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Aired April 17, 2002 - 17:00:00   ET



JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Colin Powell's empty pockets. No cease fire, no withdrawal, no denunciation of terror. The United States secretary of state leaves the Middle East, traveling very light.

COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECT. OF STATE: We could have a cease fire declared today, but what would it mean?


MANN: Hello and welcome.

Colin Powell is the highest ranking official of the Bush administration who would agree to meet Yasser Arafat. Not once, but twice, inside his besieged compound in Ramallah, drawing attention to the fact that even if Israel has made him a prisoner, Washington still considers him a partner.

But after Powell left Wednesday, the Palestinian leader was outraged and unmoved, a measure of how far Powell felt he was going, and what he got in return.

Israel, for its part, is still describing its withdrawal from West Bank towns largely in the future tense. And if it's a promise, it may be the only kind of promise the future holds.

On our program today, the heavy hitter strikes out.

We being our look with CNN's Nic Robertson, outside that final, fruitless meeting in Ramallah.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pulling back, the Israeli army tank outside Yasser Arafat's compound withdraws from view.

Simultaneously, Sect. of State Colin Powell enters the other side of the compound, visible around him the damage wrought to the building by the Israeli army.

Inside the gloomy corridors, home to Arafat for the last 4-1/2 months, glimpses of the accumulating trash that is no longer removed. This, the second of Powell's two meetings with the Palestinian leader in an effort to open a diplomatic door, and break Arafat's Israeli government imposed isolation.

YASSER ARAFAT, PALESTINIAN LEADER: I have to ask the whole international world, I have to ask His Excellency President Bush, I have to ask the United Nations: is this acceptable, that I can't go outside from the door?

ROBERTSON: In the meetings, Powell stressing Arafat's diplomatic door to the world will not open indefinitely.

POWELL: I made it clear that he and the Palestinian Authority can no longer equivocate. They must decide, as the rest of the world has decided, that terrorism must end.

Chairman Arafat must take that message to his people. He must follow through with instructions to his security forces.

ROBERTSON: Among those in Arafat's partially destroyed building, men the Israeli government say are responsible for the killing of an Israeli minister?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These individuals, who we are seeing now, that they have just some people that we are looking for. We speak about the heads of the Popular Front, a terrorist organization that instigated, planned and killed Minister Ze'evi inside Jerusalem.

ROBERTSON: Until these men are handed over, Sharon says he intends to continue Arafat's isolation and the occupation of Ramallah, something Palestinians say strengthens Arafat's hand here, raising his stature among Palestinians.

But Arafat was not about to make a concession. He stuck to his position. Everything on the table for discussion with the Israelis, but only after the Israeli army withdraws.

It is the impasse Powell was unable to break.

Whatever the outside view, the political landscape here appears to offer little hope for a speedy settlement.

15 minutes after Powell's departure from Arafat's compound, the Israeli army tank guarding it was pulling back into site.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Ramallah.


MANN: Israel marked its independence day Wednesday, the 54th anniversary. To Palestinians (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the catastrophe.

Jerrold Kessel now on how Israelis were contemplating their future on a day honoring their past.


JERROLD KESSEL: Independence day. Bar-B-Que time for Israelis. Today, worries are kept on the back burner.

But beyond that, Colin Powell's unsuccessful attempt to get a cease fire has many Israelis concerned things will get worse still.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that the situation will be worse. The suicide explosions and the fight in all the cities in Gaza Strip and West Bank streets, the war there will get worse.

KESSEL: Across town, on the Palestinian side of Jerusalem, Israeli independence is anything but a day for celebration.

But shared is a concern with Israelis that the conflict is only likely to deepen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the situation will deteriorate, if any deterioration is possible, actually, because while the policy of the United States didn't take into consideration Palestinian feelings or even the Palestinians good intentions.

KESSEL: Failure is a term being readily applied to the Powell mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honestly, the situation is worse today than it was seven days ago.

