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Middle East Conflict: An Israeli View of Peace

Peace negotiator Yossi Beilin is a member of Israel's Knesset (Parliament) and chairman of the Meretz-Yachad party. Dr. Beilin has had posts in the governments of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak. Beilin held unofficial peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in 2003, which led to the Geneva Initiative, and was one of the architects of the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993.

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Other segments from the episode on August 23, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 23, 2006: Interview with Yossi Beilin; Interview with Sari Nusseibeh.

Transcript

DATE August 23, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Yossi Beilin, member of Israel's Knesset and architect
of past peace agreements discusses wars in Lebanon and Iraq
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're going to ask two longtime Middle East peace proponents--one an Israeli,
the other a Palestinian--how the war in Lebanon and the war in Iraq have
affected prospects for negotiating a Middle East peace. A little later, we'll
hear from Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al-Quds University, the Arab
university in Jerusalem. He co-founded a peace initiative with the former
Israeli security chief.

Our first guest is Yossi Beilin, the chairman of the Meretz-Yachad Party in
the Israeli Knesset. Beilin was an architect of the peace plans the Geneva
Initiative and the Oslo Accords, which was signed at a 1993 White House
ceremony, in which Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands. In 2000,
Beilin participated in Middle East peace talks in Taba. He's also held
several ministerial positions in the Israeli government.

Yossi Beilin, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. YOSSI BEILIN: Thank you.

GROSS: You serve in the Knesset, but did the war take you by surprise?

Mr. BEILIN: Yeah. I must admit that it was a surprise, and that six years
since our withdrawal from Lebanon were very quiet years and flourishing ones.

We said--my party said, and I personally said--that since we withdrew totally
from Lebanon, there was no justification for any military act against Israel.
And once Hezbollah provoked us the way they did by kidnapping two soldiers,
and killing eight others, there was a full justification for Israel to react
militarily. Then, the question of course was, `What kind of a reaction should
we choose?' And this is different question.

GROSS: So what is your opinion of how Israel conducted the war?

Mr. BEILIN: Since Syria was the force behind Hezbollah, and without Syria,
Hezbollah could not have acted, that some military targets in Syria were much
more justified than civilian targets in Lebanon. So my initial idea was that
the target was not properly chosen. Then, we thought that the ground
operation were totally a mistake. I mean, that after a few days of air
attacks, we should have ended this operation and tried to have the best UN
resolution. Rather than that, we continued the war, and we decided to go for
a ground operation, and then even to enlarge it until the Litani River, which
was a very big mistake.

GROSS: Was Israel waiting for the opportunity to try to destroy Hezbollah's
arsenal?

Mr. BEILIN: I'm not so sure. I'm not so sure. I think that we were taken
by surprise, we were not 100 percent prepared, and I'm not sure whether the
government of Israel waited for such a moment. I mean, perhaps there were
people who said, `Well, it is better to have such an operation, a surgical
operation right now and not to wait until they are much better equipped. But
I don't think that this was a real preparedness on our side and that people
waited for this moment.

GROSS: What do you think the war has done to Israel's image, and to the image
of its army?

Mr. BEILIN: Regretfully, I cannot say that we won the war of images. And
that despite some of the achievements, like the decrease of the power of
Hezbollah, and the decision of the Lebanese army to deploy itself in the south
of Lebanon after more than 30 years of Israeli requests which were rejected,
still the general feeling is that it was far from a victory, and this has
some...(unintelligible)...on the--on some of our enemies, who believe that
Israel is not as powerful as they had thought.

GROSS: So do you think that in some way that means the war leaves Israel more
vulnerable?

Mr. BEILIN: It's little bit too early to judge, because one can also raise a
counterargument, and to say that it was easier for Israel to have peace with
our neighbors when their feeling was of a kind of a symmetry, rather than when
they felt that we won and they were totally defeated. This is especially
right about Egypt and us, after the '73 war in which they thought that there
was a big achievement for them, rightly or wrongly. And here, what I'm trying
to think is whether it would be possible against the background of the results
of this war to say, `OK, you feel that you succeeded, rightly or wrongly,
let's negotiate now, and it will be easier for you to negotiate with us, and
we might get an agreement right now, rather than years ago, because of the
very, let's say, vague results of this war.'

GROSS: And negotiate with who? You're talking about negotiating with
Hezbollah, with Hamas?

