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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 August, 2002, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Peace negotiations in Israel
Shimon Peres, Israeli Foreign Minister
Shimon Peres, Israeli Foreign Minister

BBC Breakfast With Frost, hosted by Gavin Esler, interview with Raja Shehadeh, Palestinian Lawyer & Human Rights Activist and Shimon Peres, Israeli Foreign Minister, 25 August 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

GAVIN ESLER:
Now, nine years ago hopes were high that the Middle East was on the verge of peace. The Oslo Accords were signed and that led to one of the most famous handshakes in history. The Israeli prime minister Rabin and Yasser Arafat, there you can see them at the White House with Bill Clinton. Well the Accords were supposed to push Israel and Palestine step by step towards a lasting peace but now the region is experiencing it's worst violence for decades and many commentators say the Oslo process is now dead. We're hoping to be joined by Israel's foreign minister, Shimon Peres, who was one of the architects of the Oslo agreement, in a moment, but first I'm joined by Raja Shehadeh who is a Palestinian lawyer, an author and human rights activist. He is in England at the moment to promote his new book, "Strangers in the House" however his home is in the West Bank. Raja, welcome to the programme.

RAJA SHEHADEH:
Thank you, I'm happy to be here.

GAVIN ESLER:
Tell us a bit first about what it is like to live as a Palestinian now in Ramallah, what's day to day life, what's it like?

RAJA SHEHADEH:
Well I've been living in the occupied territories for 33 years and it's never been worse. For the past 16 months there has been a siege imposed on all the cities and towns in the West Bank. A curfew has been imposed for the last 55 days. I had the unfortunate situation of seeing a whole society die before my eyes. There's no work, people are desperate for work. Before I came a worker passed by wanting work. He told me that it took him two and a half hours to get to his village which is just ten miles away. He was limping, I asked him why are you limping and he said that he had been to work in Ramallah, on his way back he was stopped by the army, they checked his papers, they were in order, but they gave him a beating. And all of this is not related to security, there is no security reason why a whole civilian population should be punished in this way. Israel is not saving itself, it's saving greater Israel.

GAVIN ESLER:
Do stay with us, because I think we can go live now to Tel Aviv and Shimon Peres, the Israeli foreign minister. Mr Peres, good morning to you.

SHIMON PERES:
Good morning.

GAVIN ESLER:
It's nine years, as I was saying, since the Oslo Accords. Is the process dead?

SHIMON PERES:
No, by no means. I don't know anybody that wants to return and take over the territories. I don't know anybody who wants to deny the existence of a Palestinian people, or the need for a Palestinian state. I don't know anybody that thinks that we can solve the problems militarily and not politically.

GAVIN ESLER:
We were just hearing from Raja Shehadeh there, who lives in Ramallah, that conditions have never been worse - he says. Ordinary, for ordinary people conditions have never been worse. Would you accept that conditions for most Palestinians are miserable?

SHIMON PERES:
I agree and I think it's totally unnecessary because the Palestinians could have had everything they want - independence, a Palestinian state, back most of their land, a position in Jerusalem. Why did they reject it? Why did they turn to terror? The difference between us and the Palestinians is not land or policies, the difference between us and them is the method. How to arrive at an agreement, by rifles and bombs or by talks and negotiations.

GAVIN ESLER:
Implicit in what you are saying then, does that mean that one of those who worked with you on the Oslo process from the beginning, Yasser Arafat has failed and is now as irrelevant as the Americans would say? Is Arafat finished?

SHIMON PERES:
I don't want to go into any personalities, I judge situations on their record not on their persons. I think Arafat has committed two or three grave mistakes - maybe the greatest was the rejection of the proposals of President Clinton at Camp David. And since then the situation deteriorating without justification or reason. Israel gave back to the Egyptians, to the Palestinians, to the Jordanians all the land, all the water, all the oil without terror. Who needs terror? What for? Take an example of Mandela, take an example of Gandi, and I assure you what the Palestinians got back on political track, the problems would be solved without suffering, without dying, without damaging.

GAVIN ESLER:
You say you don't want to get into personalities but on the question of chairman Arafat it was surely a blunder for the President of the United States to try to suggest he is no longer the leader of the Palestinian people because the one thing that seems to have done is boosted his stature among many Palestinians who frankly think he has failed too.

SHIMON PERES:
The problem is not if he failed or not, the difference is does the leader have the right to use or support or close his eyes to terror. That's the real difference. You may be elected, elections is not the whole story of democracy. It's only the path that leads to democracy. Actually democracy begins on the morrow of the elections and if a leader does not stop, for one reason or another reason, acts of violence and killing and terror, so what is the importance that people support him.

GAVIN ESLER:
Let me put it to you, if I may, something which has been said by Palestinians this week. They, referring to Tuesday's killing of Mohammed Saadat, who is the brother of the PFLP leader, they continue to accuse Israel of pursuing a policy of assassinations. Is that true?

SHIMON PERES:
Well unfortunately Palestinians are not very precise in their information, like the story of Jenin, with the assassination there, it was totally unfounded. I believe our army spokesmen are more careful in their announcements and according to them, I mean Saadat opened with fire otherwise he wouldn't be killed.

