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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 July 2006, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
Israel and Palestine
On Sunday 16 July 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Shimon Peres, Israeli Deputy PM and Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian politician

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Shimon Peres, Israeli Deputy PM
Shimon Peres, Israeli Deputy PM

ANDREW MARR: Now, as we heard in the news, Israel has continued its attacks on targets in Lebanon overnight.

The Lebanese Prime Minister said his country had been reduced to a disaster zone and cleared for international mediation.

But with Hezbollah raining more rockets down on towns in northern Israel and people dead there this morning, there seems little immediate hope to the fighting.

Just before we came on air I spoke to the Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, and I asked him wasn't it time for negotiation and a ceasefire? SHIMON PERES We have to ask ourselves two basic questions: a) does anybody today in the world have the slightest influence upon Iran, upon Syria, upon Hamas, upon Hezbollah? And my answer is - No. Even not the Arab League, even not the Arab countries, even not the United Nations. They don't have anything to say of meaning. Now the second question: can anybody defend Israel but Israel?

Who can stop Hamas? Who can stop Hezbollah? Now if you cannot influence the others, and if you cannot replace us, the real conclusion for Israel is to defend herself at the hard cost. We are in face of aggression and we have to defend our life. It is basic and simple as it sounds.

ANDREW MARR: And how does targeting airports, bridges, electricity stations, television stations and many civilian areas, how in any way is that going to influence either Syria, or Iran or anyone else?

SHIMON PERES The Lebanese have to decide who is governing Lebanon. If it is their government we don't have the slightest reason to attack the Lebanese government, or to question the Lebanese sovereignty and integrity. If somebody has hijacked Lebanon we are left without a choice but to force him out or to force even the Lebanese government to take over.

ANDREW MARR: Or potentially, because it's happened in the past, to encourage the Syrians to come in and control that country.

SHIMON PERES The Syrians are controlling but Syria today belongs to the camp ... There is a change in Syria. The Asad, the junior Asad is less careful than his father and is supporting the Hezbollah. His father was a much more careful person than the younger one.

Now we do not attack, you have to notice it, we do not attack Lebanese targets. We attack only targets of the Hezbollah. Alas, some of them are in the midst of the Lebanese life, and we are very careful not to hit neither people, not to hit any civilian targets.

ANDREW MARR: But you've killed a lot of civilians already.

SHIMON PERES We didn't kill. We were attacking places that have stored missiles, in some of them apparently there were civilian people.

ANDREW MARR: Well whatever this is, Mr Peres, it's not restraint. Many of your friends, as well as critics, say the response is disproportionate. Is Hezbollah perhaps not ...

SHIMON PERES Well I would like to say what is proportionate? Now suppose you have information that in a certain house there are missiles that are going to be fired in Israel and maybe there are civilian people there, I would ask you very honestly what would be your reply - to let the missiles come and kill Israels? Now we do whatever we can in order not to hit any civilian.

The Lebanese are not our enemy. There is no reason whatsoever to have a conflict between Lebanon and Israel. On the contrary, it's in our interest to see a strong Lebanon, independent Lebanon, keeping their territorial integrity, keeping their independence.

The problem of Lebanon is not as it is Hezbollah, and time has come that our friends will understand it. Unless you want to give a free hand to Hezbollah, and a free hand to Hamas, and a free hand to Iran, and a free hand to Syria it's okay. We cannot afford it because we are all the time under attack and I say it with hesitation ... . We don't want to ... we are not trigger-happy, we don't want to kill anybody.

ANDREW MARR: Perhaps Hezbollah all along intended to draw Israel into this kind of extremely powerful - and many people do say - disproportionate response, and that you are playing precisely into their hands. You are doing exactly the thing which around the world is giving your country a bad reputation at the moment.

SHIMON PERES Yes, but with reputation you cannot defend your land. You have to do it with a bit more than reputation. What is ... before Israel?

ANDREW MARR: But you may be on the edge of a full scale war in the Middle East again, drawing in Syria, drawing in other countries. If that's the case, is this not the moment to call a halt, to pull back and to allow a ceasefire, allow mediation?

SHIMON PERES Well we have had a ceasefire and Hamas started to fire rockets against us. Why? We have had a ceasefire with Lebanon and Hezbollah started to fire rockets and tried to get hold of hostages, and the same with the Palestinians.

ANDREW MARR: But this has clearly gone beyond the return of two soldiers. This is about destroying Hezbollah once and for all in southern Lebanon.

