Samuel Berger, National Security Advisor
Interview with Charlie Rose on the Middle East Peace Talks
July 27, 2000
Charlie Rose, Host: Welcome to the broadcast. A consideration tonight of what happened at the Camp David summit and the implications for peace in the Middle East. Joining me, the national security adviser to the president, Sandy Berger.
Samuel Berger, National Security Adviser: If we did not force these issues now, they're not going to--it's not going to get easier as it gets closer. And so I think the fact that we--we brought them together, we forced them to confront these issues, we actually broke open a number of them--I think the timing was probably right.
Charlie Rose: The deputy defense minister of Israel, Ephraim Sneh.
Ephraim Sneh, Deputy Defense Minister, Israel: Arafat is committed to the peace process. If he fails, the entire concept inside the Palestinian society of dealing with Israel through a negotiation would collapse, and the next Palestinian leader would be somebody from the very fanatic fringe of the Palestinian society, somebody from the Hamas or the Jihad, of those organizations.
So actually, that's true. If we fail, maybe no one will try again.
Charlie Rose: And the foreign affairs columnist of the New York Times, Tom Friedman.
Thomas Friedman, "New York Times": Arafat put some real stuff on the table. Arafat's people put some real stuff on the table, as well. But on the most emotive issue, the central issue of Jerusalem, Arafat basically, as I said, kind of absorbed the Barak offers, did not come up with a serious or any form of counter offer at all. And that's what I think was reflected in the president's remarks.
Charlie Rose: A program note. We continue our consideration of the Middle East tomorrow night with interviews with Dr. Edward Said and Mort Zuckerman. Tonight, Berger, Sneh and Friedman--next.
Sandy Berger Says it's Time for Palestinian Creativity
Charlie Rose: The Middle East peace summit at Camp David broke up on Tuesday without an agreement after 15 days of very hard negotiations. The summit was a high-stakes gamble intended to end 52 years of bloody conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. After the leaders of both sides left on Tuesday, there are now some hard questions.
Tonight we consider some of those questions, and we begin with the national security adviser to the president of the United States, Sandy Berger. I am pleased to have him here to give us an overview of this very important summit and how he analyzes the results.
Tell me what happened. Why did it fail?
Samuel Berger:, National Security Adviser: We--we dealt in this summit with the issues in the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis that have never been dealt with before at the highest level, not since the 52 years of the conflict, not since the '67 war, not since the seven years of the Oslo agreement.
What is the future of Jerusalem, and how do these two peoples live side by side there? What is the nature of a new Palestinian state, and what are its borders? What about the refugees that were displaced in '48 and their--their progeny? What are their rights? And what kind of security is there for Israel if it pulls back from the West Bank?
These are--these were issues that were called "final status" issues in Oslo because they were the hardest issues. And we opened the box on these issues for the first time. The parties had to grapple with them, wrestle with them for the first time, both themselves and between the two. And while we made a good deal of progress on those issues, we were not able to come to closure on some of the most difficult ones. But I think the gap was narrowed.
Charlie Rose: Now, those who will say that notwithstanding the assumption by Barak that any concessions made during the negotiations are no longer on the table, that--with a failure to reach an agreement, meant that every concession in pursuit of agreement was no longer operative, that, in fact, it is operative-
Samuel Berger:: No-
Charlie Rose:--that once you have gone to make a certain direction that you can no longer remove that presence of that kind of progress.
Samuel Berger:: I don't think that's true. The understanding from day one--the president set down some rules of the road on day one. We wouldn't talk to the press. We'd have a complete press blackout, which essentially worked. Number two, nothing was decided till everything was decided. And that was very clearly understood by the parties.
And during the negotiations, one party would put something forward at one point, and it would pull it back at another point. So I believe that Israel or the Palestinians--neither Israel nor the Palestinians are bound in any way, legally or morally, to any positions that it took in Camp David.
I do believe that Camp David demonstrated that on these issues there is the capacity to define some solutions if both sides are prepared to make very tough choices.
Charlie Rose: But surely you're not saying that once--what was significant about this summit was that Jerusalem was on the table. For the first time ever, the two leaders were really talking about what to do. They were getting their hands around it and saying, "What about this, and what about this, and what about this? And would you do this?" Most of the time, Arafat said no, but surely you can't eliminate that from the consciousness of the leadership.
Samuel Berger:: Well, some of the ideas were our ideas. Some of the ideas were ideas that were derived from conversations between the parties, from the negotiators. I don't believe this is a problem. I think that if--if there is a will for the parties to get back together again, we will take a fresh crack at this.
