CHARLIE ROSE, Host: Welcome to the broadcast. Tonight the foreign minister of Israel, SHIMON PERES. Welcome.
SHIMON PERES, Foreign Minister, Israel: We have reached the lowest point, so we don’t have a choice but to start to climb again to the business of peace. And since I’m talking with the Palestinians for the last several month informally, I think we are very near to reach a structure, a skeleton that can renew the peace process.
SHIMON PERES, Foreign Minister, Israel: Thank you.
CHARLIE ROSE: What are you doing here?
SHIMON PERES: I came for the World Economic Forum, an occasion that I participate for the last seven years every year. But then I was engaged again in the diplomacy of the Middle East. I met the Palestinian delegation, had a long conversation, a continuation of our dialogue. I met Colin Powell. I met some other people. So part of my time is spent really on the home business.
CHARLIE ROSE: So what comes out of all these meetings?
SHIMON PERES: I think We have reached the lowest point, so we don’t have a choice but to start to climb again to the business of peace. And since I’m talking with the Palestinians for the last several month informally, I think we are very near to reach a structure, a skeleton that can renew the peace process. It’s different from what it used to be.
It consists of actually four moves. The first is a Palestinian, namely to establish themselves as the sole authority over all arms and armed people and use of arms. The second step will be a recognition, mutual recognition, them of the Israeli state and us of a Palestinian state, something that can be done in a matter of weeks. And we shall negotiate the future not like between a country or state and an autonomy but between two states. Then–
CHARLIE ROSE: You wish to see that first?
SHIMON PERES: Yes. I think it’s better for us and for them to negotiate as equals, so they can be free in their negotiations. They can enjoy freedom and independence on part of the territories because on that part we will find 90 percent of the Palestinian people.
CHARLIE ROSE: Does your prime minister agree with this?
SHIMON PERES: Not completely, but not far from it. I try to negotiate or to convince the Palestinians to promise to come as close as they can to the common view of the prime minister and myself, and I’m trying to convince the prime minister to understand there is another party, too.
And the third point will be to take a year off from negotiation on the main issues — borders, Jerusalem, refugees and settlement — and another year to implement the possible agreements. But when I say we are going to negotiate a permanent solution, it won’t be just in there. We gave them an idea what will be the permanent borders. We told them it will be based on [unintelligible] and free trade, which is clearly an indication they will have more than they have today.
I think they have for the first time understood that their demand for the full return of the Palestinian refugees to Israel is nonsense. Israel will not commit suicide by trading the Jewish majority with a Palestinian majority. And even in the article by Arafat in The New York Times, he refers to it.
On Jerusalem, I told them, "Gentlemen, let’s be reasonable. The existing situation is not as alarming as you are saying. We have two mosques on the Temple Mount. They’re in your hands. We don’t intervene. We don’t come there. In fact, the Temple Mount is under your control because according to the Jewish tradition, we are not permitted to settle down on the Temple Mount before the Messiah will arrive. And the Messiah is the best diplomat we have in our foreign office. He’s not in a hurry. He takes time. So what are you complaining?"
CHARLIE ROSE: You’re saying that only when the Messiah comes will you want to exercise your privileges with respect to the territory?
SHIMON PERES: Exactly. And then when it comes to the old city, there are three quarters there — the Palestinian, the Israeli, the Armenian. We coexist. It’s not paradise. Neither is it hell. In the morning and the evening, the churches’ bells are ringing for the Christians, the muezzins are calling for the Muslims, the cantors are calling for the Jewish people. All the prayers go to heaven without any interferences. The fact is that life is richer than documents. And what you can do in fact is very hard to define on paper.
CHARLIE ROSE: If Ehud Barak, the former prime minister, and Bill Clinton, the former president, were sitting at this table, they would say to you, essentially, that was the deal they turned down.
SHIMON PERES: No, because I don’t intend to negotiate Jerusalem now. You see, Barak’s mistake was that he wanted the Palestinians to declare that they don’t have any claims in the future. The minute he said so, the issue of Jerusalem and the issue of the refugees came to the center of the negotiation, ahead of time.
You know the date of every problem, when it was born. But when it comes to the solution, you don’t have a date. It’s a matter of maturity. The Arabs like proverbs and examples. One says, "When you plant a flower and you plant an olive tree, you don’t have the results at the same time." A flower you have in a matter of months, olives in a matter of years. Jerusalem is not a flower – it’s an olive tree. Don’t rush because the existing situation in Jerusalem is not bad.
CHARLIE ROSE: There comes to the issue of Arafat then. It seems clearly there is bad blood between Sharon and Arafat.
SHIMON PERES: Well, there is no love lost between the two of them for many years, but to say in the defense of Sharon, he knows that it is not he that can decide who will be the leader of the Palestinians, nor can Arafat decide who will be the leader of the Israelis. And I appreciate the declaration of Sharon when he said that if Arafat will change his ways, he’ll become again a partner.
