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DAVID FROST: Now let's turn to Israel. Although the 13 Palestinians, who've been in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, have now been deported, Israel's Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, has said that Israel reserves the right to extradite them. In a moment we're joined live by Mr Peres who is in Rome, he's been talking to Vatican officials there, but first of all we go to Senator George Mitchell, the US peace envoy. When I spoke to him earlier I asked him about the suicide bombers.
DAVID FROST: Is it reasonable to ask Yasser Arafat to control these individuals when his powers have been so reduced by all the bombing and attacks of the Israelis?
GEORGE MITCHELL: He does not have complete control. In our report, David, we called upon him to make a one hundred per cent effort to rein in terrorism and that language was proposed by the government of Israel itself. They told us that he doesn't have complete control but he hasn't made a complete effort. And after lengthy consideration and talking to a lot of people on both sides, we concluded that the assessment was correct. He does not have complete control; he has not made a complete effort.
DAVID FROST: And in general do you feel there's any reasonable hope of getting the parties back to negotiations? Or is the prospect unrelievedly gloomy?
GEORGE MITCHELL: The prospect is gloomy but I believe there is hope, David, in - particularly - in the sense that I think both sides have come to recognise that there isn't any military solution, that there's no way out of this through the use of force either side and life has become truly unbearable. The Palestinian economy, of course, has been destroyed - both the intangibles of the economy and now the physical structure of the economy. The Israeli economy has been badly hurt and will be even more badly hurt so long as this goes on and so I think that they must recognise, and hopefully the time is close or may even be here right now that they can say all right, we've done enough and let's get back into the negotiation and let's produce a settlement which, ironically David, almost everyone over there knows what the end is going to be and it's going to be something quite close to what President Clinton proposed just before he left office.
DAVID FROST: Well at that point let's go over to Rome to be joined by Shimon Peres, or we're joining him, whichever way round, Israel's Foreign Minister, Shimon, good morning.
SHIMON PERES: Good morning David.
DAVID FROST: First of all, reflecting on what Senator Mitchell was saying there, that in fact Yasser Arafat cannot control all the individual terrorists within his land, particularly since the recent attacks on his communications and so on, but even before that, do you agree it's unreasonable to expect him to control every single Palestinian?
SHIMON PERES: No I think he should and he can and otherwise he cannot be a partner. You see, as long as they are divided in different dissident groups, each of them carrying arms, throwing bombs, he shall not be able to crystallise an agenda and he will not be able to establish a destiny for the Palestinian people. You cannot have a country where you have three or four or five armies shooting at the same time. It is for the sake of the Palestinians that he must build a central command of all their armed forces.
DAVID FROST: But I mean he can't be really realistically exiled, can he? I mean there's nobody else really that speaks, whatever Israel's doubts about him, there's no one else to negotiate with really is there?
SHIMON PERES: Well he is the elected leader of the Palestinians and it is not for us to fire him or to re-elect him, we have to take it as it is. But he has to become a leader, it's not enough to be elected and unless he will show leadership he doesn't carry any promise for his own people or for peace.
DAVID FROST: As we think back to our conversations over the years since Oslo, and the White House lawn and so on, the lack of progress in creating peace following Oslo must be a profoundly saddening thought for you at this moment.
SHIMON PERES: It is, I don't deny it. And again, again you see, it's a result of this division. In 1996 after the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin and I replaced him and in spite of the very tense and doubtful public opinion, we gave back 460 villages to the Palestinians, six cities, we enabled them to have elections, I agreed they will have elections in Jerusalem, and then in a matter of three months they started again, terrror. There was a terrible attack in Jerusalem, in a bus, 40 people killed and many wounded. I shall never forget this experience coming to the square in Jerusalem, that was covered with blood and ambulances, and thousands and thousands of people standing around. The minute I have arrived, they started to shout "Traitor, killer, what did you do to us?" And they couldn't understand why are they doing it. And the result was that Netanyahu was elected, with a difference of one-third of the per cent. Now why did it happen? What for? And again, I think the second time after Camp David when the Palestinians have rejected the Clinton and the Barak proposals and they brought a terrible defeat upon the Labour Party and the camp of peace. Again we didn't understand why.
DAVID FROST: At the same time, will, in the current situation, do you think there will ever be an independent inquiry into what did or did not happen at Jenin? Or will there, will any inquiry be blocked by your government?
SHIMON PERES: An inquiry must be fair. You cannot begin an inquiry with the results without paying attention to the reason. What happened in Jenin? Our army woke up one morning and decided to go to Jenin? We gave back Jenin to the Palestinians willingly. But the month of March was a horrible month for us. One hundred and 26 Israelis lost their lives in six bomb attacks. Children, girls, boys, people praying, people attending a Passover dinner. The government has had to do something to stop it. The Palestinians didn't prevent it. So what sort of any inquiry is to begin with Jenin? Why did the Israeli army enter Jenin? There the inquiry should start.
DAVID FROST: But the point is that this is a UN inquiry, isn't it, and it would be, Kofi Annan would be involved and so on, the auspices would be first class.
SHIMON PERES: Look we don't stand a great chance in the United Nations, there is a built-in majority against Israel in the United Nations. There are 22 Arab countries that will never vote for Israel even if Israel will be just and right and what not. There are 55 Moslem countries that all of them, but for one maybe, will vote against us. There are 110 non-alliance nations that will vote for us - we don't stand a chance there. And then also we thought that the composition of the inquiry group should have been different, not to have anything against the men that were nominated to it but those are not necessarily people who have an understanding what war is all about and what fighting terrorism means.
DAVID FROST: Right. Let me just leap in there - sorry, let me leap in there before we lose the satellite, Shimon. We hear overnight that you've decided not in fact to act in revenge in Gaza, that that has been decided. Is that true and do you welcome it?
SHIMON PERES: We never had in mind to act in revenge. The only thing we have to is to act from time to time in order to prevent acts of terrorism we have complete information about it. Our targets are not cities, our purpose is not to occupy them. What we are really trying to do is a pinpoint job whenever we have the proper information that this can save lives.
DAVID FROST: I see but in Gaza - is that, is that action going to go ahead or not?
SHIMON PERES: I don't know which action because what was written in the newspapers came out as a little bit of an illusion, an imagination.
DAVID FROST: What's your view of what's going to happen in the next few months? Are we actually going to see meaningful talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, with or without the participation of the United States and the EU? Do you expect there to be meaningful peace negotiations within the next year?
SHIMON PERES: That's my hope, what I believe should and can happen in the forthcoming weeks is A) that there will be talks between us and the Palestinians, directly about a ceasefire, how to stop it. Secondly there will be contact between the United States and the Palestinians how to build a central command - without a central command you shall not have a partner, because every, every rifle will become a partner that will spoil any chance. And the third point will be really to try and have a regional conference with the participation of the new quartet - namely the United States, united Europe, United Nations and Russia, and with the moderate Arab countries - and there at the conference we can begin to talk sense. I mean to see what is the political vision for the future.
DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed, Shimon Peres, there, joining us and we hope to talk to the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, next Sunday.
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