FIGHTING TERRORISM: FIRST CONDITION FOR PEACE
CNN “LATE EDITION” INTERVIEW WITH PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN
NETANYAHU, MARCH 23, 1997
MR. RANDALL: Welcome back. As we mentioned, there was continued violence
today on the West Bank. Some are saying that the peace process itself may
be in jeopardy. Palestinians blame the Israelis for creating the
NASSER AL-KIDWA (PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO THE UNITED NATIONS): (From
videotape.) We are trying to say that certain actions and policies taken
by the Israeli government have paved the way for this deterioration of
this situation. They raise tension, there is anger among the people, and
he created a lot of problems.
MR. RANDALL: Joining us now from his office in Jerusalem, the prime
minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. And joining me here in the studio
is Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Mr. Prime Minister, welcome.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you.
MR. RANDALL: We are told that in the wake of the bombing at the
restaurant in Tel Aviv, your government is deciding on the issue of
continuing political talks with the Palestinians. Is there a decision?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Yes, I think there is a general recognition
that the only way that we can move the peace process forward as we want
to is for the other side to say, “We may have disagreements with you, but
we’re not going to give the green light to terrorist organizations,” as
the Palestinian Authority did this week.
There has to be a complete renunciation of terrorism and a fulfillment of
the Palestinian promise to fight terrorism. They’re not fulfilling that
promise. They’ve given them the green light. They’ve released prisoners
who appeared on television, on every network in the world, saying, “We
are going to kill. We have killed. We’ll kill again.” And there has to be
MR. RANDALL: So in the meantime, Mr. Prime Minister —
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: — an arrest of these people. There has to be
an arrest of these people and a battle against terrorism for peace to
MR. RANDALL: So in the meantime, you are suspending political talks with
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, I’m not suspending talks, because our
people are meeting with their people. But the first item of the agenda is
the fulfillment of the Palestinian obligation to fight terrorism. They
have to start complying with that or else we can’t move. And we have to
have peace in order to — or a peaceful environment in order to have
peace. It’s impossible to do so when bombs are exploding in downtown Tel
Aviv and killing women and children.
MR. RANDALL: All right, let me be clear on this. If there are talks going
on now in the area of security, I’m talking about political discussions.
Can you separate one from the other?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, I think the first item in the agenda is
the battle against terror, which is a solemn Palestinian pledge. I think
that is the item that we are going to discuss, and we want to see
concrete results. We have so many grievances on the Palestinians. They
haven’t complied with their promise to annul the Palestinian charter. It
remains on the books, calling for our destruction. They haven’t
confiscated illegal weapons. They haven’t stopped hostile propaganda.
They are violating the agreement.
But I’m putting the first condition for peace on the table, and that is,
I want them to start fighting terrorism as they promised. They’ve given
the green light to terrorism. The traffic light hasn’t changed yet. I
want to see a red light there and I want to see action against terrorism
as they promised. Then we can discuss many, many other issues to give the
peace to our two peoples and our children.
MR. NOVAK: Prime Minister, I think we can all stipulate that there is
never any rationalization or excuse for terrorism. But having said that,
since you had evidence, you say, that the construction of the — the
beginning of construction of the Har Homa housing project in East
Jerusalem would bring on this kind of terrorism, why in the world did you
go ahead with it?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, suppose you had a terrorist group telling
you not to build in Washington DC or in Oklahoma City, for that matter,
and you knew that if you built a certain neighborhood, these people would
bomb you. Then you wouldn’t build? You would agree to start dismantling
essentially the society of the United States under the terrorist threat?
Of course not. What you do is you refuse to succumb to terrorism. And we
in Israel, at least, understand that if we started accepting these
terrorist dictates, there wouldn’t be an Israel. And in my opinion, there
wouldn’t be many other societies as well.
MR. NOVAK: You —
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: So this is something we cannot accept.
MR. NOVAK: Earlier today on ABC, you said that if you didn’t build this
housing project in East Jerusalem, there would, quote, “be no future for
the Jewish state,” unquote. Your predecessor, General Rabin, a man of
great courage, decided to suspend the construction of the housing project
in East Jerusalem just to avoid this. Do you think he didn’t care about
the future of the Jewish state?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: One year ago Yitzhak Rabin was the prime
minister. This was the most conciliatory government. Or maybe it was
Shimon Peres by then. This was certainly the most conciliatory government
in Israel’s history. It gave far-reaching concessions to the
Palestinians. Exactly one year ago to the day, we had a spate of
terrorism from the same people who are perpetrating this, but far, far
greater. We had 60 people killed in terrorist attacks in the span of
three days. That culminated a wave of terrorism for two and a half years
that claimed the lives of 250 Israelis.
