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Interview with James Phillips - 2002-05-08


MR. BORGIDA:
Joining me now to discuss developments in the Middle East and terrorism there is expert James Phillips, of the Heritage Foundation here in Washington. Mr. Phillips, you've joined us before. Thanks for doing it again today.

MR. PHILLIPS:
Thank you.

MR. BORGIDA:
Events in the Middle East, one must say, as a neutral observer, are spiraling still further out of control, both sides exchanging charges of terrorism. How would you assess this latest suicide bombing near Tel Aviv and its impact on the peace process first?

MR. PHILLIPS:
I think it was an attempt to derail any efforts on the U.S. and the international community to get negotiations back on track. I'm not sure which group was behind this, but it already has disrupted the negotiations, in the sense that Ariel Sharon has been forced to return to Israel. It's going to lead to increased tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority. And over time, it's going to further reduce the trust, the already badly frayed trust, the two sides have in each other.

MR. BORGIDA:
And it's only going to get worse, because the Prime Minister has already said that he intends to certainly react to this. This escalating process of violence just keeps going back and forth. Do you see any light at the end of this tunnel?

MR. PHILLIPS:
I think the only possible light is if Yasser Arafat decides to abide by his commitments under the Oslo Treaty and crack down on terrorists. But he has refrained from doing that in the past. I mean, he's done it temporarily, but the only way out of this I think is if Yasser Arafat can restrain the Palestinians.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let's talk a little bit about Yasser Arafat, because Ariel Sharon came to Washington, bringing a document that he claimed had sufficient evidence that would describe Yasser Arafat as a terrorist -- certainly aiding and abetting terrorism. And Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians say that it's the Israelis who are engaged in terrorism, with their occupation and so forth. What do you make of this effort by Prime Minister Sharon to convince President Bush that Mr. Arafat should, in effect, be the odd man out of any negotiations?

MR. PHILLIPS:
Well, I think he's got an uphill struggle. Because although President Bush himself is well aware that Arafat hasn't lived up to his commitments, and in fact some of Arafat's people have engaged in terrorism, many U.S. officials say, well, what is the alternative, who else can you go to, to negotiate with the Palestinians? And although Arafat himself may not be a full partner in peace, there is no one else there, at least in the short run, that the Israelis can negotiate with.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let me interrupt and ask you that question. Is there anybody else on the horizon, or somewhat below it, that can come in should Yasser Arafat be deemed in one way or the other not someone that can conduct these kinds of negotiations? Is there somebody? You've studied the Middle East.

MR. BORGIDA:
Unfortunately, I think Arafat has made sure that there is no logical successor, I think in part to keep the internal political struggle down. So, once Arafat is gone, it's unclear who exactly will be able to fill his shoes. And in that much uncertainty, some State Department officials argue that the U.S. and Israel should deal with the person it knows rather than some unknown quantity. But I think Sharon has some strong arguments about not trusting Arafat. Because, after all, Arafat did not live up to some of his obligations with the agreements he has made with other Arab leaders, not just Israelis, in Jordan and in Lebanon. So he has a long history of not living up completely to his agreements.

MR. BORGIDA:
As we wind down, let's make sure the record is clear. I'm sure that Yasser Arafat would say that Ariel Sharon has probably not been a credible partner in the peace process as well, obviously exchanging more and more charges back and forth.
In the final 30 seconds or so, how is all of this going to play in the broader effort, for example, the U.S. intentions to deal with Saddam Hussein? Is there a broader implication here beyond the Middle East?

MR. PHILLIPS:
I don't think the U.S. can afford to give Saddam Hussein a free pass just because there are tensions elsewhere in the world, although I think Saddam is trying to keep the pot boiling, maintain financial support to the families of some of the suicide bombers, trying to keep Israeli-Palestinian tensions very high, to divert the U.S. I think in the long run, the U.S. and the world community has to focus much more closely on Iraq, because it's trying to rebuild its weapons of mass destruction.

MR. BORGIDA:
The views of James Phillips, of the Heritage Foundation here in Washington. Thank you, Mr. Phillips, for joining us today. We appreciate it.

MR. PHILLIPS:
Thank you.

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