Questions and Answers Jerusalem, 16 December 2001
Q: Mr. Peres, do you believe that Chairman Arafat has started to crack down, and assuming in his speech he calls for an end to violence, what’s your reaction?
FM Peres: We have to watch. We cannot judge by words or by speeches. We have to try to follow the coming few days, and the only way to judge is on the record, to see what is being done, not only what is being said. I hope he will do it.
FM Peres: I believe, basically, that we cannot meet the present situation just by military might. It is a terrible mistake. We have the right to use military measures for self-defense, but we cannot solve the problem only with rifles and planes, or retaliation. I do still hope that there will be a renewal of the political effort.
Q: What are your criteria for renewing the dialogue with Mr. Arafat, your personal criteria?
FM Peres: It is an impossible situation from any point of view. As long as Hamas is the one that decides the agenda of our lives, Arafat really becomes irrelevant. Hamas is basically Arafat’s problem more than an Israeli problem. Our call upon Arafat is to establish one authority over all armed groups. If there will be many, there will not be authority. If everyone will shoot in a different direction, there will not be a policy – there will be a quite chaotic situation.
Today there are at least three or four groups besides Arafat who are using weapons, who decide if there will be a cease-fire or not. You cannot handle them just by speeches. It is not for the sake of Israel, but for the sake of the Palestinians themselves that Arafat has to assert his authority and demonstrate that the Palestinians have one address: militarily, politically and otherwise.
Q: Is the Zinni mission over? Is there any point in the American envoy returning to the region?
FM Peres: I hope he will come back. I think he is needed. Under the present tense relations, it is important that there will be an American envoy who will try to have the parties meet and discuss, and look for solutions.
Q: What do you say to the Palestinian claims that there is a contradiction between attacking the Palestinian Authority’s security installations and expecting them to be effective?
FM Peres: We tried a long time to impress the Palestinians with the need to establish one authority just by words. I think what happened in Emmanuel was already too much for the stomach of any nation. Our retaliation was basically on buildings, not against people.
The President of Syria always repeats: There is a difference between terror and resistance. Some other Palestinians, such as the head of the Tanzim, say that they can shoot and kill in the territories, but not in Israel. That is nonsense. The only real distinction between what we used to call resistance, or guerilla is and what’s happening today, is that today they are killing children and women. No matter where the child is, no matter the woman is, no matter where the innocent person is – nobody has the right to shot and kill them. And you cannot call the killing of children, like in the Dolphinarium, resistance. What sort of resistance is that? Or in Emmanuel, the shooting at the bus and killing three members of one family – what sort of guerilla warfare is that? It is inhumane. None of us can support it, none of it can close our eyes to it, and we have to bring an end to it. We hope the Palestinians will do it, particularly after Oslo – when the PLO and Mr. Arafat himself have undertaken to bring an end to violence.
Q: What, in your opinion, does Arafat have to say today in his expected speech in order for Israel to say, ‘that was a good step in the right direction’?
FM Peres: We should listen to the speech and watch what the results of it are. Because, again, even a good collection of words will not answer the lack of credibility which exists today in many quarters in our country. The most important thing is to reestablish the credibility of the Palestinian Authority, and the way to do it is by deeds.
FM Peres: We didn’t bomb any prison, and we promised the Palestinians we shall never bomb a prison. We told them that they can concentrate forces as much as they need in order to exercise their arrests.
Q: Do you still stand behind the idea of a gradual solution, and what do you think are the chances to realize such a program in this situation?
FM Peres: There are two approaches: One is to have it done in one jump, which I would appreciate, beginning with a cease-fire, but it didn’t work. Another approach is to do it piecemeal, place after the place. We told the Palestinians: in every place that they will come and say: ‘we are in charge and we shall promise the security of the place,’ our forces will withdraw. You can see it on the map. We have withdrawn from Hebron, from Jericho, from Beit Jalla, from Bethlehem and we have even withdrawn from Jenin. But unfortunately, our army just left when a group of terrorists entered the country.
