INTERVIEW WITH: BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL
SUNDAY, MARCH 23, 1997
MR. DONALDSON: Now joining us from his office in Jerusalem, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. As always, Prime Minister, welcome.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you.
MR. DONALDSON: And joining us here in the questioning, as always, George Will. Prime Minister Netanyahu, was it worth it to begin a new housing project in East Jerusalem if it meant renewed bloodshed and an interruption of the peace process?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Sam, I hope you understand what you’ve just asked me. You’re telling me that there could be blackmail on Israel; that we want to build a neighborhood in our capital, and coincidentally, in 10 Arab neighborhoods in our capital, and this will not be accepted by the Palestinian terrorist organizations. They will threaten us or kill our people, bomb our babies and women, as they did yesterday and we will accept this. There’s no future for the Jewish state if we capitulate to this.
I think that the important thing is to ask a different question. Does anything justify terrorism? Does anything justify blowing up a pregnant woman when she will not see the light of day or her unborn child? Does anything justify killing a mother of a small baby girl who is now left wounded, wounded in two ways? She will have to grow up with those healed wounds and without her mother. Does anything justify that? And my answer is no, nothing justifies terrorism.
MR. DONALDSON: Prime Minister, certainly, I wasn’t telling you, but I was asking the question of whether it was worth it. I take it from your answer that you’re telling us that building those settlements in East Jerusalem is worth whatever actions occur afterward.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Hold your horses. This isn’t a settlement. This is a neighborhood. You’re sitting, I gather, in downtown Washington. I remember your studio. You can look out of your window and the cluster of roads next to the studio is exactly what we’re doing in Jerusalem. Every city is a growing, living tissue. It’s a living organism, and we have every right to build in Jerusalem. Coincidentally, for Arabs and Jews; in this case, in this neighborhood, on land that is primarily private Jewish land; that we have every right to do so as people have a right to build or the United States has as right to build in Washington or Britain in London or France and Paris and so on, or for that matter, Arafat in Gaza. I think we also have to put aside the question of grievances that we have with one other, and there can be many grievances, and the willingness to give any legitimacy to terror, which if it will continue will explode the peace process.
MR. WILL: Prime Minister, a moment ago, you used the phrase "no future for the Jewish state." Is it not clear by now that the premise of the peace process is false; that is, that land for peace was the formula in Oslo, and it’s land for the Intifada going right on as before? Is it not time perhaps to say the peace process itself is the biggest threat to peace?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, not a peace process, but a process in which we are every time there is an impasse or the Palestinians have a grievance against us, they send terrorists. In this case, they were sent with a green light from the Palestinian Authority. On that, we have absolutely information, and they blow up our people. That is not a peace process. Peace means the abandonment. Peace means the abandonment of terrorism as an instrument of negotiations or pressure. It means pursuing things peacefully around the peace table, and that is what we seek, and that is what we demand from the Palestinians.
MR. WILL: But, Prime Minister, Mr. Arafat has been very clear in the Arab press that that is not what he seeks. Before the signing of the Oslo agreements in Washington, he said in Arab language newspapers that this was just part of the two-stage strategy for destroying Israel, as all the maps used by the PLO now indicate. They indicate Palestinian with no Israel. In what sense can you have a peace process with people still formally committed to destroying you?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, one of the things that we’re asking, George, is compliance with Palestinian commitments. Look at what I’ve done in the last 8 weeks and the last 10 weeks. I’ve redeployed in Hebron. I’ve released women terrorists, a very hard thing for me to do personally, by the way. You know we’ve given up our finest sons, our finest soldiers in the battle against terrorism facing such demands to release prisoners, but I redeployed in Hebron. We released the women prisoners. We did the first redeployment decision. We passed monies over to the Palestinian authority. We’ve done all of these things. We’ve fulfilled our side of the bargain, and you’re quite right. We cannot accept a situation where they violate their commitments. They violate their commitment to fight terrorism. They violate their commitment to annul the Palestinian charter that calls for our destruction. They violate their commitment to confiscate illegal weapons. They violate their commitment to desist from hostile propaganda. So, obviously, if the peace process has a chance to go forward, we need to see the PLO, the Palestinian authority, comply with their commitments and abandon violence.
MS. ROBERTS: Mr. Prime Minister, I think we can all stipulate that terrorism is horrendous and nothing justifies it, but on the question of this neighborhood that you’ve referred to, even if you accept the fact that you have a right to build there, the question is, is it wise to build there, given the reaction in the international community and given the fact that it does make it harder for the Palestinians to make the kinds of concessions you’re talking about.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Cokie, first of all, we keep commitments, and Oslo doesn’t prohibit in any way, as Yitzhak Rabin, by the way, told me more than once. He made this agreement. Oslo in no way prohibits our construction of neighborhoods in Jerusalem. This was something that no Israel government no Jewish government could accept. Jerusalem has been our capital for 3,000 years, and I want it to be an open city for Arabs and Jews alike and, of course, continually open for all three religions, but the question you are asking is something else. It is that, of course, we have a disagreement on Jerusalem. I don’t doubt that, but we are faced with a terrorist ultimatum, and it almost begs the question. You have to ask yourself, if we are threatened, if you were threatened by some terrorist groups that said thou shall not build in Washington or you shouldn’t build anywhere, in San Francisco, whatever contested land, and you accepted this threat, then where does it end? How does it continue?
MS. ROBERTS: Well, let me ask you this. There are reports in the Israeli press that because there’s the sense that you’ve having to deal too much with the right-wing religious parties that the Clinton administration is advising you to form a unity government with labor. Is that true, and are you considering that in any way?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: No, it’s not true, and not a word was passed directly or indirectly to me by President Clinton or any of his representatives on this issue. I think they are wise enough not to do that, not to interfere. I look for the broadest possible consensus in Israel. I think I’ve been able to secure that under the present government. When Begin brought three- quarters of Israeli public to support Camp David, I brought actually a few more members than he did in supporting the Hebron agreement, and I think that our way of seeking compliance by the Palestinians is to stop violating the Oslo Accords, to fight against terror. It’s what we’re asking now, and what we expect from the Palestinian Authority, what we expect from Yasser Arafat is to give clear instructions to incarcerate the Hamas terrorists that he’s released, to confiscate the weapons, to take action against a terrorist infrastructure so we may move on to peace that we all want for our children.
MR. DONALDSON: Prime Minister Netanyahu, thank you very much. We’ve appreciated your coming, and as always, we are inviting you back.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you very much.