Mr. BEILIN: First of all, I would negotiate with everybody who is ready to
negotiate with me. Neither Hezbollah nor Hamas is ready to negotiate with
Israel, which leaves us with the government of Lebanon, with Abu Mazen--and
Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, and with the Syrian government.
All of them, all of them are speaking about an agreement with Israel, which is
a very, very unique situation, and a very positive one. And I think that we
have to seize this opportunity, rather than to dismiss it, and try perhaps to

go for another international conference, kind of a Madrid II. The first
Madrid conference took place in '91. After 15 years, I think that it is about
time to reconvene, to analyze the achievements, to refer to the things which
have not taken place yet, and to see how can we have peace with Syria, with
Lebanon and with the Palestinians.

GROSS: My impression is that right now the war has affected confidence in
Israel about pursuing a negotiated peace, and that seeing what the Hezbollah
militia is capable of, and seeing, you know, Hamas kidnap an Israeli soldier
after Israel had withdrawn from Gaza. That a lot of Israelis have less
confidence in the peace process, and that the war and the Hamas kidnapping has
reinforced the idea that Israel should at least temporarily give up on the
idea of a negotiated peace. Is that an accurate reading of Israeli public
opinion now?

Mr. BEILIN: I don't think so.

GROSS: No?

Mr. BEILIN: I don't think so. I think that people lost their confidence in
the unilateral arrangement, because of Lebanon and Gaza, and they feel that
Israel was the one which was ready to give up, and the other side did not
appreciate it, and they, in a way, breached the non-agreement. I don't think
that the same refers to peace agreements, because, I mean, I think it is very
obvious. We have a peace agreement with Egypt since '79. We have a peace
agreement with Jordan since '94, and these are the big achievements of Israel.
Neither interim agreements, nor unilateral steps were as successful. So I
believe that--although I did not see new polls, but I do believe that the
situation is that people are very disenchanted by unilateralism after a period
of a year or so whereby they thought maybe this was a nice substitute for
agreement, and they understand today that peace agreements do not have
substitutes.

GROSS: Now, you mentioned skepticism, growing skepticism about unilateral
withdrawals. You were one of the advocates of unilateral withdrawal from
Lebanon in 2000. Do you have any second thoughts on how that was conducted?

Mr. BEILIN: No, not at all. I think that it is very clear that somebody
like me would always, also in the future, support unilateralism if the
alternative is to remain in the occupied land. This went for Gaza, this went
for Lebanon, and will go for the West Bank. But I will always try and
convince the decision makers to have a peace agreement. And this happened
years ago with Lebanon. I believe that we should have signed an agreement
with Syria, and paid the price of the Golan Heights in order to have this
peace, knowing that it will have a huge impact on Lebanon, and that as a
result of such an agreement, too, we also withdraw from Lebanon. But the
government of Israel, which was then the government of the Labor Party, on
which I served, it was not ready to pay the price of the 100 percent of the
Golan Heights. Barak was then the prime minister, and after a very, very
important summit in Shepherdstown, in December '99, January 2000, he decided
not to sign an agreement with Syria. And then I supported unilateralism as a
fallback. And I think that what we got out of it is a relative silence for
six years, and a northern part of Israel which was flourishing in all these
years. I don't think that anybody would now like to remain in Lebanon, and
the proof is that nobody is suggesting today, after this operation, once we
reoccupied south Lebanon, to stay there.

GROSS: My guest is Yossi Beilin, an architect of a couple of Middle East
peace plans and a member of the Israeli Knesset. We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Yossi Beilin. He's chair of
the Meretz-Yachad Party in the Israeli Knesset. And he's one of the
architects of a couple of the major peace initiatives over the years and is a
longtime advocate of a negotiated peace in the Middle East.

What's left of the peace movement in Israel, and what of its position now?

Mr. BEILIN: Well, the peace movement, in many ways, won its day. I mean,
what you have today is a government which is not the government of the peace
camp, which is ready to have a peace--a Palestinian state, a prime minister
who said some weeks ago that he was ready to give up 90 percent of the West
Bank without any return on the Palestinian side. So that, I mean, our big
campaign of peace between us and our neighbors about Palestinian state, about
putting an end to occupation, all these things became kind of a common
denominator among most of the Israeli political parties, which is a huge, huge
achievement. And I believe that today, especially when people see that it is
not only a matter of force with which you solve problems and you have to be
diplomatic and you have to negotiate, I think that today, we have a very
special role and we are calling for immediate negotiations with all our
neighbors, namely Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians, and we suggest a Madrid
II conference in order to launch this process. I can also tell you that
according to the polls which have been published in the last days, we are not
losing, we are gaining.