It depends upon, on the one hand, the Palestinians deciding that they have a clear choice here. Down one path is confrontation. Down the other path is agreement. The only way to get to agreement is to compromise, and that means leaving behind some of the traditional baggage that has been part of their ethos and their ideology for decades. But if they're not prepared to do that, they're not going to give their children a better future, a different future than they've had. And I believe that thee are a number people, many people in the Palestinian leadership, who understand that choice very clearly.
Charlie Rose: It has been said by some that there was a kind of division in the Palestinian camp and that the younger members of the negotiating team were more responsive to change and compromise and more supple in what they thought might work.
Samuel Berger:: Well, there was a range of views in both delegations, in the Israeli delegation, in the Palestinian delegation. These are enormously tough issues--not just Jerusalem, borders, security, refugees. I think each of those--I suspect that everybody there changed their minds on some of those issues during the course of the two weeks. So there were--there were differences.
But ultimately, obviously, the Palestinian authority and the Israeli government have to come to a particular decision. I think the Israelis were prepared on some of these issues to be at least more creative in thinking about solutions. But I think--I think that it's incumbent now on the Palestinians to--to show the same kind of creativity.
Charlie Rose: Was it more a case of the past hadn't produced the kinds of results you needed and only a summit with these kinds of marathon negotiations in the privacy of Camp David might make it happen, or because you wanted to see what you could do before September 13th and all that might come out of some dramatic announcement of a state without an agreement beforehand?
Samuel Berger:: I think the conclusion that we reached--certainly, the conclusion that Barak had reached--was that there would be no more progress at the negotiator level. The negotiators actually in Stockholm had made good progress. They had achieved a great deal. But as you got closer to the tough core issues, only the leaders could make them. They believed that they could make them best with President Clinton's help. They believed they could make them best as a whole and in an environment which was not intensely scrutinized every day by the press.
So I think--don't forget, we called this summit nine weeks away from September 13th. We're now seven weeks away from September 13th. If we did not force these issues now, they're not going to--it's not going to get easier as it gets closer. And so I think the fact that we--we brought them together, we forced them to confront these issues, we actually broke open a number of them--I think the timing was probably right.
Charlie Rose: Which one did you break open?
Samuel Berger:: Well, I think there was progress on all of the issues, actually. Actually, even some progress on Jerusalem, although that was the hardest issue. But-
Charlie Rose: What progress would you say you made on Jerusalem?
Samuel Berger:: But just to answer your first question, I think that on--on borders, on security, on refugees, while there was not agreement on those issues, I think that one could see the contours of an agreement. Neither party was prepared to make final--take final positions until they saw how the Jerusalem issue came together. So I think there was progress across the board.
One of the negotiators, after this thing--as this thing was ending, said this was really revolutionary. This had broken the taboos and had forced these two parties to come together and talk about the issues that they had never talked about before.
Charlie Rose: Are you convinced in your mind that you--that that is a point that you--that you--because of that, you've gained something that's dramatic and it's not like the fact that you failed, it's no longer operative?
Samuel Berger:: Well, let's--let's be clear. We did not reach an agreement. That was our goal, and therefore I don't want to try to sweep that fact under the rug. We wanted to get an agreement. We didn't get an agreement. But I do believe that--that we've, in a sense, broken the iceberg. The pieces are now floating around. The two parties will have to decide whether they want to drift now towards confrontation, which I think is not in either's interest, or whether they want to look again at some of the positions they took and see whether there is, particularly on the Palestinian side, some more movement.
Charlie Rose: How disappointed are you in the Egyptians and the Saudis and others that might have given Arafat cover to make a decision that would have been closer to or helped reach an agreement?
Samuel Berger:: Well, let me put it this way. I hope that over the next several weeks that the other Arab countries will work with Chairman Arafat and recognize that the choice here is confrontation or agreement and support him in reaching an agreement that involves compromise based on principle.
No one is suggesting that either side--certainly, the Israelis never compromised on their vital interests, never compromised on fundamental principles. And we wouldn't expect the Palestinians to, either. But we would hope that the other Arab countries would--would express very clearly to Arafat their support for an honorable agreement.
Charlie Rose: Why didn't they do that?
Samuel Berger:: Well, I don't know what transpired between--between them. I know King Abdullah of Jordan, I think, played quite a constructive role.
Charlie Rose: Yeah, but the person who has the most influence on Arafat is not King Abdullah of Jordan, it is President Mubarak of Egypt and Foreign Minister Moussa.
