[In the following interview published in the Jerusalem Post with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on September 10th, 2004, the Post’s three reporters did not follow through on a basic contradiction in Sharon’s own words and neglected to ask at least ten basic questions.
First, the contradiction: At one point in the interview, Sharon declared that Bush’s “letter [of April 14th] also included the clear statement that it is impossible to ignore the new realities on the ground – the large settlement blocs”, when in fact Bush did not mention one word about “large settlement blocs”.
Sharon went on to say that “the US has ince 1967 never agreed to Jewish settlements, and we should not expect that they will today stand up and say they support Jewish settlement”.
Why did three reporters from the Jerusalem Post not confront Sharon with the fact that in his own words we learn that Sharon misrepresented the words of the President of the United States?
Ten probing questions that the Jerusalem Post reporters could have asked Sharon, such as:
1. Why has Sharon never brought the Sharon Plan to the Knesset for a vote? How can Sharon operate Yonatan Bassie’s “office for relocation” without authorization and funding from the Knesset, as required by law?
2. After calling for a Likud referendum on May 2nd, why did Sharon ignore the results?
3. How does Sharon cope with section Six of the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which forbids a government from destroying the homes of its citizens, since Israel is a signatory to that declaration.
4. In that light, how can Sharon destroy Jewish homes and farms of its citizens and hand them over to an Arab entity at war with Israel? At least in Yamit, Sharon destroyed Jewish homes and handed them over to an entity that had made peace with Israel.
5. Why does Sharon think that the demolition of Katif will stop the current Palestinian attacks on the western Negev?
6. How does Sharon relate to the The League of Nations and then the United Nations guarantee of the right of Jews to purchase and settle land in the “Jewish National Homeland”, anywhere west of the Jordan river
7. Since Clause One of the Sharon Plan states that there is no Palestinian partner for peace, how can Sharon justify Clause five of the Sharon Plan calls for Israel to once again “train Palestinian security forces”?
8. Since senior sources of Israel’s security establishment confirm that Egypt has been arming terrorists throughout Gaza, why is Israel is negotiating the possibility of handing over security responsibility in Gaza to Egypt?
9. Since Israeli security sources confirm that Muhammad Dahlan is directing involved in organizing the campaign of premeditated cold blooded murder that Israel has suffered from over the past four years, why is Sharon also negotiating the transfer of power over the Palestinian Authority in Gaza to Muhammad Dahlan?
10. How can Sharon allow his chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, to continue as a business partner of the leading enterprises which operate in the Palestinian Authority. Weissglass continues to represent the Palestinian casino business, which plans to develop a resort hotel complex in place of the Jewish communities which the Sharon Plan proposes to demolish. Does Sharon not see this as a conflict of interests?
[Since none of these questions were asked of Prime Minister Sharon, perhaps the Jerusalem Post will request for a follow-up interview.
– David Bedein]
Ariel Sharon has been through years even more turbulent than the one that ends this week. In years like 1983, when a judicial committee deposed him as defense minister, or 1999, when his political career was already being eulogized following Likud’s crushing defeat by Ehud Barak and Shas, Israel’s most famous warrior was even more embattled than he was in the Jewish year of 5764.
And yet, during the closing year, Sharon has endured the most protracted, focused, and potentially discrediting legal situation ever faced by an Israeli premier. At the same time, he unveiled a highly contentious settlement dismantlement plan, only to see it meet a surprisingly organized, disciplined, and efficient resistance.
Still, with himself and his sons having emerged last spring legally unscathed from the so-called Greek Island scandal, Sharon seems brimming with renewed political confidence and fueled by a fresh war lust. When he asserts that the disengagement plan will be executed despite all the opposition that has so far stalled it, he pounds on the desk and trumpets his statement loud, slow, and clear.
While clearly facing a dilemma as he seeks a coalition with which to lead this effort, he scoffs when asked to weigh the threat that rivals like Ehud Barak or Shimon Peres might pose to him. To Sharon, the situation seems clear: There are in town only one game and one player, and those are his plan and its writer.
The potentially violent opposition that the Gaza pullout might generate doesn’t seem to be a big threat to him, either. Yes, all should be done to prevent it, and the settlers – whom he repeatedly praises – must be dealt with respectfully, but otherwise the plans are in place, the schedule is set, and as far as he is concerned, the government has already decided to execute his plan.
