the empty pages of history, which don't refer to wars, but refer to the normal, boring life that we aspire so much to have.

 

MR. TELHAMI: We have another 10 minutes. I'll take David Makovsky (ph) and then the gentleman afterwards.

 

Q Hi. Good afternoon. I'd like to ask this question to Minister Rabbo. Really, the Palestinians have been very vocal of the mistakes that Israel has made throughout this Oslo process. And I'd like to know if you could a little bit elaborate on what mistakes you think the Palestinians have made in these last few years, some of the most salient -- one or two would even do. What sort of self-criticism do you see? The one self-criticism I've seen on the Palestinian side is the essay of Yezid Sayigh in IISS that I thought was very interesting. I was just wondering what you thought of it.

 

But -- and the second half is in the land-for-peace formula, you might say the Barak proposals were insufficient. But there was a feeling that at least the land, whether it's 97 percent, 95 percent, 92 percent, was very tangible.

 

My question for you is, what could, do you think, be done on the Palestinian side that in the land-for-peace formula that the idea of peace would be every bit as tangible as the land? Do you see speeches that you or that (Rahiz ?) could give on the issue of reconciliation between the two peoples the day after peace? What sort of -- what can you say to the Israeli people that would convince them that the land- for-peace will make them more secure and not more vulnerable? That's the bottom line.

 

 MR. RABBO: The first part, I didn't hear it, I'm sorry.

 

MR. TELHAMI: Mistakes --

 

MR. RABBO: Mistakes. Yeah.

 

Well, to be honest with you, I don't think we committed grave mistakes, except a basic one. We did not insist during the secret talks of Oslo that there should be a clear commitment by Israel to put an end to settlement activities.

 

The government of Rabin and Rabin himself had taken certain decisions, and I remember that it was the Government Decision number 60, I believe -- that was the number -- which had imposed restrictions and control on settlement buildings and settlement activities in 1994. And Rabin at that time tried to convince us that it might be embarrassing for him, it might not be good; let us have confidence in each other that -- to put it -- to put the question of freezing the settlements as a response to Palestinian demand, but they will make it voluntary as a Palestinian decision. This was the basic mistake we made, I assure you.

 

Maybe there are other mistakes we made concerning our -- the building of our own constitutions and our own society. Some people try to justify this by saying, well, we were preoccupied with the negotiations, with the confrontation of the Israeli occupation, et cetera, et cetera. I don't share that. I say we could have done much more better in relation with the internal building of our institutions, of our society, et cetera, et cetera.

It's not any -- (speaks in Arabic) -- it's not too late, but this --

 

MR.: Not too late.

 

MR. RABBO: -- I think we had lost precious years.

 

Now we convince the Israeli -- I assure you, the Israeli public in this is convinced, and I refer you to what I said about the polls in Israel. When it comes to security, we understand; in Israel, there is -- Israel becomes extremist. When it comes to political solutions, even I know people from the camp of the right. They know, they understand that this is the only solution possible. They know it. They say it, you see.

 

So that's why maybe it needs some steps on our side in order to address the security field. Maybe here -- cancel "maybe." Maybe here we did not do enough in order to address this matter and try to really make a wedge between those who want to mix security with politics and those who want to separate between security, as we believe should be done, and politics -- separating between them meaning yes to security, but don't extend the extremism to politics. This is -- I believe we should have done more and we should do much more also in the future.

 

MR. TELHAMI: Yeah. Go ahead.

 

Q (Off mike) -- a lot to say, in fact, but I'll be very quick. I'll try as much as I can.

 

I wonder -- for Mr. Beilin -- if you could comment on those views on Azmi Bishara being indicted basically for his thoughts, opinions, support of Hamas. I'm drawing all this from the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz, you know, the Israeli media.

 

If you could also comment a little bit more in detail maybe on the state -- on the fears of the public opinion in Israel, since that we don't know too much in the media from our side, maybe.

 

And for Mr. Yasser Abed Rabbo, if you could comment a little bit on the state of Palestine that we now talk about. Did you receive, concretely speaking, any guarantees? If there is a state tomorrow, what form it will have? If you -- I'm wondering if you could comment a little bit in detail so we can give some more news on that. Thank you very much.

 

And also, Mr. Ambassador, if you could also --

 

MR. INDYK: I'm not -- (laughter.)

