INTERVIEW WITH ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER SHIMON PERES ON CNN "LARRY KING LIVE"
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 27, 1996
MR. KING: Our first guest tonight is at our bureau in Jerusalem. It’s a great pleasure to always welcome to these cameras the distinguished prime minister of Israel, Shimon Peres.
Mr. Prime Minister, Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, sentenced today to life in prison and an additional six years for wounding the bodyguard. Your comments on that result today?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Well, the verdict is pale in comparison with the crime. What this man did to our country, to our political life, to our future, is something of untold damage. And a murderer is a murderer. It goes against everything that we stand for as a state, as a Jewish people. And the crime is unforgettable, and we shall never pardon this terrible young man.
MR. KING: You do not agree with capital punishment, though, do you?
PRIME MIN. PERES: No, I’m against capital punishment because still there can be human error. And this is, again, an unforgivable crime.
MR. KING: Now, what can you tell us about the peace process? It is on hold, is it not? If so, for how long?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Well, shall I say that we are, in effect, in a transitional period. You know, the old times are still with us, yet they’re disappearing. The new period is coming in, yet not complete. So we are suffering from the hatred, the belligerency, the terror of the past. But we’re also breeding the hopes and the opportunities of an entirely new era. If I can say it in my words, the old Middle East is disappearing, but not yet completely. The new Middle East is arriving, not yet fully.
MR. KING: So we’re in a phase here. PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes. We have to phase the two of them to pay the price of the hatred and the terror, and yet not to give up the chances for a new future.
MR. KING: Can you tell us when you think negotiations will resume with Syria and with Palestine?
PRIME MIN. PERES: With the Palestinians, we have to start to negotiate the permanent settlement at the beginning of May. I imagine that we shall meet that date, though we have three years for the negotiations. And again, I believe that the real negotiations will take place after the elections. We are having the elections by the end of May, and I think we shall get a mandate from our people to negotiate and then we shall go on.
With the Syrians, there is an interruption because the Syrians must make up their minds in concern with terror. You know, they did not condemn the acts of terror. They did not participate in the [Sharm a-Sheikh} international meeting against terror. They have some headquarters of terrorist organizations in Damascus, and they have to decide either peace and draw all the conclusions, or terror and pay the whole cost.
MR. KING: Are you satisfied, Mr. Prime Minister, with the way Mr. Arafat has handled himself during these past couple of months?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Well, shall I say during the last couple of weeks, yes, he started to take it more seriously than ever before. And now the problem is, will he remain constant in his combat against violence and terror that comes from Gaza, which is under his jurisdiction?
We don’t ask Arafat to become the defender of Israel, nor do we ask Arafat to do any favors for Israel. But we are demanding that in those areas which are under his control that he will not permit any acts of terror, any export of terrorist activities.
MR. KING: Are you confident he will meet that test?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Well, I think he has more than one reason to do so. He won’t do it because of us. He has to do it because of himself. If he won’t establish himself as the sole authority in Gaza, he’s endangering his remaining the sole authority in the eyes of his own people and in the eyes of the rest of the world.
MR. KING: There are rumors that you’re going to deport Palestinians that you believe were involved with Hamas in the attacks. Is that true?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes, we have it on our list. Our problem is the following how to deter a young man or young people from committing suicide. We came to the conclusion that the only way to prevent him from doing so is to make him aware that his family may pay for this act of violence and killing and assassination. So there are two means actually left under our control. One is to destroy the house of the family, and the other is to expel members of the family not elderly people, not women or children, and not innocent members of the family. But if there are in the family members who helped him, who supported him, who has encouraged him, we may expel them. We have a problem because we cannot do it against the law, and it is now under the legal consideration of our experts.
MR. KING: Mr. Prime Minister, the elections are coming May 29th. It looked like you were way ahead. Now it’s regarded as close. Do you think it’s going to be very close?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes, I think the country or the people are rather divided almost equally. But this time we are going to have a double vote.
MR. KING: What do you mean?
PRIME MIN. PERES: The prime minister of Israel will be elected in direct elections for the first time in our history, and then there will be a vote for the different parties.
MR. KING: So you’re going to run like they do in the United States then?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes, but we shall not have a president. It will be sort of having partly a presidential system and partly a parliamentarian system. It’s quite complicated.
MR. KING: Is that idea better for you to run head to head with Mr. Netanyahu?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Well, I would like to have a larger sort of a reform; namely, that the members of the parliament will also be elected in districts and not just on a national list.
MR. KING: Do you expect to win?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes.
MR. KING: Would you agree that the Hamas attacks and the like, and the other recent occurrences, have hurt you badly?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes, I agree.
MR. KING: How do you overcome it?
PRIME MIN. PERES: And for that reason, I wouldn’t suggest that the Hamas will decide our elections. I hope our people will do so.
