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Pipes criticises Middle East leaders

TONY JONES: Joining us now is Dr Daniel Pipes, the Director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum. 18 months ago, President Bush appointed him to the board of the US Institute for Peace. Dr Pipes was a scathing critic of Yasser Arafat, and he recently claimed that the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is potentially a far more formidable enemy and remains intent on eliminating Israel. Daniel Pipes, thanks for joining us.

DANIEL PIPES (DIRECTOR, MIDDLE EAST FORUM): Thank you, Tony.

TONY JONES: It's time, isn't it, to put aside that sort of skepticism and, as Condoleezza Rice says, seize the chance for the best opportunity we may see for peace for years?

DANIEL PIPES: Is that an order?

TONY JONES: (Laughs) Well, do you think it's time?

DANIEL PIPES: Well, I certainly welcome the so-called cease-fire. I like the idea that everybody's saying the violence has to stop. But there are two significant impediments. The first is that, as you noted earlier, there are important elements on the Palestinian side who don't want this, who want the fighting to go on, and so one has to doubt whether it's going to actually take place.

Secondly, and perhaps more profoundly, Mahmoud Abbas has made it clear, now for two and half years, that he thinks that Palestinian violence against Israelis is counterproductive and he wants it stopped, but he doesn't want to stop it because he wants to end the war against Israel, because he has given up the goal of destroying Israel. It's because he sees that tactically at this time, violence is counterproductive.

TONY JONES: Would you agree, though, that if Ariel Sharon took the same view as you, that Mahmoud Abbas has ulterior motives and is still bent on eliminating Israel, he wouldn't be shaking his hand, he wouldn't be offering him a truce?

DANIEL PIPES: I would agree with you that the Israeli Government and particularly the prime minister doesn't agree with me. But I've often disagreed with Israeli prime ministers.

TONY JONES: Seriously, wouldn't they be in a much better position than you to judge him?

DANIEL PIPES: They've made mistakes before. The whole of the Oslo diplomacy, which lasted for seven years from 1993 to 2000, was something I was skeptical about. They went full speed ahead, and they were wrong and I was right. I'm modest in my self-appraisal, but there are times when one can be at a distance and see things which somebody who's right there doesn't see.

TONY JONES: What is it exactly that you are seeing that the Israeli Government is not?

DANIEL PIPES: The consensus - Israeli Government, Australian Government, virtually every government, most annotators, commentators and academics, journalists – believe that in September 1993, the Palestinians, on the White House lawn at the Oslo accord signing, gave up the desire to destroy Israel. I don't believe that happened. I believe that has yet to happen, and I base that conclusion on a huge amount of material coming out of the Palestinian Authority areas - political speeches, religious sermons, schoolbooks, just all parts of life, and one sees it in surveys, research; one sees it in elections in so far as they take place, that there is an intent to destroy Israel.

TONY JONES: But they hardly have the means to do that, do they, whereas Israel certainly has the means to destroy the Palestinian Authority, should it choose to.

DANIEL PIPES: Israel certainly could, but the Palestinians, because they don't have a grand arsenal and a great economy, are doing it through violence, through terrorism, through debilitation of the Israeli will, and that was working quite well, and the Israelis are prone to despair that "this will never end; let's give them something more."

TONY JONES: But you say this as if all Palestinians were the same.

DANIEL PIPES: No, of course not. Eighty per cent, I'd say, of Palestinians believe that the destruction of Israel is a worthy goal. Some 20 per cent say, "No, let's just live our own lives apart." What we need to do is focus on getting that 20 per cent to be 30, 40, 50 and 60 per cent, rather than focusing on negotiations.

TONY JONES: Point to us, if you can, where Mahmoud Abbas has made any public statement to his own people suggesting that Israel should still be eliminated.

DANIEL PIPES: He has done so in a variety of ways. He has celebrated the elements in, for example, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade who have clearly called for the destruction of Israel and he has associated with them. He has used terms like "the Zionist enemy". He has notably been unwilling to say that the war is over; he has simply said violence has to cease. His record as an aide to Yasser Arafat for 40 years. I need to ask you: what evidence do you have that he has actually given this up, because everything, I think, points to his still holding onto this goal.

TONY JONES: (Laughs) It would be possible if you were the interviewer. Under these circumstances, I must ask you the questions. Don't you believe it's possible that Mahmoud Abbas, as many other men faced with the option of having either permanent war or peace for their people, could change fundamentally?

DANIEL PIPES: It is conceivably possible. I see no reason to think that has happened.

