FTN – 3/31/02

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BOB SCHIEFFER, Chief Washington Correspondent: Today on Face the Nation, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian Cabinet Minister Nabil Sha'ath on the mounting crisis in the Middle East.

This morning, two more suicide bombers struck in Israel, one in Haifa, another in a West Bank settlement. All this as Israeli troops continue their raid on Yasser Afarat's headquarters.

How long will this siege on Arafat last? Is there any hope for peace? We'll ask the foreign minister, Peres, and Arafat's senior adviser, Sha'ath.

And what about the United States role? How will it affect our campaign against Iraq? Those are questions for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden and Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who is just back from the region.

Gloria Borger will be here, and I'll have a final word on the place we forget to look for peace. But first, where do we go next in the Middle East?

ANNOUNCER: Face the Nation, with Chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer.

And now, from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.

SCHIEFFER: And we begin this morning with Nabil Sha'ath, who is a top adviser to Yasser Arafat. He is in Cairo this morning, where he has just met with the Egyptian foreign minister.

Mr. Sha'ath, I understand you have spoken with Yasser Arafat this morning. Tell us what about what you talked about.

NABIL SHA'ATH, Palestinian Cabinet Minister: Several times President Arafat is being kept a hostage in several rooms of his office building. He is the democratically elected president of Palestine, and where he is today is the offices of the temporary capital of Palestine, the residence of the government in Ramallah.

He is short of food, water, electricity, telephone systems and proper medical care. He is besieged by Israeli tanks, who are using every method to harass him. There was an attempt to break through and assault these three or four rooms he is still in this last night and this morning.

But he has a very high morale, and he really gives us enthusiasm. We really are quite afraid for his life. We are quite afraid for what may happen to him in the next few hours, in fact if not the next few days. But he is there, steadfast and quite confident. He's a believer.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Sha'ath, the president of the United States, Mr. Bush, said yesterday that Mr. Arafat could and ought to do more to stop the violence. Now, as you well know, there have been two more suicide bombings in Israel today.

Why doesn't Mr. Arafat, or can he, do anything to stop these bombers?

SHA'ATH: Well, I didn't think that the remarks of President Bush were really serious. I mean, a man who is kept hostage in a building in part of his compound in Ramallah surrounded by hundreds of tanks and artillery, pieces of the Israeli army, his capital is -- temporary capital is totally occupied.

Today, nine people were assassinated by the Israeli forces, unarmed policemen, and there has been looting and attacks everywhere. Every building of his policemen has been destroyed, including vehicles and communication system.

And yet the president of the United States asks him to do something about protecting the Israelis, instead of the other way around. Invokes the...

GLORIA BORGER, U.S. News & World Report: Mr. Sha'ath, is there anything that Mr. Arafat can then do to control these suicide bombers?

SHA'ATH: President Arafat, under siege, being a hostage now with very, little communication coming in and out of his office, can do very, very little. He can do more if he's helped in two ways, his ability to persuade and his ability to discipline.

His ability to persuade will be increasingly tremendously if the Israelis would pull out and end the siege that is debilitating and humiliating Palestinians in everyday life and making life impossible. By doing that, he can appeal to his people and he can use all of the persuasion he's got that there is a hope and there is real light at the end of the political tunnel.

His ability to discipline requires that, again, he takes control and he is helped to rebuild his police force and his communication networks and command and control centers.

Both these, persuasion ability and disciplining ability, require the Israelis to do something, require them to pull out of the occupied Palestinian territory and to end the siege imposed upon the Palestinian people.

BORGER: But the United States government has said that before Mr. Arafat was taken captive, he did not take those steps that you were talking about right now.

SHA'ATH: Well, what we have today is an advanced stage of captivity and occupation. But even before that last assault, all the Palestinians were living under very, very tight siege. And even though Israeli occupation left the center cities after the last assault on the Palestinian territories, but they kept in absolute control of everyday life, the movement of people and the movement of goods and services.

Palestinians were just, really just on the verge of starvation as a result. Nothing had happened to help rebuild the Palestinian police force.

