SUNDAY, MAY 17, 1998

MS. ROBERTS: The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been here this week and is joining us now from New York. And joining us, as always, in the questioning is George Will. Good morning, Mr. Prime Minister. Thank you for being with us.

MR. NETANYAHU: Good morning.

MS. ROBERTS: You were quoted in yesterday’s paper as saying that there is an "interesting thread" in the last 48 hours, an "interesting idea" that might be leading to peace. Can you tell us anything more about that?

MR. NETANYAHU: Not really. If I did, I think I’d sever that thread, and I want to keep it very much alive in order to try to complete what I think is essential. That is, a secure peace for Israel with its neighbors and I hope that that is achievable. But it’s too early to say.

MS. ROBERTS: Some of the analysis says that it would be leading directly to final stage negotiations. Is that where we’re headed?

MR. NETANYAHU: That’s what I always wanted. I wanted to skip through these interim settlement things that cause friction and move directly to the heart of the matter, and that is a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that will determine everything – the question of borders, the question of security, the question of water, all these things that are indispensable for us, as well as tackle even thornier problems.

I’d much rather spend our political efforts, political capital, if you will, and a lot of time and attention, on the most important things. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with this interim settlement that we have to get through. And the thing that has been holding it up is the failure of the Palestinian Authority to live up to their part of the deal that they signed with Yitzhak Rabin and later with me in Hebron which means keeping their obligations – annulling their charter that is still on the books, still calling for Israel’s destruction. They have to get rid of that. Fighting terrorists, systematically, continuously – they have to do that. And, of course, stopping the incitement towards violence which consumed again, tragically, additional lives a few days ago.

This is the kind of thing that we want to see on their side. And on our side, we’re prepared to make the necessary decisions that only we can make about the security question, which land we can withdraw from without jeopardizing Israel’s security. These two things, compliance and Israel’s security, I think can forge the path ahead.

MR. WILL: Prime Minister, in your list of undertakings that the Palestinian Authority has not fulfilled, you left one out. They have an army, I gather, double the size that they’re supposed to have under the Oslo Accords. Now, given this list that you’ve just given us of their non-compliance, what is causing the problem that causes the United States’ policy-makers to say that Israel is the problem in this process?

MR. NETANYAHU: Well, first of all, you’re right, the list is about provisions, none of which have been kept in the deal that we made in which we did kept the deal. We redeployed at the time from 80 percent of Hebron, something that was committed to by the previous government and I had a lot of difficulty personally to do that.

MR. WILL: But I’m asking is how did you get athwart the the United States this way?

MR. NETANYAHU: Well, I don’t know that we did. I don’t want to get into press reports. I want to say substantively, Israel is committed to peace, Israel believes in the peace of reciprocity where the Palestinians keep their commitments. They have to be held to compliance.

I don’t know why Israel is given a bad rap. It’s been given a bad rap for a long time. I can’t follow the full contortions of consciousness and press reports. But I can tell you one thing. We stand on a simple principle that peace in our part of the world is based on security. If you ask me as the Prime Minister of Israel to sign a peace treaty in which we somehow erode Israel’s defenses, we make it less safe, we make it possible that a bus with 40 children will be blown up or that an aircraft that will land will be blown up by shoulder-fired missiles, that won’t hold.

MR. WILL: Prime Minister, May 4, 1999, fifty weeks from now, these accords expire, and if there’s no settlement, Mr. Arafat says the state will be declared. What happens then?

MR. NETANYAHU: That’s going to be an egregious violation of the Oslo Accords. It would effectively dissolve them, and any unilateral action on the Palestinian part would be met will unilateral action on the Israeli part. I think that would be unfortunate. We want a negotiated peace. We want a commitment, in fact, a precise commitment, to the Oslo Accords. We’re prepared to fulfill our part and the Palestinians have to do theirs. A negotiated solution is the only way to go and the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state that could very well turn into another Iran or another Iraq at our doorstep and jeopardize our security, those unilateral actions are not the way to go. They should be avoided at all costs.

MR. DONALDSON: Prime Minister, President Clinton says he thinks one reason India detonated a bomb is because they felt unappreciated as a great power. Does Israel have any thought of testing nuclear weapons?

MR. NETANYAHU: I think this whole issue should be treated very, very carefully and responsibly. We’re in an unstable world. We’ve emerged from a bipolar world in which the former Soviet Union exercised enormous responsibility on this issue and prevented nuclear proliferation and, indeed, even missile proliferation. They were very, very careful to keep their hands on these weapons.

What is happening now is that the Soviet Union is no longer there. Russian missile technology and other nuclear and biological technologies flowing into such regimes as Iran, that is very, very dangerous. We have other problems, as well. We see we are entering a multi-polar world where instead of having a new international order, we have increasingly an international disorder. And I think what we have to do, leaders of all states have to exercise tremendous responsibility and restraint in considering such questions.

MR. DONALDSON: Well, Prime Minister, in response to my question, you could have said, "No, we have no thought of testing nuclear weapons." And you have not. So, are we wrong to assume that you’re considering it?

MR. NETANYAHU: Well, we have always said that we wouldn’t be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East and that has not changed. You’re asking me about something that would follow a decision of changing our policy, and we haven’t changed out policy.

MR. DONALDSON: But for the record —

MR. NETANYAHU: But if you’re worried about the detonation of a nuclear device on the Indian subcontinent, start thinking what the world will be like if Iran detonates a nuclear weapon. That is my concern.

MR. DONALDSON: Well, Prime Minister, if Pakistan now detonates a nuclear weapon, might Iran now do it also? And might that not lead Israel to believe that you have to do it also?

MR. NETANYAHU: Well, we’re very, very careful with our policy and it remains as I stated. But I must tell you that I think that the greatest danger to the peace of our region and the peace of the world would be that the fundamentalist regime of Iran would acquire nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, I don’t think only Israel would be in peril. I think the oil lanes, I think Western Europe, and in fact, American interests, direct American interests, would be in serious jeopardy. So I’m all for achieving stabilization of this issue, but above all, preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

MR. DONALDSON: We’re out of time, Prime Minister, but just for the record, does Israel possess nuclear weapons?

MR. NETANYAHU: Well, Israel will not introduce nuclear weapons, and you can make of that what you want.

MR. DONALDSON: Alright. Thank you very much, Prime Minister Netanyahu. Come back. You’re always welcome here.

MR. NETANYAHU: Thank you very much.