There is enormous — there was enormous terrorism under that government.
Now, they didn’t build in Jerusalem. Terrorism — they can always find a
reason. That’s not the point. You cannot begin to go down the course of
the questions you’re asking me — “Well, maybe if we don’t do this and if
we don’t do that, the terrorists will leave us alone.”
We have to tell the terrorists — and that’s what we expect from the
Palestinian Authority — “No go. We are going to act against you. We have
grievances with the Israelis, but we’ll take them up peacefully.” And
that is what I propose, that they fight against terrorism and that we
resume the peaceful pursuit of peace.
MR. NOVAK: Prime Minister, Nick Burns, the spokesman at the State
Department, this week said that the United States government has no
evidence that Mr. Arafat either condoned or approved these terrorist
attacks. Do you have such evidence? And if you did, did you supply it to
the State Department?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Bob, we have such evidence. We just had, in
fact, a public appearance of our chief of intelligence and our chief
MR. NOVAK: Then why would the State Department say it had no evidence,
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: There were meetings conducted by the
Palestinian Authority leadership with the Hamas movement on the 10th of
the month, and later on, two days, three days later, we have solid
information that those organizations left those meetings understanding
they have a green light. And soon enough, after a year when there was no
green light, they proceeded to act on it and bombed these women and these
babies in downtown Tel Aviv. So, yes, we have that information. We
relayed it to the United States government. I don’t know what went
through the pipeline, but I’m sure the United States government, as of
today, has that information.
MR. RANDALL: Mr. Prime Minister, the United States again today voiced
disapproval with your decision to go ahead with that housing project in
East Jerusalem. Does that kind of U.S. disapproval mean anything to you
in this political equation of whether to proceed or not?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Look, the United States is our greatest friend
and our greatest ally, and we value that friendship. Among the best of
friends, there could be serious disagreements. And as you know, Jerusalem
for us, for the Jewish people everywhere, for me as a Jew, is the rock of
We have — since we have reunited Jerusalem in 1967, we turned it into an
open city for Arabs and Jews, for Moslems and Christians and all three
faiths. That was never the case when the city was divided with a Berlin
wall. So we’re not going to redivide the city. We’re not going to make
two Jerusalems. We’re not going to put up the barbed wire. And it’ll
remain an open city, accessible to all faiths. For the first time in
thousands of years, that is the case now.
We have a disagreement, this is true, with others. But I don’t think this
is the main point. The main point is we don’t have a disagreement on the
fact that the way to resolve disputes between us and the Palestinians is
to sit down and negotiate these issues.
What we now see is that there is a resort to giving the green light,
giving the nod and the wink to these terrorist organizations. And that is
the greatest threat to peace, not the various grievances we have with one
another, but the fact that we must agree that there is no room for
terrorism because it will destroy the peace process, which I want and
which I think the people of this region, Palestinians and Israelis alike,
MR. RANDALL: Mr. Prime Minister, your country justifiably for so many
years was concerned about international isolation. Now your critics are
saying you are ushering in a new era of isolation for Israel because of
the political decisions you are taking, and they cite as the latest case
example the housing project at Har Homa. Is there any validity to that? I
mean, are you just deciding to stand alone here if you have to?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: First of all, I’m saddened by these critics,
because when I was in opposition exactly one year ago and we had these
tremendous suicide bombings, I gave the government the full support. I
said to Mr. Peres, “Be strong. Stand against the terrorists. You’ll have
our backing.” And that is what I expect people of good conscience to do
today. And I expect that not only here in Israel. I expect it around the
If you think this terrorism threatens only us, you’re wrong, because the
people who perpetrate it and the people who back them up and the regimes
that back them up are threatening many, many of our societies and I think
our whole way of life. There just has to be a realignment of the
international position. This automatic genuflection with the attacks on
Israel, this automatic reflexive Israel-bashing, when we are getting
thrown by terrorist bombs, I think is frankly sad. And I think history
will judge it unkindly.