What we are seeing today is a continuation, in a deeper sense, of something that has been going on for the last, at least, four to five months.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Sha'ath, there are reports that Ariel Sharon now is considering expelling Mr. Arafat. What would be your reaction to that?

SHA'ATH: I think Mr. Sharon would go to whatever extent he feels the United States allows him. He has -- he's still fighting the 1982 war, in which he laid siege to President Arafat in Beirut and ended up with his involvement in this horrible massacre of Sabra and Shatila, which kept him out of office in Israel for 18 years.

He is back now, and he is fighting the same war. It's only really the resistance of the Palestinians and limitation imposed by the United States that's keeping him from doing even worse.

SCHIEFFER: All right.

SHA'ATH: But I would say that wouldn't do anything. President Arafat, in or out, will remain the president and the leader of the Palestinian people, and the Palestinians will continue resisting whatever the situation. In fact...


SHA'ATH: ... every time Mr. Sharon makes a new attack, he just kills more Palestinians and more Israelis.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Mr. Sha'ath, thank you so much. We have to leave it there. Thank you for joining us this morning.

SHA'ATH: You're welcome.

SCHIEFFER: We are now joined by the foreign minister of Israel, Shimon Peres.

Mr. Peres, you just heard Mr. Sha'ath. He says that as long as Israel keeps Yasser Arafat pinned up, as it were, he can't do anything. He can't persuade, he can't discipline his own people.

Why are the Israelis keeping Yasser Arafat surrounded, as they are now?

SHIMON PERES, Israeli Foreign Minister: Well, even now he can do many things that he doesn't do. General Zinni has demanded that he will stand up and say with his own voice, to stop the terror, to stop the violence. He can do it every moment from every place.

Secondly, to give orders to his troops -- he has 30,000 policemen -- to try and stop the fire and the attacks against Israel. He can give such an order without any difficulty. He can reduce the incitement.

And finally, he can accept the Zinni proposals that may have led to a cease-fire and can still lead to a cease-fire in the future.

And then, when Arafat was free, he didn't do it either.

SCHIEFFER: Minister, do you yourself favor continuing the siege on Arafat?

PERES: I myself favor to arrive to a cease-fire.

The president of United States send in an envoy that both the Palestinians and the Israelis have welcomed. General Zinni made a proposal how to introduce a cease-fire.

We have accepted in letter and in fact all his proposals. As a matter of fact, we introduced the unilateral cease-fire before the latest events. We said we're ready to talk under fire. We gave up the seven days. We said we are really ready to discuss even the political horizon. All this was in vain.

In this month, we lost 120 lives. Children, women, men praying, men celebrating the Passover at their homes and other places. Today we've had two attacks. What for?

Believe me, there is no single Israeli that can understand a word that the Palestinians are saying. Why do they have to fight? After all we've suggested to them -- the creation of a Palestinian state, the return of most of the territories, a position in Jerusalem -- why kill, why fight, why resist? President Clinton's suggestion to them on behalf of Israel, why did they reject it? Why did they turn to arms and killing?

BORGER: Mr. Peres, you had a cabinet meeting this morning. Was pulling out of Ramallah discussed in this cabinet meeting?

PERES: I want to say three things that we don't intend to do. A, we don't intend to occupy the places. We are going to remain there for a short while -- a week, two weeks, three weeks. Secondly, we are not going to hurt Chairman Arafat. Thirdly, we are not going to dismantle the Palestinian Authority.

But they have to do what they have undertaken upon them to do.

BORGER: Are you thinking of expelling Mr. Arafat? You say you're not going to hurt him, but would you remove him?

PERES: There was a suggestion in the last cabinet to expel him. It was rejected by us.

BORGER: Don't you think that, in some way, your actions in Ramallah have actually boosted Mr. Arafat's following and his popularity?

PERES: Well, we are doing things that we didn't choose to do. We were forced to do so. We have to answer our people, how are we going to defend their life. It's not a matter of prestige and not a matter of image.

Today we have had two incidents. Fifteen people were killed in Haifa. 20-odd were wounded. Another three or four persons were wounded very severely in another place, in a flat.

