Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Flexes Potent Political Force

Uploaded by PBSNewsHour on 14.09.2011

bjbjLULU JEFFREY BROWN: And we look at the stakes and risks in all this now with Daniel
Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and to Egypt. He's now a professor at Princeton.
And Robert Malley, former National Security Council staff member in the Clinton administration,
he's now with the International Crisis Group. Daniel Kurtzer, I will start with you. Today,
we saw this press continuing by the U.S. and other Western officials to try to head off
a vote. Explain what has them so concerned. What's going on? DANIEL KURTZER, former U.S.
ambassador to Egypt: Well, I think there are two concerns that the administration is trying
to head off, number one, that the move by the Palestinians to the U.N. could in some
ways foreclose an early opportunity to return to negotiations. As your report indicated,
we haven't had negotiations for quite some time. But there's a concern that this will
simply drive the parties further apart as they take unilateral steps against each other.
The second, more serious concern has to do with the possibility that the Palestinians
will use their new U.N. status to gain standing in international legal institutions such as
the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice and to transform what has
been a diplomatic process into a legal process of holding settlements illegal, settlers,
Israeli soldiers and so forth coming under the jurisdiction of these international institutions.
And this could lead to some very dire consequences down the road. JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Rob
Malley, what's your take? What are people afraid of, the impact of a vote? ROBERT MALLEY,
International Crisis Group: I think everything that Ambassador Kurtzer said is right. The
other concern the administration has is, they know, if this is going to go the Security
Council, they will veto it, for all the reasons one could think of, and added to that the
political reasons. President Obama doesn't and the administration doesn't want to appear
to be in any way opposed to Israel at a time when elections are about to occur in this
country, close elections. But they also know that if they veto that resolution at a time
of great uncertainty and flux and instability in the Middle East, it could really ignite
greater hostility toward the United States at a time when it's the last thing that the
United States wants to see. JEFFREY BROWN: Tying to what we just saw with Margaret in
Egypt, right? ROBERT MALLEY: Exactly. Exactly. So, we have to balance those two. So the hope
the administration has is that this all just goes away and that they can convince the Palestinians
to abandon their quest. JEFFREY BROWN: I will start with you, Robert. Back up a bit to what
caused this push. What led to this push by the Palestinians to come to the U.N.? ROBERT
MALLEY: In some ways, it's a pretty paradoxical situation. You have President Abbas, the Palestinian
president, who has never believed in going to the U.N. for his entire life. He's believed
in negotiations, he's believed in reaching out to the U.S. and to Israel, and yet he's
now presiding over the most determined effort by the Palestinians to take this to that international
institution. What it reflects, what it's systematic of is the fact that the Palestinians have
simply lost faith in every other avenue. They don't believe in negotiations anymore. They
don't believe in what the U.S. can do. They certainly don't believe in Israeli goodwill.
And so President Abbas, almost against his better judgment, has been forced into the
position of saying, if nothing -- if I have nothing else, I need to show my people I'm
trying to do something. I'm going to take it to the U.N. JEFFREY BROWN: Does that sound
right to you, Ambassador Kurtzer? And bring Israel into this. We heard from Mr. Lieberman
in our clip. What is going on there as they watch what's going on? DANIEL KURTZER: Well,
I think it's exactly right that Palestinian frustration has reached a kind of boiling
point. You know, the last serious effort by the administration to move the peace process
forward, which was President Obama's May 19 speech, was greeted by absolute rejection
by the state of Israel and a kind of modified rejection by the Palestinians. So the peace
process is really dead in the water. And the Palestinians, I think, don't see much of an
alternative than to try to gain some diplomatic advantage from it. The problem, of course,
on the Israeli side is that there will be voices like that of Avigdor Lieberman who
will call for retaliation, either withholding necessary funds that are transferred every
month by Israel, collected from customs and duty, such as increased settlements building,
such as the possibility even of unilaterally annexing some of the territories, some of
the West Bank. Any one of these will escalate this crisis into very serious waters. And
I think that's of great concern to the administration. JEFFREY BROWN: And, of course, Rob Malley,
this comes, again, as you brought up, in the context of the larger upheaval in the Middle
East, Israel feeling more isolated by all of this. ROBERT MALLEY: I mean, look at what's
happening, just what's happened and what's about to happen. You have had the storming
of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. You have had Turkey, which is now using language against
Israel which is quite extraordinary as a reaction to the flotilla event that occurred when Israel
attacked a ship that was trying to enter Gaza. And you now have the U.N. vote with the Palestinians
which is going to have, no matter what, very broad support from most countries in the world.