Still, while some of its supporters have tried to portray his plan as a gateway to peace – and Shimon Peres has even said that it is “the continuation of Oslo” – Sharon stresses that his plan is actually that plan’s antidote, “the blocking of the Oslo disaster.”
And indeed, the old hawk in Sharon has not vanished. When discussing Israel’s attitude toward the broader Middle East, or when recounting his conversations in recent days with Russian president Vladimir Putin (“I said to him, ‘no Israeli premier will ever compromise Israeli security'”), Sharon makes it plain that in his view, the world remains the dangerous place it has been throughout his life, and that the days when lambs will live with wolves have yet to arrive.
Even so, Sharon is proud to have found time to launch what he says are the most reforms ever introduced by an Israeli government, a statement that historians are likely to debate in the future, but that is also far from unfounded, considering this government’s myriad economic measures, from raising the retirement age and privatizing pension funds to slashing social spending and breaking the seaport monopoly. Coupled with his new resolve to undo a controversial settlement project, Sharon’s domestic and foreign policies frequently generate comparisons to Charles de Gaulle.
Such analogies between his career and that of the French general-turned-president’s flatter him, says Sharon with a smile, except there is one difference: De Gaulle’s Algerian war-zone was overseas, “my Algeria,” says the prime minister, “is here.”
You are now championing the idea of unilateralism with the Palestinians. Is this because you don’t feel it is possible to get anywhere with them through negotiations? We accepted the road map, with our 14 reservations, and formally the Palestinians also accepted it. But nothing came out of it. There was no progress. I came to the conclusion that we will get nowhere along this path.
The road map speaks of stages. In the first stage there has to be a complete cessation of terror, violence and incitement, and only after that, when it ceases completely, can we move forward. There also has to be reform, a change of leadership, dismantling of the terror organizations, fighting terrorism and so on. Nothing is being done in this realm.
So I was faced with a number of alternatives. One was to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, to attack it. I thought that would be a mistake, because that would mean Israel taking upon itself the responsibility for the welfare, jobs, education and health of more than three million Palestinians. I thought that would be a big mistake; Israel cannot take this upon itself.
The second alternative was that Israel would carry out something like the Geneva initiative, and that if Israel would only sign an agreement, terror would end. We have already tried that a couple of times, and it failed.
The third alternative – and many people told me this would be the most comfortable thing to do – was not to do anything, except maybe to hold a meeting here and there with Palestinians. That would have enabled the continued existence of the government – because the government was stable – until the next elections. This would not upset the coalition.
I thought this was mistaken; I didn’t think it would be possible to continue the current situation the way it is. This would have brought heavy pressure on Israel to come up with solutions, and there were all kinds of suggestions for various solutions.
I don’t think the US, dealing with all its problems, would be able to stand there all the time and prevent the presentation of plans that could be dangerous to Israel.
There was also a problem with organizations that help the Palestinians. There are today 1.8 million Palestinians supported solely by aid from various international organizations. These organizations told us clearly that if we continue to hold on to the territories and run everything, they can’t give that aid.
So I came to the conclusion that we had to find a different way. Last November, in a meeting I had with a White House representative in Rome, I talked about the situation, the lack of a true partner with whom it would be possible to come to any agreement, and I presented the unilateral disengagement plan. This was not the road map. I said that if the Palestinians do what they have to do, it will be possible to move forward afterward, according to the road map.
The Europeans are adamant that the disengagement must be seen as part of the road map. You are adamant that it is not. Why? What is the difference?
It [disengagement] is not part of the road map. The minute I say it is part of the road map, I absolve the Palestinians of their responsibility to implement the stage without which it is impossible to go into the road map: dealing with terror.
In order not to find ourselves in diplomatic negotiations before the Palestinians do the main thing they need to, [it is important to say] we are not in the road map. We are taking a course of action that precedes the road map, that may lead to the road map.
What you are saying is that disengagement is a remedy to Oslo?
Unfortunately, it is impossible to give a full remedy here, because the worst thing that happened [as a result of Oslo] was the arrival of terrorists. But I would say this puts an end to Oslo, and attempts to move it to another track.
We ask this because Shimon Peres recently told the Post he wants to join your government because disengagement is a continuation of Oslo. You say it puts an end to Oslo. How are these two views to be reconciled?
We have seen what Oslo wrought, the victims killed. Regarding Peres’s desire to join the government, Israel is standing today before a difficult and complicated situation that in my opinion necessitates the maximum unity possible. I never disqualified any party, certainly not the Labor Party, because I think everyone must stand together facing the dangers on one side, and hope on the other.
