Jerusalem, 8 May 2001
I would like to thank you Howard for your words. I would like to thank the Foreign Press Association, thank you for coming. I will make some remarks, we call them headlines, and then if you will have any questions, only if you do have I will be ready to answer it.
You know from the last two months, I regard the National Unity Government to be very very important in order to be able to accomplish all those hopes that we have in order to be able to contain and face all the dangers that we are facing.
I would like you to know that all of us are committed to peace. For Israel peace is a natural and first choice. I am really sorry to say that I am not sure that is the first choice of the Palestinians.
I know that myself, I have been portrayed to be, maybe as a result of my long time service in the Israeli Defense Forces or just being a general, I have always been portrayed as a general looking for wars. But I would like to tell you that myself, I am committed to peace like everybody here in Israel. I had the merit to serve in all the wars of the State of Israel, always in the hardest part of those wars. I had the merit to command perhaps the best units and formations of the Israeli army. I went through the ranks, I could have seen it from every angle, and I saw all the horrors and fears of wars. I saw my friends being killed in battles. Myself I was badly wounded in battles twice and felt all those terrible pains in hospitals. I had to take decisions of life and death of others, and of myself.
Therefore, I think I can say that I understand the importance of peace, not less, or I may say even better than, many of the politicians who speak about peace, but never had that experience. I saw all these things myself. But for me, peace is not an election gimmick, peace is something serious that should last for generations and peace should provide security to the Israeli citizens in the one and only small country that we have — where we have the right and the capability to defend ourselves by ourselves. For that we have to thank G-d every day. That, of course, we have to preserve.
I don’t have to tell you that we are deeply saddened by every loss of life. And talking altogether about the Israeli armed forces, I don’t know any other military force, I would say, that has the kind of moral values that we have. Maybe the Israeli armed forces are the only real people’s army. As I said, we are greatly saddened by every loss of life.
Altogether, about the political developments, I see a two-step plan. The first phase where we have to ease restrictions while fighting terrorism — not a reduction of violence but a total cessation of violence. Then after calm is restored, we start negotiations. We have no desire to occupy areas already given to the Palestinian Authority. I can say that we have a burning desire to reach peace.
No doubt, we believe that the Palestinian Authority must fight terrorism. They made commitment to fight violence; violence will not get them anywhere. I would like to tell you in a very frank way — we will not pay protection money. That is our position. We don’t have to pay in order to create a situation that we will not be killed. That is not what we believe. We believe there should be security, that is the first role of the Palestinian Authority. They signed an agreement, that is what they signed, and that is what they committed themselves to.
Looking backwards now, I don’t think that the Oslo Agreement would have been signed unless Arafat himself committed himself and signed himself that he is responsible for that law and order, and of course no terror or no incitement will be here. That is how we see it.
I know that is a complicated situation, not an easy one. It will not take one day, it will not take one month, and it will be a long struggle. I believe in the strength of the Israeli citizens. Of course, we have many goals that we have to achieve and I believe that that is what we are going to do. Altogether I think we can look forward with optimism and we see what we are doing in the last one hundred years here.
I think that I must say that the Zionist revolution — maybe it was the greatest one – it may be the only true revolution that took place in the last century, in the last one hundred years. We managed to bring over here millions of Jews from all around the world. We brought Jews here from 102 countries speaking 82 languages and all were integrated. It was not an easy task, but all were integrated, they all speak Hebrew. We built here a tremendous infrastructure — from a very sophisticated industry to very interesting farming. That I know, I am a farmer myself, that I know maybe better than any other thing that I know. We have here from the most beautiful music, which I am sure you have listened to. We have here centers of research and science and a tremendous infrastructure which we built here. Of course, when you see all those achievements, I believe that we can look forward with optimism. I think that one of the main goals of the government will be to bring another million Jews in the coming ten to twenty years to Israel. And by the year 2020 our hope is that the most or the largest part of the Jewish people will be living here in the State of Israel.
So, having all those hopes I believe that we can look forward, as I said, with optimism. I am optimistic about the future of the State of Israel. We are united and determined to meet the challenges that lies of head. Of course, I believe the day will come and we will have peace with the Palestinians and with the rest of the Arab world with whom we have not signed yet peace agreements.
