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Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks; Iran Nuclear Talks; Questioning Netanyahu's Iran Strategy; Imagine a World

Aired November 18, 2013 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

As the world powers gear up for another round of talks with Iran to curb its nuclear program, Israel is stepping up the war of words. A former national security adviser threatening again that the country is prepared to go it alone militarily against Iran if necessary.

The current negotiations are aimed at reaching an interim agreement where Iran limits its nuclear program, increases transparency in return for what the West says will be some reversible sanction relief and later on to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is confronting the Obama administration head-on, taking to the American airwaves in a preemptive rhetorical strike against any deal.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: So I don't think it's a good deal. I think it's a bad deal, an exceedingly bad deal.


AMANPOUR: Now the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has tried to counter those fears.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are not blind and I don't think we're stupid. I think we have a pretty strong sense of how to measure whether or not we are acting in the interests of our country and of the globe, and particularly of our allies, like Israel.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Now Kerry is reportedly pondering whether or not to head back to Jerusalem to try to patch up an increasingly stressed relationship. While the French President Francois Hollande is there now and being given a hero's welcome for holding out so far against a deal and pledging to oppose easing sanctions until he's convinced Tehran has proved that it's not pursuing nuclear weapons.


AMANPOUR: Tonight, both sides of the Iran talks, from two different Israeli perspectives, later on Efraim Halevy, who's the former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, and who says the West must try talking to Iran.

But first, Israel's minister of economy and the leader of the hawkish Jewish Home Party, Naftali Bennett. He's here in the United States to lobby congressional and public opinion against any easing of sanctions on Iran right now.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Bennett, welcome to the program and thank you for joining me.

NAFTALI BENNETT, ISRAELI MINISTER OF ECONOMY: It's great to be here, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Now you are being described -- or I'm going to describe you as Mr. No. You do not want a deal that's under proposal right now to be struck, nor do you want the United States or Europe or the U.N. to lift or ease any sanctions.

Do you think you're actually going to succeed in this lobbying effort?

BENNETT: It's quite the contrary. We actually want a deal; we just want the right deal. And the right deal is a deal that dismantles the nuclear weapon production machine.

Let me explain: Iran has a pipeline that produces uranium. They have 18,000 centrifuges that every six weeks can produce enough uranium for one nuclear bomb. Their plan is not to break out today with a bomb. They don't want a bomb now because the whole world's looking at them and they don't need those economic sanctions.

Their actual plan is to retain the machine, ease the sanctions and wait, perhaps six months, 12 months, 18 months, until the world's distracted with one thing or another and then within six weeks, break out.

So a good deal is a deal, Christiane, that dismantles their entire pipe. A bad deal is one that just turns off the faucet temporarily but leaves that machine in their hands and then we know for sure that at a later date they'll break out.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that Secretary Kerry is an honest broker? And are you prepared as it looks like Prime Minister Netanyahu is, I mean, really sort of moving the fight against the Obama administration to a very stressed-out degree? I mean, really creating fight with your strongest ally.

BENNETT: Christiane, America is our strongest ally and America is a big friend, and so is the Obama administration. Over the past several years, we've strengthened our ties with our security ties, our intelligence ties. However, there is a degree of disagreement. We agree to the objective, which is preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. There is a degree of -- where we don't really agree on how you get to that.

Now we feel that Iran right now is on the ropes. They have to be presented with an either-or situation. Either you retain your nuclear program or you have an economy. You can't have it both ways. We feel right now that a third way will allow Iran to wiggle out of those sanctions, ease the sanctions, keep the machine and wait for an opportune moment.

And I want to point out right now are they are fateful days. If five years from now or 10 years from now a nuclear suitcase blows up in New York, it'll be traced down to these very fateful days because if Iran does acquire a nuclear weapon, so will Saudi Arabia, so will Syria and Libya. The Middle East will become a nuclear nightmare and no one will be able to control this thing.

So we have now is the time to present Iran with an either-or decision.

AMANPOUR: Now, Mr. Bennett, you know, the United States administration, the Obama administration and Secretary Kerry have said, look, we want to at least try this track; we think we have a better chance than we've had in the past. And the president is going to be briefing, leading members of the Senate, leading Democratic and other leaders tomorrow and asking for some space to continue these negotiations.