GROSS: But when Hamas controls the majority of seats in the Palestinian
legislature and Hamas doesn't recognize Israel or its right to exist, how can
you have a negotiated peace if you can't negotiate with Hamas?

Mr. BEILIN: Well, here, the procedure is quite clear. The Hamas is telling
the world that it is ready, the Mahmoud Abbas will negotiate with Israel.
Once he ends his negotiations, he will not be in a situation to decide for
himself but he will have to bring it either to a referendum or to a meeting of
the Palestinian National Council. If there is a majority for such an
agreement then it will become a reality. This is what Hamas is saying. Now,
there is now an opportunity for Hamas infada to form a unity government and I
think that this would be a way for Hamas to stick to its ideology but to
enable others to negotiate on their behalf so that they will not be the ones
to shake our hands but they will benefit from an agreement with Israel, which
is a kind of a process which they are going through while they are moving from
a terrorist group or in an opposition group into a political party in power.

GROSS: So to sum up, in a time of incredible pessimism in the Middle East,
you still hold out some optimism that this difficult time could be used as an
opportunity to negotiate some kind of peace plan? Is that...

Mr. BEILIN: You're right.

GROSS: OK. But, you know, a lot of people in Israel, I think right now, have
the opinion that Hamas and Hezbollah are committed to the destruction of
Israel and that Hezbollah's ability to hold its own in the war has reinforced
that commitment to the destruction of Israel. What's your reaction to that
point of view?

Mr. BEILIN: Well, there is a big difference between the two groups.
Hezbollah is not a partner, not a potential partner. It's after all, a small
group. And the success of Hezbollah to survive, of course, doesn't prove that
Israel was not in a situation to put an end to this--to its existence, had
Israel used all its power to do this. With Hamas, Hamas is a party which won,
regretfully, the house of the majority of the Palestinians. And Hamas is
going through a change, undoubtedly. It is not enough yet but it is
important. And I think that there are also some nuances inside this movement,
too. And this is why I believe that with Hamas, at the end of the day, if
they change their mind or even if they just give Mahmoud Abbas the mandate to
negotiate, there is a possibility to get to an agreement, which is not the
case with the Hezbollah. And I think that people understand this, the
difference.

GROSS: Meanwhile, what's the political war within Israel right now? You
know, for example, there was a letter signed by hundreds of military
reservists in Israel saying that their training was inadequate, the mission
was unclear and the military supplies and equipment were inadequate. What's
happening in the Knesset now?

Mr. BEILIN: Well, I think that the situation right now is conducive to an
investigation committee. Many forces are asking for it. In a vote in the
Knesset yesterday, we had 25 members of the Knesset supporting this idea and
only 27 against it. So it was not far from becoming the declaration of the
Knesset to have such an investigation committee. I believe that it won't be
possible for the government to drag it for a long while, and eventually, they
will have to take a decision to have this committee. And then, once this
committee is established by the Supreme Court and a senior judge will lead it,
then I believe that part or most of this public protest will fade because the
main issue is this committee. So it is true that we are going through a
difficult process, not only because of the war but also because of the
different allegations against the president, the prime minister, the minister
of justice and others, and it is both a difficult period, but on the other
hand, I must admit, a very interesting one, with options which are open
towards solutions because especially people in politics under distress, might
think that a big policy towards peace or towards something else will divert
the attention of the people from criticism against them to the issue itself,
and they may be right.

GROSS: You know, in talking about peace, this is a time, and we're seeing the
rise of Islamic extremism throughout much of the Islamic world. And this
extremist movement is not only very militant, it's very anti-Semitic and
anti-Israel. How do you think the rise of this pan-Arab, extremist Islam
movement is affecting Israel's security and its options for a negotiated
peace?

Mr. BEILIN: Well, it does penetrate the--I would say, inner circle of the

Middle East. And the Arab countries surround us are not immune against these
trends. Still, I would like to reject the idea that what we have is a war of
civilizations or a war of religions. I think that everywhere, and also in the
Islamic world, you have extremists, you have moderate people, you have
pragmatic people. The wisdom is to create always the coalition of sanity,
those people who are much more moderate, much more pragmatic on both sides,
and would want to live and they'll want their kids to live. These are the
majorities, by the way, everywhere. So the coalition of sanity is something
which is available. And I think that the role of the peace camp is to put an
end to the war situation in the inner circle so that the inner circle, meaning
Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestinians, will not create a pretext
for those who want to fight forever, that they are fighting for some kind of a
just cause like the Palestinian state or something like this. The whole idea,
and this was the idea of the late Yitzhak Rabin. He wanted very much to have
peace in the inner circle before Iran is becoming a nuclear power and before
the hatred towards Israel is so big in the Arab world that anybody who will
make peace with us will be seen as a traitor. And he was right, and it is
still not too late.

