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CNN Live Sunday

Interview With Murhaf Jouejati, Naomi Weinberger

Aired December 16, 2001 - 18:30   ET


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Both Israel and the Bush administration are taking a wait-and-see attitude in response today to a speech by Yasser Arafat.

The Palestinian leader warned his people not to resort to violence, and he again condemned the latest serious of suicide bombings. But he also called the recent Israeli strikes on Palestinians targets an unjust war. In a violent counterpoint to Arafat's speech, a mortar exploded in a Jewish settlement in southern Gaza just hours later. Nobody was hurt.


YASSER ARAFAT, PRESIDENT, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY (through translator): We would like to reiterate again here today that all sorts of armed activities should be, should be stopped and they should be no more attacked, especially the suicide bombings attacks that we have always condemned. And we will arrest all those who plan these attacks and arrest them (sic). And we will stop all these who have no other mission but to give excuses to further Israeli attacks against our land, against our people.



RA'ANAN GISSIN, ARIEL SHARON'S SPOKESMAN: This is not the time for words. It's the time for Yasser Arafat to make the critical decisions to change from the strategy of terror he started 14 months ago, to a strategy of peace. To tell his own security forces to stop engaging in terrorist activity or to discipline them.


SAVIDGE: For some analysis on Arafat's speech and the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, we are joined from Washington by Dr. Murhaf Jouejati of the Middle East Institute, and from New York by Dr. Naomi Weinberger of Columbia University.

Thanks to both of you for joining us this evening.

NAOMI WEINBERGER, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Thank you. SAVIDGE: Mr. Jouejati, let me ask you this. What was your reaction to this speech? Was it really significant on the part of Yasser Arafat? Or as the Israelis say, we have heard it all before?

MURHAF JOUEJATI, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE: I think it is very significant. Incidentally, my name is Jouejati.

SAVIDGE: I'm sorry.

JOUEJATI: Don't worry.

It's a very significant speech. It's very important. It is -- there is no precedent to this. It was quite unique. He spoke in Arabic. He spoke to his people directly. He condemned the suicide bombings again. And he said he is going to take action to put a stop to it because, in the end, these suicide bombings are hurting the Palestinian cause.

So yes, I do think it's a very, very important speech. And I think that Chairman Arafat is very serious about clamping down on those militants. Because in the end, it is his authority which is at stake.

SAVIDGE: It can also essentially be his life, depending on the Israeli attitude. Dr. Weinberger, what did you think of the words you heard?

WEINBERGER: I think that I'm disturbed by the ongoing endorsement by Yasser Arafat of the character of the Intifada in the last 15 months, in which his own security forces and the Fatah Tanzim have actually been involved in the pursuit of violence and have given freedom of action to the militant Islamic groups.

And Arafat's own strategy, as in previous years in Lebanon, for example, has been very passive and allowed the initiative to pass to the more militant groups. And so, I'm quite skeptical that he will be able and willing to enforce the words that he said, although, of course, they are encouraging in principal.

SAVIDGE: What about the use of the phrase "unjust war." Is that just a phrase or is there some subliminal meaning there?

JOUEJATI: I think it's a highly unjust war and so does what is called the Arab street. Here is Israel that is continuing its illegal occupation, an Israel that is continuing the construction of illegal settlements, an Israel that is suffocating Palestinian towns through curfews and the like. And it is waging war against Arafat.

It is asking Arafat, through his police forces, to clamp down on militants. And it's the same Israel that is bombing police stations, a police force that is supposed to weaken those militants. Go figure.

When Yasser Arafat says unjust war, I think there is also as you asked, I think it does have to do with the appellation of just war. And here he is using that, I think, purposefully. SAVIDGE: But then, no sooner does he finish making his speech, but we have a mortar shell that lands in Israeli settlement. Now what is to be made of that?

WEINBERGER: Well, I think that first of all...

SAVIDGE: Doctor...

WEINBERGER: In terms of the question of just war, certainly under international law, any state has the right to engage in self- defense. And the character of violence that has been launched within the green line, within Israel proper, is one that any Israeli government, whether led by Likud or anyone would feel obliged to retaliate against.