So if we cannot get Sharon to withdraw from reoccupied areas, do you expect to convince anybody that by doing a conference or anything we're going to convince Sharon to withdraw to the '67 border and have comprehensive peace?

KESSEL: Yasser Arafat was absolutely livid after the talks.

With Israeli forces still carrying out Ariel Sharon's declared war on terror inside Palestinian areas, through and now beyond the Powell visit, the Israeli prime minister might have reason to be satisfied he's had his way.

But Mr. Powell has also told Israel it must begin, in his phrase, to look beyond occupation. And there's also been another very tangible gain for Yasser Arafat. He survived Mr. Sharon's attempt to isolate him and make him irrelevant, a declared non-partner.

After two meetings, Mr. Powell was still saying forcefully the Palestinians must make a strategic choice against terror. Yet, the secretary of state emphasized Yasser Arafat is the Palestinian's leader, indicating strongly the United States does not accept the Sharon view.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Powell has come and gone. He was here for five days. Met with Arafat twice, and Arafat is still dependent on Israeli water, Israeli food, and Israeli electricity for communications. If the Israelis decide that they don't want Arafat to do interviews, he's not going to do interviews. That's not a great victory for Arafat either. He's still in the ballgame, but he's really hanging by a very thin thread.

KESSEL: Mr. Powell was also at pains to stress the attempts to get a cease fire might have been premature, that the mediation mission was still in its middle, and that he will be back, or that during this tour he'd been unable to prod the two sides into the kind of stability he says the United States is seeking for the region.

During this visit, Mr. Powell wielded no big stick, either against Yasser Arafat or Ariel Sharon, but there is patently a new element in the picture, United States resolve. Washington reengaged and saying it's determined to end the conflict.

And if this time the United States message was only a warning, the warning seemed clear enough, that when the United States again says enough is enough, it will expect the change in attitudes it's demanding of both sides will really be heated.

Jerrold Kessel, CNN, Jerusalem.


MANN: We have to take a break now. When we come back, we'll hear from the chief Palestinian negotiator and Israel's defense minister. Stay with us.


BINYAMIN BEN-ELIEZER, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER: I think he has done his utmost to try and bring both sides to sit around the table. By the way, this is the only place that you can solve problems. And I'm telling you as a military man, no military solution. The only place -- and at the end of the day, we'll have to sit around the table. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


MANN (voice-over): The living, the dead, and the ongoing debate about Jenin.

Medical workers are finding some bodies and bringing some assistance to the people of the Jenin refugee camp, but by many accounts it's not enough.

The International Committee of the Red Cross wants search and rescue teams sent in. A spokesman said the teams were needed to remove bodies known to be under the rubble and to hunt for possible survivors, because some camp residents report hearing cries.


(on camera): Welcome back.

In Europe and elsewhere, there are calls for an international investigation into Palestinian charges that Israeli troops massacred hundreds of men, women and children in Jenin.

Israel denies it flatly, but it has also offered widely varying casualty figures and tried to keep journalist and aid agencies from moving independently through the camp.

Israel's defense minister spoke to CNN's Wolf Blitzer about Jenin and other topics earlier in the day.


WOLF BLITZER: Defense Minister, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it. I know you've got a very hectic schedule.

The Israeli withdrawal from the areas recently reoccupied on the West Bank, how many more days will it take before the completed withdrawal happens?

BEN-ELIEZER: Well, as we have promised Sect. Powell, it's a matter of days.

BLITZER: How many days?

BEN-ELIEZER: I think by this coming Sunday I may say that the majority of the territories, what we call area A, will be evacuated.

Jenin, Chaim (ph), and the majority of the area in Ramallah itself, except there are two problems.

One is in Bethlehem, where still we are keeping in the church the terrorists. I hope that someone will find a solution to release them in a way that we can just give up Bethlehem as well.

And the last thing is the five murders that are kept by Arafat himself.

BLITZER: Five individuals in Ramallah. So you're going to encircle his compound until he hands those five individuals over to you?

BEN-ELIEZER: Well, there is no other alternative. I mean, we have offered that a long time ago.

