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Special Event

Ehud Barak Discusses the Killing of Two Israeli Soldiers in Ramallah

Aired October 12, 2000 - 4:03 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A short while ago, Prime Minister Barak declared his intention of forming a national emergency government. Well, he is with our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour in Tel Aviv -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Mike Hanna. Joining us, as you say, is Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel.

Prime Minister Barak, you have just finished saying that this was a limited action, that you did not target Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. But you have never -- Israel has never taken this extensive action against the Palestinians. How do you expect them to react?

EHUD BARAK, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: I expect them to put an end to violence that they have initiated and are responsible for. We have this morning -- we had a lynch of three Israeli reservist soldiers who -- people came from their home --and were lynched, then mutilated and burned. It's something that no government on Earth could accept, and Israel is ready to look open-eyed at the situation.

Understand that we are living in the Middle East, not in North America and not the Midwest, and this is a place where you cannot expect anyone to respect you, you cannot expect your own people to trust you, if you cannot respond to such an event. And we responded in a very focused manner, very clear signal that we will not have this kind of violence continue forever.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Prime Minister, this looks like an argument that is spinning out of control, each side blaming the other for what's going on, each side saying that the other one has to stop. Isn't it time, Mr. Prime Minister, to show leadership, to stop this?

BARAK: We have stopped it some hundred times since it began 10 days ago, or 12 days ago. We are ready all along the way to stop it. We are not creating the provocation, we are responding, and we will keep responding. Unfortunately, you cannot let your neck be kind of cut as a gesture for your neighbor, even if it's a good neighbor.

AMANPOUR: Would you acknowledge, Mr. Prime Minister, this kind of heavy weaponry, this kind of offensive action, simply plays into the hands of the extremists on both sides?

BARAK: I say, first of all, it's a necessity.

BARAK: We cannot avoid it. It's the role of a government to defend its soldiers and its citizens. We did it in a way that did not cause casualties. There are few people wounded.

We made clear to announce in advance what kind of headquarters we are going to attack. We made clear that every place we approach, first of all, we signaled with a few shots that something is happening so everyone can go out and then we hit it, so that there are very few wounded people, much less than in every daily demonstration where the Palestinians in their terrible way of sending people with weapons, innocent citizens, and kids, together. That's crazy.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Prime Minister, the Palestinian Authority president says in fact there were several people killed in attack, and there were dozens of people wounded. Nobody...

BARAK: I beg to kind of question the level of credibility that this authority, the Palestinian Authority, has in reporting effects.

AMANPOUR: Nobody would condone what you described as the lynching this morning. But the Palestinians and the rest of the world who are looking at the last two weeks know that the majority of the people who have been killed -- nearly 100 people -- are Palestinians.

BARAK: Christiane, try to imagine that you have a farm, it's attacked by robbers. You respond. Unfortunately, they are trying to kill you as you respond. You kill five of them and one of your family was killed. Is it fair to say that unless you will kill or let someone else kill another four of your family, it's not satisfactory?

BARAK: We leaders have to be able to look through the street to see the real causes, the real causes that Arafat -- who could take very easily an agreement that was on the table in quite a detailed way, defined by ideas of President Clinton at Camp David -- he chose deliberately, for reasons that he's responsible for, is its own kind of choice. He deliberately choose to not to go to an agreement, but to raise violence in order to draw the support of the world and the attention of the world to his cause, paying with the blood of his people.

This deliberate action is against common sense; it's against the real interest of his own people, but that's up to him. But this is the cause of the whole issue.

AMANPOUR: Your own intelligence organization, security organization, has said that it was an intelligence failure to allow Ariel Sharon to go to the holy site. Nobody predicted the kind of outrage that it would cause. They also say that they believe the violence was sparked when Israelis killed seven demonstrators the day after that on the mount. Isn't it time to stop saying, "You did it, you did it," and stop this and get back into a peace mode?

BARAK: First of all, the Sharon visit is the excuse, not the reason. The day before this, there was an explosive charge near petrol (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Gaza Strip that killed one of our soldiers.

I don't want to go into this pointing of fingers, but let me tell you, when Chairman Arafat releases the prominent terrorists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the streets, these very days, then he invites last week the leadership of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to a meeting of his cabinet, it is the equivalent of a green light to terror to open, maybe closing his eyes, maybe even encouraging them.

