MR. SESNO: Welcome to our special pre-inaugural Late Edition. We are going to leave Washington, though, for a few minutes and travel to Israel, where we talk with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This past week, a major week in the Middle East peace process; Prime Minister Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat completing their agreement on the subject of Israel’s redeployment, departure large departure, anyway from Hebron.

Prime Minister, I’m sure I shouldn’t use the word departure, but redeployment I know is the word. I want to thank you for joining us.


MR. SESNO: Prime Minister, after these negotiations, the special U.S. envoy, Dennis Ross, said the Hebron agreement crosses a psychological threshold in the process and in the relationship presumably between you and Mr. Arafat. What is that psychological threshold, as you see it?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, I think it’s not really a question of psychology but a question of understandings. We have fashioned an agreement that says that the key to continuing the negotiations for peace is reciprocity. We actually drew a piece of paper, and on it we put Column A – Israeli responsibilities; Column B – Palestinian responsibilities; Column C – those things that have to be negotiated. And for the first time since the Oslo accords, we actually have the idea that these mutual undertakings have to be done mutually by both sides and not just by Israel. And I think that’s a very important change that I think is good for the future.

MR. SESNO: Our bureau chief, Walt Rodgers, spoke with Yasser Arafat several hours ago, and Mr. Arafat characterized you and he as friends now.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, I certainly would like to have the Palestinians and the Israelis under our two mandates strike up a friendship. I think the test is in Hebron. Hebron was a city of strife, a city of enmity. And I would like to see it become a city of reconciliation and a city of coexistence, peaceful coexistence, between Palestinians and Israelis. That is something that is of great challenge.

I think Mr. Arafat’s statements today in Hebron struck a dual chord. I can’t tell you that I took very kindly to his statements about a Palestinian state or Jerusalem. He knows we have different ideas. And he knows, too, that we will never allow Jerusalem to be ever redivided again. We’ll never allow a Berlin Wall to be struck in the center of the city.

But I do want to say that I also was struck by the fact that his tone was different, that he talked in Hebron about, in fact, accommodation with the Israelis, the Jewish residents of Hebron. And I think that’s a very good move. I think what we need right now is a series of meetings between the Jewish residents of Hebron and the Palestinian residents of Hebron to lower the tensions and to continue this trend.

MR. SESNO: Prime Minister, one of the things you alluded to that Mr. Arafat said, and I’m quoting Mr. Arafat, "After the end of the interim agreement, no doubt we will have our independent state."

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, I think that many Israelis would begin questioning that argument or that statement. Does it mean that the PLO or the Palestinian entity would have control over the air space that determines whether Israel has an air force? Of course not. Does it mean that this entity would have control over the water aquifers below the ground that determines if Israel will have water to live with? Of course not. Does it mean that this Palestinian entity could make pacts, military pacts, with Iraq or with Iran? Of course not.

So we view self-government as the reasonable solution to the problem of the Palestinians, but not to give it or endow it those sovereign powers that can endanger the life of Israel. I think, rather than dealing with slogans, I’d much rather deal with a reality that both Israel and the Palestinians can live with; I mean, literally live with.

MR. SESNO: Prime Minister, in an interview with CNN a couple of days ago, you spoke of this Hebron agreement and your part in it as a sort of "Nixon goes to China" kind of thing. Does it presage, in your view, a "Netanyahu goes to Damascus" gesture to break the Syrian impasse?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Now you’re determining my travel schedule. And I’m sure if that happens, you’ll be there, Frank, as I remember. But I think it’s clear that Syria and Israel have a common interest in peace. I think we both will come to this peace negotiation from a different point of view. We view the Golan as a territory of critical importance to our security. Syria thinks otherwise.

Syria and we have a lot of business to do in Lebanon, which is a field of slaughter and a field of great danger for the peace of the Middle East. So I think we have a common interest in pacifying these tensions and finding a way to resume the talks and finding peace. And I will spare no effort to have these peace talks resume and begin this most critical of negotiations.

MR. SESNO: Do you have any optimism, though? Can you connect the Hebron deal with any prospects for breaking the logjam on Syria?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, the Syrians didn’t like the Hebron deal too much, and I don’t know what to read in that. You’re a diplomatic correspondent of long experience. What do you make of it?

MR. SESNO: Well, I’m going to leave that to you, sir.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I thought we’d reverse roles for a minute. But I think that we’ll find a way to resume negotiations.

MR. SESNO: You will find a way to resume negotiations?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I believe so. And this is what we would like to do. I think naturally there is a role for the United States there. It’s always played a critical role in the more difficult peace negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I’m sure, once a new administration is in place, it will have a pivotal role here as well.

MR. SESNO: Prime Minister, behind me, tomorrow President Clinton will deliver his inaugural address and begin his second term as president. What do you want from the United States? What do you expect by way of continued intermediary efforts in the peace process and security guarantees as you proceed?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, I think that the United States has played a facilitating role in the peace negotiations, as I’ve said, from Camp David right down to Hebron; not on the easy ones. The easy ones we can handle on our own. It’s the difficult ones where we need American assistance. And it’s been provided, I must say, generously, and I think in a very professional way, especially in the Hebron redeployment. I’ll give you direct testimony.

But I think, too, that there’s a larger reality here. You know, our part of the world is still not tranquil, is still unstable, is still one that requires a major effort to produce peace. And I think that the most important element of stability in the Middle East is a strong Israel and a strong American-Israeli alliance. If you have that, all the other pieces can fall in place. If you take that away, all the pieces will collapse.

And therefore, the special bond that Israel has with the United States, the special relationship of common values values of freedom, values of democracy, values of pluralism these are the things that keep, I would say, the axis of stability in the Middle East. We know that not all the societies around us share the same values, but it’s important that the two of us do and it’s important that we are seen to have a strong partnership; that radius in 360 degrees.

MR. SESNO: Okay, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it, and we appreciate your being with us.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you very much, Frank.