I guess my question to you is, what is the option? I mean, I think you probably read the polls as well. You know that the U.S. people are not for a military intervention anywhere in the Middle East right now. And there's one former Bush administration official said that the one thing that the congressional leaders love more than Israel is an aversion to any military action right now.

So do you really think you're going to be successful in your lobbying effort?

BENNETT: Christiane, there's no one who wants a war less than us. We've got 100,000 Hezbollah Iranian missiles targeted at our cities if a war erupts. So we do not want a war. I fought, unfortunately, in several wars behind enemy lines. I've lost friends. We do not want war. I know what it means.

However, it's one of those cases where a bad deal will lead to a war and a good deal will actually prevent war because if we have a bad deal, Iran retains its nuclear machine, then it means that inevitably there will need to be a military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And you know, we're talking --


AMANPOUR: Are you saying that Israel -- are you saying that Israel is prepared to go it alone, as the former national security adviser said?

BENNETT: Look, Israel in the past, when faced with a rogue nation acquiring a nuclear weapon in 1981, we attacked Iraq, the (INAUDIBLE) Arak nuclear core (ph) and we destroyed it. Without doing that, Saddam Hussein would have become a nuclear power and in 2007, Israel allegedly attacked Bashar al-Assad's nuclear core (ph) and had we not done that, allegedly, Bashar al-Assad would today have a nuclear weapon. Imagine this guy, who's butchered 110,000 of his own citizens, holding a nuclear bomb. So Israel has the ability to defend itself and Israel will defend itself if necessary.

But the better outcome is to prevent this whole thing from happening by standing strong. You know, Iran's on the ropes. The referee's counting six, seven, eight, nine. And we're very near the point where Iran will have to give up its nuclear program and at this very moment is the last thing you need to do, is pick up the other guy and tell him, you know what, we'll ease the sanctions.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Bennett, I don't think the United States nor the P5+1 believe that Iran's going to abandon its nuclear program. However, I do want to ask you about the other issue that you've just brought up, and that is potential peace, a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Here in New York, you have said that you are vehemently against a Palestinian state and previously you've said that you don't believe there ever will be one.

Do you really believe that? I mean, you're part of a government that has committed to negotiating such a thing.

BENNETT: Well, I think that what we need to do with the Palestinians and because we are neighbors is build it bottom up. We need to invest in the economy; we need to invest in more joint businesses. The situation on the ground is very positive. I think trying to enforce artificial state in the heart of Israel, in Jerusalem, is a grave mistake. And just consider one point, right now Abu Mazen only represents about 40 percent of the Palestinians. There's a whole 'nother terror state in Gaza, belonging to the Hamas. Let's assume what won't happen, that we sign a deal with Abu Mazen. Do the 1.5 million Arabs in Gaza also have to comply? Who says? They say that no deal would be enforced on them. So I feel that we're sort of spending too much effort on the diplomatic arena, which is not very promising, and we should focus on bottom-up piece. And that's what I do as minister of economy.

AMANPOUR: You have lashed out against the Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni and again you have said that you don't ever think a peace deal will happen.

But I wonder whether you think it was wise of your colleague, the housing minister, to announce this massive new building in the occupied West Bank, even the prime minister didn't know about it and was pretty angry about it.

BENNETT: Well, first of all, Christiane, you talk about occupied, I just want to point out --


AMANPOUR: No, let me just ask the question.

BENNETT: No, no, but since you say the term "occupied," I have to point out -- I'm holding a --

AMANPOUR: It's an international term -- it's an international term, Mr. Bennett.

BENNETT: I know, and I don't accept it because this coin which says in Hebrew, "Freedom of Zion," was used by Jews 2,000 years ago in the state of Israel, in what you call occupied. One cannot occupy his own home.

Now to your question, you know, Israel beyond the green line, there's 700,000 Israelis. There's vast cities and they need to live. And we've always said that we will continue to serve this population.

However, the building of communities there is not a hindrance to peace. You know, only 7 percent of the entire West Bank or Judea and Samaria is built today; 93 percent is open. So no one's stopping peace. If the Palestinians want peace, they have to do one simple thing: recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland. That's all. But if they don't do that, if they don't recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland, they can't expect peace.

