ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU TALKING WITH DAVID FROST

RECORD DATE: FEBRUARY 25, 1997
AIR DATE: FEBRUARY 28, 1997

SIR DAVID: Prime Minister, in their 40 years of wandering in the desert, the Jewish people were led by God with a cloud during the day and a tower of fire at night. I wonder, do you sometimes find yourself wishing for such clear signs today?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, there are always clouds, and there are always towers of fire; and we try to reduce the towers of fire, but clouds are always available. They’re always there. But you make your way between cloud and fire, between storm and tranquility to what I think will be ultimately a terrific future for Israel.

SIR DAVID: You’ve sounded quite optimistic of late about, for instance, that you can see your way through some of the major problems that you face; that you can see a way through on Jerusalem.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: That probably is the toughest one of all, and I think it would be a mistake to assume that there’s anyone in Israel in fact, I think anyone in the Jewish people for whom Jerusalem doesn’t remain the seat of our aspirations. You know, it’s been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years. It had been taken away from us. It was divided. It had a "Berlin Wall" built in it for 19 years, until 1967. Now it’s an open city; it’s open to all three faiths. And it’s only been that way under Israel’s sovereignty, and that’s how it’s going to remain.

SIR DAVID: But how are you going to persuade the Palestinians of that?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I don’t know how you persuade. I think there are some things that are just there. But what I’ve been trying to do is, rather than deal so much with political questions, is also to deal with the human question. The Palestinians live here. There are 160,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem next to about 400,000 Jewish residents. And what I’ve done, what I’ve begun doing in this government that other governments did not do, is to build not only for Jews but for Arabs, for the Palestinian residents.

SIR DAVID: Well, now this is obviously right central to the controversy that’s going on right now about Har Homa, where you’re planning to build 2,600 Jewish houses, and

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: And actually a greater number of Palestinian houses.

SIR DAVID: 3,500?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Yes, spread throughout the city. That’s not been done before. Sure, we’ve built for Jews since 1967 quite a lot. But we’ve never really built for Arabs, and I’m changing that. A few weeks ago, my government allocated roughly 50 million dollars for the development of infrastructure for Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem sewage, lighting, security, street security, and so on. These things, I think, are immensely important, so obviously we have political questions to resolve. But I think that in any conception that I can see, the development of Jerusalem means the development of its Arab residents and its Jewish residents. And this is our policy.

SIR DAVID: What did President Clinton think of your plans on this? Did you discuss them with him at all?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, I stated our policy. I didn’t seek affirmation, and I didn’t receive affirmation. Because obviously even between good friends, and I don’t think you’ll find closer friends than Israel and the United States, you can have family disagreements here and there. Formally, we have a disagreement here. Do we have a real disagreement? I don’t know. Does anyone in the United States seriously think that we would allow a "Berlin Wall" to be rebuilt in the center of our city? That we will have again barbed wire? That we will again tear the city into two? It’s not going to happen.

SIR DAVID: That’s the subject of Jerusalem, and the difference is clear between the two sides. When it comes to the question of Palestinian statehood or Palestinian entity or et cetera, what are the things that you are happy with and what are the things that you’re not? You don’t mind a Palestinian entity having its own currency, its own flag or its own airport? They’re all right, are they?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, many other things, I would say. I would look at it actually differently. All we’re discussing here I’m speaking now, I assume, to a British audience

SIR DAVID: And to an American

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: To an American audience. Well, all right. America is a slightly larger country that Britain, but Britain is a slightly larger country than Israel. All of this greater Israel that everybody is talking about is all of 50 miles wide from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. Within those 50 miles, about 35 miles are what is called the West Bank, or the Mountains of Samaria and Judea, the Judean Mountains. That area, that wall, protects what remains of Israel, which is 10 miles, 15 miles along the sea, where 75 percent of our population live. This protective wall of the Judean Mountains happens to be not only our ancestral homeland, but also a place where about a million Palestinians live. So we have to resolve the problem of reconciling our security with their desire for freedom and our ancestral claims, our historical claims, with their claims. And my idea is to resolve it in such a way that the Palestinians in those areas on this mountain basically, it’s a mountain where they live, they run their own affairs. They have self-government. They choose their own representatives. They legislate

SIR DAVID: Their own laws?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: They legislate their own laws. They levy their own taxes. They run every aspect of their lives with no interference from us. It’s self-government. But those powers that can threaten Israel, our most basic interests, including our security, that remains under Israeli control. I’ll give you an example. Did you fly into Israel?