Samuel Berger:: Yeah. Well, again, I don't know what--what transpired between Mubarak and Arafat or Moussa and Arafat. I think that all of the Arab countries, including our friends, the Egyptians, have to face reality here. This problem is not going away. One possibility is not simply continuing along the status quo. There is no status quo in the Middle East.
Charlie Rose: Let--let me ask you this, though. I mean, I'm trying to get at this notion--I mean, this was, as you have just said, an important moment. I mean, you've got the September 14th. You had the parties together. The president was giving--staying up all night, giving the best he had, and you were, and I assume all the negotiators were. Shouldn't all of you have expected the Saudis and the Egyptians to do more, to lend more of an assistance to get you over the hump?
Samuel Berger:: Well, again, I don't want to characterize what they did or did not do. I--I want to look to the future here and express my hope and expectation that they will look at this reality sharply and starkly in the eye and realize that there is either conflict or there's agreement. There's no middle ground. They've got to choose.
Charlie Rose: Do you think they grasp that?
Samuel Berger:: Well, you know, I think that this was new territory for everybody. I'm not sure that the parties--I'm not sure that the--that the region believed that we would actually--although they were hopeful there would be an agreement, in one sense, I'm not sure they would--they actually had come to grips with the kinds of choices that are inherent in making an agreement. And I think now those issues are on the table, and I think that we have to just talk with them over the next several weeks and make it clear that there are--there are choices to be made.
Charlie Rose: Let me--let me come-
Samuel Berger:: And they're part of this process.
Charlie Rose: Let me--let me come to--you're the only person I'm talking to who was inside the room, which makes you my favorite guest, obviously.
Samuel Berger:: Makes me tired.
Charlie Rose: Makes you tired? Exactly.
Do you think that at the end of the day, when this--when the president realized that Arafat's final "no"' at 3:00a.m., or whenever it came, meant that it was time to close shop, that there was trust between the parties, that somehow being there had made them come to a new level of understanding of each other and trust in each other?
Samuel Berger:: Well, that's a very good question, Charlie. I mean, one of the things that was striking, having been around this problem for a long time and-- is the degree of familiarity, respect and even affection among the Israeli negotiators and the Palestinian negotiators.
They were constantly back and forth. We ate together. The president purposely had us every night, except a few, dine together at--up at Camp David. They were off in the corner grappling with these things. So I think that--and that would not have been the case five years ago. In many ways, it is a result of Oslo that there is this kind of organic connection between Palestinians and Israelis.
Now, I think that is--that at the leadership level, I think that there is less trust, and I think that is something that has accumulated over some time, and I think it--I don't know that it was decisive here, but I think it certainly is a reality.
Charlie Rose: Anything the president, who--who pushed that ball up that hill and almost got it there, with the help of all the people, the parties--Palestinians, Israelis, his own staff--is there anything that he feels tonight that he might have done differently that might have made a difference?
Samuel Berger:: Well, I'll tell you, you know, on the first day that we got there, Charlie, the president said to us, "We're either going to succeed, or if we fail, we're going to know we tried everything we could think of."
And when we called this off on--before the president went to Okinawa--because he had made clear from the beginning he was going to the G-8 meeting--I think there was a little feeling on - on--we called it off, and then, of course, the parties came back to us and said, "Let's stay."
But during that period, I think there was a little feeling on the part of all of us that we weren't really positive that--that we couldn't get there. While we were gone, there--under Secretary Albright, there was a good deal of very constructive work done at the negotiating level. When the president got back, he moved most of these issues pretty far down the field.
But I think by the end, not only--we were absolutely convinced that we could not reach an agreement here and now. And I think that while we were quite disappointed by that, I think all of us, including the president, felt that we had done everything we could.
And the president, in particular--I've never seen an effort as--as heroic as he made over 14 days.
Charlie Rose: Sandy Berger, national security adviser to the president, thank you.
Samuel Berger:: Thank you, Charlie.
Charlie Rose: A pleasure to have you on the broadcast. We'll be right back. Stay with us.
Deputy Defense Minister Says Jerusalem Needs Creativity
Charlie Rose: We continue our consideration of what happened at Camp David and the future for peace in the Middle East with Ephraim Sneh:. General Sneh is the deputy defense minister of Israel.
General Sneh, thank you for coming in. I know it's late in Israel, and I thank you for doing this.
Ephraim Sneh:, Deputy Defense Minister, Israel: My pleasure.
