Q&A WITH JIM CLANCY
Palestinians Angry Over Israeli Air Strike
Aired July 24, 2002 - 15:30:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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JIM CLANCY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Palestinians continue to bury their dead in the wake of an attack by Israel that killed a top Hamas leader and claimed the lives of 14 others, mostly civilians, nine of them children. 150 others wounded.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We deeply regret the loss of life of innocent civilians, and especially children. We are not targeting innocent citizens. We are not targeting children. We are targeting those terrorists who are perpetrating this terror against innocent Israelis.
CLANCY: In Ramallah, claims the attack was an attempt to sabotage efforts to end Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: We had a very serious dialogue, Palestinian-Palestinian dialogue going on, with all political Palestinian parties, in order to stop all sorts of violence, attacks, including suicide bombings.
CLANCY: But now, Israel makes moves forward with plans to ease conditions for the Palestinians, including unfreezing about $45 million in Palestinian tax revenue.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to fight Palestinian terror, but we don't want the Palestinian people to suffer. It is our responsibility to see that they will get all the things which are necessary for an honorable life.
CLANCY: On this edition of Q&A, is this the turning point?
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(on camera): Hello and welcome. I'm Jim Clancy. This is Q&A.
And tonight, P.M. Ariel Sharon described the killing of Hamas terror leader Salah Shehadeh as a great success shortly after an F-16 delivered its bomb on his Gaza home.
That was on Monday, but mid-week widespread international criticism, calling for revenge from Hamas, and official regrets from Israel about the civilians who died in that attack. Some Palestinians say P.M. Sharon's government timed the strike to coincide with negotiations that could have ended suicide bomb attacks on Israelis, something that Israel denies.
But now Israel says it's going to be easing restrictions on the Palestinians, and will release millions in Palestinian tax revenue that it had been holding.
Is this a turning point?
First, with us on the line from Jericho is chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.
Saeb Erakat, there are reports that are surfacing from the "London Times." It is reporting that there was a deal reached, in its words, the words of its report, "a Palestinian declaration containing an unconditional commitment to end suicide bombings and attacks on civilians, finalized hours before this attack in Gaza."
They were supposed to be made public on Tuesday. Instead there was a strike and now they've been postponed indefinitely. Is that report true?
ERAKAT: It's true, Jim.
There was a serious internal Palestinian dialogue taking place over the last 20 days, actually, in the West Bank and Gaza, and I heard from my colleagues who were carrying out these meetings and this dialogue, that a deal was done to declare a stoppage to suicide bombings and violence, to give the peace process a chance.
CLANCY: Who had signed up to the deal?
ERAKAT: The dialogue was going on between various political parties. I don't know the individuals who were involved in the deal, but it covers all the political parties, and the opposition and others.
But you have to keep in mind, Jim, that aside from this internal Palestinian dialogue, we just had, at least 48 hours before the attack in this residential area in Gaza, we had a meeting between Palestinians and Israelis, which was a very serious meeting.
And the third dimension -- you have to look very carefully at the regional involvement. You have seen Egyptian, Jordanian, Saudi involvement in this tract, aside from the international involvement by the European Union and the United States and others, Russians and others, and the United Nations, in order to revive hope and revive the peace process.
I believe whoever planned and carried out the attack knew very well of these dimensions of these interactions. I believe it was a deliberate attack.
You know, to use a 1 ton bomb, and I repeat, Jim, a 1 ton missile bomb, at a residential area in Gaza, an apartment building of four floors, with buildings around it, and then to say that we regret the killing of civilians -- we're normal people, Jim.
We send our children to sleep at 8:00 in the evening. We go to bed around midnight. So whoever ordered the firing of this 1 ton bomb, and knew that this residential building housed wives, husbands, children, and it's really a major crime.
CLANCY: How long had Salah Shehadeh lived there? I mean, was it well known that he lived there?
ERAKAT: I really don't know. But his wife and three children were also killed in the attack.
And Jim, let me tell you, nothing should justify this attack. Nothing whatsoever. And I am appalled by the Israeli reaction of trying to justify the total destruction and the massacre of women and children, and they say we killed this guy or that guy.
Nothing justifies this attack. This is an attack of an act of state terror. This should not be tolerated and should not be justified, and I had hoped that Israeli officials will stand up to condemn this attack.
Unfortunately, all I hear from them is, you know, a sense of regretting the killing of civilians, caring about the well-being of Palestinians, easing the restrictions on Palestinians only on CNN, only on the BBC, but in real life, we continue to bury our dead.
