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Another Suicide Bomber Strikes in Israel; President Bush Sends Tough Message to Yasser Arafat

Aired March 27, 2002 - 16:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. Another suicide bomber strikes in Israel. We'll have live reports, including reaction from the Arab Summit, in Beirut.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kelly Wallace at the White House. President Bush is condemning that suicide attack, and sending a tough message to Yasser Arafat.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Major Garrett in Atlanta, traveling with the president. And I'll tell you who Mr. Bush ticked off with his low-key signing of campaign finance reform.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. The Islamic militant group, Hamas, is now claiming responsibility for an attack the Israeli government is calling a massacre. At least 15 people were killed when a suicide bomber set off a major explosion in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya. More than 130 others, reportedly, were wounded.

The blast went off in a crowded dining room of the Park Hotel, where many Israelis had gathered to celebrate the traditional meal on the first night of the Passover holiday. Israeli officials are laying some of the blame of the attack on Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, saying he has failed to crack down on terrorists. Israel says that it will respond in self-defense.

And now let's go to Jerusalem, to CNN's Michael Holmes, there on the scene of tonight's attack -- Michael.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, thanks very much. Yes, we're here to you from Jerusalem, the scene of this bombing, obviously one of carnage. It occurred in the coastal town of Netanya. That's just north of Tel Aviv. As you said, the casualty toll at the moment stands at 15 dead, 130 -- in excess of 130, we're told -- wounded, 26 of those seriously.

As you indicated, this is the traditional time when Jewish families will gather for the Seder meal, which is the beginning of the Jewish Passover, which the celebrations continue for the entire week, seven days. It's a time when Jewish families gather at home to have this meal, and mark the occasion when the Jews had their exodus from Egypt.

It's also a time when many go out to eat. And that is the situation in Netanya, where many, many people have gathered in this coastal town, to eat out and tell stories of the exodus. And to celebrate with their families.

The suicide bomber, which Hamas says came from the West Bank town of Tulkarem, walked into the hotel at about 7:15 here, local time. That was about nearly four hours ago. He walked through the lobby, got to near the dining room, and detonated his explosives. Obviously, the pictures tell the story of what happened next. Walls were blown out, tables overturned. And obviously a large amount of people killed and wounded.

The next step, I suppose, is to ask what Israel will do in response. At a meeting of the Israeli security cabinet earlier in the week, there were discussions about the options Israel had, were the Anthony Zinni cease-fire mission to fail. One of the options raised at that meeting, very clearly, was large scale military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Now that this incident has taken place, one would have to assume that that option would be revisited. Although no decision as yet, on what Israel will or will not do, in response to this terrible attack -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Michael, is the sense there that there's just virtually no security the Israelis can provide that will prevent these kinds of attacks from continuing to take place?

HOLMES: Well, Israeli government officials told me tonight that their forces have actually, in the last ten days, stopped nearly a dozen suspected would-be suicide bombers. That's Israel's figures, a dozen in ten days. But they freely admit they cannot stop every one. They also say they can't hold Yasser Arafat responsible for every one. Although they clearly state that he's not doing enough to clamp down on these sorts of attacks.

This area where this occurred, Netanya, is in a strip of Israel, if you like, between the edge of the green line between the West Bank and the coast. It's a very small strip of land. It's 8 to 10 miles across. And Tulkarem, the village where this suicide bomber, according to Hamas, came from, is only 6 miles from the Green Line.

It's a very short trip across to a place like Netanya. And that strip of green line is one that's very difficult for Israeli forces to patrol. It's not the sort of terrain, if you like, that they can seal off completely. Patrols are frequent in the area. But they say that it's very difficult to stop each and every infiltrator who wants to cross over there, Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Michael Holmes bringing us up to date from Jerusalem. Thank you, Michael.

This bombing in Israel played out on the opening day of the Arab League summit in Beirut. CNN's chief International correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, is there. Christiane, what are they saying about this?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, news of this latest attack in Israel came, really as the Arab leaders were wrapping up their first day of this summit. And so there hasn't been any official response yet, although we are going to get some response from a senior Palestinian delegate later in the hour in your show, Judy.

