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Uri Savir Discusses the Conflict in Israel and Palestine.

Israel's chief negotiator with the PLO from 1993-1996, Uri Savir. He was the first Israeli official to negotiate secretly with a senior representative of the PLO. He participated in the historic peace process in Oslo. He's written a new memoir, "The Process: 1,100 Days That Changed the Middle East" (Random House).


Other segments from the episode on May 14, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 14, 1998: Interview with Uri Savir; Commentary on television sitcoms and language; Commentary on the television show "Seinfeld."


Date: MAY 14, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 051401NP.217
Head: The Process
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

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

My guest Uri Savir was the first Israeli official to negotiate with the PLO. In 1993, when Savir was 40 years old, he was asked by Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to enter into secret talks with the PLO in Oslo. Those talks had to be secret. Israel still had a law prohibiting Israelis from meeting with the PLO.

The talks culminated in an agreement between Israel and the PLO on the mutual goal of peaceful coexistence. The agreement also planned for the gradual transition from Israeli occupation to Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and the West Bank.

Uri Savir remained Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians until 1996. He resigned after Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister.

Savir has written a new memoir called "The Process." The peace talks have been stalled. Madeleine Albright has tried to move them forward by pressing for a 13 percent Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank instead of Israel's proposed 9 percent.

I asked Uri Savir for his reaction.

URI SAVIR, FORMER CHIEF ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR WITH THE PALESTINIAN LIBERATION ARMY, AUTHOR, "THE PROCESS": Well, in the existing stalemate, I welcome the administration's efforts. I'm sorry that we got to this point because I'm a great believer that these issues have to be negotiated directly between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We live in a situation where the agreement exists on one side. It's the only pathway for progress.

On the other side, there is a real crisis of confidence between the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership. In such a situation, the crisis is what invited the United States in. Thinking -- I think they make very honest effort to bring the sides together.

Once the current issues being resolved, I think we have to move back to secret diplomacy bilaterally.

GROSS: So, you think it's time for secret diplomacy again?

SAVIR: Yes, absolutely. I don't think that the type of public diplomacy can actually work to resolve the more difficult problems. Regarding the current crisis, in terms of further redeployment of 13 percent from the West Bank, that must be resolved through American diplomacy.

After the solution of that problem, we come to the tougher issues of permanent status between Israel and the Palestinians, such as Jerusalem, borders, Palestinian statehood, settlements. And then, it's time again for secret diplomacy.

GROSS: Well you're certainly an expert in secret diplomacy. What do you think are some of the advantages of secret diplomacy?

SAVIR: You know, I think people have basically misconceptions as to what negotiations are about. They believe one party comes with position "A." Another party comes with position "Z." And there's a compromise called "M" or "N." Actually, the compromise is a totally new structure that the two sides have to build together -- a certain combined architecture.

When you negotiate publicly and you put your opening positions on the table, you cannot compromise towards a creative common solution because your public opinion will not let you. Furthermore, only in secret negotiations can you really work together, really create a certain sense of commonality between negotiators -- something that we did in Oslo.

GROSS: How were you first told about the secret accords and invited to be the negotiator for Israel there?

SAVIR: Well one day, Shimon Peres was foreign minister. I was then head of -- director of the foreign ministry; called me to his home and asked me how I felt about spending the weekend in Oslo. Little did I know that this was the beginning of three years of intense negotiations.

He had then told me in his home that the day before he had met with Prime Minister Rabin, late Prime Minister Rabin, and they'd discussed the stalemate in the negotiations that took place at the time in Washington, between a Palestinian delegation not made up by the PLO, and an Israeli delegation.

And it became increasingly clear to Rabin and Peres that we were not talking to the right people, because the people in Washington were sending faxes to Arafat, and he didn't move the negotiations. We actually were talking to a fax machine.

In Oslo, there were already informal talks between Israeli academics and PLO officials, who showed a very interesting degree of flexibility and creativity. And it was then, which was exactly five years ago, that Peres and Rabin made the decision to send an official, to send me, to Oslo for first talk ever between an Israeli official and a PLO official.

GROSS: What were you told was Israel's bottom line? And what were you told about what was negotiable and what wasn't?