GROSS: Yossi Beilin is a member of the Israeli Knesset and chair of the
Meretz-Yachad Party. He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry
Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Let's get back to our interview with Yossi Beilin about how the wars in
Lebanon and Iraq have affected prospects for a negotiated peace in the Middle
East. Beilin is chair of the Meretz-Yachad Party in the Israeli Knesset. He
was an architect of the peace plans, the Geneva Initiative and the Oslo
Accords.

I'm interested in hearing how you think the war in Iraq has affected prospects
for a peace in the Middle East. When the Bush administration made the
decision to invade Iraq, one of the arguments was that if you overthrow Saddam
Hussein and create a democracy in Iraq, democracy will spread throughout the
Middle East and help Israel negotiate a peace. And what do you think is the
reality of that?

Mr. BEILIN: Several impacts on the Middle East peace process. One, the
United States administration is overwhelmed by Iraq, by the war in Iraq and
its ramifications. There's no other issue on its agenda, no real other issue.
As a result of it, the United States lost its energy, readiness, time to deal
with other Middle East problems. Another point is Syria. Because of the very
negative attitude of the United States to Syria against the background of the
behavior of Syria in Iraq, the United States is boycotting Syria and cannot be
any more a mediator between Syria and Israel, which had been the case in the
past. I believe that the interests of the United States, now being here in
the Middle East, vis a vis many Middle Eastern forces, including Hezbollah,
Hamas and others, is tying its hands in its freedom to negotiate and to
shuttle between us and our neighbors. So I would say that for many, many
aspects, the results of the war on Iraq made it more difficult for us to
achieve peace than before.

GROSS: And finally, I'd like to know just, you know, you've given us a lot of
arguments why you think a negotiated peace plan is still possible, why the war
can actually have opened doors if people allow those doors to be opened. But
just taking your pulse for a second, if you could just give us a reading of
how optimistic or pessimistic you're feeling right now.

Mr. BEILIN: I believe that there is an opening which wasn't there before.
The big question is, `How big is this opening?' Is it big enough in order to
change the situation towards peace, or is it just another ray of hope which
might disappear? And this is why it is more than a matter of optimism or
pessimism. It is a matter of creativity, it is a matter of readiness to be
proactive and to do something towards it. And this is what I'm trying to do.
I'm trying to speak with whoever I can in the leadership of the world, those
whom I believe are relevant for the Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian treks,
who can have their own influence and impact in order to make it possible for
the different parties to have contacts to talk to each other and to go for
serious negotiations after all these years. At least we now know what is the
price, what should be done in order to have peace. And this is, I believe, a
very important component towards peace. So I would say that I'm far from
being pessimistic but in order to be--I mean, I'm not just optimistic to
believe that the situation will be better tomorrow. I believe that it is my
task to make it so.

GROSS: Yossi Beilin, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. BEILIN: Thank you.

GROSS: Yossi Beilin is a member of the Israeli Knesset and chair of the
Meretz-Yachad Party.

Coming up, one of the leading Palestinian advocates of a negotiated two-state
peace agreement, Sari Nusseibeh. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Sari Nusseibeh of Al-Quds University discusses wars
in Lebanon and Iraq, and possibilities of peace
TERRY GROSS, host:

On this edition of FRESH AIR, we're talking with an Israeli and a Palestinian
advocate of a negotiated Middle East peace plan about how the wars in Lebanon
and Iraq have affected prospects for peace. We just heard from Yossi Beilin.
Our next guest, Sari Nusseibeh, is the president of Al-Quds University, the
Arab university of Jerusalem. In 2003, along with a former Israeli security
chief, Nusseibeh co-founded the People's Voice, an Israeli-Palestinian civil
initiative for a negotiated two-state solution. In 1991, he was a member of
the Palestinian delegation steering committee at the Madrid Peace Conference.
From 2001 to 2003, he was the PLO's commissioner for Jerusalem affairs.

