TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 1995
MR. KING: We go now to Jerusalem for the acting Israeli prime minister, co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Shimon Peres. Have you, Mr. Prime Minister, gotten over it yet, the death of Mr. Rabin? Has it set in?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Not really. You know, when you are two, and you wake up in the morning and you are one, it repeats itself every morning, and it is still very fresh and very painful to me.
MR. KING: The two of you knew each other a long, long time.
PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes, we knew each other close to 50 years most of the time we used to confront each other more, to compete, to disagree. On many occasions we also cooperated, worked together. And in a strange way, while quarreling or cooperating, we never were able to separate one from the other. In a strange way it was both a confrontation and a need to be together.
MR. KING: Did it ever develop into a friendship?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Over the last three years, yes, but a friendship in a different sense of the word. I mean, it’s not the friendship that you go and drink coffee or you have breakfast together. It’s a friendship on a higher degree. Namely, we found that we have to carry a very heavy load together, and when you face great issues you don’t have patience for small talk. You really are engaged in the bitter and the bigger issues. There we found a surprising comradeship and a deep understanding, and we really talked to each other quite frankly. I told him, "Look, you are too pessimistic. I am too optimistic. Maybe together we can find a balance."
MR. KING: Were you at all surprised at how loved he was? Obviously in this death he has been martyred, but all over the world these expressions of genuine affection for him does that surprise you at all?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Not really, because it was a combination of a most unusual biography, of a very special person, and finally and maybe this is the most important reason he symbolized a peace that was taken out of a free choice. Nobody forced us. Peace in Israel is a moral choice, not a pragmatic necessity.
MR. KING: He also symbolized, did he not, change a changing world, changing times?
PRIME MIN. PERES: He did change, because he went over, like all of us, from the sheer balance of power to the investment in a future. You know, peace in a strange way is contrary to a credit card: you have to pay now and get it later. And to pay now is very difficult, because nobody can guarantee the goods you may have in the future. So it went over in a very strange way by a highly pragmatic person, from sheer considerations of strengths and dangers, to almost a poetic investment in an entirely new future.
MR. KING: Were you near him physically the night of the killing?
PRIME MIN. PERES: We spent the whole evening together really like two real comrades. Never in my life did he seem so happy, so soft. You know, I knew him for 50 years. I never saw him singing. That was the first time in his life that he openly sang. Actually there were three singers. One a good and professional singer, a very famous singer of Israel, and the two of us that are probably better in other vocations than in singing. But we sang together a song of peace. He embraced me very closely. I could feel tremble in his body and his happiness in his eyes. I couldn’t remember him more happier than that night.
Then we parted, because I was supposed to go back to Jerusalem. We said goodbye to each other, and then I said, "Yitzhak, did you thank the organizer?" "Oh," he said, "I forgot." So he went over to thank them, and I started to go down the steps. I came down and I saw his car and my car. I asked his driver, "Where is Yitzhak?" He said, "Look, there." I looked back he was 15 meters from me and I saw that he was going down, everything was okay. I went into my car, I closed the door, and then I heard the three shots.
MR. KING: Did you know that he was hit right away? Did they tell you?
PRIME MIN. PERES: No. My security man immediately closed the car and brought me to a safe place. They wouldn’t let me out. I became a prisoner. I was totally impatient. Clearly I wanted to know very much what happened. The person who was my best friend
MR. KING: And now, Mr. Prime Minister, much is being investigated and said about how could this happen, this lax in security, the assailant, and apparently there were a lot more people involved. What can you tell us about the investigation up to now?
PRIME MIN. PERES: I would not like to jump to conclusions, but may I say in honesty, and also in the memory of Yitzhak: leaders cannot fear and if they cannot fear they cannot be secure. We cannot spend our lives all the time being so careful that we will be detached from our own people. If you want to mix in, there is always the danger that a crazy or an extreme person will endanger your life.
MR. KING: So then are we saying that you are not walking around worried?
PRIME MIN. PERES: No, not at all. I feel that it is more dangerous to be worried than to be killed. I prefer to live without fear than to die out of fear.
MR. KING: Do you have faith in the security around you now?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes. I do it more for the security people than for myself. They are such a devoted group of people such a nice group of people, really fine fellows.
MR. KING: John Kennedy once said if a crazy person wants to kill someone, you can kill anyone if you’re willing to give up your own life. As much as you’re protected, it’s impossible to protect yourself totally.
PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes, I don’t think so that you can have a foolproof, full-fledged protection. But I am surrounded by people that I know are ready to sacrifice their own lives in order to save my life or to save the lives of my friends.
MR. KING: Since you are acting prime minister, there will have to be elections to have a full-time prime minister. When will they occur?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Normally the elections should take place in November 1996. And if I shall be able to form a government, and it looks like I shall be able to do so, the government will continue until the fixed time for the elections.
