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Asali & Guttman Discussion on Middle East Violence - 2003-04-24


VOA’s David Borgida discusses with Dr. Ziad Asali of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and Nathan Guttman, Washington Correspondent for the Israeli Newspaper Haaretz, the recent violence and political changes in the Middle East.

MR. BORGIDA
And joining us now for a discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian situation, Dr. Ziad Asali of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and Nathan Guttman, a Washington correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Thank you both for joining us. This is a sad day, when there is violence in the Middle East. It seems to be repeating itself almost constantly. Dr. Asali, we thought that perhaps after the Palestinian Government at least had gotten over this hump with the Prime Minister, the Security Chief and so on, that perhaps the focus would be on politics and not violence, but it's back again. Is the terrorism and violence just always going to be with us and an impediment to this roadmap?

MR. ASALI
Well, what you have seen is an extension of politics expressing itself violently. I do not think that we have actually resolved the intra-Palestinian conflicts by just agreeing to have a cabinet formed between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Abu Mazen. There is still a great deal of dissension and opposition to the formation of the cabinet. And in fact, following a course of a peaceful negotiation, there are forces that are not quite interested yet in following a course of peaceful negotiations. So, I do not think that you or I or anybody else will be surprised if we see more of this for some time to come. As long as the situation that the Palestinians live in is unchanged, you will see more of this.

MR. BORGIDA
What do you think of that, Mr. Guttman, a continuing expression of the unhappiness of Palestinians and those who may or may not represent them, or is the violence simply violence for violence sake? What is your view?

MR. GUTTMAN
It's hard to tell at this stage. There is a lot of frustration on both sides, and it's hard to know what the reason for the violence is. The one thing that is clear is that the Israeli public feels that the end of the violence is the precondition for moving forward in a peace process. And for Israelis, the fact that they still don't feel safe to get up in the morning and go to a coffee shop or get on a bus, that's the main thing that leads them right now to oppose any peace plan or to be afraid of moving forward.

So, once violence goes down -- and there was a certain decline -- but once violence goes down, the Israeli public will be more willing to move forward.

MR. BORGIDA
But we have seen this over and over again, and I've covered this for a long time and you two have been observers of this for a long time. It does seem that when there is some political progress made on any front, whether it's in Washington or another capital, the forces of destruction, in some ways, scuttle progress.

MR. ASALI
You can say that as an observation. Practically speaking, whenever we had a landmark of a close approximation to an understanding, you would have some event take place that's violent. I do want to state here, which I think is the obvious, that the Israeli public feels insecure, and for good reason, but so do the Palestinians. The Palestinians' day-to-day life is completely miserable. And as long as their lives is at this degree of misery and they live under occupation, it is not entirely hard to understand that there are some factions within the Palestinian body politic that will claim that violence is the only way because these people are not responding to anything.

So, this is the chicken and egg type of situation. And it seems to me if serious people want to pursue a serious solution, there has to be a certain degree of coordinated improvement on both sides, rather than to say you do this completely before I do anything completely. I imagine thoughtful people are doing just that as we speak.

MR. BORGIDA
Do you think the average Israeli on the streets of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem understand that there are those in the Palestinian community who feel like their only method of self-expression is violence, or do they see that as a pretext for violence?

MR. GUTTMAN
I think they might understand it on a certain level, but on the day-to-day level, when you're afraid to send your kid to school because the bus might blow up, people don't really think about what is the motivation of the other side and what kind of frustration led them to this situation. So, even if there is, at a certain level, understanding to that motivation, it isn't what leads Israelis to make decisions.

MR. BORGIDA
Do you think, Mr. Asali, we will see a roadmap for peace disclosed in the week ahead or so that may give the process a little bit of momentum? We're not going to resolve anything here today certainly, and doubtful that others will in the next week or two, but will the roadmap released give it some momentum?

MR. ASALI
Releasing the roadmap is almost a certainty. This is something that has been promised officially by all kinds of levels of authority in the United States, and it will be released once the cabinet is confirmed. Moving the release of the roadmap into an implementable, political set of rules, with timelines, is a harder job, needless to say. And it will take a lot of willpower, a lot of discipline, and, really, good intentions. People have to be convinced on both sides that there is enough of a segment, a sufficiently politically active segment, on both sides that would want to make this a success. And this is the challenge for those who want to make it work.

MR. BORGIDA
Mr. Guttman, would you describe the skepticism in the Israeli public as healthy or very cynical at this stage? Does the average Israeli see this process now -- not the terrorism but the peace process itself, all the dimensions of it -- do they see that as just another political dimension that has no real connection with their lives and is not realistic, the violence will go on, and that's what they really have to live with?

MR. GUTTMAN
It's hard to be optimistic right now. I think the Israeli public remembers only the plans that surfaced in the last two years, the Zinni plan, the Tenet plan, the Mitchell plan, the Saudi plan. They were all around for a couple of weeks, and then they faded away because no one did anything to promote these plans. So, I think Israelis, and the polls show, that the Israelis are willing eventually to go forward and move forward to a two-state solution. But right now it seems so far away that it's hard to give a lot of credence to this plan.

MR. BORGIDA
Well, it's a frustrating situation. I'm afraid our time is up. We could spend a lot more time talking about this. But thanks so much for your views, Nathan Guttman, Washington correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and Dr. Ziad Asali, the President of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Both of you, thanks for coming in on our day today.

MR. ASALI & MR. GUTTMAN
We appreciate it.

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