Panel: What is Pres. Bush's Middle East Policy?

Following is a transcripted excerpt from Fox News Sunday, April 21, 2002.

BRIT HUME, HOST: It is now panel time for Fred, Mara and Juan. And we're pleased to be joined by Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. All of this group Fox News contributors. Tony still has the day off.

Now, let's start with the situation in the Middle East.

Bill, based on what we've heard from Secretary Powell, based on what we've heard from the president and from Powell in the days since the end of his trip, what can we now conclude about what the administration policy really now is?

BILL KRISTOL, FOX NEWS: Well, that's a good question. You know, Powell sounds different from Bush. Bush is president so, presumably, he's articulating policy. I think a lot depends on what happens this week, and particularly with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia's visit to the president at the ranch in Crawford, Texas, Thursday and Friday.

This will be an interesting test. Do we ask the Saudis to help us? Do we defer to them as important players in the Arab world? Do we, therefore, put more pressure again on Israel? Or does the president speak to them privately, at least, as he has spoken publicly and say, "You're with us or you're against us, you're funders of terror, you're inciters to terror, you're rewarding suicide bombers and that has to stop"?

I think this meeting Thursday will sort of resolve the issue of where the Bush administration really is in the war on terrorism.

BARNES: You know, there was an interesting statement made in your interview with Colin Powell, and he said about Yasser Arafat that statements aren't enough. In other words, issuing a statement condemning terrorism is not enough. More is expected from Yasser Arafat. And you know, in that bite from Arafat, he was saying, "Is this acceptable? Is this acceptable to be imprisoned...

HUME: Is this acceptable?

BARNES: ... in Ramallah by the Israelis?" For now, it is acceptable to the Bush administration.

Very pointedly, when Powell was in the Middle East, met with Arafat twice; he did not spring him from his imprisonment, as Arafat had expected.

And so, the Bush policy is to put more pressure on Arafat to actually do something about terrorism. Now, there's no reason to be optimistic that he will, but he is certainly getting that pressure.

MARA LIASSON, FOX NEWS: Well, what's interesting is, as Bill pointed out, is going to be how -- to what extent the Bush administration is willing to pressure the Saudis, because up until now, they haven't. And don't forget that, so far, given that the Bush administration has now reverted to the status quo ante, I'd guess you'd call it -- the previous policy of not pressuring Israel -- the Saudis and a lot of other moderate Arab countries don't like that one bit. And what is Bush willing to say, if you don't do the things I ask you, what will happen? And that we've never heard yet from the White House.

JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS: Well, I think what's key about this meeting with the crown prince is that, if there's any prospect for peace, I think it really relies on how the Arab states act in terms of their pressure on Arafat. I don't think the United States is in much position to put any pressure on Arafat at this moment.

I think Sharon's behavior and the U.S. behavior has somehow made Arafat into a martyr among the Palestinian people, and I don't think there's anybody going to replace him. So it's not as if he can be removed from the picture, although I understand that Sharon and others would like to exile him. I don't think he's going anywhere.

So it's a matter of what the other Arab states are willing to do to say to the president, to Sharon, and to Arafat, "This is a peace plan that we will enforce, that we are going to put pressure on the Palestinian people. We will make accommodations for Palestinians, we will allow for certain movement of Palestinian people into Arab countries. We will support the growth and economic stature of the Palestinian people, in exchange for peace in the region."

WILLIAMS: That's the new thing here, and that's what's on the table.

HUME: Let's talk a little about the situation in Jenin. There's going to be a U.N. investigation, it appears, and the Israelis have some strong feelings about who ought to be involved in it.

But that aside for the moment, what can we now safely conclude about what happened and didn't happen in Jenin?

WILLIAMS: Well, you could conclude on the basis of what we heard from State Department officials that there was tremendous brutality, civilians were killed. But more than that, that the place was leveled. That basically what the Israelis did was to go in there, they fought a terrific battle, Palestinians were well entrenched, and the Israeli response was to essentially raze the place.

