CNN Late Edition
March 11, 2001
Wolf Blitzer: Mr. Prime Minister, I want to begin right away with the peace process, the negotiations which, of course, have been suspended. You’ve said that you won’t resume those negotiations with the Palestinians until there’s an end to the violence. Why not talk, with the objective being to end the violence and begin the process once again?
PM Sharon: Myself and my government are committed to peace. We have chosen the road of peace. We know it’s not an easy thing. It will take a long time. We have a conflict with the Palestinians that started over 120 years ago, but we’ve decided to do it. And I’m sure that the day will come that we’ll achieve peace with the Palestinians, as with all our Arab neighbors.
I think that maybe it was the major mistake of the former Israeli government that agreed to negotiate under fire and under terror, because that only caused and brought about more demands from the Palestinians, and Israel made some more concessions. Israel became weaker and weaker. And the end was that, after major effort by the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Barak, we have not achieved peace and we have not achieved security.
Therefore, this government will have another policy. Although we are committed to peace, we will not negotiate under pressure. Because Israel is a tiny, small country, but it’s a country where the Jewish people have the right and the capability to defend themselves by themselves. And that is the most important thing, and we cannot give up this capability that we have. That is our responsibility.
Blitzer: Mr. Prime Minister, are you suggesting, therefore – and excuse me for interrupting – that until there’s a complete cessation of all violence, there will be no contacts, no talks whatsoever with the Palestinians in the hopes of resuming those negotiations?
PM Sharon: No, I spoke about the peace negotiations in a message conveyed to Chairman Arafat.
I said that I would like very much to ease the conditions of the Palestinians that live in the area, because I believe that we have to draw a very clear distinction between a terrorist and their supporters, and the people that would like just to go and work and bring some bread home and raise their children. So about the former, we have to take all the measures and all the steps which are necessary, of course without causing any escalations. With the latter, I believe we have to try and find a way how really to ease the condition of life. So that is the concept.
But when it comes to peace negotiation, that will not be, unless – although I want very much to negotiate, and am ready to negotiate, I believe that I am maybe one of the only ones who can bring peace to the region and stability to the area – but it should be quiet. That would be the difference between our government and the former government.
And I think that it’s not only that we suffer casualties, heavy casualties, but it’s a danger to the very existence of the State of Israel. It’s about those that act against us.
I think that we have, though, been very careful. I’ll make every effort that we’ll not cause any escalation of the situation, because I don’t think we need this. We have to be very careful, yet we have the right to defend our citizens. The Israeli citizens have the right to live in security. That one must understand.
Blitzer: Mr. Prime Minister, the Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat spoke out yesterday, delivered a major speech, and he sought to reach out to you, to the Israeli government. I want you to listen through a translator to what Mr. Arafat said yesterday, and I want to get your reaction. Listen to this.
VIDEO CLIP: YASSER ARAFAT (through translator): I called upon all Israeli leaders, regardless of their lines, to move forward toward this peace for the sake of our children and their children and for our future and their future. This peace can be achieved and can be the real, actual alternative to the state of daily killing imposed on
us. (END VIDEO CLIP)
Blitzer: He also said that he’s willing to accept a deal that achieves peace and security for Israel. Is he reaching out to you?
PM Sharon: I listened to what Arafat said. I was disappointed that he did not call for a cessation of hostilities. He did not give any instructions. I expect that he would do that.
But today I became even more disappointed when I read the interview that he gave to a Saudi newspaper that appeared today in the Arab press and media, in which he says that the terrorism will continue. And that means that Arafat – although peace is important for him no less than for ourselves, and although I believe that he should have made every effort to reach peace as we are making every effort to reach peace – that he had not left the way of terror.
And one must understand that in our part of the world, terrorism is not a tactical issue. In our region, terrorism is a strategic issue, because most of the wars, if not all of them, started in the Middle East as a result of terrorism. Therefore, and due to the fact that we have the right to exist here in peace and security, I think that Arafat has not reached yet the point that he understands that he’s now facing a different government, this government, which is committed to peace.
As for myself, I have seen all the horrors and fears of wars and I participated in all the wars of Israel, and I saw my friends being killed. Myself, I was very seriously injured twice in battle, and I’ve had to make decisions of life and death.
Therefore, I say for others and for myself, I believe I understand the importance of peace better than many of the politicians that speak about peace but never had that experience. But for me, peace should be peace for generations. For me, peace should be such a peace that will provide full security to the citizens of Israel.
Blitzer: Mr. Prime Minister, we only have a brief amount of time, so I just want to make sure that we understand your position. The Palestinians say they’re ready to resume the negotiations on the basis of where the negotiations left off with the previous Israeli government, the government of Ehud Barak. Are you saying that the concessions, the positions that that previous government made to the Palestinians are now off the table completely?
PM Sharon: Yes. I can only repeat what President Clinton said, and I think that Prime Minister Barak repeated that, that although it used to be called ‘Clinton’s principles’ and ideas, they do not exist anymore because Arafat didn’t accept them.
And I think that Prime Minister Barak, rightly so, repeated that in a letter that he sent, in a declaration, a government resolution. That all those attempts that he made – and I should admit that Prime Minister Barak has done something that no Prime Minister ever had done before, making such major concessions in order really to reach peace – but the fact was, that he has not reached peace. That means that that way was perhaps not the right way.
I understand that maybe it will take longer, because I believe that it should be reached step by step, gradually in a plan that I’ve described as a multi-staged plan, by which I believe gradually we’ll be able to reach peace. Of course, meanwhile, we’ll start negotiations once it will be quiet, and that should be very clear to the Palestinians. I believe that this way will lead to peace. Maybe it will take longer, but it will lead to peace.
Meanwhile, of course, we’ll have to take steps that will ease the conditions of Palestinian life.
There’s a famous saying that ‘it’s hard to be a Jew’. It’s also hard to be a Palestinian. I know that. And I would like to take all those steps, but first of all, there should be quiet.
Blitzer: Mr. Prime Minister, I know you’re coming to Washington to meet with President Bush on March 20. Do you want the new Bush administration to play an active role in the peace process along the lines that the Clinton administration played in trying to facilitate negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians?
PM Sharon: We always appreciated American support. I believe that maybe the best way is direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but of course I believe that American help will always be needed. Maybe not to such extent of, being involved, but we always will be appreciating every effort by United States.
But I think that basically, perhaps the most important thing is to have direct negotiations between the sides. And of course having many thanks for the good offices and advice, and for every effort that the American administration will be doing.
Blitzer: Will you ask President Bush when you come here to pardon Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy, the former U.S. Naval intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel?
PM Sharon: I think that it will be very, very important if Jonathan Pollard will be freed after so many years in prison.
Blitzer: So you will ask President Bush to do something about that?
PM Sharon: I will do that.
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