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Burden of Proof

Is There a Way to Avoid More Violence in Israel?

Aired October 9, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, but violence in the Middle East has marred the sacred day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMAL AL DURRAH (through translator): I say to the Arab world and the Jews stop all the nonsense, stop the wars.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NABIL ABU RUDEISNEH, PALESTINIAN SPOKESMAN: There are great efforts between President Arafat and President Clinton and Kofi Annan and President Mubarak in order to try to find a solution for this crisis. But so far, the situation is very critical and very dangerous.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger is off today.

The sun has gone down in much of the Middle East, and the world closely is watching the region. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak set a deadline for Palestinians to cease violence by this evening Israeli time, which is right now Eastern Time in the United States. That deadline has passed. The Israeli cabinet is scheduled to meet in three hours.

This morning, a senior American official voiced disappointment to CNN that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat did not issue a public call for ending the strife. Today, Arafat is scheduled to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Joining us today from New Haven, Connecticut is international law professor Ruth Wedgwood. And in Boston, we're joined by international law professor Michael Scharf, who's a former adviser for U.N. affairs at the State Department. And here in Washington: Christine Chan (ph), international law professor Jim Feinerman and Stephen Daily (ph). And in our back row, Kevin Conlon (ph) and Matt Pillsbury (ph).

And joining us from Jerusalem is CNN correspondent Mike Hanna.

Mike, first to you, what is going on now in Jerusalem?

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Greta, as you say, that deadline has passed with the sunset in Jerusalem signaling the end of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. There was a great deal of violence in the course of the afternoon, in particular the West Bank town of Ramallah, where once again Palestinian protesters came up against Israeli security forces: the security forces using rubber-coated steel bullets, using tear gas, and according to some reports, using regular bullets or live fire on occasion.

The number of injured there still not quite clear, but certainly a very serious situation, a serious situation, too, for those attempting to broker an end to this particular conflict. As to the ultimatum, the Palestinians have rejected it from the moment it was made on Saturday. Their position has been that it is not up to the Palestinians to end the violence. They maintain that it is within the power of the Israeli government, and in particular, its security forces.

The Palestinians, too, have maintained throughout that what they're asking for is the implementation of several U.N. resolutions, resolutions that they say has been ignored in these months and years of negotiations that have been happening leading up to this current round of conflict.

But the diplomatic initiative continues. U.N. Secretary-General Annan expected here within the hour for talks with both Ehud Barak and with the Palestinian Authority president, Yasser Arafat. But the priority is still to create an environment in which negotiations can take place, in which the leaders could perhaps be brought together again face-to-face in an attempt to broker a lasting end to this seemingly endless round of hostilities -- Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mike, what is the cabinet meeting purpose this afternoon about?

HANNA: Well, the cabinet meeting that will be held is to discuss the round of events, to discuss perhaps what steps the government takes next. One of the things that will be discussed, perhaps -- Ehud Barak said in giving his ultimatum that if the violence doesn't end by sundown on this day, that he will regard the peace process over. He will consider forming a government of national unity.

Now, this in effect would end the peace process dead, the reason being that a government of national unity would most probably include the opposition Likud Party, a party headed by Ariel Sharon, a man blamed by the Palestinians for sparking off the current round of violence by visiting a Muslim holy shrine in the old city of Jerusalem.

So any move to form a coalition government that included the Likud Party, that included Ariel Sharon would mean an end to negotiations, because the Palestinians would be most, most unlikely to be willing to carry on negotiations with a government that included the opposition Likud Party and Ariel Sharon, in particular, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mike, give me a sense of what it's like to walk through the streets of Jerusalem today and this evening Jerusalem time, and how it was like, for instance, a month ago. What's the tension like?

HANNA: Well, on this day, it's a bit difficult, because it is Yom Kippur. So in the Israeli, predominantly Israeli sections of Jerusalem there is no traffic, it was quiet. The buses in the normally bustling bus stations stand absolutely empty. However, a matter of miles down the road, in the West Bank town of Ramallah, massive conflict once again. It's like two separate places.

Our reporter who was in Ramallah returns to this particular environment. It is two different worlds: one on this particular area, the other, a matter of 2 miles down the road in Ramallah. There -- once again, there were gunshots; once again, there was tear gas. And for the most part, Israeli civilians have been kept away from the conflict. The conflict has largely in the past 12 days been occurring in Palestinian territories.