We don’t negotiate the past. We don’t negotiate the declarations. We negotiate the future. The people that I am negotiating with are highly intelligent people — very experienced. They happen to disagree with Arafat, but let’s not make a mistake. They don’t try to replace Arafat. That would be a mistake. They want Arafat to change his mind, but they don’t have on their mind a proposal to change Arafat.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is it helpful to have him literally under house arrest?
SHIMON PERES: Arafat did not do things that he’s supposed to do. For example, when our minister of tourism was assassinated, he knew, as we know, who did it, who gave the orders. The people who did it are in Ramallah, a matter of two blocks from Arafat. He should have arrested them. But Arafat was told, "Look, if you want to regain your freedom of movement, put them in jail. They are murderers. They are dangerous." And Arafat was reluctant. So he’s not in "house arrest," so to speak, as a matter of punishment, as a matter of pressure, to say "You cannot let them go free. It’s your responsibility." And even when Arafat had the freedom of movement, again he was reluctant in doing the things that he’s supposed to do.
CHARLIE ROSE: What does that say to you about his power and his intent?
SHIMON PERES: It says to me that on occasion, he can be right. On many occasions, he can be terribly wrong. And when he’s wrong, he is shooting at his own legs. He is the victim of his reluctance. He pays for not fighting the terrorists in the Palestinian camp more than anybody else because they put him in a naked position.
CHARLIE ROSE: By continuing suicide bombing and things like that.
SHIMON PERES: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: Why do you think he does it? I mean, you know this man as well as anyone. Is it because he’s frightened of his own people? Hamas?
SHIMON PERES: Because he’s not convinced that he will get the proper results if he will do it and because he’s not sure that this will not lead him to a civil war. Now, let me say leadership is not a pleasure. You have to make tough choices and take risks. I don’t say that Arafat is a coward, but occasionally, he escapes decisions. And in my judgment, to escape a decision is more risky than to take the risk and make a decision. And now he’s paying for it, to the point where he’s endangering his legitimacy in the eyes of the Americans and Europeans. Nothing is more important for Arafat than to maintain the legitimacy of his position in American eyes, in European eyes.
CHARLIE ROSE: But he clearly has lost some legitimacy. Suppose they would choose someone else? Would things be better or worse?
SHIMON PERES: Depends whom they will choose. There is no guarantee that they will choose a better man. They can choose, you know, a weak compromise, a man that will be even more afraid of the Hamas and the Jihad and the terrorists. There is no guarantee that the successor will be a success.
CHARLIE ROSE: Suppose they choose a strong person and someone who Hamas and Jihad likes?
SHIMON PERES: They cannot like him because either he will take their policies, and then he’s not a strong leader, or they will have to submit to them, and then they will not like him. You see, there is a real division between him and Hamas and Jihad, which is not bad politically if they wouldn’t have arms. The problem is, they have an armed coalition.
Arafat told me, "Look, in your cabinet, too, you have many views." I said, "Yes. We have many views but one gun. You may have one view but 10 guns. And every gun is shooting at a different direction and killing your agenda and killing your credibility. You cannot have a Palestinian authority unless you will have a single authority over arms."
In every democracy, you must have a non-democratic institution, which is called the army, to defend your freedom. The army’s not a democratic institution. You cannot have a free voice. You cannot have an argument. You cannot have unionization of an army. But you need it to defend the freedom.
But if you give freedom to the armed people, you will not have freedom for the people.
CHARLIE ROSE: You believe that that central armed Palestinian authority can control all other people with guns?
SHIMON PERES: If they cannot control them, they don’t have a future. They don’t have a choice. It’s not a luxury. Now, if you ask me, I think they can. He has a force of 60,000 policemen, double as many as the Taliban have in Afghanistan. And if he will put them under a single control and discipline and will be outspoken in no wavering manner, he will win the day, in my opinion.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, but just one more time: why doesn’t he do it, in your judgment? I mean, you’re one who’s willing to give him more latitude than most.
SHIMON PERES: Because he thought he can have it both ways, that he can tell the West, "I am against terror," come back home and not take the necessary measures to stop it. Now he knows that he doesn’t have a double choice. He must decide which way he’s going. If he will not perform, he will pay the price.
Arafat, in my judgment, has a tendency to maintain his leadership by saying "no." He’s afraid if he will say yes, he’ll stop being a leader. So he postpones the saying "yes" for the last moment. But finally, he does it.
You know, I remember the agreement reached in Cairo after we were negotiating for a long time, the maps, and at the last moment, all of us were at the stage — he, Mubarak, Christopher, the secretary of state, Rabin, myself. The last moment, he refused to sign. Mubarak approached him and said, "There, sign." And he took out his pen, and he signed.