But what has been going on at the Arab Summit today has been an array of Arab leaders who have been talking about the Saudi initiative that they are planning to adopt over the next couple of days. But also, they have been talking about what they call the Israeli occupation of Arab land in the territories there.

Also, a withdrawal of those occupying forces. And support for the intifada, and for what they call resistance. And they were quite clear that they condemned any attacks on innocent civilians. But of course, all of this before news of this attack came.

And, coupled with this atmosphere that has now arisen here over this summit, is the frank disarray and chaos that we saw here on the opening day of this summit. First of all, two of the key leaders, the president of Egypt and the king of Jordan, did not come at the last moment.

Then, Yasser Arafat, who was prevented from coming here by the Israelis, was due to address the summit by live satellite from Ramallah. The president of Lebanon, who is hosting this conference, pulled the plug on that transmission, and we don't know exactly why. That prompted the Palestinian delegation to walk out.

Nonetheless, underneath all of this, the Saudi Crown Prince did, in his own words, put forth this proposal, this initiative, he has for normalizing relations with Israel in return for withdraw to the 1967 borders.


CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH, SAUDI ARABIA (through translator): I propose that the Arab League presents a collective program to the council of security -- the Security Council, that would be based on normal relationships, as well as security to Israel. And in peril of an independent Palestinian country with the capital, with its capital, Jerusalem. And the right to come back -- to come -- the right for the Palestinian people to come back to their homeland.


AMANPOUR: Now, we're told by all of the officials here that this Saudi initiative will be adopted unanimously when the delegates issue their final communique, which will be tomorrow afternoon. We don't know exactly how the events in Israel will play out, and what kind of effect that will have here.

But certainly, this casting a very deep pall over what was meant to a show of unity, a reach out, as the Arab leaders told us, to the Israelis, to the Israeli public opinion, to try to convince Israel that what the Arabs wanted, once and for all, was a full peace and a full normalization, in return for a withdrawal to those '67 borders -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Christiane, at the same time, this plan has been put there by the Saudi Arabian leader. At the same time, there is another plan, we're told, that Iraq and the Palestinians are working on. Is it a case of two competing plans at this point?

AMANPOUR: Well, I think it may be Iraq and Kuwait, who are working on, obviously, resolving, or trying to resolve, a lot of the outstanding issues that exist between them, stemming from the 1991 Gulf War, the 1990 invasion by Iraq of Kuwait.

That, we are told, is also under consideration. We're told that some leaders from Oman and Qatar have been putting a lot of work in trying to get these two sides together, and trying to get Iraq to comply with all the end of war resolutions and obligations that it had. We don't know whether that will be a successful. We really don't know that, because there's been a lot of talk about how they're both quite far apart. That's another thing we're waiting to hear tomorrow, in the final communique.

WOODRUFF: All right, Christiane Amanpour, reporting for us from Beirut. Thanks.

Now to the White House, for President Bush's reaction to the bombing in Israel, and what happens next? Our White House correspondent, Kelly Wallace -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hello, to you, Judy. Well, you know, Judy, earlier President Bush was sounding upbeat about the cease-fire talks. Saying his Middle East envoy, Anthony Zinni, was making -- quote -- "very good progress." But then, as the president flew from South Carolina to Georgia aboard Air Force 1, he learned about this latest deadly suicide bombing. And he decided to speak out forcefully, putting the onus of stopping the terror on the Palestinian leaders' shoulders.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This callous, this cold-blooded killing, it must stop. I condemn it in the most strongest of terms. I call upon Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, to do everything in their power to stop the terrorist killing.

WALLACE (voice-over): The president's focus now is on special envoy Anthony Zinni's cease-fire negotiations, after a series of setbacks for his administration's stepped-up engagement strategy. Here's how the White House hoped things would go.