Anyway, having said that, Jim...
CLANCY: All right...
ERAKAT: Go ahead.
CLANCY: You've got to go someplace from this, and I want to get back to this deal.
According to the "London Times" report, it's saying that the Tanzim, it's saying the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and others, were in on what would be an end to their attacks on Israeli civilians, suicide attacks. And I'm just wondering: was Hamas in the deal? Were there negotiations going on between representatives of various factions like Hamas and al Aqsa?
ERAKAT: Hamas was in the dialogue, and all other parties were in the dialogue, Jim.
And as I told you, it had reached almost a declaration of an agreement, and as a matter of fact, we have submitted to our Israeli colleagues on Saturday evening meeting, a plan that outlines what we were doing internally and the great effort that's being exerted to do so.
And then came the statement of Sheikh Yassin, actually, expressing for the first time a willingness to stop the suicide bombings if the Israelis withdraw from the areas they occupied.
We had it in writing and the documents we gave the Israelis, to give us the chance by stopping all assassinations, abductions, bombardments, and to begin a process of lifting a closure on the siege, because we wanted -- we told the Israelis, we have been focusing on the problem in this vicious cycle. You focus on the problem, we focus on the problem. We are living a vicious cycle that must be broken.
You know, today Israel bombards and then Israelis will die on their streets by suicidal bombings. And we (AUDIO GAP) focus on the solution. And we said the solution... (CROSSTALK)
CLANCY: What -- carry it forward. Right now, Israel is freeing up millions of dollars of Palestinians money, tax revenues. They have said they have forgiven some debts owed to them by the Palestinian Authority. Workers permits are being issued.
Those kinds of steps right now, will they make a difference?
ERAKAT: Well, Jim, I'm the man -- I'm Israel's interlocutor now and I haven't heard any of this. And we discussed these issues.
The funds that are being held -- it's Palestinian money. It's Palestinian revenue that's been held by Israel for the last 22 months.
I have not been notified by anybody that they will release the funds. I will not -- I have not -- they raised the issue, and we raised the issue in the meeting.
But so far we agreed on a series of meetings, and none of those meetings took place. And I hope that this announcement by the Israelis are not directed towards public relations.
We need to see to it that we give, you know, every effort to the peace process. We give every effort in order to save lives is Israelis and Palestinians alike.
And this should be done through resuming a meaningful peace process.
CLANCY: All right.
ERAKAT: But the attitude of the Israeli government, the Israeli officials...
CLANCY: All right...
ERAKAT: ... who come out and demonize the Palestinians and just speak about terrorism, Palestinian terrorism, and without undermining the fact that this government continues with its settlement activities, the closures the siege...
CLANCY: All right...
ERAKAT: ... the reoccupation. And that must stop. That must stop.
CLANCY: All right. Saeb Erakat, there with us from Jericho. Our thanks to you. Saeb Erakat, chief Palestinian negotiator.
With us from Jerusalem now, Dore Gold, advisor to Israeli P.M. Ariel Sharon.
Did Israel know about a deal that was in the offing -- assurances from the Palestinians, efforts by them to broker a deal to end suicide attacks on Israeli civilians?
DORE GOLD, SHARON ADVISOR: Well, I wish it was all true. And I think all Israelis wish it was all true. But there is absolutely no indication that there was a Palestinian deal, an internal Palestinian deal, or an Israel Palestinian deal, to stop Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians.
Again, we wish it was true, but there were no even indications. We saw, for example, that the...
CLANCY: Well, did they -- Saeb Erakat just said he discussed it...
GOLD: ... which called for attacks.
CLANCY: Saeb Erakat said he just discussed it.
GOLD: Well, he said he didn't even know who was involved in these negotiations.
He also said he didn't even know who was involved in these negotiations that were reported in the "London Times."
I spoke to that "London Times" reporter, and I told her that we had absolutely no indication that such a deal was about to occur. As far as we're concerned, all these rumors are baseless.
I wish they were true. I think all Israelis wish they were true. But they're not.
In the meantime, I think the people of Israel feel tremendous regret, and I would say even an ache in their stomach, when they hear about any Palestinian civilian casualties as a result of our military efforts to destroy the infrastructure of terrorism.
And, unfortunately, that has happened, as a result of our military operations.
