PM NETANYAHU’S INTERVIEW WITH TED KOPPEL ON "NIGHTLINE"

October 2, 1996

MR. KOPPEL: At this stage, at least, it seems abundantly clear that the Israelis feel they got far more out of the summit than did the Palestinians. Prime Minister Netanyahu, however, was at pains to portray the meeting as having been a step in the right direction for everyone.

We were just chatting before we began talking. It’s sort of what I call the Time Magazine/Newsweek version of, you know, the sort of little details that put a little bit of flesh onto what otherwise seems like a hard-to-grasp story. Tell me about the you were left initially you and King Hussein and President Arafat went to lunch together yesterday.

PM NETANYAHU: Mmm-hmm. That’s right.

MR. KOPPEL: And then, without your knowing about it, the president and the king, by pre-arranged signal, got up and left.

PM NETANYAHU: No, no. We knew they’d they did, but they left and I stayed with Mr. Arafat. He brought in one of his aides. I brought in one of mine. He brought another one. I brought another one. And this started filling up the room. And at one point I suggested, "Mr. Chairman, maybe we should reduce the numbers and stay really four eyes," which we did. And we started talking and ended up talking for about four hours.

MR. KOPPEL: You clearly I mean, I’m going to make this as a statement, and I suppose your high office now requires that you will reject it in some form, but you don’t like each other as people. You don’t have to. That’s not your job to like one another. I would assume that you hold him directly responsible, among other things, for the death of your brother. That’s a difficult thing for you to deal with, isn’t it?

PM NETANYAHU: I think that one of the things that I believe should guide me is a sense of responsibility. We are thrust, Arafat and I, into a position where we both are heading our respective peoples and governments to try to achieve peace. There is no other partner. He cannot choose a different partner from me. I cannot choose a different partner from him. And Palestinian children and Israeli children are waiting to see what will happen.

So we have a tremendous responsibility to try to make this thing work, and that is what informs me. And I’d like to think it’s what informs him.

MR. KOPPEL: Now you’re sounding like Shimon Peres

PM NETANYAHU: I think

MR. KOPPEL: before the election.

PM NETANYAHU: I think I negotiate differently, but I think I’m no different from him in the desire for peace. This idea that has been foisted on a good part of world opinion and a good part of Palestinian and Arab opinion that I don’t want peace would be funny if it didn’t have tragic dimensions to it, because if you think that the Israeli side doesn’t want peace, then you can almost hypnotize yourself to distrust everything that we do, not believe in any statement that we make, not take every delegation that we bring forward seriously, and get yourself into a state of self-induced despair, which then produces all sorts of other consequences.

If something good can come out of this summit, it is at least a degree of greater mutual trust between Arafat and myself, a degree of greater mutual understanding, to start working towards peace for our children, for our peoples.

MR. KOPPEL: Now, the question of mutual trust. Do you trust Arafat any more today than you did two days ago?

PM NETANYAHU: I think we can have greater understanding, which is part of trust. I think he can know he can understand where I’m coming from, and I think I can understand his concerns better, because we put on the table everything.

MR. KOPPEL: Do you think he trusts you any more than he did two days ago?

PM NETANYAHU: He probably knows me better than he did two days ago, too.

MR. KOPPEL: But not trust.

PM NETANYAHU: I think we’re moving in that direction. I think one of the things we could do is to put all the issues, all the outstanding issues in that conversation we literally went over everything. We also had obviously (moments of relief?). But we discussed seriously how to achieve security.

I explained to him that my concerns in redeploying in a place like Hebron is what happens to that Jewish mother with a small child who is living in the Jewish quarters, surrounded by the hills that would not be taken up by the Palestinian police with rifles, who are supposed to protect her and her child. And I said, "Would she be able to trust that policeman not to fire at her, after she just witnessed that happening all over the place?"

MR. KOPPEL: And he said?

PM NETANYAHU: Well, he said that we could find ways to do it. And that’s exactly the kind of things that we were talking about, how to put new security arrangements in light of a new situation. So if we could find the marriage, the right balance between security and the accords and I believe it’s possible to find it then we shall surprise a lot of people. And I know a lot of people right now listening to us probably are not sure that that is going to be the case, and I know there’s a lot of disaffection in parts of the Arab world and parts of the Palestinian community.

MR. KOPPEL: Well, and part of the problem, Prime Minister, quite frankly, as you well know, and as I think even most viewers are sophisticated enough to know, everyone has to speak to his own constituency. And I read you the lead of the Associated Press wire that ran actually it’s a Reuter story. "Israel claimed victory at the emergency White House summit on ending violence with Palestinians Wednesday, saying it had conceded nothing." It then goes on to quote the Israeli cabinet secretary, Danny Naveh, "Palestinian officials branded the meeting called by President Clinton a failure."

Now, there are two views of the same meeting. Danny Naveh was talking to a domestic audience. He was talking to Israeli Radio when he said that. That’s not the way, I’m fairly confident, that you’re going to characterize it right now, talking to an American audience.

PM NETANYAHU: An Israeli audience I just spoke to.