SAVIR: Initially, that wasn't the question, you see. There really was a question of should we talk to the PLO or not. I think that Rabin and Peres were very interested to find out: do we have a serious partner? And, they wanted me to test the water. And I had to come back with an impression, which I did.

GROSS: What was your impression and how did you form it? How did you evaluate whether you had a serious partner in negotiations?

SAVIR: You know, it's -- I had a very strange feeling going to Oslo. And it's very difficult to translate that feeling into words, because you rarely in life, if at all, as a diplomat, as a representative of your country, meet with people who were your arch-enemies, with whom you were never supposed to meet, who didn't want your existence; who were terrorists in our eyes. And you really don't know what to expect. You don't necessarily expect even people.

And I was -- I flew to Oslo through Paris. I admit that I was extremely excited, extremely tense; didn't even quite know how I would open such a conversation. And I waited in a small cottage outside of Oslo in a very harmonious, beautiful Norwegian setting, with a fjord -- totally surrealistic for a -- maybe suitable for a surrealistic situation.

And in came three senior PLO officials, headed by Ab Wallah (ph) who was number three man in the PLO. I was very surprised by the people I met for a very banal reason. They were just people. Like ourselves. And we spoke all night about where this was heading, what the basic intentions of our leaderships was. And we also had time to have some private talk.

And I came back with an impression that we had a serious partner.

GROSS: What gave you that impression? What was said that gave you that impression?

SAVIR: I think that PLO came to a conclusion at the time that their efforts of violence -- their efforts to create a coalition with the Arab world had failed. As Ab Wallah told me: "we've tried it with our brothers. We failed. Maybe we can do it with the cousins -- with Israelis."

GROSS: Did you feel that you could trust your negotiating partners from the PLO? And how important was, whether you felt you could trust them or not?

SAVIR: You know, trust is a very complicated matter. Initially, you don't trust, obviously. When negotiations continue, there are two levels. There is a manipulative level of negotiations where you trick, where you lie, where you bluff. And, there's no trust. The trust has to be on the deepest level, that you know fundamentally that the people with whom you sit want peace with you as much as you want it. And that trust developed over time.

GROSS: As you were sizing up the Palestinians, they were, I'm sure, sizing you up. Do you have any sense of what their preconceptions of you were?

SAVIR: It's really a mirror image. You come into these negotiation rooms with a very strong feeling that you are right in this conflict; that the other side was wrong; that the other side was the aggressor; the other side was cruel; that the pain is on your side; and that if the other side goes to peace, it's because it's fundamentally changed its view of the conflict.

And then you see that the other side has exactly the same feeling; that they have really the monopoly over truth over what has happened in the past. And I remember in the first talk with Ab Wallah, he said to me: "listen Savir, Chairman Arafat told us when it comes to security, be forthcoming. But I'd like to ask you: how come you have such a strong army? You have the best air force, the best tank force, the best intelligence. We -- you call us terrorists, we call ourselves freedom fighters. We have some Kalashnikovs, some stones, some hand grenades. How come you perceive us as an existential threat to Israel and not vice versa?

I looked at him. I said: Mr. Ab Wallah: "'cause you want to live in my home." He said: "where do you live?" I said: "in Jerusalem." I asked him: "where do you come from? He said: "from Jerusalem." Then he asked me: "where does your father come from?" I said: "from Germany." He says: "aha!" He said: "my father comes from Jerusalem."

So I said: "maybe let's go back to King David." And then he said something which was very smart. He said: "look, let's make the first agreement. Let's never negotiate over the past. Let's try to create a different future, 'cause if you try to resolve the past" -- that was the meaning -- you're always going to end up in a discussion over right or wrong. In the future, it's about two rights."

GROSS: What was the strategy of where to start in Oslo?

SAVIR: I think there was a very strong feeling from the beginning that we had to make immediate change on the ground, because things had changed in the region. There was a sense of potential for breakthrough in the peace process, but nothing was happening. And people became disillusioned.

So, Peres came up with the idea of Gaza first -- to have Palestinian autonomy first in Gaza before the West Bank, because Gaza was easier to deal with and easier to digest for Israeli public opinion. And we started to discuss the issue of graduality -- that the problems to be resolved and a conflict which is really existential, over two people over one land, can be resolved only by moving gradually.