SHIMON PERES Well it's not only two soldiers. You see they have 12,000 or 13,000 rockets that Iran has supplied to them in Lebanon and they fire rockets day in and day out, and so are the Palestinians. It's not only ... I mean the two soldiers that they captured, it is just one story. Other stories they are firing endlessly, ceaselessly against Israel and we have to stop it.

ANDREW MARR: And finally, Mr Peres, what is your advice to all those British people and others in there? Should they get out while they can?

SHIMON PERES I think so. I mean it's their decision. I cannot advise them. They know the situation on the spot. What I can tell you is that again we shall continue to be careful not to hit any civilian, British, Lebanese, Arab, we are not fighting against innocent people. But time has come for the British Government and the French and the United States to put pressure upon the Hezbollah to stop: upon Lebanon to take over; upon Syria not to get involved and Iran is making a mockery of the whole world. Whether it is the nuclear issue or the terroristic organisations.

ANDREW MARR: And how long does this particular offensive go on?

SHIMON PERES I hope it will end as soon as possible but I can't tell you. It may reach a matter of days or weeks. I do believe there will be also a parallel to the shooting, an attempt to see what can be done politically. Though I see that the Hezbollah and the Hamas don't respect neither the United Nations, nor the G8, nor the Arab League - nobody, and that's the tragedy of our time. I think many people should say thank heaven that Israel is defending ourselves, otherwise they will win.

ANDREW MARR: Mr Peres, thank you very much indeed for joining us this morning.


Hanan Ashrawi
Hanan Ashrawi

ANDREW MARR: Hanan Ashrawi is a former Palestinian negotiator and cabinet minister and one of the most seasoned observers of events in the region.

She joins me now from Ramallah.

Thank you for joining me.

What prospect do you think there is of Hamas evolving into a normal government that Israel could do business with?

HANAN ASHRAWI Well actually there were very clear signs of the politicisation of Hamas and the evolution of Hamas into a political party by joining the democratic process by entering elections and winning those elections and beginning to work institutionally.

The problem is that Israel, despite Hamas' unilateral ceasefire for the last 16 months did not stop at any point from its policies of assassinations, incursions, killings, demolitions, shelling and so on. Therefore it continued to provoke Hamas and provoke other militant groups in order to resort to violence. Unfortunately ...

ANDREW MARR: Sorry, I was going to ask, as a former peace negotiator yourself, how seriously do you take this particular episode? Are we on the edge of a more general war in the Middle East now?

HANAN ASHRAWI Yes, I think you are seeing a very hysterical, irresponsible and dangerous policy on the part of Israel. It seems to think that a failed policy of violence and destruction, dealing death and destruction to the Palestinians and Lebanese can be made to succeed if they do more of the same. This is just a failed policy and it seems to me that Israel is liable to draw the whole region into further instability and further violence. This is a war largely against civilians.

This is a war against a captive Palestinian population in Gaza with no electricity, no water, with a humanitarian disaster situation being deliberately inflicted on a civilian population and at the same time they're punishing the Lebanese people as a whole for the abduction of Hezbollah, given the context that Israel has acted with utter lawlessness and with utter impunity in cases of abductions and assassinations. And therefore it introduced this kind of logic into the region.

ANDREW MARR: But Hanan Ashwari, is none the less the case that northern Israel has been suffering a hail of rockets from southern Lebanon and they can't be expected to do nothing about it.

HANAN ASHRAWI Well the hail of rockets started after the Israeli attacks. I mean let's not confuse the chicken and the egg situation. Anyway, the context of everything is the occupation itself. So long as Israel is occupying Palestinian territory and some Lebanese territory, then it has to expect responses. It cannot claim self defence when it is an occupier and it gives itself the right to inflict any type of collective punishment and destruction on the people under occupation. So now it's saying that it's subject to rockets.

Yes, Hezbollah has been firing rockets into Israel, but Hezbollah has been doing measured responses in relation to Israeli escalations. Israel has been ... I was in Lebanon two weeks ago. This is a country that is attempting to rise out of the ashes. These are people who are trying to live again after decades of death and destruction. Now we see them being bombed and shelled, back into a situation of utter despair and hopelessness. This is unconscionable.

Over 100 Lebanese people were killed and they are all innocent civilians. The homes that were demolished, the whole residential areas, the bridges, the roads, the highways, the power stations, the airports. These do not have Hezbollah labels on them contrary to what Shimon Peres says. These all belong to the Lebanese people in the same way as the Palestinian economy, Palestinian lives and Palestinian institutions belong to all the Palestinian people. They do not belong only to Hamas.

ANDREW MARR: Hanan Ashrawi, thank you very much indeed for that.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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