Over this weekend, we have seen incidents of Jewish civilians getting involved in clashes with Arab neighborhoods. That has been happening on a more regular basis, a very dangerous sign indeed. But largely, the greatest scale of the conflict has taken place within the Palestinian territories: this reflected by the figures of the dead and the injured.

Some 90 people killed, all but two or three Palestinian or Arab Israeli, some 2,000 injured. The overwhelming majority of these Palestinians or Arab Israelis.

So just from these figures alone, it's quite clear to see where the bulk of the conflict has taken place: that is within the Palestinian-controlled territories, around predominantly Jewish enclaves -- Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jim Feinerman, do you think the Israeli prime minister overreacted by issuing this ultimatum or was that a proper reaction?

JIM FEINERMAN, INTERNATIONAL LAW PROFESSOR: Well, I think it may have been a proper reaction politically at the time that he made it. But the problem is, if there's no follow through now, he's sort of boxed in. He's in this difficult position, where because of his weak political base in Israel and the pressure he's getting from the right, he may have to act much more seriously than he needs to given the circumstances as they've developed up to now.

I think they were worried that something might happen during the day of Yom Kippur in Israel. Now, that the sun has set there, their worst fears haven't been realized, but he may have to take the logical next step. If he had to call together this government of national unity, that your correspondent is suggesting might occur, I think that's a very unfortunate development for the peace process, and he's unfortunately sort of brought it on himself. VAN SUSTEREN: Ruth, what about this ultimatum in terms of trying to resolve obviously a very sort of volatile situation? Does that in any way encourage resolution, or does this just a draw line in the sand so deeply that the outcome could not be good?

RUTH WEDGWOOD, INTERNATIONAL LAW PROFESSOR: Well, the problem with threats and deadlines is that when the push comes to shove, you often feel obliged to make good of them. But the -- I think the arrival of secretary-general of the U.N., Kofi Annan, gives a perfectly plausible and respectable cover for a delay in any major political change: Just as when Kofi Annan went to Baghdad in 1998 to see Saddam Hussein, it was taken as a stepping down of the confrontation. Here, too, I think it would be disrespectful, in fact, for the prime minister to disregard the arrival of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

VAN SUSTEREN: Michael, what about Kofi Annan arriving? Is that --is that a force to contend with? I mean, does that help resolve it in your mind or does it just simply a little bit of show with no muscle?

MICHAEL SCHARF, INTERNATIONAL LAW PROFESSOR: Unfortunately, maybe a little bit too late. I think in contrast to what Jim said about Barak being boxed in, I think Barak may be creating a box on purposes. A couple of weeks ago he signalled that the peace process may not be working. He knew that even if he signed a peace process, he might not get his parliament, the Knesset, to approve it. And therefore, he started to focus on domestic issues, saying peace may not be the thing that we judge our success for in this administration.

Now, he's playing a very dangerous game. He's saying that Arafat has the responsibility of controlling people when he knows that it's possible that Arafat cannot control these people, and it may be that the reason Arafat has not made a public condemnation is that he's afraid of being shown impotent and unable to control his people in this crisis.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, we're going to take a break. Thanks to Mike Hanna from Jerusalem. We'll be right back. We're going to continue to follow diplomatic developments in the Middle East. Stay with us.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

LEGAL BRIEF

Sundown last night marked the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

(END GRAPHIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We do believe that both sides tried to take some steps to defuse the violence. And let me just say again, I know there are all kinds of other questions being asked, but by far the most important thing is to put an end to the violence and to -- to see this as a sober reminder of the imperative of getting on with this peace process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: The crisis in the Middle East is attracting diplomatic attention from across the globe. As the death toll climbed to 86, U.N. Security (sic) General Kofi Annan and the Russian foreign minister have traveled to the region. President Clinton has proposed a new peace summit, but that offer has not yet been embraced.

Ruth, on October 7th, which was Saturday, the Security Council passed a resolution 1401, the U.S. being the one that abstained.

Let me ask some basics. What is a Security Council resolution? What does it mean?

WEDGWOOD: Well, it's a decision by the 15 -- or in this case, 14 members with the U.S. abstaining -- a decision on anything they care to give an opinion about. What's interesting about Resolution 1322 is it was not a decision under Chapter 7.

VAN SUSTEREN: What does that mean?

WEDGWOOD: That means it doesn't have any binding effect. It's an expression of opinion. It's not a decision that's mandatory and has to be followed by every member state.

