Letters from Beirut
CHARLIE ROSE: Thank you. Undersecretary for political affairs at the
State Department. We`ll come back and we`ll hear from Rami Khouri, who is
a Palestinian Jordanian and who is in AmmanJordanand will talk to us by
telephone. Thank you again. Back in a moment.
There`s been a lot of focus on people trying to get out of Lebanon, but
there are also people who`re trying to return to their country. One of
those is Rami Khouri, editor-at-large of the newspaper the "Daily Star."
He joins me now by phone from Amman, Jordan. Thank you for doing this.
RAMI KHOURI: My pleasure.
CHARLIE ROSE: I have two big questions. Number one, do you think the
Israelis, if they continue these attacks will be successful in doing great
damage if not destroying the capabilities of Hezbollah?
RAMI KHOURI: I am pretty certain that they will fail in doing that, and
the reason I say that is because they`ve tried this three or four times
with various groups in Lebanonand failed. Over the last 25 years, they did
it with the Fatah guerillas in the late `60s, they did with the PLO in the
`70s, they did it with Hezbollah five -- 10 years ago. They occupied south
Lebanonfor almost 20 years. They had free fire zones. They had no-go
zones, they had red lines, blue lines, green lines. Killing zones.
Interdiction zones; international troops. They tried every possible trick
in the book. They even funded an armed - a surrogate army in south
Lebanon. Every single thing they have tried, including long-term military
occupation, has failed. And the reason it has failed is that you cannot
provide a military solution to a political problem. And you cannot win
with overwhelming military force against a determined guerrilla group
fighting for its national sovereignty and its human dignity. This is a
lesson that every major military power in the world has learned and the
Americans learned it in Vietnam. The Russians in Afghanistan, the French
in Algeria, the Americans are learning it again in Iraq. And the Israelis
are obviously not learning it over and over and over in Palestineand
Lebanon, so it will not succeed. There`s no question about that.
CHARLIE ROSE: Why do you think the Israelis have not learned the lesson
you think they should have?
RAMI KHOURI: I think Israelfundamentally as a nation has never been able
to come to grips with two central notions in its modern history. One is
the idea of a viable legitimate Palestinian state, and the other one is
with the nature and the identity of Arab national identity, which also
includes national identity in Lebanonfor the country of Lebanonitself. The
Israelis have been so obsessed with the idea of their own security and
certainly, you know, rightly so, given their modern and ancient history of
being persecuted and subjected to pogroms and holocausts. But they have
allowed their over-focus on their security to blind them to the fact that
they can never have security if their neighbors don`t have it. And I think
this has been an irrational strain in - in modern Zionism. And
unfortunately, the irrationality seems to have expanded into the White
House now as well.
CHARLIE ROSE: I`ll come to that in a moment. It seems - because Nick
Burns is on our show tonight. It seems to me that the Israelis or I would
assume the Israelis will argue that we were prepared to make a giant
bargain at Camp David when, first, with Sadat and then later with Yasser
Arafat and Ehud Barak. It didn`t happen. We were prepared to take - to
retreat from and withdraw from Gaza; we were prepared to try to create
boundaries by withdrawing. We had plans on the board for withdrawing from
the West Bank. But Palestinians could not control -- this is not
Hezbollah. Palestinians could not control the most extreme elements within
their population who continued to assault us across their border.
RAMI KHOURI: Well, I think that is - that`s a pretty good representation
of - of Israeli spin. But it is not an accurate reality of the politics
and the nationalism and the forces on the ground in the Middle EaSt.
The reality is that the Israelis most recently did unilaterally withdraw
from south Lebanon and from Gaza, but unilateral withdrawals do not bring
about peace if you don`t negotiate the peace settlement that responds to
the legitimate - and I stress the word legitimate -- needs of both sides.
So just pulling out of Gaza, while continuing to expand settlements in the
West Bank, assassinating Palestinians, surrounding Gaza, destroying the
airport, blockading the seaport, controlling the entry points, suffocating
the population, I mean all the things that Israel continued to do to make
Gaza unviable made this inevitable.
So, there was -- and the same thing pulling out of south Lebanon certainly
solved one part of the problem, which was the direct Israeli occupation,
but the occupation of south Lebanon was a function of a wider
Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli conflict that has been going on since
There is a solution; there is a diplomatic and peaceful solution that
responds to the needs of the Israelis and to the surrounding Arab
countries. The Israelis have never attempted that, which is to enter into
a peace negotiation that genuinely and legitimately and legally responds to
the simultaneous needs of the Arabs and the Israelis. The Israelis have
been focused primarily on Israeli security. And it`s understandable from
their point of view, but it is not a recipe for a peace treaty.