SIR DAVID: Yes, I did.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: You unfortunately couldn’t walk from Lebanon over

SIR DAVID: No, I’ve given up going on the water.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, you couldn’t even drive yet.

SIR DAVID: Yes, no.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: But you will one day be able to drive across Europe through Turkey, through Syria, and you’ll come to Israel. But at the moment you flew. You flew in from the Mediterranean. Your plane came in, after about a minute it crossed the old lines of Israel, went over the West Bank, made a turn, and was above the airspace of the Judean Mountains. If that becomes a Palestinian state, then they can have control of the airspace. They can, for example, if it becomes a full-fledged Palestinian state, bring in 1,000 people with the shoulder-fired missiles and shoot down that plane. They couldn’t only shoot down that plane; they might even be able to threaten the whole Israeli Air Force. If there’s no Israeli Air Force, there’s no Israel.

So, what I’m suggesting, rather than belabor this I’m giving this as an example there has to be a certain limitation of powers on those areas, of those powers of the Palestinian entity that could threaten Israel. And what I’m suggesting is precisely that. Let them have the most generous self- government, absent those sovereign powers that could threaten us and could threaten the peace. That is the idea that I have in mind.

SIR DAVID: Which means could they have their own army under your definition?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, they have an armed force now.

SIR DAVID: They do?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Of roughly 24-25,000 people. Obviously, if it grew, it would be a major threat. It’s enough for them to control their internal security. It should stay in a circumscribed form so as not to threaten ours.

SIR DAVID: Could they sign treaties with other countries under your definition?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: No. Well, not military treaties. Think of it yourself. If you were living in London, would you like somebody five yards away to make military pacts with Iran or with Iraq or with Libya? Of course not; you would oppose it. So do we.

SIR DAVID: Could they welcome members from the Palestinian diaspora around the world?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: That’s a very tricky subject. Into their own domain this is something that will have to be negotiated. In any case, I think it’s something that we’d want to have a say in. But definitely not realize the slogan of having the refugees return to Israel, no more than we could think of having the Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab lands returned to Baghdad or to Cairo, and so on. By the way, an equal number of refugees, roughly, from both sides were created from the Arab war against Israel in 1948. So, rather than try to reconstruct history, or to try to asphyxiate, to swamp Israel with returning refugees, I think we need a solution for the refugees where they are; rehabilitate them, for God sake, after 50 years.

SIR DAVID: But I think in the diaspora when I was told by Yasser Arafat, although there are various figures estimated, four or five million Palestinian people around the world, he thought the maximum of half a million would want to return. Could that be coped with?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Into their territory?

SIR DAVID: Yes.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: We’ll have to discuss that. Certainly not into Israel. Israel is a tiny country, as you know, as it is.

SIR DAVID: You said once, if the Palestinians receive a state, there will be an unbroken swathe of fundamentalism from Iran to Algeria. And you saw a Palestinian state once as a sort of Trojan Horse. Do you still feel that way?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: It could be that way, because there is a fundamental battle between modernity and medievalism throughout the Middle East, and this is no exception. You know of the Islamic movement, Hamas, Islamic Jihad. Within the Palestinian domain, they vie for supremacy. I think what I’m suggesting is something else, something that would give a better life for the Palestinians and for us: an open arrangement, economic freedom, goods and services and people moving back across from the Palestinian domain into Israel back and forth into their territory. You know that I’ve lifted the closure, practically lifted it, so Palestinians can move back and forth now and work to ameliorate the situation. This is a sign of what I would like to see. But, of course, I think that the creation of full-fledged Palestinian self-determination, with no limitation on powers, would be an obstacle to peace, and not a solution.

I think, in any case, we’re locked in a very serious conceptual trap in the 20th century. We think that the way to solve the problem of embedded nationalities that’s the way life is in most countries, or at least 50 countries right now after the fall of Communism in Russia. We have countries, former republics, where one nationality is embedded in another nationality, ethnic groups in various places vying for independence. If we say that every place where you have a demand for independence you will have that independence, you will create a fragmentation of enormous consequence throughout the world, and you will have sub-states emerging, each with their own army, with their own weapons, with their own conventional, possibly non-conventional weapons. And we say, well, what’s the choice? It’s either subjugation or self-determination. I think there’s a third way, and that is balanced self-government: powers to that ethnic or national group, but not all powers.