 

Q Are you just --

 

MR. INDYK: Tomorrow morning! (Laughter.)

 

Q: Just one question. Are you just sharing the same optimism we are watching here? Thank you.

 

MR. BEILIN: Optimism? We are optimists?

 

MR. TELHAMI: Just for your information, Azmi Bishara, for those of you who don't know, is an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset who is facing charges -- especially for statements that he made -- who has just been stripped of his diplomatic immunity in order to stand trial on those charges.

 

MR. BEILIN: Well, I separate between the indictment and the immunity. The indictment is a question of the court, and if he's brought to court once he has no immunity, that is something different. But, had I been a member of Knesset, I would have for sure voted against stripping his immunity. It is a mistake, although he said very awful things. But it is a mistake to strip his immunity only because of things which he said or expressions of his thoughts. That is why immunity is given to members of Knesset, and that should be sacred. And it was the first time when the immunity was taken because of expressions.As to the fears on the Israeli side, I think that our story is the story of the very thin ice layer of peace. We were not successful in thickening this ice layer. And on September the 29th, last year, it was broken because of many reasons, and it created a new situation which frightened many Israelis that they trusted there was a partner whom they did not -- they had not trusted too much. It was for Israelis a psychological barrier to break when Rabin shook the hand of Arafat, but they accepted it. Most of them accepted it. And the extreme right had said all the time, "You give them rifles and they will use these rifles against you." And in a way, it happened. In a way, it happened and put us, the Israeli left, the peace team, in a very awkward situation because, you may always have explanations.

 

And people may say they are proud of the Intifada, and things like that. But the bottom line is that we, who promised our people that the agreement with the Palestinians will put an end to violence, we could not deliver the goods at the right moment. And it was easy, of course -- or it was possible to say that the five years of Oslo have passed, but even our government did not bring about peace, that the settlements went on. And all these things that we all know, and that people wanted to fight against the occupation. But the other argument was that occupation was at the verge of its end, and to find a more moderate government than Barak and Peres and Salid (ph) and Beilin and Yuli Tamil and Shlomo Ben-Ami and Haim Ramon would take a long while. I hope not too long.

 

But the feeling was that we did not deliver the goods of non- violence, and that is why it is so difficult. I mean, we are in the business -- it is easier for us to understand the other side. We are on the phone with the other side. We meet them, we know their grievances, we know the internal problems between the Fatah -- (inaudible) -- and this kind of a police and another kind of intelligence. And we know sometimes things that others perhaps don't know and don't want to know. But it is very difficult and sometimes impossible to sell this merchandise. And I think that to build this confidence again will be difficult. It is not impossible and I will never give up on it.

 

But I admit that when we speak about mistakes, we should put Intifada in other category, because the Intifada is more than a mistake. The Intifada is more than a violation of an agreement, because there were violations. It is not a story of saints on both sides. We all committed not only mistakes, but also violations. But the Intifada was another dimension, and this put us all, the peace camp on both sides, in a very difficult situation.

 

MR. TELHAMI: Do you want to --

 

MIN. RABBO: Well, in fact -- thank you for calling us optimists -- (inaudible). I like the definition which says the optimist is the pessimist who knows too much. (Laughter.) So.

 

Well, we heard about this declaration concerning the Palestinian state. But still, as I said, I mean, this is a general position which we welcome, which we think is significant. But it needs, of course, more specifications, more detailed plan, and more action for the implementation of this detailed plan. And we hope that this will come in the future, because otherwise, as I said, when you declare something which is bright and clear like this, you raise the expectations and people expect that something will follow in order for implement what you have declared.

Thank you.

 

MR. TELHAMI: We'll take the last two brief questions from the lady and the gentleman. Start with the lady -- the lady right there.

 

Q Barbara Ferguson, Arab News. I would like to talk to you just briefly about the -- or ask you about the schism that some people find is happening right now in the Middle East and in the Muslim world in regards to Afghanistan. They feel that there will be a kickback of extremism in Israel. And I'd like to address both of you: are you worried -- for example, we have news today that Al-Jazeera broadcasting station was bombed in Baghdad.

 

MR. TELHAMI: In Kabul.

 

Q There's a lot of anger throughout the -- in Kabul, excuse me. And there's a lot of anger in regards to this.

