Interview with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
CBN News

28 October 1998

PAT ROBERTSON: Last time we were together, it didn’t look like any accord was going to be reached. Now you’ve got the Wye accords. What’s the accomplishment? What do you think is the big move in this meeting?

Prime Minister BENJAMIN NETANYAHU (Israel): Just to put some checks and balances on a process that was a runaway process. Up to now, under the Oslo accords, Israel was understood by the Palestinians to have one function — three actually: to give, give and give. And the Palestinians had three functions: to receive, receive and receive. But, of course, that’s not what the real deal is about. Israel is expected to give some land, and we’ve tried to reduce the amount and we have. And the Palestinians are supposed to give concrete implementation of provisions that they promised to do, like fighting terrorism, like canceling their charter that calls for the destruction of Israel, like collecting illegal weapons — all these things that they promised to do and never got down to doing. So for the first time, what we did is tie these two things together. They do certain things, they get a bit of territory. They do other things, they get a little more territory, and so on.

ROBERTSON: So you’re not just making a grant of land and trusting the promises of Yasir Arafat.

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Well, I believe in a dictum that I heard in this city once by a great leader. It’s called trust, but verify.

ROBERTSON: OK. How strong a role did President Clinton play in this one?

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: I think he played a very important role. He was a facilitator. You know, it’s true that at the end of the day, only the two parties and the two leaders can find the resources within themselves to do what is required to do to achieve an equitable and, I believe, a secure peace deal. But it helps to have a helper, and President Clinton provided an important helping hand.

ROBERTSON: You were very effusive in your remarks.You know, he was facing impeachment, and there are some who think that this accord may well have stopped the process and saved his presidency.

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Listen, don’t get me into your local politics. I have enough of mine.

ROBERTSON: OK. Well, tell me — you’ve got a no-confidence vote coming up on Monday. It looks as if you may have disarmed the Labor critics by this peace accord. Is that true?

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Oh, they’ll find a way to come back. Don’t worry.

ROBERTSON: But for now you’ll survive.

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: For now, yes.

ROBERTSON: Well, what about your critics on the right? There are people in the religious community who are criticizing this very bitterly. What do you say to them?

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Look first of all, I understand that I share with them the most powerful attachment to every inch of that land, because it’s the land of our forefathers. It’s the land of the Jewish people. It’s part of our homeland. I did not make that original deal. I inherited it, and responsible governments have what is called, ‘a continuity of contracts.’ You don’t just cancel international contracts. But I did say, before I was elected and after I was elected, I said, ‘Look. I’ll keep the deal under two conditions. One is, I’ll minimize the land and I’ll make sure that the Palestinians keep their part of the deal.’ And I’ve done that. I think the Palestinians were expecting to get, roughly, 90 — maybe 92 percent of Judaea and Samaria, what they call the West Bank, at the end of this redeployment process, and they ended up now with about 13 percent addition. So I think we’ve done a pretty good deal in negotiating. But it’s still very, very difficult for me. It’s very difficult for me, and I understand my critics. I will only tell them that they are the ones who supported me, and when they supported me, we were honest about what we were gonna do and we’ve kept the faith. And we never forget our attachment to the land, and there’s a hell of a lot to still struggle for.

ROBERTSON: Sure. You once asked me a rhetorical question before you were elected. You said, ‘Would you, Pat, trust the security of your family to the promises of Yasir Arafat,’ — is there something changed now? Are you trusting those promises?

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Welll, the answer to your question is that I don’t leave it to promises. That’s exactly the difference between what we did. They promised and promised and promised and I said, ‘Now wait a minute, no more promises. What we need now is actual implementation, concrete carrying-out of what you said.’ If you carry it out, we’ll give you some land. If you carry the next step out, give you some land. So it’s a very tight deal and it’s the right way to go about it. I mean, if you did a contract with somebody you trust or somebody you don’t particularly trust — it depends whichever party you choose. You would still assure that the contract is structured in such a way that you don’t end up in a one-way giveaway, but that you receive something on your side of the bargain. And that’s what I did. That’s what good negotiators do.

ROBERTSON: Yasir Arafat told me that he couldn’t control Hamas, and yet, this agreement indicates he’s going to try to. Do you think he can accomplish it?

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Well, we expect 100 percent effort. We may not get 100 percent results, but we certainly expect 100 percent effort and we we have tremendous information. We have very, very good intelligence. We know if they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing and you will know. And we expect the United States to play here the role of an honest monitoring partner and tell the truth.

ROBERTSON: What is the PLO? They’re moving for a state, and yet, I understand you don’t want them to have a state. A hundred nations indicate they might support such a state, but what is it now? What do you consider the PLO?

