ISRAEL PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU ON
CNN – LARRY KING LIVE
July 31, 1997
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, our exclusive interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, coming to us from the cabinet room in Jerusalem. Before we discuss specifics and the horrors of these past two days, you wrote a brilliant book on terrorism once. John F. Kennedy said once, if someone is willing to give up their own life, there’s nothing really anybody can do. How would you comment on that?
PM BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, that may be true of individual assassination, but it’s not true of terrorism as a whole. The terrorists have a purpose. They want to achieve a political purpose of effectively driving out the Jewish presence from the Middle East. That’s why they are killing us. They are killing us left and right. They couldn’t care less which part of the Israeli political spectrum we come from.
If we are able to fight them, roll them back, make sure that those who give them a safe haven and a harbor from which to attack us cease from doing so, then yes, I believe we can roll back terrorism. We’ve proved it in many parts of the world. KING: But you will always have the isolated case of the wacko who attaches himself with a bomb and goes into a marketplace.
NETANYAHU: Well, these are not wackos, or at least they’re not isolated wackos. They are part of an organization.
KING: You know that?
NETANYAHU: These two suicide bombers came in with a uniform, they were groomed. They were obviously prepped. There’s a whole organization that prepares the suicide, that promises to take care of his family; that equips them with explosives; that tasks them towards the target; that transports them to the city and so on. All of that is a major organization. In this case most likely Hamas, and you can attack the organization and impede that whole chain of command that facilitates the suicide.
KING: And do you believe the responsibility rests with Mr. Arafat?
NETANYAHU: Well, I think that Mr. Arafat is responsible for facilitating the work of these terrorist organizations. You know, the late Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister before me, and who signed the Oslo Accords, simplified the Oslo deal in the following way: he said, we give them territory, they give us fighting terrorism. They will give us security by fighting terrorism.
Now if Arafat cannot provide security, then the deal is meaningless. It’s off. But he can. He’s shown in the past that when he wants to, he can apply a very formidable police force that he’s got some 30,000 people under arms against these organizations. He knows where they are; he knows who their leaders are; he knows where they are sitting. He could apply this pressure. He promised to do so, and he hasn’t done so.
KING: Why do you let, Mr. Prime minister, the actions of a minority suspend peace talks?
NETANYAHU: Well, it’s not a question of suspending peace talks. It’s the whole premise of the deal. Look, these terrorists don’t come from the moon or from Mars, or from Jupiter. They come from the Palestinian areas. The whole idea of Oslo was that Arafat promised to police his territory against these terrorists. He said, I will jail these terrorists, I will use my police to fight them, I will stop all hostile propaganda that incites towards terrorism, I will collect the explosives. He’s reneged on every one of these promises. His own police chief can you imagine the head of the FBI, in this case the Palestinian FBI himself personally dispatching terrorists among the Palestinian police? Arafat himself was in various Palestinian areas calling jihad, jihad, jihad, a holy war against Israel. He has not, except on isolated cases, collected weapons or explosives, and he has let loose instead of incarcerating, instead of putting in jail, 150 of the key Hamas and Islamic jihad terrorist leaders.
So this is not an isolated minority that is impeding peace. This is the whole Palestinian Authority and I’m afraid to say its leadership that has not lived up to the basic deal of Oslo. I have. I redeployed in Hebron. I released women prisoners, terrorists. It was very hard for me to do that. I passed on extensive funds. I relieved the closure. I kept my part of the Oslo deal. Arafat has reneged on his. It’s about time that he keep his commitments, foremost of which is the maintenance of security and fighting terrorism.
KING: Did he say anything definitive when he called you beyond sorrow?
NETANYAHU: He expressed his condolences. I said that I appreciate the expression of condolences, but I think we must have a 180-degree change in policy. That he must start doing all those things that he has not done, and in fact reverse course. I said also that I thought that the words have to change. That instead of speaking about jihad, he should create a climate of peace among his people. Tell them that they have to accommodate to the state of Israel. I’m not asking him to accept my solution for final settlement, a political settlement. We’ll have to negotiate. That is exactly what the whole idea is, that we negotiate. That Palestinians don’t try to coerce us by proxy terrorist organizations as they appear to be doing.
This is what we expect: A change of rhetoric and a change of actions; a change of word; and a change of deeds. We have every right and every obligation to demand that from our so-called peace partners.
KING: And can you say in your end before we get into other concepts here that you do it as an Israeli leader? That you discourage violence? That you that if God forbid there were Israeli terrorists who went to the other side to retaliate for this, that would not be your fault? You would be doing everything to prevent that?
NETANYAHU: Our policy is exactly different. We of course don’t have terrorist organizations among Israelis, but we occasionally have an isolated deranged individual. One such deranged individual started shooting at Arabs in the market place in Hebron, and one of our officers, very courageously, just attacked him immediately. Thrust himself upon him and stopped a major massacre.
On another occasion, somebody distributed an abominable leaflet castigating Islam, and I called the mayor of Hebron and went on Arab television and condemned this practice. So I practice what I preach. We want to see the same kind of action on the Palestinian side. I want to see Arafat fighting terrorists, the way Mubarak fights terrorists. I want to see Arafat condemning terrorism, the way I condemn terrorism. What I expect of him is what I expect of myself.
KING: Have your officials identified the two suicide bombers?
NETANYAHU: Well, we’ve got indications. I don’t want to say with finality but we’re working on it. We’ll know in a very short time.
KING: Have you ordered the arrest of the Palestinian police chief?
NETANYAHU: I’ve said that if he leaves Gaza we will arrest him and bring him to trial. We have clear-cut evidence that shows that he not only was involved with the policemen who were carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens, against a carload of children, in fact, firing bullets into them by a miracle these children survived. But he was actually directing them, equipping them, tasking them. And that is unacceptable.
Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have announced a committee of investigation. The least I would have expected to do, as one does in all organized societies, is to suspend this person. Put him under house arrest until the investigation is complete. That hasn’t been done, and that has led me to announce that if this person were to leave Gaza, enter our territory, we would apprehend them and bring them to trial.
KING: Where were you when the bombing occurred?
NETANYAHU: I was actually in the Knesset in our parliament, and I was having lunch in the Knesset cafeteria, something I don’t always get a chance to do. It was even a jovial moment or a moment of relaxation and all of a sudden, one of my aides came and whispered in my ear, and you say, well, that is life here and that’s what happens here and that joy was ephemeral.
KING: Why did you not go to the scene?
NETANYAHU: Oh, I was trying to do what I thought was important, was first of all collect all the information and give the necessary orders and then go to the hospital. That is, go to the place where I could be of some value, and I think that is my job not to engage in theatrics, but to do the right thing at the right time.
KING: The Palestinian legislature insisted that had Arafat disband the 18-member cabinet because of problems there. What do you think of that?
NETANYAHU: I don’t want to get into their own internal politics. I’d give them the same advice about ours. They don’t always seem to take it. But it’s their business and I’m not going to enter that domain. My expectations of the Palestinians is to live up to their commitments. That means not only on security, it means also completing the abrogation of the Palestinian charter that is still on the books, still calling for our destruction. And that means extraditing terrorists that they have promised to extradite to us. These are the things that I expect them to do.
KING: I want to get this right. We have it here that media in Israel is reporting that you plan to reoccupy parts of the Palestinian- controlled territory if you think there’s a significant security risk. There’s even a name of this plan called "Operation Field of Thorns." That’s unconfirmed. What can you tell us?
NETANYAHU: I don’t want to talk about hypothetical situations. I hope that we don’t have to take any extraordinary measures. I have said that we will act against terrorists wherever they are. We’re not going to let our people be butchered. This is my job. This would be the position of any leader, I’m sure, that President Clinton or Prime Minister Blair or anyone else faced with such savage attacks against British or American citizens would consider the obligations that they have. But when I say that, what I really would like to see is that the Palestinian Authority and its chairman do what they promise to do under Oslo, fight against terrorism and enable thereby to make peace move forward. Peace with terror doesn’t work. There is no peace. If we fight terror, and in my opinion, that is the only way to salvage the peace process, and that is what I expect the Palestinians to do.
KING: Couple of other things. One Israeli official is quoted as saying that he wouldn’t be surprised if the bombing was a result of renewed settlements in east Jerusalem.
NETANYAHU: Well, listen, we have had an upsurge of terrorism. We have had actually a year’s pause in terrorism, as you know. But for the first three and a half years three years of the Oslo Accords under the previous government, there were no settlements or at least no construction in Jerusalem of new housing, and we had an enormous explosion of terrorism. We had this happening every few weeks.
So you have to be consistent. I would say that these terrorists really are not concerned with this or that movement. They have a terrorist mentality, which is a savage mentality that seeks to eradicate, trample to the dust, any living person here, any living Jew boy, baby, child, woman, man. This is what they set out to do and they are very clear about it. They are not interested in this or that political settlement, this or that solution. They want the disillusion of the Jewish state and these people should be given no quarter.
The last thing we have to do is legitimize terrorists. It’s to say, we understand you have this particular grievance in Jerusalem or in the settlements or anywhere else and therefore we understand what you’re doing. A, that’s not what’s driving them; and B, it is wrong to even mention these things.
If I had Jewish terrorists attacking Arabs, I would never say, well they had a grievance, they had this problem, they had another problem. I would say, this is wrong! This is unacceptable, and we must all fight against these terrorist manifestations. The terrorism is coming from the Palestinian areas. I expect Arafat to do what is necessary to stop it.
KING: And the talks are suspended until you’re satisfied that he is doing something?
NETANYAHU: I think there’s no way of moving forward until he does do something, because look at what is happening here. It’s not merely that I have questions, that I have my doubts about the behavior of the Palestinian Authority. You should talk to the people of Israel, all of them. I mean across the board, people are saying, wait a minute, where’s the deal we signed? Where’s the deal that the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin promised us? We give them territory, they give us security or at least they fight terrorism. Where’s the deal?
I don’t want to say where’s the beef, but you understand what I’m saying? People are walking about in, I think, this loss of confidence in the Palestinian Authority, and their fidelity to these peace contracts is a very great danger to the future of peace. For all the reasons that are required to move peace forward, there must be a complete change of policy on the Palestinian side, and effective, vigorous, systematic and immediate campaign to wipe out the terrorists from their midst.
KING: A couple of other quick things before we run out of time. How big a drawback is this on the road to peace? Is this a major setback?
NETANYAHU: Well, of course it is.
NETANYAHU: Well, when you have 13 people blown to smithereens is a major setback to peace, to life and to decency.
KING: What if anything, can the United States do?
NETANYAHU: I think the U.S. has wisely come out, as President Clinton did, with a clear-cut expectation that the Palestinians undertake the security obligations they committed to in Oslo. I think that’s important.
I think that it’s important for the Palestinian Authority and its leader to understand that support for the Palestinian Authority is dependent on their fulfillment of their obligations: political support, material support. I think they have to understand there’s a price to violating agreements, and to breaking down the peace. I personally would hope that no such price is exacted.
I personally would like to believe that Arafat would understand early enough that he must change the policies of the Palestinian Authority, because I think peace is in their interest objectively, as much as it is in our interest. We have the future of our children, Israeli children and Palestinian children to think about. And if those considerations become uppermost in their minds, then they will do the right thing. And if they do the right thing, we will move forward towards peace.
KING: Thanks very much for joining us.
NETANYAHU: Thank you.