Charlie Rose: With the perspective of at least a day or two, how do you see Camp David, failure, success or laying the groundwork for something new?
Ephraim Sneh:: Well, it was not a success, unfortunately, but it was not a failure, either. Even from a perspective of two days, we can learn--and it's quite evident--that Camp David was a necessary step in our way to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
And it was an inevitable, indispensable step because we have to remember that in the first time in history, the two leaders, Barak and Arafat, were together in one venue, sitting for two weeks and discussing those issues that no leader before them ever dared to touch--Jerusalem, refugees, final borders. Neither Rabin, the late, or Shimon Peres discussed it with Arafat. And now this was a higher step of negotiation.
I think it was very important, and I hope that quite soon we will learn that it's going to be continued.
Charlie Rose: Some say that Prime Minister Barak put too many concessions out early, leaving nothing to close the deal.
Ephraim Sneh:: No, I--he made a long way towards Mr. Arafat. He made concessions, but he went as far as he could, according to the mandate that the Israeli people, that his constituency, gave him, and he stopped there. The fact that he came home empty-handed means that he went as far as he could, and in this point he stopped and say "That's it. No more."
I believe that now, in the next turn, it's the time of the Palestinians to make the steps forward. That's the true analysis of the situation.
Charlie Rose: So your best hope would be that the Palestinians will see that Prime Minister Barak has made some concessions, has stepped forward in the search for peace, and that they, on further thinking, will accept some kind of joint sovereignty over portions of Jerusalem in order to reach an agreement?
Ephraim Sneh:: And that--yes. And that's a lot. No one dared to speak about it in the past. There were many Israelis who thought, "Well, some neighborhood suburbs, Arab suburbs, of Jerusalem are not so important. Actually, we can-- we can relinquish them." But nobody dared to say so.
Now, in a broader framework, what actually we offered is a sort of a trade-off. We want to annex to Jerusalem major, large Jewish neighborhoods, and in return to allow a certain extent of sovereignty to the Palestinians in suburbs which are at the periphery of Jerusalem.
A creative differential solution is the only solution that we can have to Jerusalem. It's so complicated a problem that we must build a very, very unusual way of solution to this extremely complicated problem. And we went in this direction.
This was the core of the suggestions, unless we decided to put Jerusalem aside and try to wrap up a deal without Jerusalem, and this is almost impossible.
Charlie Rose: Some say Prime Minister Barak went further than he promised he would go in his election campaign.
Ephraim Sneh:: Well, he says that we are going to keep Jerusalem united and that we keep the defense border of Israel along the Jordan River and that we will not allow an influx, a massive influx of refugees to the borders of Israel. I think that he lived up to his promises. He stretched the flexibility as far as he could, but as I said, he didn't cross those red lines because the description of future Jerusalem would be an expanded, not divided, city where we may have our capital and another part of it, in the eastern periphery of it, the Palestinians could have their own capital. And this is, I think, the--it is consistent with our red lines that we did promise to the Israeli voters-
Charlie Rose: No question in your mind it's consistent with-
Ephraim Sneh:: --just a year and a half ago.
Charlie Rose: --the red lines?
Ephraim Sneh:: In the framework of a certain necessary flexibility, which is necessary in negotiation, I think we kept it. If we succeeded to complete the agreement, then everybody could see that we adhere to our red lines. We didn't make Jerusalem, the Jewish Jerusalem, weaker. We didn't allow another Arab army to be deployed in the West Bank or in Gaza strip. We kept the Jordan River as the defense border of Israel. And we didn't accept the moral and the judicial responsibility for the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees. So I think this is our policy, and we kept it. And at the point that Barak understood that any farther step toward the Palestinians is unacceptable, he went home.
Charlie Rose: Characterize how you perceive Barak's relationship with Arafat, the respect they have for each other, the trust that they have in each other, the sense that--they-are-in-this-together notion?
Ephraim Sneh:: It seems to me that to describe it honestly both leaders understand that their counterpart is the only leader that can strike a deal. Only Arafat can make it on the Palestinian side, and only Barak can do it on the Israeli side. While knowing this, each one has a great extent of respect and a sense of responsibility not--not to bring about total collapse of the negotiations because after us maybe no one will try again.
Charlie Rose: There were reports-
Ephraim Sneh:: I think this is the true description of the relationship.
Charlie Rose: That's why the moment is so important.
Ephraim Sneh:: That's the point. The current--the current leadership of Israel is consistent with the most--the strongest supporters of the peace process.
