Critical Moment: The Israeli Perspective
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JIM LEHRER: The Israeli perspective from David Ivry, Israel’s ambassador to the United States. Mr. Ambassador, welcome.
DAVID IVRY: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: How hopeful are you that Yasser Arafat’s call for a cease-fire will work and then hold?
DAVID IVRY: Well, first in the Middle East you should be optimistic any time and to hope for the future, and I think this is what we are having now, is trying to hope that this is going to be a real cease-fire.
JIM LEHRER: Thus far, does it have the signs and the feel of a real cease-fire?
DAVID IVRY: We are trying to measure it with three criteria: first: violence; there is some reduction of violence in spite we had this day some shooting on the border of Rafah near Egypt; we had some two mortar shells which fell on some of our settlements and there were side bombs which were against a bus which could have been a disaster, but this is some ways a reduction of the violence. Second measure we can see the incitement; I think there is some reduced of incitement of the media of the Palestinian side. The third part if the rejailing.
JIM LEHRER: The what?
DAVID IVRY: Rejailing of those who have been released – prisoners who have been released from jail. Until now there is not too much act about it and this is very much concerning because we are very much concerned that some of them are going to commit suicide with bombs again, and those are the ones that we have to be pretty much careful about.
JIM LEHRER: Is it Israel’s position that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority could stop these suicide bombs?
DAVID IVRY: Of course. I’m not saying that they can jail everybody every time, but there is a list of prisoners that they released out of jail. They know the names; they know the people and they can jail them.
JIM LEHRER: So in a general – in a general sense, when your government – and you issued the statement yourself after the bombing, where you held the Palestinian Authority responsible for that, for this terrorist bombing, the suicide bombing on Friday. There’s no question in your mind that they are responsible?
DAVID IVRY: I can say that the one was committed suicide on Friday night was one who was released from jail as a terrorist, and he was one who claimed that he want to make any kind of bombing in Israel.
JIM LEHRER: Now, you heard what Mr. Rahman said; that if Israel really wants to stop the violence, all it must do is stop its occupation of Palestinian territory. How do you respond to that? That’s what the Palestinian officials have been saying from the beginning about this. What’s your response to that?
DAVID IVRY: We want to stop occupation — coming on July – last July Camp David – there has been offer to the Palestinian is the kind of offer which no other leader could have gone as far as Prime Minister Barak went. He was offering permanent Palestinian state, and refused – it was kind of refused. The same President Clinton last November came up his promise for making peace within the two parties and the party which didn’t accept it was the Palestinian side. And it means we were offering them a state, not to be occupied anymore.
JIM LEHRER: So to move to the present, you heard Mr. Rahman say two weeks cooling off period. Is that a time frame that makes sense to the Israelis as well?
DAVID IVRY: We stick – or we adopted the Mitchell board committee — which means, first of all stopping violence unconditionally and then cooling off time; there is a kind of discussion about it; some sides are asking for four weeks and others about eight weeks. I think it’s going – it can be compromised upon; the third part of it – CBM’s – what they call confidential measures – all over – there are about 15 measures; one of them is collecting all the nonlegal weapons systems, which they have, rejailing, stopping incitement, from our side settlements, so there is about 15 points. After finishing each phase by itself we can go to the second phase. The fourth phase is sitting down and resuming negotiations.
JIM LEHRER: Now when you say settlements, what specifically is Israel willing to do in that area?
DAVID IVRY: Israel right now is committed to what unity government is agreed upon.
JIM LEHRER: This is the current government?
DAVID IVRY: Existing government
JIM LEHRER: Existing government, right.
DAVID IVRY: Which adopted actually the policy of Prime Minister Barak government, the same policy, that we are not going to make any kind of expanding of settlements; we are not going to take any land from anybody else. It is going to be a little growth of construction in those kinds of settlements; it is going to be within the parameters of settlements that we have right now and this is the need, the living need of anybody in the place.
JIM LEHRER: Do you accept the complaint from Mr. Rahman and others that the settlements activity is a provocation to violence by Palestinians?
DAVID IVRY: It’s how I think he thinks about himself – but I think the Mitchell report says clearly first step should be stopping violence unconditionally, not condition to the settlements, then cooling off time and only then to speak about settlements. I can say on Oslo Agreement again, Oslo Agreement said that we should negotiate on settlements. On Camp David we almost agreed upon that 80 percent of the settlers are going to stay. It is almost agreed by Palestinians, so it is not a cause for violence and I must say again you cannot adopt violence to settlements; violence should be stopped. You cannot pay or have a price for violence; it should be stopped.
JIM LEHRER: So if the settlements aren’t a legitimate provocation, how do you feel about just the presence of Israeli troops in Palestinian areas, is that a legitimate provocation for violence?
DAVID IVRY: I don’t think it’s a provocation; it’s a self-defense. We had removed some of the closures and we found ourselves as a bomb. This is what happened actually; the closure came back after people had been released from jail, and we had to protect ourselves. If you’ve been hear — getting out of jail, some murderers which are getting out of jail, what the first thing you do is protect yourself.
JIM LEHRER: So what do you believe is behind the violence?
DAVID IVRY: Unluckily after Camp David, it was a kind of a phase which Chairman Arafat felt that the loss of credit and the international policy, because he refused to get offer which Prime Minister Barak offered him, and the only answer was to change the political situation by violence, and this is actually how things started. I think in some way the report, the Mitchell report is justifying what I am saying.
JIM LEHRER: Israel has no — bears no responsibility for provoking the violence by the Palestinians?
DAVID IVRY: Not at all. Once they’re stopping it I think this was proved; once they’re stopping the violence there’s not going to be any response from our side.
JIM LEHRER: Now the word was and it was very well – extensively reported – that short of a cease-fire called by Arafat, that Israel was prepared for a massive retaliation for this suicide bombing on Friday. Is that correct?
DAVID IVRY: First, Prime Minister Sharon declared a cease-fire about two weeks ago just immediately after Mitchell report came out, it was about hours after the Mitchell report came out. This was the first condition over there to stop violence, so Prime Minister Sharon declared immediately on all the military forces to cease fire, only to respond when they’re risking their lives. This is what happened. In the meantime, in the last two weeks, we lost about 38 people killed in spite we didn’t retaliate or didn’t respond. The pressure in Israel is very high. You can imagine – it’s a kind of a unity government which is a spread – a span of people from the left to the right, and there is a different opinion about it. There is a lot of pressure to respond – to retaliate; people have to prepare themselves; in spite of it I think a very courageous decision made by Prime Minister Sharon to give a chance to the cease-fire declared by Arafat.
JIM LEHRER: But if the cease-fire does not hold, the threat of a massive retaliation remains?
DAVID IVRY: I think what we have to see that we have a democratic government; they are going to sit down to discuss it as a good democratic society is doing it, and they are going to decide what is the right thing to do — you see by now they’ve been deciding in a very responsible way.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much.