Zinni brokers a cease-fire between the Israelis and Palestinians. Then Vice President Cheney holds the highest-level U.S. meeting with Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. That meeting would then give cover to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to allow Arafat to travel to the Arab League summit in Beirut.

But none of that happened. Then, with Arafat still in Ramallah, questions in the Arab world about U.S. influence and credibility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say, if the U.S. cannot deliver, even on a logistical issue, having Arafat attend a summit, having a summit being successful, then how can one expect the U.S. to deliver on more important issues?

WALLACE: Now the most deadly suicide bombing in weeks casting more doubt on the cease-fire talks, and raising the stakes for the White House.


And many analysts say, in light of this latest violence, it is more crucial than ever for the United States to remain deeply engaged. And senior U.S. officials are telling us right now there are no plans to recall General Zinni from the region. He will remain there, trying to work out a cease-fire with the Israelis and the Palestinians.

And, Judy, I can tell you, one senior aide I talked to said, look, there were no assurances when President Bush sent General Zinni to the region. It is a difficult situation, and we know we have to be patient.

WOODRUFF: Kelly, that gets to my question, which is, time and again, these suicide bombings have happened. This one seems to be particularly an egregious example of what's going on over there. At what point does the White House say, you know, we've had it with the Palestinians, and with their inability to control these kinds of events?

WALLACE: Well, you know, Judy, you're really sort of damned if you do and damned if you don't in this one. You know, the United States is sort of in the middle of it right now. They have General Zinni there. As you know, during his previous visits, there had been a lot of violence and so he was pulled back. That led to more violence in the region.

So clearly, the president was saying earlier that there was some progress. So there is some hope that perhaps the Israeli-Palestinian negotiators, together with General Zinni, can achieve some results. Clearly, the pressure though, Judy, mounting and mounting on the Palestinian leader.

I'm sure there will be phone calls. Secretary of State Colin Powell likely to make more calls. More pressure than ever. Clearly, the U.S. is in it right now. And it remains to be seen, where it goes from here -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kelly Wallace there, joining us from the White House. Thanks.

Coming up next on INSIDE POLITICS, we'll discuss the deadly new attack in Israel with a Palestinian cabinet member, who is attending the Arab Summit in Beirut.


WOODRUFF: We go directly to the State Department, where Secretary Colin Powell is commenting on today's bombing and efforts to reach peace in the Middle East.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: On Zinni's work, and of taking maximum advantage of the positive elements that do come out of the summit meeting.

QUESTION: ... details on the progress that General Zinni has made?

POWELL: I really would rather not. Both sides had -- I'll tell you a little bit, but not the whole thing. Both sides had their version of a Tenet work plan and how they would be able to move forward into the work plan. General Zinni discussed with each side their work plan, narrowed the differences, and then had a proposal that would bridge the differences. And that proposal is gaining currency with both sides, and we will see what will happen in the days ahead.

I'm not sure that much will happen, in light of the upcoming holiday period. But General Zinni will remain through the holidays, ready to engage and ready to work at whatever pace the two sides are willing to work at.

But this is the time for Chairman Arafat to get on television, to get on radio, to speak to his people, to tell them that they are destroying their own desire and vision for a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel, behind secure and recognizable borders.

This is the time to stop this kind of activity, and to bring under control all of those elements of the Palestinian Authority that might be participating, or allowing these kinds of activities to go on. This sort of activity, and the tolerance of this sort of activity, will destroy the very vision that the Palestinian Authority stands for, and Chairman Arafat says is he committed to.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what do you have to say to Americans abroad, against whom new threats have just made? In Italy, for the Easter Sunday. there are threats to our own people on holidays, as well.

POWELL: There is a higher threat level in Italy, and we made a public announcement to that effect. And what I would say for those who are travelling in Italy in the specific places that were mentioned, be prudent, be careful. Enjoy yourselves, but display some caution in your activities, where you are. Travel together, and just be very careful and prudent in your activities. Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Secretary Colin Powell, making a strong statement at the State Department, where he has been meeting with the Serbian deputy prime minister. Joining us now from Beirut is Nabil Shaath. He is a Palestinian cabinet member. Mr. Shaath, I believe you heard what Secretary Powell said, that what is going on. He condemned today's attacks in Israel, and said this is the kind of thing that will destroy the hopes of the Palestinian people.