And so if they want to -- and we`re at the same position again. They keep
-- I mean, the words they`re using now are surrealistic in terms of
repeating what they`ve said so many times before, that they want to destroy
Hezbollah`s infrastructure, they want to push them back from the border,
they want to make north Israel secure. They said that three or four or
five times in the last 20 years and have never been able to achieve it.
The response has been that the Hamas and Hezbollah and the Iraqis a few
years ago developed long-range missiles and just sent them over the
security zone. So there is no security in geography or the occupation or
the pulverizing your neighbor. The solution is to engage the Lebanese and
the Palestinians and the other relevant Arabs -- in this case Syria
primarily and the Lebanese government-- to engage them in a truly
comprehensive peace negotiation this takes away the root cause of these
problems of the last 30, 40 years, which is the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. They got close to it at one point at Camp David, but they never
really got to the root cause, which was the original cause of the `48 war,
the Palestinian refugees, the statelesness of Palestinians.
CHARLIE ROSE: The right of return and all of that.
RAMI KHOURI: Well, I didn`t use the word right of return on purpose
because it`s a red flag. What I`m talking about is...
CHARLIE ROSE: The red flag for the Israelis or the red flag for the
RAMI KHOURI: For the Israelis. It would drive them nuts.
CHARLIE ROSE: Right, OK.
RAMI KHOURI: What I`m talking about is U.N. resolutions, legitimate
international law, complying with Security Council resolutions.
I mean, it`s very ironic that Israel and the Bush White House now -- and I
assume Nick Burns will say this as well -- say well, all they want is the
implementation of Resolution 1559 of the Security Council.
CHARLIE ROSE: I`m sure.
RAMI KHOURI: Well, that`s fine. I accept that. But you can`t choose the
Security Council resolutions that you want. If you -- and I`m saying let`s
apply 1559. Hezbollah is perfectly happy to apply 1559, but only if we
apply the other U.N. resolutions, which call for Israel to stop Jude-izing
Jerusalem, expanding its settlements, subjugating the Palestinians to a
terrible ordeal, annexing the Golan Heights.
Security Council resolutions are not boxes of cereal on a supermarket
shelf, where you choose the ones you like and you leave the ones you don`t
like. So what we have never had in this process is a diplomatic
negotiation that is based on the principle that the Israelis and the Arabs
have identical and simultaneous rights. If we can get to that point -- and
I think we can -- I`m still an optimiSt. There`s not many of us left in
this region, but I still think you can negotiate a kind of Arab-Israeli
peace that gives the Israelis what they deserve and what they want, which
is security and recognition in their own Jewish majority state, but you`ve
got to give those same things to the Palestinians and the Lebanese and the
Syrians and everybody else.
CHARLIE ROSE: But let me ask you this. Why do you -- because I want to
come to more of -- put this thing in the context of history which you have
been doing, of history in a different way. But you are constantly saying
that the Israelis and the Palestinians and the Arabs have to negotiate on
an equal basis and understanding the respective rights of each other. And
that`s the way you get to a two-state solution. I`m not sure Hezbollah and
Hamas wants a two-state solution.
RAMI KHOURI: Well, my sense is -- and unlike American diplomats who don`t
even talk to these people, let alone engage them in negotiation, my sense
living here and knowing Hezbollah and Hamas and all the other groups for
many years, my sense is that these are relatively pragmatic political
These guys didn`t exist 20 years ago. Hezbollah and Hamas did not exist 20
years ago. So where did they come from? They didn`t come from the moon.
These are political responses to populations that have been degraded and
occupied and bombed and killed and humiliated repeatedly by the Israelis,
and often with the direct or indirect acquiescence, or, as we see now, the
direct support of the United States.
So my sense that we have to go back to the root. We have to keep going
back to the root cause, which is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. If you
have a negotiation that responds to the needs of both sides, my own feeling
is that Hezbollah and Hamas will be pragmatic and will in the final
analysis accept the peace agreement that responds to their needs, their
people`s needs, that`s rooted in international law and U.N. resolutions.
And most importantly, these are political organizations that are
accountable to their own people. So if the majority of Palestinians, which
is the case, say they were prepared to live with an Israeli state in peace
and recognition, Hamas ultimately will accept that. There`s no doubt about
it. And they`ve shown some clear signs of this or at least signals about
this. But they`re not going to do it unilaterally.
