ELIZABETH VARGAS: Binyamin Netanyahu joins us this morning from Blair House in Washington, D.C. Good morning, Mr. Prime Minister.


MS. VARGAS: You did campaign very hard on those three conditions: no Palestinian state, no return of the Golan Heights, no dividing Jerusalem. Are those conditions non-negotiable?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: First of all, they are not three no’s, they are three yeses. Yes to a united Jerusalem, yes to a peaceful security in the north, yes to co-existence, a real co-existence, but peace with our Arab, Palestinian Arab neighbors. Everything is negotiable in the sense that they’ll bring their positions to the table, and I’ll bring them my position to the table. I don’t think that we should try to force one another to accept each other’s starting positions. I do think that Jerusalem is different. Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people for the last 3,000 years, since the days of King David. It is the pulsating heart of our identity, of our very being, and I am not going to divide it and I am not going to carve it up. I am not going to resurrect a Berlin Wall inside Jerusalem.

MS. VARGAS: You call them positions; however, the Arab leaders have been calling them preconditions. And you yourself have said we mustn’t come to the negotiating table with preconditions. Aren’t you in fact bringing some yourself?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Well, I think that we have to engage our Arab partners, the Palestinian Authority, the Syrians I hope the Lebanese as well re-engage talks, re-engage negotiations. With the Palestinians we are in a different situation, because we’ve already got agreements, though I didn’t like those agreements. I thought they would lead, and they did lead, to a loss of security and to an escalation to terrorism, which is incommensurate with peace it doesn’t work with peace. But I am committed to seek, first of all, the completion of those agreements. I want the Palestinian side to maintain their obligations. I’ll maintain mine. And as far as negotiating a final settlement, again they’ll bring their views, I’ll bring my views, and I think the only way to deal with this is, with all due respect, not even on "Good Morning, America," but around the negotiating table.

MS. VARGAS: Understand sir, understand. But how do you in fact keep the Arab leaders at the table if nothing they seek, for example like the return of the Golan Heights, is negotiable?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Well, you know, the Syrians attacked us from the Golan Heights time and time again, and now they come and say Give it back to us. How do we know that they won’t attack us again? How do we know that they won’t launch major wars, as they did against our towns and villages below the Golan Heights? So we have shall I say at least as much claim to, as the other side that waged the war of aggression against us for 19 years we want our security. We want to stay on the Golan Heights. Now we differ on that fine. Then we can come to the table, and they can say what they want, we can say what we want. But the key thing is not to have preconditions. The key thing is to say I don’t ask the Syrians to accept my positions in advance of the negotiations, and they shouldn’t ask me to accept theirs. That’s what negotiations are for in the first place.

MS. VARGAS: But you are asking them to accept the fact that you will not return the Golan Heights?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: This is my position, and they have a different position. And I think that negotiations are not ended before they start. It’s not that one side capitulates to the other side; this is the nullification of negotiations. It would rob them of any meaning.

MS. VARGAS: You said a moment ago you were not happy, and in fact you have been very vocal about your unhappiness with the previous agreements the Israeli government reached. But you have pledged to honor those agreements. What about Hebron? The previous government did pledge to withdraw Israeli troops from that town. Are you going to do that, and when?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Well, they even gave a date to it and they didn’t fulfill that pledge. And the reason they didn’t is because it’s so complicated. You know, Hebron is different from the six other cities in Judea and Samaria in the West Bank, in that it is the only mixed city. We have a Jewish community there that is over 3,000 years old. We’ve had massacres of Jews there; we had a massacre of Arabs there as well. And if we are not careful if I just redeploy our troops in Hebron by the way, what we are talking about is redeploying in Hebron and not out of Hebron but even if we redeploy precipitously and not carefully, then we could spark off a terrible consequence that could hurt not only the lives and well-being of the Jews and Arabs there, but also might scuttle the peace process. I want the peace process to go forward. I want negotiations with the Palestinians to go forward. And therefore I am very careful vis-a-vis Hebron, and I’m looking into it. I discussed this with President Clinton. I am sure we will have a solution a good one.

MS. VARGAS: You say you want the negotiations with the Palestinians to go forward. Will you in fact meet with PLO Chief Yasser Arafat?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Well, I haven’t ruled it out. And if it becomes necessary, and should it become necessary, I’ll do it.

MS. VARGAS: But he’s the leader of the Palestinian people: How can you have meaningful peace talks without meeting with their leader?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Well, you know that I am having contacts on a regular basis with Arafat. I’ve opened up channels. There will be formal contacts also between my government and the Palestinian Authority. One thing I’ve said, and I’ll say again and again, the lack of communications is not going to be an obstacle, because there will be full communications and full understanding between us about what we each want and how we can advance a workable and I think a positive relationship.

MS. VARGAS: But surely, Mr. Prime Minister, you understand the symbolic nature, the importance of meeting in person face to face with the leader of the people with whom you are trying to negotiate peace?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Well, yes, I do, and therefore I value such positions or such gestures, and I think they should come at the appropriate time. When they should come I’ll determine.

MS. VARGAS: On the issue of closure, that has become an extremely divisive, difficult issue on the Gaza and the West Bank. The borders with Israel have been closed for at least four months now continuously. When do you plan on opening those borders? You’ve said in the past you would gradually do so.

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Well, I think it is a serious problem, because the reason the previous government, the Labor government, slapped on the closures is because the Palestinian Authority was not doing its share of the burden containing terrorism emanating from Gaza and the other Palestinian Authority domains. And that’s why they slapped on the closure. I’m not a closure freak. I don’t believe in unnecessary hardships for the Palestinian population. And what I would do, if the Palestinian Authority keeps its commitment on a permanent basis, on a serious basis, to prevent terrorist attacks against us from their domains, then I will certainly ease up on the closures. And I would like in fact to see the opposite of closure: I would like to see openness. I would like to see economic prosperity. And that would be my policy with the Palestinians.

MS. VARGAS: But, sir, your own intelligence agency says the risk of a terrorist attack from the Gaza or the West Bank is very small it would be from elsewhere. Therefore why not open that up, rather than keep it closed and risk another uprising?

PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Well, I hope you don’t force me to reveal what my intelligence people say they say quite different things. The risk is there, you know. We’ve had terrible attacks, attacking every one of our cities, causing horrible loss of life. And I’m very careful and very prudent. But I am telling you that my policy toward the Palestinians would be one of economic cooperation. I think that employment, that jobs, that investments, that industry is very good way to buttress peace, if there is good will on both sides. There’s certainly good will on our side. And I would like to see the same reciprocated by the other side. We could work together.

MS. VARGAS: All right, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, thank you so much for joining us this morning, sir.