MR. KING: But they could, couldn’t they?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Yes, they certainly have an effect. But this story is not a simple story, because if the people in Israel would be asked what will happen if we shall have an explosion during the electoral period of time, many of them would say, "Well, then you will lose completely the elections." And then, look; we have had one, two, three, four explosions, one after another very painful, very complicated. And the nation was shocked with the many people that were killed and wounded. In spite of it, I still have an edge in the polls. And that shows also that the Hamas has also a limited way of affecting our elections. The people are stronger than the bombs.
MR. KING: Do you think the Hamas wants the election of Mr. Netanyahu?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Well, it will be unfair, whatever answer I shall provide. I do believe that the Hamas is very much interested to stop the peace process, to topple down the government that is for peace. I don’t think they work for Netanyahu, but they work clearly against peace.
MR. KING: Are you certain that Mr. Netanyahu will turn that page back or that maybe he won’t?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Well, I’m a little bit worried about their announced policy of settlements. I do believe that if more settlements will be put on the West Bank, this may either bring an end or at least interrupt the peace process.
MR. KING: You’re watching the world’s only live talk presentation that includes phone calls; no better example of it than to have the prime minister of Israel as our guest and the caller from Manchester, England. Hello.
CALLER: Yes, good morning for Mr. Peres.
PRIME MIN. PERES: Good morning.
CALLER: Recently, in the last few days, there has been coverage, media coverage of the terrorist threat involving nuclear and biological weapons. You have also stated that toward the end of the century, there could be an us-or-them situation. Would you like to elaborate on this, and hopefully what solutions you have for this problem on a worldwide scale?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Well, you know, we have this fundamentalistic movement which is an extreme religious undertaking. And they use terror and death and lies, whatever they want to, to spread their evil (moves?). Well, that’s not new in history. There were many evil movements before that. But this is for the first time that this sort of a movement can acquire a nuclear capacity and that can really become a real catastrophe. At the end of this movement you have Iran, the Iranian government. And maybe before the end of the century they can get hold of a nuclear capacity. Imagine, for example, would Hitler have a nuclear capacity, what a catastrophe it could have been for the rest of us. And I think we have to do whatever we can to prevent this marriage between such a militant movement with this terrible weapon.
MR. KING: Buffalo, New York. Hello.
CALLER: Prime Minister Peres, I have the greatest respect and affection for you. And I would like to know, is Israel’s security in the long run dependent only on a lasting peace? And I would request that the Israelis vote in the Labor Party and its gentle giant. That is your only chance for a lasting peace.
MR. KING: All right, is lasting peace your only answer, or can you you’ve lived in militancy a long time.
PRIME MIN. PERES: Well, I wouldn’t say the only. I would say the most promising answer. And it’s very promising because the need for peace is not exclusively Israeli need. I am convinced that the Arab countries need peace as badly and as immediately as we do. You know, for the first time, 13 Arab countries answered the call of President Clinton and came in to denounce terror, to condemn terror, after an event or events that took place in Israel. This is something unprecedented. And I don’t think they did it just to keep us happy. They understand that terror and war is a menace to them as much as to us.
MR. KING: Waterford, Michigan with the prime minister. Hello.
CALLER: Yes, Mr. Prime Minister, I would like to ask you, sir, knowing that the Golan Heights is strategically important to the land of Israel, why would this administration give any consideration to turning it over to Syria after the Israelis have shed their blood for this land?
PRIME MIN. PERES: Well, the Israelis have shed their blood not only for the Golan Heights but for peace as well. You know, we have had so many military victories, but the real victory that we are looking for is not just to have more land but really enjoy a full peace. Now we have two questions. Would we have just one, to give up the Golan Heights or not, everybody would say, "No, don’t give up." But we have a second question: Should we give up the chances of peace with Syria? And then many people in Israel, maybe a majority, would say, "Don’t do it." So we are not suggesting to give up the land just because we don’t need it, but we are suggesting to have a territorial compromise so to attain a real peace with our northern neighbor, and by doing so, having a comprehensive peace all around us.
MR. KING: Mr. Prime Minister, one other thing before we leave. What keeps you going? You’ve had a long and fruitful life. You’ve had dedicated service to your country, held many positions. Why stay on?
PRIME MIN. PERES: The only reason really for me to stay on is to do a service to the young generation. You know, at my age, with my experience, I want to put aside many of the difficult dilemmas, take it upon myself, upon my generation, to make the tough decisions, the unpopular decisions, and pave a way for a new future so that
our children and grandchildren will not have to go through the same experiences and pains that we went through. I feel myself as totally serving the young generation.
MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister; always good seeing you. PRIME MIN. PERES: Thank you.
MR. KING: Our guest has been the prime minister of Israel, Shimon Peres.