Joining VOA-TV's David Borgida are Ghaleb Dharabya, of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s U.S. Mission and Mark Regev of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, who comment on what needs to be done to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
And joining me now from the Israeli Embassy here in Washington, Spokesman Mark Regev, and also from the PLO Mission to the United States, joining us as well, Ghaleb Darabya. Thank you both for joining us and being on Newsline today.
Mr. Darabya, let me begin with you. As we follow the talks in the Middle East, what is your confidence level at this stage of the game that the rhetoric that appears to be promising will be matched by what we hope will occur on the ground? And that is a lessening of the terrorist attacks but also steps by the Israelis to foster more and more cooperation. How would you assess that?
Well, we have to really wait and see the results. That's what we are waiting for as a Palestinian people. We want to see a tangible translation for what has been said today in Aqaba from Prime Minister Sharon. We want to see further release of prisoners, we want to see an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people, an end to the checkpoints that exist in the West Bank and Gaza that systematically are dehumanizing people and humiliating them. We need to see tangible changes on the ground, for the people to have better hope that this process is moving forward, so we can convince the Palestinian people that this road map represents your hope of ending occupation and granting your freedom.
Mr. Darabya, we are seeing some of that now. The Israelis are taking some steps. How much is enough to begin the process and make it work? You're saying that you would like to see more. How much is enough?
How much is enough is already set on the road map, which is to see Israel's withdrawal to the lines of the 28th of September, 2001, since the Intifada began. We want to see the normalization, as President Bush correctly said, the normalization of the Palestinians' lives and living conditions in the West Bank and Gaza. And we want to see, as I said before, the most important thing, Israel should withdraw to that line, give the Palestinian Authority the chance and the abilities to run the Palestinian territories, and engage in the security cooperation, which is very fundamental in order to be able to bring the results which the Israeli Government has refused until now.
Mr. Regev, let's turn to you. As a spokesman for the embassy here in Washington, is the Israeli Government prepared to do all this, according to the road map, to the point where it will satisfy Palestinians that there is at least an atmosphere of change and there is a reason to keep moving ahead?
Well, I'm more optimistic now than I've been for quite a while. I think we had an important meeting yesterday in Sharm el-Sheikh and a very important meeting today in Aqaba. The process is moving forward. And I don't know if what Israel will put on the table will satisfy everything the Palestinians want and what the Palestinians put on the table today is not going to satisfy everything we want. But I think we're starting to move in a process where both sides are starting to take steps. We want to create a positive momentum.
The road map is divided into three stages. The first stage of the road map clearly calls for an end to terrorism and a redeployment of Israeli forces back to what we call the status quo, before the violence started in 2000. And we're ready to return to those lines. And we're willing to pull back and re-deploy our forces, to end the curfews and the roadblocks if the Palestinians will stop the terrorism. We can do that together, I hope quickly.
But what could really hurt this process is if today or tomorrow we have another suicide bombing.
Well, let's talk about that because, as we all know, it is a reality of that region. In fact, it is a cycle of violence that we have seen repeatedly, and particularly where there is a moment where it's encouraging and promising. And it's hard to speculate about violence and perhaps even the loss of life, but I suppose we have to. If there were to be violence, a terrorist attack, somewhere in Israel in the days and hours ahead, what would then be the attitude of the Israeli Government, given all the effort that has been put into this diplomacy?
We are trying now with confidence-building steps, and the Palestinians will do the same. Obviously, if an extremist group like Hamas or Islamic Jihad makes a suicide bombing, that can change the atmosphere. What Prime Minister Sharon has said is if the Palestinian leadership and if Prime Minister Abbas take serious steps against terrorism, and nevertheless, unfortunately, a suicide bomber gets through, we will continue the process. We're not going to hold the process accountable to every lunatic fringe element.
Having said that, we want to see, and Prime Minister Abbas has promised this, to President Bush and to Prime Minister, that he will move to disarm and deal with the infrastructure of terrorism, that he will deal with the legitimization that these groups have been given.
I'll give you an example. In Palestinian schools, they put up pictures of suicide bombers on the walls, like in American schools they have Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. And this is unfortunate. It's telling a young generation of Palestinians that the suicide bombings are a good thing.
Well, this is a question I would like you both to try to answer. Mahmoud Abbas is pledging that he will do all he can to end terrorism. And I would like both of you to take a crack at this. And, Mark, since you had the floor last, why don't you go first. And that is, can anyone, with the best of intentions, do what we have been talking about doing, that is, end the terrorism that is so much a part of it? We've talked about what the Israelis have done to some extent, but this is clearly just a very dramatic linchpin of this process, the notion that Israelis feel under attack. Can anyone humanly end this, given what you've talked about?
We only ask for an honest effort, not more. Prime Minister Abbas has said he wants to stop the terrorism, he wants to dismantle terrorist groups. Yesterday there was an important message from important leaders in the Arab world, saying that there should be a no-tolerance policy of terrorism, that some countries and organizations that have been supporting groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad will now hopefully stop.
I think that there is a strong message from the international community, and it's a pro-Palestinian message, that a Palestinian state is doable. It's doable in the immediate short-term. And the biggest enemy to Palestinians realizing national aspirations are these terrorists, are these murderers.
Mr. Darabya, your thoughts?
Well, I think, again, I need honestly to see it. I was very hopeful when the road map was really issued to both sides. But looking at just the past month, which is since the road map was issued four weeks ago, the way to judge how hopeful one can be to see this road map is what is going on, on the ground, what is happening. For the past four weeks, not a single suicide bombing took place inside Israel.
On the other side, when you look at the past four weeks, you see Israel's continued incursions in these Palestinian towns. This is very, very much undermining efforts for the Palestinian Authority. This really undermines the efforts of the Palestinian people. And it kills the hope the Palestinians have.
Yesterday, as Mark said, it was helpful for the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting and today al-Aqaba. It's a very good step forward. But yesterday the Israeli Army went into Nablus, injuring 40 Palestinians, imposing a curfew on the whole town of Nablus. These things that exist on the ground does not in any way helped the process to go forward and the road map to be implemented.
Israel has to make, according to phase one of the road map, make an unequivocal statement of accepting the road map, implementing phase one of the road map, which is, number one, a complete cease-fire, end of their military operations inside the Palestinians’ towns, and, number two, dismantling Israeli settlements. Unless we see these things, and of course the humanitarian conditions, ending their closures, their curfews and checkpoints, nothing can be done. Nothing can be achieved. And the Palestinian Authority will be undermined to punish anybody that breaks the law.
Mr. Darabya, thank you so much for joining us from the PLO Mission to the United States. Thanks for joining us. And Mark Regev, of the Israeli Embassy, we appreciate your time as well.
Thank you very much.