VAN SUSTEREN: How is a decision made whether to do it in that fashion or not?

WEDGWOOD: That's subject to negotiations. Basically, Chapter 7 has been overused in the present time, but getting a U.S. abstention here was clearly predicated on the decision to not have it be a Chapter 7 enforcement resolution.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jim, what about the fact that the U.S. Abstained? Why?

FEINERMAN: Well, we're the major friend of Israel, and I think that behind-the-scenes, as Professor Wedgwood was suggesting, there was an attempt to try, although this resolution was clearly going to go against Israel, because every other member of the Security Council felt that way, to get it to be sort of least destructive, or the most constructive, to put it the other way around, form in language that it could be so that Israel wouldn't feel like it was being foreclosed.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is the language that the U.S. opposed, Jim, that they thought that why the U.S. didn't sign on, because the U.S. is a friend of Israel, was it the point -- let me read from the resolution, which says that "They condemn acts of violence, especially the excessive use of force against Palestinians resulting in injury and loss of human life."

Is that a covert -- maybe it isn't even covert -- maybe it's an overt condemnation of Israel. Is that...

FEINERMAN: Well, and I think the other sections of the resolution as well made it clear that this was overwhelmingly anti- Israel without a kind of balancing in the things that the Palestinians have done as well. And the U.S. just wasn't going to go along with a resolution that was that overwhelmingly anti-Israel.

VAN SUSTEREN: Michael, take us behind the scenes. You've negotiated or helped negotiate resolutions. What do you think happened behind the scenes on resolution 1322?

SCHARF: Well, late Friday night, the United States was threatening to veto. And part of what they succeeded in doing and why they didn't veto is that they really watered down this resolution.

One thing that was in the original draft was a clause that said that there should be an international investigation, and this would potentially have led to charges against Israeli military members for excessive force. Another provision that could have been in the draft that was watered down was an explicit reference to Israel. Now, there's just this vague reference that you mentioned to excessive force against Palestinians, but it doesn't directly say that this was done by the Israeli government.

And finally, as Ruth mentioned, this was not a Chapter 7 resolution. So the United States managed to make this more or less just a rhetorical device and not a binding resolution that the Israelis would then be condemned later on for violating, as they have in other occasions in the past.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Let me read another part of this resolution, 1322. It says it "calls upon Israel, the occupying power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and its responsibilities under the fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war of 12 August 1949."

Ruth, what does that mean?

WEDGWOOD: Well, Israel would dispute that declaration by the council. Israel does not consider that the fourth Geneva Convention applies to the West Bank because it denies it's occupied territory, with some fairly technical arguments about the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) mandate and the history with Jordan. But in any event, whether it's occupied territory or not, Israel is obliged to abide by humanitarian standards in treating its own citizens or even resident aliens.

So it's a political red flag. It does not really resolve or change the issue of the appropriate use of force.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jim, do you agree?

FEINERMAN: Yes, and I think one that's interesting in that formulation is that in contrast to some of the previous flare-ups between the Palestinians and the Israelis, at this time, the large number of the people who are involved in the demonstrations against the Israelis are Arab Israeli citizens. That is somewhat contradictory to say that they're anti-Israeli, they are Israelis themselves. But previously, this was seen as an issue between the noncitizen Palestinians, who are real outsiders. Now, the Arabs who have accepted Israeli sovereignty in effect and are citizens of Israel are also rising up, and that complicates the picture for the Israeli government.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mike, I'm intrigued about what you said a few moments ago about the international investigation being taken out of the final copy of resolution 1322, but it part of the draft. What did they envision this international investigation to be, and has there been anything comparable?

FEINERMAN: Well, in fact, there have been a number of international investigative commissions established by the United Nations in the past. One was established by Resolution 780 that led up to the establishment of the Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal. Another one was established for Rwanda, which subsequently led to the establishment of the Rwanda tribunal.

And so the fear of the Israelis and also the United States is if you have an international investigation tied to this language of excessive force and the claim that Israel must comply by the laws of war in its occupied territories, that there would be calls for not only an investigation and condemnation, but international prosecutions.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. We're going to take a break. Up next, we're going to continue to follow the developments in the Middle East and discuss potential diplomatic resolutions. Stay with us.

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

Q&A

Why has the hearing to question General Augusto Pinochet over human rights abuses been postponed?

