Interview with Prime Minister Ehud Barak on ABC News: This Week

Sunday, September 10, 2000

DONALDSON: The word from the Middle East today is that the Palestinian’s central counsel as expected will announce a delay in its formal declaration of a Palestinian state, which had been forecast for this Wednesday. That will give a little more time for negotiations with Israel, although things still look gloomy. A few hours ago we sat down in New York City with the prime minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, to talk about the latest developments. Prime Minister Barak, thanks for sitting down with us.

The Palestinian Liberation Council is now set to delay declaration of a Palestinian state that could have come as early as this Wednesday. I take it, you’re what? Relieved?

PM BARAK: I think that it’s a positive sign, but we still have to have no illusions. We still have a lot of work to do if we want to achieve this.

DONALDSON: Palestinian spokesmen have said that the negotiations will begin as early as this Monday. Is that correct?

PM BARAK: I’m not sure. The contacts will be continued. I don’t know whether negotiations, though, is the appropriate name, but I believe that we have to exploit fully the very limited time that is still ahead of us.

DONALDSON: In 15 days at Camp David, you failed to reach an agreement. This week in New York, once again, meeting with Chairman Arafat and with President Clinton, you failed to reach an agreement. What makes you think that another four or five weeks might do it?

PM BARAK: First of all, I’m not sure that we will reach an agreement, but I’m confident that the time has come to put an end to this conflict.

DONALDSON: President Clinton, after meeting with you on Saturday at your hotel in New York, came out and gave a thumbs up. Was that just sort of a sign to the press or does he know something?

PM BARAK: We had a very long, very informal warm meeting. We discussed what happened in Camp David, what happened last week, what might be done in order to keep the whole thing alive. And I believe that he just wanted somehow to signal to the press that we did not lose hope. And this is true.

DONALDSON: Well, in talking with the Prime Minister of Ireland on Friday, the President said, "This Middle East thing, it’s maddening." He’s very frustrated, obviously.

PM BARAK: He invested a lot of energy. We highly appreciate him in the Middle East. He invested, you know, a lot of time. He is aware to the last detail of what is going on and he knows by first names all the leaders from all sides. But until now he did not produce peace, since ultimately, there should be a political win on the other side. This opportunity will not repeat itself, and if we do not move toward peace we might find ourselves on a very slippery slope toward the situation. And they look at it at their own dynamic, and we might end up with human conflict rather than making peace, which would be a pity.

DONALDSON: Let’s talk about the sticking point, some 34 acres within the walled city of Jerusalem. The Temple Mount, as you know it, twice, ancient temples of the Jewish people. Of course, the Palestinians say it’s al-Haram al-Sharif, which is their holy site. And Chairman Arafat says he will never, ever, concede anything except full Palestinian control of that site, full authority. And you said you wouldn’t accept that. So where’s the compromise?

PM BARAK: I don’t think that it would be clever to discuss these delicate negotiations on the most delicate item on the agenda in front of the cameras. When they say that the other part of the declaration is that no Israeli prime minister will be ever be able to sign the conveying or conferring the sovereignty over the cornerstone of our identity to Palestinian sovereignty. So somehow a solution should be found that would not contradict those statements and allow us to accomplish a peace agreement. I believe that there is still hope, and we should be very determined and cautious about how to approach it in order to solve it.

DONALDSON: As you know, Chairman Arafat has said, "I can’t betray my people, I can’t betray the Arabs, I can’t betray the Christians, I can’t betray the Muslims. I will never agree to give up sovereignty."

PM BARAK: Look, Arafat is about to fulfil the dream of a Palestinian state if he moves forward, and we are going to fulfill our dream of putting an end to the conflict of having permanent borders to Israel, having 80 percent of the settlers in settlement blocs and having a wide Jerusalem with a solid stable majority, Jewish majority, for generations recognized by the rest of the world. This is the kind of deal which is dealt.

DONALDSON: So what you’re saying, Prime Minister, is he has to move?

