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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Addresses Nation

Aired February 21, 2002 - 13:38   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Again, we are waiting now, from Jerusalem, Ariel Sharon, who address his country. We shall certainly listen in when that address happens. In the meantime, though, head to the State Department, Andrea Koppel to gauge what we anticipate from this speech today.

Andrea, good afternoon.


Well, one State Department official I spoke to said don't really get caught up in the rhetoric that we will be hearing from the Israeli prime minister. He is known for his very strong words. He is, in fact, in October, November, he's broken off relations with the Palestinians about four times. He has also changed military tactics several times, and so, even though we are anticipating Prime Minister Sharon to announce that he is going to be changing the military tactics, and that he views the ongoing fighting with the Palestinians as a guerrilla warfare, State Department officials aren't going to be too terribly concerned unless they see that translated on the ground -- Bill.

HEMMER: Andrea, when he talks about a new front, though, and they're really using the word "war" at this point, what is the U.S. gauging about what that could be. The reports yesterday was that the Israelis would take more of a special forces approach to this conflict. Is that being hatched out there?

KOPPEL: Well, the use of the word "war" is not new. That's something we have heard Prime Minister Sharon's advisers use really for almost the last eight, nine months.

HEMMER: Andrea, I apologize, here is now Ariel Sharon.


I wish at this point to send my condolences to the bereaved families of all those who were killed in terrorist attacks and to wish a speedy recovery to all those wounded. We are facing a tough campaign which has been forced upon us and a cruel terrorist attack.

These are very difficult days, and I wish to thank the IDF, the Israel police, and the border police, the security forces, the Mossad for their firm stance in this campaign. These are difficult days for parts of the public, and we hear grating voices from some parts of the public in these days when we need to be calm and have to preserve coolness in times of war and peace.

We must not act hastily, everything in good time, neither too late nor too early. That is the only way we can be victorious in war, and that is the only way to achieve a stable peace.

We are a people that has accumulated a great deal of experience in dealing with troubles. We have a tremendous reserve of ability and of talent to get out of these difficulties, and if there's anything that worries me, it is not our ability to cope and to solve problems, but rather the difference between our actual abilities and the unfounded doubts which we ourselves cast upon our own abilities.

Let us consider for a moment, in the past year and a half of the struggle that has been forced upon us, we have stood firmly in a most highly respectable way. The new immigrants and veterans have every day displayed heroism and presence of mind, readiness to help others and a spirit of volunteering.

These are indications of a healthy society, a vital society, an energetic society. It is a society whose sons and daughters are no less wonderful than the generations that founded the state and those who coped with the crisis of 1967 with the Yom Kippur War in 1973. The state of Israel is not collapsing. It will not collapse. It's all up to us.

The development of affairs is entirely dependent upon us, upon our behavior, upon our bravery, about the way we treat each other, about the way we put aside the conflicts between us and personal ambitions; the way we know how to stand firmly together facing dangers.

We are proud of our democracy and we strive for peace with our neighbors, even at the price of painful concessions. All we seek is to preserve our freedom and our way of life.

We are an open society. We insist that it remain an open society, in spite of the tremendous threats and dangers that have faced this state from the day it was founded.

We wish to live in calmness and to see to the prosperity of our state, to the education of our children, for equal opportunity, to look after our own people. We want to study, to work, to trade and to develop, and to have our celebrations.

Unfortunately, our neighbors have misunderstood our striving for peace and our way of life. They have interpreted it incorrectly.

And also they misinterpreted our internal debates which are the very essence of a democracy, and which are actually one of the sources of our strength. They do not understand that.

They have misunderstood this situation. They think that there are cracks in our people. And, of course, they are encouraged to think that from the expressions of people calling for refusal to serve in the territories. But they are wrong. This people is stronger and more united than they could possibly imagine.

The Merkava tank, which was developed by a General Tal (ph), that victorious tank, one of the best of the world, one of the best armies in the world, and the same could be said of our air force and of our navy; they're among the best in the world. We shall continue to fight terror, we shall continue to fight the terrorists with all our strength and intensify our activity. We shall not rest until that the terrorist framework has been dismantled and until terrorism stops and the terrorist organizations are destroyed.

At the same time, we shall do whatever could possibly think about a cease-fire -- a cease-fire that will lead into a settlement and into an agreement and to peace.

I wish to stress that our security forces have no limitations imposed by the political (INAUDIBLE) to take whatever steps are necessary to fight terror. Israel's security needs are what determines what is going to happen.

I reject the incorrect reports that Israel refrains from acting because of international pressures. The United States, which is at the head of the international struggle against terrorism, knows and understands us and our need to protect our citizens.