MR. KOPPEL: You’re not going to call this a victory.

PM NETANYAHU: No.

MR. KOPPEL: And yet you’re well satisfied with what happened.

PM NETANYAHU: I’ll be satisfied when we start negotiations for security arrangements and for peace. I don’t want to use those terms, and I’m sorry that they were used. That’s not our idea. It’s not a you know, it’s not one of those elbow- bending exercises, "I’ll bend you or you’ll bend me." We have to establish a different framework. I think we began doing it. I think the test is now what we do on the ground. For Arafat, this means to keep the peace, stop the incitement on the Palestinian side, and make sure that those rifles are used for peaceful means or for the sake of stopping terrorism, not being trained on Israelis.

On our side, what it means is moving on those parts of the Oslo accords that are left open that we are committed to, and to do it.

And I’m not telling you that it’s going to be easy. It’s not going to be easy. But I’m committed to do it. I’m committed to do it, because if you undertake an agreement, keep it. And if he undertook an agreement, he should keep his side of the bargain.

MR. KOPPEL: Well

PM NETANYAHU: We spent a good time talking about the devil in the details.

MR. KOPPEL: Exactly.

PM NETANYAHU: We spent a good time talking about the devil.

MR. KOPPEL: I’ll bet. And that’s one of the things I want to get back to… Mr. Prime Minister, a couple of things we need to talk about. Number one, I quoted one of your staff as talking about the Israeli victory. You’re uncomfortable with that description. It is quite clear, in talking to a number of aides to President Arafat, that he is going home in a very glum frame of mind. That, ironically, can’t please you either.

PM NETANYAHU: That’s correct. That’s correct. I don’t think there should be winners and losers. I think we’ll all win if we make measurable progress towards peace, and we’ll all lose if we don’t.

MR. KOPPEL: You’ve made it very clear that as long as you are prime minister of Israel, the Israeli government is not going to make concessions, in effect, at the point of a rifle, in response to violence. The flip side of that coin is if things are quiet, let’s say, for the next two weeks, three weeks, a month I don’t know what kind of a time period you have in mind there’s going to come a point at which President Arafat can say, justifiably, "All right, the Israelis don’t want to respond to violence, but now they have a moral obligation to be responsive when I have demonstrated our good will." What are you willing to do in the event that he fulfills his part of the bargain?

PM NETANYAHU: I think we have to disabuse ourselves of one idea. It is not that the path to peace is purchased in segments. "We stop the violence for three weeks; now make some progress. And if you don’t, we’ll resume the violence." I think the most important thing that President Clinton, who should be credited for arranging this summit, the most important thing that President Clinton said was that violence is not an option. It’s not a negotiating technique.

When you decide to come to the negotiating table, when you decide to come to make peace and negotiate peace, you put violence aside. We’re going to have ups and downs in this negotiation; believe me, a lot of difficulties. But every time I have a grievance or Mr. Arafat has a grievance, I suggest a better mechanism than violence. We should pick up the phone, talk to one another.

MR. KOPPEL: Did you pick up the phone before you made your decision to open that tunnel? Did you call him, say, "I’m going to do it"?

PM NETANYAHU: No, I didn’t call him on that, but I called him very soon afterwards. It took about a day to find him. And we started talking in the midst of crisis, and I think we nipped the worst thing in the bud. It got

it was accelerating toward something and escalating toward something that neither one of us wanted.

And at 2:00 in the morning I called him up. I first tried to reach him from Bonn Airport. I was visiting Chancellor Kohl in Europe when this happened. We didn’t expect it to happen. And then I reached him at night and I said, "We are about to have a major escalation," because some of our soldiers were pinned in a place called Joseph’s Tomb by hundreds of Palestinians who were firing at them.

And I had to make a decision to use overwhelming force and enter and rescue them or to try to call Arafat, as I said, and tell him, "You use your influence and your force and your forces to stop it." And I suggested a number of things that he would do. He did them immediately. And I think that was the beginning of the turning of the tide. So, yes, we talked. I wish we had talked more, and I wish we could have stopped what had happened. But it’s now our obligation to do that for the future.

MR. KOPPEL: Let me suggest to you, Prime Minister, with all due respect, that before you opened the door of that tunnel, before you broke through those last few inches of the tunnel, that you knew exactly what you were doing. I mean, I’ve known you too long to believe that you were surprised to believe that you would be in any way amazed at the Arab reaction. But I think that what you were doing by that and you’ll obviously correct me if I’m wrong is that you were saying to Arafat and to the Palestinians, "Jerusalem is ours, and we will do in Jerusalem precisely what we want to do."

PM NETANYAHU: That is true in the sense of our policy, but it is not true in the sense of our or my assessment of the degree of provocation that would accompany this decision.

MR. KOPPEL: But the Palestinians are simultaneously saying, as you know, "East Jerusalem is going to be the capital of a Palestinian state." So you must have known that when you so visibly and in such a strong symbolic fashion demonstrated your hold over, your control over and your unwillingness to bend on any issues that deal with Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, that you were, in effect, sticking your finger right in Arafat’s eye.

