Arafat's Release: A Step Toward Peace?

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, May 1, 2002, that was edited for clarity. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Joining us now from Washington is former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.  Senator Mitchell, head of an international committee on Mideast when violence began erupting nearly two years ago.

Senator, nice to see you.


VAN SUSTEREN:  Senator, what do you make of it?  Arafat angry, obviously, over what happened today in the church, and now he's going to go to the refugee camp at Jenin.

Play it out for me.  What do you think is going to happen when he starts returning to these different places?

MITCHELL:  Well, obviously, he has to demonstrate concern and empathy with his constituents.  It's not unlike an American president going to someplace where there's been devastation like 9/11, or some natural disaster.

Secondly, I think he will have to rebuild his authority, that is the physical component of the Palestinian Authority, men and structures, and authority itself.

And then I think, hopefully will be in a position to take some strong action to try to reduce the violence from that side to try to create a situation in which there can be steps forward.

Now, obviously, what's happening in Bethlehem is very disappointing.  But, Greta, we have to be careful to recognize that in all of these conflict situations, there's a small step forward and then usually there's a step backward and a few steps sideways.

It doesn't happen quickly or instantly or in a very pretty way.

VAN SUSTEREN:  It seems to me though, he's angry over what happened, we saw that display, he's very upset.

And now he's going to Jenin where there's been an awful lot of destruction.  Now that's not necessarily a mixture of peace, there's an awful lot of anger.  The people are not going to be in the peacemaking mode.

Are you optimistic?  Am I just wrong tonight?

MITCHELL:  Well, obviously, there are very strong feelings on both sides, and support for the respective actions that have been taken is very high on both sides.  Mistrust is very high on both sides.

But I think it would be unrealistic to expect anyone in the circumstances he's in, not to visit the areas that have been the location of such violent activity in recent weeks, and not to demonstrate tangibly and personally some empathy with the people in those areas.

I think it would be expected in almost any society, in almost any circumstance.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Did Prime Minister Sharon win?

MITCHELL:  Oh, I think it's much too early to know that.  Certainly, the Israelis have demonstrated, once again, a vast military superiority.

And I think, just as Chairman Arafat has domestic political concerns, so does Prime Minister Sharon.  Any government in the world would have had to respond to the terrorist attacks that occurred against Israeli citizens.

The problem from Prime Minister Sharon's point of view is that the stated purpose of the military incursions were two-fold -- to marginalize Arafat, to in effect eliminate him as an effective leader of the Palestinians.  It's obviously had the opposite effect.

And the second is to stop terrorist attacks.  There has been a lull, but given the past history of the conflict, it seems highly likely that there'll be a resumption of them once the Israeli military withdraws.

So it's a very tough situation.  You have to do something.  But what you do, it's difficult to accomplish the objectives that you state for the action.

VAN SUSTEREN:  The last suicide bombing, at least according to my recollection, was April 12th, which is about three weeks.

You consider that a lull?  And that's sort of Sharon having succeeded in at least, for, you know, made a huge amount of damage in terms of what Arafat can do to combat him?

MITCHELL:  Well, even the top Israeli military and intelligence officials say that they have never conceded as within their power to completely halt all such activities.

That their intention was to make serious inroads in damaging the infrastructure, in effect interdicting such actions before they occur.

But they anticipate and expect that there will be further actions, and that's obviously based first on intelligence that they have.  The Israelis have a very high level of accurate intelligence about actions among the Palestinians.

And secondly, the entire history of this conflict — each escalation has produced a counter-escalation by the other side.

And that's why, Greta, there has to be reached the conclusion on both sides that there is not a military solution to this conflict.

It can only come to an end through negotiation.

VAN SUSTEREN:  And of course, it's one of these disputes that's been going on so many years, you always think that you're at an end, and we just seem to go through different stages.  It never seems to end.

Senator Mitchell, always nice to see you.  Thank you very much for joining us this evening.

MITCHELL:  Thanks, Greta.

Click here to order the entire transcript of the April 26, 2002 edition of On the Record.

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