Below is a transcript of the Charlie Rose interview with Rami Khoury, Editor-at-Large of The Daily Star, a leading English-language newspaper in Beirut. In the Middle East it’s been difficult to find a convincing argument against continued Israeli engagment in a non-Arab tongue, but this exchange, filmed on July 19th, cuts as close to the heart of the conflict as I’ve seen from a Palestinian commentator.
Charlie then followed up yesterday with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who summarized the situation in his typical, pragmatic prose, sucessfully bringing Iran and nuclear arms into the discussion and accepting America’s share of the blame for mishandling the meltdown from the start. I’ve yet to find a transcript of the interview, but here’s a link to the video…
*CHARLIE ROSE:* 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 Lebanon and 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 Lebanon for 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 Palestine and 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 Israel fundamentally 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 is with the nature of Arab national identity, which also includes Lebanon itself. 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 1948.
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 Palestinians?
*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 organizations.
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 not?
*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 Israel and 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 Turkey and Pakistan and 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 Palestine refugee 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 to?
*RAMI KHOURI:* The liberation of all the territory of Lebanon. They are also…
*CHARLIE ROSE:* From whom?
*RAMI KHOURI:* From Israel. And they are also committed to having Israel stop 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 Lebanon is liberated, because there are still some territories that are disputed. They want the prisoners that Israel took from Lebanon to be returned. They don`t want Israel to keep threatening Lebanon with 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 Israel has 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 against Hezbollah.
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 Israel started, 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 countries.
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 Israel and particularly for the United States.
*CHARLIE ROSE:* Notwithstanding what the Saudis and the Egyptians have said in criticizing the Hezbollah?
*RAMI KHOURI:* 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 Israel and the United States have 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 Israel has been bombing and terrorizing civilians in Lebanon for 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 Israel and possibly in other places in Israel to come. 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 different people.
The Israelis are trying to project this as peace-loving Israel making 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 Palestine and in Lebanon developed 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.”