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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Colin Powell interview with Detroit Free Press

Excerpts pertaining to Israel:
Q: Can we accomplish any meaningful growth in trade and economic exchange with the Middle East without settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how far away are we there?
A: I think it will all be so greatly facilitated with the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but that's really not holding people back. Right next door in Jordan we've concluded a free trade agreement... and their trade has soared in recent years and is really, really growing as a result of that free trade agreement.

... The king spends a great deal of time in the United States, and I spend a great deal of time in Jordan; I'm very close to him, and I know what his goal is and that is to make his country more democratic, more representative of the interests of the people and not just the monarchy, and to educate his young people for a different kind of future.

He needs to not only trade the usual indigenous goods, he needs to get into the service sector, he needs to get into the IT sector, he needs to upgrade the quality of education in Jordan and that's what every Arab nation has to focus on. That's why, in addition to working on the Middle East peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis, you'll hear me talk tonight about the Middle East Partnership Initiative, the Millennium Challenge Account, all the other things we have been doing to get ready for the day when there is peace.

Now to your question, we are greatly disappointed in the fact that (Palestinian) Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas resigned from office, and we are now waiting to see whether Ahmed Qureia can put together a cabinet. There's been some discussion over the past 24 hours that a cabinet has been put together.

More important, however, is will the new prime minister have political authority -- real political authority -- that is separate and distinct from that wielded by Chairman (Yasser) Arafat? And will he have full control of the security forces? And if he does have full control over the security forces, will he use those security forces to go after terrorists?

The fact of the matter is that as long as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad can just sit back and make their own judgment as to whether they think things are going well or not and decide whenever they wish to that they're going to blow up another bus full of children and bring the whole thing to a halt again -- until the Palestinians take on that challenge and say to them "No, enough of that. This is no longer an acceptable way to achieve our political objectives. We will never get a Palestinian state as long as we try to do it by blowing up innocent people. We're blowing up the dreams of our own people."

And until the Palestinian leadership takes on that challenge, we can have conferences, we can have plans, we can have proposals, we can have timelines, but it will be very difficult to go forward.

Israel knows it has to meet its obligations under the road map, has to end settlement activity, unauthorized outposts have to go. I have a serious problem with this fence that's being built. We have to open up access between Palestinian cities, towns and villages. We've got to get Israeli troops out of there and turn responsibility back over to the Palestinians. We had started down that road right after Aqaba, when we got everybody on the road map. It was slow, it was halting, it couldn't go fast enough because we couldn't guarantee that Hamas wouldn't start it all up again -- and they did.
Q: How do you find someone to make this work that is acceptable to the United States and Israel and also has credibility with the Palestinian people? And as settlements expand and the fence is built, it's carving up the West Bank and doesn't it almost preclude the possibility of a Palestinian state?
A: We painfully came to the conclusion that Chairman Arafat was not a partner for peace. The Israelis had come to that conclusion some time ago. President Clinton came to that conclusion at the very end of his administration. The last day of his administration he called me as I was getting ready to become Secretary of State the next day and all of his efforts had just come to naught. And he let me have it for about 20 minutes on the phone about Yasser Arafat and how a great deal had been put before him and he didn't take it.

I tried for 14 months to try to get Mr. Arafat to move. I got him out of his confinement in the Muqata'a (Arafat's compound) twice. I went into the Muqata'a through Israeli lines, then the Palestinian lines, with one set of bodyguards passing me off to another set of bodyguards and I sat there across from him when he had a machine gun on his desk and told him that you've got to change. You simply have to become a partner for peace and start taking action against terrorists or we're not going to get anywhere and I'm not going to be able to deal with you.

We got him out of that situation and he didn't change. And so last year, the 24th of June, the president gave a speech, a vision for the Palestinian state that would need new leadership. And guess what, we found new leadership in Prime Minister Abbas, so the Palestinians, with Arafat, created a prime minister position, and we wanted to work with him. And that's why the president went to Aqaba and before that Sharm al-Sheik.

But Abbas was not able to get full control of all the security forces, couldn't wrest them away from Arafat, Arafat constantly undercut him. And finally Abbas said "I've got to have it or I'm going to quit." Arafat didn't give it and he quit.

Arafat is still seen by the Palestinian people as their leader. You can't take away from people what they think about leadership and who their leader should be. But the Palestinian people have to start looking at what that leadership has gotten them. It's not gotten them one day closer to the Palestinian state.

And they're cheering him on now because the Israelis, I think, made a mistake in threatening to exile him and kill him and other things. They just put him back on Page One and every television station. It was a mistake.

With respect to the second part of your question, actions such as continuing settlement activity and a fence that is on your property is fine, but as it transgresses and goes into Palestinian territory, you're creating a de facto situation which makes it harder to define the contiguous line needed for a Palestinian state. We've made it clear to the Israelis that we wouldn't be interested in any final solution that looks like Bantustan or a bunch of little fiefdoms all over the West Bank. It has to be a contiguous, sensible state. So if we can get to the point where we're having those discussions it will be very tough. President Clinton had some very tough discussions with the Israelis and got them to acknowledge how much would have to be given up in order to bring peace between the two parties.

I think if you can get to that point where serious negotiations on what the state looks like take place, you can make progress. Because the reality is that Israel needs peace just as badly as the Palestinians do. Demographically Israelis need peace. Arabs and Palestinians will outnumber them and it will, de facto, by demography, become a Palestinian area pressing in on Israel. Isreali leaders know this and the Israeli people know it. And they know they will have to make the kinds of sacrifices suggested by your question.