Dr. Nusseibeh, welcome to FRESH AIR. Did the war between Israel and
Hezbollah take you by surprise?

Dr. SARI NUSSEIBEH: Yes. I think--I certainly didn't expect the war to
erupt in the way that it did. The whole series of events that led one after
the other was--took me totally by surprise, right to the very end, actually.

GROSS: With Hezbollah emerging as a hero to many Muslims in the Middle East,
how does this change the dynamics of the Middle East?

Dr. NUSSEIBEH: Well, there are two kinds of possible scenarios that might, I
think, evolve from this. One is to assume that people come out of this
thinking that war or conflict or the use of force simply leads nowhere, that
in the final analysis, whether it is forced used by Israel, I guess the Arab
side or that used by the Arabs against the Israeli side, only leads to more
conflict. But unfortunately, there's another line of thinking that might
evolve, another lesson to be drawn, if you like, which is that on the Arab
side, the--to say that force does seem to work. Hezbollah proved that Israel
is not invincible and so perhaps we should chuck away every thought we have
about making peace with Israel, let's just pursue the option of using
violence. We need more training. Perhaps we can learn from Hezbollah.

And I would also suggest that in a parallel way, similar conclusions can be
drawn on the Israeli side. And by similar conclusions, I mean on the one
hand, people coming after this saying violence doesn't work, and on the other
hand, people coming out to say clearly, violence needs to be--we need to
become better at the use of violence, that the answer to what happened in
Lebanon is technical in the sense that we have to be better prepared, we have
to have better intelligence, we have to carry out our war against the other
side more efficiently, but that clearly, we have therefore to develop our
military strength. And my thinking is that most likely, unfortunately, both
sides will come to the conclusion that we must equip ourselves better for a

more effective use of force.

GROSS: Many Israelis feel that they have been betrayed. Israel pulled out of
Gaza and then Hamas militia men crossed the border and kidnapped Israeli
soldiers. Israel pulled out of Lebanon in 2000 and, you know, a few weeks
ago, a soldier was kidnapped by Hezbollah. Some Israelis think that, `What
are they to make of this?' You know, they pull out of a region and they're
attacked. So what--you know, what alternatives does that give them? And I
wonder what your reaction is to Israelis who feel so betrayed that they
withdraw and are then attacked?

Dr. NUSSEIBEH: Well, I think, you know, you're quite right in the sense that
in Israel, some people or many people will probably draw the conclusion from
what happened from the events, from the war, that it makes no sense to call
for living at peace with Arab neighbors, that the only way to survive, the
only way to make sure that you continue to exist is to rely on a better
capacity or ability to use force, that the Arab side is not trustworthy, not
dependable, is not serious, not committed to peace or coexistence.

But of course, you know, looked at from another perspective, let us say,
looked at from the perspective of people such as myself, who still believe in
the possibility of peace, you will probably find people arguing, I certainly
would argue, that the fault in the actions that were undertaken by Israel
really lie with the way in which things happened, whether in Gaza or in
Lebanon. In other words, the way that Israel withdrew, first of all, from
Lebanon, and then later from Gaza. That as they withdrew, they did not
withdraw on the basis of a political agreement or understanding with the other
side now. And there's always been people, again, I'm one of them, who've
argued that if you want to withdraw, it has to be done on the basis of a
mutual agreement, of a clear vision concerning where you want to get to at the
very end.

Now, in Gaza, of course, it was clear, as Israel withdrew, that there was
discontent on the Palestinian side. There was still a problem. People still
felt under occupation. People still felt that Israel was taking the steps it
was taking not in order to reach peace with the Palestinians but in order to
reach better security arrangements for itself at the expense of the
Palestinians being able to achieve their own rights.

GROSS: Do you think that there are connections now between Hamas and
Hezbollah, and do you think that the war has strengthened whatever connections
existed? And I'll say that, you know, Hezbollah's a Shiite group, Hamas is a
Sunni group, and the tradition wisdom has been that Sunni and Shia are more
opponent than ally. But the conventional wisdom now is that that seems to be
changing and that Sunni and Shia groups, outside of Iraq anyway, seem to be
uniting in some kind of opposition to the West.