Who is in Barak's cabinet? People like Peres, Beilin, Banami [sp], Surel [sp], until recently and I hope he will be back soon. These are the staunchest supporters of the peace process.
If this government cannot bring about peace with the Palestinians, reconciliation with the Palestinians, which other government can do it? And in a different way, it applies to Arafat.
Arafat is committed to the peace process. If he fails the entire concept inside the Palestinian society of dealing with Israel through negotiation would collapse. And the next Palestinian leader would be somebody from the very fanatic fringe of the Palestinian society; somebody from the Hamas or the Jihad or those organizations.
So actually that's true. If we fail, maybe no one will try again.
Charlie Rose: Can you tell me if there were credible threats made against Prime Minister Barak's life while he was at Camp David?
Ephraim Sneh:: There are rumors, assessments. You know, I'm sure that there was hidden somewhere a person in our country who is ready to carry out again the same political assassination as put an end to the life of our beloved leader Yitzhak Rabin.
I believe that the killer is waiting somewhere and we have to be aware of it.
The tone of the instigation, the vocabulary that is used in the last couple of weeks against Barak reminds me of the days of October '95, just before the decimation of Rabin. And it's very sad that people in our country didn't learn this terrible lesson.
Charlie Rose: Do you-- do you worry about the life of your friend?
Ephraim Sneh:: Yes. I am concerned about it. You know, the security measures, the precautions that are taken today are very--very, very thorough and strong, but you can never know.
Charlie Rose: Apart from an extremist, how is --
Ephraim Sneh:: He's well-guarded. He's well-guarded.
Charlie Rose: Apart from some extremist like the young man who killed, assassinated, murdered Yitzhak Rabin, how is this going down with the Israeli public, what took place at Camp David? Because Prime Minister Barak was reading the polls that said 60, 70 percent of the people were opposed to some of the concessions he was prepared to make on Jerusalem.
Ephraim Sneh:: I don't think that these are the right figures. There is a high sensitivity in Israel about Jerusalem. And when--allow me to explain what is the difference.
When you ask somebody, "Are you in favor of dividing Jerusalem, of concessions in Jerusalem?" most of the Israelis, including very, very strong Barak supporters, will say "No. We are against it."
But when you ask specifically about a certain neighborhood, "Do you mind that in Shu'fat the Palestinians would have municipal autonomy?" Everybody says, "I couldn't care less. Why not?"
So when you go to specific details about those "concessions," in Jerusalem and people discover that the names of those suburbs, those neighborhoods where we're supposed to make concessions, these are place that he never visited, that is never included in the old prayer of the Jewish people. Those people say, "Ah, is this what you mean? OK. I don't mind."
So when it comes to specific details, then you discover that if it ends up in a real peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians, there are some--there are some concessions in Jerusalem that most of the Israelis are ready to make. It doesn't apply to the holy places with us, to those places which, for us symbolize Jerusalem, which are the subject of the real prayer of the previous generations, of our generation. Because we pray to Jerusalem--not to Abadiz [sp] and not to Shu'fat and not Benhanina [sp]. And these are the places where we were ready to share sovereignty with the Palestinians. That's the big difference.
Charlie Rose: Arik Sharon, the head of the Likud Party, probably looks forward to a new vote of confidence. There is talk of wanting new elections. What will Prime Minister Barak do now to build up his support in the Knesset? Will he make a new deal with Shas or something else?
Ephraim Sneh:: To reach peace with the Palestinians, to put an end to the century-long conflict remains the strategic objective of our government and of Ehud Barak. In order to attain this objective, we need a coalition of parties which are ready to go in this direction. Of course, Meretz has to return to the coalition and we hope to convince Shas to go together with us. And then we'll build a reasonable coalition.
Charlie Rose: Last question--
Ephraim Sneh:: I'm afraid that the Lakhud is not a partner for this-- for obtaining these objectives.
Charlie Rose: And there will be no national--
Ephraim Sneh:: And if there will be no other choice--There is no real national unity now. The Israeli people, a slight majority is in favor of a peace agreement and a minority is against it. Even if it is not a small minority at all, but we have to decide. We can't wait with the decision till we have broader consensus. We have to decide now in order to prevent deterioration down the road.
And there is some moments in the history of the nation when a decision is necessary and not a consensus. And that's exactly the historic moment where we are now. We have a majority for a national decision. It may be a referendum, it may be new elections, but this decision must be taken. We are now at a crossroad and we have to decide which way we take.
