Panel One of a Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Date: July 20, 2004
Location: Washington DC
Issues: Foreign Affairs

July 20, 2004 Tuesday





SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd ask unanimous consent that my entire statement be placed in the record. I apologize. I was --

SEN. LUGAR: It will be published in full.

SEN. BIDEN: -- coming from another meeting. Mr. Chairman, our hearings, to state the obvious-and I imagine the witness has already indicated it, spoken of this, take place in the backdrop of new turmoil in Gaza within the Palestinian leadership, the power struggle underway as competing factions vie for control ahead of Israel's withdrawal within the next year.

And another Palestinian prime minister has come close to following on the heels of Abu Mazen by tendering his resignation because of Arafat's unwillingness to cede control, especially in security areas. Today reports indicated that he has reluctantly rescinded his resignation.

The one bright spot, possibly, in an otherwise bleak picture, is that Egypt is trying to prevent a security and political vacuum from emerging by demanding, as our witnesses indicated, a consolidation of Palestinian security services under a new leadership, offering to train those forces and to station monitors in Gaza, planning to beef up security along the border, and promoting a cease fire and dialogue between the Palestinian factions.

But in order to move forward with its commitment, my understanding is that Israel, and this is what I would like to talk to the witness about when it's an appropriate moment, has four basic demands as I understand them. First, that there be a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, and that includes the security forces. The second, the Palestinians and Israelis agree on how to prevent provocative acts from leading to a cycle of escalation that will undermine Egypt's role. And, third, that there is light at the end of the tunnel by firmly tying disengagement to implementation of the road map.

I would like to hear from the secretary on how the administration views these Egyptian ideas, assuming I've accurately portrayed them.

Mr. Chairman, the solution to the Middle East is as obvious as it is elusive. We all know that any viable peace agreement will have a few key components. Israel will have to abandon most of the settlements on the West Bank and the Palestinians will not be able to exercise the right of return but to Palestine. That, it seems to me, is the core of the bargain. More than two-thirds of the people on both sides consistently say that they favor a two-state solution. The problem is, neither side seems to believe the other is committed to the means to accomplish that solution. Events in recent days demonstrate that the main obstacle to peace, at least in my view, is the absence of a responsible Palestinian leadership. But the unprecedented challenge to Arafat's leadership may offer, and I would like to talk about this as well, a possible opening to advance key political and security reforms which are critical to getting the peace process back on track.

Last year, our country and Israel missed another opportunity, in my view, by not supporting Prime Minister Abu Mazin more actively. Clearly, he was prepared to challenge Arafat, but at the end of the day he was discredited by his inability to deliver on any improvement in the lives of ordinary Palestinians. That suited Mr. Arafat, in my view, just fine, for it seems to me that he seems to thrive on the suffering of his own people.

Mr. Chairman, the direction the Israel-Palestinian conflict takes will have a direct bearing on the key strategic issues our country faces from the war on terror to the promotion of democracy to success in Iraq, and the stakes are very high. Yet, I don't see any commensurate level of urgency or sustain the consistent involvement by the Bush administration. My hopes were raised last year when President Bush traveled to the Middle East and put his personal prestige on the line. He appointed a diplomat to "ride herd" on the process. He cajoled, he rallied and, yes, he even bullied, and I supported him in all his efforts. For a few short months, there was hope, at least in my view, for progress. But then, the interest level seemed to wane, and the Middle East, which presents a formidable challenge to even full-fledged peace efforts, overwhelmed what soon became a half-hearted effort. Ever since, instead of American leadership creating new opportunities, events on the grounds have driven our policy.

Prime Minister Sharon took a bold initiative with his disengagement plan. Egypt steps in and works on a plan to fill the vacuum. Where is American diplomacy? It's not as if we have the luxury of time. Iraq's new government is struggling to establish its authority in the face of violence that continues unabated. Democracy promotion in the Middle East appears to be stuck as the two regional players, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, stayed away from the G8 Summit, and the terrorists have found a goldmine of recruiting in the discontent and anger that spans the Arab and Muslim world.