NABIL SHAATH, PALESTINIAN CABINET MINISTER: Well, I join him. And we've always taken a consistent line of condemning actions against civilians, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians. Especially at this time of holidays. I would like to really offer my condolences of all the Palestinian people.

I would like to say also, that activities of this nature just are a part of this deadly confrontation, based on massive Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. And that the sooner we get results out of General Zinni's work on the ground, and a full endorsement of this Saudi peace plan that we are working at here in Beirut -- the sooner we do that, the better we are equipped, by opening up the hope, the real light at the end of the tunnel, for the Palestinian people. To make life worthwhile, as a people.

WOODRUFF: But, Mr. Shaath, President Bush spoke just a short time ago as well. He says, I call on Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority, to do everything in their power to stop the terrorist killing. Now, these statements have been going on and on and on, and yet the killing continues.

SHAATH: Because there is very little in President Arafat's power today that enable him to police a situation like this. The Israelis have managed successfully to destroy every security building or every security vehicle, every command and control center, every communication equipment. And therefore, they have kept every police unit in the streets away from another by a tight siege, that prevents mobility in an absolute sense. And they have kept the siege on the Palestinian people to such an extent, that there is fear.

And many people are willing to die because there is no hope for living. And if these two things, the political hope and the rebuilding of our security apparatus, and the signing of a real agreement link to the future, that will enable Mr. Arafat, and will give him the power, both political persuasion and police action, to stop such incidents.

WOODRUFF: Are you saying the Israelis are responsible, in effect, for this?

SHAATH: The Israelis are responsible for the destruction of all our police capabilities. And the Israelis are -- therefore have reduced the power of Mr. Arafat to deal with such incidents. They're also responsible for keeping the siege...

WOODRUFF: But what about the responsibility of Hamas?

SHAATH: Well, Hamas and others who are responsible, need -- are in a sea of Israeli occupation today, within a Palestinian Authority that have really been -- have lost all its, or most of its police capability, because of the Israeli destruction, the Israeli occupation. It is exactly what General Zinni is trying to do, is to get the Israeli occupation off and eliminate the siege, helping the Palestinian Authority to rebuild its security apparatus. All of these are necessary to give Mr. Arafat the power.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Shaath, one last question. Many will say this proved that the Israelis were right not to let Mr. Arafat travel to Beirut, because he is not able to stop this sort of thing from taking place.

SHAATH: So what does keeping him in Ramallah succeed in doing? Keeping him in Ramallah just increases the frustration of the Palestinian people, and really make for more willing to die for what they consider to be the cause. Unfortunately, it is this mentality of siege and occupation that have made it very difficult for President Arafat to really control the situation. Nothing else.

WOODRUFF: Nabil Shaath, Palestinian cabinet member, we thank you very much for joining us, sir.

SHAATH: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

And we'll bring you up-to-date on all of the Mideast developments after a short break, including the latest on the number of people killed and wounded in this latest suicide bomb.


WOODRUFF: A quick check of our "Newscycle" headlines: At least 15 people are dead and over 130 wounded in another suicide bombing in Israel. The attack happened at a crowded hotel in Netanya, where people had gathered for the traditional Seder, marking the start of Passover. The Islamic fundamentalist group, Hamas, took responsibility for the attack. An Israeli official called the attack -- quote -- "a massacre," and promised retaliation.

Palestinian officials say Yasser Arafat will address the Arab summit in Beirut tomorrow. But it is not clear if he will speak on tape or via satellite. Lebanese officials earlier today refused to let Arafat address the summit by satellite because they said they feared -- quote -- "Israeli interference."

And with us now to look at this story breaking in Israel: Margaret Carlson of "TIME," magazine, Tucker Carlson of CNN's "CROSSFIRE."