AMANPOUR: Naftali Bennett, thank you for joining me.

BENNETT: Thank you very much, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: And while you've just heard the case against lifting sanctions against Iran and also against the current deal underway or attempted deal between Israel and the Palestinians, there is a very different view in Tehran on the whole idea of sanctions.

Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, and the chief nuclear negotiator, recently appeared on this program and he said the numbers prove that sanctions have failed.


JAVAD ZARIF, FOREIGN MINISTER, IRAN: But in fact, instead of 160 centrifuges that were spinning 10 years ago or eight years ago, today we have 19,000 centrifuges. So that is what sanctions and pressures and intimidation has brought; those people who are continuing to advocating that type of behavior, I think that is a failed policy. It needs to be changed.


AMANPOUR: So does it? After a break, we'll ask another voice in Israel, once used to keeping silence in the shadows, are sanctions a failed policy? The surprising answer when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Now we've just heard from Naftali Bennett, economy minister in Prime Minister Netanyahu's cabinet, who was sent here to the U.S. to lobby for a harder stance on Iran.

But in Israel, not everyone is on board with this strategy, including some who've reached the highest echelons of Israel's security establishment.


AMANPOUR: Efraim Halevy spent decades at the Israeli spy agency Mossad, even running it for more than four years. And he believes that Israel is making a big mistake by pushing for more sanctions and not supporting negotiations.

Mr. Halevy joins me now from Tel Aviv.

Thank you for joining me and welcome.

Do I have you right? Do you think that -- do you think that now is the time to talk?

EFRAIM HALEVY, FORMER HEAD, MOSSAD: I think it's always a time to talk. I think the talking is better than anything else. And the only way to convince people of your views is to talk to them.

And over the years I have always advocated talking to the Iranians and talking to our enemies in the hope and in the conviction that if we have the right cause, we have a chance of convincing them.

AMANPOUR: So what do you say, then, to Mr. Bennett or even to the Prime Minister Netanyahu and to the, you know, group in Israel who are very concerned about the current negotiations underway?

Are you concerned that this is just a easy option for Iran to continue?

HALEVY: I think we took a decision, a very fateful decision, in my view, when originally we decided that we wouldn't trust the negotiations to the powers that be.

We decided that this was an international issue and that the international community should confront Iran and deal with the Iranians in every possible confrontation and any possible setting that they would choose.

Once we made that decision, we have to have a minimum of trust in those who we have asked to represent us. My view has been that we should have been at the table. My view is that the countries of the Middle East should have been at the table.

We're now negotiating a serious issue which will have far-reaching consequences to all the countries in the region. And none of the countries in the region are at the negotiating table. The only country at the negotiating table from the Middle East is Iran.

There is a price to pay for this. We're now paying this price. And I don't think we can now change the rules of the game. And we have, to some extent, put our trust in the United States of America and the other negotiators, that they will get a good deal. And I think that the test of a good deal is the end game, not just the tactics of how you reach the final conclusion, but how you take the Iranians along with you and then cunningly, if I say that, and purposely, and in a -- certainly in an organized manner, bring them to the point where they will make the decision of no longer following the route of a military nuclear capability.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Halevy, you have been at the very top of Israel's intelligence establishment. Do you believe that Iran poses an existential threat to the state of Israel right now?

HALEVY: I think that Iran is a very serious threat. But I've always said and I will say it again this evening that I believe that Israel is indestructible. And I think that this should be the basic tenet of every Israeli leader to have self-confidence and the confidence in the future of Israel and in the indestructible character of Israel. We have enough means at our disposal to make sure that nobody in the world could destroy us. This has to be the point of departure. And I think it is wrong in this context to bring up the memories of the past, the memories of the Holocausts of so many years ago, when we were defenseless. Then we were defenseless. Now we are not defenseless. And we should have confidence in the means at our disposal and we should be more cool and collected in the way we approach the problems of the moment.

AMANPOUR: Well, then, how do you react? Give me your reaction to what you just heard Minister Bennett telling me, and what you hear Prime Minister Netanyahu tell the world and lobby the United States on this issue?

HALEVY: I listened very carefully to Mr. Bennett's presentation. I think he made a very good case for the case that he is representing. And obviously I listened very attentively to everything that the prime minister is saying.

