Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu felt the brunt of White House pressure Tuesday, being treated to what might be described as “snub diplomacy.” The Israeli leader was not accorded the usual diplomatic courtesies often given to a head of state, such as staying at Blair House or a special White House dinner. But following a tightly controlled meeting with President Clinton, Netanyahu endured several grueling hours of “tag team” negotiating with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, and others.
The Israeli prime minister apparently held his ground, demanding that the U.S. hold the Palestinian leadership more accountable in living up to past peace agreements.
When the pressure sessions finally broke up, Albright conceded to a friend, “I can’t say a lot has happened here.”
Sources tell CBN News that President Clinton is now trying to engineer a face-to-face meeting between Yasser Arafat and Netanyahu in Washington, hoping for a breakthrough.
Pat Robertson spoke at length with the Israeli Prime Minister immediately following last night’s negotiations. Here is that in-depth interview.
Robertson: I hear you’ve had a grueling day — eight hours of meeting the President, Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, and others — how did it go?
Netanyahu: Not too bad.
Robertson: Really? What are they asking you?
Netanyahu: They’re trying to cook up an arrangement to get over this interim settlement business, which is complicated.
Robertson: If they want a percentage of land in the double digits, are you going to give it to them?
Netanyahu: What we’re trying to do is effectively find out whether the Palestinians will comply with their promises, and we can give a certain amount of land, not a hell of a lot, because there’s not much there. We need minimal ramparts, minimal buttresses for Israel’s security, and that I won’t give up.
Robertson: What do the Palestinians want? What do you really think their goal is?
Netanyahu: That’s the problem. We keep on telling them that they have to show us that they are annulling — canceling — the charter that they have that still calls for our destruction. That was promised to Israel four years ago when the Oslo Accords were signed. They have yet to deliver on this basic promise, so obviously, the question mark is always there: are they out to destroy Israel, if they won’t amend the basic constitution that they have that calls for Israel’s destruction? I think the first thing they should do is amend that charter.
Robertson: Have you ever heard Yasser Arafat make a speech in Arabic where he acknowledges the existence of Israel and is for its integrity?
Netanyahu: I can’t say that I have, but I may have missed a particular instance. But you’re quite right — there’s a difference in the way Palestinian leaders speak in English and the way they speak in Arabic, and they’re seldom held accountable for it. I must say that we in Israel are held accountable for every word that we say. And we say the same thing to the Israeli public and to the American public: we want peace, we’re prepared to move for peace, but it’s got to be a peace that we can live with, a peace that we can defend. That’s the only peace that has meaning — peace with security.
Robertson: There was an article in today’s paper by Natan Sharansky about the whole concept of Hebron. There were certain undertakings dealing with Hebron, and I understand the Palestinians haven’t been keeping that, is that true?
Netanyahu: Yes, it is, unfortunately. We kept our side of the deal: we redeployed from Hebron itself, we released women prisoners who were terrorists. I didn’t like it, but the previous government had committed to it, and I kept the promise. We decided on the redeployments — all of these were exactly our commitments under the Hebron Accords. Unfortunately, the Palestinians failed to do all those things that they promised: they’ve failed to collect illegal weapons; they’ve failed to lock up the terrorist leaders and operatives; they’ve been releasing them. They’ve failed to stop the incitement for violence in their official media; they’ve failed to annul that charter that they promised to annul. So it’s not a good record; I wish I could be sitting opposite you and telling you a different story. I wish I could say a year after Hebron, they kept their promises; that’s essentially what they want for the next phase. People ask us, Why do you insist they keep their promises? And I say, How can you expect us to sign the next agreement if they fail to keep the previous agreement? That makes common sense for anyone who’s signed any agreement.
Robertson: Is the Clinton administration going to hold them to those accords, or are they glossing them over?
Netanyahu: Well, I hope so, Pat, because the promises in the Hebron Accords were made to the Clinton administration. Each side promised the United States, which was a signatory to these accords, that it would fulfill its part. Well, we’ve fulfilled our part, and they haven’t fulfilled their part. But the ones who should be most concerned with compliance is the United States, which certainly wants its word and its signature to be honored and to have meaning.
Robertson: What about your domestic support? I’ve heard there’s some division. You’ve won a couple of key votes, but by narrow margins. Are the Israeli people behind you now?
Netanyahu: I think the overwhelming majority of people are behind our demand for Palestinian compliance, our insistence on security, that they fight terrorism as they promised to do. They support the fact that we fight terrorism, and that we have had some successes with this. And above all, they want our concept of peace with security, which means that they support our view of a final settlement that leaves Israel with these defensible borders, and also leaves us with land that we view as historically precious to the Jewish people. This is the land of Judea — that’s where the word Jew comes from — Jerusalem remaining undivided, forever a united city. For these things, we have overwhelming support.
Robertson: Yasser Arafat wants a capital in Jerusalem; he wants a vast majority of the West Bank. Are you going to give it to him?
Netanyahu: No. He’s not going to get that.
Robertson: Well, will there ever be peace without it, do you think?
