BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Programmes: Newsnight: Archive  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Monday, 1 July, 2002, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Peres on Arafat
Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat
Peres on Arafat

George Bush and Ariel Sharon may have written off Yasser Arafat as a man they can do business with, but what of other Israeli politicians?

Since President Bush made his speech calling for new Palestinian leadership before any Palestinian state can be formed, Israel's dovish Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, has been uncharacteristically quiet.

He gave a rare interview to our Diplomatic Editor Mark Urban who reported from Israel.


MARK URBAN:
Business as usual in the West Bank with further Israeli operations against Palestinian militants in Hebron. The shattered governor's building has been hit again with a few die-hards holding out inside. All of this comes after President Bush's apparent approval of the ongoing offensive, and his declaration that the current Palestinian leadership, tainted by terrorism and corruption, cannot be partners for peace. What about the view widely heard on the Palestinian streets, I asked Shimon Peres, that Bush will just boost Arafat's fortunes?

SHIMON PERES:
(Israeli Foreign Minister)
Well, like any proposal, there's a danger of misfiring, but on the other hand, they cannot escape the need to reform. Yesterday in the parliament, some Arab members asked me, "How come you are asking the Palestinians to become democratic and you are not asking other countries to do so?" I told them we have two major goals. One is democracy, and the other is peace. If you would you make peace, nobody would talk about democracy, but since you don't make peace, we cannot stop fire unless there will be one chain of command of the whole forces. It is not just an exercise in order to attain democracy. It is a democratic exercise in order to obtain peace.

MARK URBAN:
Could you live with Yasser Arafat at the head of that chain of command?

SHIMON PERES:
If he would do it, yes.

MARK URBAN:
You disagree with President Bush?

SHIMON PERES:
No. I must agree that he didn't do it. It's not an upstart question. If Arafat would reform, the whole thing would lose its urgency, but time and again, he is avoiding to perform.

MARK URBAN:
But the President didn't say, "Reform or we'll need new leaders." He said, "We need new leaders."

SHIMON PERES:
New leaders because you cannot reform. You were disappointing.

MARK URBAN:
So do you still, as you seem to, hold out some hope that reform is possible?

SHIMON PERES:
If I were a Palestinian, I would strongly recommended it because the reform is needed not in order to satisfy the United States and satisfy Israel, but to satisfy the Palestinians. They cannot go on like it. They are the only group of people in the whole world that is living with three or four armed groups, each shooting in a different direction. I talked with Arafat a long time ago. He told me, "You too, have different views in your cabinet." I said, "Yes, we have different views but one rifle. You may have one view but ten rifles." It gives the Palestinians a clear choice, either stop terror or otherwise pay us. So from that point of view, it winds up a great and long debate in our midst. Still there must be some answers on the question of are we going there, how to start, how to move.

MARK URBAN:
The Sharon government has been delighted by the Bush speech, but as a member of the Labour squad within that coalition, Peres has been left in an uncomfortable position. He's been the leading advocate of doing business with Yasser Arafat, the leading opponent of expelling the Palestinian leader. Now he chooses to emphasise those aspects of Bush least pleasant to his Prime Minister.

MARK URBAN:
Many people on the left are saying to us and are commenting in the papers and on the television, that this speech of President Bush's was a tremendous blow for the left because it's a rejection in a sense of what you stand for as well as what the PA stood for. It blows away the Oslo process.

SHIMON PERES:
It was also a blow to the right, a strategic blow to the right and a tactical blow to the left. Strategically, I mean, if the right accept the Bush proposals, it has to sign for two states. So, from that point of view, there is quite a balanced picture.

MARK URBAN:
A few days ago, Peres threatened to resign over the new security fence on the West Bank. He and other Labour colleagues who serve on with Sharon are now faced with a tricky dilemma, to distance themselves from recent policies by leaving the government, or sit it out until the bitter end and pay the electoral price for the failures of the Oslo peace process.

SHIMON PERES:
We went to Oslo with the intention, with the moral obligation, and today too, we don't want to do any damage or hurt the Palestinian people. They are not our enemies. But Arafat has committed so many mistakes, a real blow to the left, when, at Camp David, when Arafat retracted almost a full response to his demands. That was the greatest blow to the left.

MARK URBAN:
Looking now at the political scene here, there were these reports last weekend that you threatened to resign over the border fence issue, there's calls again from many members of the Labour Party to leave the coalition government. How long do you think you can remain within this government without risking electoral disaster?

SHIMON PERES:
I think we don't have to think in electoral terms. That would be the greatest mistake. The country is in troubles. We are facing an economic situation. We are still at war with the suicide bombers. The only consideration which I would recommend, even for elections, is to ask ourselves every morning what is good for the nation and what is wrong for the nation. As long as we can work together...

MARK URBAN:
You're prepared to lose seats, even on that altruistic basis, that it's good for the nation to stay in bed with Sharon politically?

SHIMON PERES:
Even if this is the case, I'd still to do what I consider is the right thing. It wouldn't affect me.

MARK URBAN:
Would you think in a year's time that we'll still be talking about Arafat and his leadership despite President Bush's speech?

SHIMON PERES:
We have good memories. Why not?

MARK URBAN:
He'll still be here, do you think?

SHIMON PERES:
OK, he was the leader of the Palestinian people for 35 years. He's clearly an important chapter in the Middle East. Whatever happens in the future, he will be an important historical subject.

MARK URBAN:
Thank you very much.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres
speaks to Newsnight's Mark Urban

Key stories

Profiles

FACTFILE

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
Links to more Archive stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Archive stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes