Israel Foreign Minister Shimon Peres Interview on PBS Newshour

May 3, 2001

Terence Smith: We just heard Secretary Powell saying that really nothing can be accomplished until the violence is diminished and stopped. And yet today (3 May)again there were mortar firing from the Palestinians. There were Israeli tanks in Gaza. How do you stop this pattern of tit for tat?

Shimon Peres: Well, much depends upon the leadership of the Palestinians. Much depends upon Yasser Arafat. But the truth is that not only we are suffering out of the terror, so are the Palestinians.

Terence Smith: And in much greater numbers, in fact.

Shimon Peres: Yes, it’s a tragedy for the Palestinians. You know, it’s a repetition of the very same mistakes that were committed and have been committed 53 years ago when they were offered a state of their own as a result of the resolution of the United Nations, they have rejected it. They started terror; they created the problem of refugees. All of us regret it. It was a man-made tragedy totally unnecessary.

Terence Smith: Admittedly, of course, there are two parties to this. Is there anything Israel can do on its part to stop this cycle?

Shimon Peres: Israel can and does many things. First of all, we decided unilaterally and unconditionally to improve the conditions in the West Bank and Gaza. To stop the closure, to increase the number of the Palestinians working in Israel, to lift all the restrictions on exports and imports to provide water, to provide drops. It is to our interest to see that the Palestinian people, the civilian life, will not suffer.

Terence Smith: Earlier we mentioned that there is an Egyptian- Jordanian truce initiative that has been proposed. You’ve discussed it. Is it at least the basis for negotiation?

Shimon Peres: It can serve as the basis if you add Israeli input to it because the paper or the ‘non-paper’ as it’s being called was initiated by the Egyptians, the Jordanians in consultations with the Palestinians. Now, such a paper cannot be of value unless the Israelis will participate in it or support it.

Terence Smith: What additional things does Israel want to see included?

Shimon Peres: We would like first of all to distinguish between things that were agreed upon and not implemented — and they should be implemented, and things that were not agreed which we have to negotiate. So there must be a clear distinction.

And then I think there is a list of confidence-building measures which mentions only what are the measures that Israel has to take without mentioning the measures the Palestinians have to take. So it must be more even-handed, more objective, more to the point where we stand on the negotiations.

Terence Smith: The central point of it is to get a truce in place, and then to have a ceasefire for a month or more in order to create the conditions where these talks can resume, is that right?

Shimon Peres: Well, if I can correct it, the ceasefire is not for a month, but to have a cease-fire, and after several weeks to start the negotiations. The cease-fire will not stop then — because you cannot negotiate under fire.

The nature of negotiation is to offer compromises and concessions. And when people shoot at you, you cannot negotiate. We are telling the Palestinians, look, bullets will not unite us. Bombs will make our position tougher. Yet talks will open us up and really reveal the extent to which we are ready to go in order to achieve peace, for their own good as well.

Terence Smith: So if the Palestinians are willing to go commit themselves to an ongoing cease-fire, a continuing cease-fire then the negotiations can resume?

Shimon Peres: Right.

Terence Smith: And are you hopeful of that?

Shimon Peres: The basis of the negotiations are so clear. You know, we have three signed agreements: Oslo, Wye Plantation and Sharm el Sheikh ….

Terence Smith: These three agreements over the past several years?

Shimon Peres: Exactly so. I think all of us invested so much in writing down the agreements and not enough in implementing them that we have more paper than reality. This time we would like to draw the necessary conclusion and put the emphasis on the implementation. Would those agreements be implemented, the whole situation would be different.

Terence Smith: In fact as part of those agreements, Israel is obligated to a further withdrawal.

Shimon Peres: Yes.

Terence Smith: Is she prepared to do it?

Shimon Peres: Yes, we are prepared to do it if the two parties will do likewise. I mean, all of us have to implement all parts of the agreement. You cannot expect just one side to implement his obligation and the other side will do nothing. So if the Palestinians will be ready to implement, as they should, we should also implement as we would like to do.

Terence Smith: Secretary Powell also raised the question of the settlements. — not only no new settlements but the subject of expanding or allowing the settlements to grow. What is Israel prepared to do in that department?

Shimon Peres: To start with, the present government, which has a majority of the right, put in its own guide-lines out of our own free will not to build any more settlements, no settlements. It’s quite an achievement. It wasn’t the traditional position of the rightist parties in Israel. On the other hand we have to permit the natural growth to take place. We cannot tell couples to stop producing children. We cannot stop building kindergartens for the children. You know, it’s a living organism. And you have to answer whatever life requires.

Terence Smith: So you intend to allow growth to continue within the settlements.

Shimon Peres: The natural growth. We don’t intend to expand the settlements.

Terence Smith: All right. You’re meeting tomorrow (4 May) with President Bush. What are you going to ask him to do, which is another way of asking, what do you hope or want the United States to do now to get this process moving again?

Shimon Peres: First of all, to continue in the clearest possible way the fight against terrorism. Terrorism has become a global danger. We went from a world of enemies to a world of dangers that may arrive everywhere. A group like the Bin Laden group can endanger many people in different places indiscriminately. And our feeling today is that the Bush administration position is that terrorism is a non-American act like it used to be with Communism. It’s not only a crime; it’s a sin. And there won’t be any compromises on it.

I hope the Palestinians will draw the necessary conclusions from it. You can argue. You can disagree. You can negotiate. But don’t shoot, don’t kill, don’t aim at children, at women, at innocent people.

Terence Smith: Do you want the United States to become more active than it has been? The Bush administration has been more reluctant certainly than Clinton administration to get involved.

Shimon Peres: No, we want a clear division of labor. We think the United States should lead the fight against terror in all places including with Israel and the Palestinians. On the other hand, when it comes to the negotiations, we prefer to negotiate face-to-face where the United States will play the role of a facilitator not a chief negotiator.

Terence Smith: Let me ask you about Syria. Tensions escalated a few weeks ago between Israel and Syria involving Lebanon. For a long time Israelis have argued that the Syrians are a stabilizing presence in Lebanon. Is that your view now, or do you think it’s time for the Syrians to leave Lebanon?

Shimon Peres: It’s none of our business. We think that the best thing that can happen is to see Lebanon freed from any occupation. The initial reason for the Syrians to come to Lebanon disappeared because our army left Lebanon. And the best thing as far as we are concerned is to see a completely independent Lebanon, keeping its territorial integrity, living in peace and not in division and hatred.

The problem in Lebanon today is that you have one land and three armed forces: The occupying forces of Syria, 30,000 soldiers, the Lebanese army, which is not permitted to fill its obligations and you have the Hezbollah. When you have three armed forces, you don’t have a country, you don’t have a policy, you don’t have a state; you have a chaos, you have assassinations and killing and dangers.

You know, the Hezbollah is priding itself that they have expelled the Israeli army from Lebanon. They forget that they were the reason why the Israeli army entered Lebanon. We have nothing to do in Lebanon. We are not seeking Lebanese land or water or politics. We are forced to defend our life. The best thing that can happen is to let Lebanon become Lebanon and stand on their own feet, on their own strengths, with their own destination.