So for many Israelis, and in particular those in the government, they view this and they
say, we're being surrounded, we're under siege. This is not a time when they feel particularly
confident. And they just don't know where the Arab spring is headed because it may head
in all kinds of different directions. JEFFREY BROWN: And what about risks for the Palestinians?
You mentioned President Abbas has not pushed this before. We have already had some members
of the U.S. Congress say, if this goes forward, we're getting rid of funding for the Palestinian
Authority. ROBERT MALLEY: Right. Well, I think Ambassador Kurtzer also mentioned what Israel
might do, which is much more costly to the Palestinians, because two-thirds of their
budget is covered by the transfer of the tax revenues that are collected by Israel. So
they could lose -- they could create hostility from the administration. They could lose whatever
they get from Israel. A lot of things are at stake. But this is really an era, in a
way, where everyone is looking at domestic politics. I said earlier that the administration
is concerned about not alienating constituents here that are supportive of Israel. JEFFREY
BROWN: That goes back to our first segment tonight, right, of that New York... ROBERT
MALLEY: ... New York, which I think is a wakeup call, or at least another alarm bell. In Israel,
as we just heard, there's some on the right in particular who are saying, how can you
not respond to a -- to this Palestinian gesture, and they're putting -- this Palestinian step
-- and they're pressuring Prime Minister Netanyahu to react quite aggressively. And President
Abbas, of course, is also concerned that if he comes back and he sort of reneges on his
commitment to go to U.N., he will face a torrent of domestic criticism. JEFFREY BROWN: So,
Ambassador Kurtzer, what is the state of play then? Given all these pressures, are the Palestinians
hearing the push from all sides? Are they responding to it? What do you see going on?
DANIEL KURTZER: Well, there are two pathways that are still available, although it's very
late. And they both involve diplomacy. One is for the United States and the international
quartet, Russia, the U.N. and the European Union, to articulate a peace proposal that
both sides can adopt and that the Palestinians have said would give them confidence to set
aside their U.N. gambit. This is very unlikely, but it's still possible in the next week or
so. The other possibility is for the United States to join efforts led now by some Europeans
to try to craft a U.N. resolution that doesn't set us back very far, in other words, which
provides the Palestinians with some diplomatic opening, but that also may provide Israel
with some gains and some benefits and perhaps preserves the possibility for future negotiations.
So diplomacy is not dead, but it's very late for all of us to have woken up. And the administration's
really got to kick this into a much higher gear over the next week, before President
Abbas delivers his speech to the U.N. on the 23rd. JEFFREY BROWN: Briefly, Rob Malley,
do you see some way forward... ROBERT MALLEY: I think it's... JEFFREY BROWN: ... before
we hit next week, right? ROBERT MALLEY: I think it's more or less what we just heard.
I think also -- two things. Number one, I think the Palestinians are going to need to
get some upgrade of statehood status, because without that, President Abbas looks like he
surrenders -- surrendered. And, second of all, I think -- and this is where diplomacy
comes in -- both Israelis and Palestinians have to be told to cool it off after the vote.
The Palestinians shouldn't rush to the International Criminal Court, and the Israelis shouldn't
either cut off funding, expand settlements. We just issued a report, and we called it
"Curb Your Enthusiasm." And the message is, everyone needs to lower their tempers. JEFFREY
BROWN: All right, Rob Malley and Daniel Kurtzer, thank you both very much. ROBERT MALLEY: Thank
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