BARAK: It makes him, not just the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, responsible for the following terrorist attacks that might easily come.

We have to be able to make it clear. It's like you have lost today at the near Aden port four sailors and some, maybe 12, that disappeared. When you try to ask yourself, what's that, is it something offensive that the vessel had done? It's nonsense. Butchering is the intention of terrorists, to take the life of Americans since you are standing firm for freedom and against terror. And that's exactly what the world expects the leaders of the free world to do.

AMANPOUR: But don't you think what you've just done plays into the hands of that very activity? Don't you think that it just encourages the push toward the extremist side?

BARAK: I tell you, to bury more (ph) Israel does not encourage them. There is no -- we are living in a neighborhood which is somewhat different from the neighborhood you are living in. It's not North America; it's not Western Europe. This is a place where there is no mercy for the weak -- you can see it in the lynched soldiers -- and no second opportunity for those who cannot defend themselves.

BARAK: Israel is determined to defend itself. We have no hostile intention against anyone around us. We were ready to go further than any previous government in Israel, be it Netanyahu or Shamir or even Rabin and Peres, in contemplating ideas that will put an end to it. But if we won't find a partner with the same determination and clarity of objective, we will fight to defend ourself and our right to live in freedom in this part of the world.

AMANPOUR: How can you talk about a partner, how can you talk about peace, after the kind of activities that we've seen over the last two weeks? Chairman Arafat and other negotiators have called today's action tantamount to a declaration of war.

BARAK: That's nonsense, bullshit and propaganda. It doesn't amount to anything. It was not one in millions in what we can do if we are really in war. But it was a signal deliberately planned to avoid even the loss of life of people in uniform of the Palestinian Authority, but to signal to them that we know where their headquarters are, we know which boats exactly are the kind of police boats of the Palestinians, we know exactly where everything is and we will hit them if necessary. The Palestinian Authority cannot hold the stick at both ends, to incite violence, to participate in it and to tell the world how -- what kind of underdog they are.

AMANPOUR: You keep saying that nobody has ever offered such a great peace agreement as you have. What have you offered them? Nobody has said it publicly. We've heard leaks. We've heard things from the Americans.

BARAK: You are not Palestinian, you are not the negotiator. Arafat knows it. All his group knows it. President Clinton knows it. And we know it.

So we expect that if Arafat fails to take the ideas raised by President Clinton -- which are far-reaching, beyond what we can follow, but we were ready to go there and negotiate and contemplate them -- if Arafat will kind of, will be unworthy, will refuse to take them as basis...

I would expect the American president, the American administration to look in the eyes of the American people and tell them, "We have tried our best. The Israelis were ready. Arafat was not." It's something that I believe we deserve after going together with United States seven years, taking them as the honest brokers drafted by both sides. And we really expect it to happen in the very near future. Whether he goes to the table or -- we expect the American administration to tell loud and clear the American people and the leadership of the world: Who failed to move forward in order to put an end to the bloodshed in the Middle East?

AMANPOUR: You know, the leadership there says that, in fact, we are no better off. There are more settlements built under Prime Minister Barak administration. There's more stalling. Why is it that -- I know you say that I'm not the negotiator -- but why is that you haven't taken your offer to the people, to the Palestinian people? Why don't you tell them if you think it's so good?

BARAK: We cannot convince -- it's not exactly a democracy, Palestinian Authority, and we are not dealing with the Palestinian individual. A few years ago, we allowed them to use certain part of the electromagnetic spectrum frequencies to educate their people to live in good neighborhood with Israel, to have their own Voice of Palestine, TV of Palestine, to help Arafat that he shouldn't go from door to door to educate his people how to take peace.

BARAK: I suggest that CNN will take certain excerpts of the material that has been broadcasted there and you will make your own judgment together with your viewers.

AMANPOUR: Do you think in retrospect that going to Camp David and wanting to make the grand gesture, that it was wrong to have brought up Jerusalem then, that it simply touched too many emotional, religious, symbolic buttons?

BARAK: No, it was a necessity. We could not solve it without touching Jerusalem. It was decided upon 22 years ago in the first Camp David under Carter, and then it was decided in Oslo, that when the time comes to negotiate permanent status agreement, Jerusalem would be put on the table.