Charlie Rose: Now that there is no agreement coming out of Camp David and the likelihood of something happening in the near future is not certain, if the Palestinians go forward with announcing a Palestinian state, what will be the consequences for Israel? And what will Israel do?
Ephraim Sneh:: We strongly advise them not to do that because when you start with unilateral measures, it never stops on the other side a unilateral decision. It may be followed by unilateral mirrors of the other side--in this case, Israel.
And tactics or a ping-pong of unilateral measures, this is not a prescription for a real peace agreement. So it may--and it even may put an end to the others. Because if you do things without considering your partner or, if you want, your rival, you don't reach an agreement.
So unilateral declarations of a Palestinian state is highly unadvisable. And we say to the Palestinians, it's better to wait to make another effort, to think in a more creative way and to reach an agreement--an agreed upon arrangement, formula--than to start with unilateral measures which can start a new circle of violence. And you never know where it ends. So--
Charlie Rose: So the implicit threat is--
Ephraim Sneh:: It is strongly recommended to the Palestinians not to do it.
Charlie Rose: So the implicit threat is that if the Palestinians declare a new Palestinian state on September 13th, there is the possibility that there will be no more bargaining from the Israeli side. And secondly, there may be violence.
Ephraim Sneh:: That's true. That's the danger. That's why I think to take such a measure unilaterally it's not a clever thing to do. There are some practical implications to this declaration. You have to define a territory which is your own. And this is a prescription for a series of clashes. I hope that Arafat will be clever and cautious enough not to do that.
We can reach a good agreement during this year. The 13th of September is not a sacred date. And we can reach an agreement without it. No doubt.
Charlie Rose: General Sneh, thank you so much. I know it's late, as I said, in Tel Aviv. I thank you for joining me at this table, on this program, on this day.
Ephraim Sneh:: Thank you, Charlie.
Charlie Rose: We'll be right back. Stay with us.
Tom Friedman Says Barak Was More Prepared Than Arafat
Charlie Rose: Also tonight from Washington, a journalistic perspective; that of Tom Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist from the New York Times and the author of The Lexus and Olive Tree.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN, "The New York Times": Hi, Charlie.
Charlie Rose: Tell me what you think, where we are now. Is this--is this the absence of success at this summit a complete failure?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Not in the least, Charlie. I think that Camp David 2000 was, in fact, the most important Israeli-Palestinian negotiation in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Charlie Rose: Why?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Um, it is because for the first time issues that had been wrapped up, Charlie, in sealed boxes and which each side carried around under their arm never to be opened, were opened in Camp David. The issues in those boxes were put on the table and actual compromises were discussed for the first time. I'm talking about Jerusalem. I'm talking about territorial compromise. I'm talking about refugees. I'm talking about an end to the conflict.
And that was a huge, huge achievement because to begin to settle them, they had to be unwrapped and put on the table. And that is a big deal.
Charlie Rose: But if you listen to the president and others, it seems like--that Prime Minister Barak made some concessions, but it's hard to appreciate the concessions made by Yasir Arafat. Tell me where they were because if you read the accounts of what happened, it ended up with him saying "No, no, no. I can't. I can't. I can't. I can't."
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I think what happened here basically was that--remember, Barak wanted this summit, Arafat was reluctant. He was reluctant for a lot of reasons--one, because he felt that Barak had actually welched on a lot of promises and not delivered beforehand.
But Barak came far more prepared here to do business. And he laid down specific compromises for how to deal with the Palestinian refugee issue; a pragmatic solution involving both the return of some people to Israel, some to the West Bank and money. He laid down basically a territorial offer to Arafat by which the Palestinians would basically end up with something like 94 percent of the West Bank and Gaza under their control after this is over. And he laid down a proposal for Jerusalem that really involved a kind of mosaic of control where Palestinians would get some neighborhoods outright, some they would have administrative control of, some religious control.
Arafat basically took a kind of rope-a-dope strategy there. He absorbed all of the Barak proposals, but he actually stuck very much to his own mantra, his own line on Jerusalem.
On the question of the West Bank and territorial compromise, though, Arafat's deputies made very clear that they were ready to accept a change of the 1967 border by which Israeli settlements would be incorporated into Israel. They also signaled very importantly they were ready to let Israel have a security presence in the Jordan valley for a set period of time; that Israelis were, I think, quite encouraged by.
So Arafat put some real stuff on the--Arafat's people put some real stuff on the table as well. But on the most emotive issue, the central issue of Jerusalem, Arafat basically, as I said, kind of absorbed the Barak offers, did not come up with a serious or any form of counter-offer at all. And that's what I think was reflected in the President's remarks.
