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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 14:08 GMT
The BBC's James Reynolds in Jerusalem
The BBC's James Reynolds joined us live and answered your questions.

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has declared a state of emergency in Gaza and the West Bank and ordered the arrest of dozens of Islamic militants following two Palestinian suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa which killed 25 people.

The US Secretary of State Colin Powell has reacted to the attacks by saying this is a "moment of truth" for Mr Arafat.

The danger for him now is that Palestinians will consider that he has gone too far - and Israelis and Americans that he has not gone nearly far enough

What does this latest turn of events say for hopes of peace in the Middle East? How can the violence be brought under control? What can the the rest of the global community do to stop the spiral of attacks?


Highlights of the interview:


Newshost:

Moudar Zgoul, UK: How effective do you think the destruction of several Palestinian headquarters will be in sending Yasser Arafat a message? Don't you think that it will just encourage ordinary people in the region to react violently against the state of Israel?


James Reynolds:

Two parts there. How effective is it in terms of sending a message - well very, very effective in terms of sending a message. I think Yasser Arafat has got loud and clear what the Israelis want him to do. The fact that the Israelis were firing missiles at a police post just hundred or so metres from his office in Ramallah shows that they want him to get the message. He got the message. Now how effective will it be in terms of getting him to arrest militants, to dismantle organisations - very, very difficult to see. Yasser Arafat has such a difficult position in many ways because if he arrests some militants, he risks incurring the wrath of Palestinian militant groups - such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad and he is arresting too few militants for Israeli satisfaction at the moment.


Newshost:

J Barrera, USA: Can Israel ever hope to get rid of the infrastructure that makes these suicide bombings possible?


James Reynolds:

Difficult to tell. To have an infrastructure for a suicide bomber, you don't need much. You needed a committed young man - as they usually are - and you need some explosives. I think almost anyone would say that there are so many young men in Palestinian areas who are wanting to be suicide bombers that in terms of getting rid of that sort of infrastructure of young men - very difficult, there is a lot of anger there.

In terms of getting rid of the Palestinian ability to find explosives and to get into Israeli areas - I think most people would say that in itself is very, very difficult. It might be able to prevent Palestinian military groups from getting very, very big weapons - but getting small amounts of explosives, getting a young man and getting him across the border is not that difficult. I think it would be very difficult for the Israelis to stop that.


Newshost:

But these are young men who are given orders - presumably that's what the questioner is getting at.


James Reynolds:

In terms of cutting off the top level, in terms of cutting off the people who say - now you go off there, now we need one attack here and one attack there - cutting off the leadership - that's what the Israelis are trying to do. But in a way they have cut off a lot of the leaders in the last few months. They have done a lot of what they call targeted killings and what a lot of the rest of the world call assassinations and we've had three of four suicide bombings in the last few days. So it shows that tackling this infrastructure is very, very difficult for the Israelis.


Newshost:

Alice Cordingly, UK: Does the war on Afghanistan mean that the Americans can no longer insist that Israel acts with restraint against the bombings in Jerusalem? And what does this mean for the future of the conflict?


James Reynolds:

Let's try and take this question bit by bit because it's rather complicated the effect of September 11th and the coalition on terror on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. When we first had September 11th, everyone here thought the Israelis would be advantaged because no one would ever condemn them again for going after Islamic terror. That was reaction one. Reaction two came about a week or so later when everyone realised that in order for President Bush to get moderate Arab countries - moderate Muslim countries - on board the coalition against terror, he had to do something about the Palestinian conflict. He had to suddenly talk about the possibility of a Palestinian state. So to begin with Israel was favoured then the Palestinians were favoured and Israel was very annoyed. We now appear to back to Israel being favoured again.

It is very difficult to tell what the effect of September 11th has had here - whether US restraint has anything to do with Israeli restraint here because it has changed so much in just a few months.


Newshost:

Caalin, UK: Why is it that the US government wanted Israel to use restraint a few weeks ago and all of a sudden they seem indifferent. Do you think it has something to with the fact that they do not need the support from the Middle East anymore in their fight against terrorism?


