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Interview With Benjamin Netanyahu

Aired December 1, 2001 - 22:18   ET


DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back, as we continue to follow this breaking news out of the Middle East. Now we're joined for Israeli reaction by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is also in New York.

Mr. Netanyahu, good you have you join us. Thank you.


KELLEY: You probably heard me quoting you from earlier, when you were on CNN earlier in the evening to get a reaction from Mr. Rahman. Let's start with some of the comments from Saeb Erakat, who you know is the chief Palestinian negotiator. He says they're doing all they can, but they've been under Israeli occupation and that assassinations get assassinations.

NETANYAHU: Well, that's nonsense. First of all, they're not doing anything. They are letting all these terrorists to roam around. Thousands of them are walking in the streets, firing their Kalashnikov rifles. Their press is openly encouraging this kind of violence. And the press is totally controlled by Arafat. It's not a democracy.

KELLEY: But they made 12 arrests today. Are they trying to make an attempt?


KELLEY: They made 12 arrests today. Are they trying to make an attempt?

NETANYAHU: Why are they making the arrests now? Why didn't they arrest these people before? And frankly, they have a list of the hundreds of prime suspects, and indeed, thousands that we have given them over the years, but they haven't jailed them. And to the extent that they jail them now because President Bush, rightly has put the onus on Arafat, they let them go in this revolving door system. You know, they put the guy in to jail because America's pressing. Then a few days later, he's out on the street.

So Arafat is not using the power that he has, the 50,000 weapons that we have given him in the Oslo government to work against terrorists. He is not using a fraction, even one of those rifles to go after these terrorists. And that's what they're roaming around free and doing what they're doing. KELLEY: But Mr. Rahman just said, when people are hungry, jobless and their land is taken, they're hard to control?

NETANYAHU: Well, that's simply a cop out. That's a way of saying that Arafat doesn't keep his part of the deal. The deal was he got territory. In exchange, he was supposed to police these people, the terrorists, prevent them from attacking us.

In fact, he's done nothing of the kind. And he has more police per square inch than other country in the world, including, I think, North Korea.

KELLEY: So what's the problem? Is it all Arafat then? Are you saying that he is not strong enough to control them?

NETANYAHU: No, I'm saying he doesn't want to. Because in order to control them, Donna, he would have to use political capital. He would have to do something that is unpopular in parts of the Palestinian street. He would actually have to take action to stop this bloodletting of Jewish lives, Jewish children and so on. He would have to go against his own internal propaganda.

In Arabic, he says day in and day out to his own people, we don't want peace with Israel. We don't want a state next to Israel. We want a state instead of Israel. And we'll achieve this with violence. That's what he says day in and day out, Arafat to his own people.

Now he would have to take action against his own statements and indeed, against the general tenor of this militancy in the Palestinian community. And he doesn't want to do it. He can do it physically. He doesn't want to do it because he would have to...

KELLEY: Why doesn't he want to do it, though? Why are you thinking that he does not want to do it?

NETANYAHU: Because I think he's constitutionally committed to the destruction of Israel. I think he started the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, three years before the Six Day war. What was the Palestine that he was set out to liberate? It wasn't the West Bank. That was in Arab hands. That was already liberated. It wasn't east Jerusalem. That was in Arab hands, too. It was already liberated, in quotes.

What he set out to liberate was Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Israel itself under any borders. And indeed, Yasser Arafat has shown a remarkable lack of capacity to move with the times and to come to a general and genuine compromise with Israel. So all he's doing is sending his spokesman to the West. You've just seen one of them, to talk about peace, to talk about the misery of the Palestinians, but Yasser Arafat is the one who's responsible for that misery.

And by the way, 99 percent of the Palestinians now live under Arafat's occupation. His...

KELLEY: Ninety-nine percent? NETANYAHU: ninety-nine percent of the Palestinians in Ramallah, in Bethlehem, in every one of those towns live under Yasser Arafat's government. Israel doesn't govern the Palestinian people anymore. Yasser Arafat does.

KELLEY: Saeb Erakat...

NETANYAHU: Go ahead.

KELLEY: I'm sorry. Saeb Erakat, who's the chief Palestinian negotiator, earlier said too that he would like to get the Mitchell Plan implemented and get a timeline, while General Zinni and envoy Burns are in the area. Do you hold out hope for that? And how can you say that they could to the table and make some progress, while they're in the area?

NETANYAHU: Well, I think it's going to be very hard to do. I think what you have here is a Taliban situation. What you have is that Yasser Arafat is enabling these various bin Laden groups, Islamic jihad, Hamas, and others, to operate against Israel. And I think the only way you can stop terrorism is not merely to go after the terrorists, but you have to go after the Taliban as you're doing in Afghanistan.

Well, in "Arafatistan," I think that we all have to look at, when I say we, Israel and America, and anyone interested in peace. We have to say to Arafat, look, you've got to stop this.

KELLEY: Mr. Rahman, right before you, said no one can do it alone. Israel must do its share.

NETANYAHU: Well, that's hogwash. He can do it overnight. And the reason he's not doing it is not because he can't do it, but because he won't do it. He can do it and he should do it. And there's nothing -- if somebody was attacking the United States, if Mexico, and I don't want to offend Mexico, I think it's a peaceful country, but just imagine...

KELLEY: Just an example.

NETANYAHU: If Mexico was sending terrorists into the U.S., bombing people to smithereens, blowing up buses, blowing up babies, and all of a sudden -- and you said to Mexico, "stop this terrorism," whatever disputes we have between us, border disputes, questions of illegal immigration, we'll resolve that peacefully.

And Mexico would say, "No, no, I need some concessions from you. I'm not going to stop these terrorist attacks." You would say, "That's out of the question. That's outrageous." Nations don't solve their problems with other nations by using terrorism. Terrorism is evil. It's bad.

KELLEY: But what do you bring to the table right now, while General Zinni and envoy Burns are there, that can make a difference while this keeps going round and round and round, and more innocent people being killed? NETANYAHU: It goes round and round because there's one side that is doing the attacking, that's Arafat, and one side that is doing the defending. And you can say, well, why do have this exchange of violence and the cycle of violence between Afghanistan and America? And you don't say that, because we understand very clearly. One side was attacked, the United States. And the other -- and that side that has been attacked is responding both against the terrorists, the al Qaeda network, and those who are responsible for it.

Now you could have al Qaeda spokesmen saying, "Well, we have to stop this cycle of violence. The United States shouldn't attack us." Of course, they should be attacked. When you have terrorists who attacking innocent people, blowing them up in cities.

KELLEY: But Mr. Rahman said there are Israeli atrocities as well.

NETANYAHU: There are no Israeli atrocities. There are -- Israel takes focused action the terrorists themselves. But sometimes, unfortunately, as happens in your case in Afghanistan, while you target military targets, you can accidentally hit civilians.

What distinguishes Arafat's terrorists, those he harbors and those he dispatches, because half of the terrorist attacks against us are done by people who report directly to Yasser Arafat, what distinguishes their action is that they don't accidentally or unintentionally kill civilians, they deliberately kill civilians. That's what terrorism is. And that's what distinguishes it from legitimate military defense of the kind that Israel takes against the Palestinian terrorists, and the ones that you're taking against the terrorists who are at large in Afghanistan.

KELLEY: Our thanks to you former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York.

NETANYAHU: Thank you.

KELLEY: We appreciate your time in talking with us.




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