This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Nov. 9, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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BRIT HUME, HOST: If there is one person on earth who knows Yasser Arafat (search) better than anyone else outside his inner circle, that person is Dennis Ross (search), who was special Mideast negotiator and adviser for two American presidents.
He has met with Arafat more than 500 times. So who better to ask about the implications of Arafat's passing from the world scene, than a man who has written a book about this whole process in the Middle East called "The Missing Peace." Dennis Ross joins us tonight from Austin, Texas.
Dennis, welcome. Your thoughts about this moment. Arafat is clearly not coming back as leader whether he lives or dies in the near term. Your thoughts about this moment and its implications?
DENNIS ROSS, FMR. MIDDLE EAST ENVOY: Well, I think No. 1; it clearly is the end of an era. Yasser Arafat was, in fact, the embodiment of the Palestinian movement. He was a symbol of the Palestinian cause. He was an icon to the Palestinians because he put them on the international map and he got the world to recognize their national aspirations. That was the good news for him with his own people.
The bad news was he was an absolute impediment to change among his own people in terms of reform. And he was an absolute impediment to achieving any change with the Israelis. He proved he could not make peace.
His passing creates a possibility. The question is can we capitalize on it? There's no question that there will be enormous uncertainty among Palestinians and there will also be fear. He was the only figure of moral authority to Palestinians. He was the only one who could make decisions. With him being out of there, there will be a fear that there will be a vacuum. My own belief is that that fear will get Palestinian to coalesce at least for the near term.
The real key is going to be can we move to elections to in fact elect a successor to him who will have authority, be able to make decisions? A near-term understanding to preserve stability may avoid a breakdown into a violent struggle for succession. But it won't empower leaders who can make decisions. So the key will be, have a caretaker process, then go to elections. If you have elections, the elections may well create a new leadership that can make decisions.
HUME: Boy, that sounds like a hard road. Let me ask you question going back to what you said about his embodiment of the Palestinians' aspirations, and the authority he held in their imagination and in political reality.
President Clinton said that when he with you at his side, he tried so hard to reach a peace deal with the offer. That everyone thinks in the end, will be as good an offer as the Palestinian will ever get from the Israelis. That they — Clinton seemed to be speaking of both sides — couldn't get there. In fact, it wasn't really "they" who couldn't get there?
ROSS: No, it was Arafat. And in fact, it was Arafat almost alone because most of negotiators on his side were prepared to accept the deal. I mean that is the critical point. Arafat couldn't end the conflict because the conflict defined him. When I said he was the embodiment of the cause, in his own eyes he represented the cause and he couldn't live without it. So when you remove him from the equation, that is why I say there is uncertainty, but there is also possibility.
I would like to see us also focus on elections, with an eye toward using them as a device, as a mechanism to resume discussions between Israelis and Palestinians. I would like us, after Arafat has died, after you've gone through the mourning period, I would like us to call for elections and actually organize negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Because you can call for elections but you have to have an environment in which they can be conducted. You have to have understandings on what each side will do.
HUME: Let me ask this question about the circumstances, the change in circumstances since Arafat's moment with Ehud Barak (search) came and, as you point out, went. This wall or security barrier, as you prefer to call it or security perimeters as others call it. Partly wall, partly fence, we all know that is under way. It is going up. There is evidence that such a thing works. It's worked basically around Gaza in keeping the terrorists out of Israel. It appears that it can work here. It appears therefore that the Israeli position is notably strengthened. Will such a deal, as the one that Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat, be available from the Israelis, in your judgment, any time soon or ever again?
ROSS: Not soon because there is a legacy from the last four years. And it has produced profound disbelief on the part of the Israelis that there's a partner on the Palestinian side. If you have a new Palestinian leadership the Israelis may look. But the measure for them will still be are they acting to prevent terror against Israelis. That's going to be the measure.
Now, one interesting point about the security barrier, the Israeli Supreme Court mandated that it be rerouted. And that rerouting will put 70 percent of the barrier on the Green Line, the line that existed at the time of the June 1967 War. The barrier itself will now occupy about 7 percent of the West Bank. And interestingly enough, that is very close to what the Clinton ideas looked like.
HUME: So this deal that...
ROSS: So, even though...
HUME: I'm sorry. Go ahead, Dennis. Please.
ROSS: I was just saying even though you may see a unilateral move to complete the barrier, which I think will in fact happen, unless the Palestinians can prove they can assume security responsibilities. You may end up with a line that doesn't look too different from the Clinton line that creates a basis for what we may see in the future anyway, even though it comes as a result of a unilateral Israeli decision.
HUME: Dennis Ross, it's always a pleasure to have you. We look forward to having you back as this process unfolds, for more of what is always expert analysis. Thanks very much.
ROSS: Thank you, Brit.
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