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Well, listen, all of humanity supported in the 20th century propositions that proved to be catastrophic and very few people stood and argued differently. I fully support the Palestinians’ right to govern themselves. They now control 98 percent of the Palestinians. Ninety-eight percent of the Palestinians now live under Palestinian rule, not under Israel, under the Palestinian Authority headed by Arafat. So there’s no more argument of so-called occupation. They have their own lot. They have their own life. And we want them to have their own life. So the territories that we’re going to negotiate about from now on, are empty of Palestinians. They don’t live there. But they’re full of our history, they’re full of our national attachments, they’re full of security implications for us. And we don’t want a Palestinian state that expands to make Israel 10 miles wide. It will be indefensible.

ROBERTSON: Well, are you saying that this agreement, pretty much, shuts off any further, if I can use the term, encroachment of the PLO into what is known as Judaea and Samaria.

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: It leaves, basically, the bulk of what is there — now we have to do is to negotiate a final settlement that will allow for a balance, a permanent peace that takes into account the Palestinians’ desire to run their own lives and Israel’s desire to protect its life. And I believe such a balance could be struck. But when I say that I’m opposed to a Palestinian state, it is not that I’m opposed to the Palestinians governing their lives. I don’t have any problem with that. They’re doing that anyway. But I am opposed to a sovereign state that could make a deal with Saddam Hussein or with the ayatollahs in Iran and bring in Iraqi or Iranian soldiers on the hills above Tel Aviv. Peace would not survive. So there would have to be a necessary curtailment of certain sovereign powers in the Palestinian entity that would prevent them from posing a mortal threat to the Jewish state.

ROBERTSON: So that means that, actually, it will always exist within the confines of a greater Israel. Is that correct or not?

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Well, we certainly think that on the West, on the populated coastal strip where the majority of Israelis live, and on the East, there’s the Jordan Valley, which is the gateway to any invasion against Israel. And what we want to do is, of course, secure our eastern protective ramparts, but, of course, the Palestinians could go through them. They’d have a gateway, anyway, through Jericho to the east — all these names must resonate with your audience.

ROBERTSON: Oh, of course, they do. They’re places that we all love, whether it’s Hebron or Jerusalem or Bethlehem or whatever.

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Well, it’s the same for me. And I am doing everything that I can to protect our patrimony and within the confines of an agreement that I inherited — I think, an agreement that had many flaws in it. I am seeking to correct it, to put things right and give a secure peace for Israel, a secure peace for our neighbors, and I believe that I am achieving that.

ROBERTSON: Well, now you agreed, as I understand, to an airport in Gaza and it seems like a port. I don’t know. Was that part of the agreement? Are you going to work toward a port?

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: We have an agreement to enable them to build a port, the Palestinians, but only if we can assure the security supervision of Israel. That’s been a very difficult. How do you supervise what comes into a port? It’s easier to do on an airplane. You know, if an airplane lands, Israel will now check the planes to make sure you don’t have Stinger missiles brought in there.

ROBERTSON: Well, that’s what I was wondering. They could import weapons.

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Not through the airport, I think, we’re fairly confident.

ROBERTSON: You’re safe on that?

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Yeah, we know how to do that. But I don’t think anybody’s really devised a way to hermetically seal a port. Ships come in and crates come in and so on, and how do you check that? It’s very, very difficult. And that’s what holding up the port.

ROBERTSON: I looked at a map of the West Bank territory, and it’s a crazy quilt of various types of jurisdiction. How can you possibly police it?

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Well, with great effort. And again, we’re not in the Palestinian areas; they’re in the Palestinian areas. But we want to make sure that those areas do not continue to be used as safe havens and as launching grounds for terrorist attacks against us. And that was precisely the problem we had with the first few years of the Oslo accords. The deal was, they get territory and fight the terrorists from within that territory. They got the territory and we got a mass of terrorism, 10-fold, anything that we experienced before, hitting the cities of Israel from terrorist organizations, organizing themselves, arming themselves, launching themselves from the Palestinian territories. So what I insisted on — this is what took so long, nine days and nights, to arrange assurances, concrete assurances, that the Palestinians would do their part and now it remains to be seen. If they do their part, we’ll do our part. But they must do their part.

ROBERTSON: Well, this is an unusual role for the CIA to be watchdog. Do you think they can be effective in this role?

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Well, sure, they can be effective, and I hope they’ll do a good job and I expect them to do an honest job because our lives are at stake. It’s very clear that what Israel is supposed to give territory, and thereby, taking on ourselves those certain implications. But what’s very clear what the Palestinians have to do when we look at them, we have to make sure that they actually do it.

ROBERTSON: What about the holy sites? Are the Palestinians going to be required, in some fashion, to give access to Jews and Christians to these various holy sites?