SIR DAVID: So we’re talking of a "statelet," or is there a new word for this?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: You know, I get into enormous trouble every time I get into that. Every time I get into that question, if they ask me frontally, "Are you for a state?" I say no. If you ask me a "statelet", believe me, that would send headlines throughout the world. I’ll tell you something that happened to me. I was sitting in this room, right in this room, with ambassadors from one of the continents, and they said to me, "Well, what about a Palestinian state?" And I gave them this answer. And they said, "Well, what about self-determination?" And I said, "Well, what do you mean by that? Do you mean and I started giving examples: "Do you mean Andorra? Do you mean this? Do you mean that?" The next day headline: "Netanyahu favors Andorra solution."

SIR DAVID: I read that. It was the Andorra solution or the Puerto Rico solution.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Or Puerto Rico, yes. I gave a few examples. You see, I’m very careful now not to mention too many names. But I said, "What do you mean by that?" I didn’t say anything definitive. Well, the end of the story is that I went to a Lisbon conference all the heads of state of Europe were there and I was invited as well. And we had a wonderful dinner at the palace there in Lisbon, and a gentleman walks up to me at the end of this dinner and he says, "I am the prime minister of Andorra." I said, "I hear that we offended you," because there was concern. He said, "No, for God sake, don’t remove the model of Andorra. We’ve had more interest than we’ve had in 30 years. People are coming; people are interested." And so on. Well, I didn’t give it a name, and I haven’t given it a name yet, but I will.

SIR DAVID: The Andorran solution?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: A solution that we will present toward the final settlement. And, by the way, I believe we can have a solution between us and the Palestinians. I believe it’s resolvable, difficult but resolvable.

SIR DAVID: Now, that’s the key question, obviously, right now, because time is moving on apace, and these things take things that were far in the future, and now a year or two away, and so on. And what is your vision of that solution? Why are you confident? What makes you confident?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, first of all, I’m confident because this is probably the most complicated negotiation that any country has had to face. It has aspects of our very survival, of our very existence; things that are deep down, our attachment to land that goes back to our biblical forefathers, but at the same time is the protective wall of this tiny country called Israel. The water resources without which we cannot live, and so on. All of these issues are embedded into this in this tiny piece of land that is being contested by both sides. I believe we can find an equitable solution to the Palestinian problem and Israeli problem that balances their need for running their own affairs and our need for protecting our basic interest, the foremost of which is security. Now, what are the conditions for achieving the solution? I think there are three conditions.

One is, it has to be a reciprocal process. We do things; they have to do things. We fulfill our obligation; they fulfill their obligations. That has not been happening so far. We’ve done the Hebron redeployment. I released 20 women prisoners, more actually. That was an obligation that was not fulfilled by the previous government. I opened the closure. I’ve arranged for the transfer of funds that have been pending to Palestinians. We have to see reciprocity on the Palestinian side. They have to amend the charter. They promised to do it, and they haven’t. They have to capture terrorists that they’ve released from jail. They have to collect illegal weapons. They have to do all those things that give confidence to the people of Israel that it’s not only Israel that is making steps towards peace, but the Palestinians as well. I would say reciprocity is the first condition.

The second condition is nonviolence. We can have disagreements. We’ll have a lot of them. But you resort to the negotiating table. You can debate and argue, occasionally scream and shout. But that’s what we do: We shout, we don’t shoot, and we certainly don’t plant bombs.

And the third condition, I think, is to have realistic expectations of what can be done. Israel has already moved. I’ve moved before the elections. I said I’d accept Oslo, which I criticized and I thought was full of holes, especially security holes, which we’re trying to plug now, but I moved. We have to see a similar movement on the Palestinian side. They have to stop talking about all the territory, about a full-fledged state, carving up Jerusalem, the right of return of refugees. What this creates are unrealistic expectations without and we cannot progress towards peace. There has to be a responsible movement of leaders. It cannot come from below. Where leaders take more responsible positions, so we’re all in the sandbox of realistic expectations. Right now, I think there’s a danger that we’re out of that sandbox on the Palestinian side.