But we were ready, when Clinton, President Clinton, raised it, that we will take Jerusalem and delay, to defer it, or maybe even the Old City or the Temple Mount, delay, defer it under certain terms of negotiation for a certain mutually agreed period. We were ready even to do it, but the Palestinian were not ready, as they were not ready for anything else.

I cannot have an explanation for this, but I should tell our people and I expect the Americans to tell the rest of the world the truth. We were there together. We were ready to move. We were ready to make peace. But with the same determination that we decided not to leave a stone unturned on the way to peace, we will fight for our right of self-defense and the freedom and the right of Israelis to live as normal human beings here in Israel.

AMANPOUR: There's so much anger. Do you really think there is room to restart the peace negotiations?

BARAK: Yes. There will always be room. We will never lose hope of peace. The Palestinian people is going to be our neighbor forever, we will make peace with them. Leadership can change its mind, leadership can open its eye, leadership can even be replaced. And we might lose trust and hope of this present leadership, but we will never lose the hope of having peace with our Palestinian neighbor, the same people who are innocently pushed or incited to go into these demonstrations.

AMANPOUR: If you call a national unity government, peace is dead, isn't it, this peace process?

BARAK: The cause or the end result? If peace is dead, I can see no reason why we shouldn't have a national unity government if a conflict is imposed upon us.

But let me tell you more than that. I don't think that Likud or right wing Israel is against peace. They might have certain differences with us about emphasis, how to approach it, what's the right approach, how to reach it, not just to talk about it, but they're not anti-peace.

I hope that the Palestinian most devoted supporters of peace will behave like our right wing or even the extreme right wing. Our people want peace, be it right or wrong, they want peace and security for Israel.

BARAK: And in my judgment, they are a 100 percent OK, kosher, for a national unity government in Israel to push peace if Arafat is ready. But if he's not ready, let's face the reality, tell the truth and move forward.

AMANPOUR: A few days ago, a couple of days ago, your own forces -- and certainly it looked as though the violence was decreasing. The Palestinians had prevailed upon the police and militia to stop using their guns. The Israelis were moving back a little bit. And then came the settlers and started a whole new round of violence.

BARAK: That's not true. Christiane, that's not true. There are two gentlemen in the West Bank. One of the called Mawanba Gooti (ph), the other named Sena Sheik (ph). I told Arafat in front of Madeleine Albright, I told Mubarak, I told Clinton, the only thing that could immediately put end to violence is a clear-cut order from Chairman Arafat to these two gentlemen to put an end to the violence.

You know, when I approached him and told him, "Mr. Chairman, in order to put an end to violence, please call Mawanba Gooti (ph) and Sena Sheik (ph) and tell them to stop the violence." He looked at me as if I mentioned the names of two polar bears in a zoo that he doesn't know. And it was until his own people could not stand, laughing at this kind of appearance, that he said, "OK. I will do it." And I don't know whether he has done it.

AMANPOUR: The settlers, though, are a threat to the Palestinian people, people in the camps. Is it not your responsibility to rein them in?

BARAK: Of course. Of course it's my role to make sure, but it is not true that the settlers is a real threat. They can become a threat. We try our best to control them. I would not suggest to anyone to consider his wife and little children going back home from work and being attacked along the road by Palestinians, who got their weapons under an agreement under -- signed by the United States, signed by Israel and the Palestinians, to be the weapons that would be used to keep public order within the Palestinian Authority.

What we are doing is a shame for public order of a legitimate leader who wants to be a head of state that will be accepted by the world community as a normal member of this community.

AMANPOUR: I would just like to say that it is quite scary seeing these people with guns walking around in the streets.

But beyond that, I want to ask you, do you underestimate the level of passion that exists amongst the Palestinian people, the level of frustration, emotion, anger, every single day going to funerals, every single day being confronted with this -- with these killings? The level of emotion that that -- the killing of that little 12-year- old boy...

(CROSSTALK)

BARAK: I never -- I never underestimated it.

I called Chairman Arafat myself and I told him that we share, while of course we mourn our own dead, we share the feelings of the Palestinian people burying their own people. I mentioned deliberately this young boy that shocked the whole world. I mentioned the son of Mahmoud Aloul, the governor of Nablus, a person that we all know, and we share his sorrow as human beings.

