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Interview with Israel’s ARIEL SHARON: Never! Never! Never!

12 minute read
Murray J. Gart and Ariel Sharon

Q. We read, see and hear a lot about the Palestinian uprising here. If you were Defense Minister . . .

A. I’m not.

Q. . . . or Prime Minister, how would you handle the Palestinian uprising?

A. I have experience in that. I faced a similar situation in Gaza as military commander there in 1971. It took me two months to decide what to do, to learn every street, every house, every citrus grove like I know the palm of my hand. I moved to Gaza and worked night and day for seven months to make it completely quiet. It stayed that way for 15 years. How did I do it? By making a very clear distinction between the terrorists acting against us or supporters of terror and the other people who did not participate, even if they hated us. The terrorists were eliminated! All their supporters were put in prison.

Q. Or killed.

A. I said eliminated. That’s the word I use for all the leaders active in the units of terror.

Q. And you punished others by blowing up houses, bulldozing, whatever. How would you apply that experience now?

A. Look, one of Israel’s major mistakes is in not making the same clear-cut distinction during the past 16 months. I don’t have to emphasize the damage to the image of Israel, the massive involvement even of the Israeli Arabs. We know that the leaders who are creating this environment of terror are living and acting in Jerusalem. It’s fewer than 50 people. If I add all the others around them, maybe 150 people. If cars and buses were attacked daily by petrol bombs or stones for 16 months in Washington, could you imagine it would be tolerated? It would not, because in the name of democracy, to preserve democracy, steps would be taken. The terrorist leaders here are not Israeli ) citizens. What would happen in the U.S. to terrorists who are not citizens? In less than 24 hours, they would be rounded up, taken to the airport and expelled. I would round up the terrorists here and expel them. Immediately!

Q. Look, Mr. Minister, dozens of Arabs have been expelled, thousands have been put in detention camps, a lot of people have been killed, Arabs, some Jews. All the measures you suggest have been taken.

A. No, you are wrong! I am suggesting an approach that has not been tried. I am not talking about harsher means. I am saying different means. Of course, there are other things as well. There is a feeling among the Arabs — encouraging terrorist activity is part of the broad new Arab strategy — that sooner or later Israel will be forced to withdraw from Samaria, Judea and Gaza. Even some of our own people are saying that is the only political solution.

Q. But you are not advocating withdrawal, the Prime Minister is not saying withdrawal . . .

A. I’ll tell you who. Foreign ambassadors, all kinds of consuls general, visitors, press people and so on. Even some of our own political leaders are saying it. I know our Arab people. If you ask me whether they can see real determination on the Jewish side, that all of us are united in our determination to stand fast, the answer is no. They see confusion. That gives them the wrong impression that sooner or later Israel will withdraw. It also encourages them to think that if they put on more pressure, it will happen sooner.

Q. And your answer is never withdraw from the West Bank — Samaria, Judea — and Gaza?

A. You mean that we should hand our security over to somebody other than Jews? Never! I emphasize, never! I say it again, never!

Q. Do you think of Arabs as your friends, neighbors, your enemies?

A. From my childhood, I have believed Jews and Arabs can live together, and I believe now they should live together. I was taught by my parents from a very early age one very important thing. If that would be understood, all of us could live in peace. It is that all the rights to this country, to the land of Israel — especially Judea and Samaria — are Jewish. I am talking about rights over the land. But everyone who lives in the country should have all the rights of the country.

Q. So you say this must remain a Jewish country . . .

A. It is a Jewish country!

Q. . . . and there can be no Palestine?

A. There is a Palestine.

Q. But not in the areas Israel occupies?

A. Jordan is Palestine. The capital of Palestine is Amman. If Palestinian Arabs want to find their political expression, they will have to do it in Amman. The land west of the Jordan River, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, is Israel. Judea, Samaria — the so-called West Bank — and Gaza are Israeli. We will never give them up. There will be no second Palestinian state west of the Jordan River!

Q. What would you do if you were a Palestinian Arab living in one of the areas occupied by Israel? Could you live under military occupation?

A. We offer the Arabs the autonomy in the Camp David accords. Under autonomy, they would have freedom to conduct their lives without any interference whatever, except in matters of security. By security, I don’t mean police, things like robbery, stealing and so forth. But when it comes to matters of defense or terror, that will always be a Jewish responsibility.

Q. When you say Palestine is Jordan, are you suggesting that the Palestinians get rid of King Hussein, take over in Jordan and make it Palestine?

A. I am not suggesting anything. They can do as they please. But Jordan is the only Palestine there will ever be. The people of Jordan are Palestinian. They were Palestinian before the British put King Hussein’s family there; they are Palestinians now, the same families we have in our Arab cities and countryside — Jenin, Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Bethlehem. They will be Palestinian in the future. It is like Greece. They got a nice Danish, German, British King. But it was Greece before that, Greece when they had the beautiful King, and it is Greece now. Jordan is 77% of Palestine, as it was under the British until they split it into Transjordan and the area that is our country now.