That's the strategy that we adopted and that's a strategy that's actually working even today.

GROSS: My guest is Uri Savir. He's written a new memoir about negotiating with the PLO called The Process. More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

If you're just joining us, my guest is Uri Savir, and he was the chief Israeli negotiator with the PLO from 1993 to '96. He's written a new book about the secret Oslo talks called The Process.

Now, you write in your book about the Oslo talks that the confrontations were often brutal -- the crises close to shattering. Would you describe one of the major confrontations?

SAVIR: I think the most important confrontation we had in July of '93 where nobody knew that we were in Oslo. And we had come to a point where there were about 15 issues that were not resolved for quite a while. Many of them had to do with Israeli security rights.

It was security responsibility for the external borders of the autonomy. Israel's security rights on roads et cetera, of the settlers, and we sat for, I think, something like 55 hours. And we still had the same 16 differences that we had before this 55 hours.

We worked under a lot of time pressure because we knew that if the Oslo channel would be leaked to the press, it would be over, because we didn't have a government decision in Israel to authorize such talks. We knew it could be revealed only once we had an agreement. So, there was a kind of pressure cooker on us, and yet no progress.

So, I decided to make a very tough statement. I said to Ab Wallah that maybe people who used to say that the PLO never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity are right; that it's quite incredible that they are not ready to be more flexible on Israel's security; that we do not trust him yet on security; that all of this is new for them -- and that they should report to Arafat that there is a crisis in the talks.

He made signs as if he would stand up. He wanted to leave the room. And then, he asked to sit down and in a very somber voice said that he had a personal declaration to make. And then, he announced that he was resigning from the talks.

GROSS: What happened?

SAVIR: And -- well, he had tears in his eyes and was very somber. I honestly didn't know if he was bluffing or not, bringing the crisis to a brink. And to be truthful, until today I don't know if he was bluffing or not. Maybe even he didn't know. But I had a sense that I had to remain tough and maybe try and call his bluff.

And I then asked to make a personal declaration myself. I said that we were very sorry to see him leave and we would work with his successor, and accused him that for 16 words of difference he was actually jeopardizing the good of his people.

I said "Ab Wallah, maybe you care more about the PLO than about the Palestinian people in the refugee camps." He took his papers, stood up and ran out with his delegation. And sometimes in a time of crisis, you have to come up with a bigger solution than you had intended. We had spoken in the weeks before to Rabin and Peres about the possible mutual recognition between the PLO and Israel, not just about the solution of Gaza first.

And we had authorization to test the issue. I went to see Ab Wallah. And he actually was very depressed, sitting in the room. And he said -- and then we called each other by first names -- he said: "listen Uri, I'm serious. I did my best. Not just your side's fault. It's also mine. It's impossible."

So I sat down. I said: "look, Ab Wallah, if you can't do the small thing, maybe we can do the big thing. If you can't deal with the symptoms, maybe we'll deal first with the root problem."

And I asked him to write down, I said number one: PLO recognizes Israel; number two, PLO puts an end to terror et cetera -- seven points. And I said: "look, I don't quite have an authority to do this, but I assure you that if Arafat accepts these seven points, I will recommend to Prime Minister Rabin that we recognize the PLO."

And that took him by surprise. And he started to ask questions. And I knew he was back in the game. And then I said: "look, about the 16 issues, let's make a deal. Take these following eight issues" -- and I took the ones where I knew we could not make any compromise -- "and try to be flexible, and I do the same at home."

And we started to discuss it. And you asked before about trust -- this is the point after all the bluffing and all the lying and all -- everything that you do in negotiations -- this is the moment where negotiators have to expose their basic trust, because he understood from these eight points which were the points of my flexibility, and this is where you test the trust. And if you abuse it, you can't go on negotiating.

And we went out of the room. He flew to Tunis. I flew to Tel Aviv. Peres was a little puzzled that I proposed almost officially mutual recognition. Rabin said if they accept the seven points, we'll recognize them.

We went back to Oslo a week later, and this is where we had the breakthrough.

GROSS: So, it was really only when things broke down that you were able to have a breakthrough.