You know, all this description in categorical terms are a little bit primitive, in my judgment. The man has different considerations, different fears. He’s very much afraid that he may lose his own influence with the people. And basically, his problem, in my eyes, that his experience was won in a time of revolution.
I have respect for Arafat. I think that Arafat made terrible mistakes — like Sharon has — particularly in Camp David when he rejected the offers of Clinton and Barak. But I must say he did some courageous decisions, too.
CHARLIE ROSE: Like what?
SHIMON PERES: He suggested what he thinks is a compromise. He calls for 22 percent of the land in the western part of Israel, which comprises the West Bank and Gaza. The others want the whole of the land. He decided to bring in the PLO from the terroristic concept to a political world. Not completely, but he did.
I think it was a strange visit with the Jordanians. I think the fact that he’s seeking the legitimacy in the West and not in Iran is also an important choice. But then by boat, then you begin to appreciate him. He comes in with a terrible mistake and it kills everything. Most recently it was the issue the arms ship, or the ship of fools – arms smuggling. What for? What does he want? A full confrontation with our army? It’s an invitation for a defeat. But he didn’t think it out fully. He closed his eyes.
CHARLIE ROSE: You know, he says he didn’t know.
SHIMON PERES: He says he didn’t know. I wouldn’t take him on every word he says. That’s not his forte. I mean, when it comes to words he’s a little bit poetic.
CHARLIE ROSE: Let me ask you this — is the Israeli government going to do everything it can to make sure that Arafat survives?
SHIMON PERES: Yes. This government will never engage in killing leaders and Arafat is on top of the list.
CHARLIE ROSE: What did you say? Hamas has leaders that you’ve killed.
SHIMON PERES: We don’t kill leaders. We kill only people who are engaged clearly and physically in terror.
CHARLIE ROSE: Don’t you think leaders in some terrorist organizations engage in terrorist acts? They issue the order.
SHIMON PERES: When in doubt, cut it out, as they say. We would usually try to get rid of what you call today ticking bombs. Once you have suicide bombers you don’t have a choice but to intercept them before they become a human bomb and kill many people.
CHARLIE ROSE: My impression is that the Israeli government if, in fact, there was someone that they believed had issued or was part of a chain of command for a suicide or a terrorist attack that would injure significant numbers of Israeli citizens, they would assassinate him. The fact that he was a leader would make no difference.
SHIMON PERES: Not as a punishment but as a prevention. For example, if this man would become a monk, we wouldn’t chase him. But if we know that he is preparing another act of terror, we wouldn’t let him.
CHARLIE ROSE: So that’s the rationalization?
SHIMON PERES: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: Any time you take out someone with a bomb into a car or any other way it’s because we want to prevent them from committing another terrorist act?
SHIMON PERES: Yes. I want to tell you, Israel is a land of free law. We cannot permit ourselves overlooking the law, international and otherwise. All that we are doing is being checked carefully from a legal point of view. And we ask our legal advisers in Israel and abroad. They say for self-defense, you can intercept killers, whether they have a uniform or not.
CHARLIE ROSE: Whether they are a leader or not.
SHIMON PERES: Leader means a man that doesn’t shoot, because the minute he shoots he’s not a leader, he’s a killer. And we didn’t kill any leader.
CHARLIE ROSE: You kill people who don’t shoot.
SHIMON PERES: I can’t recall an occasion like that.
CHARLIE ROSE: You don’t just kill the people who give the orders?
SHIMON PERES: We distinguish very much between giving orders and participating, in effect, in killing.
CHARLIE ROSE: What is this relationship between you and Sharon today?
SHIMON PERES: We are disagreeing friends in the political sense, and yet we maintain a very friendly relationship privately. On Jerusalem, we may have differences; on settlements, we may have differences; on timing, we may have differences. And even on the Palestinian Authority we may have differences.
CHARLIE ROSE: What’s his attitude?
SHIMON PERES: He thinks that maybe there will be a better generation, a better leadership to make decisions. And I say, be careful. You may pray for the better and meet the worst. I think he is wrong. He can discover that the man that will replace Arafat will be worse. We have had the similar situation in Lebanon. We were facing the PLO and then we wind up with the Hizbullah, which is a more extreme group of people.
I think that the fact that your opponent is complicated and difficult forces you to negotiate under difficult circumstances; don’t postpone it. I am telling Sharon in a family manner, I say, look, I am not here to cut you down. I am not your contender. I am your friend. I am not under your spell. It’s not a presidential system like in America. We have a coalition government. And the part I represent happens to be the larger party, so Sharon is the prime minister. And when I joined him, the government, I want to enforce my positions and my views. I am not going to silence my voice.
CHARLIE ROSE: The influence of September 11th, the impact was what? In terms of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians?