In my efforts to bring to an end the terrorism and to bring about a cease-fire, I shall do everything possible to continue to meet with Palestinian personalities, to take the necessary security measures according to the decisions of the cabinet.

I shall continue my efforts insofar as it's up to us to prevent any escalation and to prevent a slide into overall total war.

In order to increase the security of Israeli subjects, we have decided to set up buffer zones in order to achieve security separation. At a discussion held at the security cabinet a few days ago, we decided to establish buffer zones and to set up obstacles along those border zones.

We all want peace. We are all committed to peace. It is my aim to achieve peace, a total peace between ourselves and the Palestinians, that will make it possible to live a calm and secure life for us and for them.

This arrangement will be based on two stages: first, a truce situation with non-belligerency. Full demilitarization of the Palestinian area is an essential condition.

The second phase will be the permanent settlement in which the final borders will be drawn up between ourselves and the Palestinians. That will be the result of the relationships that will develop in the future between the two parties. But we have to bear in mind there are no miracle solutions, and no one should be misled by miracle solutions proposed by various commentators. A permanent solution can only be achieved after a proper cease- fire. This is what happened in our agreement with Egypt. Prior to the peace treaty, there was a total cease-fire. There were interim agreements. I stress interim agreements.

I said in the past, and I'll say it again today, for the sake of true peace, there must be painful concessions, but there will be no concessions with regard to the security of Israel and its citizens.

First, terror must stop. There must be calm, and only then will we talk about peace.

I would like from here today to appeal to the Palestinian people and tell them what I said in the past. I know that it is not easy to be a Palestinian. The Palestinians who do not want war and who are not engaged in terror, and there are such -- the Palestinians whose only aim is to win a livelihood and to see to the education of the children, you look at us, the Israelis, and what you see is Israel is a country of many achievements. In the past 53 years, Israel has developed a prosperous industry, one of the most advanced agricultures in the world, a high-tech industry which will prosper again when the high-tech recovers in the world. We have modern cities with hundreds of thousands of residents and health and education system which are the envy of many countries.

We have achieved all this in the past 53 years.

What I suggest to you today is that you think very carefully about what you hope to achieve, you and your children, in the next few years. Is it your aim to continue to follow those who lead you to destruction and to despair, who mislead you? Do you intend to go on sending your children to commit suicide as bombers? Or do you intend to follow those who suggest prosperity and advancement?

I suggest you all, Jews and Arabs alike, that there must be calm; stop educating toward hatred. What we all see here today is prosperity and advancement. And I know that in the end, with God's help, this is what will happen.

Citizens of Israel, just as I'm convinced that we will overcome terror, it will take time. And we need patience and determination. Thus, I also believe that we will overcome the economic crisis. After all, after a very difficult path, we at last confirmed the state budget (ph) started along the way. And I will speak about that soon.

I know it isn't easy today to say, "Be patient." I said in the past that even self-restraint is strength. And I say that determination is also strength. And we have proved that in the past.

It's difficult for us. It's difficult for me. But I appeal to you to behave in that way today, as well. The economic situation and the security situation are far from easy, but together, only united will we be able to overcome them both.

I know that the terror war, which was imposed upon us 17 months ago, brings forward tough questions. I hear the questions that are put forward every day: What is going to be? What should we do? I want to tell you, to tell each and every one of you, we shall overcome. We shall win, not only because we are right, but also because there is no alternative.

Let me, from this podium, also turn to all those who talk about despair, about lost of hope. This is not the time for such words of despair. This is the time to stand united and look to the future. Let us help wherever it is possible. Let us demonstrate our togetherness, our unity of ourselves and the Jewish people. This is a time to show that we are proud to be Jews in Israel. Yes, proud to be Israelis and Jews in Israel.

Citizens of Israel, our striving for peace will remain firm forever. But we will continue to fight anyone who tries to destroy our people. There can be no compromise. As in the past, we shall stand united together facing the common aim, and once we achieve a cease-fire that restores calm, we shall be able to start talking peace.

Thank you very much. Perhaps there are no questions?

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): You have called today not to lose hope, not to talk of collapse. Perhaps you could tell us, tell the Israeli public, where do you see hope and how long do you think it will take? Are talking about weeks, are we talking months, until this confrontation will end, until the terrorism ends and we can achieve a cease-fire? Where can you tell us is there a sign of hope? We want to hear where is a sign of hope.

You said following the arrest of those who killed Zeevi; will you now permit Yasser Arafat to leave Ramallah?