Dr. NUSSEIBEH: Yeah. I mean, I'm surprised that you call it conventional
wisdom. I mean, it's probably conventional only in some quarters to think or
to have thought that Sunnis and Shiites are sort of pitted one against the
other. Certainly in Iraq, there was a problem in the past few years, but in
general, I wouldn't say necessarily and in all cases and all ways, where you
have Sunnis and Shiites you have people fighting against each other. Very
often, you'll have Sunnis and Shiites close to one another, not fighting one
another. And certainly, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, the
Palestinians, as you know, or at least, you know, I'm saying this for your
listeners, are Sunni, the Muslim Palestinians are Sunni, they've never really
had any ideological or political problems with the Shiites, whether in Syria
or in Lebanon that I know about of any importance. And so it's, in fact, very
easy to see how the Shiites today, in Lebanon or elsewhere for that matter,
would join hands with the Sunnis in--the Hamas people, for example, in
Palestine, in order to work together. I think they've had contacts in the
past together, and I believe that from this moment on, from the moment of the
war that took place in Lebanon last month, onwards, they're going to probably
have a lot more to do with one another.

GROSS: You had worked with the PLO, which was, I think is fair to say, a
secular militant group. Hamas is an Islamist group. And I wonder how you
think life for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza has changed under the
government of Hamas, and if you think things will reach the point where
Palestinian women, for instance, are required to wear the veil?

Dr. NUSSEIBEH: Yeah. Well, first of all, to go back to your description of
the PLO, you know, the PLO was supposed to be an umbrella group organization
that allowed people with different backgrounds and ideologies and so on to
gather under the same roof, and it was like a structure, a vast political
structure which included all the different representations of ways of thinking
among the Palestinian population, which at the time, when it was created, did
not need to include an Islamicist faction or manner of thinking because that
faction only represented a small minority, and it wasn't really interested in
the national struggle and in the national efforts at bringing about
independence and so on and so forth.

So today, Hamas has become extremely strong. It's decided to become involved
in politics. It ran for elections, it won. It is now in control, in power.
And certainly, as soon as they're able to--they haven't, by the way, been
given a chance because you know, there's been this siege, financial siege.
They haven't been able to spend any money. The Israeli authorities have been
picking them up, minister after minister, and putting them in jail, in my
opinion, in a very, sort of unacceptable way. And I say this, you know, as a
non-Hamasist. But I think it's been terrible for our system that this has
happening. But anyway, let's assume they do assume power properly and begin
to implement this. Then I think, you know, yes, there will be the rub because
either Palestinian society is prepared to accept a system of extremist
religious government where, for example, women will not have equal rights, or
where, for example, education is totally guided by religious rulings
where--and so on and so forth, or they will not.

GROSS: One of the messages you've been trying to send Palestinians is that
they have to give up the right of return, the right to go back to the homes
that they lost in the 1940s. And I'm wondering how you reached that
conclusion that the right of return has to be taken off the table in order for
a peace settlement to really work?

Dr. NUSSEIBEH: In this particular instance, I've come to the conclusion that
it is impossible, in fact, to pursue the fulfillment of two rights I have, at
least two rights I have simultaneously, namely, the right to return as well as
the right as a people to be free, to have independence, to be sovereign, to
build a future for myself and for the people. And those two rights, namely,
the right to return, as well as the right to be free, simply cannot be
simultaneously fulfilled. And so you have to make a decision. And you know,
I've argued basically has been, you know, and in the Palestinian case, we have
to make up our minds, we have to decide which right do we give more importance
or weight to. And you know, I simply argued, and I still continue to argue,
that it makes more sense to give more weight to the right of freedom, the
right to be sovereign, the right to build a future.

By the way, I just want to tell you, I mean, I'm not really a nationalist at
heart. No, no, I'm still for a two-state solution. But as far as I'm
concerned, what really matters to me is coexistence, what really matters to me
is that Israelis and Palestinians, whether as individuals or as Jews or as men
or as women, live in equally dignified conditions, that they treat each other
with respect equally. Now, I don't have a problem whether this can happen in
one state or it can happen in two states or three states or four states. I
think we should not lose sight of the basic principles that must inform us as
we try to find an acceptable way of living. And these principles are, I
believe, you know, mutual respect, mutual dignity, recognition. It just seems
that the most practical way of doing this, at this moment in time, is a
two-state solution. And I think that's what you should go for.

GROSS: My guest is Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al-Quds University, the
Arab university in Jerusalem and a longtime proponent of a negotiated peace
agreement. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Dr. Sari Nusseibeh. He's the
president of Al-Quds University in east Jerusalem. He's a longtime advocate
of trying to negotiate a two-state peace plan in the Middle East.

