Excerpts from interview with Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa on the Charlie Rose Show

Tuesday, September 12, 2000

MR. ROSE: What happened, in your judgment, at Camp David? Tell me what you think Prime Minister Barak did and what you think caused, prevented an agreement?

MIN. BEN-AMI: Well, I think that at Camp David for the first time in this peace process, we did touch on the nerve centers of this process, that is, Jerusalem refugees, territory, security, all the pending issues that are inevitable if you want to reach a final agreement.

I think that Prime Minister Barak went to the outer limits of any prime minister in Israel in order to try and reach an agreement. On Jerusalem, he broke taboos that were never broken before. I suspect that no future prime minister in Israel will ever come that close in breaking these kind of taboos. He was very forthcoming on every issue. However, I think that the Palestinian side, the Palestinian leadership, more specifically, Arafat, at that particular moment was not ripe enough, probably not ready to assume the tough decisions.

MR. ROSE: Do you think that was because at that time he didn’t have a sense of the support he needed from Egypt, from other Arab supporters of the Palestinian cause or because he wasn’t prepared at that time at Camp David?

MIN. BEN-AMI: I guess that it is because he was not at that particular time prepared. I think that the Arab world will stand by Arafat and will support any autonomous and independent decision that he may take in the name of his people. In fact, this is what we gather from contacts with Arab countries, that is they will not impose on Arafat anything. They will not tie up his hands. And they will let him have the maneuver space.

The feeling that we got, however, is that after Camp David, what Arafat was trying to do is in fact get the kind of conditions imposed on him — one got the impression that he wanted his hands tied up by resolutions taken by all kind of Muslim or Arabs — so, in that sense, maybe he was not ready. He wanted to get that kind of impositions or constraints being imposed on the process. This is our feeling.

MR. ROSE: Has anything taken place since the end of Camp David to give you any encouragement other than the Palestinian decision not to announce a state on September 14th?

MIN. BEN-AMI: I think that that decision is obviously commendable. I think it gives a new lease on life to the peace process, and I think it is a wise decision. However, except for that particular decision, I don’t believe there is much room for optimism right now. We saw, for example, on issues not necessarily on Jerusalem, on other core issues, such as borders and security – we saw a tendency to go back to square one or almost to square one. So, what we need to understand is that the whole deal is a package and the trade-offs are within the package, Jerusalem’s security, refugees, land, etc. You cannot ask Israel to go so deep in the question of Jerusalem and then go back to square one on the other core issues. The package is in itself – in itself, it contains the trade-offs.

MR. ROSE: So, when Prime Minister Barak said at Camp David, "If we don’t reach an agreement, everything we have conceded in the effort to bring it all together is off the table, you can’t take for granted any concession we have made at Camp David in the future because we didn’t reach a peace and bring it all together?"

MIN. BEN-AMI: Yes, indeed. I mean this is taken for granted, that unless everything is agreed, nothing is agreed.

MR. ROSE: But some people say once you show how far you can go, you can never go back. You are always at that point where if you advance to this line, you are always there because the other side knows you are going to be there.

MIN. BEN-AMI: Yes and no. That is, assuming that the other side remains where we presumably thought he stood at the end of the day, that is Camp David is a package. Again, we did not sign any paper but there are impressions. There is a collective memory and the custodian of this collective memory is President Clinton. So, we do expect that this collective memory of Camp David be articulated into some kind of memorandum that can be the basis for an end-game.

(…)

MIN. BEN-AMI: … Arafat starts the negotiations on Jerusalem as if Jerusalem has always throughout history, since the beginning of time was the capital of the Palestinian state and now he will allow the Jews, the Israelis to pray in the Wailing Wall whereas there was never a Palestinian state. Jerusalem was always only the capital of the Jewish people. And now from a position of total control of the city — admittedly, not recognized by the Arab world and by the international community, yet — we come and say, "We open this file. We open this file, and we are ready to put Jerusalem on the table." And he immediately gets into the mode that this is mine and now I will allow them to pray at the Wailing Wall, to have the Jewish Quarter when, in fact, he has nothing.

MIN. MOUSSA: Mr. Ben-Ami, I believe you miss the point. The point is that East Jerusalem and the places on which Mr. Arafat was speaking, they all fall within the occupied territories, the territories that have been occupied in 1967. So, they fall within the framework of Resolution 242. Therefore, he has that right. They were not under the sovereignty nor the presence of Israel nor the administration of Israel. These that have been occupied in 1967 — — including the holy places, including the Old City, including East Jerusalem. That is why he says whether I stay there, he has that right because those are the territories that have been occupied militarily by you in 1967. You were not there before 1967.