MR. KING: Would you say it’s a good bet it will be in about a year?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Well, I intend not to spend a year on electioneering, but really on making peace. For me to win peace is still more important than to win elections. You know, one year is both a short while and a long time it depends what you do with it. I think it is our commitment to use every moment, every day, every month, and clearly every year, to advance the peace process.
MR. KING: Politically though it would be smart to call elections quickly wouldn’t it?
PRIME MIN. PERES: I don’t know what is politically smart. You know, if you come before your people and say, "The most important thing for me is to win the elections," they say, "Well, let’s have a good look what are you doing for us?" But if you come to the people and say, "I don’t know if I shall win or lose the elections, but I am going to serve your needs in spite of the division, and devote all efforts for peace," it may perhaps not be politically smart, but it is very right.
MR. KING: So does it look like it will be 1997?
PRIME MIN. PERES: No, 1996. By the end of 1996 we are having elections exactly the same time that you are having them in the United States.
MR. KING: So they will not be sooner? They will definitely be in November?
PRIME MIN. PERES: They can be sooner, if the government will lose its majority, or if the peace process will be blocked. I mean, time must be in service of a purpose. And if the purpose will appear as unattainable, then we shall have a second consideration.
MR. KING: I see. But it looks now like November is a pretty fair time?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes.
MR. KING: You’re certainly going to be able to form a government. Has Mr. Netanyahu been cooperative?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Well, I don’t see in which way he can be cooperative. He can contribute by telling his people to adopt a different language and a different style, and that will be already a service to the public of Israel.
MR. KING: Well, he is saying that. He said it on this program last week that he has always condemned anybody advocating violence, and he always put it down and he will continue to put it down.
PRIME MIN. PERES: I don’t want to accuse him on American television. But the problem is apparently that he has participated in some meetings or rallies where the most extreme views and accusations were present. But I do not want to go in now into any accusations.
MR. KING: There is still a lot of extremism in Israel, though, is there not? People being very vocal about the assassination. Does this cause you great problems?
PRIME MIN. PERES: I don’t know if there is a lot of extremism, but the extremists are very extreme. That is our problem. The problem is not in the number, but in their fanaticism, in their lack of restraint and understanding, the claim that they represent heaven, where in fact they are messengers of the devil.
MR. KING: Before we talk, Mr. Prime Minister, about the state of affairs, let’s talk about the state of yourself. There are commentators in Israel who say you appear like a changed person more serious, eyes red a lot, that this has had a profound effect on you. Is all that true, or are they reading things in that aren’t there?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Undoubtedly it has had a very profound effect upon me. I was totally unprepared for it. I was deeply shocked by it. Yet I feel determined to go ahead, and nothing will change neither my devotion nor my mind.
MR. KING: We have a 72-year-old senator, whom I know you know very well, Senator Dole, who is running for the presidency, and age will be an issue if he gets the nomination. Is 72 a little on the older side to run a country?
PRIME MIN. PERES: I don’t know. I think leadership is a mixed biological experience. You need probably the experience of the elders and the naivete or the innocence of the younger. But let me tell one thing I wouldn’t comment on the American scene I would say about Israel. If to be very honest, what was the advantage of Rabin and myself? Both of us reached an age that nobody can really either add to us anything or take away from us anything. We are completely free and independent. So our age can take upon itself the burden of making tough decisions, and see the youngsters coming in in an age without all those dilemmas and wars that have characterized our past. You know, the fact that so many youngsters in Israel went with tears in their eyes after the funeral of Yitzhak shows the real secret: an outgoing age which understands the incoming age, an outgoing age which is ready to take the decision in favor of the youngsters. We can afford it. We are made for it.
MR. KING: What is the current state of the pullout and the Palestinian takeover on the West Bank. Did it go well in Jenin?
PRIME MIN. PERES: By and large yes. We were six days ahead of our promise. And there again let me make a remark which for me is very special. You know, we saw the celebrations and the happiness of the Palestinians in Jenin. Should their happiness make us sad? No, not at all. I think on the contrary they are entitled to be happy, and we are entitled to be content because they are happy. Their happiness is not our problem. It is our promise. But in a strange way I saw them in a sad state after the murder of Rabin. For the first time, sadness expressed peace. The Arabs were sad, the Israelis were sad. And with a sad eye we were watching a new peace. Strange but true.
MR. KING: Have you spoken with Mr. Arafat?
PRIME MIN. PERES: I spoke with Mr. Arafat on the morrow of the murder. I told him, first of all,, that we are going to continue the policy. We don’t intend to postpone any promise. And then I also told him that on Jenin we shall be ahead of time, and we shall continue with the peace process.
Then Mr. Arafat called me. He wanted to participate in the funeral. He asked for our permission. I thought that we should do whatever we can to enable him to participate in the funeral. But we had 80 delegations queens, kings, prime ministers we have had half a million people in the street. And our security people told me we could not guarantee his security. So I told him regretfully he will have to postpone it. Later on we enabled him to come and pay his respect and condolences to Mrs. Leah Rabin.
MR. KING: Speaking of her, will she have a place in the goings on in Israel? Is she going to be an important voice?