The same is true about Gaza. We told the Palestinians: take charge of Gaza and we shall glad to leave it. By the way, today we stopped the division of Gaza into three parts, and we are out of Bargouti’s house, which was not entered as the result of a political decision. But anyway way we are ready to go piecemeal, we are ready to go in one jump – it depends very much on the Palestinians.
Q: Does leaving Gaza mean also leaving the settlements in Gaza?
FM Peres: Not at this stage. The settlements must be part of the overall negotiations of a political nature, and even according to the Mitchell report, this should be the third station of the negotiations.
Q: You’re saying that it’s a mistake to use only military means. So what should be done?
FM Peres: This is the element that General Zinni put before Arafat. That is our view, and this is the test of what is going to happen. I expect very much, I hope the Palestinians will do their part, which serves them, I emphasize. We don’t demand that they will become the policemen of Israel, but we demand that they will be the masters of their own country, of their own state.
Q: But would you go for talks now? Would you say we should start talking, even if there is no cease-fire?
FM Peres: We didn’t stop talking. I personally talk with most of the leaders of the Palestinians day in and day out.
Q: How would you answer those on the right who accuse you and the other architects of Oslo that gave the Palestinians the arms?
FM Peres: I would say the problem is never the arms, the problem is always the motivation. If you have a weapon with out the motivation, it is not dangerous. But if you have a motivation even without a weapon, and for example you commit suicide, the problem is the motivation. I think that when we gave the arms the motivation was low, and I am afraid today it is high.
Q: Coming back to the definition of terror, would you say that an attack against soldiers in occupied territories –
FM Peres: I didn’t recommend any attacks. I think the best definition is that the best way to win a struggle is by dialogue and by political negotiations.
Q: After everything we have witnessed in the last few months, do you believe it is still possible that Yasser Arafat can again turn himself into a credible leader? Someone who it is possible to sit down and make peace with?
FM Peres: It is up to him to decide. I think he doesn’t have an alternative – none of us really have an alternative. I think it is a mistake on his part, and as a result all of us are engaged in a vicious circle.
FM Peres: The problem is not the measures, the problem is the results. I believe that many of the advisors of Mr. Arafat are telling him, ‘You have to make up your mind for the sake of the Palestinians’. By the way, the resolution of the Israeli cabinet says that while the Palestinian Authority is considered as a supporter of terror, it also adds that if there will be a change in their policies and action, we shall change our definitions as well.
Q: Is Arafat still a partner for you?
FM Peres: We didn’t elect partners. The Palestinians have elected their leader, and Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinians.
Q: Have you maintained contacts? Did you speak to Abu Ala this weekend, and that’s OK as far as far as the cabinet decision?
FM Peres: I am speaking to many Palestinian leaders, I wouldn’t like to mention names. I don’t think that they feel that I shall serve by mentioning names. I don’t have any problems.
Q: Are you allowed to call Arafat?
FM Peres: If I am allowed? You mean by the telephone company? If there will be a change, why not? – if the call will serve a purpose. I don’t use my phone unnecessarily.
Q: Do you see an alternative to Arafat?
FM Peres: I am not engaged in a search of this sort of alternative, and I don’t want to pretend that Israel can or should nominate the Palestinian leader. I think this is a mistake. We shouldn’t even put on a face that we have an alternative. It’s none of our business.
FM Peres: My mentor was David Ben Gurion, and he always used to say that it’s impossible to solve a small crisis, or even a middle size crisis. You have to wait until the crisis becomes great enough so everybody will understand that there is no alternative but to solve
it. I feel that we are nearing that point. The crisis is reaching a crucial point, and deep in my heart I hope that maybe all of us will become sober and come back to the right path. That is my hope – for the Palestinians, for the Israelis, for all of us.
Q: You mean Palestinians and Israel both have to change something in their policy.