CHARLIE ROSE: All right. Tom Friedman, a columnist that you know, wrote
a piece today -- and I`m going to read you the first paragraph, because I
have a follow-up question. "Profiles of the Hezbollah leader Hassan
Nasrallah always describe him as the most brilliant or strategic Arab
player. I beg to differ. When the smoke clears, Nasrallah will be
remembered as the most foolhardy Arab leader since Egypt`s Gamal Nasser
miscalculated his way into the Six-Day War." Do you share that view or
RAMI KHOURI: Generally, I don`t share that view, but we really can`t make
a verdict. We can`t give a verdict until we see what happens in the
current fighting and in the months and years ahead.
I know Tom Friedman well. He`s a friend. I respect him greatly. I think
his analysis of the Middle East for years and years was actually quite
incisive and brilliant, but I think he`s actually wrong on this point.
I think the general tendency in Israeland in the American political
establishment is to fundamentally and almost completely misunderstand,
misdiagnose the significance of Hezbollah and Hamas and the wider Islamist
movements that are now winning elections all over the Middle EaSt. And not
just in the Arab world, but in Turkeyand Pakistanand other places.
I think there`s a fundamental misreading of who these people are, what they
represent, why they came into being, what they want and what they will
agree to negotiate for. And of course, most of the Arab leaders are also
making the same mistake.
I`m not saying that Hezbollah and Hamas are wonderful groups. I have a
strong criticisms of some of the things they do. But I think I understand
them correctly for what they are, which is an organic, natural response
from Arab societies and political cultures and countries and populations
that have been repeatedly degraded by Israeli occupations and attacks, and
also let down by established Arab political leadership.
So these groups emerged finally in the last 15 years as very serious, very
effective in many cases resistance movements. Remember, these are
resistance movements. They`re not proselytizing religious groups. They`re
not mainstream political parties. They`re resistance movements that are
fighting for their national liberation and their national dignity. If they
can achieve their goals of liberation, my suspicion is that they will
strike a pragmatic deal ultimately and co-exist with Israel, but only if
Israel in return gives the Palestinians and the other Arabs, Lebanese,
their rights as well. Statehood, security, sovereignty. And that requires
solving the original 1948 Palestinerefugee issue. You can`t get away from
it. It`s the core issue. And because we haven`t solved it over the last
50 years, this is what we`ve ended up.
CHARLIE ROSE: What is the national liberation that Hezbollah is dedicated
RAMI KHOURI: The liberation of all the territoryof Lebanon. They are
CHARLIE ROSE: From whom?
RAMI KHOURI: From Israel. And they are also committed to having
Israelstop other propagations as well.
Let me just answer the question. There are several things that Hezbollah
wants, which I think many other people want. They make to make sure that
every inch of Lebanonis liberated, because there are still some territories
that are disputed. They want the prisoners that Israeltook from Lebanonto
be returned. They don`t want Israelto keep threatening Lebanonwith
overflights and attacks. And they are also in solidarity with other Arabs
who are fighting Israel, like Syria, like the Palestinians.
But I`m saying that my personal sense is that if there is a comprehensive
negotiation, that these Islamist groups ultimately will co-exist with an
Israeli state. They won`t love it. They won`t be very happy about it
perhaps in the first instance, but like the Americans finally came around
and accepted what they used to call red China, now they call the People`s
Republic of China -- people change. People evolve.
You have to see these groups as political movements. And you have to see
their political grievances and their political demands, and respond to
those, and not to trump up Israeli spin and propaganda, which unfortunately
has permeated the American political establishment.
CHARLIE ROSE: All right. Having said all of that, and you help us with
the context, where do you think Israel`s actions this time -- will it be
viewed as an historic moment in which Israel overextended itself, and in
the act of pursuing Hezbollah destroyed too much of Lebanon and never was
able to overcome these events of the last few days?
RAMI KHOURI: Well, I think Israelhas clearly repeated the excessive use
of its military force, especially against civilian and infrastructural
targets. I mean, when they go around bombing roads and bridges and power
plants and civilians and families and trucks, and stuff that is clearly not
related to any kind of security threat, I think this is doing what they`ve
done before, but they`ve done it in a much more vicious way this time,
because the aim is to so pulverize Lebanon that the Lebanese people turn
The reality is that it`s probably not going to work. Now, if they -- it`s
possible that they might actually be able to hit most of Hezbollah`s
capabilities. My guess is that that is not going to happen. Hezbollah has
been prepared for this for many years. They have proved themselves over
the years to be extremely effective in military resistance and attacking
Israel. And you know, here they are eight days after Israelstarted, and
they`re still firing missiles all over northern Israel. The Arab countries
collectively were defeated in seven days in 1967. But here you have Hamas
and Hezbollah still firing rockets into Israel.
