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Former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Discusses Crisis

Aired April 10, 2002 - 08:13   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We go straight to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will be addressing U.S. senators on the state of affairs in the Middle East.

He joins us now from Washington -- welcome back, sir.


ZAHN: First of all, I want to give you the opportunity to react to some of what Saeb Erakat told us as he headed into meetings with Yasser Arafat this morning, that basically suggesting that what Mr. Sharon is doing is not only killing Palestinians, but not protecting Israelis as well.

NETANYAHU: Paula, hearing Mr. Erakat is like hearing -- just imagine that Mullah Omar or Osama bin Laden had a well-heeled spokesman who would talk about the terrible inflicting of loss of life on innocent people that America is doing in Afghanistan.

Because the truth of the matter is that his boss, his master, Yasser Arafat, is indeed calling for civilian deaths. He is indeed dispatching suicide bombers. He has, for God's sake, suicide kindergarten camps, where he takes 3- and four-year-old Palestinian children, Arafat does, and teaches them to self-immolate, to kill as many Israelis as possible. And he preaches not only the technique of suicide, but the doctrine of policide, that is the destruction of a state, the state of Israel.

That's the source of the conflict. They want to destroy the state of Israel, and Israel is merely taking up arms in self-defense, as the United States is doing. So to hear this cant, to hear this dribble, frankly, from a well-heeled propagandist, who speaks in English for CNN while his boss in Arabic calls for the destruction of a state and for the suicide bombing of our people is ridiculous. Stop carrying these people seriously, because they're not real.

ZAHN: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says it will be a tragic mistake if Colin Powell sits down and talks with Yasser Arafat, which is exactly what he plans to do. Do you have a problem with that?

NETANYAHU: I don't think that anything is going to come of it. Look, we have all sat down with...


ZAHN: But is it a bad idea or a good idea for Colin Powell to meet with Yasser Arafat?

NETANYAHU: It's just not going to produce anything, because Arafat will tell you what difference is it that Arafat will tell you something. His word is worthless. His signature is worthless. He has violated every single provision of every single contract of every single agreement that he has made with us or with you or with the Arab parties. He has simply ruled himself out.

I think we have to understand that if we do not shut down Arafat's terror factories, if we quote him, if we give him diplomatic concessions, we will not only intensify terror against Israel. We will ultimately intensify terror against the United States, because the signal that will be sent is that under the pressure of horrific terror, that continues to this very day, the United States is willing to make concessions or force its allies to make concessions.

And it's just a question of time before that suicide bombing technique, that the human bombs, individual human bombs that Arafat is pioneering, his contribution to the start-up technology of death, it's just a question of time before they appear here in America, in your coffee shops, in your pizzerias, in your theaters. And it's also just a question of time before you'll have suitcase devices of mass death attached to them that will make September 11 seem pale by comparison.

Paula, we have to shut down Arafat's terror factory. That's it. Not talk to him, not engage him, kick him out, shut down the terror factories, because the fate of the world, our common world, is at stake.

ZAHN: What do you say, Mr. Netanyahu, to the American taxpayers out there who are scratching their heads saying, wait a minute, we give some $3 billion in foreign aid to Israel, and they will not listen to the president of the United States and they will not immediately withdraw from these West Bank territories. Do you understand their frustration?

NETANYAHU: I would if I thought that this was what the mass of the American people are thinking, or for that matter, that the president, who is I think one of the great friends of Israel, perhaps the greatest friend of Israel, no greater friend has occupied the White House, that's for sure. I think that the people...

ZAHN: So does the president mean what he says then?

NETANYAHU: I think that the president has articulated remarkably important principles of fighting terrorism, that all terror is illegitimate, that terrorist regimes should not be countenanced. They have to be deterred and dismantled, and Israel is proceeding to doing that.

I think that there are differences of tactics and timing between us. There is no secret about that. But there are differences within friends, within a family, but not over policy. The policy of rooting out terrorism is just as strongly ingrained in the mind and heart of President George Bush as it is in the people of Israel.

So we feel actually an affinity, not only with the president, but with the vast majority of the American people, who think exactly as I do and who think exactly as the vast majority of the Israeli people do. We have to get rid of this terror, not to cop out, not to placate it.

ZAHN: But I think you made a very important point. And you said in your own words that there is a difference in tactics and timing here.


ZAHN: So at what point will Israel heed President Bush's call, get out of the occupied territories?

NETANYAHU: Well, A, they are not occupied territories. They are territories in dispute, and no U.N. binding resolution has ever called them that, because we were attacked from those territories and entered them in a war of self-defense. So I think we should be clear on the definitions.

Secondly, I think that is important to say that the president talked about the beginning of a withdrawal, and Israel has begun that. But I think the important thing is that we have to complete the job. If we -- you know, you have been cleaning up the terrorist-infested country, Afghanistan, for seven months. It's not going to take us seven months or seven weeks, but we have hardly been there seven days.

And if we leave -- and a lot of this malignant cancer, these goons, fighting terrorists, forget about their well-heeled spokesman here, these people who emulate 10-year-old, 15-year-old children in order to bomb and kill as many Israelis as possible, civilian and soldiers alike -- if we leave this malignancy, this cancer, in place, then it will grow. It will come back like the most virulent cancers to come back at all of us with even greater devastation.

Let us finish the job. This is all Israel wants to do. It is what you are doing now in Afghanistan. You will soon do it in Iraq and perhaps elsewhere. But we have to do it vis-a-vis the terror enclave that is threatening us, and ultimately threatening you.

ZAHN: What is the significance, do you think, of the secretary of state moving up his visit to Jerusalem a day earlier?

NETANYAHU: I don't know. I am not privy to Secretary Powell's schedule. But I know that in order to have a peace process, which he wants and we want, we have to get rid of the terror process. That is it is impossible to satisfy terrorism with diplomacy, because all you are doing is fueling more and more demands. As terrorists see that their savagery is rewarded with political concessions, they intensify terrorism.

Therefore, the only way to fight terrorism is by military means. It's to defeat it. You defeat terrorism by defeating it. After you do that, you can then enter a political process with a new political leadership among the Palestinians. It's no secret I have argued on your program, Paula, more than once, that we have to expel Arafat and allow saner voices in the Palestinian community who are not committed to the madness of destroying Israel and the madness of terror. To come to the fore, we will engage with them, but only after we defeat terrorism.

ZAHN: We've got 10 seconds left. You made it clear you don't think much is going to come out of these meetings, if Arafat meets with Secretary Powell. Your side has called him a terrorist in the past. Do you think the Bush administration is violating its own doctrine by speaking with him?

NETANYAHU: I think it's terribly important to be consistent, to have more clarity and strategic clarity in this war against terrorism, because everybody is watching, and people understand the clear principles articulated by President Bush in his historic speeches before the nation. All terror is illegitimate. Arafat is a terrorist. He is illegitimate. Get rid of that regime. That's what we need to do, and then proceed on to Iraq.

ZAHN: So what you are saying, then, is President Bush is violating his own doctrine by having anybody negotiate with Yasser Arafat?

NETANYAHU: I think what the president wants, I think what he really thinks about Arafat, is very clear to anyone who has watched him. I think what he wants is an extended cease-fire, so he can get on with the business of preventing Saddam Hussein from -- well, dismantling his regime before he acquires atomic bombs, a worthy cause. But I think the way to achieve it is to stick consistently with the enormously important principles that he has laid out before the American people and the world, and I hope and I pray that the United States do exactly that.

ZAHN: We're going to have to leave it there this morning. Benjamin Netanyahu, thank you so much for your time this morning -- appreciate your dropping by.

NETANYAHU: Thank you.




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