INTERVIEW WITH ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER YITZHAK RABIN

CNN INTERNATIONAL WORLD REPORT – MONDAY, MAY 2, 1994

THE ROOTS OF THE CONFLICT:

Allow me first to say one has to distinguish between the roots of the conflict and the present situation, and how to solve it. Unfortunately, for almost 100 years, especially in the last 46 years, the problem was, on the Arab side, the rejection of the reconciliation with Israel as a Jewish independent state. The real problem and the main obstacle that any Arab leader a leader of a country or leader of the people had to overcome before we could speak peace to him, was to reconcile and I stress not to recognize, but to reconcile with the existence of Israel as a Jewish, viable, independent state.

Allow me also to tell you that in the past, at least, no Arab leader ever started even to think about having peace with us unless he realized that through the use of violence, terror, threats of war, wars, he could achieve more. Unfortunately, too many wars have been waged between the Arab countries and Israel. Too many confrontations have taken place between the Palestinians and us.

The really historic breakthrough that brought about the beginning of the peace and proved that peace between the Arab world is not anymore a dream or a hope, was the decision of President Sadat of Egypt in November, ’77, after a very bitter war, the Yom Kippur war, the 1973 war, and certain interim agreements that brought him to Jerusalem in the search for peace. It was the most courageous, daring move by any Arab leader so far. He was the person that led his country to the last almost all the wars that were brought up in the Middle East. He decided to divert from the cause of wars and to embark on the cause of peace.

Allow me, again, to say, peace cannot be imposed; peace and imposition are in basic contradiction. We cannot impose peace on any Arab people, on any Arab country. At the same time, no Arab country, no Arab people can impose peace on us. And in the world in which we live, with all due respect to the United States, to Russia, to the European Community, to the international community, no one of them, and all of them together, cannot impose peace. Peace has to be decided by the present parties to the conflict. Only the parties to the conflict can put an end to bloodshed, to violence, terror, wars, and establish relations for peace. And the others can help, can assist, but cannot come instead of them.

CHANGES IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Unfortunately, after we signed the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979, over 15 years ago, no Arab leader followed President Sadat’s major steps toward peace, and we had to wait till two major changes took place: One on the international scene the collapse of the Soviet empire, the bankruptcy of communism, the end of the Cold War; and another event that took place in the Middle East I refer to the crisis in the Persian Gulf, where a major war started when an Arab country, out of the blue, attacked another Arab country, occupied it and its streets, and the firm position of the United States and the international community by sending half a million soldiers to make sure that aggression would not pay. This is the problem, not only of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It’s a problem of the Middle East, in which there are many conflicts, and thank God, at least with regard to to the war in the Persian Gulf, no one could accuse Israel of being responsible to it.

The United States and the Soviet Union at the beginning, later Russia, really carried out a lot of activities to bring about the peace conference in Madrid, that the basic principle of it was letter of invitation that serves since then as the basis for the negotiations between Israel and each four Arab partners, the Palestinians, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, to create at least peace between the inner circle of the Arab countries neighboring to Israel in addition to Egypt, and reach the Palestinians.

When I took this office as the Prime Minister after the elections in ’92 in Israel, the government decided, to keep the framework of the Madrid Peace Conference and the negotiations that followed it, but to put to it a different content. I served my country for 27 years as a soldier. I believe that we fought only when there was no choice. When the United Nations decided about the partition of the former British mandate over Palestine to two states, Israel and an Arab state, we accepted, the Arab world rejected. Not only rejected, went to war. Whenever they go to war, they lose. This war created the Palestinian problem. In that war that was initiated by the Arab world, there was the Arab world, there was no one Palestinian state, and the tragedy of the Palestinian people started while we had to go on to be prepared to defend ourselves, to face wars that were imposed on us.

We are proud of the fact that we have never dragged one foreign soldier to fight our wars. Our people are capable of defending ourselves against any threat from the outside. But I believe the time has arrived, the opportunities are ahead of us, not just to be strong, not just to be sure that in war we will not lose, but to change realities in the region, to bring about peace and for us peace that will not give us security has no meaning. At the same time, I, my government, realize that without making painful compromises by the two sides, peace will not be achieved. In weighing the situation in the negotiations, we realize that the key for any major move towards peace lies either in the negotiations between us and the Palestinians or between us and Syria.

TALKS WITH THE PALESTINIANS

Many people, rightly or wrongly, believe that the core or the heart of the Arab-Israel conflict is the Palestinian problem. I don’t believe that this is the case, but many believe in it. We decided to take a major step that was inconceivable to many Israelis over a year ago, to reach an agreement with the PLO headed by Chairman Arafat, realizing that among the Palestinians the PLO is the only option to be a meaningful partner to Israel on two conditions:

– One, that we reach a basic agreement on the Declaration of Principles that will guide us how to move from the present situation into a permanent solution in two phases, creating an interim agreement, hopefully to change the realities of the ground, to try to reduce the suspicion, hatred and and animosity, and later on to negotiate under different conditions, under different realities, the permanent solution.