SAVIR: It's always like that in negotiations. We had much tougher breakdowns in later negotiations. Arafat is himself -- I negotiated with him quite a lot -- he always creates a crisis in the last second. It's part of his negotiation strategy. He always in every negotiations we had with him, minutes or hours before the agreement, he simply walks out.

GROSS: Well, it sounds like it's -- it's more of a style than it is a serious breakdown, though.

SAVIR: Yes, but you never know.

GROSS: Right. How does he compare as a negotiator with what you thought he'd be like?

SAVIR: He doesn't compare to anybody that I know.

GROSS: What do you mean?

SAVIR: He has a very different style. He's a very different person from anybody I've met. He can be very theatrical. He's a much warmer person than people believe. He goes into the most minute details sometimes and I think the issues that have to do with his own public opinion are often more important than some strategic issues. And he very often creates a crisis on these issues by very theatrical acts.

I remember after the tragic Hebron massacre, the deputy chief of staff of the Israeli army and myself went to Tunis. And we came to see a very, very depressed Arafat. And he wanted Rabin to move out settlers from Hebron -- the Israeli settlers -- after 30 Palestinians had been killed. And we knew Rabin couldn't do it, for political reasons back home. We expressed our condolences. We said that extreme groups in Israel had been outlawed for the first time.

And I offered him a presence of international observers from the Red Cross. And he went totally furious. He shouted at me like I never heard anybody shout. He pitched his voice. He jumped up and down. He said: "the Red Cross? Are you crazy to bring in the Red Cross? What do you want to give our people? Injections? Is this what you are doing?"

And it went on for about two hours, and we thought the man is so depressed that he lost his senses. And we simply had to leave. Shahoch (ph) and I spent the night walking around Tunis, very depressed because the peace process seemed to be at the most serious crisis.

When we went back the next day to Arafat, we saw a different man, who decided, completely alone, to renew the negotiations. He had tried. It didn't work. He continued, because he understood Rabin was his partner and Rabin understood that Arafat was his partner.

GROSS: Uri Savir -- he was the chief Israeli negotiator with the PLO from 1993 to '96. He's written a memoir about the secret Oslo peace talks called The Process. He'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Uri Savir, the first Israeli to negotiate with a representative of the PLO. He was Israel's chief negotiator with the PLO from 1993 to '96. He's written a new memoir called The Process about his work representing Israel at the secret Oslo peace talks.

You write in your book that over the years, Israelis had cultivated a self-serving myth that -- you say, "that ours was an enlightened occupation" and that -- that that was a contradiction in terms. But you didn't know how thoroughly Israelis had invaded the lives of your Palestinian neighbors.

You write: "we repressed this knowledge as we may have been the first conquerors in history who felt themselves conquered. Our self-image as a humane society and history's eternal victim blinded us to what was going on in the territories."

Did the negotiations change your sense of what was going on in the territories? And how -- also change your sense of how Israel dealt with punishing Palestinians after acts of terrorism?

SAVIR: Yes. Not so much this aspect, but more the aspect of humiliation. I wasn't aware of it. For the reasons that -- I write about that you just mentioned. I wasn't aware how much a life of a Palestinian was dependent on us issuing permits. You wanted to walk around at night; you wanted to visit another village; you wanted to go abroad for the Palestinian; build a house; grow farming -- all the time you needed permits.

Secondly, when you wanted to move from one place to another, there are the various check posts. And, there's a constant humiliation process. And the word "humiliation" came up again and again. And many people were beaten up, very often for good reason. I mean, there was terrorism; there was violence; there was hatred. We didn't go into the West Bank because we wanted to take the West Bank. The West Bank was, in 1967, a basis to attack Israel and actually to destroy Israel.

But once we went in there, we really created an illusion that by building the universities, which we did; by building some industry, which we did -- we had an enlightened occupation. There is no such thing. And one of the Israeli generals told me, you know, when I asked him: "what are my chances to come to an agreement?" He said: "remember that every Palestinian child saw his father being humiliated by us."

And only by understanding the depths of these emotions can you start to tackle the issue of reconciliation. We also have very hard feelings. Every one of us has family that was hurt by terror; that was hurt by Palestinians. I lost a brother-in-law in the Lebanon war. We all carry around our scars, but we don't quite understand that the other side has the same scars. And I think this is something I did discover throughout this process.

