Interview with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan on the Charlie Rose Show

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

CHARLIE ROSE: Joining me now is Israel’s foreign minister Silvan Shalom. He met today with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and had some other important bilateral meetings. We want to talk about that as well as interesting things that he has had to say about Yasser Arafat. Let’s talk about your relationship with the United States. It is said that Israel is not happy about having to send a delegation over here to talk about the fence. Why are you unhappy about that?

SILVAN SHALOM: I just ended the meeting with Dr. Rice and, of course, we talked about the fence, too.

I think that the fence is our tool to keep the peace forces alive. The Americans believe that it will destroy the peace process, and I try to explain: We have had a security fence in Gaza for many years now and we didn’t have even one attack from Gaza within the State of Israel because they can’t move through this fence without being checked and controlled by our forces. What has happened is that in the West Bank they can go from one side to another without any obstacle in their way.

For instance, the last attack that we had in Jerusalem near the Temple Mount was carried out by a murderer who arrived from Hebron to Jerusalem, boarded the bus, and looked at everyone on the bus. There were women, children, and babies in their cradles and he pulled the trigger. If we had the fence he would never be able to do it. I think the only way to keep the peace process in the future alive is to deny those extremists the ability carry out more attacks in the future.

CHARLIE ROSE: Is the issue the fence itself, or is the issue where the fence is going?

SILVAN SHALOM: Of course it’s where the fence is going. But we look at it as a security fence. We’re criticized by our supporters within the State of Israel that the fence is on the Green Line or a few miles east of the Green Line. We don’t look at it as a political fence, only a security fence.

CHARLIE ROSE: You use it to go around the settlements so that you are protecting settlement and it therefore it leaves the Palestinians with disjointed territory. One of problems they had is with checkpoints, as you know. We can talk about suicide bombers and all of that and we will. Everybody ought to understand what that has done to the State of Israel in terms of its own sense of insecurity about getting on a bus or going to a restaurant. But at the same time there is on the other side the sort of sense of being treated badly at checkpoints and by having to always go through some Israeli guards.

SILVAN SHALOM: I think the fence will be very helpful to them, too. We have the fence in Gaza, as I mentioned, and we can give more entry permits to those who are living in Gaza to work within the State of Israel – much more than we are giving had to those living in the territories in the West Bank because terror there is not controlled. We’re very afraid they’ll carry out attacks against Israel. So the fence will prevent those extremists from the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad from putting an end to the peace process. It will allow us to give them working permits to work in Israel. I think the Palestinians will be in favor of it. Of course, we understand the extremists opposing it and in the future, in a few months we will find out together how to complete this building of the fence.

CHARLIE ROSE: Today, September 24, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was moving to prevent further extremists attacks due to Israel’s threat to have him expelled. "I think Arafat takes us more seriously. We can see that in the last few days he is trying to ask Hamas and other extremists not to carry out attacks against us." You said that today.

SILVAN SHALOM: Yes, it’s true.

CHARLIE ROSE: So Arafat has changed his tune.

SILVAN SHALOM: No, of course not. Arafat is just trying to gain more time. He understands maybe that if more attacks will be carried out by the extremists, it can damage him personally. That’s why he is trying in the last few days to ask them to postpone their attacks and not to pursue their plans to carry out more attacks against us. Arafat arrived in the region nine years ago, and we can summarize: Since he arrived, we lost 1,126 people, including children and babies. We had thousands of thousands of injured people that will remain crippled for the rest of their lives. But I would like tell you something else. In the last three years since he started intifada we had 19,000 terrorist attacks from the Palestinian side. I would like to repeat 19,000; it’s unbelievable. No other country will accept it and would allow those extremists to continue to plan their attacks and carry them out after it.

CHARLIE ROSE: Do you feel and does your government feel any responsibility for not doing enough for Abu Mazen so that he had to resign as prime minister of Palestinian Authority opening the way for Arafat to (a) celebrate and (b) have more power?