Tucker, another suicide bombing, but this one just seems particularly horrific. And it goes on at the time the Arab summit is under way.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": That's right, and in a place that is apparently popular with American tourists. So it will be interesting to see if Americans were among the dead or wounded. It is bad for everybody, obviously. I think, potentially, it could be particularly bad for Sharon, because it points up the fact that Arafat may in fact not be in control, something that critics of Sharon said at the very beginning, when he focused, laser-like, on Arafat as the root of all problems in Israel. And it turns that maybe Arafat didn't want this to happen either.

WOODRUFF: I just interviewed the Palestinian Cabinet minister. He said, "No, we can't control Hamas."

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": It's awful to admit that Arafat might be telling the truth, that he can't control them. But it's not in his interest to have a suicide bombing going on right now. And violence has not been in his interest for a while now, because he really does need to get -- cooperate in the peace talks.

This takes away this argument that some are making that there was an equivalence between Israeli violence and the Palestinians, because the Palestinians target weddings, cafes, bar mitzvahs, and now people on holiday during a solemn holy holiday.

WOODRUFF: But the Palestinian view, as, again, we just heard, is: "But our people are being held down under terribly repressive circumstances. And when you told hold people down like that, they are bound to explode."

And it's happened once again.

T. CARLSON: Well, that's absolutely true, but it doesn't don't make it any MORE reasonable response, blowing up restaurants. I don't think that wins you sympathy in the international community.

I do think all of this works to the benefit -- not to put a political angle on it -- but to the benefit of Benjamin Netanyahu.

WOODRUFF: The former prime minister.

T. CARLSON: That's right, and perhaps future. And you could see him coming back in, as he obviously plans to, and saying: "Look, it is time to build a wall. And that's what we're going to do, and two years from now, seeing a wall start to be erected.

WOODRUFF: Margaret, what about the view out there -- and there was a piece in "The Wall Street Journal" today by Walter Lacor (ph), who has written about this before -- but the point being that there is not going to be peace in the Middle East because there has been a lot of suffering, but both sides have got to suffer even more before they have suffered so much that they're going to be willing to make concessions. Right now, they are not.

M. CARLSON: Well, the blood lust is so high on both sides that you can't see a way out of it, because the vengeance, there seems to be no way for it to end.

Now, I was -- I think I can't be horrified anymore, but I was surprised to see that, not only does Hamas take credit for murdering civilians, but then the murderers have a spokesperson. And that spokesperson is on CNN, as if it is any other kind of spokesperson for any other kind of organization. And he's just murdered civilians.

I mean, this is where we are. I don't know how much lower it can go. And if the wall is built, it will be Netanyahu, because Sharon will lose. He has got a lot at stake right now. These talks need to succeed. They save Sharon politically. If they don't, I think we will see Netanyahu and we will see a wall.

WOODRUFF: And Israeli public opinion is, as you suggest, Tucker, moving in the direction of saying this hasn't worked.

T. CARLSON: Well, absolutely. And the whole point of Sharon, the whole reason he is prime minister is because he was the one guy who could tame the Palestinians, who could keep Hamas under control. And when you can't do that, then I guess people begin to ask: What is the purpose exactly of Sharon being prime minister?

WOODRUFF: All right, we're going to leave it there. Tucker Carlson, Margaret Carlson, thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

President Bush has signed campaign finance reform. Up next: Are the measure's leading advocates all smiles? Perhaps not. Our Major Garrett will have the "Inside Buzz."


WOODRUFF: An update now on the Middle East: Again, at least 15 people are dead, over 130 wounded after a suicide bombing in the Israel coastal city of Netanya. The explosion took place in a crowded dining room of a hotel there in this popular oceanside area, where many Israelis had come together to celebrate on the eve of Passover. The militant group Hamas is taking responsibility for what happened.