MIN. BEN-AMI: Amre Moussa, you are missing the point. I am trying to be very precise. I say that never in history was Jerusalem the capital of any state but of the Jewish State, this was until the year 70 A.D. Secondly, the war of 1967 was a typical war of self-defense.

MIN. MOUSSA: Don’t go back to history and say you see this was a war of self-defense against aggression. What kind of aggression?

You occupied territories for so many years —

MIN. BEN-AMI: Because we were attacked.

MIN. MOUSSA: Building settlements on territories that did not belong to you.

MIN. BEN-AMI: We were attacked by the Jordanians, and we were attacked by you.

(…)

MIN. BEN-AMI: Even before the President raised the issues, I was the first who raised new ideas about Jerusalem and I started to speak about the Old City in terms of special regime. And I spoke about changing the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, which you know very well is a taboo in Israeli politics. So, we came forward and he [Arafat] stuck to his positions, never moved. And, today, the dilemma remains open. We don’t know if he wants a deal or not. We don’t know.

MIN. MOUSSA: No, he does wants a deal.

MIN. BEN-AMI: I hope you are right.

MR. ROSE: And what kind of deal does he want?

MIN. MOUSSA: That is the point I was about to make. You should not put Arafat before a choice between no deal and a bad deal and that is exactly what is before Arafat or was before Arafat until very recently.

MIN. MOUSSA: He has to be offered a good deal, an offer that he should not refuse.

MIN. BEN-AMI: I think that the deal should be charged also in the context of the political and international situation. It is his dilemma to decide whether he wants to be a prophet, a preacher, or a leader that will lead his people to a solution.

(…)

MIN. BEN-AMI: But Arafat must understand that there is a limit to the concessions any Israeli government can make.

MIN. MOUSSA: Do you recognize that there is a limit to any concessions the other side would make or you don’t recognize that?

MIN. BEN-AMI: Of course, we do.

MR. ROSE: But do both of you recognize, that but in this case, as difficult as it is, unless both sides make concessions, —

MIN. MOUSSA: Concessions within the framework of international legitimacy.

MR. ROSE: What does that mean?

MIN. MOUSSA: It means that concessions should not be built on the annexation of certain parts of territory, for example. This is again international law. But if they talk together about certain swap of territories, and when they talk about withdrawal —

MIN. BEN-AMI: Is attacking Israel unilaterally according to international law?

MIN. MOUSSA: Well, that is exactly what we want to avoid.

MIN. BEN-AMI: The fact that the Jordanians opened the war against us in 1967 and we, too, recovered the territories in a war of self-defense, is this international law?

(…)

MIN. BEN-AMI: Honest people throughout the world understand today that the deal that was proposed on Jerusalem is an honest offer.

(…)

MIN. BEN-AMI: I realized over the last year that when Arafat says, "Let us bridge the gap," what he means by that, this is euphemism for us to come closer to his position. That is, to be "objective." This is not the game we are ready to engage in. There is a catalogue of impressions that was built up at Camp David. Some of it is to our taste. Some of it is to the taste of the Palestinians. And this is exactly what you possibly meant, part of it will be acceptable to them, part of it, acceptable to us. This is the essence of any reasonable and fair deal. And this is more or less what we have today. So, this not a moment for long negotiations. It is a moment for decisions.

(…)

MIN. BEN-AMI: My aspiration is that the Old City will be ruled by a special regime. This is the only thing that I told them. I never mentioned anything related to sovereignty. So, I think that the idea of a special regime in the Old City is what we should try to build.

MR. ROSE: What does that mean, "special regime?"

MIN. BEN-AMI: Well, since we had one square kilometer, this is the Old City, full of holy sites – Muslim, Christian, Jewish – populations that mingle. In the Jewish Quarter, you have Jews. In the Muslim Quarter, you have Jews and Muslims. In the Armenian Quarter, half of it is Jewish. So, to divide sovereignties in such a limited space is ridiculous. It is not practical at all. So, you need to build up a regime special for this area where you can have, for example, joint police units. All kinds of arrangements on education, on infrastructure, on the preservation of monuments.

Special regime is not a kind of sovereignty. It doesn’t go into the colors that you describe here. And we never came to the Palestinians, never came to the Palestinians and said, "This is the idea. Accept it." Never, ever. It is not an attitude that we ever developed.

This was an idea that was raised during a long night after which the President came and we reviewed the talks that we conducted over the night with the Palestinians, and I put forward the idea of a special regime, which was raised as an idea, not as an imposition. We are not going to impose anything on anybody if he doesn’t want a deal, so we don’t have a deal.

(…)

MIN. MOUSSA: By postponing the date, 13 September, is it not enough for you as a message that he intends to enter with vigor into the negotiations in the last five weeks?

