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´For durable, real peace I am ready to make painful compromises in the cradle of the Jewish people´ (TELEGRAPH UK) Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, granted a rare interview to Anton La Guardia and Alan Philps 07/12/03) Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/07/12/wshar12.xml&sSheet=/news/2003/07/12/ixnewstop.html
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Ahead of his talks with Tony Blair in London, Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, granted a rare interview to Anton La Guardia and Alan Philps
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Q: Relations between Britain and Israel were not good earlier this year. There were tensions over the fact that Tony Blair was pushing for the road map. Some pretty stiff things were said.
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AS: I believe Prime Minister Blair is a friend, and a friend of Israel. There were a lot of things that were said that we do not think should have been said. But altogether we appreciate the fact that Britain understands the danger of terror and took a courageous step and participated in the war against Iraq. I believe that Europe and Britain should be involved more here in the political process. The problem that we have with Europe is that the attitude is unbalanced.
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Do you worry about Tony Blair exerting pressure on George Bush to put more pressure on Israel to make more concessions?

The answer is no. We have made our position very clear. For genuine, durable, real peace I am ready to make painful compromises. I spoke about compromises in the cradle of the Jewish people. I made it very, very clear to the heads of the United States and Great Britain and other European countries and President Putin that when it comes to the security of Israeli citizens here, there are not going to be any compromises; not now, not in the future.

We accepted the road map. We had 14 reservations, but we accepted. I am committed to that. When it comes to security nothing will move us to give up our right to self- defence.

One must understand that the Jews have a tiny country - although it is a country with many talents and a courageous nation. This is the only place where the Jews have the right and capability to defend themselves by themselves. I have made it clear in difficult times, as a politician - before the elections, during the Likud primaries; that is how I lost a majority within my own party.

Not so long ago you were saying that a withdrawal process from the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be national suicide. Have you changed your position?

If there is a Palestinian government and there are real reforms, if there is a plan based on stages and in the first stage there is a full cessation of terror, I will be ready to make painful compromises. And I am committed to that.

I was the one that suggested a plan that is, more or less, similar to the vision of President Bush. There should be real reform, there should be a prime minister who will give up Yasser Arafat´s strategy of murder and killing. I will be ready then to make painful compromises on the political and territorial side, but I will not make any compromise on security.

There is a new government. But the problem is that Arafat is undermining the new government. It is a good thing that Mahmoud Abbas [also known as Abu Mazen] was nominated as the prime minister. I have met him several times. He is one of those who understood that Israel cannot be defeated by terror and he understood very early that the suffering of the Palestinians was caused by Arafat and his strategy.

If there is complete quiet and terror organisations are dismantled, weapons taken from them and given to a third party in order to be taken from the Palestinian Authority are destroyed - if they take serious preventive steps to stop incitement and start educating for peace, I believe that Israel will then be able to [compromise].

I mentioned a state. I meant a fully demilitarised state. I meant without final borders, because final borders will only be agreed upon in the third stage. The plan is called a performance-based plan. Things should be fully implemented. We do not move from one stage or sub-stage to another one unless the former one is fully implemented.

In the history of the arguments over disarmament of the IRA in Northern Ireland there have been huge difficulties. That would seem to put back the question of when Israel would respond.

The reason we have not moved forward before is that both sides have not implemented every point of the agreement. The policy of Israel was that if we give up this point or another point, maybe that will help and there will be quiet.

The government I lead now is a different government. Of course all the reforms should take place. I think it´s a major mistake to keep contact with Arafat because Arafat is undermining Abu Mazen´s government. All those visits and telephone calls only postpone the solution here. I am fully committed. I was the one behind the idea of this plan.

I was the one who suggested we recognise a fully demilitarised Palestinian state. I want to do it. I have time now. There are four years to go to the next election. I want to make a major effort to solve the problem and to move forward.

Abu Mazen has made quite clear he has no intention of dismantling Hamas or disarming the militants. This surely means the road map is going to stop at the first stage and there will be no Palestinian state.

The Palestinian prime minister is having some problems. These were not exactly the words which were said here. But things are very clear. If the new Palestinian government will not dismantle terrorist organisations, if it will not collect weapons and hand them to third parties for destruction, and will not take serious preventive steps and will not stop incitement, then nothing will move forward.

Has Abu Mazen given you a private promise?

I have confidence in him because I know that he understands the situation.

Abu Mazen is not a member of the Zionist movement. He is a Palestinian. But he understood that one cannot defeat Israel by terror, although we have suffered heavy casualties.

When you look at the numbers of casualties it´s hard to imagine what we suffered. In three years 815 Israelis have been killed and 5,615 injured. It is not only the numbers. But here the targets are different - the goal is to kill civilians.