 

MR. TELHAMI: It was bombed in Kabul.

 

Q And destroyed by the Americans, and there's a lot of anger throughout the Middle East in regards to this. I'm wondering, how do you feel this is going to affect future negotiations? Will there be a lot of extremism as a result of what's happening in Afghanistan, in the Middle East? Is this going to be difficult for the Palestinians? And how will the Israelis deal with this? And what would you -- what could you say to the American government in regards to this?

 

MR. TELHAMI: Okay. Let's take the second question together, and have them answer briefly together, please.Gentleman over there.

 

Q: My name is Rasach Tubaishat (sp). I'm from the Arab Gazette. I would like to ask Mr. Yossi this question. Is there any difference between Jewish people who live in Israel and the American Jew? And the second question is, do you think the American Jewish have an interest in reaching an agreement or a peace agreement in the Middle East, if we know that an agreement will make 50 percent of them lose their jobs?

So, do you think that they have an interest in reaching an agreement in the peace process?

 

MR. TELHAMI: Okay. Please feel free to make this your last statements, so you don't have to directly limit it to the questions.

 

 MR. BEILIN: Well, it's not a question of Afghanistan and the ramifications. It is premature to know. It proves one thing: If the only superpower in the world is interested in solving a problem, it can do it. And for me, this is the lesson. And if it is possible there, it is possible in other places, and I think that it should encourage the United States itself to be more involved in our region and to try to put an end to something which is really soluble.

As to the question of the American Jewry, the American Jewry is our brethren. They are people who are our relatives, and we love them and they have good relations with us. But they have their own national interests and we have our own national interests. Of course they would like to see Israel living in peace because they don't want to get up to bad news every day and to hear that there was another explosion in Jerusalem or in Tel Aviv and to be afraid for their relatives. So I think that it is more than selfish for them to be interested in peace in the Middle East, and I think that most of them, according to all the public opinion polls, show how much they would like to have peace.

 

Of course, there are -- like in Israel, there is right and left and there are those who believe that we should never give in or give up on territories and things like that, but this is a small -- a minority which doesn't represent the 5.6 or 5.7 million Jews who live in the United States. And I believe that if there is peace, they will be much more employed, because part of their business is tourism, and there will be much more tourism if there is peace.

 

MIN. RABBO: Thank you. I have, Yani (ph), just a very short comment. I hope that the American Jewish community will help in this moment, this very critical moment, the process of restarting the negotiations once again, the revival of the whole peace process. And I believe there are forces inside the American Jewish community who understand very well that this is an American interest as it is an Israeli and Palestinian interest as well.

 

 And on the other hand, I would like also to say that if Al- Jazeera is bombed or -- I mean, of course we condemn that. We think this is not good. Al-Jazeera has represented, with other channels, a lung for breathing for our public opinion. I should say that frankly. And I was shocked that because it became such a lung, it was criticized by people and circles that had always said there is a need for more democracy, more openness, more freedom in the Arab world. And they were shocked and surprised because Al-Jazeera brought the crazy bin Laden and put him in the front and showed -- Let them do that! Why not?

 

I think the people need more and more to listen from his mouth rather than to listen about him or about what are his policies and intentions. Let him clarify what he wants. This will make more people understand how dangerous such ideas are and that they will lead into catastrophes the region and the nations of the whole world.

 

That's why -- (laughing) -- I'm not here making a lecture about democracy and freedom of press, but I think that there were attempts to suppress Al-Jazeera and suppress other Arab channels, and I think we should all be aware of that.

And we should all thank you, Martin and Shibley, we say, for -- and all the generous people who were attending this, for being patient with us. Thank you.

 

MR. TELHAMI: Well, allow me to extend the broader thanks, on behalf of the Brookings Institution and my colleague, Ambassador Martin Indyk; the Sadat Chair for Peace and Development; and also Debra DeLay (sp), Mark Rosenblum (sp), Lewis Roth (sp), and Americans for Peace Now, thank you for sponsoring this visit of those two outstanding leaders. And thank you all for attending.

 

This is -- I know that many of us may have different interpretations of the prospects for peace now, but I think most of us certainly hope that those two gentlemen are right.

 

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

A Panel Discussion at the Brookings Institution - Washington DC - November 11, 2001