TOPICS > World

Extended Interview With Silvan Shalom

February 1, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why is the security fence necessary?

SILVAN SHALOM: It’s necessary because we’ve suffered from 19,000 terrorist attacks during the last three years. While only 1 percent of them were carried out by suicide bombers that had free access from the territories to the state of Israel. But those suicide bombers caused us more than 50 percent of our casualties. And we can say this: Since we’ve built this fence, the fence works. We can see that there is a decline in the number of those terrorist attacks against Israelis.


SILVAN SHALOM: Like every kind of attack. Shooting to a car, shooting an Israeli soldier, or missiles or whatever. Less than 200 attacks carried on by suicide bombers, but they caused us more than 50 percent of our casualties. And the only reason is because there’s no preventative measure between the Palestinians, between those terrorists to the state of Israel.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This was a project that was originally proposed by the Labor Party and it was something the Likud Party didn’t want to do. Have you changed your stripes?

SILVAN SHALOM: It looks like it. We were forced to do it. Why? Because of those 19,000 terrorist attacks we were forced to build this fence. We have been in the territories since 1967. Until 2002 — 35 years — we didn’t want to build this fence because we thought we didn’t need it. But since then, in the year 2002, during this year, we had sometimes three or four suicide attacks every day. We came to the conclusion that it can’t continue like that. And while the Palestinians are not willing to do anything, they’re not willing to make the strategic decision to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorist organizations. We have the responsibility to protect our people and that’s why we’re building this fence.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert said that basically occupation isn’t working the way it is happening right now. Is it almost an admission of failure?

SILVAN SHALOM: Oh no. Everyone has his own views. We believe that we should come to an agreement with the Palestinians. But we need two to tango.

Unfortunately they are not even willing to schedule the first meeting with the Prime Minister Sharon and Abu Ala. And more than that, of course not willing to implement their first commitment in the road map which means to put an end to violence, incitement, to confiscate illegal weapons, and all the other things that they’re not willing to. And no matter if it is Abu Ala that is not willing to do it now or it was Abu Mazen before him that didn’t want to do it then. Or Arafat, of course, who will never do it.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Of course they say they are too weakened to do it now, that they don’t even have police stations or police.

SILVAN SHALOM: There’s always an excuse that they are so weak. They have full authority to do it. In Gaza for instance — a place that we’re not there — there are 22,000 employees paid by the Palestinian Authority, fully armed, are working for the security forces of the Palestinian Authority. They have to deal with about, let’s say a maximum of 1,000 activists of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad. So they can do it. They don’t want to do it. While they are not willing to do it we should protect our people. And the only way to do it right now is by building this fence. Of course we can do some other things — militarily and politically. We are working on it. But the main tool we have is this security fence.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How long will the fence be? How many kilometers?

SILVAN SHALOM: A few hundred, I don’t remember exactly, but we’re building it. In every place that we built it already there has been a huge decline in the number of terrorist attacks. The last attack in Jerusalem, that was carried out by a police guard, a policeman, that is working for the security force of the Palestinian Authority. His job is to prevent those attacks, he carried one out himself. And he succeeded to do it only because we don’t have the fence there yet.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is the route of the fence fixed? As you know, you’re under a lot of criticism because you deviated from the Green Line in many places. Is the route fixed or can you change that?

SILVAN SHALOM: First, if we had built this fence on the 1967 borders, it would have been a political fence. But we are building it now on this route, it is a security fence. I would like you to know, the fence is moveable. We already have experience with a fence that we have moved. We moved a fence that we had with Egypt after we signed the peace treaty with them. We moved the fence with Jordan while we signed a peace treaty with them. And we moved the fence in Lebanon after we withdraw from Lebanon. So while the security fence is reversible, human lives are irreversible.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In these areas around Qalqilya where the villages are completely cut off, are you going to do something about those areas? They seem to be the ones suffering the most.

SILVAN SHALOM: We would like to ease the life of the Palestinians. I myself working on it in this ministry all the time. I prepared a new plan that we call a positive agenda. I participated in the meeting of the donor countries that took place in Rome a month ago in order to convince them not to give up but to continue with their contribution. Because I believe if we ease the life of Palestinians, it will help us. But the only formula that can exist is the life of Israelis will be eased if the Palestinians put an end to terrorism and violence. And we will ease the life of Palestinians by giving them more industrial zones, more licenses to work in Israel and to stay overnight here and more freedom of movement, and many other things we’d like to do to improve the infrastructure of sewage, water and other things.