FM Peres: One is a result of the other. Clearly Israel didn’t initiate the intifada, and clearly if the intifada will stop Israel will not have any reason to retaliate.
Q: It is possible that you’re going to join the call for a unilateral separation?
FM Peres: No, I believe that peace is a result of a couple. I don’t believe in single parents to bring peace. I do not believe that you can impose peace, I do not believe that you can have a unilateral peace. Because, if you say unilateral peace, it means that you leave room for unilateral war.
The ones who suggest a unilateral separation cannot answer the question what will be on the Palestinians side? Suppose they will bring in, say, a foreign army – are we going to intervene? aren’t we going to intervene? But I believe there is no easy way to escape the real dilemma. It is better to work hard and honestly and bring the two people together. If we shall not come together, the conflict will continue. We cannot make the map answer instead of the mind. We have to have a meeting of minds, not the separation of a map.
Q: Historically, don’t you think the Oslo process was a mistake?
FM Peres: No, I think it was the right thing. The mistake was to stop the Oslo agreement ahead of time. We signed an agreement in 1993 and it was supposed to last for five years. It was interrupted after the third year, and that was the tragedy for Israel. When Mr. Netanyahu decided to stop the Oslo agreement, that was the great mistake.
FM Peres: Peace is a life. like life is a life. Can you kill life? Can you kill peace? Oslo is a peace process, and I cannot see that one of the parties can replace the other party, saying ‘we don’t like the Palestinians, so let’s make peace with someone else,’ or vice versa. We are the two parties, we have to reach a common ground, we have to speak seriously and honestly like equals. I do not believe that we can overlook the basic conditions.
Q: You are asking Arafat to do what he did in 1996. Do you think he is still capable of doing so?
FM Peres: My answer is yes. What is more, I think that if he is not capable, he will not be capable to lead his people. The choice is before him. He cannot, in my judgment, nobody can, become a leader of one country with four armies.
Q: But how can it be under the present conditions when people are suffering economically?
FM Peres: If he will do it, all of this will be stopped and changed. The economic situation is a result of the security state. The minute it will be changed, as it was in 1996 – 1996 gave us, I don’t say a complete stop of violence, but a relatively quiet period of time for four or five years. What he was capable of doing then, in my judgment, he is capable of doing today, even more so. Because, in spite of all the anger, I can notice among the Palestinians and among the Israelis a hidden desire to return to normalness.
Q: Does the government have a peace plan?
FM Peres: The plan is to try and have a peace plan. We don’t have one yet. On the contrary, we have two different approaches – it is known, we never tried to hide it. I didn’t join the government in order to divorce my position, neither did Sharon. We know they are different, but we hope that maybe we can achieve together a cease-fire, a beginning of negotiations according to the Mitchell Plan, and maybe in the future we shall find more than that. But right now, when it comes to the permanent solution our views are different.
Q: Would you support an interim settlement?
FM Peres: I would support it without saying so, because the minute you say interim solution, you have a whole camp of people who are against you.
Q: How do you interpret the huge support among Israelis for the Sharon government?
FM Peres: I think it comes basically because of the disappointment with Arafat’s position in Camp David. All the peace people in Israel say: yes, we are for peace, but we are not sure that we have a credible party. The Palestinians’ rejection of the Clinton and Barak plan in Camp David created a very complicated situation. It is because of that, that I say that credibility is the most desired commodity for the time being.
Q: Since we don’t necessarily expect any developments on the ground, what do you see as the Sharon policy?
FM Peres: I think that the first effort, which is jointly done by us, is to achieve a cease-fire. The Mitchell report says clearly: have a cease fire an then the train will begin to move. The train can then move to the next station, which is the cooling-off period, confidence-building measures and political negotiations.
