Q: How was your meeting?
FM PERES: We had a very agreeable and very friendly meeting with Condoleezza Rice. Then the president came in and we had a long chat with him.
Basically, we see eye to eye on all the issues, namely, to get rid of terror at large and suicide bombers in particular. Not because we want to fight the Palestinian people, but because we want to help them to achieve their own destinies. I think the president has clarified a clear message for the Palestinian future by declaring a horizon that includes two states, an Israeli state and a Palestinian state, within a given framework. And if previously, you know, we have had a tunnel without a light, now we’ve a light and have to work for the tunnel to do.
We agreed that we have to work to improve the situation economically, because we are not fighting the Palestinian people; we are fighting Palestinian terror. And in our judgment, what kills the Palestinians is their own terror. As long as they are going to have 12 different groups, each of them shooting in a different direction, they kill the centrality and the coherence of the Palestinian cause. Yesterday, as you know, was a terrible day. And in spite of it, with tears in our eyes, we are going to continue to improve the economic situation in the territories.
May I just mention briefly, because Condoleezza and the president told me that maybe the American people are not informed enough about what the humanitarian effort and the economic measures entail, it actually includes – and I shall be very brief – aid to open up the Israeli market for Palestinian workers in spite of all the dangers, because this will give the Palestinians an immediate income and immediate cash. We started with 7,000; we went up to 12,000; we are today at 20,000 and we shall go to 30,000. Since every person supports a family of almost 10 persons, this means 300,000, 400,000 people. We are going to re-open the industrial parks to provide more jobs, to enlarge the fishing zone opposite Gaza; so really, an attempt to create work and jobs for the Palestinians.
The Palestinians are a proud people. I don’t think they want to be beggars. They want to earn their living, and we feel that we have enable them to do so while fighting terror predominantly.
The second thing, we have for the first time de-blocked, de-frozen some money that we are holding, trusting the new finance minister of the Palestinians that the money will not be mis-handled, will not reach terrorists or terrorist purposes.
Thirdly, at every place that the Palestinians are able or willing to become in charge of security, life will become normal again. We started with two zones – one is Gaza; the other is in Judea, comprising three cities: Hebron, Bethlehem and Jericho. And we did many other things that I won’t go into, because it will be too long. But we feel that as there is no compromise in our fight against terror, there must be all the attention given to facilitate the life of the Palestinians.
In our talks with the president, I emphasized something that the president is fully aware and supportive of, and that is the central issue on top of everything else – reforms and anything – is really to have one Palestinian command over all forces. As long as they have 12 different groups, with bombs and rifles, each of them shooting in a different direction, nothing will happen. The Palestinians are killing their own future.
I am very appreciative of the attitude the president has shown all the time – very specific, very determined and very friendly.
Q: Could I have, sir, a little clarification about when the Palestinians take over their own security? Israel has moved its forces out of some of those areas. Is that what you mean? That Israel would withdraw its military force —
FM PERES: Yes, I mean we take out the forces from the center of the city. We free the roads, so they can commerce, they can work, and they can move around. We are on the watch.
There is one thing which, since you ask, I have to answer. We cannot fight a suicide bomber once he is on his way. Because neither the police nor the military can stop him. He will explode himself. The only place we can prevent the catastrophe from happening is at the place of origin, where suicide bombers are being trained, mobilized, and that is the reason why we enter the cities. We don’t intend to remain there. There is nobody that suggests that we should reoccupy the territories.
Q: Mr. Foreign Minister, did President Bush ask the Israelis to exercise restraint in any retaliation for Wednesday’s bombing? And number two, did he also ask for Israel to speed up any withdrawal from some of those Palestinian territories?
FM PERES: Not in this meeting. We heard the remarks of the president and we shall respect it, clearly. But it wasn’t raised this time. We have had a rich agenda without it.
Q: How do you interpret the president’s remarks as a message to Israel?
FM PERES: I think that the president expresses his wish, which is our wish, to fight terror, not to fight the Palestinians.
Q: But how can you move towards peace when you think about retaliatory action?
FM PERES: We don’t have retaliatory action. Nothing whatsoever. We have preventive action. We don’t punish, we try to prevent. And even the killing of Shehada was killing what one may describe as a local bin Laden. You would do exactly the same.
We understand what the Americans are doing. The United States is conducting today a war of life and death for the rest of humanity, because if the terrorists will take over, we shall not be able to have fresh water or fresh air, not only to fly in planes. It’s a very serious engagement. And we feel ourself as a soldier in that camp.
Q: Mr. Minister, can you describe the India and Israel relations today?
FM PERES: The relations between India and Israel are exceedingly friendly and good. We distinguish, when it comes to Israel, the public opinion between two categories. Nations that are fighting terror understand exactly what we are doing. Nations that have the luxury not to do so don’t understand us. India is fighting terror. When terrorists are coming, nearby the Indian parliament–
Q: The same kind of terrorism?
FM PERES: All terrorism is alike. But now they have a now branch of suicide bombers which, if this will be spread, my God, it will be a terrible danger.
Q: Did the president discuss the latest bombing with you in any way, or the fact that most of the victims were Americans?
FM PERES: He expressed his condolences. He said it publicly.