SHARON (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The hope can be found in what we're actually doing: building, constructing, developing. In spite of our tough fight and resistance to the terror which has gone on for decades, today it's gone on for 120 years. In spite of all that, we succeeded in bringing here millions of Jews. We have set up a wonderful infrastructure of this society, set up industry, research institutes, agriculture, wonderful medical institutions. We've set up cities of hundreds of thousands of residents.

This is a country which absorbs immigration. It is a country of many talents. If we today have 5 million Jews, I believe that within the next 10 to 30 years we should bring another million Jews, and we shall continue to develop and to prosper. And we shall achieve security. That is my hope.

We want to achieve peace, and we shall achieve peace. You have to look back and see what we have achieved till today in order to believe. Therein lies the hope.

As to your second question, we are checking out the reports. We have heard various declarations of this nature in the past. As you know, we demanded the arrest not only of the three terrorists, but others who connected with that attack, but also those who acted, together with the chairman of the PA, in bringing Iranian weapons to the PA. Whoever is responsible for that also must be arrested. That is another thing that we've demanded.

We are checking out what is happening. I would like to stress that, as always, we shall abide by all our commitments.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): You've said that the narrow cabinet confirmed the buffer zones. Are we talking about the beginning of a security separation from the Palestinians? Is Israel moving toward a security separation?

SHARON (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I spoke about buffer zones. This is the program of the government, as presented to the government and confirmed by the government. We are talking of buffer zones which would create a security separation. To the best of my knowledge, that too is the intention of the head of the general security services.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Could you tell us more details about which areas, and how it will influence the life of the citizens; what will happen to the Jewish settlers who remain on the other side?

SHARON (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I think I've mentioned here the buffer zones. I explained that the buffer zones will lead to security separation and will contribute to the security of all Israeli citizens.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Can you tell us about the size of the buffer zones?

SHARON (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I spoke about these buffer zones. The purpose of them is to give us security separation, to improve the security situation of citizens of Israel wherever they may be.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): This is another question about the arrest of the murderers of Rehavam Zeevi. Does Israel demand that they be extradited to Israel?

And could you also tell us more about the meeting between yourself and Mubarak, and the request that you allow Arafat to leave Ramallah?

SHARON (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): As to your first question, it was first decided by the cabinet, which demanded the extradition of the murders of Rehavam Zeevi. We put forward this demand. But first of all, we asked for them to be arrested, after the cabinet made its decision on this point. It will go back to the cabinet and it will decide about extradition demand.

Today I had a conversation -- I would say it was a good conversation, a friendly conversation and a very important one -- with President Mubarak, following a letter which I received from the president two days ago. We discussed, in our conversation, the question of regional stability as a condition for achieving peace in the area, which is something that we desperately want and Egypt is very keen to achieve.

The conversation dwelt on many different subjects, but, of course, I cannot go into detail. But I do attach great importance to this conversation. The contacts will continue. We decided that in this morning's conversation.

I'd like to say I'm not in the habit of reporting what was said in private conversations. There was no plan that was presented to me. I think that there may be some plans presented in future meetings or conversations, and perhaps President Mubarak may want to present his position and I will present my position.

We, of course, are all interested in achieving calm, in achieving of the end of the terror, and achieving stability in the region.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Mr. Prime Minister, will you continue your policy in spite of the reactions from within your party and other parties?

SHARON (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): It's difficult for me to follow after everything that is said or everything that you publish as though it was stated. Generally speaking, when I have a criticism or I want to specify an opinion, I do not hide behind any other person; I state it out loud.

The government has a policy and, as I said, it has a plan. Of course, this plan, any plan will have to be confirmed by the government. And as was said not long ago, I'm about to hold a strategic discussion in the government -- it will probably begin first in the Cabinet and then be continued in the government -- regarding our position on the major issues that face us.

I do not here want to relate to what various comments the people make. I think that what is important for all of us today, in light of the situation in which we find ourselves -- we find ourselves in an extremely complex and complicated situation. I think the right thing to do today -- and everybody should bear this in mind, is to stand together -- to act together, to preserve our unity, and to give our responses together united to the situation in which we find ourselves.

And I am convinced that with God's help, if that is how we behave, we will succeed.

QUESTION: Every day that we've been here, there have been reports of more violence escalating every day. And we all wonder how much longer the state of Israel (OFF-MIKE) before it takes more decisive action against Mr. Arafat and the terrorists that he (OFF- MIKE).

SHARON: First, we are taking decisive actions, and if you have been here several days, when did you arrive?


SHARON: Sunday. So you have been here several days, and I believe that you had the possibility to watch all those steps that are taken by us. That is the first thing.

