Briefing by Minister of Justice Meir Sheetrit

National Media Center, Jerusalem, April 1, 2002

Good evening. I wish to devote the next few minutes to providing a brief explanation of our present situation, and to present our perspective on events.

We must remember how this whole situation began. In September 2000, our region was calm, and the Palestinian economy was experiencing growth. The explosion occurred after the Camp David Summit: After Arafat spurned the far-reaching offer of President Clinton and Prime Minister Barak. At the Camp David Summit, Arafat was offered 98 per cent of the West Bank, the Armenian, Christian and Muslim quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem, and even actual control (although not sovereign control) over the Temple Mount. The Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter would have been the only areas [of the Old City] remaining in Israeli hands. Arafat rejected all these offers, he returned to the region, and launched a wave of terrorism that continues to this day.

Let there be no doubt. The terrorism was not sparked by Ariel Sharon’s visit to Temple Mount. This terrorism campaign was planned by Arafat in advance and initiated by him. Arafat has controlled this campaign throughout its duration. Not a day goes by without Arafat giving orders and support to the campaign of terrorism, and we are in no doubt that Arafat has full control on the ground. If Arafat wanted to halt the terrorism, he could do so, and has indeed shown that he is capable of doing so on a number of occasions.

From the beginning of 2002 and until today, the Tanzim organization, an offshoot of Arafat’s Fatah movement (Arafat’s own men), headed by Marwan Barghouti, has carried out five times as many terrorist attacks as the Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Arafat rejected the Camp David proposals, he has orchestrated and controlled a wave of terrorism, and the State of Israel has paid a terrible price, as hundreds of Israelis have been killed and thousands more injured, the vast majority civilians. Yet Arafat cries out before the entire world.

We discover afresh that Arafat is no head of state, and he is not interested in providing leadership for his people, meeting their expectations or building a state. Instead, we discover the old Arafat – the head of a terrorist organization who behaves like a terrorist, who lies incessantly and who is caught red handed on countless occasions. He has lied about his apparent arrest of terrorists.

Graver still, I can provide concrete examples in which Arafat has received clear information and warnings regarding suicide bombers about to blow themselves up in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities. We have given Arafat information about the suicide bombers and the persons sending the terrorists on their missions, and have requested him to prevent these attacks. Yet Arafat has barely lifted a finger to stop these people. On occasions, we are able to prevent these attacks, and sometimes we are unsuccessful.

A prominent example of the above was the Sbarro bombing. [In August 2001, a terrorist blew himself up], killing nine people and wounding over a hundred others, [at the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem]. That same morning, we gave Arafat information about a terrorist who we understood was ready to carry out an attack in the Jerusalem area – we did not know where and when the terrorist would strike, but we asked Arafat to stop him. We knew who had sent the terrorist, and we had supplied the information to Arafat, as on previous occasions. Yet Arafat did not lift a finger.

We have tried [to enlist Arafat’s cooperation] on many occasions. We cannot blame Ariel Sharon for lack of effort. As someone who is very familiar with this matter, I can say that he has exchanged letters with Arafat, and I read these letters. He also sent his son to meet with Arafat. From the outset, the aim of these letters and meetings has been to persuade Arafat to stop the terrorism and to start talking. Unfortunately, all these efforts were rejected by Arafat.

The terrorism has continued at a steady rate throughout this period. From September 29, 2000 until today, there have been an average of 21 terrorist attacks against Israel every day.

I cannot think of a single country that would not take tougher measures than those we are currently adopting [in dealing with this situation]. The most prominent example is the United States. I cannot think of a single European country that would not do everything it possibly could to eradicate the terrorists, wherever they are and whoever they are. Israel has not conducted itself in this way.

For seventeen months, Israel has given Arafat one opportunity after another, but he has lied each time. Arafat has made announcements regarding his arrest of terrorists, but, at best, he has arrested them [briefly] before releasing them in a revolving door [policy].

Try and imagine it for a second – a quasi state which has an army, weapons, an economic system, capital, territory and a leadership, with all these resources directed towards one aim: terrorism. This is an absurdity. There is no other phenomenon like this anywhere else in the world.

[The Palestinian Authority] is the only place which [pursues such a policy], and this after Arafat signed the Oslo Agreement in which he made an unequivocal commitment to abandon violence for good. [The Oslo Agreements] also provided for [all issues to be determined] through negotiations.

After Arafat received 42 per cent of West Bank territory and the Gaza strip, he broke all the rules, and resorted to murderous terrorism on a daily basis. In March 2002, alone, 124 Israelis were killed and 690 wounded. [These terrorist attacks occurred] in the month that General Zinni was present in the region, and followed the waiving of Israel’s requirement of seven days of calm, and Israel’s acceptance of the Tenet-Mitchell plan, which Arafat was also supposed to accept.

The Government has decided to embark on Operation Defensive Shield, in order to eradicate the terrorist infrastructure. I am not troubled in the least by what they say about us around the world. It is simply intolerable that they [the Palestinians] continue to murder our civilians. Therefore, as a member of this Government, I support the efforts of the IDF, and this Government will do [everything] to eliminate terrorism – it does not matter how long it takes or how much effort we invest [in this operation], we must win this campaign. We will not buckle under the terrorist threat. Israel has never surrendered to terrorism, and we will not start now.

