PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: What are the conditions like inside Mr. Arafat’s compound right now?
SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER: We took all the measures to guarantee his safety. We are supplying, or trying to supply, electricity, water, food and we are enabling him to live under reasonable conditions.
ZAHN: What is it that you’re trying to accomplish?
PERES: Yasser Arafat is the head of the Palestinian Authority. As the head of the Palestinian Authority, he committed himself to fight terror. For that purpose, we helped – and other nations did help him – to build a police force of 30,000 policemen.
I shall not talk about our side. I shall tell you the view of General Zinni, who is an objective person, and what we have asked from Arafat are things that Arafat can do relatively in an immediate and easy way: first to call on his people to stop violence and terror – that’s a declaration; secondly, to issue orders to his troops – the 30,000 policemen – to try and stop violence and terror; third, to reduce the incitement; fourth, if Israel supplies information about someone, or a group of people, who are trying to enter Israel with bombs on their person, to arrest them.
He didn’t do it. What I suggest in plain terms is that he accept – as Israel did – the proposals of General Zinni. Until then, he must be put under the necessary pressure to understand what his obligations are.
ZAHN: All right. I wanted to come back to one of the points you mentioned where you talked about his reducing the incitement of violence. You no doubt have heard what the Palestinians have been saying all weekend long; that by the actions you’ve taken in Israel, there is no way he can control his population.
PERES: Well, he could have done it before and he can do it today. But the question before every Israeli is why didn’t Arafat accept the proposals of President Clinton backed by former prime minister Barak? Why are they using terror? They were offered a Palestinian state. They were offered practically all of the land. They were offered a position in Jerusalem. Why fight? Why kill? Why incite? What is the reason? They must answer honestly and clearly, and that’s the reason why we have such a great crisis today with Arafat about the creditability of his commitments and promises.
ZAHN: Mr. Peres, you know that there are concerns even within Mr. Sharon’s government about the direction the Israeli actions seem to be going in, and you have the parliamentary speaker, Avraham Burg, over the weekend saying there’s absolutely no one saying where this is going. He said that on Israeli public radio. What is Mr. Sharon’s end-game here?
PERES: The attempt now is to reduce and, if possible, to stop terror so we can enter into political negotiations. The purpose is to arrive at a political horizon. The way to achieve it is by trying to, at least, create the necessary conditions – the right atmosphere – to talk and negotiate.
ZAHN: All right.
PERES: I want to make it clear, we don’t intend to remain in the territories. We are not there to occupy them. We are not there to kill Arafat. We are not there to dismantle the Palestinian Authority. We are there with a clear demand – do what you promised, do what you have to do for the sake of your own people. Don’t do it for Israel.
Today Arafat does not control the many rifles and bombs in the Palestinian land. For his own sake, for the destiny of the Palestinian people, they must have control – a central control – of all the arms or all those carriers of arms or the abuse of arms, otherwise there will be a chaotic situation where everybody is firing and killing, and then they pretend and say, "Why is Israel responding?"
Israel is going things that we do not like to do them. We don’t like what we are doing, but we are forced to do things to defend the lives of our own children and our own people.
ZAHN: Is Ariel Sharon still interested in evicting Yasser Arafat?
PERES: The issue was before the cabinet – we have a democratic cabinet – and the majority of the members of the cabinet voted against the expulsion of Arafat and that remains our position.
ZAHN: I know that we had the former U.S. ambassador to Israel on early this morning, Martin Indyk, who said he believes to this day that Sharon is still tempted to evict Arafat and, in his words, "start again on the ashes of the Oslo Agreement." You don’t see it that way.
PERES: I have to judge Sharon and other people by their records and not by their suspected intentions. We are there in the government not as a silent observer. We are partners in the government in order to try to influence its decisions and tendencies. It’s a coalition government. It’s not like in the United States where you have a president and an administration. Here we are a collection of parties that are trying to work together in order to formulate a common decision in spite of the fact that we have different views.
ZAHN: Does Israel plan to honor the U.N. resolution to withdraw from the occupied territories?
PERES: The U.N. resolution has two parts; a call for an immediate cease-fire and a call for the withdrawal from zone A in the territories. The answer to your question is yes, we are ready to enter immediately into a cease-fire and we are ready – as we have said – to withdraw from all the territories, as we have promised before. We are not there to stay.
ZAHN: And when do you think a cease-fire might happen?
PERES: The best way to achieve a cease-fire is to accept the Zinni proposals in full. Zinni put a list of demands before Israel. Most of them tangible and we said yes. Arafat – who has met the demands of Zinni basically [with] declarative acts, not tangible acts — said he wants to send his lawyers. I think the Secretary of State told Mr. Arafat that this is not a legal case. It’s a political situation. And if we want to have a political remedy right away, the best thing is to take the advice and the demands of an objective person, an experienced envoy like General Zinni, and the two parties have to say yes without conditions and without bargaining.
ZAHN: Mr. Foreign Minister, we’re going to have to leave it there. Shimon Peres, thank you very much for your perspective this morning.