SIR DAVID: At the same time, looking at the situation the Palestinian Authority had as a real fledgling organization, starting from scratch, and so on, in terms of just running the place, policing around Hebron and elsewhere, actually it could have been chaos. Actually, they’ve done rather well.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, some things have been all right. Other things could be improved. I think there’s a way to go. But you asked me why do I have the confidence that we can achieve peace. First of all, I didn’t say there won’t be problems and difficulties. And sometimes people get into this enormous state of depression. If something doesn’t go well for two months, they say the peace process is doomed, all these rather peculiar prognostications of gloom and doom that I, myself, experienced here. And I always thought, what are they talking about? They’re questioning our commitment to peace? My commitment to peace? My commitment, I have two small children at home, two small sons, young sons one two years old, one five years old. What did they think that I want for them and for the children of Israel and for the Palestinian children but peace? It’s a bizarre conception of this great cyclical flow of expectations depending on a momentary impasse.

I’m confident in the long-term because I think I bring to this the majority of the people of Israel, because you cannot make peace on the outside if you cannot make peace on the inside. And the people of Israel trust my government, and they trust me to bring the real peace, which means peace with security, peace that doesn’t have buses explode in the middle of Israel, but a peace you can literally live with. I mean that literally. And because we can bring the people of Israel, as we saw in Hebron, with great difficulty, but we can bring them along, I think the chances for peace are much better.

SIR DAVID: And your children, when they’re 30 years old, what sort of a country will they be living in? Will there be two countries here? One country? What sort of world will they be living in in the Middle East in Israel, do you think, when they’re 30?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think between Israel and its Arab neighbors, I’m very optimistic. I think we’ll have peace. Of that I’m quite confident. There are other aspects of the Middle East which worry me, especially a rogue state like Iran, which is trying to arm itself with ballistic missiles and nonconventional weapons. I think these are questions that have not yet been resolved. But in our immediate vicinity, I’m confident about peace.

What would I like to see in 30 years? I’d like to see Israel as one of the most advanced societies, run along free market principles which I very much espouse, secure in its place here and among the nations of the world, thriving, not just surviving, thriving, and helping the neighborhood, too, to thrive as well.

SIR DAVID: You mentioned just now driving to Israel via Syria, and so on. Mr. Mordechai has said maybe there will be talks with Syria next spring. You’ve said that you would take note of the undertaking of the previous Israeli governments in those talks, but no preconditions. Do you really think those talks will get underway in the next few months?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I can’t force Assad to make peace. If he wants to, I don’t want to say it’s trivial, but it’s possible to find such a formula. If there’s no real desire to do that, then you can pile up all sorts of obstacles. I, for one, am trying to remove the obstacles and have a resumption of peace talks, but I cannot tell you if they will be resumed.

SIR DAVID: It’s inconceivable that there could be a settlement with Syria without them getting some part of the Golan Heights back, isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, if you are asking will Syria agree to a territorial compromise, why don’t you ask that of Assad? I see no reason why Syria cannot come into the negotiations with its demands and that we shouldn’t come into the negotiations with our demands. The whole concept of negotiations, in some parts of the Arab world, is, "If you agree in advance with our claims before the negotiations, then we’ll negotiate something that has already been conceded."

SIR DAVID: Well, that’s a very safe way to negotiate.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think so. And, you know, I may adopt that, too. Suppose I say to Syria, "You know, if you agree with our demands that we have the entire Golan Heights, then we’ll agree to negotiate with you." You’d find that rather bizarre. But yet the same demand is being placed at Israel’s doorstep, and people are actually considering it with seriousness. I would rather not get into the intricacies of how to formulate the resumption of the talks because I’d like those talks to resume. The less said publicly about this, I think, the better.

SIR DAVID: Who is the greater threat between Iran and Iraq at the moment, do you think?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: They are two radical regimes arming themselves with ballistic missiles, with unconventional warheads, chemical and biological, and both of them trying to achieve also nuclear capability. So it’s not a particularly appetizing thought or comforting thought to think of what would happen should these regimes acquire such means. And both of them, obviously pose a problem, a great problem, a serious threat.

Iran has a different characteristic than Iraq. Iraq has regional ambitions. Iran has global ambitions. It has an ideology. It has millions of adherents, east, west, north, south. I would like to see the moderation of the Iranian regime as one of the great changes that would close the 20th century and begin the next. And if Iran undergoes such a transformation of its ambitions and its practices, ceases to support, for example, Hizbullah terrorism, but also terrorism elsewhere terrorism in a 360-degree radius, certainly in our northern border if it adopts a more responsible policy, I would be the first one to welcome such a change.

