Jerusalem, 15 October 2000

PM Barak talks to CNN Wolf Blitzer in his program "Late Edition"

Wolf Blitzer: Mr Prime Minister, welcome back to Late Edition. Its good to have you on our program. I want to begin with the news of the day, with this report that Hizbulla forces in Lebanon have supposedly captured an Israeli Army colonel. What can you tell us about this?

PM Barak: As of now, I dont know of any event along the border with Lebanon that could lead to such a result, but, you know, we cannot exclude the possibility that somewhere on Earth one of tens of thousands of Israelis who are spreading around the world have been hijacked and he happened to be a colonel in our reservist armed force.

WB: So at this point you cant confirm, you have no information, that a specific Israeli, another Israeli, has been taken prisoner by the Lebanese Hizbulla?

PM: As of know I dont have information, but I do not exclude it. Normally may I say the Hizbulla leaders would not announce something like this publicly if there is totally no basis for it.

WB: As you know, three Israeli soldiers were taken not long ago in Lebanon by the Hizbullah. They say that theyre prepared, the Hizbulla, to return those soldiers to Israel in exchange for more than a dozen Palestinian Lebanese detainees being held by Israel. Is Israel willing to make a deal along those lines for the return of its men?

PM: I believe that at the beginning of the 21st century, where all players are members of the UN, we have to set a norm saying that before an authorized international body gets access to them, nothing should be exchanged or could be put as a condition. I expect that they will allow immediately the Red Cross or the UN or some official of an American or British or Russian embassy to get access to them, and then they should be returned home. The whole event is a kind of blunt violation of UN Security Council Resolution 425, along which we pulled out from Lebanon, to the letter, and this attack is a violation and we keep the right to respond.

WB: But it doesnt sound like youre saying that under, that if that were to occur, that if there were these kinds of meetings, it could set the stage for some sort of exchange.

PM: First of all, we expect it to be settled that someone gets access to them, and then we would have to think, to contemplate what to agree. WB: Mr. Prime Minister, theres going to be this summit at Sharm e-Sheikh, the southernmost tip of Sinai, on Monday. Realistically, what has happened over the past two and a half weeks, realistically, what can be accomplished at Sharm e-Sheikh?

PM: I believe that an end to violence could be accomplished, and in a way should be accomplished. I believe that a mechanism for making a kind of tighter control, maybe an American- Israeli-Palestinian mechanism to make sure that the security understandings are working, and of course we expect it to accomplish a bringing back of the Hamas prisoners to prisons, putting an end to shooting at Israelis by Palestinian policemen and Tanzim people, at night or even during demonstrations, and we would expect an end to the incitement on the Palestinian mass media, and appropriate treatment of holy sites. All these elements, all the four elements that Ive mentioned, are blunt violations of the agreement that the PA and its chairman Arafat signed, with the American signature as a witness, as a kind of underwriting.

WB: The Palestinians, as you well know, say the immediate objective must be an international commission of inquiry to investigate the Israeli behavior, the Israeli military and police behavior, towards the Palestinians, that without that theres really nothing that can go forward. Are you ready to accept such an international commission of inquiry?

PM: We agreed to a fact-finding study committee to be nominated by the Americans, having the authority of the Americans, the Palestinians, and the Israelis. We did not even resist that there will be participation of experts, that will be recommended by the UN, or the EU, or the President of the United States, but we are against an investigation committee that will draw its authority from the UN, since our experience is that in this case, with all due respect to the UN institution, its more politics, or biased politics, than real fact-finding.

WB: Do you believe, Mr. Prime Minister, that the Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat is still committed to the peace process?

PM: I cannot penetrate his soul. I judge him by his behavior. According to his behavior, he launched a wave of violence in the last few weeks, when it was clear that there IS on the table a possible framework agreement which reflects greater flexibility by Israel than ever in the past, and he chose not to go for it. That means that he deliberately decided to prefer confrontation. The essence of it, on the one hand, for us, its something that we have to face open-eyed and stand firm to resist, but at the same time, Chairman Arafat takes upon himself a major responsibility for the possible deterioration of the whole region into a period of instability with unpredictable consequences, not just for the region.
And I believe that at this time there is no way to draw a moral equivalent between Israel, the only democracy here that protects the interests of this new world, and a group of leaders of the Palestinian people that became accepted leaders by the intervention or by the support that they got from the United States administration on the assumption that they will stop violence, that they will stop corruption, that they will stop incitement, they will begin to behave properly. I should admit that in this kind of expectation, the Palestinian Authority failed. And in their failure, they are leading the whole area into a quite risky situation.

WB: The fact of the matter is, though, that many Palestinians believe you are no longer committed to the peace process. What they are saying is that since the failed Camp David summit last summer youve been looking for what they call an exit strategy to abandon the concessions that you put forward on the table during those negotiations at Camp David.

PM: No, the opposite is true. Ive already proved that Im ready to leave no stone unturned on the way to see whether we have a partner. Unfortunately, we didnt find one, as President Clinton himself said at the end of Camp David. And the American people, and especially this administration, invested a LOT of time, energy, resources, and devotion, even emotion, in trying to put an end to it, and we are highly thankful for it. Unfortunately, the Palestinians were the side who resisted it, and did not allow it to happen. But, let me tell you. We will never lose our hope for peace. We will ultimately have peace with the Palestinian people. They are our neighbors. They are going to be here forever. We will in the end live side by side, as neighbors, in peace, with the same people who are now incited to demonstrate against us, those teachers and students who are now in the riots.
But, the leadership, seems to be unripe, and a leadership can change its mind. A leadership can open its eyes. A leadership can be replaced by its own people. Even if with this leadership, at this present time, we cannot make peace, we will never lose hope of making peace with our neighbors, the Palestinians, and we will always, whatever happens, leave a certain door open to a possible change of approach, or of attitude, on the other side.