President Bush, in this country, signed campaign finance reform legislation inside the Oval Office this morning. And the ink was barely dry when two lawsuits were filed challenging the constitutionality of the law. Mr. Bush told reporters that he doesn't see any contradiction in the fact that he signed the bill before heading off to South Carolina and Georgia to raise some $3 million for GOP candidates.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not going to lay down my arms. I'm going to participate in the rules of the system. These Senate races are very important for me. I want the Republicans to take control of the Senate. And I want Denny Hastert to be the speaker of the House. And these are the rules. And that's why I'm going to campaign for like-minded people.


WOODRUFF: Mr. Bush also appeared to be on the defensive about the way he signed the campaign finance reform bill. Our White House correspondent Major Garrett is with the president in Atlanta.

Major, as signings go, this was pretty low key.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Swift and spartan would be the two words I would use to describe this ceremony in the White House, in the Oval Office.

The only two aides with the president: Vice President Cheney, a constitutional officer, and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser. Hmm, let's see. Do you they have a portfolio on campaign finance? No. Their portfolio is national security, Middle East policy, anything but campaign fiance. I think you can read into that. They were talking about other things. The president signed the bill and moved on.

WOODRUFF: Major, any reaction from the pro-reform folks to the way the president handled this?

GARRETT: Well, there is reaction from one of the key proponents of the campaign finance bill, Senator John McCain, who was a little bit irked that the White House did not have the president himself so notify Senator McCain when the bill had been signed.

A gentlemen named Matt Kirk (ph) placed the call. Matt Kirk is a senior adviser to the president. He works in the Legislative Relations Office. And he knows Senator McCain. He is actually one of the few people who work in the Bush White House who is on, let's say, generally good speaking terms with Senator McCain. In that respect, he is in a distinct minority. He placed the call. Senate McCain said -- and his aides, rather, said that they had wished the president had placed the call himself.

The White House said: "Hey, it's a senior adviser to the president. He is also going to get a personal note and a pen from the signing ceremony. What else do they want?"


WOODRUFF: Very interesting, Major Garrett, all that goes on behind the scenes. We love to hear about this. Thanks, Major.

Well, the president's low-key signing of campaign finance reform got our Jeff Greenfield to thinking about the role of money in politics and what real reform would really look like.

His thoughts in today's "Bite of the Apple."

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: This morning, as you've heard, President Bush very quietly signed the campaign finance reform bill into law. And that sound you're hearing is 100 lawyers, accountants, and campaign operatives flipping through the pages of this new law looking for loopholes. They will find plenty of them.

And that, in turn, will bring us back to a very old question: Just how much does money matter in politics?


(voice-over): According to a new report by the Alliance for Better Campaigns, money is an almost perfect indication of who gets elected to the House of Representatives. The Alliance says that 95 percent of the better-funded candidates won in the year 2000 -- not only that, but the average spent by the winning candidate, $840,000, was 2.5 times the average spent by the losing candidate.

But the story was different in the Senate. In at least half-a- dozen races, the winner spent no more or a whole lot less than the loser. In Delaware, Michigan and Missouri, all three incumbent Republican senators, Roth, Abraham, and Ashcroft, lost to their less well-heeled rivals. And in New York state, loser Rick Lazio spent $13.5 million more than winner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Now, what about the off-year elections of 2001? Well, in two of the three biggest races, New York City mayor and Virginia governor, the winner each spent millions of their own dollars to fund their successful campaigns.


GREENFIELD: Now, this reform group's central the argument is that much, if not most of this money goes for TV time. It wants a new law requiring broadcasters to give free time to candidates. That, unsurprisingly, is something the broadcast industry has successfully opposed for years.

But, given the ability of campaigns to find all kinds of ways to reach voters, direct mail, telephone soliciting, print ads, the bigger question still remains: Does money decide elections? And, if so, can or should anything be done to radically change that system?


WOODRUFF: All right, Jeff Greenfield. And we will be talking to you a little bit later about the Middle East.

We will keep you in the audience up to date on the latest developments in the Middle East in the wake of today's suicide bombing. But up next: How are the Jewish Americans responding to the latest explosion of violence against Israel? We'll have a report on their views and emotions as the Passover holiday gets under way.