I think the knowledge of that is probably the basis or the fountain for any type of possible reconciliation.

GROSS: It's miraculous that the Oslo talks remained secret. How did you accomplish that?

SAVIR: Well, the media was very helpful because it did a bad job.


I think, to a large degree, it's a function of three things. One, Rabin, when I was sent out the first time, insisted very -- in very tough language, to tell the people if one word gets out, it's the end of the Oslo channel. And when we discussed it, he said: "look, this is my test for their seriousness." When people keep a secret, they're serious about the contents. And about 100 people knew about Oslo, and nothing leaked.

Secondly, we had good cover stories. I mean, with me -- I was director general of the foreign service. I was a public figure in Israel. People knew me. It wasn't so easy to travel around. So, I used to tell people I was going for economic talks in Europe.

People who found out that there was something wrong -- I mean, how often can you travel to Europe for economic talks? -- were told a second cover story, that wasn't much news, but it was a secret that was easy to keep -- that I was meeting with some people from the Persian Gulf, dealing with some economic agreements.

Then, we took routes where nobody could detect us. We flew Austrian Airlines from Tel Aviv to Vienna; SAS to Copenhagen; SAS to Oslo. In Oslo, the plane always landed at the gate that had us walk very few -- a very short distance to cars waiting. Our passports were never stamped with Norwegian stamps. We always were hidden in little cottages outside of Oslo. So, that is the second reason.

The third reason is that the media's, in a certain way, so self-confident that it really reflects the political reality of the day, that it rarely looks for surprising directions. The media rarely predicts change. And this was a fundamental change that was happening under the media's nose, but the media focuses on the routine.

GROSS: You were given a personal bodyguard after Jewish settlers in the territories put your name on a black list. How did it feel to require protection from Israelis?

SAVIR: Very sad; not very comfortable. And -- but again, it's something that you get used to. You know, it was clear to us that we were making, and Rabin and Peres were making a very important historical decision -- actually two decisions that were of historical nature: A, to recognize that the Palestinians were not just a society, but a national movement, which means at the end of the day, although we never pronounced it at the time, that they will have their own state, side-by-side with Israel.

Secondly, related to that, that in the basic debate that took place in modern Jewish history, in Zionist history, in Israeli history -- between all of Israel, all of Palestine being under the Israeli sovereignty -- that this -- the theory of Greater Israel -- that the right-wing revisionists in -- were for -- or that we could content with a smaller country, but not occupy the Palestinians, which was the Labor Party view.

They had finally made, after 100 years of debate, the historical decision for all of us that there will be no Greater Israel; that Israel will be better off based on a moral view that we who were very often victimized, were under many occupations -- the Jewish people should not become occupiers.

And these were two critical historical decisions that were made at the time, and these two decisions are actually irreversible.

GROSS: Uri Savir was the chief Israeli negotiator with the PLO from 1993 to '96. He's written a memoir called The Process. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

If you're just joining us, my guest is Uri Savir, and he was the chief Israeli negotiator with the PLO for three years, from 1993 to '96. He was the Israeli negotiator at the secret Oslo peace talks. He's written a new book about the peace process called The Process.

It sounds from your book that your father helped, in his way, to prepare you to become a negotiator with the PLO. You describe your father as an ardent Zionist, a founder of Israel's foreign service, but someone who regarded the West Bank and Gaza as a disaster that would erode Israel's moral fiber and humanity. And that he felt that talking to the Palestinians would be a test of Israel's maturity. He was for negotiations.

Talk to me a little bit more about your father and the attitude that he helped instill in you about dealing with Israel's enemies.

SAVIR: My father, like many of the early Zionists, strongly believed that we needed a strong state -- we needed to develop an army, an industry, an economy, a vibrant academic life -- but that basically, strong state and sovereignty for the Jews was also a vehicle to change attitudes towards us by the non-Jewish world. That was his basic philosophy. This is why he joined at the very beginning of the establishment of the state, the Israeli foreign service and was one of the founders of the foreign service.

