March 10, 2002
We must stand united, together, and put aside all trivial matters. We are involved in a difficult campaign, and we must win this campaign. This is the only thing that matters.
The first goal that I set myself was to achieve a cease-fire. This must be accomplished, so that we can eventually move on to the diplomatic process, which will one day, God willing, lead to genuine peace – a peace that we all yearn for.
For some time, I have been demanding seven days of quiet as a precondition for entering into negotiations for a ceasefire – a demand that the Americans have agreed with. I know that I am now criticized for changing my mind.
Due to the level of violence and the intensity of barbaric terrorist attacks inflicted on us – and the brave [counter-terrorist] war being conducted by commanders and soldiers, there is no possibility at this stage of achieving a few days of quiet. I decided that since I had always attached great importance to the matter of achieving a cease-fire, I was also willing to change my position. Although my position was the correct one at the time, I believe that the present situation requires a different approach. This does not constitute a retreat or a collapse – it is my duty and responsibility. In my opinion, my first task is to reach a cease-fire, and I therefore adopted this approach, since I view it as a goal of the utmost importance.
I am aware of the criticism. However, I can withstand the criticism, and look every person in the eye and say that, as the elected leader, it is my obligation to take all necessary measures to achieve the goal: today, our prime objective is the achievement of a cease-fire.
We have not folded away our flags, our heads are not bowed and our swords have not been returned to the sheaths. At present – in fact right now as we speak – we are fighting a campaign that is unprecedented in its intensity. I want to tell you that this campaign will continue.
I also made this clear to our American friends. We were not subjected to any pressure. This was my decision, and I felt that it was the correct one. I have also notified the Americans that we are continuing our military operations designed to strike at the heart of the terrorist infrastructure – operations carried out by the IDF, the Police, the Israel Security Agency (ISA), and others.
If, after a cease-fire is achieved, terrorism will resume, we will do what is required of us, and we will not surrender to terrorism. There can be no surrender to terrorism.
There is another issue on the agenda, and I admit that I have also been subjected to criticism on this matter. After the assassination of our friend, Minister of Tourism Rechavam Ze’evy, I demanded that the Palestinian Authority arrest the five murderers: the terrorist handler, the person who planned the assassination, the perpetrator as well as the Commander and Deputy Commander of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). I applied pressure, and I was in a minority on this matter. When I denied Arafat permission to travel to Bethlehem, I was also in a minority, and barely managed to obtain Cabinet approval for this decision, facing opposition even from colleagues within my own party. However, I stood by my decision, and did not give in. I remained in a minority. But as a result of the pressure, these people were arrested. In addition, I demanded the arrest of the person working on Arafat’s behalf who was responsible for the PA’s ties with Iran – the main source of local, regional and international terrorism. These ties have not been broken off. I stood my ground, and they were eventually arrested.
I also said that once these people were arrested, we would allow Arafat to leave Ramallah. I believe this is an important achievement for the government. In light of what happened yesterday, we cannot yet today fulfill our promise to lift the restrictions on Arafat’s movements. We will have to do this once the conditions are in place.
This does not constitute surrender or collapse. It is a vindication of the government’s tenacious stand during this long period, in the face of international pressure. I have told you that we are involved in a difficult campaign. This campaign requires all of us to stand together as one, while we put aside all disagreements, complaints and criticism. The people must stand together so that we can win – and win we shall.