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: They do, but in this case, I don’t think there are any holy sites on the territory that we’re talking about. I’m I’m very familiar with our country and our land. Well, they have it, and in Hebron, we made sure that the Jewish quarter remained and that the tombs of our forefathers and foremothers, if one could say that — of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish nation were buried there — that we would maintain control and have access to these sites. This is what we live for. This is what I live for.

ROBERTSON: The Palestinian charter — Yasir Arafat told me that he had made a speech that took away any threat of the existence of Israel and,

yet, it’s still in the charter. They’ve promised now to take it out. Do you believe that President Clinton can effectuate that action?

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Well, they promised to do it and they have to do it. You know, if you turn the Internet on, you can put it on the PLO side, you’ll find that charter still calling for Israel’s destruction on the books and on the screens. So that’s gotta go. I mean, they promised that five years ago, and I expect them to do it. And we not only expect them to do it, we’ve created a mechanism to make sure that their governing body, Palestine National Council, reaffirms the elimination of those articles that calls for Israel’s destruction. And we expect them do it and not shirk from it.

ROBERTSON: What about Jonathan Pollard? I have led some initiatives of the Bush administration to have him released from what seems to be an unusually harsh confinement. Were you successful? I know it’s in the press, but what do you think of that?

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Well, evidently I haven’t been successful, but I had hoped that he would be released at this juncture because — understand that Pollard did a terrible thing and he’s been punished for it. He’s been in 13 years, virtually, of solitary confinement. Whatever he did and the mistake that he did was not done to hurt the United States but to help Israel. And I can tell you that he has served his time and for the first time, I’ve come clean what previous governments only implied. I said, forthrightly, ‘Yes. He was working for us. Yes, he wanted to give us information on things like Saddam Hussein and his plans to threaten Israel.’ But he’s served his time, and I hope that the American people and Mr. Clinton and the people who advise him find the mercy in their hearts to let him go. Let him go to Israel.

ROBERTSON: Well, the report was that he knows some secret means of communication of intelligence information; that if he’s set free, it will be a great security problem. I can’t buy that. It doesn’t seem logical after this many years.

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Well, all I can say is that the information that he gave us, to the best of my knowledge, in no way implicates American security.

ROBERTSON: And are you hopeful that maybe the President will work on his release.

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: I certainly am because, you know, it’s always been said I have to take difficult decisions and did, and I put my own personal, political future at risk, and I did it in order to achieve peace with security. I’m also releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners as part of this deal..people who’ve made abject offenses against Israeli security and Israeli citizens. I had hoped that the United States, too, would — in addition to offering great hospitality in the fields of the Wye Plantation and President Clinton’s own important involvement — I had hoped that there would be an opportunity, when we have this new beginning here, to find the ways to release Pollard and I still hope that that will be the case.

ROBERTSON: Oh,I join you in that. One last question. The reports are that this peace agreement is very well-received in Israel. This actually strengthens you.

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Well-received. Well, we shall see about that. I think the majority of the people understand that we negotiated very, very firmly, very toughly for the best deal that Israel could get, and ensuring security, which is the foundation of any real peace in our part of the world. I think people understand that and I think, at the end of the day, most — I hope all of my coalition colleagues will understand that. They know it’s true in their hearts. The question is: Will they let it come out? And if it were easy, you know, we wouldn’t have these kinds of efforts and this kind of nine days. But, you know, I walked today in Washington, DC. It was one of the most memorable moments that I’ve had. My wife and I, we walked and sort of toured the monuments. We did the monuments, like tourists. You know, we did the monument tour on foot, and I haven’t done that in years, you know. Last time I was in Washington, I went to the Lincoln Memorial and I did that today. And I was just moved beyond words. I’m always moved when I read the greatest speech ever given, the Gettysburg Address. And we know what happened to Lincoln. And then you go on to the other great memorials. And I saw today something that I hadn’t seen. In addition to the exceptional Vietnam Memorial, I saw something that moved me a lot. I saw the Korean War Memorial, which had a platoon of soldiers, actually, a squad of soldiers, of American soldiers, plotting in the fields of Korea in a rain-soaked day, and I looked at that, and I was reminded of the times that I led my soldiers on the fields of Israel and the many sacrifices that we had sacrificed and the comrades and relatives who fell in battle, and I had hoped that we would achieve for our people what you’ve achieved for America — peace and prosperity and

security. And that’s what I’m trying to achieve for my country.

ROBERTSON: Well, may the good Lord who watches over us all give you just that wish, because I know we pray and hope for that very thing for Israel. Thank you so much.

Prime Minister NETANYAHU: Well, I know you do. Thank you very much, Pat.