THE NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW WITH: ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU

FRIDAY, MAY 15, 1998

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Prime Minister Netanyahu has been in the United States addressing private groups and meeting with American officials who are trying to get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track. And he had lunch today in New York with the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Mr. Prime Minister, welcome.

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Thank you.

MS. FARNSWORTH: Bring us up to date on the negotiations. Are the talks between the U.S. and Israel at an impasse?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: No, I don’t think they are. We’re trying to find a creative way to overcome the differences between our views on redeployment. I have to stress that we are looking at the entire package — not only what is called the second redeployment, but also the third redeployment. We want to know the full amount of territory that we would redeploy from, and not just have it — string along one after the other. And of course we want to ensure that the Palestinians will carry out their part, which is fighting terrorism, annulling the PLO Charter that still calls for our destruction. All these things have to be put together in a package, and we are trying to do that. I cannot tell you right now if we will succeed. We are certainly trying.

MS. FARNSWORTH: But negotiators are meeting now as we speak?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Yes, they are, and I’ll meet with Mr. Ross in Washington when I get there just before I leave for Israel on Sunday. So we are making a full-court press to see if we can arrive at an agreement. I suppose if we do that’s one path. If we don’t, there are always ways to back out of a dead-end alley and try another way. But one way or another we are going to engage and try to arrive at a solution that would advance a real peace, a secure peace for us. So that’s the key word for us: security must be maintained both having Israel redeploy only from areas that the withdrawal from them will not jeopardize our security. And of course having the Palestinians fulfill their part of the equation that they haven’t fulfilled so far: they must fight terrorism.

MS. FARNSWORTH: You said in a speech last night to the American Jewish Committee in Washington, D.C., quote: "We are prepared to make concessions, and I gather we probably will — but not those that endanger our security." Could you tell us what concessions?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Well, you know that we are talking about terrain or land that does not have any Palestinians living on it. Palestinians now control 98 percent of the Palestinian population. The Palestinian Authority has under its jurisdiction all the land where all the Palestinians live. So the areas that we are talking about are empty areas — empty of Palestinians. This is not now a negotiation about the human rights about Palestinians who are living under Israeli occupation — none of them are — except two percent. We are talking about something else. We are talking about in fact areas that are, A, part of the ancestral Jewish homeland, Judea — that’s where the word "Jew" comes from. That’s where we have been for thousands of years. The same thing applies to Samara. These are areas that are very, very precious to us from an historical and national point of view.

But also they happen to be very important for us from the security point of view, because Israel is such a tiny country — it’s all of 40 miles wide — that’s the widest point. And if you were to take away all of the West Bank, just lop it off, we would be all of 10 miles or 15 miles wide. So we are looking at those areas, open areas empty of Palestinians that are less important, less vital for our security, and it is those areas that we are prepared to disengage from.

MS. FARNSWORTH: So right now would it be right to say that the negotiations are about percentages — 9 percent, 10 percent, 11 percent, 13 percent of Palestinian lands or of lands in the West Bank that you would withdraw from?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: These are not Palestinian lands.

MS. FARNSWORTH: I’m sorry, I meant land in the West Bank.

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: These are part of the ancestral land of the Jewish people, the land of Israel. It was also land from which we were attacked. The reason we are in those lands now is because we were attacked in them when Israel was indeed 10 or 15 miles wide. It was too tempting — the high ground above our cities controlled by an Arab army was too tempting a situation that it prompted a war. And we don’t want to get back to a situation where we are back to indefensible and vulnerable boundaries that would not bring peace but prompt another conflict. So in fact we are talking about, if you will, percentages or territory that we can redeploy from without creating such a temptation with maintaining security for our state and our people.

But we are also looking at the other side of the equation, and that is what have the Palestinians done. When are they going to do what they promised to do in the Oslo Accords and in the Hebron withdrawal accords that I signed — namely fighting terrorism, dismantling the terrorist organizations, annulling that covenant, stopping this inciteful propaganda — this incitement for violence that unfortunately produced the clashes that we have yesterday which tragically consumed the lives of innocent people. These are all the things that we have put on the table, and we are trying to tie the knot, if you will, around the entire package.

MS. FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Prime Minister, what would be the consequences if an agreement isn’t reached and the United States does withdraw from its mediating role? What would be the consequence for Israel?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: I don’t think any of us can withdraw from the quest for peace any more than any of us can withdraw from breathing. We have to breathe and we have to continue to seek peace. It is our mandate, it is our responsibility, and I don’t think anybody is about to walk away from that.

MS. FARNSWORTH: What do you think the dangers are now of increased violence in the West Bank and in Gaza and in East Jerusalem? There were shootings yesterday of Palestinian demonstrators, and there was a short amount of violence apparently today in East Jerusalem. Could that get worse now?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Well, I hope not, and I hope matters come back to relative tranquility at the very least. There was a shooting in response to Molotov cocktails thrown at Israelis by the rioters. Now, the rioters were incited by official callings, including by Mr. Arafat himself, in a rather inflammatory speech a day earlier broadcast on Palestinian television. You have to ask yourself what are they protesting about. Do you know what they are protesting about at this juncture, why they held these riots? I bet you don’t. But I’ll tell you they’re protesting about what they call the catastrophe, and the catastrophe occurred 50 years ago, and that is the founding of the Jewish state. They’re not protesting the present disposition of lands or percentages or anything of the kind. They conducted these full-scale riots under the direction of the Palestinian Authority to protest the creation of the Jewish state. And that is something that we find in the peace process with some people who are asking us to give them land right next to our cities — they’re not even accepting the creation of the Jewish state.

So I think there has to be a change of mind. This is no way to educate the Palestinian people for peace. There really has to be change of mind — not only in fighting terrorism and in stopping the fanning of violence, but also a public education that says to people, you know, "We’re for peace. We’re eschewing the path of war." And the simplest and the most important thing that the Palestinians could do would be to convene the Palestine National Council, which is thegoverning body of the Palestinian Authority which Mr. Arafat heads, and to have them ratify a letter that he sent President Clinton in which he said which items of the Palestinian charter that call for Israel’s destruction — which of them are null and void? I think we want to see that. And unless he can do that we have to ask what kind of peace is this. What kind of peace is it if you cannot say that the charter calling for Israel’s liquidation is null and void?

MS. FARNSWORTH: Okay, and just very quickly before we go, what is your best guess — do you think you will have an agreement before you go back to Israel?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: I hope we have progress to that effect. I want to advance security for Israel, because that is the foundation of a real peace. A peace without security is a sham — it won’t hold. But a peace that meets the security requirements that I believe are necessary for Israel’s future and the compliance requirements that the Palestinians will fulfill their obligations — if I have — if we progress towards that, and indeed conclude an agreement, I wouldn’t hesitate even a second to bring it before the Cabinet and before my coalition, and I am sure they will pass it.

MS. FARNSWORTH: Okay, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much for being with us.

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Thank you.