[Questions and Answers]
Q: Sir, two things have happened in the last day. One was the killing of the Palestinian baby in the Gaza Strip during an attack by the Israeli army. We would like to hear your comments on that. Secondly, the discovery off the shores of Lebanon of a boat filled with weapons. Could we hear your comments on that as well?
Prime Minister Sharon: Thank you. About the baby, I expressed my sorrow yesterday. Children should not be involved in all this struggle that takes place. I am fully convinced that the Israeli forces didn’t have any intention to hit civilians, to hit the baby. Myself, I expressed my sorrow yesterday when I heard it.
What was there? That the Palestinians quite often deploy their mortars by schools, behind schools. They use mortars and then disappear immediately. It has happened several times, and that is what happened this time. The soldiers, after one of our communities was hit by mortar fire, reacted immediately to the place where the mortar was fired.
Altogether, I am really very sorry for that and no one had any intention to do it.
I think that the demand should be a very strong demand from Arafat — there is only one thing he has to do — just stop firing, shooting that is all. Arafat controls the area, yet never took any preventing steps against the terrorist organizations and against their infrastructure. We’ve had many words, but steps were never taken. I think that Arafat should be under heavy pressure to stop fire and to stop terror. That is, I would say, the answer to the current situation. Altogether, I am really very sorry for that and I have been thinking about that since yesterday, but the fire should be stopped and the one who is responsible for that is Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.
About the [smuggled] Katyushas and the mortars and — maybe even the more serious thing is — personal anti-aircraft shoulder missile, I mean the Strella, which is similar to the American Stinger. It is a very dangerous development; the Katyushas is a very dangerous development. We know, we have been watching for months already, that there is an attempt to smuggle weapons by the Palestinian Authority. We know that this boat itself, it is the fourth time coming with weapons to Gaza. This time they were caught on a routine patrol and that only emphasizes the intentions of the Palestinian Authority.
Altogether, as you know, they are not allowed to have any weapons whatsoever beside the light weapons for self-defense or what I think used to once be call a side-arm. They are not allowed to keep mortars, nor Katyushas or anti tank weapons, nor mines. It is a clear violation of the agreement. As a matter of fact an agreement that Arafat signed — I saw him signing at Wye when we spent there ten days — he signed that all illegal weapons and weapons that they are not allowed to keep should be collected, handed to American representatives, taken out from the Palestinian Authority area and destroyed. He signed it. As a matter of fact, he signed to stop incitement. He signed to arrest terrorists, but he released all of them.
Q: Mr. Prime Minister, two questions. Just one as a follow up from the statement that you just made that this is the fourth time that this particular boat had tried to smuggle weapons into Gaza. Did they succeed the other three times? That is the first question. Did they actually manage to succeed to smuggle weapons into Gaza? Secondly, what political conclusions do you draw from this, from the fact that they either succeeded or tried to smuggle this type of weapon into Gaza?
Prime Minister Sharon: As we know from the captain of this boat, that was the first time, maybe once out of those four, they had not succeeded. If that is really the same boat, but they said it is the first time they were doing that. One must understand that the only one who could have collected them — only the Palestinian Authority. I mean no one had those means to be able to collect on the beaches of Gaza to get such quantities of weapons. They are doing that.
I think that what they are doing, Arafat would like to gain as much as possible by negotiations, but to prepare himself to further pressure in order to get more in the future. Otherwise it is very hard to explain why they have to violate the agreement that he himself signed.
Q: Mr. Prime Minister I think there is no doubt about the difference in military might between Israel and the PA, and the different Palestinian groups in general. My question is, do you think there might be a military solution to the crisis, to the war in which we are engaged? Do you see a political outcome of the situation? The second question is, do you think Yasser Arafat can feel secure, so far there has been a ‘gentleman’s understanding’ that the leaders might not be touched. But do you think that he can still feel secure in Gaza, Ramallah, wherever he will be?
