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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Ehud Barak

Aired June 25, 2003 - 20:19   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: In the wake of steady assaults by both the Israeli military and Palestinian militants there may be a breakthrough in the Middle East peace process. Palestinian officials say three militant groups, including Hamas have agreed to a three- month cease-fire; however, a Hamas spokesman says no such agreement has been reached.
News of the possible cease-fire comes as Israel says it arrested two more Palestinians today allegedly on their way to detonate a bomb capable of killing hundreds.

I'm joined now by someone very familiar with the ongoing struggle for Middle East peace, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak who joins us. Thank you very much for coming to the studio this evening.

First of all, do you believe this truce will ever come to pass?

EHUD BARAK, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I think to say that we'll believe it when we see it, the way that the president put it is the right way to look at it.

ZAHN: Why are you so skeptical?

BARAK: This basically provides, it's a second best, this armistice. It's like an armistice between you and al Qaeda, you know. You can not do it unless someone takes responsibility and cracks on these organizations and dismantle them from their weapons; otherwise, the armistice itself could be used to recuperate, to gather new momentum and to be secured from Israeli attacks. So, we...

ZAHN: Is there any reason for either side to trust each other now?

BARAK: I think that, you know, it depends on action. I believe that we can be trusted. Until now we stood behind what we said and since the source of the terror is the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and even the (unintelligible) which is Fatah's own, Arafat's own terror organization.

We have to see action. The only justification for this armistice, called in Arabic (unintelligible) is if it will be used intensively within several weeks, not several months. We have to see results, namely dismantling of these organizations from their weapons and turning then to politics if they like to be players in the Arab -- in the Palestinian arena. ZAHN: So, are you saying what was done yesterday, the actions were completely warranted, rounding up the Palestinian prisoners or men they thought could give them information about ongoing terrorist activities, even though the Palestinians say that absolutely sabotaged the process?

BARAK: Yes, I think that as long as there is no armistice and until now it had not been signed, we should feel free to hit on them. They would have no incentive to reach even this armistice, which is second best, without the continued pressure.

What we should do now, the moment there is a signature if there will be a signature we should expect and tell it explicitly from day one that within several weeks, not several months, we expect to see results.

And the other element that should complement it on the international arena is an understanding between the administration and the Europeans to make it clear to Mr. Arafat who tries to derail the whole thing for his own reasons that America and the Europeans will not accept it and that they expect it to end up with an end to terrorist activity on the Palestinian side.

ZAHN: I wanted to share with our audience something you said back in March of 1998, and I quote, you said: "If I were a young Palestinian, it is possible I would join a terrorist organization." Until the settlement issue is resolved, you do understand the mind set then you're saying of these Palestinian terrorists?

BARAK: No, I just made this remark in kind of relation to the way that the circumstances under which a human being is born influences its frame of mind. I think that even the settlements is an excuse.

If the Palestinians were serious about putting an end to the conflict and to terror and strike a deal, we would dismantle many, dozens of isolated settlements. We would concentrate on several big settlement blocks that would become part of a zone, a very minor fraction of the land.

Basically Israel is interested and recently even Sharon admitted that we are determined to put an end to our reign over another people. We need a border within which we'll have Jewish solid majority for generations to come even if it contains a smaller piece of ground. Otherwise, we might end up being maneuvered into a new addition of old South Africa.

ZAHN: But as I listen to you talk you hear this constant repetition. We see this constant repetition of tit-for-tat and this endless cycle of, until you do this we'll do that. What's going to break the cycle?

BARAK: I believe that...

ZAHN: Can you tell us very quickly what the Israelis have to do and then what the Palestinians must do or in either order? BARAK: Let me tell you, first of all for the same reason the moral and strategic clarity that this administration has vis-a-vis Saddam Hussein is now bearing fruit in this recent result of the weapons of mass destruction search. You will have to take the same position no moral equivalence between the victims of terror and its perpetrators.

It's not a vicious circle. It could be, it should be said very clear the Palestinians have to put an end to terror period. Israel should dismantle illegal outposts. Naturally, I think it's something that should be done long overdue and Israel should ease the daily lives of Palestinians.

But the burden of proof, of seriousness, is clearly on the Palestinian side. If it were about occupation or settlement or whatever else we could be well into the implementation of a solution following Camp David three years ago. It was a deliberate, conscious and explicit choice of Mr. Arafat to reject Clinton's offer even as a basis for negotiation and deliberately turn to terror and he should be held responsible. You should be able to call a spade a spade at a certain point.

ZAHN: Well, he's not sitting there with any major job right now, is he? Mr. Barak, thank you very, very much.

BARAK: Thank you.

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