What Does U.S. Aid Pledge Mean to Palestinians? How will President Bush $50 million pledge to the Palestinian Authority affect peace prospects and politics in the region? Rami Khouri of Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper and Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, offer their thoughts.
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What Does U.S. Aid Pledge Mean to Palestinians?

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What Does U.S. Aid Pledge Mean to Palestinians?

What Does U.S. Aid Pledge Mean to Palestinians?

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, how do you handle a hungry man? Let him loose in the streets of New Orleans, one bite at a time.

But first, this week President Bush pledged $50 million in direct aid to the Palestinian Authority and warned Israel against plans to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Mr. Bush made those comments at a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was also in Washington, DC, this week, but he did not meet with Mr. Bush.

We're joined now by Rami Khouri, who's editor-at-large for The Daily Star newspaper. He joins us from Bahrain.

Thanks for being back with us.

Mr. RAMI KHOURI (The Daily Star): My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And Martin Indyk, who directs the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution. He joins us from his office there.

Thank you for being back with us.

Mr. MARTIN INDYK (Saban Center for Middle East Policy): Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: And let me ask you both in turn, Rami Khouri first and then Martin Indyk, how significant were these remarks from the White House just weeks away from parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority and presumably weeks away from Israel beginning its pullout from the Gaza Strip?

Mr. KHOURI: I think the remarks by Bush generate a much greater level of expectation and a burden of proof and implementation because the American leadership has done and said these things before, pledged money and asked Israel to freeze settlements and to abide by the road map obligations.

SIMON: Martin Indyk?

Mr. INDYK: The president called Abu Mazen a man of courage. Why is that important? It's because the president took a look at Abu Mazen when he was prime minister under Arafat and basically made the decision that he wasn't worth investing in. So the fact that the president labeled him a man of courage was, I think, an indication that in this visit, Abu Mazen convinced him that he was serious about using his democratic mandate. Second thing he did was to commit to sending the secretary of State out there. The fact that Condoleezza Rice is being sent out there is, I think, an important manifestation of the president's commitment to see this process through beyond the Gaza disengagement itself.

SIMON: Let me ask you both about a statement that, for my money, might have been somewhat overlooked this week. The president said, `The borders of a future Palestinian state, including, including the fate of Jerusalem, must resemble the borders before Israel was attacked and then occupied the West Bank in the Gaza Strip 38 years ago.' Isn't that just the sticking point that has kept both of these parties apart for almost 40 years?

Mr. KHOURI: I think the statement is a little bit vague because we've also had the American president last year saying that the big Israeli settlements along the border ...(unintelligible) and others would be basically acceptable as part of Israel. And so the Palestinians are receiving these as mixed signals from the American administration. If the US says that the final borders have to be negotiated by the two parties, then why is the American president also on record as saying that the big Israeli settlements will become part of Israel?

SIMON: Martin Indyk?

Mr. INDYK: I can assure you that the signal was loud and clear in the prime minister's office in Jerusalem. That language that you read out, Scott, is not going to be welcome there because it makes clear that Jerusalem is in play from the point of view of the president of the United States. When Ariel Sharon comes here, as he did at Crawford, as he did before Jewish audiences this last week, he makes it manifestly clear that his position is that Jerusalem is the eternal, undivided capital of Israel. And indeed, I think what he has been doing with the expansion of Ma'ale Adumim, this big city on the outskirts of Jerusalem in the West Bank, is in effect designed to substitute greater Israel which I think he's basically given up on for greater Jerusalem.

SIMON: Are we talking about something that could be resolved just with some creative housekeeping, establishing, for example, a federal district for the Palestinian government in East Jerusalem and access roads and, I don't know, even maybe even a monorail like they have in Seattle in exchange for Israel still being able to declare that Jerusalem is its perpetual capital?

Mr. KHOURI: The Palestinians want practical, day-to-day arrangements that give the Palestinians not just the sense that they have East Jerusalem as their capital but a reality that lets them move around from Palestinian area to Palestinian area, to have access to the holy places, and I think that Palestinians are willing to make reasonable compromises. So I think the political and the emotional environment is one that will allow for a agreement to be reached. But it's going to require difficult concessions, and I would just add also that I think the vast majority of public opinion in Israel and in Palestine is probably a little bit more flexible in the long run than the current leadership's might be.

SIMON: A last blunt question for both you. What sort of time frame are we talking about here? Do you think changes have to be apparent to both Israelis and Palestinians for the process to be deemed to be working if not altogether successful? Rami Khouri?

Mr. KHOURI: I think people need a combination of immediate successes and seeing real improvements in their day-to-day life in very practical things like being able to go from one part of the Palestinian areas to another. And at the same time, they know that everything's not going to happen simultaneously; they need to see some things happening very quickly. And I think one of the important lessons of the Oslo process starting in the late 1993, what we saw in Palestine was a lot of skepticism in the beginning, but then as people's lives improved in the practical dimensions of day-to-day travel and work and less humiliation by Israeli occupation forces, people were enthusiastic to see it continue. So I think, again, you have this sense of patience and people understand it will take some time.

SIMON: Martin Indyk?

Mr. INDYK: I think what Israelis are looking for is for Abu Mazen to move in behind the Israeli army and the settlers as they come out of Gaza and establish order there. If they see that, then that will do a lot to enhance Abu Mazen's credibility as a partner for the next step. For the Israelis, it's always come down to an issue of security. Secondly, I think it's very important. There needs to be greater granularity in terms of something that the American president spells out as to what two states living in peace actually looks like for both sides, for the kind of painful steps that will be have to be taken to reach that final state of an independent, democratic Palestinian contiguous state living in peace alongside a secure Jewish state of Israel.

SIMON: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.

Mr. INDYK: Thank you.

Mr. KHOURI: Thank you.

SIMON: Martin Indyk, who directs the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, and Rami Khouri, editor-at-large for The Daily Star newspaper.

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