This is why he thought that the most -- maybe the greatest test of Israel's maturity was the ability to talk to its arch-enemies; that we needed the self-confidence, and that power should not lead to arrogance, but to a sense of self-confidence, modesty, an empathy for other -- an empathy for other people's suffering. This was the ultimate moral test.

And he wrote an article about it a year before he died in '85. And when I left to Oslo for the first time, I took that article with me and gave a copy of it to Ab Wallah.

GROSS: Why did you give a copy to Ab Wallah?

SAVIR: I think I wanted to have my father there with me.

GROSS: When Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated, did you think that that was going to kill the peace process too?

SAVIR: No, but -- I don't think anything can kill the peace process. But, it probably was the biggest shock of my life. I went to this demonstration. I was very bitter that for all these years, there were no pro-peace demonstrations. And I went with my wife and daughter.

And I think it started off by being the happiest day of the whole negotiation period. There were 150,000 people. It really was like a family gathering, and people came over to me, were very kind about my role in the negotiations.

I decided not to be on the official floor where I was invited, but among the people in the demonstration. And then we walked over to the stairs to say hello to Rabin and Peres, and just when we arrived, a few feet away, we saw Rabin shot.

And I don't think that I've quite recovered from that shock until this very day. The writing was on the wall. The right-wing in Israel and the religious fanatics were shouting "Rabin is a traitor" -- dressed him up as a Nazi. And looking back, it was a matter of time before some fanatic would put an end to his life. But I didn't think then and I don't think today that this will put an end to his legacy, because with all the split in Israel, people want that peace.

The difficulty is that you want peace, yet you think about the other side with a mindset of conflict. And you need leaders to build a bridge for the people. Rabin was such a leader. Peres was such a leader. The young generation -- my generation of leaders is much more pragmatic; is looking much more to public opinion polls.

I can assure you -- I saw Rabin and Peres make decisions on recognizing the PLO on -- moving out from Ramallah and Bethlehem, which are five minutes away from Jerusalem -- and the last thing they had on their mind was the issue of popularity. They just thought it was a good -- for the good of the country.

GROSS: Well also, I don't know if you'd agree, but they were much older when they reached the point where that didn't matter.

SAVIR: Yes. Yeah, I think -- I think you're very right. You know, I write in my book about a conversation that Peres told me had immediately after the elections with Rabin. No secret that they were bitter political enemies. And Peres went over -- they were neighbors in Almat Aviv (ph) next to Tel Aviv, and he told me about the following conversation that took place.

He said: "Yitzak, we're now 70. We've been fighting all our grownup lives. Let's make an alliance now. And let's take the necessary difficult decisions, so the young generation will not need to take them and can focus on the normal day-to-day issues of Israel."

I think the alliance they created between these two gentlemen, you know, we always used to smile and laugh a little bit about the two elderly gentlemen who were leading our negotiation team. We also remember that together they had, as you are implying, a combined experience of 100 years in the matters of Israel's security. And we really felt, being in that room, the decisionmaking room, the whole weight of that experience; the whole value of that experience.

And when they sat alone, we used to say: "in that room, between the two of them, we have two prime ministers, two defense ministers, foreign minister, finance minister, chief of staff, Ambassador to Washington." It was invaluable. And I think the fact that towards the end of their careers, and in the case of Rabin toward the end of his life, they could take such decisions, is of enormous value.

The same is true, by the way, for the Arab side. I mean, Arafat came to this decision, I think, also towards the winter of his life. King Hussein and I think also Assad has made such a decision, although not yet implemented.

GROSS: Do you still speak much with Ab Wallah, who was your negotiating partner in the Oslo talks?

SAVIR: Only once a day.

GROSS: Once a day?

SAVIR: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What do you talk about?

SAVIR: Everything. What do you talk about with your friends, is what we...

GROSS: So you speak as friends, not as official representatives?

SAVIR: Well he is -- has an official position. He is now head of the Palestinian Parliament. He is number two or three in the Palestinian hierarchy. I'm not an official anymore.

Yes, we speak of various things -- my daughter just got married, so he came with his whole family to the wedding. His daughter is a good friend of my daughter. They're exactly the same age. We actually, after the secret signing of the Oslo agreements, dedicated our speeches to the two daughters, who later met and became friends.