What we need now, more than anything, is a strategic decision on the part of the Palestinian leadership to stop attacks against Israel civilians and to turn the switch of terrorism off.
CLANCY: What, from the Israeli side, needs to be done? Is -- the Palestinians have clearly said that during their negotiations, they asked the Israeli side to end any targeted killings, any elimination operations, such as this one, that has really backfired for Israel.
GOLD: Well, to give you an example, just about an hour before broadcast I was sitting with our minister, Danny Naveh, who was at the negotiations last Saturday night with Saeb Erakat and others, and asking him, well, what actually went on in those discussions.
Those discussions were confined to economic issues. There was no political dialogue. There couldn't be a political dialogue, because the terrorism against Israelis continues.
And so this was an attempt by us to relieve the burden on the Palestinian population. And those were the discussions that we were...
CLANCY: Not political issues, but there were security issues on the table, weren't there? Mr. Naveh must have told you...
GOLD: The agenda was -- the agenda was an economic agenda. There was no political and security discussion there. And that's why this whole rumor that we were about to have an Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough that was undercut by this attempt of ours to eliminate Mr. Shehadeh is simply not true.
We wish there was a political dialogue. We wish the Palestinians had decided that violence has boomeranged against them, that Arafat's war against Israeli civilians was a huge mistake.
But unfortunately, that conclusion has not been reached. We're trying to do the best we can in a very difficult situation.
All right, I'm a little bit -- I'm a little bit confused, because in the course of the negotiations over easing the humanitarian situation, freeing up some tens of millions of dollars that was withheld from the Palestinian Authority, measures were being undertaken not only to try to determine what route that money would take on its way back to the Palestinians, but also there were some demands for security guarantees, as a part of handing over the money.
Suddenly, we hear today, and Saeb Erakat says he didn't hear it was coming, we hear today that money is being released, that worker's permits are being issued.
Were there no demands...
CLANCY: That was without any security demands?
GOLD: We are doing this because we think it is the right thing to do. We're doing this very gradually. We're trying to build confidence, to see that our best efforts are not exploited.
For example, if we let in 7,000 Palestinian workers to work in the Israeli economy, we have to make sure that among those workers are not Palestinian terrorists who are taking advantage of our situation and trying to infiltrate suicide bombers into Israel.
You know, all of us are parents. All of us are concerned about the fate of our children, the fate of our relatives and our loves ones, and we do not want to see a spate of suicide bombings killing more Israelis because we're trying to get out of this situation.
CLANCY: Dore Gold, one final question, just in your mind, could this, the tragedy of this, be a turning point, for all sides, to look at it, and not say we need revenge, but to say that the best way to consider the dead children, the dead women, innocent civilians on all sides, is to stop it by all sides?
GOLD: Well, you know, all of us have to have hope. Hope is a very important element here.
You know, I remember years ago sitting with Saeb Erakat and negotiating the Hebron agreement back in 1996. We wish to go back to those times of political dialogue, but it has to be based on one very firm foundation: that violence and terrorism cannot be part of the negotiating process. We simply can't have a situation where every time we reach an impasse, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Mr. Arafat's Tanzim decide to release suicide bombers that kill our people.
Mr. Shehadeh, who we eliminated in Gaza, was responsible for the massacre of Israel civilians in the Park Hotel in Netanya, and many other massacres as well.
It's time for the Palestinians to make a strategic decision to end suicide bombing, to end terrorism, and get on the side of peace.
CLANCY: Dore Gold, our thanks to you for being with us on Q&A.
We're going to have to take a break.
Coming up, different views on what's next for the Middle East.
CLANCY: Welcome back to Q&A.
We're looking at the events of the last few days in the Middle East.
Joining us from Washington, Edward Abington, a consultant to the Palestinian Authority. Also from Washington, Clifford May, director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, a group that supports Israel.
Edward Abington, we've been talking about, did Israel know or didn't it about at least negotiations among the Palestinians to end suicide attacks on Israelis.
EDWARD ABINGTON, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY CONSULTANT: Jim, last Thursday the Jordanian and Saudi foreign minister met with Sect. Powell and President Bush. Among the issues they discussed were their efforts and the Palestinian efforts to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas and other groups.
The United States administration informed Israel, I believe on Monday, before the bombing took place, that their understanding and agreement in principle had been reached with Hamas and other groups.
Nevertheless, the bombing went ahead, irregardless of that information, which seemed to me to be a rather cynical Israeli attempt to derail what seemed to be an agreement.