Some people, of course, will say, well, this is because these guys just
want to kill all the Jews. Well, that`s not correct, in my view. I think
these guys want to hit back against an Israeli state that has humiliated
and occupied them for years and years and has been destroying their
And it`s no accident that Israel simultaneously now has destroyed civilian
airports in Beirut and in Gaza, knocked out power plants and destroyed
governments. And one of the reasons that the Lebanese government is so
weak and why Hezbollah has become so strong is precisely because for the
last 25, 30 years since the late `60s, Israel has been repeatedly bombing
and shelling and killing, displacing Lebanese and destroying the national
economy, to weaken the Lebanese government so much so that there is no
Lebanese government, effectively.
And people will not live in a vacuum. So you`ve got these resistance
movements that have developed and have not only support in their own
countries, even though some people, of course, criticize Hezbollah for
doing what they did and for triggering this massive Israeli assault, but
there`s strong support for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
More importantly and I think more worryingly for Israel and the U.S. is
there`s now much, much stronger public opinion support all over the Arab
world for Hezbollah and Hamas. And this is a catastrophe for Israeland
particularly for the United States.
CHARLIE ROSE: Notwithstanding what the Saudis and the Egyptians have said
in criticizing the Hezbollah?
Well, the Saudi and the Egyptian governments are not fully representative
of their people, I would argue. I think these are governments that have
mixed credibility at home. And of course, they say these things, and the
Jordanian governments and others, because they`re very worried about this
expanding wave of Islamist political sentiment. Even through democratic
political elections, Islamist groups are winning -- Muslim Brothers and
Hamas and Ebola -- and this terrifies the Saudi and Jordanian and Egyptian
and other governments, so this is -- of course they`re going to say this.
They`re also worried about links now with these groups with Iran.
So -- but I think what the governments of these countries say is not
necessarily what the majority of their people think. And this is one of
the phenomena that I think people in Israeland the United Stateshave
completely misunderstood. The widespread public opinion, support in the
Arab countries, as well as many other countries around the world, the
support for Hezbollah and Hamas in standing up to Israel and delivering the
punishment that they are -- I mean, you know, most of the -- the top third
of Israel, the population of the third of -- the northern third of Israel
has been living in bomb shelters for the last two or three days. This is
not happy sight for Israelis clearly, but for the first time, you have a
balance of civilian terror.
CHARLIE ROSE: Well, they say that`s why they`re trying to wipe out
Hezbollah, because Hezbollah has -- I`m going on too long, but that`s why
they`re trying to wipe out Hezbollah, because Hezbollah has that capability
because of its support and encouragement of Syria and Iran whose very
missiles it is launching into Israel.
RAMI KHOURI: Well, the reality is that Hezbollah has developed these
capabilities and widespread public support in response to the fact that
Israelhas been bombing and terrorizing civilians in Lebanonfor the last 25
years. I mean, you have to understand the real cause and effect in this
situation. We`re at a situation now where for the first time probably
since Saddam Hussein lobbed his missiles into Israel in the war back in
what was it..
CHARLIE ROSE: `91.
RAMI KHOURI: ... `91. For the first time, you have widespread fear among
civilian populations in northern Israeland possibly in other places in
I don`t say this with any glee. I say this with great sadness. I mean,
this is a tragedy that you have now Lebanese, Palestinians and Israelis all
suffering the consequences of this cycle of militarism and barbarism. So
this is a cycle that we have to understand it as a war between two
The Israelis are trying to project this as peace-loving Israelmaking all
these brave, bold gestures, and the Arabs just want to kill it. What
happened to the last, you know, 30 years of Israeli occupation and
subjugation and killing of Palestinians and Lebanese? Do we just forget
about that? We don`t forget about it. History doesn`t work like that.
Human nature doesn`t work like that.
People finally in Palestineand in Lebanondeveloped resistance movements
that stand up to the Israelis and deliver some punishment, even though
they`re small pinpricks maybe, a missile here and a kidnapping soldier
there. But it has developed a certain amount of deterrence, these two
groups have developed a certain amount of deterrence, that I think has
driven the Israelis mad. They simply cannot handle this, other than with
their military punishment.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, Rami, I have to go, but I thank you so much.
RAMI KHOURI: All right. Glad to talk to you. And I hope you`re well.
How is your health?
CHARLIE ROSE: Much better. Thank you for asking. Much better.
RAMI KHOURI: All right. Take care of yourself. Bye-bye.
CHARLIE ROSE: Rami Khouri from Amman, Jordan, who lives in Beirut, where
he`s editor at large of "The Daily Star."
Thank you for joining us. See you next time.
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