SIR DAVID: The first time we talked was during the Gulf War. Have you since then ever seen any evidence that Saddam Hussein did use chemical warfare at any stage in the Gulf War?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Not against us. No, I’m not sure if he did, actually, but he certainly might have contemplated using it against us. But I think he realized fully well what kind of horrific response he would encounter, and therefore in this, at least, he acted with good judgment.

SIR DAVID: How close did you get to actually taking part in the Gulf War?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Close.

SIR DAVID: How close?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Close, but not close enough. As you see, we didn’t do it. At the end of the day the question that was considered in the government at the time was, essentially, if we would act against Saddam, we might, given the pretext, shift the whole focus away from his conquest of Kuwait to an Arab-Israeli conquest. And as long as we felt that the United States-led coalition was really going to solve the problem there, with great difficulty we abstained from responding. That, too, has its cost, because ballistic missiles were fired into Israel with no response. That may have led people in the neighborhood to misjudge how dangerous we view this development and that our lack of response in this particular juncture, in this particular context, and this particular situation, that it happened only once this international coalition led by the United States and Kuwait, it happened once that our lack of response then was unique to that situation and that situation alone. I’m not sure this has been registered around us.

SIR DAVID: What about March the 7th? Obviously, we’re coming up to the date of March the 7th and the follow-up to the Hebron Agreement, and so on. What are you planning should happen by March the 7th?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, we’ve agreed to have the first stage of redeployment that was part of the previous agreement, the previous government’s agreement, and we keep our agreement. We expect the Palestinians to keep some of the items on their side of the ledger. But assuming that all goes well, we will decide in the Cabinet next week on the extent of the first redeployment, and then proceed to do it.

SIR DAVID: And about 10 percent redeployment someone was estimating?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: We’re going to decide that in this room, but not today, David. And I cannot tell you what the percentage will be. I really would like to leave it to a discussion with the ministers.

SIR DAVID: But do you think that peace would be possible in the Middle East without the United States? Is the United States indispensable?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think so, yes. I think it has been. If you look from Camp David, U.S. involvement, our peace with the Palestinians at the end of the day they were very instrumental. The peace with Jordan, instrumental as well, and now our negotiations with Syria. The United States, I think, has been a very positive supporter of the peace process, a very positive supporter of Israel as well, and its contribution in this, I think, will remain important for the future.

SIR DAVID: And you said in a rash moment in one of your speeches, you said, "In the next four years, we will begin the long-term process of gradually reducing the level of your generous economic assistance," you said to America. Did that mean in the next four years, somewhere in the next four years, you’ll start that process or complete that process?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Start.

SIR DAVID: What sort of a start might that be? It’s $3 billion at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: No, well, be careful. The United States has, for example, investments, military activity on the soil of NATO, Europe, and so on, which is on a far higher scale. And, in fact, it gives military support to the European countries at a far larger many more billions of dollars. In the same way the United States and Israel have common defense interests. We’re very grateful for the American assistance here, but it served the larger purpose, I believe, not only of our immediate defense, but of the way the United States believes one can stabilize a very unstable area, the Middle East. And I think this defense spending, this defense assistance that we have had, will be needed in the foreseeable future because of the problems that I described.

But there is also a billion dollars, roughly, of economic aid. And I have pledged that by the end of this term of office I will begin the process of reducing that dependence, because as we deregulate, as we privatize, as we move Israel into a free market area, our income is going to go up. And as it goes up, I think we can begin to bring down the American financial support.

SIR DAVID: Is religion important to you? Are you Orthodox, Reformed, Conservative, or are you an agnostic? I’ve read everything, and I don’t know.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I’m definitely not agnostic, and I’m Jewish. I don’t know if you know that. About 80 percent of Israelis are secular Jews, but many of us, and I’m no different, have abiding belief, certainly a belief in God, a belief in our heritage. There’s got to be a special explanation for how the Jewish people were able to traverse these incredible stormy seas of history and, against all odds, come back to this land and build it up and now build it up and build it in a way that I think was not even imagined by the founding fathers of the modern state of Israel. I think it requires great faith, and I have that faith.

