INTERVIEWED BY FRANK SESNO
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 1994
Q: Let me start by asking you about the Washington you visit here. It’s a different Washington after the elections. And the incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Jesse Helms, has aimed some comments very much in your direction calling the Israeli- Syrian peace process a fraud. How do you respond to that?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: As far as the peace process itself, I would not deny that one of the most difficult part are the negotiations with Syria. But at the same time, I would say that it will be a mistake to a government of Israel, to me as a prime minister, not to try to turn every stone in the search to achieve peace and security to Israel. Therefore, I wouldn’t call it a fraud, I will call it a very tough negotiation.
Q: What are the implications for Israeli-U.S. relations, and in particular for continued U.S. aid to Israel, when you have an incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman who calls the peace process a fraud and who says in his world he would like to see all U.S. foreign aid dropped?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: It’s not up to me to pass any comment or to pass any judgment about a position of a key member of the Senate. But I believe after my discussions yesterday with the majority leader Senator Dole, Senator Lugar, Senator Nickles, that basically they see a continuation of the policy that was kept by the United States.
Q: Another of Senator Helms’ comments had to do with U.S. peacekeepers on the Golan Heights if there is some kind of peace deal between Israel and Syria. Yesterday in the news conference you cited the U.S. peacekeepers who are based have been based in the Sinai as a model for this sort of thing. Some skeptics say, however, that you cannot compare Egypt and Syria, Sadat and then Mubarak and Assad because of Syria’s connection with terrorism and its reluctance in the peace process. Isn’t it fair to say that it would be a more dangerous and very different assignment for U.S. peacekeepers in the Golan?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: I don’t believe so, if I judge the experience till now. Allow me to remind you that for nineteen years without a peace treaty with Syria, we had no infiltration, even one, of terrorism from Syria through the lines between them and us on the Golan Heights. The Golan Heights is the safest place from terrorism in all over Israel. The Syrians have kept their commitment under the disengagement agreement for the last 19 years without one incident along the line that divides between them and us and there was no one terror act through the lines between Syria and Israel.
In Lebanon, there are a lot of terrorism that no doubt the Syrians don’t try even to prevent them, but there is no agreement there.
Q: The troubles between the PLO and Hamas have led some observers to speculate as to whether a Palestinian civil war or something very near to it could be in the offing. How dangerous, how explosive is that situation? Do you consider that a civil war on your borders is a possibility?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: I don’t believe that it will be advisable to Israel to cope with the domestic problems of the Palestinians. We chose to make an agreement, to look at Arafat and his followers as the partners for peace, for achievement of interim agreement. We know that the enemies of peace are the extreme Islamic terror groups in the case of the Palestinians, the HAMAS and the Islamic Jihad. We have to bear in mind that fighting against extreme Islamic terror groups is difficult to us. Hopefully Arafat will manage to do it in the Gaza.
Q: What can Israel do to help Arafat?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: I don’t believe that we should intervene unless we are asked. I believe that what we have to do is by no means to give a price or a prize to the terrorist by halting the negotiations; in addition, to make sure that the donor countries will find a way to convey, to channel their money that the people of Gaza will see the beginning of the fulfillment of their dream for economic and social advancement.
Q: Let me ask you two specifics requests that come from Arafat and those around him. One, he is requesting that certain Palestinian prisoners who are in Israeli detention be released; for example, Sheikh Yassin. Are you prepared to do that?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: No. I made it clear to Chairman Arafat that those who belong to the HAMAS and the Jihad Islamic will not be released as long as these organizations will not declare what I demanded from Arafat and he carried out, that they commit themselves to stop terrorism.
Q: Another suggestion is that the final status talks, the discussions about Jerusalem be accelerated to accommodate Mr. Arafat. How about that possibility?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: No, we are committed by our signing the declaration of principles and the Cairo agreement that negotiations of the issues that are related to the permanent solution will be done and will start not later than two years after the completion of our getting out of Gaza which means not later than May ’96.
Q: Did you imagine it would be this difficult and this painful?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: I knew before that any attempt to bring about the peace with out neighboring Arab countries, and especially with the Palestinians, which is the longest, the most complicated part of the Arab-Israeli conflict, will not be easy. But I am satisfied that at least we added another peace treaty that I believe that will work well between Jordan and Israel.