– And second, the exchange of letters between Chairman Arafat and myself that brought about the mutual recognition that in essence the PLO has to make a decision not to use terror and to condemn and denounce terrorism to see that the future solution of the problems between the Palestinians, headed by the PLO and us, would be done by peaceful means, negotiations. To look at the Palestinian covenant 28 out of its 33 articles denied the right of Israel to exist. In the letter of exchange that Chairman Arafat sent to me, he said that these articles are not operative and are not valid any more. And we expect that once the PNC, the Palestinian National Council, will really change all these articles, we’ll reach the agreement.

Now we are on the verge of conclusion of the agreement and signing hopefully on Wednesday, the agreement about the implementation of the first phase of the Gaza-Jericho agreement. The basic idea of what we have in mind is, on the one hand, let the Palestinians run their lives by themselves, but at the same time, without endangering Israel’s security and the Israeli’s security.

Therefore, in accordance with the DOP, we are in implementation in the first phase in the Gaza- Jericho agreement our’s is the responsibility for external security. We cannot afford to expose the lines that exist today between us and countries that still stress that they are in states of war with us even with countries like Egypt in which we live in peace not to be protected by the Israeli soldiers.

Second, we agree that the settlements will remain in their place, a permanent agreement will be reached after negotiations.

Three, that Israel will carry the overall responsibility for the security of the Israelis in the territories and of course wherever they have to move in their daily lives.

IMPLEMENTING THE ACCORD:

It is to say we tried to create peaceful coexistence between two entities that till now are in clash, in contradiction and in confrontation. It’s not so simple. I know it’s not so simple to the Palestinians. I know it’s not so simple to many Israelis. But I believe that with our taking on the one hand the risks and there are risks that are involved in it, no doubt from Israel’s point of view, might be from the Palestinians’ point of view but at the same time, to look about what great chance will be created in the Middle East for all the people if we succeed in doing so, I believe we have taken the right decision.

Let’s hope that what we expected, that it will be done, I believe will start to be implemented. Allow me to say that the problems will not be easy, not to the Israelis, not to us. We have not yet created all the machinery of coordination. Hopefully it will be created tomorrow, the day after tomorrow.

We can implement it, that is to say, to withdraw our forces from the areas they have to be withdrawn from in a relatively short period. But we have to do it in a very organized way, that all the machinery that we have agreed on, of coordination between us and the Palestinian police that will take over the majority of the area of Gaza and certain area around Jericho, will be in the position to maintain law and order. And we expect them to prevent those rejectionist organizations headed by the HAMAS, the Islamic Jihad, that publicly declare that they’ll continue their terror activities against Israel, as they have done since we signed DOP in Washington on the 13th of September ’93.

TERRORISM AGAINST PEACE:

They believe that through terror, killing Israelis, they kill also the peace. And I’ll be frank with you. Many Israelis say to me: ‘Mr. Rabin, you signed an agreement with Chairman Arafat. At least we hope that it will a better security to us. Look what happened since you signed the agreement. There is a little bit more terror; terror has not been reduced.’

And unless in the implementation, the expectations of the two sides are met the Palestinians seek to run their own lives in Gaza and Jericho at this stage, but the Israeli expectation is that the Palestinians will take care to prevent the use of areas under their control to serve as a springboard for terror activities I am afraid that then the issue will be a very serious one about what’s the purpose of this agreement.

I believe that both sides, the PLO, the government of Israel, are going to sign this agreement bona fide, with all the good intention to fulfill the letter and the spirit of the agreement. It’s a unique chance. Let’s not allow the enemies of peace to destroy it.

And the major enemies of peace are on the Palestinian side. There are enemies of peace on the Israeli side. I will not deny it. We had the terrible, tragic event in Hebron, unjustified massacre of innocent people. We condemned it. Eighty members out of 120 members of the Knesset joined in a declaration of condemnation of this tragic event.

Without taking, on both sides, a strong position against those who want through terror, through violence, to kill innocent people, to destroy the agreement and the chance for peace, there will be attempts by the enemies of peace to undermine it.

This is our major responsibility, to sign the agreement, to implement it in a way that it will meet the expectations of the two sides at this stage. It’s not a peace treaty. It’s a major step towards peace, creation of interim agreement between us and the PLO, and only later in accordance to the timetable laid down in the DOP, to negotiate the permanent solution.

Let’s hope that on Wednesday, we’ll succeed to achieve the implementation of the first step, of the beginning of the implementation of the first step of the DOP.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

NEGOTIATIONS WITH SYRIA:

Q: Egyptian Television. Mr. Prime Minister, what’s your response to the Syrian response? How are you going to continue negotiations, through Mr. Christopher or otherwise?

RABIN: I believe that whoever learned from the lessons in the past knows that without quiet negotiations between the parties, it is to say, Israel and the Arab parties, very little has been achieved. I don’t believe that the peace process would have started with Egypt without the secret meeting between the Foreign Minister of Israel, then Moshe Dayan, and General Tahomi.

But I will not go as far back as that. I don’t believe that we and the PLO could have succeeded in signing the DOP, hopefully in two days signing the agreement about Gaza-Jericho First, as the first stage of the implementation of the DOP without having secret, quiet meeting in Oslo.