Prime Minister Sharon: No doubt that all of us believe that at the final stage of the negotiations there should be a permanent agreement. I mean everyone understands that. I believe that at the present time — taking into consideration that this struggle with the Palestinians, now they used to be called Arabs until the 30s, only in the late 30s they started to be called Palestinians, this struggle started more than 120 years ago. My grandfather was facing Arab terror, my parents, myself and my sons are already officers in the reserves are facing Palestinian terror. I know families here that were facing Palestinian terror now for five or six generations. That, I would say is a bitter conflict.
And I personally, and mostly after we saw what happened with the former negotiations at Camp David and Taba and so on, I mean, we don’t have after all those concessions — and I must say that Prime Minister Barak really had gone very very far, he has gone to places that no Israeli Prime Minister ever had dared to think about and he really tried. He took, I think it was a mistake, but he took from his point of view a very courageous step. He did not manage to bring peace, he did not manage to bring security, on the contrary. So that means that maybe after that conflict, which is such a long conflict, it will be very hard to jump this mountain in one jump. Therefore, I myself believe that that should be achieved in stages.
First of all there should be a cessation of hostilities, of course. But then maybe the first stage should be something similar to non-belligerency. I don’t want to elaborate more on that. I believe you know of it, if somebody will ask I will elaborate later.
So I would say the end of the process, no doubt, will be a permanent agreement. I believe that before that, it should be a long period of non-belligerency. Of course, as a Jew — and first of all I am a Jew and that for me is very very important — but as a Jew I can tell you it is also hard to be a Palestinian, I agree. So we have to take some steps in order to make it easier.
Now, I don’t believe that we can start negotiations under terror and violence. That was the mistake of the former government because Arafat put more pressure, more terror, as more concessions were made and that is what happened. So therefore, if you ask me, if all the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is going to be solved by military steps? The answer is no. I never thought about it. But should it be quiet before negotiating the political solutions? Yes, that is a must.
Now, about Arafat? I don’t understand really the question. You asked if Arafat is safe? I can tell you one thing, we are not taking any steps against political leaders. So if you ask if he is safe from our side? Yes, he is safe from our side. But I don’t know if we are the only danger that exists for him. I don’t know that. But that is our policy, we don’t take any steps against political leaders. So I hope you feel quieter now.
Q: The Mitchell Committee has asked Israel to stop building new homes in the settlements. Such a move would be hailed by the international community.
Prime Minister Sharon: I think that I mentioned when I started, I said that I regard it to be very very important to form a national unity government. In order to form a national unity government, it is really a very complicated thing, but I am glad that I managed to do it. And I can tell you that I have all the hopes that this government will last until the coming elections in November 2003. But of course, we have to take into consideration other opinions, I would say of our main partners. Then we decided and we agreed that new communities are not going to be built during the term of the government and that is very very clear.
Then, it has been said about adding homes, that that will be done in accordance with the current needs. That is what is written there and that is the situation. As a matter of fact, I am sure you have been here for a while, so you know the situation here. Arabs are living everywhere. There are hundreds of Arab families who live in Upper Nazareth; there are hundreds of Arab families who live in Beer Sheva. I think if you walk in Ibn Givrol Street in Tel Aviv or in many other places, you will find there many shops owned by Arabs and nobody said a word about that. Beside that there is no connection whatsoever between the Palestinian violence and terror, and those communities.
Besides that, I think it is important to read the Oslo Agreement, I was not a supporter of the Oslo Agreement. I thought it was a very very complicated and a very dangerous one. As a matter of fact you can see what happened out of that. But in this agreement it said very clearly that the issue of Jewish communities will be discussed once we will reach the discussion of the permanent agreement. Therefore, I don’t see any reason for this demand.
Let us assume that a family is going to have a baby. It happens. So they have to leave their place where they have been living now for twenty years or ten years or were born there? What happens here? What happens, I just want to know. What should be? Let us say if that thing happens, so what should they do, abortion? What is this madness? We said very clearly there are not going to be new communities and when we said that we mean it. What I mean I say and what I say I mean. There will not be new communities. But now what is going to happen there? They should live, let us say, three generations in two small rooms?