SIR DAVID: Why do you think the Jewish people had to go through so much? You mentioned the, as it were, happy ending to the story, but your father wrote about how the Jews seem to have a tradition of being punished and killed and mistreated around the world, and so on. What is the root of anti-Semitism? I mean, why?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: There are many roots, but I think it’s a manifestation of the danger of being different and the danger of staying different. Jews, unlike other people, most other people who were expelled from their lands this happened to us. We were expelled from this land by successive invasions, from the Romans, on. Most other people who were expelled either conquered a new land for themselves or assimilated in the new lands to which they were expelled to. The Jews refused to do either. They neither assimilated as a group or wanted to adopt as their national home, as the national home of the Jewish people, a new land. They wanted to come back here, and they stayed apart.

As a result, when you stay apart, there is the fear and the xenophobia of the "other," and so on. And I think anti-Semitism is partly that. I think there are other reasons, as well My father just wrote a book 1,500 pages long on one of the great expressions of anti-Semitism, the Spanish Inquisition. There are deep roots for this. And by the way, I don’t think Israel necessarily solved the problem of anti-Semitism in the world. And the founding fathers of Zionism didn’t say that it would. They didn’t say that the irrational aspects of Jew hatred would disappear from the world when we had a Jewish state; they said that the change would be that the Jews would be able to defend themselves against such attacks when there is a Jewish state. And I think in this they were right absolutely right.

SIR DAVID: And when you come down to not the terrible anti- Semitic examples of the last war in Germany, and so on, but when you come down to Jewish relations right now with, for instance, Palestinians, do you think that where there is a gulf between the two, it is because of religion? Or is it because of economic inequality, as much as anything?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Some of that, some of that. I hope it’s economic inequality, because we can change it over time. But obviously there are other elements: cultural elements, historical elements. There’s been an investment in the Arab world since the rise of Israel horrific vilification, horrific. I can say, on occasion, I feel it. I don’t take it personally, but it’s directed personally against me. I often meet with Arab businessmen from throughout the Arab world, or representatives, or even get, I’m happy to say, on television, Middle Eastern television, television from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere there’s an openness, a degree of openness, that is happening that I very much welcome. And it’s interesting to see, or to listen to, the responses of ordinary Arab citizens who hear me, and they say, "Oh, it’s so different from that image that we get in our press," which is, as you know, a relatively free press. "A press run freely by my relatives," Stoppard says. But I think overall what has happened was that Israel was vilified and characterized as a great villain, and it’s very difficult to take that away from people’s minds after it’s been implanted for two or three successive generations.

SIR DAVID: Now, did you agree with this statement from your tourism minister, who said, "I don’t believe it is correct, but if it is correct, the government does not have a right to exist." He was talking about the current Bar-On scandal. Do you think it’s as serious as that, that if it is correct, the government does not have a right to exist? Is it that serious?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I’m not even sure there is a scandal. I mean, all I know is there are many, many allegations and there’s an investigation going on and I prefer to wait until the end. Let’s hear the results. Then I’ll say what I have to say. I have a lot to say.

SIR DAVID: You have a lot to say, and you can’t talk about the specific case, presumably, because you’ve done your four hours of testimony, and

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, not only because of that. Because I prefer to wait. I mean, I think the truth will out. It usually does, at the end of the day.

SIR DAVID: But, obviously, reporters love talking about at last, at last, Israel has a Watergate, and so on, with this particular thing. And it can immobilize a government.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: It hasn’t immobilized this government; it hasn’t immobilized me in the least, even in the slightest. I continue to do everything that I need to do for the interests of the country, and I even find time to give a one hour David Frost interview.

SIR DAVID: Well, that’s proof that there’s business as usual, and the scandal is not really affecting the government at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: That’s correct.

SIR DAVID: And do you expect to see indictments or not?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think that all we have to do is wait a few days, and we’ll see the results, and listen to the results. I’ll have a lot to say.

SIR DAVID: I know you feel strongly about the way the thing has been covered in the media, and so on. But you think that the government will come out with a clean bill of health, do you?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, the government is not at issue, here. There are specific allegations against specific people, and I’m sure that many of the things that have been said, if not all of them altogether, will prove to be untrue.

SIR DAVID: What about Lebanon? As we look at Lebanon, you’ve said that unilateral withdrawal would send the wrong signal to Israel’s enemies, or whatever. At the same time, there’s a feeling among people here they’d love to be rid of that commitment. And I think back to the advice, you remember, that Senator Aiken gave the American government during Vietnam: "Declare a victory and get out."

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: One small difference: Vietnam was several thousand miles away, across the waters. It wasn’t across the Potomac or in the East Side of Manhattan or in the suburbs of London. That’s where Lebanon is; Lebanon touches on Israel. So let’s suppose we take Senator Aiken’s advice, which I’d love to do. I’d love to declare victory, dismantle Israel’s defenses in South Lebanon across the border, end of the story.