But I believe that in this particular case, we should put a bigger emphasis on our self-confidence. I know the prime minister has great respect for a figure of the past, Winston Churchill. I was a young boy in London when Winston Churchill spoke to the people of Britain in World War II. And the main theme of everything he had to say in every presentation he made -- there was no television at the time; it was only on the radio -- that whatever happens, we are confident, we, the British people, as it was then, are confident that we will be triumphant. And therefore people should have courage and the courage of their conviction. Yes, there were serious dangers ahead. There were serious dangers which had to be attended to at the moment. But there was a strong streak of self-confidence. And I believe that if the prime minister were to take that line, he would be rewarded both in the international arena and inside this country.

AMANPOUR: Let me move on to another thing that is obviously incredibly important and that is the state of play between Israel and the Palestinians. There are current talks, although some state of suspension at the moment.

Do you -- what is your reaction to when Mr. Bennett says, "I vehemently oppose a Palestinian state," or that there will be no peace with the Palestinians?

What is the option for Israel?

HALEVY: I believe there are two basic options. One is the two-state solution, which at the moment is the least probably but the most desirable. And there is another option at the other end of the scale, and that is a one-state solution, which is the least desirable but the most probable. And we have a situation like this, then you have to look for something in between. And I believe the in-between has to be ultimately a Palestinian state in temporary borders. I think we cannot settle all the problems within this timeframe that we have. And I think that both sides have to make concessions as a result of this.

The fallacy in the argumentation of Mr. Bennett is that he believes that this is a game in which we can dictate to the other side the way in which they should live and the way in which they should govern themselves.

And he looks upon this in terms of what is best for Israel -- and I understand that -- and he believes that what is outside that, shall we say, that circle of what is best to us, that is left to the Palestinians.

Ultimately we have to negotiate with them from some point of equality. They are now a nation, for better or for worse, and we are a nation. And we must negotiate as two nations negotiating with each other.

And the question is not only what is good for us, and the rest remains for them. We have to take their concerns and their problems into consideration. Of course, in a manner which will secure our security needs. And on this as well we shouldn't use security needs as a cover for something else.

AMANPOUR: Efraim Halevy, thank you very much for joining me and for your insights.


AMANPOUR: And while Israel frets over Iran's nuclear program, there is another weapon capable of bringing down walls of prejudice and misunderstanding between men and women all over the world.

In the hand of Doris Lessing, the pen proved mightier than a host of WMDs. The daring social conscience in sensible shoes, when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where a golden notebook became the road map for generations of women.

Doris Lessing was hardly the first British female author to put pen to paper but in her 1962 landmark novel, "The Golden Notebook," she went where no novelist, male or female, had gone before, in frank, fearless prose, she trained an unblinking eye on the lives of men and women as they actually lived, beneath the stultifying social conventions of the day.

And she didn't merely leave it to her characters to challenge those conventions, be they sexual or political. She dared what we think the macho Hemingways are entitled to do, walking away from a marriage and two small children in pursuit of creative freedom.

Her life spanned nearly a century of incredible change, from her birth in Iran, when it was still known as Persia, to her childhood in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, to London, where her career as a novelist took flight.

It was there in 2007 that she emerged from a cab to be told she had become only the seventh woman in history to win the Nobel Prize for literature.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you heard the news?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've won the Nobel Prize for literature.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you feel?

LESSING: Well, it's been going on now for 30 years. I think that's more exciting.

Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Well, her own woman until the very end, Doris Lessing died on Sunday at the age of 94.


AMANPOUR: And talking of busting boundaries, be sure to tune in tomorrow for a very special edition of this program, my exclusive interview with tennis legend Billie Jean King and rock superstar Sir Elton John, friends for four decades. A candid conversation about their successes, the prejudice they faced and breaking barriers for others, like Billie Jean's historic victory over Bobby Riggs, a match notoriously billed as the Battle of the Sexes.


BILLIE JEAN KING, TENNIS PRO: For me, tennis was my platform and what the King-Riggs match allowed was a platform for me to fight for equal rights and opportunities for boys and girls, men and women, which I had started and devoted my life to when I was 12.


AMANPOUR: An extraordinary woman, an extraordinary pair and we'll see them tomorrow. That's it for tonight's program. Remember, you can always contact us at and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.