Now, there's arguments about whether there was a massacre there.

HUME: Well, that was -- that the main -- that charge was advanced very loudly. By midweek there was a lot of talk about a massacre. What about it?

LIASSON: And everything...

HUME: Hold it for a second, Mara.


FRED BARNES, FOX NEWS: ...flaws in some of the things that Juan said. There is no evidence of a massacre. This is what the Palestinians have charged, that there's a mass burial ground of all these people. There's no evidence of that at all.

Now, Jenin is a large place, a refugee camp. Why they need refugee camps, you know, 50 years after the original -- more than 50 years after the original war for the liberation of Israel, but they seem to think they need them, and they're in Syria and Lebanon and so on.

But the Israelis say they only attacked buildings and raze some of them where they were either booby-trapped or where Palestinian fighters were shooting at them from. And even so, the part that was destroyed is a small part of Jenin. It's not a massive thing.

What is discouraging is the United Nations. I don't know that there's been a United Nations report in recent history that didn't criticize Israel, no matter what happened.

LIASSON: Well, except that what we're talking about, certainly there were vast amounts of destruction there. I think what we're talking about is whether or not there was a massacre. And based on the reports that have interviewed dozens of Palestinian fighters as well as Israeli soldiers and survivors of that, we don't have any evidence yet of a massacre.

Now, if the United Nations corroborates that, I think that will be very important.

KRISTOL: But still, look, Israel went in on the ground with infantry first into Jenin. It was a very bitter battle, a war. They lost 23 soldiers. After the booby-trapped house and the suicide bomber had killed 13 Israelis on April 9, I think it was, Israel decided they couldn't afford to keep going in with infantry first, and they went in with the armored bulldozers. And that's why you see the pictures of a chunk of the Jenin refugee camp being bulldozed because they had booby-trapped buildings and people fighting in these buildings.

Now, there was civilians in the buildings as well. There is no question that dozens, scores of them probably were killed. We killed dozens and scores of civilians in Afghanistan. We killed scores of civilians in Serbia. There's no U.N. investigation of our actions there, nor should there be.

Let's talk about Russia and Chechnya, if you want to talk about really brutalizing civilians. Did I miss it, or is there a U.N. investigation into Russian brutality in Chechnya?

I don't think we should have agreed to actually to this U.N. investigation. Israel had to agree. I think it will show there wasn't a massacre. But let's not kid ourselves, it's a total double standard.

WILLIAMS: It's a double standard in what way? I'm not getting that.

KRISTOL: That Israel behaved with more compunction than 98 percent of the countries in the world that are fighting wars...

WILLIAMS: No, I'll....

KRISTOL: ... against enemies or against terrorism, and none of these other countries gets investigated.

WILLIAMS: Bill, I will buy your argument...

KRISTOL: Only Israel gets investigated.

WILLIAMS: I will buy your argument that war is hell and that the Israelis were under fire and felt that some of the buildings were booby- trapped. But when you talk about killing civilians, that's exactly what we say is wrong with terror. We call that terrorism. HUME: Well, we don't call -- hold it a second. We don't call it terrorism unless it's a case where civilians are the intended target, random killing of civilians is the intended target. Not the by- product of a military operation aimed at combatants. And that's an important moral distinction.

WILLIAMS: I think even we -- the moral line is, we do not believe in this collateral damage where you go around and kill civilians. Say well, you know what, it just so happened casually. To the contrary, American military action makes a concerted effort to avoid civilian...

KRISTOL: I'm a strong supporter of the American military, so I don't want to say this wrong. But Israel was more -- had more compunction about trying not to kill civilians in Jenin than we have had in Afghanistan.

LIASSON: We bombed from the air.

KRISTOL: We bombed from 15,000 feet. And if we thought -- we said -- which we gave people warning to get out, as Israel did...