One small problem. Suppose Hizbullah follows to the border. It now will have the capacity not only to fire rockets, which they have now, a capacity they have now. Of course, those rockets will reach deeper into Israel, into our population centers, but equally it would have the capacity to fire directly into our towns and villages along the northern border with Lebanon or to penetrate with terrorist squads into our territory.

Hizbullah, you know, is not a collection of "Mother Teresas." These are very vicious people and they bomb and rocket and shoot people, our people. So our concern is a very mundane one; it’s a very concrete one. That is that if we simply walk away and Hizbullah is not dismantled and another force doesn’t take up the slack preferably the Lebanese army should do it under those circumstances we would be very confident, and that’s what I seek with Syria and Lebanon. But absent that, if we simply walk out unilaterally, Hizbullah will follow.

SIR DAVID: Is there anybody else, apart from the Lebanese army, who could fulfill that role, I mean, whether it was the U.N. or somebody else who could provide that cordon sanitaire or whatever it’s called?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: It’s possible to contemplate that, but my preference would be the Lebanese army because it would have a vested interest in protecting Lebanese interests. And I think, by the way, they are physically able to do it. They are politically unable to do it because Syria has been vetoing such an arrangement. Effectively, I’m in the extraordinary position of being an Israeli prime minister, a Likud prime minister no less, who says, "I want to leave occupied Arab territory," and I’m being told by the Syrians and the Lebanese government, "No, stay; stay and occupy."

SIR DAVID: That is a remarkable situation.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, the Middle East has some remarkable situations.

SIR DAVID: Well, you’ve cited one example of the ways in which the Arab mind and the Israeli mind are different when you were talking about the business of negotiation and wanting to settle before the negotiations, and so on. Is there a different mind set you find with your Arab neighbors compared to Israelis? I mean, is there a different mind set, a different view of time or whatever?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Sure. There are cultural differences, but I also find points of similarity with quite a few of our neighbors, and I find an easy engagement on more than one occasion. You know, there are also lots of cultural similarities. It’s hard to separate the two, but I don’t find a difficulty in communication at all, certainly not on the one-on-one level.

SIR DAVID: Well, you’ve said a very interesting thing you said earlier on that there are certain areas where you felt it was necessary, e.g. in your attitude to Oslo, that you’ve moved before the elections, not just afterwards. And obviously that move has been greeted with relief or whatever around the world, and so on and so forth.

And so, in terms of people who are watching you now who may be in the difference between sort of peace and war and all of that sort of thing, if we could put it in movie terms as it were, and we’re thinking is he one of the good guys who sometimes pretends to be bad or is he one of the bad guys who sometimes pretends to be good, how would you mark people’s card on that?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, in movie terms, one of the good guys, of course.

SIR DAVID: And in terms of peace, one of the good guys?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: The fact is that the Likud governments before me and now the Likud government under me has been able to achieve things that other governments could not do. I think it’s not an accident that the first peace was done by a Likud government with Egypt with Anwar Sadat. I think it’s no accident that a Likud government did the Madrid conference which brought all of us together and began the process.

I think it’s no accident that the people of Israel all want peace. Most of the voters that voted for me, Likud voters, wanted me to continue with the Oslo process, but they said, "Continue differently; make sure that there’s real reciprocity, that they keep their commitments, that they fight the terrorists, that security is paramount, and so on. I think it’s not only a misconception that people have that a conservative government, if you will, cannot bring peace; I think it’s the opposite. I think it’s far easier for us to make peace, just as in a paradoxical way it’s easier politically for a left-of-center government

SIR DAVID: Nixon to go to China, for instance?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: That’s one of the cliches, which happens to have a grain of truth in it, but it also is true that in general in democracies the left has an easier time making war and the right has an easier time making peace because of the ability to coalesce large coalitions around either option.

SIR DAVID: But it’s going to be a real test but in the next year or two, if you’ll ever achieve that sort of future dream, that future vision you were touching on, you’re probably going to have to move again.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, let’s see some movement on the other side. I think I spelled out fairly clearly that there has to be a measure of reciprocity and a measure of realistic expectations on both sides and a measure of good faith and the absence of violence. I think these are the terms that can bring us towards what seems to be the unresolvable that is, to resolve the unresolvable and it’s not going to be easy.