GAVIN ESLER:
So there is no, there is absolutely no policy of assassination of leading Palestinians being pursued by the government of Israel?

SHIMON PERES:
No, there - just a minute, if we know that somebody is on his way to plant a bomb or to commit suicide in Israel, we do everything we can to prevent him to do so. Like the Americans, like anybody else, like even in England, if you have information ahead of time that a terrorist is carrying a bomb to a certain place, you try to stop him by all possible means.

GAVIN ESLER:
I notice that Teddy Kollek, the veteran former mayor of Jerusalem was quoted this week in British newspapers saying that there will be no peace until parts of Jerusalem, including holy sites, are given to the Palestinians. Do you think Mr Kollek has got a point?

SHIMON PERES:
No because they were offered it at Camp David and they rejected it. The problem is not what the Palestinians will get or won't get, but the way they will get it or won't get it. As long as they will use violence they unite the whole Israeli public against violence. Otherwise about Jerusalem and all other issues, there is quite a mood of compromise in the country, which I don't deny.

GAVIN ESLER:
Mr Peres, British papers this morning are also full of stories about the terrorist Abu Nidal being killed in Baghdad. They say he was assassinated in Baghdad by people working effectively for Saddam Hussein, they say partly because he knew too much, and one lot even says that it was because he refused to help train Al Qaeda terrorists. Do you know anything about any of these reports?

SHIMON PERES:
No, I know about the reports but I don't know how true they are but I can say that I wouldn't believe that a person like him, who killed so many other people, will finally kill himself. It doesn't make sense, it's not the person, not his way, and I tend to believe that he was killed and not by himself.

GAVIN ESLER:
Just on the Iraq issue, if it does come to a conflict between the United States and some of its allies with Iraq, what will Israel's role be? Will Israel's role best be, as it was 11 or 12 years ago, just to keep out of it?

SHIMON PERES:
Well if Israel will not be attacked it's one thing, if Israel will be attacked then we shall have to think what should be our reaction. But I wouldn't try to describe a situation as though Israel is deciding if to go to war or not to go to war against Iraq and telling ahead of time what will be the development. After all it's not a war against Iraq, it's a war against Saddam Hussein, who is a cruel killer on the verge of being insane. He is the only person alive that has initiated two wars in his lifetime, one against Iran costing the lives of a million people, then against Kuwait, another 300,000. Using gas bombs against the Iranians, against the Kurds, against his own people - and now he wants to have a nuclear bomb. Let's face it, all of us, without exception, are facing a real problem but it is around one person, it is not against a nation and not against a people.

GAVIN ESLER:
Okay. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres joining us from Tel Aviv. Thank you very much, a pleasure as always.

SHIMON PERES:
Thank you.

GAVIN ESLER:
And I'm joined, as before, by Raja Shehadeh, who is a Palestinian lawyer who is here in Britain. We were talking - you were talking about conditions in Ramallah. You heard what Mr Peres had to say, which essentially is it's not what you as a Palestinian want, it's the way in which you are trying - your people - are trying to achieve it which is causing the problem. Terrorism has to stop.

RAJA SHEHADEH:
Every government that Mr Peres has been a part of has been very active in the building of settlements. It takes a consummate politician such as Mr Peres to speak about peace and blame the Palestinians while he is in a government such as that of Ariel Sharon which is pursuing policies that are inimitable to peace.

GAVIN ESLER:
And the number of settlements, Palestinians argue the number of settlers has more or less doubled since the Oslo accord.

RAJA SHEHADEH:
That's right, absolutely and that's the core of the problem.

GAVIN ESLER:
But that is a serious, very, very serious political problem, but the way to solve that political problem is not to have - would you agree - suicide bombers killing innocent people in Israel?

RAJA SHEHADEH:
Every time - absolutely - and every time there was a near agreement - and the last was just a few weeks ago, the participation of the EU - every time there was close to an agreement, they came close to an agreement to stop these activities in Israel, Israel would bomb, would throw another bomb - as it did in Gaza - over three civilian apartment blocks and killing 20 children.

GAVIN ESLER:
Isn't, let me just put it to you bluntly, I mean Mr Peres was very diplomatic about it, but isn't Yasser Arafat frankly useless? He is useless for you because during the time in which he has been running things the lot of ordinary Palestinians got worse, you are poorer than you've been before, the political situation has got worse and there was a prospect of a deal brokered by President Clinton and he blew it.

RAJA SHEHADEH:
I'm not a politician, I'm a writer, but I have had my problems with the leadership and I think the biggest problem with the leadership is that it's unable to articulate - it believes in a two state solution but it's unable to articulate a strategy to address the Israeli people and the world public opinion and convince everyone that what the Palestinians are really after is a two state solution. The Palestinian leadership has also failed in building institutions, public institutions. I have great criticisms but I think the only leadership, the only leader who can make compromises at this point would be Yasser Arafat.

GAVIN ESLER:
Okay Mr Shehadeh, thanks very much for taking the time to come in and talk to us.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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