ABC "GOOD MORNING AMERICA" INTERVIEW WITH SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER

MONDAY, APRIL 29, 1996

CHARLES GIBSON: As you heard in the news, Prime Minister Shimon Peres met last night with President Clinton at the White House, and at the top of the agenda, the cease-fire between Israel and guerrillas of the group Hezbollah that was brokered by the United States, and the prime minister, Peres, is joining us now from Washington. Mr. Prime Minister, good to have you back with us. Good morning.

PRIME MIN. PERES: Good morning and thank you very much.

MR. GIBSON: What gives you the confidence that this cease-fire is going to hold?

PRIME MIN. PERES: I think it is to the interest of several partners to the agreement, namely the Lebanese, who doesn’t want their country to be destroyed. The Syrians are in a way responsible for the fate and future of Lebanon and, clearly, Israel. Now, the Hezbollah itself’s a foreign interest, namely the interest of Iran, not the interest of Lebanon.

MR. GIBSON: Well, implicit in your answer is that Hezbollah is largely influenced by the Syrians and the Lebanese and not an independent group.

PRIME MIN. PERES: That’s true; rather by the Iranians. I think they are clearly under the order of Iran, and I think Iran is making a supreme effort to bring an end to the peace process in the Middle East and to topple down the government that is interested in carrying on with the peace process.

MR. GIBSON: With the Iranian influence on Hezbollah, do you think Iran is interested in having this cease-fire hold?

PRIME MIN. PERES: The Iranians say so because they wouldn’t like to be isolated, but unfortunately, they’re using a double language, and I would hardly trust a word that comes out from Iran.

MR. GIBSON: But given that influence, then, does that not undermine your confidence that the cease-fire will hold?

PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes, we have a problem, but today I believe we are three against one. The Lebanese government in my judgment is today sincerely interested to have the truce to stop the shooting and the killing. We are clearly against any continuation of violence and terror and, finally, Syria found it out that unless she will defend the needs of Lebanon, she cannot remain a controlling power in her land.

MR. GIBSON: Mr. Prime Minister, you said that this cease-fire would bring Israel, northern Israel, more quiet and more strength. Why why strength? This agreement does nothing to limit Hezbollah guerrillas, it does nothing to stop the attacks on Israeli forces in south Lebanon, so why strength?

PRIME MIN. PERES: In a way, you know, if you are becoming panicked when you are being attacked by a rain of Katyushas, you invite more. If you can withstand this sort of aggression and demonstrate character and strength, you are becoming stronger. But anyway, I think all of us are basically interested to achieve a real peace, a permanent peace. This is just an interim solution, and there is one condition actually to arrive at a permanent peace with the Syrians and that with the Lebanese, and that is that the Lebanese will establish their own authority in their own land. If you have two armed authorities in the very same land, you divide the land. You have two lands, one land belonging, say, to the Hezbollah and other belonging to the Lebanese army, so the integration of the authority will lead to the integration of the territory.

MR. GIBSON: But as your political opponents are quick to point out, this agreement in and of itself really has done nothing but more to put us back into the situation that existed before the shelling began.

PRIME MIN. PERES: You know, I feel it’s unfair to leave our opponents unemployed. They have to do something. Now let’s not forget they said the same thing about the agreement between us and the Palestinians, they said nothing will come out of it. They said that about the second agreement with in Oslo. Now they have the third occasion to say the wrong things and take advantage of it. I can do very little about it.

MR. GIBSON: Mr. Prime Minister, the fierceness of the Israeli response to the rocket attacks from Hezbollah, were they influenced at all by the coming election in Israel?

PRIME MIN. PERES: They surely have an influence, not necessarily a positive one. You know, we didn’t do it because we are having elections. We did it because we have to defend our country. This is the first call of any government, and we used a great deal of patience and restraint before we have responded, but where the real problem Israel, what can you do when you have three different organizations that are trying to create chaos and sorrow in your country, that are trying to make themselves felt in our own elections. We don’t have a choice but to counteract. We didn’t do it with any pleasure and surely we didn’t do it because we have elections. We can win our elections in a much more tranquil circumstances.

MR. GIBSON: Just a final quick question, Mr. Prime Minister. The cease-fire, to your mind an indication that a long-range peace can be achieved with Syria? There are some who feel that President Assad wants nothing more than to continue to negotiate but not reach a long-term agreement.

PRIME MIN. PERES: You can draw a double lesson one, that you can achieve an agreement, and the other is how difficult it is to achieve such an agreement, how complicated the negotiations are, and let’s not forget that we are negotiating about a secondary target, not about a major one, so we must prepare ourselves for a tough, complicated, uneasy negotiations, but finally neither the Syrians nor us nor anybody else has a better choice. Peace is the best.

MR. GIBSON: Mr. Prime Minister, always good to talk to you. Thank you for joining us.

PRIME MIN. PERES: Thank you.