Charlie Rose: Well, do you think that Arafat can come forward, certainly between now and, say, September 13th, one possible deadline, and take a different position on Jerusalem than he has taken before?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well, you have two interpretations really in the U.S. government today on this issue, you know. The question is, is he Nelson Mandela or is he Willie Nelson? Is he a man who's ready for a great compromise or does he really just want to go down singing his old song?
And that's really a question on which there is a lot of division today. Some people will tell you this man and this movement don't know what they want to be when they grow up and they simply weren't ready for a final deal. Other people will tell you--and I would put myself in this camp, basically--that I think Arafat, if he is serious, had to be seen to be saying "no" now in order to make his "yes" more credible later on, number one.
Number two, I feel he did not feel in any way empowered by the Arab-Muslim world to be making any concessions on Jerusalem, which after all involves a billion Muslims and not just five or seven million Palestinians.
Clinton, from Camp David, as you know, Charlie, called Mubarak and on the Saudis, to the president of Egypt and the president of Saudi--the leader of Saudi Arabia to help, basically, Arafat forge a compromise on Jerusalem. Unfortunately they headed for the hills. "Sorry, that phone call is fading out, Mr. President." And they were nowhere to be seen at the time.
Charlie Rose: Is that because they didn't want to take the political risk to themselves for being-- for reaching out beyond what had been the mantra of the Arab world or the Muslim world?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: It would certainly seem so. Now, Arafat has gone back. He's on a tour of the Arab world, or he's about to commence--
Charlie Rose: His first stop was Cairo.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Yeah, his first stop is Cairo. And really, to me, Charlie, the question is, you know, who is Yasir Arafat now? What is he going to put on the table?
He is perfectly in his right to say that Barak's compromise offer on Jerusalem is insufficient; it does not meet his bottom line in a variety of respects. But is he ready, able and willing to put his own compromise on the table, one that would involve Palestinian sovereignty in part of east Jerusalem? Shared control maybe of the Temple Mount? Access to and from the Palestinian area in east Jerusalem, to and from the West Bank, unimpeded by Israeli checkpoints?
I can think of a lot of serious counter-offers that would still be short of what Barak may be demanding right now, but where Israelis would say, "Hmm, you know what, that's a serious offer. We can build on that."
We're not there yet, Charlie. And to me, the big question is Arafat's move now and is he going to put on the table something that Israelis say "I don't like it. I hate it. It falls short of what I wanted. But you know what? Let's talk about that."
Charlie Rose: The most important thing that has happened now, I think you are saying, is that at least the Israeli people are thinking in a new way about Jerusalem and what might be acceptable.
Thomas Friedman: Oh, you know, Charlie, one of the points you and I have discussed often on other issues is sometimes the news is in the noise, and sometimes the news is in the silence.
Sometimes the news is in what everyone is yelling. And sometimes it's in what isn't being said. And I urge you, do not pay attention to all the flapping of lips and all the rapping, the yapping of the right wing politicians in Israel. What is going on in Israel today is a very silent and very important re-drawing of mental maps in people's heads, as the celestial Jerusalem gives way to the real Jerusalem.
I don't know how far it will go. I can't say it's going to achieve, you know, the conclusion that everyone hopes for. But something really important is happening.
Charlie Rose: And that's why the ball is in Yasir Arafat's court right now?
Thomas Friedman: Absolutely.
Charlie Rose: And what can he - what--what flexibility does he have? How much maneuverability does he have to make a counter-offer about Jerusalem that would be acceptable by Barak?
Thomas Friedman: I think it's really hard. There's no question because, you know, like Barak no preparation has gone into preparing the public for any such compromise. As I've said before, it's like he and Barak were two guys trying to get a divorce and they met with the lawyer and they agreed on some of the terms but nobody told the kids. And nobody has still told the kids, basically.
Barak hasn't had a frank conversation with the Israeli public. It's all leaked out in the press. Arafat has not had a frank conversation with the Palestinian people, let alone with the Muslim world.
So this is going to take time. And what might actually prove to be flexibility in the wake of that conversation, we can't predict. It's hard to know what kind of wiggle room he has when he has yet to even make the case of why a compromise is not only the best they can get, but is actually something they can build on and would be in the long term interest of the Palestinian people.
Charlie Rose: What do you think would best--what could most help Arafat come to the conclusion that he ought to reach out now; that this is an opportune moment?
