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SLUG: 3-82 Amir Oren
DATE:
NOTE NUMBER:

DATE=03/08/02

TYPE=INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

TITLE=AMIR OREN, OF THE ISRAELI DAILY, HA-ARETZ

NUMBER=3-82

BYLINE=STEVE NORMAN

DATELINE=WASHINGTON

INTERNET=

/// Editors: This interview is available in Dalet under SOD/English News Now Interviews in the folder for today or yesterday ///

HOST: With Israeli-Palestinian violence escalating, President Bush is sending special Middle East envoy retired U-S Marine General Anthony Zinni back to the region next week. Mr. Bush announced the Zinni mission, emphasizing Palestinians and Israelis must do more to stop the bloodshed, in order to achieve a lasting peace. While President Bush has been muted in his criticism of recent Israeli attacks, he said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon must use restraint in his policies.

Palestinian and Israeli officials say they welcome General Zinni back to the Middle East. We asked Amir Oren (ah-MEER OHR-en) of the Israeli daily newspaper, Ha-aretz (HAH-ah-REHTZ), whether General Zinni might be able to get all parties to stop the violence.

MR. OREN: Chances are slim, and, therefore, General Zinni himself did not see fit to come back, until he was told to do so yesterday. However, as long as this escalation goes on, chances are that, at some point, both sides would wish for some outside intervention, mostly U-S intervention. And the irony is that Prime Minister Sharon wants Arafat to cry "uncle," [surrender] and, lo and behold, Uncle Sam [the United States] appears.

MR. NORMAN: And what do you think the chances are for Palestinian leader Arafat to cry "uncle"?

MR. OREN: Chances are not very good at this point. And the problem with the Zinni mission is that, last year, in the year 2001, there were basically three peace missions -- by former Senator George Mitchell and then C-I-A Director George Tenet, and then, finally, retired General Zinni. And, in each case, there was in the beginning some hope for a cease-fire, but then, eventually, the peace envoys found that the Palestinian side, either does not agree to the terms, or does agree, but does not implement it. And because the level of trust between both sides -- the Israelis and Palestinians -- is so low, a third side, a mediator, was thought compatible. But it turned out that the third side, General Zinni, does not believe the second side, the Palestinians. So, only if the level of violence is so high that both sides find it intolerable is there any chance for some respite.

One point that should be made is that the Zinni mission is in advance of Vice President Cheney's trip to the Mideast. And the Cheney trip, of course, is part of the preparations for some military move, perhaps against Iraq. So Israel, which wants to see itself at least as a passive member of the American-led coalition, wants to do America's calling, and does not want to be on President Bush's bad side.

So, if there is some hope, it comes out of this strategic consideration. What is not so clear is whether people on the ground, the fighters, especially on the Palestinian side, would obey what their central leadership tells them to do.

MR. NORMAN: And what about the Israelis, will they obey what their central leadership will tell them to do?

MR. OREN: The Israeli strategy is one of containment, quite akin to the Western, or American, strategy during the Cold War, not necessarily a roll-back, and, especially, some fear of an all-out conflagration which would involve the Middle East, with Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and perhaps Israeli Arabs, and so on. However, the Israeli government is accountable to its citizens for their protection. And, if there are so many terror attacks within Israel, or aimed at Israelis traveling on the roads, the government cannot appear to be hopeless.

So, yes, he does have central control over its military. The settlers could be a problem, if they believe that they are not given protection by the government and the military, and then they turn out to be vigilantes. This is one concern which is always in the back of everybody's mind. But, all in all, there is one side, which is centrally controlled -- the Israelis -- against another one, which is de-centralized, with many organizations, many gangs and many individuals, who are doing their own bidding. And Arafat either does not want to control them, or is no longer able to.

MR. NORMAN: Seventeen months of violence aside at this point, this question: Is there any level on which the Israelis and Palestinians agree?

MR. OREN: The basic human level that this suffering could not, and should not, go on is acceptable to both. However, there is a zero-sum game here, because the Palestinians are not going to stop their violence -- and they started this round -- they are not going to stop it without any achievement to show for it, for their almost one-thousand people killed, 10-thousand wounded, much destruction. And the Israelis, who lost 330 people killed in these 17 months, are not going to give ground either. So, only something, which would happen outside of the box (unexpectedly) could turn this equation around. And, hopefully, this would come with an American initiative, perhaps alongside some military move against a common enemy, such as Saddam Hussein.

HOST: Amir Oren (ah-MEER OHR-en) is a columnist and editorial writer with the Israeli daily newspaper, Ha-aretz, (hah-ah-rehtz). He spoke with News Now's Steve Norman.

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