15 October 2000
SAM DONALDSON: Seventeen months ago, Ehud Barak became prime minister of Israel, and some would say it’s been downhill for him ever since. His coalition is shattered, his forward looking proposals at Camp David went nowhere, and now he must deal with resumed violence. We sat down with him to talk about all this earlier today. Prime Minister, thanks very much for sitting down with us. Well, what do you expect to come out of this summit tomorrow?
PM BARAK: I hope it will end up with end of violence, certain mechanism — maybe American, Israeli, Palestinians — is to make sure that it will not repeat itself. And we as Israelis expect that the terrorists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad that have just been released by Arafat be put back behind bars, to put an end to the shooting of policemen and Tanzim — the street organization people — not shooting at Israelis or Israeli soldiers, and put an end to incitement and proper dealing or treating of holy cites like the Joseph’s Tomb or the Shalom Israel synagogue [in Jericho].
DONALDSON: Well, in recent days you’ve said Arafat has caused this, Arafat perpetuates the violence, Arafat is no longer a possible partner for peace. How can you sit down with him?
PM BARAK: We are sitting down first of all to put an end to the violence. This is a proper objective, and I repeat it also today. Arafat deliberately launched it in order to attract the attention of the world by paying with the blood of his own people. He’s mourning them as a human being, but he believes that it serves his cause. We are defending ourselves. And the real risk is that by launching this kind of attack, he sends a wave of destabilization all around the region with the unpredictable consequences, and we think that it’s about time to put an end to it.
DONALDSON: Prime Minister, many people were shocked by the brutal murders of Israeli soldiers in Ramallah and elsewhere. But disproportionately about a hundred Palestinians have been killed, and I think the world is shocked by that also. How do you think this is playing in world opinion, a hundred vs. just a few?
PM BARAK: He launched it. He initiated it. All these positions, Israeli positions, are isolated position outside of the city. We are not in Gaza anymore, we are not in Jericho anymore, we are not in Ramallah, and we are not in Nablus. So they — Arafat — are deliberately sending demonstration with a policeman and Tanzim people with rifles on one hand, and they are shooting, as well as 10-years-old kids. This is a crime.
DONALDSON: Prime Minister, of course they say you started it. Saeb Erekat says he and Arafat were in your home two nights before Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount and that they pleaded with you not to allow that visit. You went ahead. Why did you go ahead and allow Sharon to go?
PM BARAK: They were at my private residence, we hosted them. The
rest of it is not true. They didn’t mention it, and they didn’t ask for anything.
DONALDSON: They didn’t ask you not to let General Sharon go?
PM BARAK: No, they didn’t. And beyond that, our Minister of Public Security, who is also the Minister of Foreign affairs, Professor Shlomo Ben-Ami, he talked with the high ranking Palestinian official dealing with security in Jerusalem, the Palestinian aspect of security. He told him Sharon is going to visit. It’s part of the legal right. It’s part of freedom of access to holy cites by everyone. But he asked him, ‘What are your needs?’ And the Palestinians told him, ‘We have only one demand, that he will not enter the mosques.’ Sharon accepted it under protest, but once he accepted it, there is no way, we are open society, it is in the middle of our capital, and we cannot forbid it.
DONALDSON: Saeb Erekat told us that if General Sharon becomes part of your government, it will be the kiss of death for the peace process.
PM BARAK: They have a kind of tendency to turn everything on its head. When the Palestinian invited the leadership of Hamas 10 days ago to a cabinet meeting of Arafat in Gaza, it was a blessing for the peace process. When they release the terrorists who are responsible directly for the murders attacks against civilians, innocent civilians, it’s a blessing. It’s kind of a new momentum to the peace process. And when an Israeli politician that had been elected, like some of your politicians, by about one third of the people of Israel, is visiting a place after all arrangements had been made with Palestinian security, this is a kiss of death? It’s ridiculous.
We are a democracy. Maybe unlike some of our neighbors, we are democracy. There is a will of the people. They elect our parliament and out of the parliament by very simple arithmetics we establish governments. We cannot hang in the air with our government waiting for a change of mindset in Arafat’s head.
DONALDSON: But isn’t it clear, Prime Minister, you’re bringing in General Sharon because you have too, not because you want to? Your government would fall if you didn’t bring him in.
PM BARAK: I’m not sure whether it will fall if I won’t bring him in, but it’s clear that the emergency that Chairman Arafat created, the relationship between us and the Palestinians with certain implications for the stability of this whole region calls for an emergency government in Israel. I’m not sure whether it will be established but I will do my best to establish in Israel the best government to deal with the challenges created by Mr. Arafat. And I am not ready to apologize for applying the rules of democracy in this country.
DONALDSON: General Sharon and the Likud say that the Camp David proposal that you presented, must be cancelled, not just off the table temporarily, but cancelled, period. Do you agree?
PM BARAK: What happened in Camp David was that we were ready to contemplate far-reaching ideas that were raised by President Clinton in an attempt to put end to this conflict, to make peace, and at the same time to prove whether we have a partner. I did it without making any extra concessions. By doing this, I made it possible, if don’t have a peace agreement, for our people at least to be united by the sense of no choice.
We will never lose hope of making peace with our Palestinian neighbors. They are here forever, and we have to make peace with the same people who are demonstrating right now against us. But if the leadership is not right now, leadership can change, leadership can change its mind, open its eyes, or being replaced. We will make peace with the Palestinian people, but until then we’ll stand firm on our right to live here as a free sovereign open democratic society and we will not yield to violence. And we expect the rest of the world to stand by us in this kind of endeavor.
DONALDSON: But, sir, it sounds to me like you’re saying your proposals are shelved in your mind until the time is right. I’m asking you whether they’re going to be cancelled. General Sharon insists they be cancelled. He thinks you were making concessions.
PM BARAK: General Sharon insists somehow on taking the blame upon us for closing the opening for peace, and for obvious reasons, I am not ready to do it. Technically, there are no such commitments. We didn’t put them on paper. We agreed in advance that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and President Clinton as well as myself have said at the end of Camp David that all the ideas — they are not even concessions or commitments — all the ideas that were arrived at are null and void. So formally they are null and void. Practically, no one forgets them, but they are not on the table since Arafat refused to take them as basis for negotiations. So the responsibility is now with Arafat, and I do not accept the suggestion of General Sharon that we will take the responsibility.
DONALDSON: But you may raise those proposals again?
PM BARAK: I cannot predict what shape the peace process will take in the future. It is no secret that the imprint of the last few weeks will leave some scars on the collective psyche of Israelis, as well as Palestinians. It won’t be easy to resume it, but I’m confident that somehow, ultimately, it will be resumed. But we will never yield to violence, and we will stand firm and united to the extent possible defending the essence of our rights.
||Outbreak of Violence in Jerusalem and the Territories – Sept/Oct 2000|