WB: May Palestinians also say, Mr. Prime Minister, that if you bring Ariel Sharon and the Likud into your government and form a national emergency coalition, that in effect will totally end prospects for peace, that it would signal that the Israeli government, such a new Israeli government, is no longer committed to the peace process.

PM: Look, its once again propaganda. They are quite skilful in taking every situation and turning it on its head. Look, for example, at the visit of Arik Sharon to the Temple Mount. What it really showed is how should we look at Arafat as custodian of holy sites if this is the kind of free access, and if this is the kind of keeping of holy sites, that he can provide, it puts a major question mark on his demand to hold holy sites sacred for Christians and for Jews, and even for Muslims.
I dont think that Arik Sharon is the reason, hes the excuse. And a very comfortable one. I dont think it was the most brilliant idea of the year to conduct this visit with this timing on the Temple Mount, but the whole installation is the defender of Israel, the defender of its capital, and its open to visitors from every place.
But let me tell you more seriously, I dont think that you, as a democratic society, and we as a democratic society, can get any dictates from those who are less democratic, let me put it mildly, about who is eligible to be in government. Arik Sharon represents a legitimate movement that believes in security and peace they have differences of emphasis and approach from ourselves Arafat himself sat down with Arik Sharon for ten days, together with President Clinton, at Wye Plantation, and they sat together to write down an agreement. I do not believe that this or that person can change realitites.
We are determined to make peace. Im the prime minister. I will never let anyone lead me in a direction I dont want to go, and the real problem is with Arafat and the Palestinian leadership. I would like to mention to you that two weeks ago, Arafat invited all the leadership of Hamas to his cabinet meeting in Gaza, and they prayed together with them. Days afterwards, he released the most dangerous Hamas terrorists back to the streets, and we now are waiting to see the results. And I tell you very frankly, we will take all the means at our disposal to intercept those terrorist attacks, but if they will happen, I will hold not just the terrorists themselves but the Palestinian Authority who released them responsible.

WB: Mr. Prime Minister, the Secretary of State of the United States Madeleine Albright has an article in todays Washington Post, and among other things, she writes this: Palestinians feel victimized, powerless, and believe that their lives count for little. They have suffered immensely with 100 of their own killed, and thousands wounded, among them many children, and lives shattered by the use of deadly force. What a lot of people are asking, including friends of Israel like Madeleine Albright, is why does the Israeli military and police, after all these years of experience, have to use such deadly force in dealing with stone-throwing Palestinian demonstrators? Why is that necessary, given the death toll that has mounted in the past two and a half weeks?

PM: Wolf, you are a professional. Look very carefully into the picture of these demonstrations. We are not in Gaza. We are not in Nablus. Ninety-eight percent of the population are under Palestinian control. We are in a few isolated places. They are sending these innocent incited citizens against those isolated positions. But they send them deliberately, with policemen with weapons and Tanzim people with weapons. And from these very demonstrations they begin to shoot with rifles, and they deliberately take kids, its a crime.
You know, I was as shocked as any human being around the globe by the pictures of this young kid who was caught in the crossfire. But when you ask how did he get there, its not near his school, its not near his home, its near a remote isolated Israeli position. So if Arafat wants to lubricate with the blood of the Palestinian people the bringing back of international attention to his goals, it is legitimate, so to speak, but in a way its away a crime. And its something that should be condemned. He deliberately allowed this demonstration, with weapons, you can see in the pictures, they carry weapons, shooting them.
The real difference in the modern world between a legitimate leader who wants to be a head of state, member of the United Nations, and the head of a gang, is the monopoly on the use and holding of weapons. Any regime, including autocratic regimes in this region, makes sure that they and only they, are responsible for holding weapons, and that they are not used against someone else without a clear-cut order. But if Arafat wants to be a leader, and I hope he will, I hope he will change, he should put an end to it. He should put an end to the phenomenon of policemen shooting from within demonstrations at our soldiers; this means that there is no way to respond with a potential minimal death toll on the other side.
Let me tell you, for example. We launched for the first time last week, Thursday, attacks on five different installations of the Palestinian soldiers after the lynch of our soldiers in Ramallah. In all these five attacks together, that were on your TV as well as on all other screens in the world, there was not a single Palestinian death. We made a deliberately focused attack, we announced in advance what we were going to attack, we made it clear that when the attack is to come we shoot rounds in the vicinity in order to give an early warning, everyone went out, we watched it by drones, and we hit the target only after it became clear that no one would be killed. We cannot even propose to do it all along the confrontation if it continues. But this is the point here. We are making deliberate attempts to avoid, to minimize casualties, where he somehow mourns them and yet at the same time allows it, or even encourages it.

WB: Mr. Prime Minister, we only have a few seconds left. What happens if the Sharm-e-Sheikh summit fails?

PM: I hope it wont fail, but if it fails, we will have to face the realities. And I can repeat it once again, with the same determination, that we struggle to find a way to make pace with them, with the same determination that we will fight for our right to live here as a free, sovereign, democratic, open, pluralistic society within, or inside, this tough neighborhood of the Middle East, and we will fight, and we will expect honest people, honest governments all around the world, to stand by us.

WB: Mr. Prime Minister, I know this is a difficult period for you, but I want to thank you once again for joining us here on Late Edition. Thank you.

PM: Thank you, Wolf.  

 PM Barak talks to CNN Wolf Blitzer-15-Oct-2000
 PM Barak talks to CNN Wolf Blitzer-15-Oct-2000
Outbreak of Violence in Jerusalem and the Territories – Sept/Oct 2000