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Interview With Martin Indyk - 2002-06-26

The Israeli–Palestinian conflict continues to dominate the news. On Monday, President Bush offered a new proposal for peace in the region and since then there have been mixed reactions to it.

To get an insider’s perspective on the proposal, VOA-TV recently interviewed Martin Indyk, Senior Fellow of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, located here in Washington. Ambassador Indyk is a Middle East expert and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel. He spoke with “NewsLine” host David Borgida about the significant shift in U.S. policy regarding the Palestinians.

Joining us now to talk about the Middle East, from Washington's Brookings Institution, Ambassador Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us today.

My pleasure, David.

Obviously, a very complicated situation. Let's begin, though, with the President's speech and his call for what apparently seemed to be a new Palestinian leadership. He said he did not want a Palestinian leadership, in his words, "compromised by terror." What is your take on this? Does it reflect clearly some new language on the President's part? And what has been, do you think, the reaction in official Washington to all of this?

Well, it is clearly a shift in U.S. policy, which, since September of 1993 and Yasser Arafat's commitment there, in a written letter to Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, in which he renounced terrorism and violence in the settlement of the Palestinian dispute with Israel, since then, official U.S. policy has been to deal with Yasser Arafat as the leader of the Palestinians.

What the President made clear in his speech was that because Arafat had failed to live up to his commitments in terms of not using violence and terrorism to pursue the Palestinian cause, because he had failed to live up to those commitments, because he had failed the Palestinians in terms of his own leadership, because of the corrupt and arbitrary rule that he had established over the Palestinians, because the Palestinians themselves were calling for significant reform, that now the United States was calling for new leadership.

The implication of that, I think, is that the President and at least senior officials, like the Secretary of State, will not be dealing with Yasser Arafat and will instead be focused on trying to get behind the Palestinians as they pursue this reform of their political institutions.

As far as the reaction in Washington, I think it has been mixed. Certainly, on Capitol Hill, both Democrats and Republicans have welcomed the President's strong statement about the need for new Palestinian leadership, but have also welcomed his commitment to help build a Palestinian state on democratic lines, that would be viable, that would change the lives of Palestinians for the better, and that would enable them to live in peace and security with a secure Israel.

Ambassador, it does not appear now, at least in the immediate future, that Secretary of State Powell will be headed to the region. And it also does not appear that there will be an international peace conference, both of which were rumored to be occurring in the immediate future. What is your sense of those two issues?

I think the administration, having shifted its position so clearly on the issue of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership, is now rethinking how they are going to get behind this reform process.

The President laid out a very ambitious agenda for reform in which the United States would play an active role in helping the Palestinians to redraft a constitution -- the Palestinians have already begun work on that -- would oversee, together with the Egyptians and the Jordanians, the building up of and restructuring of the Palestinian security services, a process which is also already underway; and work with the IMF, the World Bank, and the European Union on building credible, transparent economic institutions, together with Salam Fayad, who is the new Finance Minister of the Palestinian Authority, to create a basis for rebuilding the Palestinian economy through its economic institutions and for providing quick humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people. Fifty million dollars has just been set aside by the United States Government for that purpose.

So there are three processes -- the political, the economic and the security -- that the United States is committed to getting behind. And they are now looking at ways in which the United States can step up its involvement in that reform effort.

Ambassador, let's focus in for a moment a little more sharply on Mr. Arafat. Is it possible at this stage that the U.S. policy could, in a sense, backfire, that this could strengthen the policies of Mr. Arafat, strengthen him in terms of the January election, making him seem to be a stronger candidate for that election?

Whatever you do in these situations, it has been my experience when I was in government, there is no good answer or good options. And I would say, first of all, that the President made up his mind to shift policy here because he could no longer abide the fact that Yasser Arafat either is complicit in the terrorist activity or allows it to happen and does nothing to stop it. This has been going on for some time now. And it just got to the point where he could not live with that anymore. He is a man who is very clear about his views, particularly on leadership. And he just feels very strongly that the Palestinian people have been let down by their leader.

Ambassador Indyk, I'm sorry, we have to jump in. Unfortunately, we're out of time for this segment. We'll have you back again on this program again I'm sure. Thanks so much, Ambassador Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, from the Brookings Institution here in Washington.