But we do speak mostly about the political situation, of course. And I told him some time ago that he has to continue to fight for what we call "our agreement." And he said that he would fight 'til the end of his life, and then he laughed and said that's probably our common curse. But we like that curse.

GROSS: I wish you good luck, and I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

SAVIR: Thank you.

GROSS: Uri Savir was Israel's chief negotiator with the PLO from 1993 to '96. He's written a new memoir called The Process. Savir now heads the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv.

Coming up: how much longer will those pretzels be making you thirsty? Some thoughts on the end of "Seinfeld."

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Uri Savir
High: Israel's chief negotiator with the PLO from 1993-1996, Uri Savir. He was the first Israeli official to negotiate secretly with a senior representative of the PLO. He participated in the historic peace process in Oslo. He's written a new memoir, "The Process: 1,100 Days That Changed the Middle East."
Spec: Middle East; History; Intifada; Oslo Accords; The Process; Books; Authors
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Process
Date: MAY 14, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 051402NP.217
Head: TV Language
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:50

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Tonight is the final episode of "Seinfeld." One of the things the show has left us with is a bunch of catchy catch-phrases, and that's gotten our linguist Geoff Nunberg thinking.

GEOFF NUNBERG, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: I had a call from CNN asking me about the linguistic effects of the Seinfeld Show. What kind of mark would it leave on the English language? Ten or 20 years from now, will be still be saying phrases like "yadda yadda," or "master of my domain?"

I had to tell them it wasn't likely. TV shows almost never leave any permanent linguistic residue behind them. Of course, just about every popular show has a phrase or two that works its way into general circulation for a while. Depending on when you came of age, your memories of the TV of the period are peppered with lines like "to the moon, Alice" or "dy-no-mite" or "isn't that special?"

But when people say those lines, it's almost by way of alluding to the shows, and the phrases start to become outmoded once the show goes out of primetime broadcasting. There are a couple of exceptions like Sergeant Friday's "just the facts" or maybe "beam me up, Scotty." And I like to think I'm doing my own small part to ensure that "who loves you, baby?" will remain in circulation long after memory of "Kojak" has disappeared from the collective imagination.

But most of the famous TV lines have a pretty short lifetime. When was the last time you heard anybody saying "you bet your sweet bippy" or "yabba dabba doo?"

Lines from movies are different. They're always detaching themselves and entering the language under their own steam. A lot of people use the line "we don't need no stinkin' badges," but not many of them could identify it as a quote or actually a misquote from "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre." Ditto the Bette Davis line "what a dump" from the 1949 film "Beyond the Forest."

Or how about "it seemed like a good idea at the time?" It comes from the 1931 movie "The Last Flight." Now, that's a little nugget you can dine out on for years.

And then there are all the famous lines that people can still identify, but which they use without really quoting the movies they came from: "I coulda been a contender," "What we have here is a failure to communicate," "Go ahead, make my day."

What is it about TV that makes its language so ephemeral? The difference is that broadcast TV serials are these collective experiences. We grow old with the shows, and at the same time, they grow old with us. And when the hit shows die, at least in their network broadcast versions, we go through these official mass interments, like the one that's going on this week for Seinfeld.

Of course, the shows can hang around for years in syndication, but it's only aficionados who go looking for them. Even when you run into an episode you've never seen, it just isn't compelling in the same way that it is on first run broadcast, where everybody in the country's watching the same episode at the same time on Thursday night. It's like having lunch with an old lover: the language you used to speak seems quaint and unnatural, even if you can still feel a nostalgic pang or two.

And what show was ever better suited to this fate than Seinfeld? That's how all the characters sound already -- "get out of town," "no soup for you" -- they say those lines as if they're quoting them -- trying on cliches like ties from a discount rack.

When you come to think about it, in fact, the characters on Seinfeld talk exactly like the sorts of people who are always quoting old TV shows. I should confess that I've never watched the show religiously myself, but I'll bet these characters don't spend a lot of time watching first-run shows like "ER" or "Suddenly Susan" or indeed any network program except "Melrose Place." It's gonna be reruns of "Man from U.N.C.L.E." and of course "Superman."