So every place that we find out that we have to maybe move it a little bit in order to ease the life of Palestinians, we are willing do it. We are going to build very big gates that will allow their tractors and their combines and trucks to move to the other side of the fence to work there in the fields. We’ll build tunnels if necessary. And if we find out that there is a way to move the fence a bit — a few yards, 100 yards — we are willing to do it. We would like to build this fence in order to protect us, while we are not hurting the Palestinians.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So the places where the farmers have already lost new plantings and that sort of thing, that just means that you haven’t fully dealt with those problems because it’s still new?

SILVAN SHALOM: We are working on it. But while you are building it you can face new problems while you are working. And while we are working on it, we are willing to do everything that it needs in order to ease the life of Palestinians. I believe in it, we will do it. But we are not going to damage our safety and our security. We’re not going to give those extremists, those terrorists the privilege to come so freely to Israel in order to carry out more attacks against us and kill us one day after another like they have done during the year 2002.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I’m going to tell you now what we’ve been told in the West Bank about the fence, and just briefly would you respond to these charges. That it’s an apartheid fence?

SILVAN SHALOM: I’ve never heard so many nonsense in my life. No one can compare us to the apartheid regime. We are trying to separate between us and the Palestinians. It’s not like it was in South Africa between the blacks and the whites who belong to the same nation or like it was in Berlin where you could find parents that are living on the eastern side and their children in the western side.

Here it’s between us and the Palestinians. It’s not that we’re going to separate our people into two parts or something. We would like the Palestinians to live there and we will live here. We would be very happy to stop the building of the fence or destroy it in the future if we reach any kind of agreement with them. But while they are not doing it, while they are not willing to make the strategic decision to fight those extremists, we don’t have any other choice. We were forced to do it. We didn’t want to do it. As you mentioned, my party even opposed the fence.

Before 2002 no one was talking about this fence. Only when we had huge attacks against us where hundreds of Israelis were killed, thousands and thousands become cripples, orphans, widows, we didn’t have any other opportunity. I’d like to ask you: what you would prefer us to do? I’d like to ask my colleagues, would any other country act differently? After 19 attacks, not after 19,000 attacks? I think the answer is very clear. No one would act differently.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Explain what’s happening around Jerusalem. We’ve been filming where the wall’s going up because it was one place to film the construction of it in Abu Dis. You’re going all the way around Jerusalem, you’re not following anywhere close to the border there. Why?

SILVAN SHALOM: Let me, it’s only the recommendation of the security forces. It’s not a political fence. While they think it’s the best route to protect us from those extremists. That’s what we are going to do. If it was a political fence, we would decide differently. While many among our cabinet now are opposing this fence because they believe it’s too close to the ’67 borders. And doesn’t include so many settlements that will be left outside of this fence. They believe it should be within the fence. We are doing it because it was the recommendation of the security forces. We adopted it. We are building it.

And if we reach an agreement with the Palestinians, I hope it will be in the near future, and we will agree one with each other to move it. We will do it like we’ve done with Egypt, with Jordan and with Lebanon.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What is unilateral separation? And why in the speech in December did Prime Minister Sharon say that it may happen?

SILVAN SHALOM: First of all, it’s not a cabinet decision yet. Personally, I’m not so sure I’m in favor of it. So it should be discussed. There is a committee that works about this plan now. Some of my staff are participating on this committee, but still we’re very far. If there will be any kind of new plan that the Prime Minister will bring to the cabinet, we will come to a new debate and then of course we will have a vote. After it, it should go to the Knessett like it was promised by the prime minister that he will do. If it will get a majority of cabinet and of the Knessett, it will be the Israeli plan.

Right now the prime minister himself said that the road map is the only game in town. And while it’s the only game in town, we should work to implement the road map and not to look for other plans. What the prime minister is trying to say, is because I don’t see any partner and the Palestinians are not willing to implement their commitments in phase one — to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorist organizations. I can’t freeze the process. I should come with something else that will be for the security of the state of Israel in this engagement plan. But he said we should wait six months until we find out there is no alternative and there is no other partner.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: On the question of the international court. Why isn’t the wall a violation of international law? Isn’t it establishing unilateral facts in a military occupied territory which is against international law?

SILVAN SHALOM: I would like you to know, and all your viewers that may not know, that according to international law the territories have no sovereignty —

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Have no sovereignty.

SILVAN SHALOM: No sovereignty. Because it was given to the Jordanians in 1946 by the British. Only three countries recognize the sovereignty of Jordan on those territories: Jordan itself, Britain, since they gave it to Jordan, and Pakistan that was then a British colony. But in 1988, King Hussein of Jordan, then, said that it doesn’t take any connection any more to those territories, and he would like to split or to separate from those territories.