TONY JONES: All right. We have heard tonight that spokesmen for Hamas and Islamic Jihad have claimed their members are not bound by this truce. What will happen if they continue - those two groups of militants continue to take action in Israel?

DANIEL PIPES: What we've seen over the last year, really specifically since February 2004, is growing anarchy in the Palestinian Authority areas - criminal gangs, warlords, extremist elements, security services - and the PA authority has eroded as a result. So, not only is Mahmoud Abbas not as powerful a figure as Yasser Arafat but also he has a greater problem of chaos on his hands. With the best of intentions, it's going to be very hard for him to control Hamas, Islamic Jihad and all these other elements from engaging in violence. It's going to be a real, real challenge. I have to say that I'll be surprised if he manages it.

TONY JONES: But if he can't, will he be held to account for the violence of others? That's the point. Because they're not under his control, as you've just pointed out.

DANIEL PIPES: But what's the point in making an agreement with someone who can't control the forces that operate from his territory?

TONY JONES: But what would be expected of him? What would Israel expect him to do in order to prove that he's at least holding up his side of the bargain, because otherwise, the whole process will be in the hands of a very small group - potentially, a very small group of terrorists.

DANIEL PIPES: What you're pointing to is a debate within Israel, whether they're looking for 100 per cent results or 100 per cent intention - or, anyway, intention versus results - and one finds Israelis arguing that out very intensely, for the reasons you've suggested.

TONY JONES: What do you think they'll decide, though, because intention versus results are pretty critical when there are groups, as you pointed out, outside of his control.

DANIEL PIPES: I suspect they'll go for intention.

TONY JONES: So the peace process may still hold, even if there are suicide bombings by Hamas or Islamic Jihad?

DANIEL PIPES: I'd prefer to say diplomacy will still hold. Whether it actually leads to peace or not is an open question.

TONY JONES: The question, though, is whether Israel would continue to cease all military activity against all Palestinians, which are the terms of the truce.

DANIEL PIPES: But we've seen in the past, for example, in the Oslo diplomacy, that a lot of diplomacy took place but in fact in 2000, they were further from peace than in 1993. Diplomacy in itself is not a guarantee of success, of leading to harmony and goodwill.

TONY JONES: Let's talk about the other debate that's going on between diplomacy and action, and that is in Iran. What do you think should happen if Iran continues with its program, its secret program, to develop nuclear weapons? Do you believe the United States could or will take military action against Iran, or that Israel may?

DANIEL PIPES: I don't think the Israelis have the capabilities. The Iranians have learned the lesson of Osirak in 1981 when the Israelis came in and bombed the one installation, and that was that for the Iraqi nuclear weapons program; and the Iraqis and then the Iranians and others have learned that you put it all around and put it underground. So it would be much more difficult. I don't think at this point the Israelis could do it.

The United States Air Force could do it, and the goal of the US government these days is, in conjunction with the Europeans, to send a signal to the Iranians: "Don't do this." It's an attempt to establish a deterrent: "Please don't do this. You won't like the results. We don't want to do this." The Iranians appear not to be listening, but that could be a bluff. I'm not on the inside; I don't know actually what's going on, but from what we can tell from that side, US and European efforts have so far not had great success.

TONY JONES: But could the US threats also be a bluff? I mean, do you believe the United States would be willing to take this tremendous risk, and consider the potential results of that risk on a Shi'ite-controlled government in Iraq which America is relying on, which has close links to Iran?

DANIEL PIPES: There are many, many implications of taking out the Irani nuclear facilities. It would be a dangerous act. But I do think that the Bush administration has kept that as a possibility, and I would not be shocked if things came to that.

TONY JONES: Very briefly, on another matter: Kim Beazley, the leader of the federal Opposition, is calling for debate in this country on whether the US troops in Iraq should withdraw from Sunni areas, potentially to western enclaves, to avoid being drawn inevitably into the vortex of civil war. What do you think of that idea?

DANIEL PIPES: I'm sympathetic to it. Since April 2003 I've been calling for foreign troops, coalition troops, to be outside the cities, not have boots on the ground; be in the desert, keep an eye on the borders, keep an eye on the oil and gas, make sure there are no humanitarian disasters, but not be there in the cities, not be putting together electricity grids, not be keeping control of streets. So I'm sympathetic.

TONY JONES: There's merit to the idea?

DANIEL PIPES: I believe so.

TONY JONES: Daniel Pipes, we'll have to leave it there. We thank you very much once again for coming to join us tonight.

DANIEL PIPES: Thank you, Tony.

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