What is disengagement meant to achieve?
If the Palestinians do their part [under the road map], it is meant to open the door to a diplomatic process. That is the intention. And that is of course beyond the major achievements we [already] gained as a result of the agreement between us and the US on the disengagement plan.
This [US President George W. Bush’s letter to Sharon in April] was the first time that we heard that the Palestinian refugees can’t return to Israel, only to a Palestinian state, when it emerges – and it will only emerge after the road map, after the terror ends, because otherwise it will be impossible to go into the road map. This is an unprecedented statement Israel has never received before.
The letter also included the clear statement that it is impossible to ignore the new realities on the ground – the large settlement blocs – and that means that it will be impossible, even if we get to negations someday with the Palestinians, to ignore these settlement blocs. This will make it impossible to return to the 1949 armistice lines.
There are other major achievements [from the letter]. First, that it will be impossible to pressure Israel into any plan, except for the road map, and the road map is possible only when there is no terror. The right of Israel to self-defense, and the right to take action in areas where it withdraws.
Another thing that I think is of preeminent importance is the recognition of the existential threats facing Israel by forces in the region, not necessarily only those in close proximity. In other words, standing by Israel’s need to retain deterrence, and defend its very existence – the recognition of the existential threats facing Israel.
Regarding the settlement blocs, you have the commitment in the Bush letter about recognizing new realities on the ground. How then do you explain the huge outcry when tenders are issued to build another few hundred units in Ma’aleh Adumim, which clearly falls within this definition? If the US agrees that these blocs will be part of Israel, why all the noise?
First, the US has since 1967 never agreed to Jewish settlements, and we should not expect that they will today stand up and say they support Jewish settlement. They also have their own problems.
But there is the letter, the commitment in the letter.
When you talk to the Americans, they always say, ‘Wait a minute, today you are building hundreds of apartments in Betar Illit, more than that perhaps, hundreds in Ma’aleh Adumim, you are building.’ It is clear, by the way, that Ma’aleh Adumim will be inside the fence; that is completely clear.
If you ask me what brings about these statements, I would say only the [Israeli] provocations – when you have a cornerstone-laying ceremony, and hold press conferences, and declare what you are doing, that makes it difficult for them.
Is there a quiet agreement with the US that construction can continue in the large settlement blocs? I don’t know if there is a quiet agreement, but if you ask me whether it will be possible to build in the large blocs, yes, we can build in the large blocs.
Regarding the smaller areas, looking back today – as you are working on evacuating Gaza – would you agree it was a mistake to establish settlements there in the first place?
I never like to pass off responsibly onto others, but the settlements in Gaza began when I was OC Southern Command, maybe even before that, by Labor governments. It is possible that they had different thoughts then. I don’t attack that decision, I think that it was right, but many years have passed since then, and the data have changed.
I don’t see any possibility today that a Jewish settlement can exist inside the Gaza Strip. There are 1.2 million Palestinians; it takes an enormous security effort [to protect the settlements]. It appears to me that disengagement is the right thing to do – from all points of view, diplomatic and security – in a place where it is clear that Jews will not be able to live.
In my opinion, the conditions that have been created since  are conditions that put Israel in a different security and diplomatic situation, and this [disengagement] will give us the opportunity to hold on to places with strategic importance to Israel in Judea and Samaria.
Why not hold a national referendum today on disengagement, which could be a counterbalance to the Likud referendum that failed?
If you ask me what mistakes I made, I would say that one of the mistakes was not going to a general referendum.
I don’t know if it is possible now [to hold a general referendum] when we are in the midst of the process.
In an interview you granted us last year, you said Jews will live forever in Shiloh and Beit El under Israeli sovereignty. Is that comment still valid?
I don’t see the possibility of Jews not living in Shiloh or Beit El, or not controlling Rachel’s Tomb or living in Hebron. I don’t see that possibility.
But much of what you say about the difficulty of sustaining settlements in Gaza can also be said about those areas in the West Bank that are densely populated with Palestinians.
The situation in Gaza is more difficult, from that standpoint. The areas of Judea and Samaria are strategically more vital.
How does that fit in with what your deputy Ehud Olmert said a few weeks ago, that after the four settlements in Samaria are evacuated, many others in the West Bank will follow? I can’t keep track of what everyone says.
So now we are asking?
I gave you an answer.
There won’t be further evacuations in the West Bank beyond the four settlements in northern Samaria?