PM BARAK: He has to move. It’s time, it’s a moment of truth. In a way, it’s now or never, not this evening but in the next few weeks. And I hope that Arafat will raise to the opportunity, rise to the opportunity and seize it.

DONALDSON: Tell us precisely what may happen if you don’t reach an agreement and the Palestinian’s declare a state unilaterally.

MM BARAK: If they declare state unilaterally, they break practically all the agreements that they have signed, and it will compel us to take some counter steps of our own.

DONALDSON: Which ones?

PM BARAK: I hope it won’t happen, and I don’t want to detail right now since there is certain kind of risk that this kind of predictions might become self-fulfilled prophecies, and I don’t want to reach that point. I hope we won’t, but we will be ready if we will.

DONALDSON: Well, leaving Jerusalem aside, you have offered a great deal from the standpoint of territory on the West Bank. If they declare a state, will you withdraw that offer?

PM. BARAK: The offer is relevant only around the negotiating table, and we set a clear kind of rule that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and since, until now, it had not been agreed, everything that will put on the table is in a way irrelevant if any unilateral step is taken by the Palestinian side.

DONALDSON: Well, Prime Minister, no one wants to predict violence, I understand that. But if you don’t reach an agreement and the Palestinians declare a state independently, there’s going to be violence, you know that.

PM BARAK: Sooner or later it might deteriorate into violence. I hope it won’t happen. I believe that Arafat fully understands — they understand not just the risks but also the opportunity and he will act, I hope, upon the opportunity.

DONALDSON: How would you rate the chances?

PM BARAK: Fifty-fifty, that’s the best thing you can do when you don’t know the answer and there are two possibilities.

DONALDSON: But on Friday, you were very pessimistic. You said, "No good," when someone asked you how things were going.

PM BARAK: No, I’m saying even now, if I have to summarize the situation – in one word it’s good, in two words, not good.

DONALDSON: You’ve said yourself that you’re taking a political risk for peace, but not all Israelis like what you’re doing…

PM BARAK: It’s clear to me that you cannot argue on one hand that you are making too much compromise, on the other hand that we are doing enough for peace. I have not yet, as of now, I have not made any compromise. I was ready and I am ready to negotiate far-reaching ideas that might lead to a way to put an end to the conflict and to put an end to the tragedy of some hundred years with so many graves already there. I spent all my life in uniform fighting for the security of Israel, and I know what it means to fight. I know what it means to lose my friends, and I know that there is no kind of better struggle to fight than a fight to put an end to it.

DONALDSON: Well, you personally, politically may not have much time. In the last two and a half months, you’ve lost your parliamentary majority. You lost the presidential election as far as your candidate was concerned, your foreign minister resigned, parliament desolved itself just one step ahead of voting for new elections. And surely you’ll face a vote of no confidence at the end of October when parliament comes back, and many observers believe you’ll lose it.

PM BARAK: No, I will not lose it. I’m not afraid. You know, it’s not an accident that I’m in this situation. I decided deliberately to try to solve the problem. So we decided not to take some golf carts and to drive along the golf course and find ourselves in a battle. We deliberately decided to go to a place where there is a battle in order to put an end to it, so it’s not a surprise that we are in the battle. I’m not deterred by this. I will do whatever is needed to leave no stone unturned and know whether we have a partner. If we find that we don’t have a right partner for peace, we will turn to the civil society agenda of Israel. We will push forward other items which are also highly important for us.

DONALDSON: But if a warrior gets slain in the battle, he can’t fight anymore.

PM BARAK: There’s no meaning to become prime minister of Israel just in order to be there. The only purpose of it is to change reality to the better, and that’s exactly what I’m trying. I do not see elections coming so soon, but if there will be an election I believe we will win it, since we are doing the right things, not for the headlines of this or that today, but what is really needed by the people of Israel.

 Interview with PM Barak on ABC News- This Week-Sept 10- 2000
 Interview with PM Barak on ABC News- This Week-Sept 10- 2000
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