September 21, 2001
Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna: I’m joined by Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Firstly, do you believe that there is any linkage between the conflict in the Middle East and the attack in the United States?
PM Sharon: No, I don’t think so. I think the attack in the United States is an attack against the values – democratic values – liberal way of life, freedom of speech. It’s an attempt to impose on us democracies that way of life they would like to impose upon us.
I was watching President Bush yesterday. That was a very remarkable session. I would like to congratulate President Bush for his decision to lead the struggle of the free world against terror. We, in Israel, stand by you, and we are ready to provide any minute, any kind of help. It can be military, civilian or any other support which would be needed. And no doubt we participate in your grief.
Hanna: President Bush and the United States has made very clear in the past 10 days that the conflict in the Middle East is an obstacle to forging a coalition in the war against terrorism. President Bush has personally asked you to expedite a cease-fire meeting between Israelis and Palestinians to lower the level of conflict and get back to the negotiating table. This meeting has still not happened. Why not?
PM Sharon: I suggested last Sunday a cease-fire. I expected Chairman Arafat to announce a cease-fire. He declared it last Monday. It lasted for maybe 18 or 20 hours, and then there was a burst of terror that did not stop for the last couple days.
One must understand we have been facing Arab terror, now Palestinian terror, Arab terror, now for over 120 years. We suffered thousands of casualties. There are thousands of broken families, and we have learned a long time ago that one cannot get into compromise with terror. One cannot negotiate under fire. I hope that Arafat will understand that and stop the fire.
I believe that next week, if that will happen — I hope it will happen – and then it will be quiet, calm, and the meeting will take place.
Hanna: Was there an indication from Israeli intelligence sources of the possibility of any attack being planned against the United States? Did you have any indications from your own intelligence?
PM Sharon: We didn’t have any indication that it might take that terrible form of terror. We were mourning here for days. Really, we are together with you; we stand together with you.
We know for many years that terror is the most dangerous thing for local, regional and international stability, and we have been fighting terror all of our lives. My grandfather was fighting terror here – my parents, myself, my sons. I know Israeli families who have been fighting and facing Arab and Palestinian terror for five, six generations. We know there is no compromise with terror. One should fight terror.
It’s a kind of war that mankind will not like to conduct, but has to because there is a danger to our values of democracy and freedom.
Hanna: Is there an imbalance between what the United States is asking of you – to get back to the negotiating table, if necessary, make concessions to allow negotiations to happen – and between what you are saying: that you will not negotiate under fire, that you have said that since you have been prime minister? Are you under pressure from the United States to step away from your principles?
PM Sharon: No, we are not under any pressure by the United States. There is a close understanding and close traditional friendship, and I think that one cannot surrender to terror. What do we ask? We ask one thing: we want to live a peaceful life here. We are ready to help. I don’t think there’s any kind of an obstacle.
All together, one must look and understand that Chairman Arafat conducts terror. His strategy is a strategy of terror.
Hanna: Well, he has, indeed, himself called for a cease-fire.
But to move to another point, and that is, a decade ago, Israelis were wearing gas masks. They were under attack during the Gulf War. They were on the sidelines, unable to retaliate. Are you concerned that such a scenario could emerge again because the U.S. does not want Israel playing an active role in the coalition?
PM Sharon: Look, we offered all our help. We gave all the help; we will be giving help. We understand this is a kind of war, and it’s about Arafat.
We have to remember that Arafat was the one who started with hijacking airplanes already in 1968. He was the one who was fully responsible for the terrible murder of our members in the Olympic games in 1968. Arafat, himself, instructed – and he was monitored – instructed the killing of two American ambassadors and a Belgian one in Khartoum in the Sudan in, I think, March of 1973.
Hanna: But what you are saying in looking back at the past is that there is no possibility of negotiating with Yasser Arafat?
PM Sharon: We have a problem there. All together, I believe that they will be joining the coalition, which I fully support, but they should not support and not give shelter and not provide any means of training and so on to terrorist organizations.
We have to know one thing: Arafat is hosting, training, supporting, sponsoring terrorist organizations. There is a coalition of terror who are his own forces, security services, together with the Islamic Jihad.
Hanna: Is negotiation, then, not a possibility?
PM Sharon: I’ll tell you what should be done. I believe that every country that would like to participate in this struggle against terror should get rid or arrest or dismantle or deport those organizations. Arafat is one of those. No doubt, Arafat is a terrorist. We have to understand that. He is a terrorist, a host of terrorist organizations.
But I hope that the day will come that we will be able to conduct peace negotiations with the Palestinian people. I believe that we can live together with the Palestinians.
When I was born here on one of the farms in Israel, my childhood, I never thought for one day that we will not be living together with Arabs… But we’ll not live with terror. Because I don’t think that the free world should live with terror. The United States cannot live with terror. We cannot live with terror. We share the same values, and we should not let terror conduct our lives.
I know it’s going to be a very complicated struggle; it’s going to be a long struggle. We are ready to give any help and support, but I believe the day will come. It will quiet; life will be normal; and we will be able to continue and develop. That is all that we want, what people want, what people want in New York, in Washington, in Pittsburgh, in any other place in the United States or in Europe. People want to live peacefully. That’s what we want.
But in order to live peacefully, with our values, we have to struggle against terror. We have been doing it for many years. We paid a terrible price, a terrible price for that. But we understand that.
And we are on the side of those who have decided to fight terror. There is no good terror and bad terror. Terror is terror. There’s not terror that you can accept and terror that you cannot accept. Terror is terror. Murder is murder. And we have to fight against them.
And what is important – words and declarations are not important – deeds are important.
Hanna: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, thank you very much indeed for joining us.