Bernard Shaw: The United States envoy is back in the Middle East, holding separate talks Tuesday with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who we saw in that picture, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Ambassador Ross, who again is trying to move peace talks forward, spoke with us a short while ago from Jerusalem. I asked him if Monday's exchange of gunfire between Israelis and Palestinians was a nightmare scenario.
Dennis Ross (U.S. Middle East Envoy): Well, obviously, you have an environment when you have that kind of violence, which is the last thing that one needs if you are going to be able to negotiate the hardest issues that there are right now.
I will say that the two sides worked very hard today to calm the situation. They worked together. And, in fact, they did succeed, I think, in calming the situation at this point.
But it's a reminder that, in fact, it's important to try to move ahead and resolve the issues that separate them. There is an opportunity to make peace and it's important to try to act on it.
Shaw: You've met with Mr. Arafat. You've met with Mr. Barak. What is their mindset right now?
Ross: I think that both of them are, in fact, very focused on trying to move ahead. Notwithstanding the events of yesterday, maybe in a sense almost because of the events of yesterday, both sides are even more focused on the importance of trying to resolve the hardest issues there are.
They are negotiating the issue of permanent status. Those are the most fateful questions they will deal with. They get to the heart of identity and physical security for the two sides. They are very difficult issues, but I have--based on the discussions, again, that I've had today, what I see on the part of both is a strong determination to try to move ahead and to try to find a way to bridge the differences. To try to find a way to reach a solution that in their minds, and, in fact, it will be--will be an agreement that ends the conflict.
Shaw: Can--will Mr. Barak's six-party coalition hold, given the feelings of three parties with the transfer of the villages to the Palestinians?
Ross: Well, I think the fact is that the Israeli public has made it very, very clear that they want to pursue peace. Prime Minister Barak has made it clear that he sees an opportunity to end what has been an intractable conflict. He sees an opportunity to resolve it and end it in a way that ends the claims, ends the violence, ends the conflict. And I believe that he's determined to press ahead.
Obviously, he will determine how best to do so. But I think he's made a judgment that there's an opportunity and it shouldn't be lost. And that the Israeli public will support him.
Shaw: But on this road to peace, how--how do you get both sides to pull back from the brink?
Ross: Well, I think, you know, the only thing you can do is focus very hard on how to intensify their own efforts to overcome their differences.
Clearly, we have an environment in the last couple of days that made the task much more difficult. There was also, as I've said, a very determined effort to calm that environment.
We are dealing, as I've said, with a conflict that has been one of the most intractable over the last hundred years. And yet now there is an opportunity--and both leaders see it--there is an opportunity to end this conflict. And we're going to work with them as they work very intensively to try to overcome the differences. There is an opportunity and it shouldn't be lost.
Shaw: U.S. Middle East peace envoy, Ambassador Dennis Ross.
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