Would the agreement have held? I don't know. You can't necessarily trust these groups, but it should have been tested. That's the main point.
CLANCY: Clifford May...
ABINGTON: It should have been tested by Israel.
CLIFFORD MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACY: Jim, a couple of quick points.
One is that Hamas, if this was true, and I'm not sure it is, Hamas was saying we'll stop the terrorism against the Israelis if the Israelis meet these demands. There is no reason the Israelis should think OK, we'll meet the demands in order to get the terrorism to stop.
Understand that Hamas, as I think everybody knows, is a terrorist organization dedicated explicitly -- there's no subtlety about this, they're candid -- to wiping Israel off the face of the earth. They want the complete destruction.
Now, Arafat had been asked by the Israelis repeated times to arrest these terrorist leaders of Hamas. He has refused to do so, although he had an obligation under Oslo to arrest them.
And let me just, in terms of good faith, when this guy was first let out of prison here's what he said, according to CNN.
He said, "Our people are not in need of a new compromise. They are in need of a rifle. Zionists should know revenge is coming. The enemy has opened the doors to hell. Jihad is an option of God. We are not asking anybody's permission to continue it."
It is very regrettable that civilian lives were lost. The Israelis have said so, and they didn't mean to do it, and I think they do feel terrible about it. But this is somebody -- this is a mass murderer who was planning additional mass murders of Israeli children.
CLANCY: All right.
MAY: They were in a state of war.
CLANCY: Edward Abington, you still look at it and you still see Israelis, Palestinians, still caught in the same thing -- the question asked 1,000 times, said about this cycle of violence -- when will it stop? When will someone see the solution as stopping killing each others children?
ABINGTON: I think, unfortunately, it's going to take a much greater tragedy, and I don't know on which side, before both sides come to the realization that they have to find a different way out of that.
As I have said repeatedly, that can only be done by the United States taking the role, and I don't see the United States playing the role that's called for to break the cycle of violence.
MAY: You know, I agree with half of what Ed said, about how this ends. But President Bush has said there is a way forward. He has said he supports a two-state solution, and those who agree with him, that there should be an independent Palestinian state, they have to stop all terrorism.
What Bush said is the Palestinians can have terrorism, or they can have a state, but they can't have United States support for a state so long as the terrorism continues. Let the terrorism stop, and the United States will play that role, of helping create a Palestinian state.
And you know what, the Israelis will support that as well. Jim, you...
CLANCY: All right, but is this government, Edward Abington, back to you, the suspicion, deep suspicion on the part of the Palestinians, is that this was sabotage.
ABINGTON: You know, Dore Gold said that security was not discussed at the meeting last Saturday night.
In fact, it was. The Palestinian minister of interior outlined the plans that he and his colleagues have drawn up to reestablish the capability of the Palestinian security organization and to resume security cooperation with the Israelis.
MAY: Yes, but you know, Ed, that the Palestinian security operations have been involved in terrorism in the past. The Israelis need more than one...
CLANCY: All right, but Clifford, why...
CLANCY: Why did Israel, Clifford, free up the money? is it payback? I mean, there's a realization a mistake has been made?
MAY: I don't think a mistake has been made, in the Israeli view, in trying to eliminate a Hamas terrorist mastermind. I think they're in a state of war with them, and Hamas is going to be targeted, because they continually target Israelis within the last few weeks.
CLANCY: But that doesn't explain why suddenly the cash comes out.
MAY: The cash aside, they were looking to get this particular terrorist leader for something like two years, since he was released from prison by the Palestinians. They had hoped Arafat would arrest him. On numerous occasions in the past, they did not go after him because they wanted to spare civilians. This was not the case.
CLANCY: Give Ed a word here.
ABINGTON: Jim, I think the point is that repeatedly Sharon has demonstrated, and this is one more demonstration, that he believes that there is a military solution to this problem, not a political solution.
CLANCY: All right, we've...
ABINGTON: You cannot have a military solution. It has to go hand in hand.
MAY: Ed is right, Jim, there needs to be a political solution, but it can't happen as long as the terrorism continues. The Israelis cannot be expected to go...
CLANCY: We've got to leave it there. Clifford May, Edward Abington, our thanks to both of you. I'm sorry we didn't have more time.
MAY: Thank you.
ABINGTON: Thank you, Jim.
CLANCY: I'm Jim Clancy. That's Q&A. The news is next, here on CNN.
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