So holding the Palestinian Authority responsible for its complicity in this ongoing pattern of violence, when it had the resources and the assets at stake to prevent them is something that one, you know, cannot characterize as an unjust war. And certainly there will be a need for much more vigorous effort by the Palestinian Authority.

SAVIDGE: Well, Dr. Weinberger, let me ask you this, what action or the action that is being asked on the part of the Israelis of Mr. Arafat is very strong, forceful action that the Palestinian people are likely to rebel against. Aren't the Israelis essentially asking Yasser Arafat to sacrifice himself politically, perhaps even his own life, to bring about a cause he can not possibly do?

WEINBERGER: I don't think so. I think that timidity has been Arafat's style. And boldness is what is needed. Had he been bold in the negotiating process initiated and supervised by President Clinton, he would now be the president of a Palestinian state recognized by Israel and the vast majority of the West Bank and all of Gaza.

He forfeited that energetic diplomacy. Now the Americans have all that they can do to be reactive and to try to keep an escalation of violence from recurring. And so, I think that this was his to lose. He squandered a lot of goodwill. And he really needs to reclaim his own reputation and credibility, instead of being timid and cowering in the face of an opposition that he has given free reign to, when he didn't need to.

SAVIDGE: Mr. Jouejati, isn't it true that Yasser Arafat had a lot of time here, but did not act to close these offices down until the Israelis basically said, "You know, we're not going to pay attention to you anymore?"

JOUEJATI: That is only one part of the story. The part that you are telling, not telling rather, is that Israel had a lot of time also to freeze the settlement activity, to withdraw from occupied territory.

Now Dr. Weinberger mentions international law. We also have to say that in international law, it is inadmissible to acquire territory by force. And Israel did. It is inadmissible to occupy another nation and Israel has. And you -- Israel's behavior flies in the face of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Israel has not abided by U.N. Security Council 242 nor 338.

SAVIDGE: OK, you know, I don't want to...

WEINBERGER: Well, but you know that the peace process had proceeded to the point where there was -- on the verge of a package agreement, which would have let to withdrawal and to compliance with Security Council resolutions.

SAVIDGE: So let me interrupt, because I don't want to let the past interfere with -- talking about the future very quickly, which is, what should the next step be to try to end the cycle of violence?

WEINBERGER: I think the...

SAVIDGE: Go ahead.

WEINBERGER: The United States can play a creative role in trying to engage in confidence building. Perhaps one initiative that might be taken would call for a wholesale Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, both in its military and in civilian presence. In that context, I think perhaps an international peace presence could be deployed, unlike the fuller inability to deploy such a presence at the moment in the entire range of territory.

But it seems to me that showing some benefit, some tangible benefit from diplomacy, just as there had been a substantial Israeli withdrawal as a result of the Oslo process before, would indeed enhance the stature of the Palestinian Authority.

SAVIDGE: Dr. Jouejati, what do we over the next 24, 48 hours?

JOUEJATI: Well, I think Israel needs to give Chairman Arafat some incentive to clamp down totally. If he clamps down on political violence and Israel gives him a incentive in the form of a commitment to withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, that I think, could get back the parties to the tables to negotiate, in view of peace in the future, God willing.

WEINBERGER: Yes, God willing.

SAVIDGE: That's right.

WEINBERGER: And of course, at the current moment, the special relationship between Israel and the U.S. has been reinforced by common threat perceptions against terrorism, against weapons of mass destruction in the region. And so, this is a moment for Arafat to realize, unlike his lack of realization in the Gulf War, that he should try to be creative, instead of reactive, and help move toward the future, toward a better future for his people, who are suffering the most under the current circumstances.

SAVIDGE: All right, we've got to end it there. I'm sorry. We could go on a long time. And it deserves a lot of time. And we will talk more about it in the future. In the meantime, I want to thank Murhaf Jouejati of the Middle East Institute and Dr. Naomi Weinberger of Columbia University. I'm sorry, time doesn't allow more.

WEINBERGER: Thank you, Dr. Jouejati and...

JOUEJATI: Thank you, Dr. Weinberger.

SAVIDGE: Agreement at least on the air.