Thomas Friedman: He needs--Absolutely. He needs Arab/Muslim cover. I mean, if you were waving a magic wand, you'd want an Arab summit that basically empowered him to strike a final deal, you know, on this issue; one that did not cede any religious control over Muslim holy places; one that involved Palestinian sovereignty in the eastern half of the city, but one that still left room for a compromise on the key issues with Israel.
That would be the ideal thing. Short of that, you really need the leaders of Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco, basically to provide some kind of cover. And unfortunately here you're dealing with weak, frail and often illegitimate Arab regimes that are terrified of the street. They live by the motto, "There they go. I must catch up for I am their leader."
And these are not people, boy--you know, Arafat could really get out on a limb and look over his shoulder and ain't nobody going to be there. So I have a certain sympathy for him here.
Charlie Rose: So--but are you convinced that he is willing to take the initiative to say to Barak and--I mean, to say to Mubarak and to say to the young Assad and to say to King Abdullah in Jordan and to say to other Arab leaders, "Let's get together. This is a time I need your help. Come on. Let's do something."
Or is he simply saying, "Look, I've been muddling through for a long time, I'll just continue to muddle and maybe circumstances will change and I'll be better off."
Thomas Friedman: It's the question, Charlie, and it's really impossible to know, you know, what's going through his mind. He was quite Delphic, as I understand, at Camp David.
Charlie Rose: What does that mean, "Delphic?"
Thomas Friedman: I don't think he signaled either way which way he's going to go.
Charlie Rose: Oh, I see.
Thomas Friedman: And--but either way, he knows now this is the choice, OK. Basically the PLO and Arafat and the Palestinian National Movement have survived lo these many years, survived Arab regimes that wanted to control it around the throat and Israeli governments that wanted to destroy it.
He has survived all these years by bobbing and weaving and never irrevocably giving anything away. Well, that play is over. We are at the end game now. And he cannot survive the end game.
Charlie Rose: Why is that play over?
Thomas Friedman: Because there's simply no way to get a final deal here, OK, by bobbing, weaving and refusing to irrevocably give anything away. If he wants to be the mayor of Ramallah, that's fine. If he wants to be the mayor of Gaza, he's got that. No problem. He can muddle through. But if he wants to be the president of a real state, then he's going to have to make a decision.
Charlie Rose: Do you think he will go forward and announce a Palestinian state on the 13th of September?
Thomas Friedman: I think everything depends on where the negotiations are then. It would be a futile gesture, Charlie. One that would trigger a unilateral Israeli response and unravel potentially everything that Arafat has achieved.
So I think it's something that they will think hard and long about. I think it's--you know, I'm struck--both guys went back, but look what has been going on in the ground. Both Barak and Arafat gave orders--"Keep things quiet." Saeb Erakat, the Palestinian negotiator, met today, or spoke today, with his Israeli counterpart. They've agreed to meet again on Sunday.
I am just struck at the degree to which nobody wants this to go over a cliff.
Charlie Rose: Everybody is saying something special happened there. I know we didn't reach an agreement, but there is something there that gives us an incentive to go forward.
Thomas Friedman: Exactly. Both Barak and Arafat came away and they could not but have come away saying, "Hmm, he didn't give me what I wanted, not even close, but, man, he was there yesterday. And now they did tell me they would be ready to go here." And so, for you then to walk away and say, "I didn't get what I wanted. Let's go to war. Let's man the barricades." That's not an easy thing to do. They're caught there and they're caught in the best way, I think.
So this is going to take time.
Charlie Rose: What could bring the Arab leaders to come around and give cover to Arafat?
Thomas Friedman: That's a good question, Charlie. I've been thinking about that all day. You know, one would like to think that they could be shamed into it; that people who have so cynically exploited the Palestinian cause all these years might actually do something to help the Palestinian people.
But color me, you know, this Minnesota optimist comes out, I'm sorry, every once in a while on your show, Charlie. One, you know, could only hope that, you know, one of them will actually rise above himself in his own politics and actually sit down and say we have an historic opportunity in Barak, in this moment, with Arafat, to actually bring this conflict to a close.
It's not going to be peace. It's not going to make everybody happy. But to create a foundation out of which co-existence might actually grow, people can live their lives.
You know, that's all you can appeal to. There's not going to be some pressure on them to do, although one would like to see that sometimes. But I don't see it happening.
Charlie Rose: Tom, thank you so much.
Thomas Friedman: My pleasure. Thanks, Charlie.
Charlie Rose: Tom Friedman from Washington.
Thank you for joining us.
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