PM NETANYAHU: Except for one thing. You should understand this. First of all, it’s not our policy to stick the finger in anyone’s eyes, but Jerusalem is our capital. Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years, and it will remain so. That is not the issue.

But even within Jerusalem, sovereign Jerusalem united under Israel, there is a holy place, the Temple Mount. We don’t we’re very, very careful with that. When we think there are violations by the Muslim authorities on the Temple Mount, I take special pains not to do anything rash, to bend over backwards and to respect the Muslim and, for that matter, the Christian holy places as though they were Jewish holy places. That’s our policy.

In the case of the tunnel, what we didn’t anticipate is that there would be an attempt to tie that to an affront to the holy places, which are a quarter of a kilometer away and have nothing to do with it.

MR. KOPPEL: All right, so you knew it would upset the Palestinians. You miscalculated the degree of upset and the manner in which they

PM NETANYAHU: Not miscalculated, but we didn’t expect the Palestinians to turn it into a religious issue when it patently is not. It’s got nothing to do with the mosques. It’s got nothing to do with the holy places. And one of the things

MR. KOPPEL: But it was a power move.

PM NETANYAHU: It wasn’t a power move. It was a move to make a tunnel that has been there for 2,000 years open in one end.

MR. KOPPEL: A tunnel which

PM NETANYAHU: We broke a 20-centimeter

MR. KOPPEL: A tunnel which Shamir didn’t open, a tunnel which Rabin didn’t open, a tunnel which Peres didn’t open, precisely because all the experts told them, "That’s going to be problematic."

PM NETANYAHU: It’s not what my experts told me; I can tell you that. And they admitted as much, I must say, very courageously and openly. But the important thing right now is not that. We can have differences with the Palestinians on Jerusalem. We do. But we do not have any differences on the respect for the holy sites. We will always absolutely and rigorously respect the Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites as if they were the same.

MR. KOPPEL: … We were talking about the devil that lies in the details of negotiations like this. The Oslo accords and I don’t want to get stuck in details of the Oslo accords but one of the points that was made to me by one of your aides is that the Oslo accords are quite ambiguous when it comes to the location, the number, the places of Israeli forces on the West Bank in terms of affording Israel its security. That was not spelled out in the Oslo accords.

PM NETANYAHU: That’s correct.

MR. KOPPEL: So when you talk about living up to the Oslo accords, and when Yasser Arafat talks about living up to the Oslo accords, it’s safe to assume that the two of you, when it comes to the issue of how many Israeli troops are going to be where on the West Bank in years to come, are talking about totally different things.

PM NETANYAHU: Sure. Of course we have differences in the final settlement. But the way the accords are structured is that they define an interim agreement, which is fairly clear, and obliges both of us to do certain things. And then it opens it up into this open question of what is the future going to look like between Israelis and Palestinians.

MR. KOPPEL: But the language is deliberately I say deliberately from those who negotiated it deliberately ambiguous.

PM NETANYAHU: That’s correct.

MR. KOPPEL: And I don’t think it’s unfair to assume that the Palestinians are not going to be at all happy when they find out what Benjamin Netanyahu has in mind to preserve the security of the West Bank. Now, I have no idea what you have in mind, but I’m assuming you’re going to be as tough as you’ve always been.

PM NETANYAHU: I’m going to try to fashion an agreement. That’s the first thing try to fashion an agreement, which means not to impose any kind of settlement. That means that we’ll sit down and negotiate final settlement. The Palestinians will bring what they want and we’ll bring what we want.

At the end of the day, I can’t tell you what will happen, but I know what I’d like to see happen. I’d like to see the Palestinians run their own affairs, govern themselves, have their own administration, their own representatives. But I’d like Israel to retain control of those things that are important for Israel’s life security, air rights. It’s a tiny country; the question of the control of the borders, other areas that I think water those areas that I think define whether we live or die.

MR. KOPPEL: In other words, all the most important things to both sides. If you’re talking about the Palestinians controlling the cities, the towns, the villages, and the Israelis, in effect, controlling everything in between

PM NETANYAHU: No, that’s not necessarily what I have in mind.

MR. KOPPEL: Not necessarily, but

PM NETANYAHU: I have a certain conception that basically says that at the close of the 20th century, we have to look for different models than the one of military subjugation, on the one hand, and absolute unlimited self-determination on the other hand. You have a lot of places in the world where nationalities are embedded in other nationalities, and you don’t have to pry each apart to create out of a system of, say, 180 states, 380 states, each with their own army, their own weapons, their own, God forbid, non- conventional weapons.

I think other models are possible, and one such model allows a national group to run its own affairs, run its lives, and allows the other to at least have control over the security aspects that determine whether peace will hold. It’s got to be applicable in a lot of places; in the former Soviet republics, in parts of Eastern Europe, soon maybe parts of Western Europe. I think we need a new model, and we may have to develop it as we move to the final settlement. But that remains ahead of us.

What we have right now before us is an agreement to negotiate peace. And I’m committed to do it. I really would like to move this process forward for peace. And I will do it with Arafat.