BLITZER: Who are the five people you want?

BEN-ELIEZER: Those are the people that are very involved in the massacre and the shooting of Minister Ze'evi.

BLITZER: The tourism minister of Israel.


BLITZER: Who are they?

BEN-ELIEZER: We know them. We know them by names. They are there.

BLITZER: Do you want to tell us who they are?

BEN-ELIEZER: No, it's not necessary.

BLITZER: Just to precise, if those five people you want inside Arafat's compound are handed over, will he then be allowed to travel freely, or will he remain isolated in that building?

BEN-ELIEZER: I can imagine that once they will be released, those few people will be released, I don't think there will be any more restricts for Arafat.

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong; it doesn't appear that the secretary of state of the United States, Colin Powell, achieved much.

BEN-ELIEZER: Well, first of all, let me say our appreciation to Sect. Powell. I think he has done his utmost to try and bring both sides to sit around the table. By the way, this is the only place that you can solve problems. And I'm telling you as a military man, no military solution. The only place -- and at the end of the day, we'll have to sit around the table.

BLITZER: With Yasser Arafat?

BEN-ELIEZER: With everyone. With any Palestinian. Anyone is relevant, as long as he is willing to be a leader of peace.

BLITZER: Did he achieve anything, though/

BEN-ELIEZER: First of all, the Israeli forces are going to evacuate the area within a few days. Related to the Israeli side, I think he achieved whatever he worked for. Now the problem is on the other side.

Now the other side has to decide where he is going now, because he has asked the other side to try and to do everything in order to change this strategy, a strategy of terror, of massacres.

BLITZER: You know the accusations also against Israel, that the Israeli military committed so-called massacres in Jenin, that a lot of innocent Palestinians, women and children, were needlessly killed as you continued in your assault.

BEN-ELIEZER: You know, all that I can say is that we never lied. We never lied. As much as it (AUDIO GAP) us. I mean, we always ask, and we say yes or no. We never massacred people.

In the country, if someone will go and check what happened in Jenin, I call it the capital of the terror, I ordered the soldiers to go from one corner to another corner, step by step. That's why 23 of us have been killed there.

BLITZER: 23 Israeli soldiers.

BEN-ELIEZER: 23 Israeli soldiers have been killed there. We could probably.

BLITZER: But how many Palestinians were killed?

BEN-ELIEZER: No more than 45.


BEN-ELIEZER: No more than 45, sir. That is what we have counted. And you know, the amazing thing, that we have found among them -- most of them, by the way, were uniformed, and two of them, just recently we found them, were suicide bombers.

BLITZER: But there could be a lot more bodies underneath the rubble from those buildings that were bulldozed.

BEN-ELIEZER: I don't believe so, because we are working very hard to see if there is anything missing. We are trying, so far.

We offered, by the way, every support possible. We offered them every support possible.

BLITZER: Is there any imminent resolution at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to this standoff that has continued with some 200 armed Palestinians inside?

BEN-ELIEZER: Well, I think the only solution is that they will give up, as all their fellows have given up. We promised them one thing -- all innocent, we will release immediately. And all the remaining that have been accused, they have two possibilities: either to remain here and to be judged here, to go to trial (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That's all.

BLITZER: They've rejected that proposal, though.

BEN-ELIEZER: Well, I don't know. They are still working. I hope that we will come to an end, because we have patience. We are very patient.


MANN: We take a break now. When we come back, a Palestinian who was at the negotiating table, an America who's been there before. Stay with us.


GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: And all parties must realize that the only vision for a long-term solution is for two states, Israel, Palestinian, to live side by side in security and in peace.



MANN: Welcome back.

The Palestinian Authority has lost control of much of its territory. Its leadership has lost its freedom to move. On this day, they lost their temper.

We're joined now by chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, on the phone from Jericho.

Thanks so much for talking with us.

Let me ask you one basic question before we go further. The last time we heard from you, you were in Jericho because you couldn't get out. How much freedom do you have to move now?