SILVAN SHALOM: I think that Abu Mazen himself knows that the only reason that he was forced to resign is because Arafat did everything to undermine his government and his regime. Arafat didn’t like his nomination; he didn’t like that he was in Aqaba with President Bush, King Abdullah and Prime Minister Sharon. He didn’t like that he was in the White House two months ago. He tried to push him to resign.

I can tell you that three days before he resigned, I got phone calls from foreign leaders who told me that Abut Mazen told them that there is no way that he will resign no matter what arrests Arafat will do, but after a short time he unfortunately gave up. Abut Mazen was different. His language was different. It was more positive.

CHARLIE ROSE: His mind set was different.

SILVAN SHALOM: That’s right, but he was not willing to implement his commitment to the road map and to dismantle the terrorist organizations.

CHARLIE ROSE: He was not willing to do it, or he couldn’t?

SILVAN SHALOM: He was not willing; he could do it.

CHARLIE ROSE: He could. So, in other words, you blame him? He had the power but not the will, in your judgment?

SILVAN SHALOM: He had the power and not the will. He told us very clearly: I’m not going to fight them. I’ll do it in my way or – I would like to quote: I know how to do it better than you.

CHARLIE ROSE: The security cabinet has already approved what?

SILVAN SHALOM: That Arafat is an obstacle and we should remove the obstacle.

CHARLIE ROSE: But not kill

SILVAN SHALOM: No.

CHARLIE ROSE: — notwithstanding what the deputy prime minister said.

SILVAN SHALOM: We don’t have an official policy to kill Arafat and we’re not going to do it.

CHARLIE ROSE: You will not do it.

SILVAN SHALOM: We’re not planning to do it and we don’t see any reason to do it.

CHARLIE ROSE: Those are three different things: we’re not planning to do it. Under no circumstances — have you promised the President of the United States that you will not kill Arafat?

SILVAN SHALOM: We know that the Americans don’t like our decision. After we do the decision, I got so many phone calls from foreign leaders – from Colin Powell, and Joschka Fischer from Germany, and from Italy and others – and they told me that understand and they agree that Arafat is an obstacle but they think he would cause more damage outside of the territories than inside of the territories.

CHARLIE ROSE: Why are they not right?

SILVAN SHALOM: I don’t think they are right. Because I believe that Arafat is not willing to have peace with us. Arafat believes from the bottom of his heart, I think, that he can defeat us through terrorism. It’s crazy. Abu Mazen – we talked to him – told us if we’re going to fight you, you will win because you are stronger than us; you are the Israelis. But if we’re going to negotiate with you, the Palestinians will have the advantage because we’ll get the support of the international community. And Arafat believes in the dream of great Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean without the existence of the State of Israel. Arafat would like to be mentioned in the Palestinians’ history as the one never willing to compromise with Israel and, more than that, he believes that he is the next Saladin, and he believes it.

So after we tried to negotiate with Arafat for so many years, we came to the conclusion that there is no chance to have any kind of compromise with him. I believe that while he is in the region no moderate leadership can emerge.

CHARLIE ROSE: All right. Then why don’t you remove him?

SILVAN SHALOM: You know that other countries would have done it and —

CHARLIE ROSE: I’ve heard Sharon say that he regrets that he didn’t kill him when he had an opportunity in Beirut.

SILVAN SHALOM: We’re talking about 20 years ago. I can tell you that my personal view is that we should have expelled him two and a half years ago after the attack that we had in Tel Aviv, when they killed 20 Israeli teenagers in a discotheque in Tel Aviv. We had a special inner cabinet meeting. It was Friday night — the day after it was Saturday, and we had religious ministers who drove a car on the Sabbath for the first time in their life. We watched the pictures and we got so many phone calls from those foreign leaders who told us: Listen, Arafat is going to give a speech first time in Arabic and to call his people to put an end to terrorism. He gave a speech; he didn’t do anything after it. We didn’t do anything to Arafat and since then I call to expel Arafat because I came to the conclusion that there’s no way to achieve peace with him.

CHARLIE ROSE: Does the United States government have any influence with the Israeli government?

SILVAN SHALOM: Of course.