The Palestinians will never achieve anything through violence. As a result of his conduct since September [2001], Arafat has brought disaster upon his people. He has caused them great harm, and has killed many of our people, although Arafat has caused most damage to his own people.

I know that it is very difficult today to be a Palestinian. In spite of the war against terrorism, we are making an immense effort not to harm Palestinian civilians and to ease their living conditions, as much as possible, while protecting the lives of our citizens. There is no other country in the world that does this.

I know that very occasionally, women and children have also been among the casualties, and we regret this whenever it occurs. This has never been our intention. In contrast, the Palestinians carry out shooting and bombing attacks in businesses, restaurants and places of entertainment, with the express intention of killing civilians, including women and children. This is the greatest difference between us. We are now fighting against terrorism, and our intention is to combat terrorism in a resolute manner and to uproot it, irrespective of the price paid.

If the price paid for the international community’s sympathy is further killings on a daily basis in the State of Israel, then I will make do without the sympathy. I do not want pity. First and foremost, I want security for Israeli citizens. And we will achieve this. If anyone thinks that we will put a gun to our head, and shoot ourselves, then they are mistaken. It is inconceivable. If Arafat seeks to establish a Palestinian state in place of Israel, he can think again. In the end, the Palestinians will end up with nothing. We have lived 53 years without a Palestinian state. We were here before Arafat, and we will be here after Arafat.

If anyone seriously wishes to make peace with us, they will be welcomed with open arms. I can tell you that I was the only Likud member who was not opposed to the Oslo Agreements, as I believed it was necessary to support the peace process, and I have certainly done

so. I conducted negotiations with Arafat, through his subordinates, and I became very well acquainted with each of my negotiating partners.

Now, there is total disappointment, among those on the right and, particularly, among those on the left – for all those who believed in peace with the Palestinians. Arafat has proved that the disappointment is complete. Unfortunately, our hopes were all in vain. What makes me particularly angry is that Arafat behaves like the person who killed his parents, and then cried out that he had become an orphan. He begs for mercy. He kills Israelis every day, and he begs the world for pity. And the world is only interested in whether he has water or food. He should be grateful that he is still alive!

Must I be concerned for Arafat’s welfare? Think about the absurdity of it all. If the United States had found Bin Laden in some building, would they then ensure that he received food, water and electricity? Arafat has seventy people with him in his compound, including wanted terrorists and Fuad Shubaki, the man responsible for the smuggling of arms and ammunition on the Karine A freighter. He has given these people refuge in his compound.

It has also emerged that the Palestinian Authority has been forging millions of shekels. If anyone wanted forged bank notes, dollars and shekels, they would find it in Arafat’s compound! You saw the collection of weapons found in the "Mukata’a". Prohibited bombs and weapons were found in his possession. What else has to happen here for the world to understand that [Arafat] is fooling everyone, and shamelessly lying to everyone? I fail to understand why European countries provide support to Arafat, instead of telling him that he must stop – that there can be no justification for terrorism.

Therefore, we must return to the old policy of the State of Israel – the only way to confront terrorism is to wage war with an iron fist. And I will tell you that this is precisely what we intend to do: to fight terrorism using all the means at our disposal. I am certain that we will win this battle.

I am happy to say that the [Israeli] people also feel the same way. The numbers of reserve soldiers enlisting for duty was considerably higher than those actually receiving mobilization calls. The IDF had to send a number of them home – that just indicates the readiness of the public [to serve Israel].

The public is fed up with this situation. You live here. You can see that Arafat has succeeded in waging a campaign of terrorism in Israel. People are scared to go out to places of entertainment, shopping centers, stores, restaurants, and there are security guards everywhere. In other words, he has succeeded in inflicting terrorism within the heart of Israel. We must uproot this phenomenon. We will not be defeated.

I have no feelings of mercy for those who come to kill us. If one is trying to kill you, it is permissible to protect yourself. We are now in a state of war – and when you are at war, you are at war. We will not end the campaign until we have achieved our aim, and the terrorism is defeated. In times of peace, I am a dove, and in times of war, I am a hawk. I now believe that the Palestinians must be brought to a point where they beg for a ceasefire. When the Palestinians are ready to talk peace, we will also be happy to join them in peace talks, but we will not tolerate terrorism.

The late Prime Minister Rabin once said that terrorism must be fought as if there is no peace, and that peace must be pursued as if there is no war. I will correct him simply by saying that we must fight terrorism as if there will never be peace. We can pursue peace only when the terrorism ends.

From a legal perspective, we have a legitimate right to defend ourselves, on the basis of UN resolutions. International law determines that every country has the right to protect its citizens. If attacks are launched from the territory of one state against another country, then the other country has the right to enter the territory of that state and take action against those attacking it, before withdrawing from the territory. This is what we are doing in this case. We are acting in accordance with international law.

I hope that our efforts will be successful, and that the Palestinians understand the fundamental principle – that they will not achieve anything through the use of force.

Thank you.