Newsmaker: Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri
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MARGARET WARNER: Another Mideast flashpoint is heating up again, the Lebanese Israeli border. Late last month the day after Israel launched its West Bank offensive, the based-based militant group Hezbollah stepped up rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli military posts to the south.
Separately, Lebanese-based Palestinians launched attacks at Israeli civilian areas near the border. Israel has responded by hideouts in Lebanon. So far no one has been killed but fears of a wider war led Secretary of State Powell to travel yesterday to both Lebanon and its main backer Syria to urge calm.
COLIN POWELL: It is essential for all those who are committed to peace to act immediately to stop aggressive actions along the entire border.
MARGARET WARNER: Home to more than 300,000 Palestinian refugees, Lebanon has been a battlefield for 30 years among regional powers particularly Israel, Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
In 1982, responding to Palestinian attacks launched from Lebanon, Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s defense minister, led an invasion of southern Lebanon, killing an estimated 14,000 people. During two decades of Israeli occupation after that, resistance was led by Hezbollah fighters backed by Syria and Iran.
Israel’s unilateral pullout in May 2000 triggered celebrations among the Lebanese and U.N. certification that Israel had fully withdrawn to the recognized border or blue line. But Lebanon still lays claim to a six-mile-wide area called Shebaa Farms. Israel said it captured it in 1967 from Syria, not Lebanon and Israel still maintains military posts there.
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, who met with Powell yesterday in Beirut, reportedly defended Hezbollah’s attacks on Israeli posts in Shebaa Farms. Hariri, a billionaire businessman, was reappointed prime minister in 2000 after his party won a landslide majority in parliament.
MARGARET WARNER: And with me now is Prime Minister Hariri. He’ll be seeing President Bush tomorrow. Welcome Mr. Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: Are the news accounts correct that you told Secretary Powell Lebanon will not do anything to try to restrain Hezbollah attacks on Israel?
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: I said that we respect the blue line, which is equivalent to the borders but Shebaa Farm is a Lebanese territory. And because it is Lebanese and because it is occupied by Israel so the Lebanese people had the right to have it back, by all means including the resistance.
MARGARET WARNER: So the fact that the U.N. even has certified this line and has said that Israel has fully complied and that the status of Shebaa Farms should be settled when Israel negotiates with Syria, that just has no meaning as far as you’re concerned?
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: Well, you know, this is a Lebanese territory. And the Syrians are saying it is Lebanese. The Israelis are saying it is not Israeli. So it is a matter of our land or Syrian land. But one thing is sure — that it is not an Israeli land and it is occupied by Israel.
MARGARET WARNER: Israel has said that if these attacks continue that it may retaliate against not just Hezbollah targets, which it’s been doing now but against Lebanese forces and Syrian forces. And this is why, of course, Secretary Powell is concerned of a wider war. Does he have reason to be concerned that this could spin out of control?
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: Yes, I think he has. I think he has. But also we cannot forget that we have a land occupied by Israel. We don’t want an escalation. We have told the Secretary [Colin Powell] that we don’t want an escalation; we will try to restrain the situation as much as we can, but also we don’t want to be forgotten because this land is our land. Some people, they said it is big, it is small, but anybody here is ready to leave his backyard because his neighbor likes it and he wants to take it or he claims it is not for you, it is for the other neighbor – for sure, it is not an Israeli land.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, people in Israel who are opposed to compromise with the Palestinians point to the Lebanon situation. They say Israel unilaterally withdrew, that they withdrew to the line that even the United Nations says is the line though, of course, as you said there’s a dispute, and the fact is they got no peace in return. The attacks have been going on ever since May of 2000, and they say this shows that we cannot ever have real peace, that the Arab states don’t want real peace with us, they’ll always keep moving the goal post. That is the American phrase.
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: That is not true. It’s not true. You know, before they withdraw we used to have a war every day. We used to have an attack almost every day. We used to have a bombardment in our villages and retaliation from our side on the Israeli where they are in the occupied territory. Since they withdraw from Lebanon in May year 2000, the blue line, which is very equivalent to the borders, nothing happened, and between Lebanon and Israel on the blue line, on the borders, but what happened is only in Shebaa Farm because it is a disputed area, so we asked them to withdraw. At that time I wasn’t in the government. The previous government asked them to withdraw from this territory. They refused. I was in the opposition. I asked also to be, to the Israeli through the United Nations to withdraw. They did not listen and they kept their forces there. If they withdraw from Shebaa Farm, things will be completely different.