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Not much, Jonathan. Actually, I left to see Sect. Powell. It was arranged through the Americans and then (UNINTELLIGIBLE) came with his car with a Norwegian flag, took me in his car to the Ramallah compound and brought me back. And that's the only way I can move.

MANN: What happened in Ramallah? We saw Yasser Arafat looking just about as angry as we have seen him in a long time. Can you give us a sense of the tone of the meeting and what it was that so outraged him?

ERAKAT: It was a very difficult meeting. It was a very candid meeting.

The president expected that when President Bush said he wants the Israelis to withdraw immediately, and then the next day he said I mean what I say, and then Sect. Powell repeats it and echos the sound of immediate withdrawal in Madrid, in Jordan, in Egypt and Morocco.

And then today we are told that Sharon's pace of, propaganda, withdrawals, there will be withdrawals he is saying in two days or three days from this place or that place, while we all know that we no longer have Palestinian areas. We no longer have Palestinian controlled areas. Even the places that he takes his tanks out, he gives them still the right to go again and gives himself overriding security responsibility to all our areas, which means that he is in breach of total agreement signed, and he is acting as if we did not sign any agreement.

The second point is that if, after all the effort exerted by Sect. Powell, and there were many, many efforts exerted by the secretary, he could not get Sharon to get out of Ramallah or Bethlehem. And then to come and suggest that we can have a conference for a permanent solution.

Do we expect that if the American could not get Sharon out of Ramallah and Bethlehem to have a meaningful conference that will get Sharon to withdraw to the June 4, 1967 borders.

The last point that really triggered the meeting was the issue of the transport suspects -- the Israelis call it transport suspects, of the people who killed Minister Ze'evi.

And Jonathan, let me reveal a secret to you tonight, openly. Five weeks ago, Palestinian Authority arrested these four people in Nablus. And in accordance with an agreement signed, we were supposed to bring them to Palestinian justice, and we had to transfer them from Nablus to Ramallah.

And we contacted the Americans and the Israelis, and these four people that the Israelis now are saying they're besieging the compound and they will not leave before we hand them over, were escorted from Nablus to Ramallah by the Israeli Defense Forces, by the order of P.M. Sharon, Def. Min. Ben-Eliezer, he knows this very well, and the chief of staff, Shaoul Mofaz.

And they know that in accordance with agreements signed with them and in accordance with article 27F2 (ph), and that's per interim agreement 1995, they are not supposed to ask for the transfer of these people who were supposed to appear in front of Palestinian court, and now who were escorted from Nablus to Ramallah by Israeli military escorts five weeks ago.

Now they're using the pretext that we're besieging the president, we're keeping him confined to his compound, until he hands over these people, which they have no right to do.

MANN: You've made a number of points here. They're all important, but that last one is new, to me at least.

You're saying that these men were in Israeli hands and the IDF willingly handed them over to the Palestinian Authority?

ERAKAT: No, Jonathan, that's not what I said.

They were arrested by the Palestinian Security Forces in Nablus, which is about 40 miles to the north of Ramallah.

MANN: But the transfer, you said.

ERAKAT: Yes. Then we were supposed to transfer them. Now, the area between Nablus and Ramallah is an area under the Israeli military or security jurisdiction. They control that area, the roads.

So in order to transfer them, we informed the Israelis, we informed the prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of staff, who provided military escorts in our cars -- the suspects were in our cars. And they were brought from Nablus to Ramallah, to the jail in Ramallah, by an Israeli escort.

That is the truth.

And now Sharon and the defense minister are saying unless you hand them over, we are going to keep the compound besieged and we're going to keep President Arafat -- this just reflects the point that Sharon's endgame is not to hand over this or that. Sharon's endgame is to destroy the Palestinian Authority, destroy the peace process, and kill President Arafat, and I think maybe their next move will be to storm the compound using this pretext.

MANN: Saeb Erakat, I'm going to have to cut you off there. An interesting point and some details we're hearing now about the transfer of these prisoners. The Israelis may say irrelevant, or not, we'll look into them more.

That's the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, speaking to us.