WOODRUFF: Jewish Americans are watching the latest violence in the Middle East as they prepare for their own Passover celebrations this evening.

As CNN's Michael Okwu reports from New York, many are deeply concerned, and some are conflicted.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Preparing for Passover, Judith Kahn follows centuries-old rituals: cleansing glasses, removing traces everywhere of leavened bread, separating the kosher from the unkosher. On this high holiday, Kahn is finding it difficult to separate herself from the political turmoil in the Middle East.

JUDITH KAHN, ORTHODOX JEW: It's interesting that holidays are always peak times to reflect and see what's going on, but it's constant now.

OKWU: Constant because the fighting is, its effects felt thousands of miles away in Manhattan's congregation, Kehilath Jeshurun. Even as they perform the most sacred of rituals, burning the last remnants of leavened bread, Kahn and other Orthodox Jews here feel at once conflicted about the policies of the Sharon government, hardened by the violence, and more anxious about ever seeing peace in Israel.

KAHN: It is costing millions, emotionally, financially, psychologically, loss of lives. There's no point to occupy a people. But the point is Israel's survival.

OKWU: Some now support the Israeli government more.

RABBI ROBERT LEIFERT, KEHILATH JESHURUN SYNAGOGUE: It's increased. Being subject to Palestinian terrorist attacks -- people call them suicide bombers. They're not really suicide bombers. The suicide is that they happen to die in the effort. They're really homicide bombers.

OKWU: Twenty-year-old David Speiser is leaving next month to join the Israeli army.

(on camera): One would presume you're willing to give your life to defend Israel.

DAVID SPEISER, JOINING ISRAELI ARMY: Yes. And Martin Luther King said a man without something to die for is not fit to live. But it's to save your brethren. And you can't stand by while your brethren are being killed.

OKWU (voice-over): Whether Orthodox or reform, Zionist feelings are strong among American Jews. But they sometimes disagree on Israel's methods. Last week, the Jewish group Tikkon criticized Israel's policies in the West Bank and Gaza with this full-page ad.

RABBI MICHAEL LERNER, TIKKON: It is a tragic moment in the history of the Jewish people that we should be celebrating our own liberation on Passover while simultaneously dominating the Palestinian people.

OKWU: Joseph Lookstein has been a rabbi at Kehilath Jeshurun for four years. And his congregation is worried.

RABBI JOSEPH LOOKSTEIN, KEHILATH JESHURUN SYNAGOGUE: It's never been like now. It wasn't like this during the intifada, the first intifada. It is on everyone's mind 24 hours a day. Between a rock and a hard place is just such an understatement.

OKWU (on camera): Is the situation just intrinsically impossible? Is that what you're saying?

LOOKSTEIN: I think it is intrinsically impossible.

OKWU (voice-over): Michael, CNN New York.


WOODRUFF: As we listen to American Jewish reaction, we'll discuss the Passover massacre with our analysts Jeff Greenfield and Ron Brownstein when we return.


WOODRUFF: Our lead story: the killing of at least 15 people and the wounding of 130 in Israel's coastal city of Netanya after a suicide bomb attack. The attack took place just as Passover was getting under way on Wednesday evening in Israel. You see this is the activity right around the hotel in this coastal city of Netanya that took place hours ago.

We'll take about the Passover massacre now with our analysts Jeff Greenfield and Ron Brownstein.

Ron, so many people want to just feel despair and want throw their hands up in the air at a time like this. But for the U.S. government, they don't have that luxury.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And that's really I think one of the things the Bush administration has learned over the past 14 months since taking office, that this problem is both intractable and unavoidable.

When they came in, they had a very clear desire to disengage somewhat from the Middle East peace process. There was a sense that Clinton had been overly, even frenetically involved in trying to broker peace and that the process would work better if the U.S. took a step back. Colin Powell even said last summer that high-level U.S. involvement sometimes absolves the parties in the region from making the decisions that only they can make.