As long as we cannot get to a situation where negotiations are possible, nothing else is being discussed beyond the settlements in Gaza and the four in northern Samaria.
So are you saying that after disengagement there will be no more settlement evacuations until there is a Palestinian partner?
Not until it is possible to enter negotiations on the basis of the road map. As long as the terror does not completely stop, as long as the [Palestinian] reforms are not carried out, and the terror organizations are not dismantled and their weapons not confiscated, there will be no additional course of action beyond this one.
Regarding the fence, what do you make of the International Court of Justice’s ruling?
It was a grave, politically motivated ruling, and we do not obey it.
Are you concerned about UN sanctions?
No, I think [sanctions] need to be prevented there [in the Security Council]. If it gets there, it needs to be prevented, and there is one country [the US] that can do so.
But a resolution for sanctions will still likely return for a vote in the General Assembly? There [in the General Assembly] many things are said, many of them very grave. This only shows us that those who think the Jewish struggle for the existence of an independent Jewish state in the Jewish homeland has stopped are mistaken. Jews will need to continue to fight for their existence in the State of Israel.
When it comes to the security of Israel, only we will decide on this matter, and no one else can determine the security needs for Israel, only Israel. If Israel wants to exist as an independent country, only it will determine its security needs.
What do you say to those Jews who will wake up one morning, like in Ofra, and find themselves on the other side of the security fence? Look, it would have been better if we could have built the fence farther east than where we built it. All the Jewish settlements will be protected, they will be protected beyond the fence, there will be some that are protected inside the fence, and some that are protected in a cluster of settlements by another fence.
It was impossible to include hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in enclaves inside the fence. This situation would not last. It is impossible to prevent a Palestinian farmer from working his land, or [tending] to his flocks, beyond the fence.
But to the world it looks like you wanted to do just that, and that because of the pressure from the world and the Supreme Court you were unable to.
You have to understand that our security areas do not end with the fence. The security zone does not end with the fence. Is Ariel not inside the security zone?
What do you mean by security zones?
If we say that Area A is under full Palestinian responsibility, Area B is shared Palestinian administrative responsibility and Israeli security responsibility, and Area C refers to complete Israeli security responsibility, then these settlements [beyond the fence] are inside Area C, inside the security zones. It would be impossible to place hundreds of thousands of Palestinians inside enclaves in this region, but the Jewish settlements will all be protected, in some cases as part of blocs, and in other cases as lone settlements.
Many people ask how you can evacuate 8,000 people from Gush Katif when we saw this week you can’t move two mobile homes from outside of Nofei Prat.
We are working very hard now on all these issues. The IDF received directives to present a plan to the cabinet within 30 days.
Are you worried about civil war?
First, everything must be done to ensure that it [disengagement] passes quietly. We must understand that we are talking about exceptional people who are going through a major upheaval. There are places [in the Gaza settlements] where the third generation is living there. These are wonderful people, really exceptional. We need to understand the difficulties they are facing. It has to be done with as much appreciation, empathy and amicability as possible. I have given directives to act in this manner.
This is a very complex action that will necessitate a large number of soldiers to isolate the area, and of course, to prevent disturbances or firing on those who are evacuating.
But are you concerned about Jewish violence?
I hope it won’t happen. We need to understand that we are talking about a government decision, and government decisions need to be carried out, with all the pain and difficulty that they entail.
Of course, incitement will impact on what happens. This plan will be carried out, period. I am saying now that no one should think that all the means necessary will not be made available – all the budgets needed – in order for it to be carried out.
There was a clear decision by the government on disengagement. And I will bring it to the Knesset. I promised to do so, and I will.
Regarding Syria, Bashar Assad made comments recently, as he has in the past, about a willingness to renew talks with Israel. Is there anything to talk about with the current Syrian regime?
Syria is a factor with influence on the terror against Israel. The headquarters of terrorist organizations – Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front [for the Liberation of Palestine] and a number of others – work from Damascus. The orders [for attacks in Israel] are given from there, and reports are sent back there. Together with Iran, they built Hizbullah. The Syrians allow Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon, in an area that has been under complete Syrian occupation since January 1976.
They armed Hizbullah, together with the Iranians, primarily the Iranians. They are preventing the Lebanese army from deploying on the border. Hizbullah, on Syria’s orders, is deployed along the border, causing incidents and constant tension along the border.