Hebron wasn’t easy. Many of the other decisions that we’ve taken were not easy, but I resolved to take them because I believe in doing something along the principles that I described. I believe that I can, with the help of the Israeli people, bring peace with security. There’s no other peace. Peace without security is meaningless. It’s an oxymoron; it’s a joke. But I believe we can move towards this, and there will be a lot of difficulties along the way, I’ll grant you, David. There are going to be crises and there are going to be difficulties, but I have a clear focus, clear compass how we can bring about a resolution of this conflict.

SIR DAVID: And in terms of your Arab neighbors and in terms of true peace, you’ve said, for instance, that there would only be true peace with the neighbors, you know, when they are also democracies as well. I mean, indeed, people have said that, you know, no two democracies have ever or but rarely fought one another. That’s one reason why two democracies means peace and so on. I mean, that would be the dream, wouldn’t it? A Middle East that was fully democratic? But, I mean, it’s probably an impossible

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Yes, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t have peace without democratization. For example, you had peace in Europe for the last 50 years facing a very undemocratic partner or neighbor or adversary in the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. But it was a different kind of peace. It was a peace that was supported by very powerful defenses called NATO, and look at what’s happening.

As Russia has democratized and Central Europe is democratizing, NATO is changing. Some of them are joining NATO. Certainly it’s still a defense organization, but it’s becoming a political organization of different needs, and some of these swords have been beaten into plowshares along both sides.

Obviously when the regime changes opposite you, when you’re faced with democratic or democratizing neighbors, the need for defenses is reduced, and as long as we have, unfortunately, non-democratic neighbors, the kind of peace that we can have is a peace that is purchased from strength. We’ll still need the swords, but eventually we’ll get to the point of, I guess, plowshares, if there is that democratization.

SIR DAVID: It was Tolstoy, wasn’t it, in "War and Peace," who said that the strongest of all warriors are these: time and patience. Now, do you think those two warriors are on your side in Israel?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Historically I’d have to say yes, even though Tolstoy’s warriors, especially time in the span of time we see very positive things happening: an emerging peace between Israel and its neighbors; the collapse of the Soviet Union that stirred up a hornet’s nest here throughout so many years; but we also see some unpleasant developments and dangerous ones looming, and we talked about some of them here.

But if I had to balance it all out, and I have to look, as we approach now the 50th anniversary of Israel, it’s a remarkable success story. We were in the graveyard of history 50 years ago. We rose from the ashes. We came here; we were 600,000 strong or weak, a small bridgehead. Now we have a state almost six million strong, and I envision over the next 10 years the majority of the Jewish people, for the first time in millennia, living here in the Jewish state as immigration continues, as our population grows, as our economy grows, as this whole experience progresses. I think it’s a tremendous set of triumphs of the Jewish people over a destiny that seemed to have been imposed by history. We’ve beaten history.

SIR DAVID: And the battle a phrase you used once the battle to eradicate Israel being finished, when might that day dawn? I mean, I suppose you’d say not as long as there is Iran in its current mood or whatever. When will the battle to eradicate Israel be finished do you think, if ever?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Probably when every Arab school child, possibly every Iranian school child, opens a textbook and he sees a map of the Middle East and there’s a small little triangle there that says next to it, "Israel," and when the Jewish people are described in those textbooks like any other people, and when there are no algebra or mathematics questions saying, "What would happen if you killed three Jews and add another four Jews, what’s the result."

I give it in the most simplistic terms because I think in an unsimplistic way, but in a very profound way, that what is required in addition to everything that we’ve talked about is education for peace. I think leaders in the Middle East have to educate their people for peace and they have to tell them that war is behind us and peace is ahead of us.

And I, for one, have been somewhat disappointed that after we went through this very extraordinary process, including the very difficult mission of arriving at a redeployment in Hebron, which was truly not easy, we don’t see a response. We don’t see Arab leaders coming up and improving ties, submitting I don’t want to categorically say all of them, this is not true, but they’re holding back.

When they’re holding back, they’re not holding back on us. They’re holding back on themselves and their own people, because their people deserve a different kind of relationship with us and a different future for themselves that a relationship of peace with us would give them. So I think at the end of the day you’d have this acceptance of Israel when leaders in the Middle East begin to educate their people for peace and undo the education for war and for hatred that has been the mainstay of so much of intellectual traffic in the Middle East over the last 50 years.

(…)

END