Should Bush administration endorse Israel's military operation in West Bank?
CNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host: Welcome back to HARDBALL. This half hour, Newsweek's Howard Fineman will be here with a report from inside the Bush White House on the president's Middle East policy-making and how it's being made.
First, the HARDBALL DEBATE. Should the Bush administration endorse Israel's military operation in the West Bank? Early Sunday morning, the US voted in favor of a UN resolution calling for the withdrawal of Israeli forces. But within hours, President Bush backed Sharon and forcefully called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to denounce suicide bombers.
The New York Times' Thomas Friedman outlined his own plan for US foreign policy in the Middle East. He wrote, quote, "America needs to make clear that suicide bombing is not Israel's problem alone. To that end, the US should declare that while it respects the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism, it will have no dealings with the Palestinian leadership as long as it tolerates suicide bombings. Further, we should make clear that Arab leaders whose me-media call suicide bombers 'martyrs' aren't welcome in the US."
We're joined by Daniel Pipes of the Mideast Forum, a pro-Israeli think tank. And Michael O'Hanlon is with the Brookings Institution.
Daniel, make the case for this strong, hard-nosed action by the prime minister of Israel on the West Bank.
Mr. DANIEL PIPES (Middle East Forum): Chris, let me start by resenting the fact that you'd label me and not my opponent. Could we try that one again?
MATTHEWS: Let's try it again. Is-does your-does your-what's the name of it again? The Mideast Forum. Are you pro-Israeli or pro-Arab?
Mr. PIPES: We're pro-American.
MATTHEWS: What does that mean in this context?
Mr. PIPES: Well, that means I'm trying to figure out what is best for American policy.
MATTHEWS: Has the Middle East Forum ever criticized Israeli policy?
Mr. PIPES: The Middle East Forum doesn't take positions, but I do.
MATTHEWS: Well, you're here to take a position.
Mr. PIPES: OK.
MATTHEWS: Have you ever criticized Israeli policy?
Mr. PIPES: Yes, I have.
MATTHEWS: When was that?
Mr. PIPES: Well, for example, when the Israelis bombed the electric installation in Lebanon, I criticized it.
MATTHEWS: OK. When was that? What year was that?
Mr. PIPES: It was two years ago.
MATTHEWS: OK. So it's fair to say you're generally pro-Israeli.
Mr. PIPES: Yeah.
MATTHEWS: OK. That's all I said.
Mr. PIPES: But I just don't like getting labeled, OK?
MATTHEWS: Well, you were and you are. So if you want to get out of that and say you're not pro-Israeli, just make your case. Do you support the policies of-of Ariel Sharon on the West Bank today?
Mr. PIPES: Well, let's let look at it from an American point of view. I think that the United States has declared a war on terror. As the president has often reiterated, the act-the terrorism against Israel is just like the terrorism against us, and we should endorse the Israelis in combating that terror. Now, how they do it is not our business. I think we should tell them that they need to-they should do what they need to do just as we did in Afghanistan. We did what we needed to do there.
MATTHEWS: What is your general view of the-of the dispute between the Arab territories-the Arabs and the Israelis? What is your general view of how that should be resolved?
Mr. PIPES: My general view is that the issue at stake, the war that's taking place today is about the existence of Israel. And those who would say that it's about the occupation of the '67 territories are in fact, not accurate. It has to do with the existence of Israel. And the Arabs and the Palestinians on the street want to destroy it, and the Israelis are fighting for their existence. We have always endorsed Israel's existence, so by, you know, by every ounce of our policy...
MATTHEWS: Well, if you would argue that-let's-let's just sharpen this. You think the United-and I agree with you-you think the United States should heartily condemn the use of young people especially as suiciders to-in order to advance a political cause. But you wouldn't endorse the United States, for example, supporting the continued occupation of the Arab territories by Israel. You wouldn't endorse that, would you?
Mr. PIPES: I don't think that is the issue. The issue is...
MATTHEWS: No, what would you do? Do you endorse the continued occupation of-of the-of the Arab territories by Israel?
Mr. PIPES: I would hope that some day there could be a resolution between Israel and the Palestinians over this.
MATTHEWS: To what effect?
Mr. PIPES: But I see that...
MATTHEWS: To what effect?
Mr. PIPES: But I see that as a-as-as completely untenable at this point when the Arabs in those territories want to destroy Israel.
MATTHEWS: I get your point. So in other words, until this violence ends of the suicidal variety, we're not going to get any negotiations.
Mr. PIPES: No. What I'm saying is there can't be negotiations until the Arabs accept Israel, whether they're engaged in suicide operations or not. They first have to accept Israel, and then negotiations over territory...
Mr. PIPES: ...and boundaries and refugees and Jerusalem can follow.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let's go to Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution.
Michael, do you have any position here different from Mr. Pipes? Do you support the pe-the rather aggressive military operation of Ariel Sharon?
Mr. MICHAEL O'HANLON (Brookings Institution): I have a couple of differences. One, I do think that the issue of Israeli settlements is linked to this broader problem. I understand you can't necessarily give in to terror at this point, but the broader linkage is definitely there, and it motivates a lot of the Palestinian anger and a lot of the terrorism.
Secondly, as for the use of violence...
MATTHEWS: Well, let me get to that point, because that's a very tricky question.
Mr. O'HANLON: Yeah.
MATTHEWS: When a young Palestinian chooses to blow themselves up-man or woman, usually in their teens or early 20s-when they-they apparently-there's a-there's a supply and demand situation there. They're encouraged to do so by the climate, the culture, the-the political protestations of Yasser Arafat-all that contributes to that climate of a kid wanting to become a suicide. Also, the minute they decide to become a suicide, they are recruited immediately, apparently, if not before then into this terrorist racquet where they are supplied with all kinds of bombs that they strap themselves to, then sent into Israel. Is that a spontaneous reaction to the occupation, or is that, in fact, a political move by Arafat's people?
