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Interview with Marc Ginsberg

Aired March 31, 2002 - 07:49   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And just to bring you up to date on what we've been talking about. A suicide bomber blew himself up. We presume it is a he, in a crowded restaurant in the port city of Haifa in Israel just within the past hour or so. We have it confirmed from a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that at least 14 are dead, perhaps as many as three dozen are injured. Rescue workers clearly on the scene, as you can see from some of these images taken of the Mazza Restaurant, a crowded restaurant in the port city on an off day, a weekend retreat for many Israelis.

We are tracking it as details unfold. It is the fourth suicide bombing in five days, bringing at least to this moment, the number dead as a result of these suicide attacks to 70.

Let's bring in one of our analysts to talk a little bit about this. Marc Ginsberg joining us from Washington.

Mr. Ginsberg, good to have you back with us.


O'BRIEN: This is another somber note on yet we meet. Put this one in perspective. The crescendo continues. Where does it go from here?

GINSBERG: Well, it's going to be very hard for the Israelis to stop suicide bombers. And the Israelis, I think, are hunkering down. They've declared this as a war. Where we're going from here at this point in time is that the focus should be less on Arafat's confinement, I believe, and more on the Israeli mobilization and the military actions that they probably are beginning to take more extensively in the West Bank.

You've heard Ms. Ashrawi say that many, many Palestinians are being rounded up. She also made it very clear that Mr. Arafat will not make any declaration in calling for a cessation of terrorism. In effect, she only confirmed what the Americans and President Bush realized yesterday, when he make his statement, that this -- these acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians will continue.

And Mr. Arafat, whether he was under confinement or not, could have had the opportunity to have implemented the Zinni mission's cease-fire call, which he refused to do. So where do we go from here? The Israelis are going to continue their incursion. They are going to try to find the leadership of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa brigades, particularly, probably going after a gentleman by the name of Bargudi (ph), who is head of the al-Aqsa brigades and who is the direct link between Mr. Arafat and the terrorist organizations.

Most likely, the Israelis are going to have to hunker down for more of these terrible attacks. And unless there's an intervening force, and as you saw from the newspapers this morning, there's a significant amount of debate both within the Bush administration and outside the Bush administration as to what extent should the United States get further involved in this process, other than what the president said last night. And I'm sure that you and I have will have an opportunity to debate and discuss whether or not there should be more U.S involvement than merely the mission of General Zinni at this point in time.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's talk about that in just a moment. But I want to go back to something that Ra'anan Gissin brought up and which Ms. Ashrawi, I don't think she directly addressed it, because we didn't ask her that question specifically. But the question is, is Yasser Arafat fast on his way to irrelevance or is he already there?

GINSBERG: Well, the Israelis tried months ago to declare him irrelevant. He's not irrelevant. Whether the Israelis have him under confinement, and I question, frankly, whether or not that is going to serve their long-term interests, he indeed has the popular support of the Palestinian people. He remains a symbol of the Palestinian people.

But unfortunately, for the Israelis, he's no longer a credible peace partner. They are holding the door open still for him to reverse his action under duress. Look, it's clear, Miles, what they're trying to do here. They're trying to force him to make an about face. And I have serious doubts whether Prime Minister's Sharon's government is going to get Mr. Arafat to do precisely what they want at this point in time.

O'BRIEN: All right, but the issue that comes up all the time is this -- it is a Catch-22 in the sense that there really isn't an alternative there. If Yasser Arafat is exiled or held in his Ramallah compound indefinitely, unable to keep his hands on the levers of power in Palestine, there is no effective leadership to the Palestinian Authority. And therefore, there really is no potential partner for peace. So what do the Israelis do then?

GINSBERG: Well, I agree with you. You're absolutely right, Miles. In the end, he is the person who is most capable, ultimately, of at least getting a significant number of the Palestinian people to see a vision beyond the current wave of violence and counter violence.

The Israelis have made it clear that they don't intend to harm him, but you know, under the circumstances that he's in -- let's remember, this guy is not -- you know, Mr. Arafat is not a 25-year-old man. He's a very ill, considerably under siege individual. This is not a man who has been well for many years.

And he's, you know, he's isolated. He therefore is reverting back to what he knows best. He's hunkering down into his bunker mentality. And he's not in contact with world leaders. I really question whether the Israeli government in the end is going to be able to have him change his mind, if he's not even being influenced by the likes of other Arab leaders who may not be able to be in contact with him.

O'BRIEN: And when you have a leader, as we look once again at these pictures of the Mazza Restaurant in Haifa, Israel where we're told by Ariel Sharon spokesman at least 14 have died in the fourth suicide bombing attack in five days. At least three dozen others injured, a crowded restaurant on a weekend day, weekend port city retreat for Israelis.

Going back to Yasser Arafat, when he says in statements I'm prepared for martyrdom, that says an awful lot about where he might be headed and where his mind is. I'm curious what the Israelis do if Yasser Arafat becomes a martyr?

GINSBERG: Well, he's already designated a successor. There are individuals who are more than willing to seize the mantle of leadership. Miles, within the Palestinian leadership, there's an enormous frustration, I'm sure, with his positions. I know that there's been disagreements among his top lieutenants over the course of action that he's undertaken.

There are three principle players among the Palestinians. The first is the person, General Dalan (ph), who controls the security in the Gaza Strip. The second is Mr. Oju (ph), who is the head of Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. And then there is Mr. Bargudi (ph), who is the head of the -- an ostensible head of the al Aqsa brigades. And then there's the so-called West Bank political leadership; Saeb Erakat, Nabil Shat (ph), those who you see on CNN frequently.

But it's going to ultimately be a battle between whatever remains of any so-called moderate forces among the Palestinians and Hamas and Islamic Jihad. And I don't know how one would play that out, except to say that the Palestinian population is surely become more radicalized, just as the Israeli population has become.

O'BRIEN: Is it just -- is it so obvious that we don't state it up frequently that Hamas is trying to wrestle control over the Palestinian Authority from Yasser Arafat?

GINSBERG: Well, Miles, you hit a very important point. The fact remains here is that Mr. Arafat made a calculated decision about a half a year ago to a year ago, where he was increasingly losing support among his population to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. And so, the al Aqsa brigades are a direct outgrowth of the Fatah organization, because under the theory that if you can't beat them, join them.

He realized that he was going to have to ratchet up the utilization of attacks against Israeli civilian targets, if he was going to maintain some semblance of political control over his own people. That's the direct consequence, I think, of what you're seeing right now, is the fact that Islamic Jihad and Hamas increasingly were gaining control over the Palestinian population at Arafat's own expense. And that is the decision that he made, in effect, to create the al Aqsa brigades.

O'BRIEN: All right, Marc Ginsberg. We're going to have to leave it there. We'd like you to stay, standing by with us throughout the morning. As details dribble in, we will bring them to you. And we will share your insights with our viewers as they all become available.




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