The second thing, your question how long Israel will be able to hold. Israel will be able to hold forever. You have to understand that. We have been facing Arab that later turned to be a Palestinian terror for over 120 years. My grandfather was already facing Arab terror. I know families here that have been facing terror, Arab, Palestinian terror for five, six generations. And with all those things, while holding the sword in one hand, we managed to build here tremendous things.

We brought over here millions of Jews from 102 countries, speaking 82 languages, and always, all the difficulties were integrated into and became one nation. We built here tremendous infrastructure. We built here towns and cities, and the most beautiful and sophisticated industry, the most interesting farming, systems of health and education. We have wonderful music here, and maybe the best in the world of the best in the world centers of research and science.

And therefore, I think that we can look forward with optimism.

Of course, we'll make every effort to reach peace. We would like to have peace. We are not going to negotiate under terror. One cannot negotiate peace under terror.

First of all, it should be quiet, and we'll bring it to such a situation that it will be quiet.

At the same time, we have to make every effort. And I'm going to make every effort to try and talk to those Palestinians...

HEMMER: Ariel Sharon again addressing now going on about 40 minutes' time there. The new approach we've heard about, as of 24 hours ago, appears to be a established along the following lines. Apparently a buffer zone that Ariel Sharon describes as an effort to -- quote -- "achieve separation along its boarders." He also mentioned the possibility of obstacles being set up as well. If there is a silver lining in this current conflict, it may have to do with the Egyptian president.

We heard Ariel Sharon say that he has had conversation this week with Hosni Mubarak, and earlier you heard the address, telling the Israeli people to act with a coolness and a patience, in his words.

First to the State Department, we have a number of guests coming up here to examine all of this. Andrea Koppel is with us first.

Andrea, what do we know about defining what a buffer zone may be intended here by Ariel Sharon?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've heard Israelis talk about this, dating back to the previous prime minister's team. Ehud Barak's national security advisers had talked about building, if not a wall, at least some kind of chain-link fence that would literally separate Israel from the Palestinian territories. We heard some Israeli reporters trying to get more details from Prime Minister Sharon, and he was reluctant to give details.

But presumably, this is going to be some kind of a no man's land, literally something that would block Israel from the Palestinian territories. The prime minister is under tremendous pressure, Bill, especially in recent days, from his own constituency. He was elected a year ago on a mandate to bring security to the Israeli people, and if anything, the security situation has deteriorated to an even lower point than it was before he was elected. He knows that he has got to try to boost the morale of the Israeli people, and we heard him saying literally, we shall overcome, be patient, give us time.

This is going to take a considerable period of time, and clearly he thinks that this buffer zone is the most immediate step that he can take without further escalation.

HEMMER: Could be.

Andrea, thanks.

And thanks for hanging out, and being patient with us there at the State Department.

A few other guess being patient with us as well. Before we go to them, quickly again, let's hear what Ariel Sharon had to say in his words about the so-called "buffer zones."


SHARON (through translator): In order to increase the security of Israeli subjects, we have decided to set up buffer zones in order to achieve security, the separation There's a discussion held at the security cabinet a few days ago. We decided to establish buffer zones and to set up obstacles along those border zones. We all want peace. We all are committed to peace.

It is my aim to achieve peace, a total peace between ourselves and the Palestinians, that will make possible to live a calm and secure life, for us and for them.


HEMMER: Let's go about defining this now. Martin Indyk is with us, former assistant secretary of state, Brookings Institute right now, live in Washington.

Sir, good afternoon to you.


Also Edward Abington, former U.S. consul general to Jerusalem, political consultant also to the Palestinians right now.

Sir, good afternoon to you as well.


HEMMER: Mr. Indyk, do we anticipate more from Ariel Sharon today?

INDYK: I think it was fairly thin gruel all around. Hope and determination was the call to those in the center and the left who have doubts about the direction that he's taking, a warning to those on the right that he's not going to allow this to descend into all-out war. He's going to take actions, and the main action is to put up these buffer zones. I think that even when he talked to the Palestinians, he had little to offer them accept to ask them to question where their leadership was taking them. So I think it was the main message here, was we're staying the course, but we will do some things new on the margins in terms of these buffer zones to try to increase the sense of security.

HEMMER: To Mr. Abington, your thoughts on what we just heard on Ariel Sharon for the past 40 minutes?

ABINGTON: I thought think it was a pretty disappointing speech, sort of an oldtime reliigion-type speech, designed as a vision of building Israel, which without a doubt has been a tremendous achievement. But where is the beef?

