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Wednesday, 18 October, 2000, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Jeremy Bowen on the Middle East

BBC News Online hosted a live chat with Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's former Middle East Correspondent. He answered your questions on the tense situation in the region.

Jeremy spent the last few years reporting from the Middle East and is now back in London presenting BBC television's Breakfast programme.

Alison Charman: Given the extremism at work in the Middle East, is it just a case of when war breaks out, rather than if?

Jeremy Bowen: No I don't think so, because I still think that most Israelis and most Palestinians want peace. But this is a moment of great danger. Don't forget that when they say war they don't mean a big old style middle east clash.

Manazer Ali, United Kingdom: You have experienced the Middle East peoples at first hand, what would you say about their feelings towards this peace agreement after all of the events and deaths have taken place?

Jeremy Bowen: Both Israelis and Palestinians are disappointed. Israelis have a craving for security, Palestinians have a sense of injustice.

Alan Mumford: Will the Tanzim be disarmed?

Jeremy Bowen: That is the big question now. I don't think they will be disarmed. The question is whether they will use their weapons. They are at boiling point and the leader is emerging as a real force.

Samir Karim, USA: How likely is it that even if this agreement works in the short term, in the long term the protests will continue until Israel withdraws from all the land it illegally occupies?

Jeremy Bowen: I don't know how far Israel will eventually withdraw. But I am convinced that in the end the conflict will be managed as the result of negotiations. Two peoples live very close together. They have no choice but to talk. Whether they can actually split up the really contentious issues is another matter.
When I was living in Jerusalem (for more than five years) I realised that throughout its history it had been a city of conflict. Perhaps the best we can hope for - eventually - is peace for a couple of generations.

Hilary Weinstein, United Kingdom: Do you think that the Western media has been particularly biased in its reporting of the recent violence in the Middle East?

Jeremy Bowen: I can only speak for the BBC and for myself. I don't think that we are biased -- though we are accused of it by both sides. People who are in favour of either side have to remember that we report both sides. Personally I believe both the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to free happy and secure lives. Palestinians should not make war on Israel .... Israel shouldn't make war on the Palesitnians.
I first reported from the Middle East 10 years ago at the time of the Gulf War and I assure you that I have tried to be as fair as possible all the time.

Shehzad Shah, Pakistan: Do you think there is any chance of the Israelis ever giving the Palestinians even limited control over East Jerusalem and the Haram Sharif?

Jeremy Bowen: Israel offered limited control of both at the Camp David summit in July. Palestinians want sovereignty which is a different matter. If they can't find a creative way of at least sharing sovereignty, I can't see how they get an agreement.

Ali Raza, USA: In recent TV clipping of Mr Yasser Arafat he seems very old and not in good shape (health wise). Is he mentally and physically in control of things around him or are his friends and aids close to him the real power? Also if he dies is there someone to take over and what will happen then?

Jeremy Bowen: Yasser Arafat is certainly getting on and showing his age. But he still has the strength to follow a schedule that people half his age would find punishing. Essentially he runs a one man show, he picks his aides according to their loyalty to him. The question is whether people outside his court will stay loyal.
For now, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians regard him as the symbol of their nation - the embodiment of their struggle.

Paul: Is there any reason why Jerusalem couldn't be put under a multi-ethnic counsel of Jews, Arabs, and possibly Christians, because of its importance to all parties?

Jeremy Bowen: Sounds like a great idea and it has been suggested at different times over the years. But the trouble is people in Jerusalem of all creeds find it very difficult to share e.g. the Christians who share the church of the holy sepulchre often disagree passionately.

Simeon Preston, Singapore: I saw your emotional report on BBC World following the killing of your driver by Israeli troops. What was the outcome of your protest to the UN?

Jeremy Bowen: We didn't protest to the UN - we protested to the Israelis who killed him. They admitted they had made a mistake but didn't really apologise properly. We are still trying to get compensation for his family from them, and looking at legal remedies.
I still believe that they should be investigated for recklessly targeting civilians that day in Lebanon, which is a war crime. They didn't just kill our guy on that stretch of road. Several other civilians were killed in dubious circumstances. Amnesty International have also raised their concern.

Jason, Canada: The fact finding investigation is a very critical element in the prospect of peace, therefore how can the US president be the person heading the investigating committee? The US president is biased in the eyes of the Arabs and is not trusted as a fair mediator.

Jeremy Bowen: I think Arafat does have a lot of respect for Pres Clinton. They have developed a close working relationship. Arafat has I think visited the Oval Office during Clinton's tenure more than any other foreign leader. Of course many Arabs do not trust the Americans because of their relationship with Israel, but the important thing is that Arafat agreed what he agreed in Sharm. Now he has to sell it to his people.

Anil, UK: To what extent do you think the bad image of the US throughout the Arab world is making Israel unnecessarily unpopular throughout the region?

Jeremy Bowen: Israel is disliked more than the US already in the Arab world. If anything the US relationship with Israel harms their standing in Arab eyes.

Boni Levy: Is the BBC in competition with CNN about who is the most anti Israel

Jeremy Bowen: I don't know what CNN's objectives are - but I know many of their correspondents personally and they are first-rate reporters. In fact a Palestinian friend of mine told me yesterday in Jerusalem that CNN was very pro Israel. As for the BBC we are not anti Israeli. Unfortunately many Israelis seem to assume that if you are not a cheer leader for a country you are automatically against them. It is not true. We do a fair and balanced job of reporting both sides, who are both legitimate players on the scene.

Robert Buenaventura, USA: How are the Palestinian, Israeli-Jewish, and Israeli-Arab children being affected by recent events? The peace camps and all of the other efforts to unite the younger generations of each of the groups seemed to be so promising. Has that effort been wiped out with the events of the past couple of weeks?

Jeremy Bowen: The efforts haven't been wiped out. But the upsurge of old style hatreds has not helped. Don't forget the biggest influence on children is what they hear at home.

Akmal Zafar: They stole the lands how do you expect them to share it?????

Jeremy Bowen: I don't expect them to share it - both sides have agreed to share it. Arafat and most Palestinians recognise Israel's right to exist. Most Israelis have recognised that to get peace they will have to concede territory.

Jo Bell: Why do the BBC present this as a Jewish-Muslim conflict, when more precisely it is an Israeli-Arab conflict? Surely the attack of the Chassidic Jew in London, shows that this emphasis has lead to awful consequences?

Jeremy Bowen: I don't think we do present it as that. Aspects of the conflict are religious though - and others are nationalistic - and others again are a mixture. I don't think that the tragic attack on the religious Jew in London is a result of this imagined emphasis on the BBC.

News Host: Sorry if your question didn't get answered - there just wasn't enough time to cover them all. Don't forget to keep checking our site for more live chats.

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