We have to tell our people what to do. We tried everything: cease-fire, cease-fire; suggestions, suggestions; political negotiations, political negotiations. But every time, there is an escape from the reality and an escape from the promises.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Foreign Minister, do you expect all-out war? After all, Israel has now called up the reserves.

PERES: No, I don't expect an all-out war. I expect an all-out effort to do the things the Palestinian Authority should have done and didn't do: Namely, to arrest the troublemakers, the people who are heading the suicide bombers; then, again, to collect the illegal arms; and three, to control the traffic of terror.

Look, I want to tell you, I read today in the New York Times an article which is right. If suicide bombing will become a new strategy and a new tactic, it will be a danger for the rest of the civilization. What is being done today is to sacrifice young people on the altar of a political ambition. When you send a boy of 13 to commit suicide, a boy that doesn't yet know the taste of life, doesn't have the mature judgment, if you send a girl of the age of 16 to commit suicide, my God, where are we going back? To the time of the pagans? To the time of the barbaric age?

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Foreign Minister, we have to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. Thank you.

PERES: Thank you.

SCHIEFFER: We'll be back in a minute.


SCHIEFFER: And with us now from Wilmington, Delaware, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden; from Rome, Senator Arlen Specter who has just met with several Middle Eastern leaders over the last few days. He also met with Yasser Arafat among them.

Senator Specter, let's start there. You told me that when you met with Chairman Arafat earlier this week, he had just more or less agreed and thought there was going to be an agreement on a cease-fire, on the Zinni plan. Tell us about that.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA: Well, on Tuesday I saw Chairman Arafat, and he said what General Zinni had said and also what Prime Minister Sharon had told me, that they were very, very close to an agreement. And Chairman Arafat said that he was prepared to make an unequivocal statement that the violence should stop and to give appropriate orders to his troops.

I must say that when President Bush has said that Arafat could do more, President Bush is right, because, although Chairman Arafat was ready to do that at that time, he has not done that yet.

Bob, what I found in the Mideast is really two wars. First, there's a war of the Israeli army against the Palestinian terrorists. And second, there's a war of the terrorists against the people who are trying to promote the Mideast peace effort.

And what they have undertaken is this suicide-bombing approach. And there is no way, even in my opinion, if Arafat gives 100 percent, which is what Sharon is asking, that you can avoid the suicide bombers.

What we're hearing is that the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are paying these people up to $30,000 for their families. They're making videos, they're making them martyrs, they're promising them to go to heaven. And every time the Israeli army moves against the terrorists, it seems to give more incitement to these suicide bombers.

So now what I think...

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this then, Senator. Do you believe that, in fact, that these bombings were launched because they knew the two sides were close to an agreement? That would suggest that Chairman Arafat does not have any control over these people.

SPECTER: Well, I think he could exercise more control than he has, but I do not believe it is realistic for him to stop all of them. And there are many, many of them that can slip through.

But I do think, in direct response to your question, that these suicide bombers are acting now to destroy the peace process. Beyond these suicide bombers, which has scuttled General Zinni's efforts being very, very close to working out the Tenet security plan, those who oppose the peace effort have created a chaotic situation in Beirut.


SPECTER: You had President Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan not going to Beirut because there were death threats.

SCHIEFFER: OK. Let me...

SPECTER: So every time you turn around...

SCHIEFFER: Let's just hold it there, and let's go to Senator Biden.

BORGER: Senator Biden, is it time for President Bush to get more personally involved in the Middle East now?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, D-DE: I think it's time to change sort of the board here, Gloria. I think there needs to be something dramatic done, and that means the president has to step up his involvement. I know Zinni is there, but I think the secretary has to be more visible and the Arab states have to be more visible.

And I think you have to begin to tie both security and a political outline as to how, in fact, this will come to an end. I don't mean just stopping the violence. There has to be some -- there really has to be, in my view, an agenda laid out, and it has to involve the Arab states, particularly the Saudis and the Egyptians, as well as the United States.

Essentially the foreign-minister level laying out a game plan, so, in effect, we've put Arafat in a position where, if he does not respond, he ends up literally losing his legitimacy in the Arab world. And I think that's the only way you'll get him to act, in my view.