Unfortunately, the Syrians refuse to have such a meeting, and I am afraid that through a so-called honest broker intermediary, there can be misunderstanding being created. Therefore, Secretary Christopher is here. I am going, after finishing this interview, to meet with him. And then we’ll discuss further steps.

ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS AND THE PERMANENT SOLUTION:

Q: Mr. Rabin, you referred to HAMAS and the dangers posed to the peace field by the Islamic fundamentalists, but of course Israel has its own fundamentalists who oppose the formation of these new Palestinian lands. How tough are you going to be with them, with the Israelis who wish to destroy the settlements? Will your police crack down firmly on these settlers? And are there any circumstances that you can envisage when you will have to bring forward when you tackle the question of the settlements?

RABIN: Well, as you know, it has been agreed that the settlements will remain till we’ll conclude the agreement about a permanent solution. Whatever the results will be once we negotiate a permanent solution, I will not speculate now. I know that the PLO has got its own position, what is their goal. We have not agreed with it. We have our own goals. The PLO has not agreed with it.

I believe the whole approach of moving by two phases phase number one, the interim agreement, creation of an interim self- governing authority to the Palestinians, to let them run their lives by themselves and maintaining our security is the best approach for creation of the environment, the atmosphere and the realities to negotiate a permanent solution.

It’s true there is an opposition in Israel to the policy of my government. But so far, the opposition has used democratic means. There were here and there, especially the case of the tragedy in Hebron, only one case or three or four cases. There were no suicidal mission of a car bomb against children in a bus or one who committed suicide mission by having belts of high explosives on his body and exploded himself in a bus loaded by innocent people in Hadera, or people who opened fire on one of our patrols this morning and injured soldiers.

I believe that the real problem will be in the test, to what extent, as I said, the expectation of the two sides, the Palestinians to start to build their lives, and they have a lot of work to do. It’s not because of the occupation. It’s because the Arab world and the international community for 27 years refused to assist the Palestinians in the territories to get out of the refugee camps, to build more advanced economy, to have more progressive social structure and educational system.

They were paying lip service to the Palestinian cause in the last 27 years when so much could be done and more than little was done, mainly by cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians and the territories, with limited assistance by the U.N. through UNWRA and UNDP.

Therefore, this is the issue, to overcome on the Palestinian side the HAMAS, to create conditions, international assistance to the PLO to push the economy, to push education and infrastructure, especially in Gaza, because the expectation of the Gazans are very high. After six months of waving flags, if there will be no real meeting of their basic demands, I believe there might be great disappointment there.

CONDITIONS IN THE TERRITORIES:

Q: I am from Palestine protesting cooperation. Mr. Prime Minister Rabin, you are going to sign an agreement on this day, hopefully meeting the expectations of both Israelis and Palestinians. Don’t you think the measures taken by the Israeli minister and authorities in the rest of the West Bank, such as closing Jerusalem, such as preventing laborers from going to work, such as incidents here and there, would encourage the extremists on both sides to oppose the peace treaty which you worked hard together with President Arafat to achieve?

RABIN: Well, the decision about the closure was my decision. I am responsible to it as the Minister of Defense. I would love to see Palestinians coming to work in Israel whenever it is needed because I know that until March ’93 over 100,000 Palestinians worked in Israel and, no doubt, it created between 25 to 30 percent of their GNP, and it helped Israel, too.

Unfortunately, as a result of the increase of terror activities, we had to limit the number. Today, about 20,000 are allowed to move. If there will be no terror, there will be no closure. This is the equation: No terror, no closure. If terror will be continued, it is my responsibility first and foremost to the 4.2 million Israeli Jews out of the 5.3 million Israeli Jews and non-Jews that live on Israeli sovereign soil, included united Jerusalem, to make sure that their lives will be secured. In addition, of course, my responsibility is to protect the lives of the Israelis in the territories. Therefore, in answer to your question, the closure will be lifted when terror will be stopped.

MIDDLE EAST REFUGEES:

Q: You state officially that there are 350,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and, in fact, there are much more, and they live in and outside refugees camps that are placed throughout the country. What’s going to happen to these Palestinian refugees, especially when the actual negotiations tend to make us believe that they will settle in Lebanon?

RABIN: As I said during my opening remarks, whoever decided in ’48, ’49 to go to war against the very existence of Israel, in flagrant violation of the United Nations General Assembly decision on the partition of the former British mandate of Palestine unfortunately for them, not in accordance with their expectations they lost the war. This war created the question of the Palestinian refugees. Regardless of that, we have to try to solve that.

I don’t believe that it’s Israel’s responsibility to take them back anywhere. The solution must be found in an entirely different way and, as you know, in the negotiations for permanent solution, the issue of refugee problems and I stress problems, because you have to bear in mind that that war of ’48, ’49, created another refugee problem. It brought about a plight to the Jewish communities in the Arab countries. And from ’49 to ’53 or ’54, Israel absorbed about half a million, 600,000, Jewish refugees from the Arab and the Islamic world because they had to run away from their country, with leaving all their property there. And therefore, there are two refugee problems. All of them will have to be tackled once we negotiate a permanent solution.