James Reynolds:

That's a good final point that your questioner makes in the final question because I think that is what a lot of people are thinking here. Now that phase one has achieved some of its objectives in terms of taking over a lot of land in Afghanistan and weakening - so we believe - the al-Qaeda organisation, that that provides less of an incentive at the moment to keep Israeli attacks under control which was the key point for the last few months.

But I would stress to the questioner that there is a lot of speculation that were moving to phase two - a possible targeting of other countries - perhaps even Iraq. If there were to be any more military action by the Americans in the Middle East, in particular in Iraq, the Americans would need the Israelis to exercise some sort of restraint. So perhaps we are in a bit of a never world at the moment but I believe the war on terror - as George W. Bush has called it - is not over. So we'll see some American actions and some American diplomacy soon.


Newshost:

So the holding together of the coalition is still perhaps as important as ever?


James Reynolds:

It looks like it. It has struck a lot of us who cover this conflict day to day. It is very interesting that the United States has stuck so behind Israel in the last few days and has not come out to condemn any Israeli military strikes on Palestinian targets in the last few days. That might happen - we'll have to see what the White House and State Department says. But we've been struck here by the solidarity which the United States has shown towards Israel and by its attempt to crackdown on Yasser Arafat.


Newshost:

Nasir, Switzerland: The Arab world cannot negotiate with Sharon due to his political and past military record. With the cracks now starting to show in his government do you think Shimon Peres is a far more credible candidate to seek peace with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians?


James Reynolds:

I think certainly among Arab states, Shimon Peres, would be a more credible negotiating partner. I was in Lebanon just recently and there was an eight or nine page supplement in one of the newspapers there, talking about Ariel Sharon as a war criminal - a view, I think, most people in the Arab world hold. So it is very clear, as your questioner says, that Ariel Sharon is not a negotiating partner for the Arabs and for the Palestinians.

But I think the key point is that the Arabs perhaps would like Shimon Peres as a negotiator - it is who can convince the Israelis to negotiate for them. Shimon Peres has fought a number of general elections as a prime ministerial candidate and he has lost all of them. He has never been able to persuade the Israeli population of his credentials as a leader who can negotiate peace which is why he's often had to hitch up with a more hard line candidate, such as Yitzhak Rabin in the past and such as Ariel Sharon right now. Although it might be a great hope to have Shimon Peres as a negotiating partner, clearly a man who wants peace - the Israeli population doesn't Shimon Peres for the moment, it does still want someone like Ariel Sharon.


Newshost:

Rashaid Ali, UK: Some reports have pointed to the Palestinian governing body's willingness for a peacekeeping force in the region. Do you think the Israeli government would ever agree to a third party peacekeeping force in the occupied territory?


James Reynolds:

As things stand at the moment, I don't think the government will agree because that's what the government has been saying for months and months. It says it doesn't want an international peacekeeping force and then the term was narrowed down in the Mitchell Peace Report which came out in May. It said how about a third party peacekeeping force, i.e. a party made up perhaps of United States observers - the United States being a key ally of Israel. But even the Israelis at that stage said no we do not want international observers. They pointed to the fact that three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped on the Lebanese border last October when there were UN observers there. They say they see absolutely no point in having UN observers, they say it is counterproductive. So in terms of that for the moment I think Israel will always say no under the Sharon government.


Newshost:

Salim, UK: It is not enough for the international community to wag its finger at either Yasser Arafat or Ariel Sharon, thinking that the matter will resolve itself. Troops must be sent to the whole region to keep the Israelis and the Palestinians at bay, at least for the time being. Isn't it time the UN intervened?


James Reynolds:

Very, very interesting question. On the 27th March this year I think there was a debate about sending some sort of international observing force here and it was vetoed by the United States. There are certainly a lot of countries who feel that what Israelis do to Palestinians in some cases is very, very much unjustified and should be put under the subject of some sort of international force. However, the ways things stand at the moment no international force can come in with a veto from anyone on the Security Council - that's as far as I understand it. The United States has exercised that veto and says it will exercise that veto again and Israel says it doesn't want third party or international monitors or troops. So whether one likes it or not, Israel and the United States say no monitors unless Israel wants it and that's how it stands at the moment.

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