So according to the international law, it doesn’t belong to anyone. But the Palestinians are there. It’s a fact. That’s why we should discuss with them in order to reach an agreement. But more than that, I told you. It will politicize the international court at the Hague. It will bring an end to the peace process. You know why? Because if the Palestinians will find a new channel that they can achieve their demands, they will have no incentive to resume the negotiations with us.

Every time that they will face some difficulties, they will move to the international court in the Hague. That’s the reason why so many countries submitted written statements that they’re opposing this procedure. Four countries among the five members of the Security Council: it’s the United States, Russia, Britain and France. So, so many countries are very strong and very known and all the democracy countries are totally against the procedure. While they don’t like the route of the fence, they believe it should be discussed by the two parties themselves politically and not through this international court. Because it will politicize this court it can be used others in the future in many other conflicts that might come.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Will there be an eastern fence?

SILVAN SHALOM: We are not building this eastern fence. We are now focusing on this western fence. That’s what we are trying to do. And when we’re done building this fence, I believe it will be possible to look to see if this eastern fence is needed or not. Right now I think it’s premature.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You’re not concerned about the demographic factors that other people are talking about?

SILVAN SHALOM: Since 1967 we heard so much about it, and they told us all the time that the Jews will become a minority in this region, and this territory. And what we can see since 1967 up to now it didn’t change, even 1 percent. So it’s still the same. Of course because we had 1 million immigrants from Russia and because other reasons. But the fact is that nothing changed since 1967. And I don’t think it will in the future.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So this discussion about unilateral separation that’s gotten a lot of attention in the press, as you know in the States, we should not consider a fait accompli? Is that a proper assumption on my part?

SILVAN SHALOM: Most of the international community, most of the countries around the world, don’t want any side, any party to take unilateral steps. They would like that all of us to stick to the road map and implement the road map. I believe this is the right way, to go through, to implement the road map. Unfortunately, the Palestinians will never, never, ever will implement their commitment to dismantle their infrastructure of terrorist organizations. Even Abu Mazen, the former prime minister of the Palestinians, short time after he forced all the international community, or he pushed them, to ask the Israelis to adopt the road map, and we adopted the road map. It took him only a short time, a few days, until he said, I’ll put an end to terrorism in my way. Don’t teach me how to do it, I know how to do it better than you. And I’ll do it through an agreement with the extremists to have a cease-fire here in our region. I called it then a ticking bomb. It was the same day that Secretary Powell was here.

I can tell you that not everyone liked it then but I told them it will just take only a short time until it will blow up. And we could have seen that during this period of time the extremists dig more tunnels, they were smuggling more weapons, they trained their activists, they were making more tests in order to extend the range of their missiles, the incitement continued. It was totally the same. And it took 50 days until it blew up. So it will be the same if we have another cease-fire in the near future. Cease-fire is important, but it can last only for a very very very short time.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But that’s a very pessimistic view. If there can’t be any cease-fire, if there can’t be any end to the violence, then no peace?

SILVAN SHALOM: Oh I think it can be. It’s only a certain decision that should be taken by the Palestinians. They’re not willing to take it until now. If they would take it, I don’t see any problem, they can do it. More than 50 percent of their employees in the Palestinian Authority are working for security forces. So they have very strong power that can do it. They are not willing to do it. If they will do it, it will be no problem between both parties to implement the other phases of the road map. It would put an end to our conflict with the Palestinians. But in my view, Arafat is the only Palestinian in the world that isn’t willing to have an independent Palestinian state.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You said again this week you thought he should be expelled, I noticed.

Because I believe there is no chance that a new moderate leadership will emerge while he’s still here with us in the region. I had many many discussions with other Palestinians. They are very afraid of him. It’s not a democracy here, it’s the Middle East. They are afraid they will find themselves one day in one of the caves in Judea and Samaria one day with a bullet in their head. So they are willing to talk with us. They are willing to compromise with us. There is only one that is not willing to do it and it is Arafat. And it will never, never ever, will get any kind of a solution that will bring an end to the violence and to the conflict between us and the Palestinians.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Some of the left critics have in various ways compared what’s happening in the West Bank with the fence to ghettos. And said that Jews above all should not be building ghettos. What do you say to them?

SILVAN SHALOM: It’s not the leftists. It’s the extreme, extreme, extreme leftists. Because this idea of the fence invented by the left wing in Israel. Not by the right wing. And there were those who were pushing us to do it. No one really think we are building ghettos. It’s a joke. It’s unbelievable to hear it from Jews. They know that it’s not true. They know that they are doing it only to try to picture Israel as the bad guy here in the region. So we can’t accept what they are saying. But Israel is a democracy, everyone can say what they would like to. But they are a very very small minority in Israeli public opinion.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you very much Mr. Foreign Minister.