Interview with Prime Minister Ehud Barak
on NBC News "Meet the Press"

October 8, 2000

MR. RUSSERT: We are joined right now live from Israel with the leader of Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Mr. Barak, good morning. Is the Middle East on the brink of war?

PRIME MIN. BARAK: I hope not, but we cannot compel or impose peace on our neighbors. We are determined and we voted to do whatever we can and to leave no stone unturned on the way to peace, but if we won’t find partners, we will know what to do, and with the same determination, we will stand firm against whatever kind of challenge.

MR. RUSSERT: You have said that Mr. Arafat has 48 hours to stop the violence. Does he have the power to stop the violence?

PRIME MIN. BARAK: Of course he has, if he just will issue simple, clearcut orders to the leaders of Tanzim and to the leader of his security and police forces, it will stop within 12 hours.

MR. RUSSERT: You have said unless the violence stops within 48 hours, by Tuesday, you — the Israelis — will use all available means to stop it. What does that mean?

PRIME MIN. BARAK: Well, it means that we have to make up our mind. We are an independent state with respect to the rights of its own citizens to live in freedom and the respect to the right of self-defense of its people in uniform.

So we know that Arafat initiated this whole series of events, somehow using the willingness to sacrifice of his own people to draw the world attention back to his cause. We know that he can stop it. So if he doesn’t, we cannot but draw the conclusion that if he doesn’t want to make peace, it means that he deliberately decided to put an end to the peace process and to go into a conflict. Once he has done it, we don’t have a choice but to respond. Until now, I ordered our people not to act, but just to respond. From now on, if it will become clear that there is no partner, we will have to see him as a rival, not a partner, and to act upon this judgment accordingly.

MR. RUSSERT: Unless the violence stops, Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians will now be seen as enemies, not partners in peace?

PRIME MIN. BARAK: Well, I don’t want to use, you know, the exact definitions of terms of battlefield. We are living within each other, intertwined with the two communities, but we will have to see the whole system and institutions of Arafat as it is.

You know, he’s violated every agreement we’ve had. He had to disarm the Tanzim, the street organization, the Fatah street organization. He had to collect weapons. He had to put Hammas and Jihad, Islamic Jihad terrorists behind bars, and he does not do anything of this issue. In fact, he even allows his policemen and security people and the Tanzim to shoot at our same people with the same rifles that we just gave them two or three years ago.

MR. RUSSERT: The Palestinians say, Mr. Prime Minister, that what provoked the violence was an Israeli’s visit, Ariel Sharon’s visit, to Temple Mount. And the speaker of your parliament, Abraham Burg, said today that that visit was a provocation. Do you believe that Ariel Sharon should not have gone to the Temple Mount, and did his visit set off this violence?

PRIME MIN. BARAK: I believe Ariel Sharon is in a way the excuse, not the real source of it. The events the day before an explosive charge killed an IDF soldier of us in the Gaza Strip. During Ariel Sharon’s visit, there was no real or large-scale violence on the Temple Mount except for shouting and cursing Israeli Arab members of Knesset. In fact, our minister of foreign affairs coordinated the visit with one of the heads of the Palestinian security services, who told us that if Sharon doesn’t go into the mosque, it’s okay with them. Sharon agreed to it under protest, and once he agreed, there is no way by the Israeli law to forbid his visit to the Temple Mount. It’s a place that is open for visitors all around the earth.

MR. RUSSERT: But was it prudent for him to go in the middle of peace negotiations?

PRIME MIN. BARAK: Yes, of course. It’s been approved many times to many people, and it’s not something kind of unique or rare that current Israeli politicians are visiting the Temple Mount. Of course, it might contributed somehow indirectly, but more than anything else, let me tell you frankly it was used deliberately as an excuse by Chairman Arafat to close his eyes to much more provocative activities as set by the Palestinian Authority and his own people.

MR. RUSSERT: As you know, the United Nations Security Council last night adopted a resolution which condemned the, quote, "excessive use of force against Palestinians," and the United States abstained but did not veto that resolution, which means it goes into force. One, do you agree with the resolution; two, should the United States have vetoed that resolution?

PRIME MIN. BARAK: I do not agree with the resolution. I would prefer that the United States would veto it, but I understand the considerations of the American State Department, of Mrs. Albright, Mr. Holbrooke. We would prefer a veto, but we can understand what happened.

But, you know, there is something deeper than that that goes on. We as human beings together with the whole world are mourning our dead, and we can understand the pain and sorrow of our neighboring Palestinians. I can even understand the shock that goes through the whole world when we see a 12 years old kid caught in a cross-fire and ultimately killed.

I can understand how these views are shocking and leaving an imprint on the minds of any civilized human being. At the same time, I should tell you that leaders should be able to look and to see through the screens and identify the real sources of violence, that this wave of violence has been imposed upon us by the will of Arafat and, you know, unlike previous cases — for example, the ’96 tunnel caves — where he could argue that Israel initiated the provocation and he can see no light at the end of the tunnel, it is now clearly the opposite situation.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, there is an agreement within our reach put on the table through the ideas of President Clinton at Camp David, and it’s up to Chairman Arafat to make up his mind and to choose whether he wants to have an agreement. We can have it. It might take few weeks to formalize a framework agreement and maybe a few months at most to detail it to the last letter.

But if he chooses under these circumstances to go to violence, it means that somehow on a most profound level, he prefers confrontation than peace, and he has to bear the responsibility for it in the minds of honest people all around the world.

MR. RUSSERT: Finally, if Mr. Arafat is not able to stop the violence or is not willing to try to stop the violence, are you prepared that a war could spread to Lebanon, Syria, even Iraq?

PRIME MIN. BARAK: I prefer not to use this word, not to create a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy about a major war in the Middle East. We are determined to defend Israel. We really have left no stone unturned on the way to peace, but if we find that we will have to fight, we aa courageous people, and we are a small and a strong people, and if we have to struggle, we will struggle.

I still hope that a way out will be found, but we will be there, whether for stretching our arms for peace or to stand firm in the struggle, and I believe that we’ll prevail and that peace will come if we know how to insist of the very right of a Jewish democratic open society to blossom in the Middle East. Unlike North America — you are lucky to be in North America — and unlike Western Europe, we are living in a very tough neighborhood where there is no mercy for the weak, no second opportunity for those who cannot defend themselves, and we are suggesting peace, but we are strong enough to stand whatever challenge we will have to face.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Arafat’s deadline is when?

PRIME MIN. BARAK: I don’t know. I cannot penetrate his soul. His deadline is kind of moving gradually. It was 13 of September. It’s now 15 of November. It might be the first of January, but it’s clear that we have a few weeks, not years, to kind of recycle the whole process.

MR. RUSSERT: Now, his deadline to stop the violence is when? When are the 48 hours up?

PRIME MIN. BARAK: Oh, I thought you mean the unilateral declaration of independence, which I think should not be allowed to happen. But I believe that if within the next two days we will not see real cards on the ground, I will have no choice but to interpret it as a deliberate decision by Mr. Arafat to put an end to the negotiation and go toward conflict, and we will know to read the signals.

MR. RUSSERT: Prime Minister Ehud Barak, we thank you very much for joining us this morning.

 Interview with Israel PM Barak on NBC News Meet the Press-08-Oct-2000
 Interview with Israel PM Barak on NBC News Meet the Press-08-Oct-2000
Outbreak of Violence in Jerusalem and the Territories – Sept/Oct 2000