As one who participated in all the wars of the state of Israel, and I had the privilege to command or to serve in some of the finest units of the Israeli army - commando units, the parachute corps and the larger armoured forces - I saw the horrors of war and felt the fears of war and saw my best friends killed in battles, and I was seriously injured twice, and I felt the terrible pain in hospital. I had to take decisions about life and death of others and myself. I believe that I understand the importance of peace, to put it moderately, not less than many of the politicians who speak about peace but never had that experience.

For me peace means security and the right of the Jewish people to live in peace. For that I´m ready to make painful compromises. Israel is the only country in the world that is ready to make compromises - even though it did not lose any wars.

You have said several times this afternoon that you are ready to make painful compromises, but it´s not entirely clear what those compromises might be. For some in your cabinet the release of 400 prisoners is a painful compromise. If the Palestinians do everything that you want them to do, what is it that you have to offer them?

It would be a mistake at this stage to say, for instance, where the final borders will be. If you say it now, that will be the starting line for negotiations. The final borders depend on the relations that will develop and the negotiations that take place.

You have not said anything so far to convince our readers that you are no longer the patron of the settlers which you were for many years.

What should I prove?

It exposes you to the accusation that you merely say things to sound accommodating but in fact you have little intention of making real concessions.

Very few other politicians would have said the things I have said at a very inconvenient time.

You started off by saying concessions bring terrorism, but now you say concessions are possible. What made you change your mind?

Do not think for one minute that concessions will be made if terror will continue. That´s the point. In the past, say during Arafat´s leadership, there was no chance whatsoever that terrorism would stop. It´s a new experience with the Palestinian Authority. We have to see how it will develop. Now maybe for the first time we can say there is hope.

What happens if terror is reduced but there are still some attacks?

If the Palestinians will make 100 per cent effort and there is an act of terror, we would take into consideration that such things may happen.

What do I mean by 100 per cent effort? One hundred per cent effort means that terrorists, their supporters and those that instigate murder are arrested, interrogated and punished.

Terror organisations - like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front, the Democratic Front, and the security/terror organisations - should be dismantled.

What was it about Abu Mazen´s personality that convinced you he was a man of integrity?

It´s not just a question of believing. We are beyond the era of promises, declarations and talks. We tried that already. Everything is based on performance. It should be done in phases so we can follow the development of relations.

If the terror continues, what do you do then?

We will do what we have always done. My grandfather, my father, myself, my sons - there are people who have faced Arab terror for five or six generations. They will have to hold a sword in one hand.

That is what we have done until now. That is what I would like to change.

At the same time we have managed to bring millions of newcomers and integrate them. We have revived the Hebrew language. We built here a sophisticated industry. We have famous centres of research and science. We have beautiful music. We have a very advanced agricultural system, really one of the most developed in the world. We have done tremendous things here.

We will continue. We have a plan in the next 10 to 13 years to bring one million more Jews here. We are going to develop and build. We are not going to surrender. We would like to live a quiet life. But if we have to defend ourselves we will defend ourselves.

You are the last of the generation who built the state. Are you the last person who can make peace in Israel?

Our generation has seen everything. I remember well from the age of five. I remember the past 70 years. I think it is our generation´s role to try to achieve peace. As a result of everything we have seen, we will make fewer mistakes. That is how we see it. I feel that there are many things I would like to do. I decided it is something I have to try to solve.

Gen Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli chief of staff, said Israel had scored a victory over the Palestinian armed groups. Do you agree?

We had tremendous achievements in the struggle against terror. This kind of war against terror - anti- terror guerrilla warfare - is very daring and different, not like a war when you attack with 10 tank divisions.

We can see that Hamas needed this ceasefire. They suffered high casualties. They had to hide themselves. They didn´t use their cars, telephones. The problem now is we don´t see yet acts against terrorist organisations, or any dismantling. They are regrouping and reorganising and smuggling weapons and so on.

When we reach peace, that will be victory.

Is Arafat strong enough to obstruct the process?

He is doing it. He controls the larger part of their armed forces, still part of the money, and he got all those telephone calls from leaders, mostly from Europe, and he receives messages, ministers of foreign affairs and others.

Every act of this nature only postpones the progress in the process. Most European countries are doing that. By that they are undermining Abu Mazen. This is a major mistake. I hope with time they will understand this.

Don´t you regret still being in the saddle - why not be on the farm, listening to Mozart?

I would like to be on the farm to ride horses and to watch the cattle and the sheep and the citrus plantations. But as long as I have the strength, I´ll have to continue and face these complicated problems.

As long as I can do it, I will do it.

As one who has been in hard situations, I believe that I know how to deal with complicated and hard situations. The horses will wait. The cattle will wait. (© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2002. 07/12/03)

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