Syria is under US pressure today because of its position on Iraq, and because it lets terrorists go through its territory on the way to Iraq. So it is clear to me that the Syrians, in order to make life easier for themselves, find it comfortable to say there are contacts, negotiations and so forth.
If their intention is real, the first thing they have to do is dismantle the terror headquarters, stop allowing the training of terrorist organizations on Syrian soil, and kick out the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
In order to show that their intentions are true, and not only a public-relations trick to reduce American pressure, they have plenty to do. The call for negotiations cannot be just a declaration, it has to be [accompanied by] action. They are standing behind terror to a large extent, they are letting Iranians, that is Hizbullah, operate inside Israel. And therefore [renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations] aren’t on the horizon right now.
The announcement that they want peace does not create the background for peace negotiations. We can only look at what they do, and what they are doing shows no signs, even the smallest, that their intentions are serious.
Iran seems intent on obtaining nuclear arms. Is there an international force that can pressure Iran, and is not acting as it should?
Without a doubt, Iran is making efforts to have nuclear weapons. There is no doubt. That is its intention, and it is doing it by deception and subterfuge, using this cover or that. This is completely clear.
I don’t see that [international] activity against it is enough to stop it from obtaining nuclear weapons. And that is a very big danger, especially since Iran managed to develop the Shihab-3 that has a range of 1,300 km. and puts Israel in its range. It is working on a missile with a range of 2,500 km. This is a country that calls for the destruction of Israel, the “moderates” call for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people, and they are doing everything to get weapons of mass destruction.
Actions are being taken, but I don’t think the pressure is enough. Two things need to be done. First is to increase supervision; we are talking about a huge country. And the second thing is to bring it to the UN Security Council, use diplomatic and economic pressure.
Israel is not at the head of this campaign. Israel is taking its own measures to defend itself. But apparently, if you want to stop Iran, and it is still possible, it will need to be taken to the Security Council.
Regarding the elections in the US, there is an impression that you support Bush. What do you say to those who believe this? First of all, I don’t interfere in elections. I never interfere in elections in other countries, and I hope that they will never interfere here either. I have no need to interfere and it is forbidden to interfere.
It is no secret that the US is Israel’s devoted friend. There is a traditional friendship between the US and Israel. It is mutual.
There is no doubt that President Bush is a friend of Israel. And I also think that our array of ties and strategic cooperation between the countries is at a level where it has never been before.
With that, we do not interfere. And in my opinion, if John Kerry is elected, or if George Bush is elected, I am sure that the policy will be that which was established by President Bush.
Are you concerned that the simmering spy sandal in the US will have a negative impact on relations? Israel is not carrying out any espionage activity in the US. On these issues there are unequivocal statements, and that is the policy, that is the way Israel acts – it does not carry out espionage in the US. The array of ties is not beyond what is acceptable. Israel does not spy in the US. I say this in the most emphatic way possible.
When will there be elections in Israel, and are you concerned more about Shimon Peres or Ehud Barak?
I think the elections should be held on the date they were set. I don’t think that now, in the current situation, with the beginning of disengagement, we need to do anything that could harm that plan, which is so very important for Israel.
I don’t think there needs to be new elections. I don’t think we need to drag the country into elections at this time. I think we must make every effort to ensure that we don’t go to new elections.
I am not concerned about him [Peres] or him [Barak]. What is there to be concerned about? I am in the midst of carrying out a series of revolutionary actions, which the government has done in the last three years in every facet of life. If you take the diplomatic issue – disengagement; if you take the security realm – the fence; in education – the Dovrat Reform we are working on now, the Dovrat plan. Everyone talks about the fence; I’m the one who started it, with all its problems. To drag the country now to elections would be a mistake.
How about election reform? Are you still interested in a universal-primaries law? Do you hope to pass it in this Knesset?
I see there is an awakening in this area, and it may be possible to do it.
Are you interested?
I think it is the right thing to do.
Many have compared you to Charles de Gaulle, a general-turned-statesman who looked for dramatic international solutions and made important internal reforms. What do you think about these comparisons?
I never met de Gaulle, but I know his history. I had very close relations with the French when I was a paratroop commander before the Sinai Campaign [in 1956]. My base was one of the places where the French came and stayed, that was during the honeymoon between Israel and France. De Gaulle doesn’t need my compliments. We had good periods and difficult periods with him.
But if you are trying to compare our situation with Algeria, I have to say that the difference is that our Algeria is here. There is no possibility for Israeli residents to go somewhere else. This is Algeria, so that comparison doesn’t hold.
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