MARGARET WARNER: The Israelis say that the attacks that have really intensified in the last — what is it — 19 days, aren’t only on their military posts in Shebaa Farms, that it’s also there are Palestinian attacks coming from your territory on some Israeli civilian areas. Are they right?
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: They are right and we put these people in jail. We have now about over 20 Palestinians; they are in jail and they will send them to court because we don’t allow anybody to attack over the borders. The border is not to be violated at all. And Hezbollah, during two years, did not violate the borders. As a matter of fact, Israel violated the borders by flying over our sky almost every week, if not every day sometimes — and intensity of the attack in Shebaa Farm in the recent weeks, in the recent days because of what is going on in West Bank.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let’s talk about what’s going on in the West Bank. You met with Secretary Powell yesterday. You’re meeting with President Bush tomorrow.
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: What is your basic message to them about what it’s going to take to calm down this Israeli-Palestinian violence and then to resolve it?
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: You know, first of all, I want to say to the American public opinion that aggression of the Israeli government against the Palestinians in the recent days did not hurt the Palestinians only but most important, it hurt the peace process and the idea of peace itself. It shows the Arabs when they start accepting the idea of peace since the Madrid Conference that Israel doesn’t want peace. They want only to destroy all the efforts related to peace. And what the Israeli government have done in invading the camps and especially now what we have seen in Jenin and in the church — you know, this church is 1500 years old.
MARGARET WARNER: You’re talking about the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: Yes, 1500 years old, one thousand five hundred years old. So many people came through that period, so many invaders came to Palestine but none of them, none of them came and started to hurt that church.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But what are you asking President Bush and Secretary Powell to do? What is your idea?
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: My idea is, first, they have to recognize that what happened in West Bank hurt the peace process and the idea of peace itself.
MARGARET WARNER: I think they’ve said that themselves.
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: Yes, and this needs a big word from the United States and they have to do something very important, and they have to do not only condemning the action of the Israeli government or asking the Arabs to condemn other attacks from the Palestinians, condemnation is not enough anymore. They have to move the Israeli immediately from the land occupied in Palestine, and they have to work immediately to achieve the peace through the U.N. resolutions, and we have the Arab summit, which gave a plan, a peace plan for the first time since the foundation of Israel.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me just ask you about one idea Secretary Powell has suggested in the last couple of days is some sort of a regional peace conference. What do you think of that and would Lebanon and Syria want to participate?
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: You know, we spoke about it. And I don’t know the details of it. If it is to push forward and implement the resolutions, it is something. If it is only to discuss and discuss and negotiate and dilute the obligations we have toward the peace, our self and the United States in particular, I don’t think it is a good idea. We have to know what is the goal out of it. If it is to push forward Israel to withdraw from the Arab- occupied territory and to establish security and orders and to create Palestinian states under occupied territory by Israel in 1967 according to the Resolutions 242 and 338, this is something surely that will be welcome.
MARGARET WARNER: So it sounds as if you’re open to the idea if the goals set include a political settlement.
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: A comprehensive political settlement, not only between the Israeli and the Palestinian because if really you want to see the peace taking place in the region, we have to include Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians as well.
MARGARET WARNER: Secretary Powell has said after his meeting with Chairman Arafat tomorrow, then he’s going to Cairo, he’s going to head home. If when he comes back here he doesn’t have a cease-fire will you consider his mission a failure?
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: No. You know, I have my own idea about cease-fire. In Lebanon during the war we had 1,200 cease-fire and didn’t work. One of them worked when we had a peace agreement — a political agreement I mean — among ourselves, among the Lebanese. But all the rest did not help because, you know, now they are calling for disengagement. That’s right? They will make a disengagement. I’m sure they will. Today, tomorrow, after one week, two weeks, they will. But why did they have the engagement in the first place? Have the reasons — not exist anymore? What if anything happened? So we have to come to the root of the problem — the root of the problem that there is an occupation.
Yesterday I saw a demonstration here in Washington saying, yes for peace, I am with them, no for terrorism. True — no for terrorism — but what about occupation? I say yes for peace and no for occupation, because the root of the problem is the occupation. There is a regular, normal old- fashioned occupation like the 19th century. We should get rid of it, and then hold the people accountable. If there is a Palestinian state, sovereign state with all the regulations of any normal state, with a constitution, with everything, institutions, then we can hold them responsible.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much.
PRIME MINISTER HARIRI: Thank you.