But at the same time, we cannot deny the fact that we know the sources, we know who initiated it and why. And we believe that the Americans know it. We believe that certain other Western countries know it. And we expect the leadership of the world to be able to look at the eyes of our own public and tell the truth loud and clear. Since it's important for us when we deploy our own people for quite a kind of a tough crossing of rough water, we deserve this kind of gesture. It's much more than gestures here, it has to do with moral leadership. We deserve knowing the truth and knowing it from those who were intimately involved in the process from day one.

AMANPOUR: Whatever you say about maximum restraint, about your necessity to defend, nothing is going to change what the world sees here, and it sees a well-armed military force against civilians, some of whom have guns, a lot of whom have stones. There is no parity whatsoever, no matter what you say about it.

BARAK: I know...

AMANPOUR: So the question is, the Security Council has condemned the excessive use of Israeli force. Even your friends doubt the wisdom of this course of action. Why do you not accept, for instance, an international commission of inquiry?

BARAK: Look, we accepted that the Americans will nominate a group of people, Americans, under the American-Israeli-Palestinian Authority source of authority, with even experts from the UN or from the EU, the European Union, and so on. I believe there is no problem of objectivity once it comes to an American-led fact-finding committee. I've seen American independent enough to criticize their own institutions, even their own president. I have not seen a lack of firmness on finding fact.

Unfortunately, Israel experience in the last 52 years many times where a direct, simple judgments about reality were distorted for political reasons when it comes to the kind of forums in the international bodies like the UN where member states have kind of an alienation of blocs. Many of them are Muslim or Arabs or in a kind of...

AMANPOUR: So you're saying it would be biased?

BARAK: It's totally biased.

AMANPOUR: Are you saying no?

BARAK: Of course we say no. We say that it should be an American source of authority, maybe with Israelis and Palestinians, of course, but not international body. And we believe that this is an understandable position bearing in mind our experience in this world in the last 52 years.

AMANPOUR: How are you going to get out of the situation that you're in right now, that the area is in right now? Are you going to stop. Is there anymore action today planned?

BARAK: I hope every moment, even now when we are sitting, you interview me, I hope that a way will be found to convince Chairman Arafat to put an end to violence. Believe me, immediately, on the spot, violence will cease.

AMANPOUR: They say exactly the same thing about you.

BARAK: Yes, but there are some gentlemen, the head of the CIA, or the head of the British intelligence agency, or many of the world leaders and foreign ministers who are coming here, know the truth, that we are telling the truth. But of course they try to find a diplomatic way to manage with Arafat that made himself the kind of underdog of the world, this heartbreak, the whole Arab communities. There are many sensitivities on this globe for the Arab interests and needs and these motivate certain sensitivity.

But these people, as human beings and as leaders, know that we are telling the truth, period.

AMANPOUR: How is it possible, finally, that after seven years of work, this can unravel so quickly? I mean, is there really in your mind a chance that a fair peace can be achieved?

BARAK: You know, there is a chance, but there should be a will. You know, Chairman Arafat always say, "If there is a will, there is a way." So if we don't find now a way, maybe there is no will. The will on our side, there is plenty of it. It's the hope and prayer of almost every reason you can see. In the streets you can see it in the eyes of people. You can see it in every place. But, unfortunately, maybe it's not yet right on the minds of the leadership on the other side. And we will never lose hope, as I've said, to make peace with the Palestinian people. They are our neighbors forever.

But if this leadership is unripe, we cannot impose it upon them. It takes two to make peace. It takes only one to lead to confrontation. And if Arafat wants confrontation, we cannot avoid it. I only think we can hope is that the world leadership and Arab leadership and there are many other responsible leaders around and will use their influence. They'll share kind of multiple set of values with Chairman Arafat, to convince him this is the time to reach the peace of the brave. The time is right, but he seems to be unright for the time.

AMANPOUR: On that note, thank you very much for joining us, Prime Minister Barak.

BARAK: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Back to you, Mike.

HANNA: Thank you very much, Christiane Amanpour, talking there to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

In the nighttime, still we're receiving reports of violence from several areas in the West Bank. In the town of Hebron, reportedly Israeli helicopters opening fire. We hear, too, that an old synagogue in the West Bank town of Jericho has been destroyed.

We'll have more on these days' events right after this.

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