Robert Pelletreau: Barak and Arafat don’t have Public Mandates to Make Compromises
By Munir K. Nasser
Chief Correspondent, Washington, DC
A former US Assistant Secretary of State said that the Palestinian and Israeli publics are telling their leaders that it is not time yet for an agreement because the gaps are still too wide.
Robert Pelletreau, who has served as Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs and as US ambassador to Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain, said the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships “have gotten way out in front of their public opinion, and now we see public opinion reasserting itself.”
Pelletreau told Albawaba.com in an interview that each leader does not feel the right kind of mandate from his public to make compromises. “They are sticking with positions that are different and so far there has not been any adequate bridging proposals,” he said.
He added that Arafat is watching and taking the temperature of his public and does not want to go against a substantial public opinion among the Palestinians.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Q-Do you think that anything serious will come out of the summit at Sharm El-Sheikh?
A-The chances are declining because they have not reached agreement in the time set aside for the summit. Basically, it seems to me that the each of the leaders of the key parties, the Palestinians and the Israelis, does not feel the right kind of mandate from his public to make compromises. So they are sticking with positions that are different and so far there has not been any adequate bridging proposals.
Q- The Palestinians, through their demonstrations, are opposed to Arafat’s participation in the Sharm El-Sheikh summit, and want the Intifada to continue.
A- Not all the Palestinians are opposed to Arafat’s participation in the summit. Mr. Arafat is watching and taking the temperature of public opinion. He obviously does not want to go against a substantial public opinion among the Palestinians.
Q-There is a strong feeling in the Arab world that the Sharm El-Sheikh summit is going to abort the Arab summit in Cairo next week. Do you agree with that assessment?
A- It has taken some of the focus and attention away from the Arab summit. I think that is still an open question. If this summit ends without any conclusion, it may be that the Arab summit will still take place.
Q- Does Clinton have any real chance of salvaging the situation at this summit?
A- I don’t think he has any real hopes of salvaging the whole situation. The idea was to try to see if the international community could help in stopping the violence.
Q- Is the peace process dead, as many analysts are saying?
A- It is not dead, but it will take a certain amount of time to come back. It will not come back right away because people need time to absorb and reflect upon this violence that is taking place and what it means.
Q- Barak says he lost faith in Arafat and is calling for a new Palestinian leadership. Is he serious about that?
A- I didn’t read it that way. He is, like a lot of Israelis, are questioning whether the Palestinians really want to live in peace with them because of the violence.
Q- Many in the US are blaming Arafat for the current crisis. Do you see it that way yourself?
A- No, I don’t see it quite that way. I think the negotiating delegations have gotten way out in front of their public opinion, and now we see public opinion reasserting itself. Public opinion is clearly telling the leaders that it is not time yet for an agreement because the gaps are still too wide.
Q- As a person who participated in such negotiation before, do you see anything positive coming out of it soon?
A- The most positive thing I can think of is a real end to the fighting and that the two sides agree to work with the United States and with others to try to rebuild the atmosphere that could sustain some negotiations.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)