Murphy: Israeli-Palestinian peace talks must go on

The Israelis and the Palestinians will eventually end up back at the negotiating table, Middle East expert Richard Murphy said Monday in a speech at Princeton. The talks must go on, in spite of the recent collapse of the peace process and the continuing escalation of violence in the region, he said.

"It is only at the negotiating table that Israeli leaders will be able to work out terms that will be acceptable to the Palestinians and bring a sense of security to the Israelis," said Murphy, who is director of Middle East studies for the Council on Foreign Relations. "And that's why helping the parties get back to negotiations is the U.S.'s goal and should remain the focus for our political leaders."

Murphy did not offer a timetable for the rapprochement, but he suggested it might occur after the current leaders are no longer in power. "The (parties) will go back to the summit. It may not be (Yasir) Arafat, it may not be (Ariel) Sharon, but they'll go back. This can't last. The Israelis can't stand it, and the Palestinians are miserable."

Murphy has served as the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Syria and Mauritania and as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs. His speech, titled "The Impact of Sept. 11 on America's Role in the Middle East," addressed the nation's relationships with Israel, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Concerning Iraq, Murphy told the audience that some administration officials hope to capitalize on the success of the war in Afghanistan by going into Baghdad and disposing of Saddam Hussein. But no one is sure whether the opposition to Hussein would be strong enough to depose him, even with support from the U.S. "The only way to find out how fragile the Iraqi structure really is is to go to war," Murphy said.

In discussing the cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. since Sept. 11, Murphy posed a provocative question: "How can you account for the fact that 15 of the (Sept. 11) hijackers were Saudis, 15 perfectly nice middle-class boys?"

They were drawn to terrorism, Murphy said, by the excitement surrounding the victory over the Soviets in Afghanistan and by "the very charismatic image of Osama bin Laden, that rich man who was going to live in a cave."

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601