Now, as the president of Al-Quds University in east Jerusalem, you've created
several partnerships between Palestinian and Israeli professors. What's
happening with that? And is it becoming more difficult for you to have
partnerships like that?

Dr. NUSSEIBEH: Yes. It's more difficult. I mean, I'll give you an example.
The--not at the level of professors, but in this case, we've had a request
from some visiting delegation of French students and professors, French Jews,
a request to meet with--to come and visit our campus and meet with Palestinian
students. Now, in the past two or three years, in fact, this particular group
of students have been visiting our campus and my students have been receiving
them, they've had discussions. They didn't necessarily agree, you know, the
one side or the other, on everything, but at least there was a kind of--there
was the welcoming attitude on the part of the students on my campus, for those
visits. Now, this time around, this year, the group once again asked to
visit, and I asked the students, you know, the student union, `Would you like
to once again receive this group of Jewish students?' And the students, you
know, very politely, told me, `No, sir. The atmosphere on the campus is not
very, you know, welcoming at the moment. We think it's better if we postpone
this visit.' So this is a reflection, I think, of the changed attitudes. I
mean, the people that I was talking to on the Palestinian side, the students
themselves, as individuals, were people who, in the past, have received such
students. But today, they all feel--they feel a little bit threatened,
perhaps, a little bit more timid about doing this, a little bit...

GROSS: Do you think they feel threatened and timid or angry? Which is it?

Dr. NUSSEIBEH: No, no. In this case, I think probably timid, worried that
the constituency, their constituency in the student body would react against
them.

GROSS: Oh, I see. I see.

Dr. NUSSEIBEH: And so, you know, they're a bit worried about this, and so
they asked us--they said to me, `Look, we don't think this is the opportune
time, we should perhaps postpone it.' And I think this just reflects, perhaps,
a general attitude or mood. At the level of professors and operations at that
level, you know, we've continued to have--we still continue to have
cooperation. You know, if you're a professor at my university doing research,
say, with an Israeli colleague on some--I don't know, in physics or chemistry
or what have you, you'll still be doing it. So, you know, we still have
cooperative projects going on at that level.

GROSS: I want to ask you your opinion of the Bush administration plan to
change the Middle East and make it more democratic by invading Iraq. The idea
was you invade Iraq, overthrow Saddam Hussein, create democracy in Iraq,
democracy spreads across the Middle East, making a peace plan between Israel
and the Palestinians more likely. Looking at that plan and looking at where
you think we are now, what's your assessment of the Bush administration
approach?

Dr. NUSSEIBEH: Well, I said earlier that I wasn't a great believer in the
use of violence as a means to achieving ends, however good those ends seemed
to be. Somehow or another, it seems that it always self-destructs. It
doesn't seem to help. And I would have much rather violence was not used in
Iraq. And you know, if I were suggesting or making or giving advice at the
time, I would have suggested, in fact, focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict rather than Iraq.

GROSS: First? Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Dr. NUSSEIBEH: And I would have suggested that all effort be placed into
trying to make the peace plan here work, because I believe that once you are
able to tip the balance here in this conflict, once you turn things around, I
think it is then that you can have the domino effect, that the Bush
administration was wishing that it would happen would take place after Iraq.
I think democracy can grow out of peace. I don't think democracy can come
through war.

GROSS: Do you think that you're going to actually see a peace plan that works
in your lifetime?

Dr. NUSSEIBEH: Well, to tell you the truth, you know, I have never been so
pessimistic as I am today about the plan that will work in the foreseeable
future. But look, having said this, I want to say, nonetheless, anything's
possible. If I have--if I'm losing faith, it's losing faith in those that
have the power to make things happen, not in the fact that things can be made
to happen. I think things can be made to happen. I think the United States
can, in fact, lead the international community to create a miracle here. I
think that's possible, and I think the people, Israelis and Palestinians, will
welcome it. But I'm not sure, given how I've seen politicians and leaders
behaving, to what extent politicians and leaders we have in the states or
elsewhere, are actually up to the challenge of creating miracles here.

GROSS: Sari Nusseibeh, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Dr. NUSSEIBEH: Well, thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Sari Nusseibeh is the president of Al-Quds University, the Arab
university in Jerusalem. Earlier, we heard from Yossi Beilin, a member of the
Israeli Knesset. They're both advocates of a negotiated two-state peace
agreement.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. Join us for the next FRESH AIR.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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