GUEST: YITZHAK RABIN, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL
HOSTS: ROWLAND EVANS AND BILL DELANEY
12:30 P.M. (EST)
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 1994
MR. EVANS: Prime Minister, the newspapers said that you were furious when you saw that video of your foreign minister holding hands with Arafat. Is that accurate, sir?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: Total nonsense. I believe that what I have to deal is with the issues, not with the way that two people go anywhere. And therefore, it’s not correct whatsoever. No doubt a progress was made. I refer to the meeting between our foreign minister, Peres, and Chairman Arafat. But yet there are several issues, key issues that have not yet been solved.
Progress doesn’t mean that we ended all the differences that even brought up in the wars. I believe that next week in Cairo, there will be fruitful continuations of the talks between Peres and Arafat. But still, many issues have to be solved before an agreement will be reached.
MR. EVANS: Prime Minister, President Arafat of the PLO said, and I quote him, ‘It is the peace process that is threatened if this is dragged out.’ Do you think he overplays that? Do you think he’s using that as pressure on you to make concessions? Or do you think he has a good point?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: I believe that the main point is to make sure that the declaration of principles that was signed in Washington should be implemented correctly, in the way that it will be a workable solution on the ground. One has to bear in mind that what we are trying to create by the implementation of the DOP is to create peaceful coexistence between two entities how to put it that there is no love lost between them; that are intermingled geographically. They criss-cross one another; tens of thousands of vehicles every day.
The points of frictions are thousands. And therefore, the most important part is to translate the DOP to something that will be workable on the ground. We worry first and foremost for our security, the security of the Israelis. And therefore, we would like to work out an agreement that will be detailed, clear; that there will be no differences that might create friction and a collapse of everything that we are trying to achieve.
MR. DELANEY: Mr. Prime Minister, in the United States this week, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres suggested to reporters that implementing the declaration of principles could take as long as the rest of this year. Could it take that long?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: I don’t want to put any target date, but I believe Peres was right. I believe that the key question is not a timetable, even though there is no need to drag, but there is no need to rush. I want the implementation to be carried out in a way that will prove that both sides were serious in signing the DOP. I would like it to be done in a way that if there will be no misunderstanding, not by me and Mr. Arafat, but the people who have to implement it on the ground, the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and thousands of Israelis and security forces the IDF, the Palestinian police. And everybody will know exactly what to do in this complex system.
MR. DELANEY: You spent Friday morning with the top echelon of your security establishment, we understand, discussing the elements in this document of understandings that was drawn up in Davos, that your security establishment has problems with. Can you give us some details on what the distances are between the Israeli position, particularly from your security establishment, your military establishment, and the PLO position? What’s holding things up?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: I’m not saying that there are issues that are holding up. There are certain issues that have to be clarified. First, what does it mean, ‘external security responsibility on Israel’ – how it shoulc be implemented on the ground along the Jordan River, along the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Second, who is responsible for the crossing of the borders from Jordan and from Egypt to the territories. We believe that we have to carry the overall responsibility. There is a need for coordination. How it is going to interpret territorialities from crossing the bridge of the Jordan River to go 800 yards to the terminal, how it will be done in the terminal, because we don’t want that terrorists will go through this system, that arms and high explosives will be smuggled. And we don’t want to be flooded by a quarter of a million Palestinian refugees from Jordan or from wherever they live today to Jericho or to Gaza.
MR. EVANS: How long do you think Yasser Arafat can maintain his position of leadership under some question now as to how much power he really has in the territories how much longer can he maintain that if there is a long drag-out of this affair? And I understand why you say it will take time, but don’t you worry what this might do to Arafat?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: Allow me to say no one should judge the capability of the PLO and its chairman, Arafat, to control the territories as long as he’s in Tunisia. No Arab leader Assad or Saddam Hussein or the king of Saudi Arabia would control their own people if they were with all their systems outside their own country. Therefore, in the Arab countries, among the Arab peoples, you can’t judge any leader unless he is in force with strong police, security systems. Only then he can control his own people, because in the Arab countries, among the Arab peoples, there is no democracy. It’s either totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. And without being there in power, no one of the Arab countries’ leaders controls his own people.
MR. EVANS: But then it becomes a very difficult proposition for Mr. Arafat, does it not, Mr. Prime Minister, because he cannot be here or could he be here now on the ground in Jericho? Would you prefer that?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: No, I don’t believe so. But therefore, don’t judge his capability at the present, while he is in Tunisia, to his capability once, in orderly way, we transfer to him and to his people all the authorities on the Gaza Strip except the security of Israel and the same to Jericho.