We are going to act in accordance with the guidelines of the platform of the national unity government and an agreement that Israel signed in the past. That demand is something that we cannot accept.
Q: You were saying to the Mitchell Commission that you simply don’t agree with any points on this and that the size of the settlements will continue to grow.
Prime Minister Sharon: What would you have me say? Let us say that they have to leave the place, what should we do now? Let us assume, what would happen, for instance, if we would decide that an Arab couldn’t buy an apartment in Ramle or in Lod or in Haifa. It would be that all the world would be attacking us.
You have to know one thing. Jews and Arabs are living together here. I can tell you that looking back to my childhood on the farm where I was born, I never thought that we would be living without Arabs. We used to live with Arabs, we wanted to live together with Arabs and I believe, as a matter of fact, that I am one of those that can bring this about.
Q: [regarding Iran]
Prime Minister Sharon: The Arabs are now planning missiles of 2,500 kilometers and they are working or thinking now about a missile of 5,000 kilometers. The danger is not only for Israel. The danger is, let us say, for all the region here, and I think that the danger is to you and even to the United States. Therefore we have to look at that as one of the main dangers to the stability in the Middle East.
I would like to just take advantage of your question, I would say that there are two major threats to stability in the Middle East, in which we are interested, the United States is interested, Europe is interested and the region is interested. One is terrorism and the second one is Iran and Iraq. So we speak about a common interest, a common strategic problem that all those countries or regions are involved with or interested in. I think that every effort should be put in order to postpone this as much as possible — because they are working, it is not that they are not working, they are working. — to try and postpone it as much as possible.
I think that, being in Washington we discussed this issue, but I don’t want to go into any details about that. The United States is the leader of the free world and they have a major role. Being there, I must admit, I felt very proud, because when it comes to anti missile developments, Israel is the real partner. You know, due to our more sophisticated technology here — maybe as a result of the fact that in Israel we have more engineers per capita than in any other country in the world, including the United States — when we came to discuss this issue, I really felt not as somebody who comes and asks for something, but as someone who is a real partner. And I believe that there is a great interest in this cooperation. No doubt we are going to continue.
You mentioned Iran. But I think that the danger of Iraq is not smaller. Iraq has the know how of manufacturing multi-stage weapons. And I think it is good to remember that if the Israeli Government in 1981 under the leadership of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin — and I was privileged to be a member of his inner cabinet — I think that if we would not have taken the step there to destroy the nuclear reactor in Baghdad, I don’t know what could have happened during the Persian Gulf War — because they would have had nuclear weapons. One must understand that now, Iraq is not under inspection for over two years. No doubt they are working and I think Iraq should be under very severe and serious inspection.
Q: Last night a settler was killed in a settlement called Itamar. How will there ever be in Israel a country of two States if Israel has to expand and hold on to settlements like Itamar.
Prime Minister Sharon: I will tell you, maybe the question should be — you know, we live, our [the Sharon family] farm is not far from Gaza, on what is called now on ‘our side’, of what used to be the border. I would say there are beautiful farms there. And they are under fire all the time. At night, you know it is so close there, now I am in Jerusalem, but when, on the weekend, I’m on the farm at night, mostly when we have the western wind at night, we hear all that shootings all the time. Shooting, shelling, ambushing, there is a difference I am told. But terrorism is terrorism, in this side of what used to be the border, on the other side what used to be the border. It doesn’t make any difference. Terror is mortars. Terror is roadside bombs, car bombs, all that is terror. First of all, terror should be stopped, it should be calm, and then all the other things will be discussed later.
Q: With your permission I want to specify a question about the building activity in the settlements. Arafat claims that he is ready to stop violence if your government is ready to freeze the building activity in the settlements. By agreeing to freeze this activity for a certain period, you might put Arafat’s will and ability to stop violence into a test. Why isn’t it worth to give it a try?
Prime Minister Sharon: You mean that we will do that, and then Arafat will violate his agreement as before and he will feel ashamed that he was caught again violating an agreement? That is what you meant?
Q: Israel does not take any risk on herself if she freezes for a certain shorter period, let us say two months or three months and to test out what is really Arafat’s intention. Does he stand behind it? Is he able to do it and does he want to do it?