It seems to me we have to view the Arab-Israeli conflict in the context of this volatile strategic climate, and it explains why making progress has never been more important. I'm not suggesting there is any easy solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. If there were, it would be solved by now. Nor am I suggesting that American leadership along can solve it. The Arab states, the Palestinians, our European friends, and the Israelis must step up to the plate, and they haven't sufficiently in my view. But only American leadership can synchronize those efforts and begin to move this gigantic rock up the hill again, promoting peace and securing Israel requires hard work day-in and day- out, as our witnesses can attest, and benign neglected punctuated by episodic engagements imperils America's strategic interests in the region. We have no choice but to be involved in the central element of my questions today to all the witnesses will be, to what degree and how should we be involved. What should we, the United States, be doing more pro actively, if anything, that we are not doing now? I thank the witness, I apologize for not being here at the opening of his testimony, and I look forward to hearing his answer to questions. I thank you.

SEN. LUGAR: Thank you very much, Senator Biden.


SEN. BIDEN: Was there a reason why Sharon didn't see you?


SEN. BIDEN: No, that's all right. I'll --

SEN. LUGAR: You'll yield to the senator? All right, Senator Nelson.

SEN. BIDEN: No, no, I've already had a-I've had a bit of a round. Please go ahead.
SEN. BIDEN: Thank you very much. Much of what I wanted to discuss has been covered. Let me just focus on two specific points. One, Mr. Secretary, you indicated what you thought was necessary for withdrawal to be a success. Is full Egyptian engagement necessary for withdrawal to be a success? Or, put another way, if Egypt opts out, do you see any circumstances under which withdrawal can be a success?
SEN. BIDEN: Now, that being the case, are we prepared to be an interlocutor between Egypt and Israel? I know they are engaged-to accommodate-I guess the antecedent question is: Is in your view-are the what I understand the demands of the Egyptians in order to play the envisioned role-then those demands being consolidation of the security services by the Palestinians, complete Israeli withdrawal-that does not just mean, as I understand the Egyptian position, not merely civilian withdrawal, the roughly 7,000 Israeli citizens living there, but the military. And there is the question of that very border where the smuggling takes place-the IDF as having to make a judgment as to whether or not they are prepared to cease and desist from controlling that area. I understand a third request-or demand-of the Egyptian government is that there be agreements. I assume it means Egyptian agreements, bilateral with the Palestinians and with the Israelis, not to escalate the response to provocations-i.e., a bombing coming out of-Katusha rockets coming out of the Gaza, Israelis responding where there are Egyptian forces or Egyptian personnel-and an agreement that there is direct linkage to reengaging the road map, to get everybody out of park and on the road driving again.

Now, first of all, am I correct that they are the essence of the demands that the Egyptian government has in order to be engaged to the degree you believe, I believe, I believe the Israelis believe, is useful, if not necessary for successful disengagement by the Israelis? Are they the demands as you know them?

MR. SATTERFIELD: Senator, you're quite correct in characterizing the Egyptian insistence upon restructuring and consolidation of Palestinian security forces under clean, competent leadership, responsive to an empowered civilian leadership. You're quite correct in stating Egyptian concerns over the security environment in Gaza for their forces, should they place trainers and advisers there, as is under discussion. And you are also correct in describing broad Egyptian interest, which is certainly supported by the United States in seeing Gaza take place-the Gaza withdrawal taking place within the context of broad steps that move us back to the road map toward the two-state vision.

With respect to the character of the dialogue between --

SEN. BIDEN: Excuse me-and isn't the fourth element total withdrawal of Israeli forces?

MR. SATTERFIELD: The Egyptians have publicly stated that they wish to see full withdrawal of Israeli military forces. With respect to the character of the dialogue being conducted directly between Egypt and Israel at a political as well as a security expert level, we are both impressed and quite pleased by the vigor, by the robustness of that dialogue. The two sides are, as we speak, in discussion on the very issues which you are raising here today. And we are quite encouraged by the revival in direct contacts on this critical issue between Egypt and Israel. It's a process that has benefits to both sides we certainly want to see continue.

SEN. BIDEN: Is there any of the Egyptian request that the United States views as not reasonable?

MR. SATTERFIELD: These are positions which the government of Egypt is representing directly to the government of Israel in some cases-and directly to the Palestinian leadership in others. And we are quite confident this is a productive and constructive dialogue.

