INTERVIEW WITH FOREIGN MINISTER SHIMON PERES ON CNN
September 22, 2002
WOLF BLITZER: Let’s go live to Tel Aviv and speak with Israel’s foreign minister, Shimon Peres. What is going on in Ramallah right now?
FM SHIMON PERES: I think the destruction of the buildings is over. There were interruptions of supply of water; we’re repairing it. The supply of electricity will be repaired. As we’ve announced there is no physical danger, neither to Arafat nor to the other people.
From our standpoint, with the problems we have to face, the solutions are very much in the hands of the Palestinians. If the Palestinian people really want to change the whole situation, they should put the Hamas and Jihad under their discipline.
We cannot live in a chaotic life. We are not going teach any lessons to the Palestinians. But we cannot agree that every group will throw bombs and shoot rifles and nobody’s responsible. So what is needed is not demonstrations but really discipline.
When it comes to Yasser Arafat himself, among the people who are with him in the Muqata are at least seven, eight, even more, who are on the list of the wanted. The Palestinians know exactly who they are. We gave the names time and time again. We told them that if they will surrender, nothing will happen to them physically, they will be put before the court, they’ll have a fair trial, and bring an end to it.
But it cannot be that when it comes to shooting and killing, there is nobody to answer, there is nobody to talk with. When Arafat and his people turn to the Hamas and Jihad they say "No, we don’t take your orders." So what are the chances and what is the choice before all of us? The Palestinian fate is in the hands of the Palestinians. Let’s not create another impression. We are still for peace. The Oslo agreement is valid. We have accepted the vision of President Bush. We didn’t change our mind.
BLITZER: Is it your goal, Mr. Foreign Minister, to expel Yasser Arafat, to arrest Yasser Arafat, to kill Yasser Arafat? What, specifically, do you want to do with the Palestinian leader?
PERES: We don’t want to expel him, we don’t want to kill him, we don’t want to hurt him. There was a vote in the government. The majority of the government decided against expulsion. Nobody suggested at all to kill him or hurt him.
What we want is either Arafat will show that he can control the situation or, alternatively, let somebody else do it. Today we have a situation where neither Arafat, nor anybody else, is in charge. They have to bring in law and order, because it affects our life and death.
I came back last Wednesday from New York quite optimistic after the meeting of the Quartet. A few hours later, 60 people in the heart of the country in the main street of Tel Aviv were wounded, six were killed, 10 seriously injured. A day before, three persons were killed in three different places, by bombs, by ambushes. What do they expect us to do? I’m all for peace. But peace must be done by the two sides. Terror can be done by one side.
BLITZER: As you know, Mr. Foreign Minister, over these past six weeks, at least until the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv this week, there appeared to be some progress and forging an improved relationship with some new Palestinian ministers – the finance minister, for example, the interior minister. U.S. officials here in Washington were telling me they were becoming increasingly more encouraged by what they were seeing from the Palestinians.
This late development, the destruction effectively of almost all the buildings in the presidential compound in Ramallah, might put all of that to an end.
PERES: No, sir. That’s not the point. There was a period of tranquility because our army is, as it was, in the West Bank and in Gaza. We don’t want to remain there. We didn’t go there to reoccupy. We asked the Palestinians to take charge. In Gaza they have their forces intact. We have asked them at least to stop the shooting of mortars into the heart of the villages nearby.
We warned the Palestinians about additional suicide bombers. It cannot go on like this. The Palestinian leadership did not really give orders to stop it. Perhaps they didn’t give orders to initiate the terror, but neither did they give orders to stop it. There are tens of thousands of policemen under their control, under their command. And what we told them, I think United States as well, is: please tell your official police force to intervene and stop it. Nothing of that sort happened.
So the talks were nice, but the situation on the ground didn’t change. And again and again, would it be a political maneuver, would it even be a financial maneuver, we could have handled it differently. But when it comes to security, we were left without a choice. While we are talking right now, there are still warnings about other suicide bombers on their way to the country. We cannot take it easily. We have to defend the lives of our own people.
BLITZER: So right now what you’re saying, the siege itself, the operation at Ramallah has ended. You’re going to restore water and food supplies to the individuals inside. If no one emerges, what are you going to do?
PERES: No, we didn’t intend at all to cut water, to cut electricity. It was done by an accident, and I think it is already repaired. We also stopped destroying more buildings.
Now Arafat has a choice: either to send over the people who are on the wanted list who are accused of killing other people, or else to remain as he is. We are not going to hurt him, we’re not going to expel him, we’re not going to endanger his life. And we are not going to change our mind about the need for a compromise and peace or the possibility to talk and negotiate.
But the Palestinian people, and I’m really speaking as a person who has deep respect for them, instead of demonstrating against the siege, let them demonstrate against the Hamas and the Jihad. They are their catastrophe.
If the Palestinian position in America went down, it is because of Jihad and Hamas. The same in Europe. If relations with Israel became strained, it is again because of them.
Now, either they will be a people that can control their own destinies, can put order in it, or else anything can happen. They’re losing and paying unfortunately. It doesn’t bring us any joy and any pleasure. We don’t want it. We would like to see them equal, free to move, to live.