Mr. O'HANLON: Well, I'm not going to disagree totally with Daniel. I think it is partly because many of these people would like to see Israel no longer exist. And I do admit, and I acknowledge, that Israel has to worry about its right to exist and its security. So you can't expect Israel to take steps that would weaken its security in any way.
However, I think the current security operations Israel has undertaken are not working. There are so many of these terrorists, as you mentioned, that they're going to keep being spawned, and they don't need any great, brilliant strategists at the top to figure out how to do suicide bombings anymore. They know how to do that. Even if two or three of the top people are confis-or arrested, even if Arafat himself is isolated, the suicide bombings will continue and maybe even intensify. So it's just not working.
MATTHEWS: Does the Inti-does the Intifada, Mr. Pipes, itself incite the birth of these suicide cases?
Mr. PIPES: No. What incites the suicide is the fact that the-the Palestinian Authority has created what I've dubbed the 'suicide factory.' From childhood on, textbooks, school songs, television programs for children are emphasizing the glory to oneself and one's family of giving one's life in martyrdom. That is to say, to kill Israelis through suicide. So it is...
MATTHEWS: Well, how does-how does-how does tough action by tanks and armored personnel carriers and the show of force and looking for people in the streets to fight, how does that stop kids from wanting to be suicides?
Mr. PIPES: Good question. What it does do is it sends a signal to the Palestinians that their effort to destroy Israel is going to fail. In other words, they may hurl those-their lives away against Israelis, but it won't work. It is useless. It's not going to get them the goal that they're trying to achieve. And I believe that after some months, maybe a year or so, the Palestinians will come to the realization that this is a failed strategy and they will quit it. It's not going to...
MATTHEWS: Let's talk about our strategy, Mr. Pipes. You first, then Mr. O'Hanlon. Same question to both of you. Do you have a coherent notion, or is there a coherent US policy? We were disengaged, it was benign neglect for a year and a half since Bush came in. Then it was sort of pro-Israeli, vaguely. And then it was, during the Cheney trip, anti-Israeli. Now it's back to pro-Israeli. What is our policy as you can read it, Mr. Pipes, from Washington?
Mr. PIPES: It is a piece of work. The way that I understand it is that we have two policy priorities in the Middle East. One is the security of Israel, and the other is fighting the war on terror, first against the Taliban and now, in a few weeks or months, against Sa-Saddam Hussein. And we are trying to do both of these things at once, and that is sometimes squaring the circle, and you get these very inconsistent policy enunciations by the president.
MATTHEWS: Were we faking it when we seemed to be anti-Israeli for the-during the duration of the-of the Cheney trip to the Mideast?
Mr. PIPES: Well, you point-you pointed out how on Saturday there were two different policies enunciated one day: at the United Nations in the early morning, and then by the president in the afternoon. I think the early morning is faking it. The United States government is gritting its teeth and taking these positions like the-the...
MATTHEWS: So we basically were lying to ourselves and to the United Nations and to the General Assembly when we endorsed the policy that said we do not support the-the-the Israeli Army's occupation-Israeli Army tough show of force against the Palestinians.
Mr. PIPES: Given a choice between that resolution and the president's personal statement later in the day, I think the latter's far more important.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of it, Mr. O'Hanlon? What is US policy?
Is it tough on Arafat or is it tough on Sharon?
Mr. O'HANLON: I think it's mostly tough on Arafat. We're pretty dedicated to Israel, as we should be. I agree Daniel-with Daniel Pipes on that very much. The question here is really a question about tactics, which Israeli tactics are justified? No one can tolerate or accept the idea of innocent Israelis being killed, especially in Israel itself, as opposed to the occupied territories. You can have an ar-an argument about whether the Palestinians have any right to attack Israeli soldiers in the West Bank or Gaza, but no one can condone what Arafat and other Palestinians have been doing. Therefore, I think we're more with Sharon, and we should be. But the question is, which Israeli tactics are going to work? And it's the broader piece...
MATTHEWS: Hold on, there's-there's something I want you to do, Mr. O'Hanlon. I want you to referee this right now in 30 seconds. Referee it. What should we do if we were God and we could make both sides do what we wanted them to do?
Mr. O'HANLON: Well, I don't claim my plan would work, Chris, but I would like to see United States oppose all Israeli settlements. Israel should give all the settlements back in the West Bank and Gaza. And that's the...
MATTHEWS: And that would stop the suicides?
Mr. O'HANLON: No. That's what I'm saying. I do not claim to have that kind of a plan that would guarantee to work ***(as spoken)***. However, that's the one thing Israel's doing now that's wrong. And why don't we just say to our good friend and our trusted ally, Israel, 'Why don't you get your whole house in order and then there is nothing-you're beyond reproach. There is nothing more that can be expected of you and we are 100 percent beside you.'
MATTHEWS: OK. Mr. Pipes, last word. Do you agree with that? You obviously don't. What do you think of that proposition...
Mr. PIPES: I don't. I...
MATTHEWS: ...that we give back-the 200,000 people move the-leave out of the West Bank and head back to Israel proper?
Mr. PIPES: We had an experiment along those lines a few years ago when the Israelis left Lebanon absolutely in the way that Mr. O'Hanlon suggested. And you know what? They're still getting violence across that border. It's not going to work. It's not the solution.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, Daniel Pipes...
Mr. PIPES: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: ...of the Middle East Forum.
And thank you very much, Michael O'Hanlon, of Brookings Institution.
Up next, where do President Bush's sympathies lie? The president's? Newsweek's Howard Fineman on what he knows about what Bush is thinking tonight. You're watching HARDBALL.
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