Netanyahu: There will be peace if he abandons these extreme demands. If he pursues these extreme demands, we will have the foundations for future conflict. If he gets most of the West Bank in his hands, Israel will be indefensible, and an indefensible and weak Israel is merely a prelude to more conflict in a major war, rather than to peace. So if we’re going to have peace, he’s got to understand that he too must make compromises in his territorial demands. Secondly, a divided Jerusalem — this would be a tragedy, a catastrophic descent into the past when the city was divided by a Berlin Wall with barbed wire and snipers on either side. I’m not going to let that happen. It’s just not going to happen.
Robertson: There are a couple of other players that are acting up in the Middle East: one is Iraq, who possibly has deadly anthrax that’s capable of reaching Israel. And I understand the Iranians have now got intermediate missiles, and possibly even long-range ICBMs. What about them — what does your intelligence say?
Netanyahu: Actually, we share a very close intelligence with the United States, and we view these regimes, Iran and Iraq, that are feverishly arming themselves with ballistic missiles and sundry kinds of unconditional warheads, we view that as a great danger to the peace and stability of the Middle East, and I must say, beyond the Middle East. Could you imagine Iran with ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear weapons capable of reaching not only Israel, but in the second instance, the heart of Europe, and within a dozen years the eastern seaboard of the United States? That’s a frightening thought, and therefore, we should do everything in our power to prevent the arming of Iran with these weapons of long-range delivery. In fact, the main supplier of this ballistic missile technology is Russia, and we’ve been trying to persuade the Russians — “we” meaning the United States and Israel and other countries — we’ve been trying to persuade Russia to stop the supply of this deadly technology to Iran. I said to President Yeltsin, One day, they’ll train those missiles at you; you’ll be in as great a danger as we are. Well, I hope that the Russians will see the light; in any case, we’re not going to stop our efforts to make them see the light.
Robertson: You had a predecessor once upon a time who made a preemptive strike against one of your enemies; it probably saved us all some terrible consequences. Is there any thought of the United States, or maybe a coalition, doing that with Iran?
Netanyahu: Well, I don’t want to pre-judge anything, but certainly not even on your show, Pat.
Robertson (laughing): Well, we’ll leave that aside then. I’ll get to something more pleasant. I understand you’ve got inflation down to 7 percent; your economy’s doing very well. That’s a tremendous achievement.
Netanyahu: We have brought inflation down to its lowest level in thirty years. We took the inflation rate and cut it by more than 50 percent. In a mere 18 months, we’ve lowered a huge deficit that we inherited from the previous government — we’ve narrowed that down by a third in that time period. We’ve privatized 30 times more than the previous government, so we’re committed to having a liberal, free-market economy in Israel, which has been waiting a long time for this. If you add the fact that Israel has some of the greatest technology in the world, this combination of high technology and free-market principles, I think, argues well for Israel. We’re going to have, I think, a very prosperous country by the time we’re finished.
Robertson: American Jews — are they with you, are they against you? I understand that the councils and presidents of leading American Jewish organizations wrote the President to say that you need to be more evenhanded in regard to negotiations between Israel and the PLO. How are they treating you — what do you hear from them?
Netanyahu: Well, I was very gratified when I came into Washington yesterday. It was a cold day, but I had two wonderfully warm receptions. One from the representatives of the American Jewish community, and one from the representatives of the American Christian community. Many of the evangelical denominations of the United States came together; I understand that I was able to unite them. And I think it wasn’t me — it was their love of Israel, their support for Israel. It was very heartwarming, and I must say I felt the same thing from the representatives of the Jewish community here.
Robertson: What would you like our audience to do? How can they help you, because it’s predominantly evangelical; we haven’t had many Jewish people who watch my program. What would you like this audience to do for you or for Israel?
Netanyahu: I think they’re already doing it. I think they expressed that support by their own statements, by the letters they write to the editors, by the fact that they communicate to their representatives — their congressmen, their senators — to support Israel. They understand that a strong Israel is the best friend the United States has in the Middle East, where it doesn’t have many friends. It’s the best friend, it’s the most loyal friend, it’s one that shares the ideal of freedom and democracy and respect for individual lives and individual rights. It’s a very deep bond that we have, and every time I come here, may I say that from the opportunities that I get, such as appearing on this show, that bond is self-evident.
Robertson: Are you optimistic about the future? I know it’s cloudy and uncertain, and full of trouble…
Netanyahu: Yes, I’m optimistic, because I think that the people of Israel have undergone such a tremendous odyssey and have overcome the greatest adversity in the annals of nations. Fifty years ago, we were a windswept leaf: we had experienced the Holocaust, we were a decimated people. But fifty years later, we have a thriving state — not free of problems, but look at what we have: one of the finest armies in the world, a growing economy, technology, science, and above all, faith in our future and in the friendship we have of those like-minded peoples and individuals around the world.
Robertson: I think I can say truthfully for all of us on this program, God bless you and God bless Israel. Thank you for being with us.
Netanyahu: Thank you very much, Pat, I appreciate it.