This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Nov. 12, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The crowd is going wild. They are shouting. They are shouting, "To Jerusalem" again. "To Jerusalem." They’re trying to touch the coffin. Everyone is trying to get one last look at their leader. They’re trying to touch the coffin. They are throwing — yes, their hands all over the place, trying to reach the coffin. Thousands and thousands of people thronging around this coffin. They’re losing control of it – it looks like right now. It looks like they’re being swept off course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILSON, GUEST HOST: Well, that was our reporter Jennifer Griffin doing a great job describing the chaos, as Yasser Arafat’s body was returned to Ramallah (search) for burial. With his passing, many believe there is a once in a generation opportunity to make real progress toward a lasting Mideast peace. But how do you seize such an opportunity?
Well, who better to ask than Ambassador Dennis Ross, former Mideast envoy, also author of "The Missing Peace."
Good to have you here, especially today. One of the things that I noticed is that we have got a very tense situation right now. We see the chaos in Ramallah; tensions, emotions running very high. One reads that Israel right now, for probably understandable reasons, is something of a — on something of a war footing. So before anything can happen, there needs to be a little time to let this defuse a bit?
DENNIS ROSS, FMR. MIDDLE EAST ENVOY: Yes. I think one of the things that has to happen is first allow the Palestinians to vent the emotions. Arafat was a father figure for the Palestinian movement. He was a symbol of the Palestinian cause. And he was the only figure who was ever really one who could emerge and he never allowed anybody else to emerge as a possible rival. So you have to get beyond the emotions of the moment. We saw a reflection of that today.
I actually think you’re going to see that dissipate fairly quickly now. And you’ll begin to move in what is a second phase. And the second phase will be getting a transitional leadership to manage things for a transitional period. Palestinian fears about collapse into a civil war are so strong that I think they will ensure that we have stability in the near term. The critical thing is how do you move from the near term into something that is more stable and enduring over time? And that’s where elections come in.
WILSON: All right. Before we get to elections, I want to ask about this. Today a reporter from al Arabiya, one of the Arab networks, was asking Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) you know, why did you send such a low-level representative? They sent a guy by the name of William Burns, assistant secretary of state to the funeral. And she pointed out well, the French, the Germans, the British, all sent, you know, pretty high-ranking people. We really didn’t have a choice there, did we?
ROSS: I don’t think we did. I mean the fact of the matter is the president made it clear there needed to be an alternative leadership among the Palestinians. And the reason he did that in June of 2002 was because he said in effect, we’re not going to deal with a leader who is both a terrorist and is corrupt.
Now, if we treated him as a terrorist in life, how could we suddenly honor him in death? I understand the importance of conveying condolences to the Palestinian people who feel a profound sense of loss. But for us to then suddenly treat him as being someone who we’re prepared to deal with in death, why didn’t we deal with him in life? I think we did the right thing.
WILSON: Sixty days now, there should be an election if all goes well. How do we help that happen?
ROSS: I think the critical thing is not just to call for elections. I mean that’s what the basic law of the Palestinian Authority (search) provides for this transition period and elections in 60 days. But in the current environment, you described it very well to begin with. There is a siege in the territory by the Israelis because in fact they want to ensure that they prevent terror into Israel. Palestinians if they’re going to be able to vote have to be able to campaign; they have to be able to move. They’re going to have to be able to operate differently.
Now, Israel isn’t going to lift the siege unless they know there’s going to be calm and Israelis won’t be attacked. So you can’t mandate that. You’re going to have to negotiate that. The elections provide a very good opportunity to have the Israelis and Palestinians resume direct talks. They provide an opportunity for them to work out a set of understandings about where the idea for it will be and will not be. What will be permitted in terms of elections, and what won’t be? What will the Palestinians do to ensure that there is calm?
Now, all Palestinians fearing that there will be violence, and all Palestinians wanting elections create a leverage even on Hamas. Because Hamas will not want to look like the odd one out, so I think you actually have an opening here to resume negotiations. And I think we need to help those along. The last four years you basically haven’t had it. So where the United States comes in is helping to nurture those negotiations and ensure that they work.
WILSON: Well, today you have the British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) in town. You have the president meeting with him; they talk about this, of course. They come out and they say that they want to help move things along. Well, just how proactive can both of those men and both of these governments be in that effort?
ROSS: I think when it comes to the Europeans, there is a limitation as to how much they can do. In the last four years when we did take a step back, nothing prevented them from taking a step forward and they didn’t do it. Not because they don’t want to, but because in truth, they can’t be a broker. They can provide support of a financial nature and they can also create a certain, I think, imagery about the importance of preserving calm and having Palestinians hear that from their putative friends the Europeans.
For our part, we’re clearly the only ones who can be an effective broker. And I think what is required right now is for us to be able to pull the Israelis and Palestinians together to resume talks. We should start in the next week or so, talking in parallel to each side. After that we should bring them together so they begin to work out the actual terms in which you change the realities on the ground. Good statements are fine. But they’re always overwhelmed by the realities on the ground and if there’s violence.
Elections represent a turning point for Palestinians where they can assume responsibility. And they can empower a new leadership. But you have to create an environment where you can hold the elections.
WILSON: Well, presumably the United States does have some thoughts about who they would like to see, but they can’t really actively support anyone. Can they?
ROSS: That’s right. We cannot be in the business of anointing any Palestinian leadership. It’s going to be elections that produce the authority for a post-Arafat leadership. Now having said that though, again I come back to this notion. If we don’t get to work soon on how you prepare the ground, if we don’t help to ensure that there’s an international infusion of money so that in fact life begins to get better. If we don’t work out the terms for monitoring and supervising the election so we ensure it’s free and fair, we’re going to find the opening doesn’t say opening very long.
WILSON: As I began this segment, I called it a once in a generation opportunity. That’s what some are saying. Is that a fair assessment or is that overselling it?
ROSS: It may be overselling it. What is clear is it’s the end of an era. And one thing we know about Arafat, Arafat made it almost impossible for there to be any change among Palestinians to move toward democracy and reform. But he also made it impossible to do anything between Israelis and Palestinians. Now he’s out of the way. That impediment is removed and Palestinians will realize they’re beyond the revolutionary leadership stage.
Now it’s time for leaders to come in and assume responsibility. If they can do that, then we will be embarked on a new pathway. The one caution I would make, we cannot move from where we are to settling all the core issues. You cannot expect a new Palestinian leadership to come in, and as their first act to take steps that Arafat would never take. They can do it, I think, on the issue of calm. They can’t do it on the issue of Jerusalem and refugees.
WILSON: It was pointed out to me that you met over 500 times with Yasser Arafat. I’m just kind of wondering, as now he’s been laid to rest in Ramallah, what are your thoughts about the passing of this man?
ROSS: Well, it is the end of an era. I do look at him as someone who always succeeded as a symbol, but always failed as a leader. As a symbol, all he had to do was to mobilize passions. And he did that well. As a leader, he had to make hard choices. And that he didn’t do.
I regret that while he was able to put the Palestinian cause on the international map and give Palestinians and their aspirations standing, that he couldn’t take that abstraction and turn it into a reality. And unfortunately, Palestinians paid the price for it. Now it’s time for them to chart a new pathway.
WILSON: Dennis Ross, it is good to have you here today.
ROSS: A pleasure.
WILSON: Thank you so much.
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