Prime Minister Sharon: My dear friend, if I may call you that, we do not have to pay in order not to be killed. It is very simple. We will not pay protection money. There is no reason whatsoever to shoot at our people, to kill civilians. We don’t have to pay for it and we will not pay for it. Take it as I say: We have the right to live peaceful lives and we don’t have to pay in order not to be killed and murdered. I believe that every country in the world would behave the same way. Do you think for one minute that say somebody, let us take the United States, that they will be under fire and they will be asked, "Give us back that and that and we are not going to kill you." What would happen? Take any other country in the world.
So we have the right, the Jews have the right to live quietly, it is a birthright to live quietly and not be killed. So why should one be astonished so much, you don’t have to. I said it very clearly, we are not going to pay for not being killed. It is our right to live in peace, to live normal lives. Protection money will not be paid here.
Q: Not even temporarily?
Prime Minister Sharon: I will tell you something. It maybe better if you can — I know that all of you are very busy, but if you can have some time — try and see all those tens and tens if not more than tens and tens of agreements that Arafat violated. You don’t have to do that, it is a birthright, Jews have the right to live peacefully and don’t expect they will do that [which you suggest]. We do not make experiments when it comes to Israeli citizens’ lives. In order to put Arafat, I would say, in an unpleasant situation later, to see if he’s not going to bluff.
Q: Mr. Prime Minister, there have been a lot of questions about settlements. I think we are not questioning whether Jews have a right to live peacefully. The questions is, do the Jews have a right to live peacefully in land that according to the Geneva Convention, there should be no settlements of people in occupied land. What is Israel’s legal view of settling Jews in the West Bank and Gaza?
Prime Minister Sharon: You know, all of you are young people and young people not always the time to bother themself with respect to the past, so nobody knows altogether who occupied, from whom occupied? Who occupied? As a matter of fact, if you ask this question, let us start with Gaza. There is a small community that is called Kfar Darom. Have any of you been there? If not you have to arrange a trip there. I would be happy to be your guide, some of you have been together with me in some places. Kfar Darom is the place where three kids from one family lost their legs. Do you remember this sad case. This settlement or community was occupied by the Egyptian army when they invaded Israel on the night of the announcement of the Declaration of Independence [15 May 1948]. It was a settlement, it was built on Jewish land several years earlier. So what should we do now? I can give you any place, believe me I know well every mountain and every wadi here, every hill and every settlement. I was born here and I know it well, better than many of those who live in those places. So, I will give you an example. But why only that? I can tell you of other places. What is the question, what do you mean occupied?
Q: And the Geneva Convention?
Prime Minister Sharon: Okay, let us come to the question of ‘occupation’. I thought I gave you an example, I can give you many more. But let us speak about the occupation. The resolution of the United Nations of [29 Nov] 1947, that very night the war started, the invasion started six months later but the war started that night. After five and a half months — in which we were facing the Palestinians here as well as what used to be called the Arab Salvation Army, mostly Iraqis and Syrians — seven Arab countries invaded Israel. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and people were also sent from Yemen. Seven Arab countries.
It was a very hard war, I participated in this war as a young platoon leader. I was badly injured when I tried to open the siege of Jerusalem. After the war, Gaza stayed under Egyptian occupation for nineteen years, and Samaria and Judea, at the beginning under Iraqi and Jordanian — and the Iraqis withdrew and they gave the territory to the Jordanians — and it was under their occupation for nineteen years.
Now, we are here in Jerusalem. From the window — I don’t have to tell you, we live here — I can see the walls of the old city. Jerusalem was occupied by the Jordanian army, and Palestinian forces were on the Walls. The old synagogues, hundreds of years old were destroyed. So who occupies? Beside that it never belonged to the Palestinians. I am not talking about what should be in the future, but first of all let us put the facts straight. But I don’t think that. That is not ‘occupied’ territory, but rather disputed territory, and that is the real thing. That is disputed territory.
Therefore, I agree with what has been said, that when we reach the phase of permanent agreement, all these things will be discussed then.