MR. NOVAK: Prime Minister —
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I saw — forgive me, Bob; let me have my two
cents’ worth, because I know this is not something that you hear on the
nightly news or you see even in the CNN [flashes], but you saw in those
[flashes], this baby being carried off, wounded, bloodied, a baby girl,
from the site of that cafe. That mother, the mother of that baby, is
dead. She will grow up now not only with physical wounds but the wound of
not seeing her mother ever. And another young woman, a beautiful young
woman, died there with her pregnant child unborn.
And let me tell you something. There has to be now complete outrage,
complete condemnation, and no ifs and buts and attempts to say, “Well,
yeah, it’s you who brought it on because you built some housing projects
for Jews and Arabs alike,” as we’re doing now in Jerusalem. It’s
MR. NOVAK: All right —
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: There just has to be a realignment of opinion
for justice and for morality.
MR. NOVAK: Prime Minister —
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: And what has happened is unjust and immoral,
and there’s no exculpation for it.
MR. NOVAK: Excuse me, sir. Gene Randall, in his question to you about the
disagreements, you said, “Friends have disagreements.” The United States
has provided your government over the years with billions and billions of
dollars. Don’t you think that you owe the United States a little more
than a friendly disagreement when we are subsidizing the state of Israel
to the extent we are?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: First of all, I think that we have been
America’s greatest ally in the Gulf War and in so many other things and
so many things that I could say and things that I shouldn’t say, because
we’ve helped our common interests and American security in ways that your
government knows very well and I think the American people instinctively
This is a very tough area, the Middle East, a very tough neighborhood,
and there are some very unpalatable people here; Saddam Hussein and
Muammar Qhadafi and a few others around us, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and
Hezbollah. We have a common interest to fend off these people, and Israel
is in the front line defending itself, but I think in so doing, defending
our larger western interests and our western values.
MR. NOVAK: There’s no secret, sir, that the United States government is
very interested in having you form a grand coalition with the Labor Party
leader, Mr. Peres. Are you talking to Mr. Peres? Are you moving toward
that kind of a coalition that would facilitate the peace process?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, of course, I’m talking to Mr. Peres. I’m
the prime minister. He’s the head of the opposition. And on occasion I
brief him on what is going on.
MR. NOVAK: I mean toward a coalition government, about a coalition
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, we’re not into that. But let me say that
I have not been asked by the United States government in any way. They’ve
never sought to intervene in our local politics. What I have sought to do
is to bring a majority of the people of Israel to back our peace efforts.
And our peace efforts say that we cannot have the continuation of this
terrorism. This is why I was elected. People rejected the previous
government because they felt they had no peace. Buses were exploding
every day in Israel’s cities.
MR. NOVAK: Do you think —
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: So I think that I have brought in Hebron the
majority of the people to support the agreement, which I thought and
think is a good one. I’d like to see that happen in the continuation of
the peace process. But there has to be right now a consensus, I think a
worldwide consensus, that the Palestinian Authority must stop violating
the agreement, must start acting against terrorism, as they promised, as
MR. RANDALL: Mr. Prime Minister, has the subject of a coalition come up
in your discussions with Shimon Peres?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I’ve not discussed these matters, and I’m not
looking at the question of seats. I’m looking at the question of
policies. I’ve always said that we have certain policies in pursuing a
final settlement with the Palestinians, and anyone who agrees with them
is welcome to join. And I’ve never changed my view on that.
MR. RANDALL: Do you have any plans at this moment to try to be in touch
with Yasser Arafat?
PRIMe MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, he called me the other day, and I said to
him that I think he must act, must act and give instructions to his
people to change the green light to a red light.
MR. RANDALL: What was his response?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, he said he’ll act, but I can tell you,
as of this moment, and some almost 48 hours have gone by, I haven’t seen
any action. We still are living in an environment where we could be hit
again and again. And the only way that we could change this before the
real threat to peace occurs here is to have the Palestinian Authority,
the Palestinian police and security forces, do what they can do, and they
have demonstrable capacity to do, is to stop the terrorism. That is why
our cabinet agreed that this is a crucial step for the continuation of
the process. And I hope the Palestinians understand it’s in their
MR. RANDALL: Mr. Prime Minister —
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: They need peace as much as we do.
MR. RANDALL: Mr. Prime Minister, thanks for making time for us today.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you. Thank you very much.