(END GRAPHIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN GRAPHIC)

Q&A

Why has the hearing to question General Augusto Pinochet over human rights abuses been postponed?

Judge Guzman Tapia has ordered medical tests to determine whether Pinochet is mentally fit to be prosecuted.

There are about 172 complaints, alleging human rights abuses, against Pinochet.

(END GRAPHIC) VAN SUSTEREN: As of earlier today, the death total from 12 days of violence in the Middle East had reached 89. World leaders are searching for diplomatic resolutions to this crisis in the Middle East.

Jim, what started this?

FEINERMAN: Well, where do we start?

VAN SUSTEREN: I know, but what -- I mean, if you're going to sort of cast the blame in one direction, who started this?

FEINERMAN: Well, it's very difficult to establish, but I would say that the provocation for the most recent round for is Ariel Sharon's visit last week to the...

VAN SUSTEREN: To the holy -- the holy sites.

FEINERMAN: ... to the sites that are holy both to Jews and Muslims.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why did he do that?

FEINERMAN: Well, I think he wanted very badly the result that he was able to provoke. He's on the right wing; he's the leader of the political opposition. He sensed Ehud Barak's weakness and feared actually that a settlement would be reached very detrimental to his interests and goals.

And so by going, as he did with, I have to add, the unfortunate assistance that he got from Barak's government and the military force that accompanied him to make the visit, partly, though, because the Palestinians weren't going to be able to provide the security that he needed to make the visit in the first place, all hell broke loose.

VAN SUSTEREN: Michael, do you agree?

SCHARF: I do agree. I think that it's the most interesting thing here is that not that Ariel Sharon went but that the Barak government supported him going by giving him up to 1,000 military security guards. And...

VAN SUSTEREN: Why -- I don't understand. Why did Barak do that? Why was that important to him?

SCHARF: Well, I think it would have been very unfortunate if Sharon had been subject to a mishap, and the Palestinians had said that they were not able to guarantee his security. But it was a big mistake. He could have said, Sharon, do not go, this is unacceptable to us, and if you go you, all hell is going to break loose. And it was his weakness in not making that statement that may be responsible for the unraveling of the events.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ruth, this seems like almost an impossible situation. You've got Barak, you've got Arafat, both of whom have divided constituencies in the terms of they both have very diverse groups that they represent. Even if they were to agree, how do they get their constituencies to be happy and to stop?

WEDGWOOD: Well, the worry always has been is that Arafat is aging, that he's not a democratic leader, he's got a lot of latent challengers, and he might not be able to bring his constituency along.

If I could just also disagree a little bit with the prior argument about who's at fault, I mean, there was this sense that when Arafat rejected Barak's quite extraordinary concessions in the U.S.- sponsored talks that there might be no going back. And when Arafat earlier on this summer was threatening or predicting that he would declare unilaterally the existence of an independent Palestinian state in September, everybody expected that if he did that, there would be fighting. And in a funny way, I think the fighting we now see is the pent-up expectation from that nondeclaration, which Arafat himself created.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you're speaking of expectation. Looking into your crystal ball, what's your expectation? What's going to happen in the next day or two?

FEINERMAN: Well, at this point, it's of course very perilous to say, and the Middle East makes fools of those who try to predict its future.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ruth, are you willing to try to be one of those fools that Jim just said would -- anyone who predicted on the Middle East was a fool?

WEDGWOOD: Sure, look into the lens, look into the crystal ball. My hope is that Barak will be restrained and will not hold Arafat to his -- to the deadline that's expired, that he'll give Arafat credit for efforts to tone down the violence, which may not be fully effective, but which he can give a generous interpretation to. Otherwise, it could be regional war. It's very, very serious.

VAN SUSTEREN: Michael, in the 15 seconds, what do you think?

SCHARF: Yes, let me add to that, that this is the last chance for President Clinton to pull a rabbit out of the hat, and possibly with the assistance of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, there is still hope that this abyss that we're at the edge of, that we can walk back from and assemble some peace out of this.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests today and thank you for watching.

Stay tuned to CNN for live updates on the crisis in the Middle East.

"TALKBACK LIVE" focuses its program on the violence in the region. Tune in and weigh in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. And tonight on "NEWSSTAND" I'll be taking your calls and e-mails on the "Pulse of the Nation." Join me at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 p.m. Pacific. And tomorrow, tune into BURDEN OF PROOF at 12:30 Eastern for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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