CHARLIE ROSE: Tell me how, because every time we think of an issue with the United States objects it doesn’t seem to matter.

SILVAN SHALOM: We know that now we are under strong criticism in Israel for doing only what the Americans are allowing us to do.

CHARLIE ROSE: Let’s talk about that, because that seems to be the irony. All the people in Israel who think that the United States has too much influence — the people in the Arab world think that the United States could do anything it wants to and you would respond and yet the reality seems to me that you don’t listen at all. You listen and say we disagree and then go on and do whatever you want to do. It’s true with respect to Arafat in terms of what the security cabinet did. It’s true with respect to building the fence. It’s true with almost everything. The Bush administration says please do this. You say we heard you, we listened and we’ll take it into consideration, but we’re going to do what we think is necessary as any government would be in our national security. If your judgment of our national security differs from our judgment on national security, then we’re going to go our own way and the United States has no influence.

SILVAN SHALOM: First, we adopted the road map even though we didn’t like it.

CHARLIE ROSE: You didn’t like the road map?

SILVAN SHALOM: Of course not.

CHARLIE ROSE: What is wrong with the road map?

SILVAN SHALOM: We didn’t like it before we adopted it because it’s old. It gives the Palestinians the possibility to get an independent Palestinian state without, let’s say, giving up terror and demand of a right of return or a claim of return before we are coming to the final status agreement. But when we adopted the road map, we were criticized among our supporters that it was a dictate from the United States. When we’re not building our defense like we think we should do it, they are criticizing us that we’re taking dictate from the United States. When we’re not expelling Arafat, they believe in Israel that we’re not doing it because the Americans don’t like it. When they are giving us long-term guarantees with conditions that maybe we don’t like, it looks in Israel that we’re doing it their way because we should do what the Americans are asking us to do. So it’s a different view I think.

CHARLIE ROSE: Okay. Some people think the other and they express this idea on the program: That the United States taking a more active role is a code word for applying more serious and real pressure on Israel: that when everybody calls that the United States do more they mean do more to get Israel to do more.

SILVAN SHALOM: I think we have done more.

CHARLIE ROSE: But do you think that’s true. When people say we want the United States to play a stronger role what they really mean is we want the United States to have influence over the Israelis?

SILVAN SHALOM: I think we have a huge influence — not some. We adopted the road map; we have started to withdraw from the cities; we have removed outposts. Because we wanted to strengthen Abu Mazen we decided to release prison hers even though it’s not mentioned in the road map. We have decided to give more working permits to Palestinians and it’s not mentioned to give them more license to stay overnight in Israel so they won’t be forced to go back home every day. We canceled nine checkpoints. It was not mentioned in the road map.

CHARLIE ROSE: How many prisoners did you release?

SILVAN SHALOM: A few hundred.

CHARLIE ROSE: They explained you didn’t release nearly as many as you promised.

SILVAN SHALOM: Of course. We were negotiating about this issue, and we came to a conclusion that if there is no way that they will move forward to implement their commitment, why we should do it from our side? We decided to release few hundred. The decision was taken. Implementation, of course, is something else, because they didn’t do what they should do.

CHARLIE ROSE: Why do you think that Arafat turned down Camp David – because he does not want to be as then Prime Minister Ehud Barak said a partner for peace?

SILVAN SHALOM: I think he is not a partner for peace.

CHARLIE ROSE: He doesn’t want to be, doesn’t want to see a peace agreement, doesn’t want to see a Palestinian state along those boundaries that were proposed by Ehud Barak?

SILVAN SHALOM: Absolutely.

CHARLIE ROSE: Because?

SILVAN SHALOM: Because he believes in the dream of Great Palestine.

CHARLIE ROSE: That’s the same dream that Hamas has.

SILVAN SHALOM: Hamas has it. Hamas do it in their way. Arafat is trying to do it in different ways that will give them the support of the international community. Hamas is doing it in their way and they are saying that Israel has no right to exist. The Palestinian Authority is not saying it. It is saying all the time we would like to live with Israel side by side.

