Newsmaker Foreign Minister of Israel Shimon Peres
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MARGARET WARNER: Minister Peres, welcome.
SHIMON PERES: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: There are reports out of Jerusalem today that Prime Minister Sharon plans to retaliate strongly against Hamas for yesterday’s bombing at Hebrew University. Can you confirm that? Is that the plan?
SHIMON PERES: Usually, we don’t punish. What we are trying to do is to prevent. And for that the reason, retaliation is not the right expression. If we can get hold of the traces of the people who did this terrible crime, we shall clearly do it.
MARGARET WARNER: President Bush said today that– and I’ll just quote him– he said, “Israel must defend herself,” when he was asked about this. “But these decisions to make the area more secure must be made in the context of peace for the long run.” How do you read that? Do you read that as the president calling for restraint on Israel’s part?
SHIMON PERES: I just met the president, and I think we see eye-to-eye with what he has said. The president has provided a vision for the two peoples and for the Palestinians.
For the first time in the Palestinian history, they have an American president saying clear and loud that he’s for a two-state solution that was set previously by President Clinton, too, but he suggested a timetable of three years. We understand that while this is the vision, we have to prepare the ground to arrive at that point. And there we are trying to work out the humanitarian and economic plan that may pave the way to this solution.
MARGARET WARNER: But if I could just tie it back to the bombing yesterday, Hamas said they did this in retaliation for Israel’s killing last week in Gaza of their military leader and 14 civilians. You said at the time that you felt… you said, “I fear that innocent people will pay for this dearly.” Is this just an inescapable cycle? Did you expect this kind of attack?
SHIMON PERES: I think not only me; nobody expected it, and even now commanders and politicians said, would we know ahead of time this will be the result, we wouldn’t do it. There were eight times a postponement to get hold of Shehade, the man that was killed. He’s a sort of a bin Laden. We do what you are doing, the same thing, but being very careful not to hit civilian lives, and clearly not to touch children. That we regret very much.
MARGARET WARNER: Turning back to the subject you introduced, which was President Bush’s proposals. Your counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan were here last week, and King Abdullah of course is here today talking about a plan that the Arab leaders want to see executed, in which Israeli forces would withdraw from the West Bank towns recently reoccupied and a new sort of Palestinian security force trained by the Arabs and with the help of the CIA would take their place. First of all, did you discuss that with President Bush today?
SHIMON PERES: In a way, yes. I mean, we ourselves would like to go out from the Palestinian towns. We don’t want to reoccupy the place — nothing whatsoever. But you cannot have an evacuation of our force before there will be a Palestinian force that’s been introduced, security and law.
Now, we told the Palestinians in our meetings– I myself was sitting with them– and we told them every place that you will show a capacity to guarantee the security, we shall be out. And actually we suggested to them two areas. One is the Gaza strip; they agreed. The other is the Judea area, they agreed, too, comprising three important cities– Bethlehem, Hebron, and Jericho. They have asked for Ramallah as well, and I told them, “look, if you will guarantee the security in Ramallah, not just by promises but in fact, we shall be out.”
MARGARET WARNER: But what kind of evidence would you be looking for in the way of a guarantee?
SHIMON PERES: I mean, that the situation will calm down — that no more suicide bombers and no more terrorists will come out from those cities. And the best test is on the record. I mean, we cannot hang on words, but if in Jericho life has become tranquilized, we’re out.
MARGARET WARNER: But as you know, the Palestinian officials say even Israel, with all of its power and military power, has not been able, through this reoccupation, to stop suicide bombers from leaving these areas and coming into Israel.
SHIMON PERES: That’s right, but Israel prevented 80 percent or 90 percent of the attempts. The Palestinians didn’t try a single time to stop it. What we are telling the Palestinians, “look, we understand that you may not be able to achieve 100 percent of success, but try to do it. And if we shall see that you are giving orders to your own troops…” There are in between 30,000 to 40,000 Palestinian policemen. They don’t get orders to stop terror. The minute they begin to have it then we shall begin to move, as well.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, as you know, the Palestinians say that just before this killing in Gaza last week of the Hamas leader, that they were negotiating a cease- fire agreement among all these various Palestinian factions, even Hamas.
They further say that they think the Sharon government knew this and this is why the attack was launched against Mr. Shehade. So I guess my question is: One, do you feel that the Palestinians really were moving towards some kind of a cease-fire agreement? Do you think that’s completely out of the question now? And was there any link between last week’s attack and those talks?
SHIMON PERES: We know that the Palestinians have tried to negotiate with the Hamas about a cease-fire, but unsuccessfully. The Hamas has two headquarters, one in Syria– which is very extreme, and they wouldn’t even listen to what the Palestinians are suggesting. I wish they would reach an agreement, but if you’ll ask me when there is a negotiation between two parties, one party hold a rifle and the other party suggests reason, I’m not so sure that the result will be positive.
The Palestinians must take their life in their own hands. You know, we suffer in human terms. It’s very hard upon us, and even our eyes are full of tears. But the Palestinians are killing their political existence. The minute they have 12 different groups with bombs and rifles, each of them shooting in a different reaction… direction, whom are they killing? If not the Palestinian credibility, who made the Palestinian lose their credibility in the United States — Israel or their own gangs?
In Europe, in the Israel itself, they must take charge. If they can do it by conviction, fine. But they cannot do by conviction. And they must use power. No country, democratic or undemocratic, can afford having more than one army. If you have many armies, you don’t have a state, and you don’t serve as an address for any political reference.
MARGARET WARNER: So do I take it you’re saying, one, you didn’t put much stock in those reports about the efforts underway within the Palestinian groups; and two, that there was no link between that and the attack?
SHIMON PERES: I think so, yes. Shehade himself may be described as a local bin Laden. He is responsible for the killing of over 200 persons. He still continues to plan more bombs and more suicide bombers. And we have had to do it. You know, he was in prison. He was released, and instead of returning to normal civilian life, he went back to terror. We told the Palestinians, “Arrest him and you’ll save his life.”
MARGARET WARNER: Prime Minister Sharon appointed you last weekend to be head of… to coordinate humanitarian aid for the Palestinians, you mentioned that earlier. What are your plans in that regard?
SHIMON PERES: What we plan is to really take pragmatic steps: (a) to open our market for Palestinian workers. This will bring them an immediate income. It’s not simple for us, because some of them may be dangerous. But we understand that if they will not have an income, they cannot support their families. You started with 7,000, it went up to 12,000, today it’s 20,000.
We shall continue to do more of the same in order to facilitate immediately their economic situation; (b), we have de-freezed some of the money that was hold in our hands. We trust the new minister of finance, we transferred something like 10 percent of two billion shekels– it’s something like $40 million or $50 million that we have transferred. We paid some of their debts for electricity and for health, and if they will manage it correctly, we shall continue to do so.
SHIMON PERES: Thirdly, we are going to renew and extend the industrial parks, which again will provide work for the Palestinians. And then finally, we told them, “Every place that you will take charge of and tranquilize the situation, life will become normal again.” And we’re also doing a lot of things that would be too long a list to repeat it, but every step, small or big, will be taken by us in order to help the Palestinians because we are not fighting a people, we are fighting terror.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Mr. Minister, thank you for joining us.
SHIMON PERES: Thank you.