It has to be a larger table here. We have to get -- look, can you imagine the idea that anything is going to happen positively without more direct involvement, including the Egyptians and the Saudis laying out, in effect, their vision -- and they have in a sense, they say recognition -- their vision of how to get to the point of where there is an ultimate settlement.

There needs to be a notion that there's something over the horizon other than a cease-fire.

BORGER: Would you suggest, Senator, sending U.S. monitors into the region perhaps as a way to break the violence?

BIDEN: Well, I would not preclude that. In other words, I can see that as a part of an outline that could, in fact, encompass a notion where we said, along with the Arabs signing on to it as well, saying -- and Sharon acknowledging that the agenda here is statehood, disengagement, cease-fire, and will begin the political process in earnest quickly.

I think something has to be dramatically done to give some hope. Otherwise this is a spiral that is going to continue. The Israelis are going to just get a lot more aggressive, and understandably so.

SCHIEFFER: Well, should we then tell the Israelis to begin to back off, to end this siege on Arafat, Senator Biden? That's what Mr. Sha'ath says today.

BIDEN: No, no. Here's what I think, Bob. I'm not saying it very clearly, I guess.

I think what we should be doing is, if the Arab states, us, and the Israelis agree that outline of how to proceed is as follows: A, there is a cease-fire; two, disengagement; three, that the basis upon a negotiation is statehood, somewhere along the line where we left off with Clinton, that real negotiations will begin, everyone will put their prestige on the line, in that process. Then, in that context, I think, you're not rewarding Arafat, you're not rewarding suicide bombers.

And by the way, the people who are going to suffer the most gravely if suicide bombing becomes a method by which liberation occurs, they're going to be the Arab leaders.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Specter, what do you think the next move ought to be by the United States?

SPECTER: I believe that the president does have to get more deeply involved. He has spoken out early today.

I think that Senator Biden is correct that we need to get Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan involved. I think the Saudi initiative was a significant step forward, although only a rough outline, in being willing to recognize Israel.

But before you can move ahead anywhere, there's got to be security on the ground. And I believe we're going to have to come to grips with these suicide bombers, because you're seeing them every day.

I think we need to move aggressively with the Arab countries, where we think the financing is coming from. We need to propose a political settlement at the end of the security rainbow, to try to give some hope to these 18-year-olds who are really just posing a threat which can't be stopped.

SCHIEFFER: About 20 seconds left. Senator Specter, can you ever envision stationing U.S. troops there to keep the peace?

SPECTER: Well, General Zinni told me on Tuesday that there is a plan to have a very limited number of them.


SPECTER: If we were ever to stabilize the situation, and that was a critical factor, it's something that I would be willing to consider.

SCHIEFFER: All right.

Senator Biden, quickly, would you consider something like that?

BIDEN: In that context, yes, and with European forces as well.

SCHIEFFER: All right. I have to end it there. We'll be back in a minute with a final word.

Thank you, gentlemen.

BIDEN: Thank you very much.


SCHIEFFER: Finally today, here is how it has always been in the Middle East: Violence flares. There is killing, then someone works out a truce. Somebody comes up with a possible plan to resolve the differences. Hope is expressed, and we go on to something else. Then trouble erupts again, and we realize the problems have not been resolved. We just haven't thought about them for a while.

But here is what is different this time. No one seems to have a plan. No one seems optimistic that the killing can be stopped. No one seems to know what to do.

What this has always been about is Jerusalem and who controls access to the places holy to Jews, Christians and Muslim. Yet as people have fought through history to control those holy places, they have been unable to use the lessons of their religions -- justice, tolerance and compassion -- to resolve the differences.

Justice means security for Israel and a home for the Palestinians. Tolerance means access to the holy places for those of all faiths. Compassion means no cause is so right it justifies killing the innocent.

In this holy season, let us remember the fault is not with religion, but with those who have failed to apply the principles of their religions and the principles those religions embody.

At a time when there seem to be no answers to the Middle East, we must look again to the great religions that began there. The answers are within them. They have always been there. And therein, lies the hope.

That's it for us. We will see you next week here on Face the Nation.