The strength and weakness of these back-to-back interviews with the Middle East’s most visible leaders is the same: David Frost. He appears so knowledgeable about the intricacies of the quest for peace in the region that he sometimes micromanages at the expense of something more wide-ranging.
In an intelligent and engaging hour of TV, Frost asks probing, interesting and revealing questions, then listens to the replies.
Yet there are moments with both Yasir Arafat (who was interviewed in London) and Yitzhak Rabin (questioned a week later in Jerusalem) when Frost loses steam and gets mired in the details of the seemingly miraculous Declaration of Principles signed between Israel and the Palestinians last year in Washington.
Still, that’s a small quibble in an otherwise arresting hour. The real wish is that Frost had managed to get the two leaders into the same room at the same time so that their disagreements — on who will control the borders, the fate of Jericho, the role of Islamic militant movement Hamas and the withdrawal of troops — could have been debated rather than just aired.
Arafat, the PLO chairman, emerges as the more optimistic of the two; Rabin, with much at risk, is more pragmatic. While Arafat speaks of trust and good will , the Israeli prime minister speaks of an uneasy partnership.
The charismatic Arafat is particularly provocative when he talks about the arrogance of power and his vision for a divided Jerusalem, not unlike the once-divided Berlin, that would serve as a capital for both Israel and a Palestinian state. Surprisingly, Frost fails to follow up and explore the possibility with Rabin in the second half-hour.
The two men clearly disagree on the meaning of the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and Jericho. For Arafat, this signals the birth pangs of a true Palestinian state. Rabin is more circumspect, holding to the interim aspects of the Declaration of Principles, which leaves the future to just that, the future.
Listening to these two very different leaders makes it clear that the future of peace in the Middle East is also just that, the future.
But the future begins in dialogue, and Frost provides a fascinating link in bringing that dialogue to the people.