BARNES: Correct.

KRISTOL: ... every two hours on the loud speakers, "Get out of there because we're coming in." Unfortunately, the terrorists kept some civilians there or some civilians chose to stay there, and some of them got killed.

BARNES: Juan, terrorism is when you kill civilians, innocent women and children and men too, on purpose. Where that's your goal, to kill them. What has happened in Afghanistan and what the Israelis did, there happened to be some civilian who didn't leave and were killed as a consequence of the war going on. They were not targeted.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think this is -- your sort of moral -- you know, just kind of all over the place.

BARNES: Not at all. Very clear.

WILLIAMS: This is all part with something that is really going on in this country, which is that somehow our war on terrorism has been taken over by Israel. And the idea of this long and protracted battle over Zionism and 50 years of history between the Israelis and the Palestinian people has now been made into an argument over terrorism -- what the Palestinians made out to be the terrorists -- but any action taken by Israel is not terrorism.

LIASSON: The suicide bombers are terrorists.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I would agree.

LIASSON: And the questions that...

KRISTOL: And individual Israelis who kill Palestinians, like Baruch Goldstein in 1994 who slaughtered 29 Palestinians at the Tomb at Hebron, are terrorists. I'll give you that.

WILLIAMS: Let me ask you something.

KRISTOL: But the Israeli army fighting against armed Palestinians -- who fought quite effectively incidentally, you know, in Jenin...

WILLIAMS: They did.

KRISTOL: ... you know, very tough fight -- that's not terrorism. That's war.

WILLIAMS: But this logic now that in American-speak it becomes that Mr. Bush will say that Ariel Sharon is a man of peace. Ariel Sharon is a man of peace? Even you, look at your face. I mean, come on.

LIASSON: That's debatable. But the question is, when confronted with suicide bombers who are terrorists, the question is, what should Israel do to keep itself safe?

WILLIAMS: I think Israel has to take steps to stop -- Israel's security is not the issue. Everybody believes in Israel's existence and security.

BARNES: Well, not everybody. Not everybody. I don't think Yasser Arafat does.

Look, the president said, Secretary Powell says, the terrorism has to stop or you can never get on to negotiations over any sort of an ultimate peace treaty. That's what they're trying to get Yasser Arafat to do.

LIASSON: No, they've backed off of that.

BARNES: The president...

LIASSON: They were perfectly willing to start negotiations...


BARNES: Look, basically, they don't believe that you can get some peace settlement now. We know from Dennis Ross exactly what Arafat has rejected in the past. What they're involved in is not conflict resolution. It's conflict management...

HUME: And what about that?

BARNES: ... to calm things down. HUME: What Dennis Ross was telling us raises an intriguing point, because the offer, I think we can all agree, whether -- I'm sure there are Palestinian representatives who would find great fault with it, but compared to any of the other offers that were on the table or that even most people have known about, that was a very generous proposition that President Clinton put on the table and that the Israelis agreed to and that Arafat, in the way he did it, you heard, walked away from.

What does that tell us about the prospects of the kind of process that Colin Powell and President Bush and others are trying to get started again with Arafat?

LIASSON: It makes it seem very dim, indeed. I mean, you want to know what, if they wouldn't accept that, what is it that they were holding out for?

KRISTOL: Well, it's not they. It's Arafat.

LIASSON: Or Arafat.

KRISTOL: I think it will strengthen the hand of those who say you have to get beyond Arafat.

WILLIAMS: And, in fact, that's the way, the direction that Colin Powell is now pointing for possible peace negotiations. You've got to get to the Arab countries, you've got to get them involved, because Arafat is not a trustworthy negotiator.

BARNES: Yes, but it's not only that. Arafat believes that you can always get more than whatever he's offered through violence.

HUME: And history, to some extent, has perhaps borne him out.

BARNES: He's gotten more.

HUME: All right. That's all for the panel. Thank you all very much.

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