SEN. BIDEN: But are we engaged in that at all? For example, this is I think the frustration that Senator Dodd-it's dangerous to characterize another colleague's concerns, but Senator Dodd and I think share the same concern here. You are technically in a precise, in a sense, in a legal sense, being absolutely accurate and precise. But in the past-we have been here for a long time-in the past, Republican as well as Democratic administrations have used their good offices behind the scenes to engage the parties.

Let me give you an example. It would seem to me that-I'm not asking you whether you're doing this-it would seem to me it would be very useful for us to be intervening with our Quartet members to entreat them to make clear their views to Mr. Arafat on the notion of consolidation of the security force. One of the continuing problems we've had, that the average person listening to this hearing would not understand, but you fully understand, is that we have been at odds with the Quartet-not on the broad road map but on the degree to which we should each be engaged in promoting that road map-i.e., putting pressure on Arafat to do certain things, rather than continuing to support Arafat publicly. So I want to make it clear that I think you are very deft-were I in the administration, I'd be very pleased with your testimony. You are very good-very good and very bright and very patriotic. But you are very State Departmentesque evasive. (Laughter.) And we're used to that. That's part of your job. I've got that. I understand that. But the bottom line here is that what we need to get a sense of-if not from you-and I'm not being a wise guy when I say this-this may be above your pay grade-I'm not being a wise guy-I mean that sincerely-I really truly understand it. It may be beyond your ability to speak to --

SEN. DODD: Tell us anyway though, if you would.

SEN. BIDEN: Yeah. But-but-but here's the point-I don't want the record left without this being addressed. The fact of the matter is there are multiple things this president, when in my characterization, when he's been more engaged, would do in this circumstance-and may be doing, but I'm unaware of-other presidents and other secretaries of State and people in your position have been more engaged in-and that is that if we think this is an important ingredient for the possibility of successful withdrawal, which is the only thing which is changing the dynamic in the region right now-whether you like Sharon's notion or not-I think everyone has to agree this is the only thing on the board that changes the dynamic. Everything else will remain the status quo. And it's a chance he's taking politically, and it's a chance he's taking substantively. And reasonable people can disagree on whether or not it's a wise move for Israel or for peace, whether it's Gaza only or Gaza first-all that history will decide. We'll soon find out.

But in the past this president briefly, well, the last two presidents, including the president's father, would be more significantly engaged in, for example, facilitating that, the Egyptian request-not merely saying, look, we are just good bystanders here-it is good that for the first time in my view a very positive step that the Egyptians and the Israelis are actively engaged one on one. But I hope you're not telling us that we are essentially a bystander here. If they work it out, wonderful. It's good that they're working on this. It's a fine thing. They're engaged. We think this is very constructive. And maybe the second tranche of this agreement will work out, so we end up having a dah-dah-dah.

The bottom line is-the bottom line is-I'm not asking for detail-tell me-wink, nod, give me some reassurance you guys are doing something other than what you said.

MR. SATTERFIELD: Well, senator, what I said and what I will reiterate is we are actively engaged, and have been throughout-with the governments of Israel, Egypt and with the Palestinians, to support the necessary steps to make this withdrawal a success. And that specifically includes not only our own support in public and behind the scenes for the Egyptian effort-it means mobilizing the Quartet which has expressed, most recently in early May, when the principals met, its own strong support on behalf of the international community for Egypt's efforts. We are in --

SEN. BIDEN: Have they communicated that, do you know? Have the individual members of the Quartet picked up the phone and called Arafat, and said, Jack, get off the dime or you lose our support? Do you have any idea is that happening?

MR. SATTERFIELD: Senator, I will point out remarks made in the Security Council by the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East, Mr. Larsen, which attracted the attention of the Palestinian Authority, in which he stated in terms as blunt, as clear as have ever been used in that forum the concerns that the United Nations feels through his representation, which the Quartet collectively feels about the need for the Palestinians and the chairman to act. He could not have been blunter in his remarks. That is a product of the diplomacy on which we have been embarked for these past years.

SEN. BIDEN: You're a good man, thanks.