And as you plow through all the coverage on the last episode of the show, it strikes you that that's how people have been talking about Seinfeld all along -- with the obsessive attention to trivial detail that you usually associate only with Trekkies.

The fact is that Seinfeld has been a rerun since its first episode, with that archival smell that it took a classic like "I Love Lucy" a couple of generations to achieve. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University and at Xerox-Palo Alto Research Center.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Geoff Nunberg, Palo Alto; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Linguist Geoff Nunberg adds his thoughts about the linguistic legacy left by popular TV sitcoms.
Spec: Language; Media; Culture; Television
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: TV Language
Date: MAY 14, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 051403NP.217
Head: Seinfeld's End
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Let's hear what our TV critic David Bianculli has to say about the conclusion of "Seinfeld."

DAVID BIANCULLI, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: First of all, I apologize at this point for adding to the media glut about Seinfeld. This is a show I really love -- one that ranks right up there with "Fraser" and "The Larry Sanders Show" as one of the best comedies on TV right now.

But even I have seen and read and heard and written so much about the end of Seinfeld that I've had it. There's not one more thing about Seinfeld the series or Jerry Seinfeld the comic that I want to know.

OK, there is one thing. Last month, just minutes after the final episode of Seinfeld was taped, Jerry Seinfeld's assistant handed him an envelope backstage. It was from Johnny Carson, who had sent a private message to Seinfeld -- something, probably, about what it takes to stop a show when it's on top and what it means and how it feels. I would love to know what Carson wrote in that letter.

Because six years after Carson stepped down and Jay Leno took over, I still miss Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show." Late-night talk shows have been less about talk and more about comedy ever since. And since old Tonight Shows aren't televised in syndication, as are old episodes of "M*A*S*H" and "Cheers," Carson really did leave a void.

If Seinfeld leaves a void, it'll be mostly on NBC's Thursday schedule. Otherwise, the show will continue to be around. It's already around in syndication. It's hard to miss something when it won't leave. I don't miss Cheers. I just watch and enjoy old episodes.

And there are plenty of classic old Seinfeld episodes to enjoy. The strength of the series is its ability to hit a few absolute grandslam homers every year -- from "The Chinese Restaurant" and "The Parking Lot" in the early days, to more recent successes such as "The Soup Nazi."

That's the one where Larry Thomas (ph) plays a soup chef at a small take-out place, and who demands that customers act a certain way before he serves them soup. George, played by Jason Alexander, plays along. But first-time customer Elaine, played by Julia Louis Dreyfus, can't keep from talking or drumming.


JASON ALEXANDER, ACTOR: Good afternoon. One large crab bisque to go.


Red. Beautiful.

LARRY THOMAS, ACTOR: You're pushing your luck, little man.


ALEXANDER: Sorry. Thank you. Thank you.



Ummm -- oh, oh, oh. One malagatane (ph) and -- what is that right there? Is that lima bean?


DREYFUS: Never been a big fan.


Umm, you know what? Has anyone ever told you you look exactly like Al Pacino? You know, "Scent of a Woman?" Hoo ah, ah -- Hoo ah ah.

THOMAS: Very good. Very good. You know something? No soup for you. Come back -- one year. Next?


BIANCULLI: Seinfeld is only the fifth show in TV history to quit while still a top-10 show. The others are sitcoms too: "I Love Lucy," "The Andy Griffith Show," M*A*S*H, and Cheers. It's a great group to be in, and Seinfeld deserves to be there.

Even with all the hype surrounding the finale, viewers deserve to be there, too -- to see whether Seinfeld sends itself off in grand fashion, like the last episodes of "Newhart" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "St. Elsewhere." Or implodes completely, like the finales of "Roseanne" and, to be completely current, "Ellen."

But will the last Seinfeld be the most-watched TV event of all time? Based on the media fascination and obsession, you'd think so. But I don't even think it's audience rating will beat the last episode of Cheers, much less outdo the all-time top-ranked finale of M*A*S*H. TV audiences are too fragmented today, and there's simply too much competition from other broadcast and cable channels to attract as many viewers as TV could 15, or even five, years ago.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: David Bianculli, New York; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: TV critic David Bianculli comments on the end of "Seinfeld."
Spec: Media; Television; Seinfeld
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Seinfeld's End
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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