SHIMON PERES: It changed the world politics and the relations between us and the Palestinians. >Until September 11th, the world was divided east and west. The east supported the Palestinians; the west supported Israel, by and large. North and south; the south, again, was probably the same. A line, another line, in Arabic, Mozambique. All of a sudden, this disappeared completely. Today there is just one division — devil and anti-devil. And the United States is today leading an unprecedented coalition comprising the United States, a united Europe, Russia, China, India, Japan, Pakistan, Latin America to fight terrorism. They are now facing the problem because it was shown that terror is not a function, a child of poverty, but poverty is the function, the child of terror. And you cannot have high-tech without real values.
If you ask me what is the greatest achievement politically of high-tech, I would say China. Nothing would bring down communism in China more than high-tech did. Ideologically, it would never happen, to the point where Jiang Zemin, the president, said that even a capitalist can become a member of the communist party.
I asked one of my Chinese friends how come? He says, "That’s Karl Marx. Karl Marx says that socialism will emerge from capitalism. So now they are learning that capitalism will give birth to socialism." It’s a little bit of their own medicine.
All of a sudden, the Palestinians, the Iraqis and the others have to make a choice. Where are they? To which camp do they belong?
Terror today became not an Israeli problem, but a world problem and Israel is a soldier in that camp.
CHARLIE ROSE: Finally, the United States. Whenever I interview Palestinians they always say the United States has got to do more, has got to play a bigger role.
SHIMON PERES: I agree. But the Palestinians don’t permit them. The Arabs don’t permit them. I don’t think the United States is fighting the Arabs or fighting the Palestinians or fighting the Muslims. They are fighting the terror. And if they are going to relieve the United States from their need to strike terror, they will find a different United States. I don’t think the United States, any administration, favors a religion or favors a nation. They favor freedom and values. You cannot say we should remain terrorists, but the United States must be nice to us. It doesn’t make sense. If you want the United States to be nice to you, be nice to what the United States stands for, as China is, as Musharaff is of Pakistan.
CHARLIE ROSE: This is the lowest point you’ve ever seen it in the Middle East?
SHIMON PERES: Yes, definitely. That’s what makes me so optimistic. Because we cannot go down. We have to go up. And I think there is an element of fatigue and a beginning of understanding. And there is no enforced peace. There is no unilateral peace. Peace muse be a result of an agreement. And agreement can be a result of a compromise.
CHARLIE ROSE: There will never be anything until there is a ceasefire. There will be no movement until there is a ceasefire.
SHIMON PERES: Except one thing — a political addition. I think, you know, in order to stop terror or anything, you need a stick and you need a carrot. The stick must be domestic; the carrot can be international.
CHARLIE ROSE: The carrot, I assume, is all kinds of economic development or–
SHIMON PERES: Economic and political vision. For example, the speech of Colin Powell given the declaration of the American president that he is in favor of a Palestinian state.
CHARLIE ROSE: And suggesting that there was an occupation of the Palestinian territory by the Israeli government.
SHIMON PERES: Israel will never agree in her life to be an occupying figure.
CHARLIE ROSE: You are now.
SHIMON PERES: We want to get out of there.
CHARLIE ROSE: What Colin Powell said — you are an occupying–
SHIMON PERES: We were forced to do so. Rabin and myself went to Oslo in order to end occupation. We went there for moral reasons.
CHARLIE ROSE: And Rabin has said to me because he believed that being an occupier did terrible things to the Israeli psyche and the Israeli future.
SHIMON PERES: I would go further than that. It endangers the Jewish existence. Jews would never exist if they wouldn’t have a moral obligation, not in tyranny but in fact. We have never been occupiers, rulers. We didn’t leave the house of slaves in Egypt to build the house of masters in Israel.
CHARLIE ROSE: Boy, you really want Arafat to give you a way out of this conflict. You want him to come around. I mean, this is the terrible dilemma, which you know better than– certainly than anyone. It is the terrible dilemma. You need out of this conflict for lots of reasons.
SHIMON PERES: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: Because, first of all, because you need your people to be safe from the threat of violence against their families.
SHIMON PERES: Yes. And his people to be free.
CHARLIE ROSE: And your people to be free.
SHIMON PERES: And enjoy respect and equality and prosperity. A good neighbor is always better than a good gun.
CHARLIE ROSE: And you believe you can’t beat them into doing that. You can’t punish them into doing that. You can’t stay as an occupying power.
SHIMON PERES: We cannot do it by force only. We have to use force for our security and self-defense, but we need to have conviction to make them convinced that they can achieve it.
I believe that many of them would trust what I am saying. You know, there are two psychologies. One was Freud’s, that offered us suffering. And the other was an American psychologist that I admire, Maslow, who gave you hope. I am on his side.
||Interview by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on the CBS Early Show – Feb 4, 2002|