It's more of the same. More violence. A buffer zone, a buffer zone for Palestinians means that Israel will take more Palestinian land. How does the buffer zone protect the 200,000 Israeli settlers who live on the West Bank. The talk about peace was so vague as to be meaningless.

Sharon has never put his cards on the table of what a speech -- or what a peace looks like. There have been four interim agreements between Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinians don't want another interim agreement. They want a final status agreement that leads to a truly independent Palestinian state. So if this was meant to hold out an olive branch to the Palestinians, I think Sharon really failed.

HEMMER: You know, Mr. Abington, what about this thought, the fact that he didn't come out breathing fire necessarily might be glimmer of hope in that part of the world. After all, Yasser Arafat came out a few hours ago calling once again publically for a cease- fire.

ABINGTON: You know, I simply don't agree with that, because we've heard similar type discussion by Sharon before, but it is not change the situation on the ground.

Now, if this matched by safer contacts between the Israeli and the Palestinians.

HEMMER: Which it may.

ABINGTON: Then you could say that the talks Sharon had with Palestinians about two weeks ago really hasn't led anywhere. And I think that he has not been willing to move forward with a political agenda. Until he does, the violence will keep going on.

HEMMER: I apologize for the interruption. Mr. Indyk, Going back to September 11th, the Israelis have really cloaked their conflict in this war against terrorism, much like the U.S. has as well. Has it worked for them publically? INDYK: I think it has. I think it's worked in this country. It is a war against terrorism. They are facing horrendous terrorist attacks. And I think the American people do understand that the killing of innocent people in this way is something that Isreal can't abide by a has to respond to.

At the same time, I think that this speech addressed to an Israeli diencend, and they want to know where it is leading,. and his answer to them is just hang in there, and it will be all right.

HEMMER: What about this argument? If the Palestinians as a block came to Israel and said we no longer have in our interest to destroy your country and drive you out, in fact, we'll accept you and keep you here, just end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, is that satisfactory at some point, eventually after you get cease-fire?

INDYK: Yes. But you see, they're not doing that. What they're doing is the exact opposite. First of all, you've got Hamas and Islamic jihad atatcking all over Israel, in Israel proper, not the in the West Bank and Gaza, where the terrorist attacks are occuring. So they are effectively erasing the line between the territories occupied in '67 and Israel proper and sending the opposite message to one you are talking about that they really want to stroy Israel.

And then you have the Tanzin (ph) militias. Arafat's own Fatah militias, who are today saying, we have a winning strategy, we're going to attack the soldiers and the settlers like they've done over the last few days, and we are going to drive them out of the territories by force. And Israeli across the board are not going to accept that message. Their response to that is, from violence you get nothing.

However, the underlying story in this speech I believe is the buffer zones, and we shouldn't jump past that, if you will allow me, because what that is doing is in effect beginning the first step of separating Israel proper from the Palestinians. The settlements on the other side, Sharon was asked about that, what's going to happen to them. He didn't answer. But in a sense, they are going to be cut off, physically, in some places from the rest of Israel. And that I think is a very interesting and important long-term development.

HEMMER: And when we talk about buffer zones, Mr. Indig, are we talking about a half mile? Are we talking about five miles? What is a buffer zone, and how do we define it, because clearly, we got very few facts from Mr. Sharon today?

ABINGTON: Yes, well, we will see it unfold. The area that I think he's talking about in the West Bank is a very long green line. It's not a border at the moment, and that's the problem. And it could be anywhere from one to two or three miles. They will have to put in a lot of forces to patrol those areas to stop anybody from coming in.

HEMMER: Want to get back to Mr. Abington. Just running up against time, gentleman. I apologize.

The Palestinians apparently have arrested three people, they say, who were connected to the assassination of the Israeli tourism minister back in October. When they start moving on these fronts, at what point can Yasser Arafat truly say, see, what I'm doing now is good for the peace process and it's working?

ABINGTON: You know, I think he has taken steps already. The arrests of the three. General Zinni left a list of 33 Palestinian militants. More than half have been arrested. I think the Palestinian security forces are seeking others. I draw your attention to the op-ed piece in "The New York Times" on February 3rd, and President Arafat laid out a positive vision for peace. So it is out there. But what is required is American leadership to try to bring the two parties to the table and to break the cycle of violence and tit for tat retaliation that's been going on unabated for the last several months.

HEMMER: Quite clearly, it is a tough road to go. Seventeen months nearly running right now. More than 1,200 killed as a result of the action going back to December of the year 2000.

Martin Indyk, Edward Abington, thank you men. This not going away anytime soon. I'm certain, again, we will talk in a moment here.




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