CHARLIE ROSE: Can you imagine supporting the boundaries, the ’67 boundaries that Camp David suggested?

SILVAN SHALOM: I think that no one in Israel will accept those boundaries because we could face another war like 1967. No. It was a huge danger to our existence.

CHARLIE ROSE: Is it still the policy to kill every Hamas leader you can —

SILVAN SHALOM: I think not. Those who are responsible for such kinds of attacks that I described, like attack that we had in Jerusalem in which this murderer killed babies, those leaders of the Hamas can’t get immunity. They can’t give instructions to the suicide bombers and to stay in Gaza in silence. We came to a decision that those who are responsible for those crimes should pay for those crimes personally.

CHARLIE ROSE: That includes the spiritual leader of Hamas.

SILVAN SHALOM: I think you are right.

CHARLIE ROSE: You made an attempt on his life. And you failed?

SILVAN SHALOM: I think that the only reason we failed is because we have high moral standards.

CHARLIE ROSE: In other words, if you had not worried about that awful word collateral killings —

SILVAN SHALOM: That’s right.

CHARLIE ROSE: You would have accomplished your goal. Do you think that would have been a good thing?

SILVAN SHALOM: I take it from my personal experience. The prime minister was away in India two weeks ago. I was the acting prime minister when we had two attacks, one after another. I was the one who had to take the decision what will be the reaction then. And when they described to me that it might hurt innocent people who are living next to those murderers, I didn’t give them the permission for a bomb of one ton – something that all the other countries are using in order to ensure the killing of those murderers. We wouldn’t do it. We have decided to do it after 8:00, only at 9:30 in the morning, when those children would be at school or in kindergarten. We’re doing it in other ways because we have high moral standards. We could have seen what other countries have done the only recently in order to kill their enemies. We didn’t use it in the same way.

CHARLIE ROSE: Is it a high standard of morality if, in fact, there’s a suicide bomber and you go to where his home was and tear down the home and destroy the home and the family and relatives live; is that morality?

SILVAN SHALOM: I think that they know it in advance and if their families are not preventing them from doing it —

CHARLIE ROSE: They are co-conspirators in your judgment?

SILVAN SHALOM: No. I think that those who are responsible to those attacks should take it into accounts that if they were carry out attacks against us, we might destroy their house.

CHARLIE ROSE: Let me end with this, because the damage to the psyche to children from suicide bombers is incomprehensible. Friends of mine who go to Israel are scared when they are there. You must be scared. You must know how much I’m struck by the gentleman who worked in the emergency room and had saved so many lives — that he and his daughter were killed by a suicide bomber.

SILVAN SHALOM: We’re suffering very much from the last three years. And we would like to put an end to this cycle of violence. We would like to have peace. We’ll do everything to achieve peace because we believe that we should remain in these territories, in this region, and we should live with our Arab neighbors. But you know that we need two to tango. And, unfortunately, the other side still believes that the existence or the creation of the State of Israel is a mistake. The spiritual leader of Hamas Sheikh Yassin — said only recently that Israel will disappear in 2027; before he said it would be 2017. Now it’s 2027. They don’t accept us there. We’re only five million Jews among hundreds of hundreds of millions of Arabs. And they believe we shouldn’t live there. We’re trying everything we can; we have many casualties, many people mourning. Our economy is suffering a lot; the number of tourists that we had in 2002 is the same number that we had in 1966, so we know how much it costs us. But we know that we must protect our people. So we’re trying very much. We thought recently we were living in a dream until just one month ago, when we had Abu Mazen as the prime minister of Palestinians we were talking to them. I was talking to him personally and to his ministers.

CHARLIE ROSE: This is the road map you weren’t in favor of.

SILVAN SHALOM: Yes, but after we adopted it and we were talking to them, believe me, I thought that we are coming to end this violence and to achieve a peace treaty with the Palestinians. After one month it looks so different, so different. I hope it will come one day back to the same dream that we don’t have anymore because we would like to have peace in our region and to have a better future for our children and for their children as well.

CHARLIE ROSE: Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you for coming.