MR. EVANS: So you have confidence in your own heart that Arafat is, in fact, the leader of the Palestinians that he claims to be.
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: I believe he is the leader of the PLO, the Fatah mainly, and those who support the peace agreement. I don’t believe that today he is concerned to be the leader of the Hamas or the Islamic jihad or the rejectionist Palestinian groups like Hawatmeh, Jibril, Abu Moussa, etc., etc.
MR. DELANEY: Sir, can we ask you specifics about the border crossings? This is an issue that comes up again and again. What Palestinian presence will you permit at the border crossings into Jericho and into the Gaza Strip?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: Well, I believe that we are ready, in a context of the terminal, this is where the cooperation and the coordination have to be carried out; that under the overall responsibility of Israel for the security and the management, there should be two wings, Palestinian and Israelis.
Those who come to the Gaza, Jericho, to the other parts of the West Bank, visitors to there should go to these after passing magnetic checks, after being checked by Palestinians, and with the knowledge of Israel to be sure that whoever comes is a resident of the territories I’m not talking about the visitors and to have us the right to question suspected that I believe will be few percentage of all those who are coming and checking of whatever they carry in their cargo.
MR. EVANS: I want to switch to Syria, Prime Minister. Do you agree with our president, Bill Clinton, that President Assad did, in fact, say he is ready to give real full peace if he can achieve your withdrawal from the Golan Heights? Did Bill Clinton tell it pretty accurately?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: I didn’t hear directly or indirectly that President Assad is ready to a fully-fledged peace. But I know what he wants Israel for whatever he defines peace. Second, we don’t know how, once it will be agreed, what kind of peace, where we are going to withdraw, what are the phases of withdrawal, to extent there will be interface in a way that we’ll see peace being carried out before there will be full withdrawal to the areas that will be agreed, and what will be the security arrangement.
MR. EVANS: You have said, sir, that there may be a ‘painful price’ to be paid by Israeli settlers on the Golan Heights if an agreement is reached indicating there may have to be a withdrawal from the settlements. If that is true, sir, why would not the same state of affairs be true on the West Bank and Gaza, that you would eventually withdraw settlers and settlements?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: Well, first, to the second part of your question: As you are fully aware, the whole peace process is based on the letter of invitation to the Madrid peace conference. There it is written, accepted by all the sides, that a solution between the Palestinians and us will be in phases: phase number one, interim period in which interim self-government will be given to the Palestinians. And in accordance to the DOP, you know all the details. Therefore, we are not talking about peace treaty with the Palestinians at this stage, but a major step towards peace by the creation of the interim self-government arrangement for the Palestinians.
Vis-a-vis your first question, I said ‘painful price.’ I didn’t say how much. I believe that no doubt any peace or any beginning for peace calls for painful compromises, but it has to be on both sides; on the Syrian side, too.
MR. DELANEY: Could there be a day when there are no longer any more Israeli settlers on the Golan Heights, because the Israeli government wants them off?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: I’m talking about a peace treaty between Syria and Israel in which Israel has agreed in principle to accept a withdrawal. We did not make it clear how deep we are ready to withdraw.
MR. DELANEY: How important is this year, sir, for completing an agreement with Syria?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: I believe that with Syria we will know within ’94 if peace treaty will be achieved or will not be achieved.
MR. EVANS: Prime Minister, if these talks fail and you and the Arabs go back to confrontation, how dangerous to Israel are the long-range and short-range missiles in the new weaponry that is being accumulated by some of the Arab countries Iran, Syria, Iraq?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: If peace will not be achieved, I believe the danger is not only to Israel, but at the same time to the Arab countries, no doubt the neighboring Arab countries. Today Israel is strong militarily and we intend it to be strong in the future. I believe that military strength is the main reason that brought Arab leaders in the past, at the present and in the future to the conclusion that they have to reach peace.
The military strength of Israel will be the beginning through the agreements that have been reached, that will be reached. Therefore, I believe for the benefit of both sides, not to speculate what will happen if peace will not be achieved, but to focus on how to achieve peace that will bring tranquillity and peace to all of us in the region.
MR. DELANEY: Prime Minister, do you have a nuclear capability that can counterbalance that threat from outside?
PRIME MINISTER RABIN: Israel has made it clear that we will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and we stick with our policy.