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War or Peace: The Israeli View

March 29, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST
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TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: Joining us is Alon Pinkas, the Israeli Consul General in New York.

Mr. Pinkas, what is the objective of the current Israeli military move in the territories?

ALON PINKAS: The objective, sir, is to do what Yasser Arafat took upon himself in the various commitments he has made and the vows he has taken and to rout out the terrorists, to dismantle, obliterate and destroy the terrorist infrastructure that Mr. Arafat himself has, for the last year and a half at least, been harboring and directly and deeply supporting, and to possibly get to the– to as much ammunitions and armaments as possible.

The second objective, which is political, is to signal to Mr. Arafat that his own political survival is at stake here, if he hasn’t gotten that message until now. And the third objective is to isolate him so as not to incite, so as not to galvanize his people with those ridiculous, out of the planet speeches he has made in the last year and a half, speeches that have unfortunately contributed to the political culture, this maniac, maniacal political culture of homicidal and suicidal bombers.

RAY SUAREZ: If he is, as you say, isolated, how can he be an instrument or in any way affect the future, the near-term future of stopping the violence in the West Bank and Gaza?

ALON PINKAS: Well, I don’t know that he is instrumental in doing that. And I beg to differ with anyone who seriously believes that he remains central to that objective. This is a man who has lied most of the time to most of the people and then all of the time to all of the people for the last seven years. But we still believed him and then again for the last year and a half ever since Camp David.

I don’t know that he has the ability. I don’t know that he has the capabilities, but more importantly, I don’t think that he has the will to quell down the extremist elements in the Palestinian– in Palestinian society, or, for that matter, the mainstream elements in the Palestinian Authority who have become no less involved in terror.

This is a man who has branded suicide and homicidal bombers as role models for the Palestinian people — not philosophers, not poets, not statesmen but suicide bombers, 18-year-old drugged and doped idiots who blow themselves up in pizza parlors.

This is the political culture we need to contend with. It is not different from al-Qaida; it is not different from Hezbollah. It is not different from all those violent terror organizations that sprung up from the shortcomings and deficiencies of Arab political culture.

RAY SUAREZ: Over the years, your government and previous Israeli governments have called Arafat a partner for peace. Today– well yesterday Prime Minister Sharon referred to him as the enemy. But Colin Powell said his leadership is central to finding a way out. Can he be both those things at the same time?

ALON PINKAS: I concede to you that it sounds somewhat irreconcilable. But look, Colin Powell looks at it from the vantage point of the Secretary of State of the United States of America. Colin Powell also knows that Thomas Jefferson is not going to replace Arafat, which is why we may be stuck with the man we know rather than the devil that we don’t know. But I think that Colin Powell has a very thorough knowledge and familiarity with the subject matter, and he would tell you that it is very, very doubtful whether or not Arafat could still play a useful role in destroying this terror infrastructure. He, after all, help set it up.

RAY SUAREZ: Does Israel want him out of the occupied areas, expelled from the region?

ALON PINKAS: It’s almost an irrelevant question, sir. I mean whether we want him out or not almost doesn’t make a difference. The people who should really drive him out are the Palestinians, to which he delivered nothing but poverty and hopelessness and misery and tragedy again and again and again. These are all self-inflicted tragedies. This has nothing do with the so-called occupation. This is a man who has not, and I’m sorry to use the cliché again, who has not missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity ever since he came into the political scene. Whether he is expelled or not is almost immaterial.

The Palestinians need to take a hard look at what their leadership provided them with, what their leadership is providing — what kind of future their leadership is going to provide them with, and they should be the ones deposing him. At the end of the day, looking back, you’re right. We did regard him as a partner for peace for many, many years since 1993. It was difficult for us to– it was almost unpalatable to us in the beginning, but we still maintained– even though there were hardships and obstacles, we still maintained that he is the trustworthy partner.

We have reached an almost irreversible conclusion that this man has undoubtedly outlived his usefulness as a political partner. We don’t see any way we can move forward with this man– I’m talking politics here– with this man in the future. And a political course of action is imperative here, be there no doubt.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, whether or not the Palestinians move against his leadership, right now Israeli army tanks and our guest just before you Mr. Rahman said that in the past hour, you could still hear shells hitting the compound. They’re in control of the area and would seem to have, in the near term, a lot to say about Yasser Arafat’s fate.

ALON PINKAS: I’m sorry. Who has a lot to say about his fate?

RAY SUAREZ: The Israeli army.

ALON PINKAS: Yes, but we are not out to get him. We are a democracy. We do not depose the leaders. I heard Mr. Abdul Rahman describe a few minutes ago, Arafat the elected leader. He also never lost an election which puts him in line with the great statesmen of our era, of Colonel Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

Having said that, we are not in the business of deposing of him, expelling him or eliminating him altogether. Yes, we’re in the region, but this compound that you are talking about– in the regional confines of his compound I mean, but that compound consists of ten buildings. We are not out to get Mr. Arafat personally.

RAY SUAREZ: Will those troops leave that area once they achieve their objective? What happens next?

ALON PINKAS: Well, what happens next is that we will– there are tactical military moves all of which derive from the political objective. The political objective is to turn the Palestinian Authority into a militia-free entity. To tell you that we can 100 percent have guaranteed success here, I cannot. However, we will stay there, from a military tactical point of view, as long as necessary. It could be a few days, it could be a few weeks. I don’t expect it to be more than that.

And hopefully we will rout out as many terrorists as we can. We will disarm as many as we can. And we will apprehend as many as we can. Incidentally, all those that we seek are people that have been on wanted lists that were submitted to Arafat time and time again by Israel, through the American envoys in the last several years, through European envoys. He has done nothing to apprehend them. Some of them, incidentally, have blown themselves up killing innocent Israeli children in the process.

RAY SUAREZ: Consul General Pinkas, thank you for being with us.

ALON PINKAS: Thank you.