Q. And what if they want Yasser Arafat as their President? In Amman.

A. If they want Arafat to be their President, I wouldn’t want it. I would hate to see that murderer ruling in Amman. But he would be their problem. We made a great mistake in 1970 when we sent our forces to save Hussein. I recommended against it. As I see it, a vast majority in this country is together when it comes to the issue of whether there should be a second Palestinian state. The answer is no, because everyone knows Jordan is already a Palestinian state.

Q. Then what does land for peace mean? What do United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338 mean? What about Israelis who favor negotiations for a settlement and a peace process?

A. We live in a democracy, and people are free to express their ideas. Land for peace means a second Palestinian state. You know . . .

Q. So 242 and 338 are dead and can’t apply?

A. No. No. They cannot. Autonomy, yes. Under autonomy they can be Jordanians or citizens of Palestine with their national rights expressed in Amman.

Q. Every soldier knows that if you want to make peace, you make peace with your enemies. You once said you would be willing to sit down with Arafat to see if you could come up with a deal that would bring peace to this area.

A. Yes, I said it about twelve years ago in one interview. I was thinking then that Jordan should become the Palestinian state. It was a mistake because when I said it, I did not realize that Israel or its leadership would ever be as weak as it is now. Not militarily; we are very strong. Not from the economic side, because we have tremendous capability. But from the standpoint of Israel’s national will, its will to exist, Israel has become weaker. I hope it is temporary.

Q. Which Palestinians would you talk to?

A. I will not name them. But I say the P.L.O. terrorist organization should be dismantled. It should be done by the Arab countries because it is now based in several Arab countries. That would enable a peace process to begin. No Arab leader in any country can be expected to negotiate peace as long as his life is threatened by the P.L.O. terrorist organizations, and it is the same with Palestinians. Dismantling the terrorist organizations is an immediate issue, but solving the Palestinian refugee problem is crucial too in any peace process. Gaza could become a model, an example for the world of urban economic development. It would solve the problem of about 200,000 refugees living there. Israel, the U.S., Europe, even the Arab countries could help. We cannot do it alone.

Q. You would never negotiate with Arafat?

A. Arafat should not have been around for a long time now.

Q. So you didn’t believe him when he said what he did in Geneva last December and met the conditions for a dialogue with the U.S., recognizing Israel’s right to exist?

A. I am a Jew. We have been living here for nearly 4,000 years. Do you think I need recognition? I do not need recognition, and certainly not from mouths of terrorists who have more Jewish blood on their hands than anyone since the Nazis.

Q. What else would you be telling President George Bush if you should meet with him?

A. That we must restore order, and it is our own responsibility to do so. We don’t need or want any help. There can be no elections until that job is finished. The U.S. should also stop talking to the P.L.O. terrorists. Put pressure on the Arab countries to dismantle the terrorist organizations and to solve the refugee problem. Those are obstacles that must be removed before there can be any real peace process.

Q. Many people think one day you will be Prime Minister of Israel. You would like that, wouldn’t you?

A. I have the desire. I know I could do the job. I know I would do it as it should be done. At the same time, I have much less ambition than people think. That is my secret weapon. I could be out of the government tomorrow without a minute of crisis. My strength does not come from political life. It comes from my family, the land, my farm. I have a lot of things I want very much to do and would never be bored doing them.

Q. Arafat told me last year you would never be Prime Minister of Israel. I asked him why, and he said, “Not because Sharon has so much Palestinian blood on his hands, but because he has so much Jewish blood. He lost more Israelis in Lebanon than Israel lost in all its wars.”

A. Look, we do not live by words from the mouths of murderers. I don’t have any Jewish blood on my hands. I have spent all my life taking care of Jewish life. It is the main thing I have been doing, to secure the life of the Jewish people . . . by fighting in every one of Israel’s wars. That’s what I did in Lebanon too. The war there was not the private war of the then Minister of Defense of Israel.

Q. Arik Sharon.

A. It was a war of salvation against the independent P.L.O. kingdom of terror that caused thousands of casualties, dead and wounded. We never made civilian populations our target. There were tragic events, and people were killed. We regretted that very much. But we never targeted civilian populations. The target of the P.L.O. terrorist organization in all those years before we put a stop to it was our civilian population, because its goal is to eliminate the Jews and the state of Israel.

Q. What do you say to Israel’s getting a reputation for becoming rejectionist? Israel says no international conference, no discussion with the P.L.O. or Arafat, no withdrawal with or without 242 and 338.

A. No. No. No. I think Israel is striving for peace. It is part of a new, very sophisticated Arab strategy to make it appear that Israel is rejectionist. There are several steps in the strategy, weakening our ties with the U.S., getting the U.S. to put pressure on us, reduce aid, make us smaller economically and militarily, smaller in all ways, then finally eliminated. Believe me, it will not happen. Our response should be to say clearly how we see things now, what can be and what cannot be. That way there can be no doubt about what we support to bring peace. That is our purpose, and we should tell how we should get it. I have told you, but above all, the world should know the Jews are here to stay.

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