ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And now, back to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's mission to the Middle East and the renewed talk about the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that Saudi Arabia proposed in 2002.

Joining me are, first in Washington, David Makovsky, who's director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Good to see you.

Dr. DAVID MAKOVSKY (Director, Project on the Middle East Peace Process, Washington Institute for Near East Policy): Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: And joining us from Park City, Utah, Robert Malley, who is director of the International Crisis Group's Middle East Program. Welcome back, Rob Malley.

Mr. ROBERT MALLEY (Director, International Crisis Group's Middle East Program): Thank you.

SIEGEL: I'd like to hear from both of you - starting with Robert Malley - about the very disparate views we heard Peter Kenyon allude to of the new Palestinian government of national unity from an Israeli perspective, a government you can't deal with because Hamas doesn't recognize Israel or honor past agreements with Israel. On the other hand, from the Arab League summit, a non-issue at this point. Rob Malley, which is it?

Mr. MALLEY: Well, what I say may sound paradoxical, but I think the Mecca agreement between Fatah and Hamas and then the national unity government are not obstacles to a peace agreement. They're prerequisites for one, because you cannot have an agreement that the Palestinian people as a whole are going to endorse amidst confrontation between their two most representative organizations.

You can't have Israeli-Palestinian peace on the ashes of Palestinian war. And you also have today a greater consensus - thanks to this national unity government - on the political program, probably greater consensus among Palestinians than you've ever had before on the objective - a state in the borders of 67 - on the means of achieving it - negotiations led by President Mahmoud Abbas - and on the means of ratifying it, either through a referendum or through endorsement by legitimate Palestinian institutions.

So I think there's an opportunity to be seized. It doesn't mean that all answers have been given. But it shouldn't be viewed as a reason to stop the effort, rather a reason to multiply it.

SIEGEL: David Makovsky, is Rob Malley's view of that agreement by which the Palestinians achieve the government of national unity too sanguine, you think?

Dr. MAKOVSKY: I think it's too sanguine because the big question is what are Hamas' intentions? If their position now is a posturing position, then you could imagine a certain evolution towards a deal. But if you take them seriously when they say they don't want ever recognize Israel and this is - just now, Khaled Mashaal the lead in Damascus, Ismail Haniya, the prime minister - then while it obviously is preferable that you'd have a deal with all Palestinians, the question is even if it's desirable, is it feasible?

And therefore, I am bothered by the fact there's no explicit mention of Israel. I mean, 1993, you're in the White House lawn with handshakes. And here, 14 years later, they can't say the word Israel unless they say the word Israeli aggression.

And no explicit call for a two-state solution. They could say, yes, we wanted a state within these lines, but that doesn't mean at the end -that the conflict is over. And I would just to add - my concern is, also even, you know, when you say resistance everywhere, that's a co-word for terror and violence. And that if you had a deal, I would need a referendum where Palestinians living all over the world now - according to this platform - would have a vote. And there might be refugees who might not find their aspirations being met.

So on a variety of fronts, I think we're seeing a step back. We're not a step ahead.

SIEGEL: But if that was the view the Israeli government took, there would be no sense in attending a regional conference at all. Or for that matter, even meeting every other week with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, which was the deal that Secretary Rice negotiated on this trip.

Dr. MAKOVSKY: Well, I think it's clear that if there is going to be some sort of hope, Mahmoud Abbas is someone who was elected directly on the basis of a two-state solution, won with a 62 percent victory a year before Hamas won. And regional support for his ideas, I think, is a critical political cover if there's going to be hope for dealing with Palestinian moderates.

SIEGEL: Robert Malley, the U.S. has been faulted in many quarters for being disengaged in recent years from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the possibility for diplomacy. Does Washington get any credit for advancing a peace process that turns out to be all process and, in the end, no peace?

Mr. MALLEY: It won't get much credit, though I guess the bar has been set so low because of the precedent set by the last few years that I think Arabs are looking at this with some sense of encouragement, but a lot of skepticism as well. And if it is simply a matter of process, I think you're not going to get much credit given to the United States.

I think what Arab countries and Palestinians are looking for now is, number 1: To make sure that this is not simply Secretary Rice's initiative, but also one that has the backing of the president. And number 2: That it's not simply an initiative to show that we're trying, but an initiative that actually aims at achieving it's purported to go.

SIEGEL: I would just like to ask a question on behalf of our listeners who might be mindful from year to year that there's supposed to be a Middle East peace process, but couldn't tell the quartet's plan from the Saudi plan. Is there anything new and different on the table right now other than essentially Israeli withdrawal from the West bank? No Palestinian right of return, Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. I mean any number of issues that could block any progress, but are they the same ideas that have always been out there, Rob Malley?

Mr. MALLEY: Always, I don't know, but certainly since the year 2000, I think we've seen convergence on the basic parameters, the basic outline of a peace deal - that's what President Clinton put on the table in 2000. It's what unofficial negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have been about. We know the outlines. The issue now is how do you get there, and that's where I think we're going to need to see far greater U.S. leadership than we've seen so far. The opportunity exists because Arab countries seem to be prepared to do more because we have greater consensus and greater stability on the Palestinian side.

You may not have what you need yet on the Israeli side though I suspect that at some point, a prime minister who has been discredited in public opinion is going to need to find some diplomatic initiative to move forward, and that's when I think the U.S. needs to push all the parties together, to get precisely to this plan that I think David and I would agree on. And most Palestinians would agree on as well.

SIEGEL: Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group and David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Thank you both very much for talking with us. Mr. MAKOVSKY: Thank you.

Mr. MALLEY: Thank you.

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