Mideast Summit

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume ," Feb. 8, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER ARIEL SHARON (through translator): We are prepared to actively fulfill all our all our obligations, and expect the other side to carry out all its obligations. Only actions and not words, this is the only way to attain the vision of two states living side by side in peace and tranquility.


BRIT HUME, HOST: Well, that was Ariel Sharon under, as you saw there, the watchful eye of the Egyptian President Mubarak, stating Israel’s good intentions. There were similar expressions from the Palestinian side.

So when something major happens in the Middle East, who you going to call? Here at FOX News, we call on a man who is a special Mideast advisor, an envoy for two presidents, Dennis Ross, who is also one of our foreign policy analysts. He joins me tonight from Milwaukee.

Dennis, let me get to something really quickly here. In the past, we’ve had these cease-fires. People didn’t describe them as grandly as they did this time. But it is just a cease-fire. Why should we believe or should we believe that Hamas or the al Aqsa Martyrs, or whoever can’t end this cease-fire whenever it wants by blowing up somebody or something? Or can it?

DENNIS ROSS, FMR. MIDDLE EAST ENVOY: Well, they can. No, they can. But I think let’s look at what is different right now from before. No. 1, Yasser Arafat is gone and he basically countenanced the violence. Abu Mazen is someone who is against it. No. 2, Abu Mazen is riding a crest of popular support. And Hamas in particular understands that. And they do not want to put themselves opposite what the Palestinian public wants.

It isn’t only that Abu Mazen was elected. It’s also that in the exit polls after the election, it’s very clear that 84 percent of the Palestinians wanted to see law and order established among Palestinians. And 81 percent wanted to see the economy rebuilt and restored, and they wanted a normal life.

Hamas understands that, so they won’t be quick to disrupt it. But at this time, they won’t do it. I don’t know how much time we will have however.

HUME: For the record, we ought to note that Mahmoud Abbas and Abu Mazen are one and the same.

Well, let’s assume — I mean I assume, Dennis, that the Israelis know the difference between a Palestinian Authority that responds to violence with a strong attempt to ferret out the wrongdoers and to suppress it. And a Palestinian Authority, such as that under Yasser Arafat that basically winked at it, encouraged it, and indeed probably inspired it all those years.

ROSS: There’s no doubt about that.

HUME: Right. The question I have is whether Mahmoud Abbas/Abu Mazen has at his disposal forces that would be capable of taking on Hamas, or the al Aqsa Martyr Brigades, capable and willing? What’s your thought about that?

ROSS: Well, there really are two points here. No. 1, you have to understand that his strategy right now is a strategy of cooptation, not confrontation. The reason for that is partly psychological. He doesn’t want to take them on because Palestinians generally don’t want to fight each other.

But it’s also a function of not yet in his own mind having confidence that he has the kind of security organizations and forces that will, in fact, do what he wants them to do. So he wants to bide time. And as he bides time, he builds his authority. The forces become more professional. At some time he feels the weight of his strength is in enough to be ensure that he doesn’t have to take them on.

Now, from the Israeli standpoint the question is what happens if after a few week there is an attack? Even if Hamas basically decides to go along, there could be renegade cells. What is critical right now is to have a very clear set of understandings about what happen if there are attacks. What do the Israelis expect the Palestinians to do? How much time do they have to do it? What will the Israelis tolerate and not tolerate?

These are questions that I think have to be sorted out in a precise way. It’s one of the reasons I am glad that we have a new security person to point it to, positioned by Secretary Rice, Lieutenant General Ward. This has got to be one of his first preoccupations.

HUME: So your sense is that these kinds of understandings, where the Palestinians will say look, this is all we can do at this point. This is what we will do. And Israelis say, OK. Well, this is what we’ll expect to you do. And if something happens, we will forebear a counterattack, as long as we see these — do these things — these understandings are yet to be reached?

ROSS: That’s my feeling. I think that they have general understandings right now. But the kind of specificity that needs to be there if there is a violation of the cease-fire. What are the mechanisms for responding to it? What are the ground rules that each side will accept in light of it? Those, I think, still have to be worked out.

HUME: Now, in Jennifer Griffin’s report earlier, we saw some ugly signs of resistance to the cease-fire on the Israeli side. Graffiti on one wall, "we killed Rabin," which we know that was the work of Israeli extremists. "We will kill Sharon."

How seriously should people in the U.S., watching this from afar, take that as a threat either to the Israeli government, or as a possible threat of some kind of action against Palestinians?

ROSS: I think it should be taken quite seriously. The head of Shin Bet in Israel had said there are at least 200 extremist settlers who represent a threat to the life of the prime minister. So I think that in fact it should be taken seriously. But Israel is a country that is ruled by law. I think they will deal with that.

But we should be mindful that Sharon’s decision, not for the cease- fire, but to withdraw from Gaza, is tremendously controversial among the right in Israel. And it is deeply resented and rejected by the right in Israel. And one of the reasons he now has a National Unity Government is precisely because so much of his historic base is opposing it.

HUME: Well, would you say this cease-fire, at least for the moment, strengthens his hand politically or not?

ROSS: I think it does strengthen his hand politically, especially if it looks like it’s going to hold. The more it tends to work, the more his hand is strengthened. Not only because it looks like he has a path to it, but also because one of the criticisms of him from the right is he was withdrawing unilaterally and getting nothing from the Palestinians. Now he can actually coordinate the withdrawal and gain certain things from the Palestinians, as well.

HUME: All right. One more thing in all of this, of course, is the presence there of what you like to call the security barrier. Some call a fence, some call a wall, which has — there, we’re looking at a piece of it now. The wall part of it around Jerusalem.

How much of a factor is that in the Palestinian’s willingness to come to this agreement? And how much of a factor is that in making it less likely that there will be the kind of attack that could undo this whole thing?

ROSS: First a little over a quarter of the barrier has been completed at this point. And where it has been completed, there have been no successful suicide attacks. So it has improved Israeli security situation.

Second, I think the critical point here is Palestinians do see it given in places where it’s built as a land grab. And as a result, basically I think it is a pressure on them.

HUME: All right. Dennis, we’ll have you back soon. Thanks very much.

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