MIN. BEN-AMI: I wish it was so. I think that his considerations were as follows: He saw that if he declares a state, he will be declaring it effectively only on 20 percent of the West Bank. And it was not enough. He saw that he is in a defensive position after Camp David precisely because you are wrong in saying that only the Israeli press and the American press think that he is the one that was not flexible because all the world — or most of the world — understands that.

It is highly commendable, but the fact that he did not declare unilaterally is not an ingredient in the negotiations. It is not something we should pay in assets in the negotiations.

(…)

MIN. MOUSSA: We, the Egyptians, cannot accept a mix of sovereignty over the Haram-al Sharif, where the mosque is and the Dome of the Rock is. But, at the same time, we advised him that, okay, let us see what other ideas we would think of. And you know that we entered after Camp David with some ideas, a few ideas, several ideas to deal with this question of the Haram al-Sharif, the question of Jerusalem. So, those Egyptians who came up with ideas to help could not have advised Arafat to be flexible. But we have to remain in the realm of legitimacy, not to allow one side to take more than what it is due. We cannot accept Israeli sovereignty over Haram, but we can accept a formula where their rights will be accepted in the world.

(…)

MIN. MOUSSA: What is the outer limits, sir? What is the outer limits then, to keep everything?

MIN. BEN-AMI: Waiving Israeli sovereignty for the sake of special regime. This is outer limits.

MIN. MOUSSA: Waiving Israeli — do you have sovereignty?

MIN. BEN-AMI: Yes, we have.

MIN. MOUSSA: You have occupation over the city.

MIN. BEN-AMI: No, sir, we have sovereignty.

MIN. MOUSSA: That is foreign military occupation. You call it sovereignty and you want to waive it? And you want people to —

MIN. BEN-AMI: No, to recognize it. [It was established]

by Israeli lawmakers.

MIN. MOUSSA: The world has rejected that. The Security Council resolution, General Assembly resolution —

MIN. BEN-AMI: We trust, however, that we can convince the world that if we do not have a partner on the side, this capital will be gradually recognized. We hope that his administration of President Clinton, before the end of the year, will decide to build the Embassy of the United States of America in Jerusalem, representing America in our capital.

MIN. MOUSSA: There will be no process of peace. Then there will be no process of peace. Because if you will decide the fate of Jerusalem outside the negotiating table, then it is not a negotiation.

MIN. BEN-AMI: We did our very best. … This where our people were born, our religion was born. This is history. This is reality. It is part of our identity. You claim in Egypt that you represent a 7,000 year history. Why should not I claim that I represent the history of the Jewish people?

MIN. MOUSSA: You can claim that as you like, as you like, but I am not convinced. You are telling me that Jerusalem was your capital for 3,000 years?

MIN. BEN-AMI: Look in the books of history. Yes, it is in the

books of history.

MIN. MOUSSA: What books of history?

MIN. BEN-AMI: It is in the Bible.

MIN. MOUSSA: In 1967, East Jerusalem was not in your hands. In 1967, after military occupation, you occupied this city.

MIN. BEN-AMI: The fact that it was not in our hands doesn’t mean

it was not ours. It belongs to us by God, by history, by religion.

MIN. MOUSSA: Exactly, but we are talking about East Jerusalem that has been occupied by you in 1967. We are not discussing West Jerusalem.

MIN. BEN-AMI: In a war of self-defense and because Jerusalem was the intended capital of the Jewish people.

MIN. MOUSSA: It was not a war of self-defense but anyway, let us not discuss it. But we are not discussing West Jerusalem, we are discussing East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is Palestinian. You want to share East Jerusalem while keeping West Jerusalem with you. This is the essence of injustice, unfairness, imbalance.

MIN. BEN-AMI: Our compromise with the political constraints and reality is that we are negotiating the future of our capital, of the fact — can you conceive of the Americans negotiating the future of Washington? Or you the future of Cairo?

MIN. MOUSSA: No, Washington was not under foreign occupation and Cairo is not under foreign occupation but Jerusalem is divided.

MIN. BEN-AMI: No, Jerusalem was under foreign occupation for 2,000 years. It was always our capital. This is history.

MIN. MOUSSA: What history?

MIN. BEN-AMI: The history everybody knows.

MIN. MOUSSA: You started 50 years ago.

MIN. BEN-AMI: No, we started three millennia ago.    
 Excerpts from interview with Israeli Acting FM Ben-Ami and Egyptian FM Moussa on the Charlie Rose Show-Sept 12- 2000
 Excerpts from interview with Israeli Acting FM Ben-Ami and Egyptian FM Moussa on the Charlie Rose Show-Sept 12- 2000
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