The United States, despite what we've just heard, insists that Colin Powell made progress on his visit. United States officials say he did help persuade to begin a partial withdrawal from the West Bank.

It looks like small change for a man who was said to be carrying the prestige of the world's only super power.

The Bush administration spent its first 16 months in office trying not to get that kind of involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At one point, Mr. Bush seemed to even blame Bill Clinton and his active engagement in the Middle East for the current violence.

Mr. Bush backed off that assessment, but he now finds himself in pretty much the same position as his predecessor, and that is to say he too is now stuck in the middle.

We're joined by Peter Tarinoff, undersecretary of state for political affairs in he Clinton administration.

Thanks so much for being with us.

A lot of anger from the Palestinian side. Not a whole lot of progress on the Israeli side, it would seem. What do you think of the Powell mission?

PETER TARINOFF, FMR. U.S. UNDERSECY. OF STATE: I'm afraid that it is a failure, and there is a perception in the region and now in the United States that it did not achieve its objectives.

What concerns me the most though is that the reaction in Washington may now be to pull back, to have the United States do even less than the president seemed inclined to do a week or ten days ago, and I think that's exactly the wrong lesson from the Powell mission.

The reason in my view it did not succeed was that he was not able to do more. He could only bring the demands of the president, the legitimate demands that the president had made with regard to withdrawal and the end of terrorism, but he did not have anything else to offer.

And unless and until the United States is willing to give a vision of what the final settlement might be between Israel and Palestine, I think there is very little chance that in isolation the United States will be able to bring an end to the violence.

MANN: Does the United States have that kind of a vision? Or, short of that, does it even a strategy on how to work towards some kind of vision?

TARINOFF: Yes, I think the vision is out there. It started in the Clinton administration at Camp David II. It was pursued by Israelis and Palestinians in Taba (ph) at the end of the year 2000. The Sharon government has been very reluctant to elaborate on that vision.

But unless the United States can take the lead in giving hope to the Israeli and Palestinian people that at the end of the day Americans will be with them in terms of formulating the arrangements between what everyone understands will be a Palestinian state adjacent to Israel, I think the chances of progress on security and other issues, antiterrorism being very important, is very unlikely.

MANN: How much does the failure of this effort damage any future effort?

TARINOFF: I think it damages the chances that this administration will do what it should have done 15 months ago, and get involved in a significant way, the way not only the Clinton administration did, but seven administrations beforehand had understood that the only way to make progress in an area of great importance to the United States is to be involved.

And I think that means having a high level negotiator, someone at the level of let's say former Sect. of State Jim Baker, and making clear that it is in the highest national interest for this problem to be solved.

If this administration has the political courage to take on the issue, I have no doubt that they can find people of goodwill on the Palestinian side as well as the Israeli side, to work with.

MANN: Is the administration hamstrung by its position in the war on terror? President Bush saying famously many, many times that the United States would never negotiate with terrorists, would never tolerate terrorism, would never work with people who do tolerate terrorism, and then it finds itself sending its secretary of state to meet with Yasser Arafat, a man who is in charge of FATA. FATA is itself the father of the al-Aqsa Brigades, the people who have been carrying out some of these most dreadful attacks.

Is the Bush administration, you think, regretting the position it took earlier?

TARINOFF: I'm not sure the administration regrets what it said about the war on terror, but the historical fact is that in these kinds of wars -- and we've seen this for the last 50 years. When a negotiation emerges between parties that have been not only at war together, but indulging in what one side and the other call acts of terror, you still have to have the parties sitting down and working together.

And it's not so much that this would be an American imposed solution, but I think that there is no way for ideas leading towards an accomodation can come forward, unless the United States in essence becomes the honest broker between the two sides.

Absent that kind of United States involvement, the terror and the counter-terror will go on for a very long time.

MANN: Peter Tarinoff, former United States undersecretary of state, now president of the International Advisory Corporation.

Thank you so much for talking with us.

TARINOFF: You're welcome.

MANN: And that's INSIGHT for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.





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