But what they have learned is what Dennis Ross, I think, said last summer, who was the mediator for both President Clinton and the former first President Bush. He said, left to their own devices, the two sides will always make the situation worse. And that's exactly what has happened. And I think what really faces Bush now is the realization that there is no way to resolve this, but there's also no way to disengage from it. You have to keep working at it, if only to prevent it from spiraling totally out of control. I don't know how much more out of control there is than this.

But, clearly, the U.S. cannot walk away, because it has so many other interests in preventing this from reaching the stage of all-out war, which it seems on the brink of now.

WOODRUFF: But, Jeff, if the U.S. can't walk away, then what can it do?

GREENFIELD: Well, that...


GREENFIELD: I'm laughing. Laugh, so you do not weep.

I don't believe they can do anything. I said yesterday on this program that all the attention to the Arab summit and the Zinni mission and the 1,500th peace proposal really didn't mean anything if you have got a situation where the sides, one side or another, is absolutely committed to a particular kind of unhelpful process.

In this case, we talk all the time about senseless acts of violence. It is a journalistic cliche. It is not senseless from the Palestinian terrorist point of view. They believe that, if they can keep the level of killing up high enough, that Israel will ultimately buckle and its allies will flee.

If that is the situation, and if Israel is now edging toward a position of using much greater force against the Palestinians, crossing a red line of its own, then I don't believe the United States -- Ron may well be right that they can't walk away, but there is nothing they can do.

President Clinton spent a lot of political capital in the last weeks if not months of his presidency trying to put a plan on the table -- or help broker a plan. And it ultimately ended in complete collapse. So, beats me.

WOODRUFF: Ron, if the two sides don't want to work this out, how in the world can the U.S. make them?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, the U.S. can't make them. And better minds than all of us have spent many years trying to wrap ourselves around this problem.

But I think the one thing we have learned is that, even if you can't solve a problem, there are degrees, there are levels of hell. And there are degrees of difficulty of how bad this gets. And the constant exertion of U.S. pressure may be the only force that is out there to prevent the absolute worst from happening, and keeping some constraints on both sides, and putting some pressure on them to move in a direction towards de-escalation.

And that may be all you can hope for. And it's a very frustrating -- I think it's the kind of thing that President Bush doesn't like, an area that is not black or white. It is really endless gray. You can't really hope for success. What you can hope for is avoiding absolute, anarchic failure.

WOODRUFF: But, Jeff, haven't many people just taken it for granted that it really wouldn't spread, that it couldn't get worse in the sense of spreading beyond Israel and the Palestinians?

GREENFIELD: Well, just look at one example.

Let's say that Israel decides to greatly increase its response to the Palestinians, in view of, for instance, the threat that Iran is arming the Palestinians, as we've heard, that Saddam Hussein is just itching to use whatever he has against Israel. How does the United States tell Israel not to do that, when the United States is, at this moment, trying to persuade its allies that it's necessary to take very drastic action against Iraq because of Iraq's threats against the West?

It is just one of about, I don't know, 20, 50, 100 examples you can think of where this game of three-dimensional chess is a game where every move you can think of seems to be checked, if you'll pardon the metaphor. I don't like sounding so pessimistic, but I don't see any ray of sunshine, any ray of light in this, when you've got all those different situations at play at one and the same time.

WOODRUFF: It is hard not to be pessimistic at a time like this.

Ron Brownstein, Jeff Greenfield, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

We'll have more INSIDE POLITICS in just a moment, but first, let's join Fredricka Whitfield at CNN Center for a preview of what's next on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" -- Fredricka.


Well, we'll have strong reaction on that attack on Passover. We'll hear from President Bush. Also, a warning to Americans in Italy -- learn why there's fear of attack on Easter. It is all after INSIDE POLITICS.


WOODRUFF: Stay tuned to CNN for the very latest on the situation in the Middle East. Tonight at 8:00 Eastern: "LIVE FROM ISRAEL with Mike Hanna."

CNN's coverage continues now with "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Thanks for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff.


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