PRIME MIN. PERES: I would rather not speak on her behalf. I would only say that she behaved in a very moving way, both personally and otherwise, and all of us appreciate it very, very much.
MR. KING: I spoke with her today. She always has been an activist, has she not?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes. I think in her favor one must say that whatever she has on her mind she would say it straight out, in very clear terms.
MR. KING: In a speech to the Labor Party, you predicted it’s going to take about five years for a complete peace that will include Syria and Lebanon. Do you think it might be sooner than that?
PRIME MIN. PERES: I said Syria, Lebanon, and a new Middle East, because I think it is not enough to make peace with each of our neighbors. We have to convert the Middle East from a valley of confrontation, hatred and belligerency into a plateau of modern economy, understanding and neighborly relations.
MR. KING: And that will take time?
PRIME MIN. PERES: That takes time. By the way, five years is not such a long time. And I don’t predict that it will have been after five years. I said it will happen during the five years, since every year actually every month we are making a little bit of a progress.
MR. KING: Were you disappointed that Syria’s message on the death of Rabin was not warmer?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes. When the son of the president of Syria passed away, our president sent him a message of condolence. So did Prime Minister Rabin; and I myself brought him a handwritten condolence. I think that death is the end of the account. I mean, you can argue as long as you are alive. But if you want to keep a certain level of relationship, you have to behave differently when you face death.
MR. KING: Mr. Prime Minister, we know that the United States plays an important role in all of this. What about other countries? Does Russia have a key role?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Russia is now facing their own limitations, which are rather well known, though formally the Russians are the co-sponsors of the peace process. But may I say that the United States is playing a key role in a very responsible and constructive way.
MR. KING: And you expect that to continue, no matter what the result of our elections?
PRIME MIN. PERES: I have much respect for the president and the administration, but I must say also that the support for Israel in the Congress is bipartisan, and Israel enjoys almost in a moving way the support of most of the American people in the synagogues, in the churches, in the unions, in the press, in the streets, and we are very much both appreciative and encouraged by it.
MR. KING: How well have Mr. Mubarak and Egypt handled themselves through this process?
PRIME MIN. PERES: President Mubarak contributed greatly to the peace between the Palestinians and ourselves, and we appreciated very much the fact that he came to Jerusalem to pay homage to Rabin after his assassination.
MR. KING: What will bring Syria around? Frankly, Mr. Assad has been cool. What will change him?
PRIME MIN. PERES: I think that strategically he made up his mind. His weakness, I think, is in his tactics. I’m not so sure that he perceives the way Israel acts or he acts, and yet I do believe that he will make a rethinking of his tactics.
MR. KING: Are you saying he underestimates you?
PRIME MIN. PERES: No. He thinks that we are in a way like Syria. But we are two different entities psychologically, economically and politically; in the way we act, in the way we think, in the way we feel. And it’s very hard to have a dialogue between two strangers.
MR. KING: So how is it going to happen?
PRIME MIN. PERES: We shall try to bridge over those differences as much as we can and as soon as possible.
MR. KING: Do you think in a sense the death of Mr. Rabin will quicken that process?
PRIME MIN. PERES: It’s too early to judge.
MR. KING: The key contact in the middle there is who? Who do you deal with to talk to the Syrians?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Basically the United States of America. They are the "honest broker" between the Syrians and us, and may I say the sole intermediary between our two countries.
MR. KING: And the goal would be that the two of you sit down without the United States there? That’s the goal?
PRIME MIN. PERES: No. The United States does not disturb us. What we would like is to have the negotiations done on all levels, and relating to all issues. Because if you select a narrow channel and just one level of negotiations, you may find it extremely difficult, almost impossible to negotiate.
MR. KING: A couple of other things. What’s the mood in Israel today, coming out of this grief is it optimistic?
PRIME MIN. PERES: For me, my reading is an unexpected support for peace, basically by the youngsters. That is the greatest surprise, and welcome surprise, in the mood of the people. Yet many people are worried how to bring an end to the verbal violence, to the acts of violence, how really to restrain those bursts of extremism and danger.
MR. KING: So the enthusiasm of the youth for peace has surprised you?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes, as the youth has surprised all of us. They came out more serious, more committed, with flowers for peace and tears for a leader.
MR. KING: Any major changes? Do you plan any changes in the leadership?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Not right away, other than the necessary one. I would like to continue the transfer from one government to another government with the minimum of changes.
MR. KING: And who will replace you? Since you have replaced Rabin, who replaces Peres?
PRIME MIN. PERES: I can see so many candidates that I wouldn’t like to pick out one.
MR. KING: Are you going to single one out though? Is it in your camp to do so?
PRIME MIN. PERES: No. I think a leader should grow out of the different candidates, and not to be picked out by a single person.
MR. KING: I thank you very much for spending this time with us, for granting us this interview, and I wish you Godspeed and good luck.
PRIME MIN. PERES: Thank you very much.
MR. KING: Our guest, Israeli acting prime minister, Shimon Peres.