I must say, human beings are not rocks, they are changing. In some ways, without boasting too much, I was gratified to see that many of the Likud people, including Mr. Sharon, have announced themselves in favor a Palestinian state. It is quite a change. They also gave up, I think, the position of the wholeness of Israel, which was their previous position. They agreed to stop establishing new settlements. They have accepted the Mitchell report. So there are some changes, some achievements.
Q: How do you explain the refusal of Mr. Arafat at Camp David when he could get almost everything that he is demanding today? How can you rely on a man who refused such a great offer?
FM Peres: The difference between politics and economy is that politics permits you to make mistakes, economy forces you to pay for them. I think it was a mistake, and now we are paying for it, or Arafat is paying for it. They say that they were short of time, there was a misunderstanding. I personally cannot explain it. I think it was a mistake.
Let me make a wider remark. We were surprised, all of us, to see the economy becoming global instead of national. What makes the economy global is that science has replaced land. Our living is no longer dependent upon agriculture, but upon high technology. I think many people mistakenly think that technology is a tactical matter – nothing whatsoever. You cannot have high technology without changing the basic character of your society. For example, you cannot have investment if you don’t have transparency. Nobody will invest in a corrupt system. You cannot have scientific research unless you pursue only truth. You cannot combine science and lies – you cannot have a scientific lie. You cannot have free research unless you have a free society. So, in a very strange way, the new economy changed the character of may countries. I see even China today following the call of high technology more than the commitment to the communist ideology.
Now we discover the second part of globalization, which is terror. As high-tech can only exist in an honest society, so terror can only exist in a dishonest society. When you fight terror, you also fight dishonesty. Symbolically speaking, for example, the fact that the women in Afghanistan took off their purdah is part of the story, because in the 20th century the greatest event, in my judgment, was the liberation of women, giving them equal rights. A country that doesn’t give women equal rights is not a nation. In Afghanistan the women were slaves. Even women that are doctors, were not permitted to got to the clinic. Terrorists are terrorizing first of all their own people. You cannot have a haven of terror unless you destroy the fabric of any free society, and for that reason I believe that fighting terror is fighting dishonesty, fighting an evil performance.
For that reason, I believe that the United States cannot stop the strike against terror. The United States, or China, or Russia, or India cannot permit a situation in which a small group of people will prevent us from flying in safety, from walking to work, from building a skyscraper, or even drinking fresh water or breathing fresh air.
It cannot go together. The two parts of globalization – the new economy with the great promise and the call for a new system, and the new terror with all the dark sides of it. All of us were shaken, I believe, when saw Bin Laden speaking like a Satan. Who will agree to have anybody like him? Who will agree to have anybody like the Hamas killing children and people? Let’s not forget it, we cannot justify it – nobody can.
You asked about the gentlemen that were killed – they were killed because they were on their way to kill. Even the United States is seeking Bin Laden, alive or dead. I am sure that if the United States would have had any information about the four pilots who hijacked the planes that destroyed the Twin Towers in New York, they would kill them without any hesitation. So let’s not put on a face as though we have a heavenly situation. We have a very difficult situation, and the choices are not of our making. We do things that we are forced to do, not because we like to do them. We do things because we don’t have any other choice.
Q: Do you believe the United States will next tackle Iraq?
FM Peres: My answer is that the United States, in my judgment, will fight terrorism. I don’t know the priorities and I don’t want to pretend to say that I know it.
Q: What do you make of accusations that the military is to some extent out of control?
FM Peres: I know that the military are given strict orders not to hit innocent people. I think they are making a major effort to follow those orders, and if there are exceptions, or incidents and accidents, we shall investigate it. It is against the general line.
Q: Isn’t there a contradiction between when you on one hand stress that the government is trying to reach a cease-fire, and on the other hand the recent actions which weaken the Palestinian Authority?
FM Peres: No, because the Palestinians Authority could have taken action earlier and then there wouldn’t be any escalation. Even if you will take, not only the Israeli action but the American position and the European position, you can see that the voice is being raised, because there was no response on the part of the Palestinians.
Thank you very much.