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Q&A: Israel´s Ariel Sharon ´ The Fence Is Not A Political Border´ (WASHINGTON POST) Interview with Washington Post-Newsweek´s Lally Weymouth 08/03/03 Page B01) Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A14129-2003Aug2.html
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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came to Washington last week for his eighth White House visit with the Bush administration. The president is eager to promote the so-called "road map" to peace in the Middle East, which so far has produced a temporary cease-fire on the part of militant Palestinian groups. At their meeting, Bush urged Israel to make some concessions in order to advance the peace process. In an interview with Washington Post-Newsweek´s Lally Weymouth, Sharon, 75, talked about his goals. Excerpts:
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Weymouth: How did your meeting with President Bush go?
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Sharon: I think the meeting went well. As for our relations with the administration, I would say there are close relations, close strategic cooperation and a lot of friendship. That does not mean that we always agree about everything. We look with very deep appreciation at the steps taken by President Bush.
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Are you speaking about Iraq?
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It started in Afghanistan and . . . we saw it in Iraq. . . . He understood the importance of taking steps against tyrannical regimes. I believe there are some problems at the present time, but I think history will look at [the war in Iraq] as one of the most important steps taken since World War II.
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Are you satisfied with what Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is doing to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure?
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There is still terror, but it is quieter and there is less incitement than before. They have to dismantle terrorist organizations and punish them and collect [illegal] weapons, which should be handed to a third party -- only the U.S. can take them out of the Palestinian Authority areas and destroy them. As for the most important thing -- steps against the terrorist organizations -- we don´t see any.
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The Palestinian prime minister said last week that he´s not going to act against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. That is worrying. They have to act as soon as possible. It will be harder later. The impression is that they will try to reach agreements but not do what President Bush believes they must do: dismantle terrorist organizations.
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It is said that the Palestinians have shifted the topic of conversation to [Palestinian] prisoners and to the security fence [that Israel is building]. What is your response?
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I believe they have to implement the reforms and remove [Palestinian President] Yasser Arafat from a position of influence in the security and financial fields. As for prisoners, we released several hundred already and are going to release more. But we cannot release all the prisoners: We cannot release those that have blood on their hands, [who] were involved in terror and were sending suicide bombers to commit acts of terror. And we can´t release those that were released previously who returned to terror.
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As for the fence, the only two places where we have a wall is to protect the Israeli civilian population on the main Israeli highway that connects the southern part with the north. [There] Palestinians shoot at the traffic. But we speak about a fence. I understand the sensitivity of President Bush -- he is very sensitive where civilians are hurt or suffering is caused. But this fence is important for several reasons. I told President Bush that the fence is not a political border. It is important to prevent terrorists or suicide bombers from entering central Israel and committing their crimes there.
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Didn´t you formerly oppose this fence?
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I am not very fond of this fence and would not have built it if I had not seen this nonstop effort to enter the center of the country and act there. The other reason is that the strategy of Arafat for many years is [to make] terror part of the political process: Once you negotiate and do not get what you want, then immediately you use terror. That is what he has done many times in the past.
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The resistance of the Palestinians to the fence is that it causes some difficulties to Palestinian farmers and, as a farmer [with a working farm in the Negev], I understand that. . . . But we have taken all the necessary steps to open gates and have never tried to take this land from them.
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What did you agree on with the president about the fence?
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We will build the fence but try to make it as easy as possible . . . . for the farmers. . . . My first responsibility is the security of Israel´s citizens.
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What is your assessment of Abu Mazen [as Prime Minister Abbas is widely known]?
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I believe Abu Mazen understood a long time ago that one cannot enforce political solutions on Israel by terror. And he understands as well that most of the suffering of the Palestinians was caused by Arafat´s stategy. And he really wanted to reach an agreement by negotiations. I believe that he is sincere in this. But [he] should take the needed steps against terrorist organizations. In the future, it will be harder.
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Is it hard for Abu Mazen to act because he doesn´t control all the security organizations?
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There are two reasons. One is that Arafat is undermining him. The other is that reform has not been implemented. No one thought that reform meant Arafat would control most of the armed forces and parts of the intelligence services. . . . They have to [act] as early as possible. It will be harder later. Now Hamas and the other organizations are weak. They suffered casualties. We arrested many of them.
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We do not see the cease-fire [by militant groups] as a solution to the problem. . . . To have a cease-fire is important but it gives the terrorist organizations time to manufacture hundreds of Kassam rockets with longer ranges, to equip themselves, to smuggle weapons and to reorganize. That cannot be accepted as a solution to the problem. Because then we are hostages in the hands of terrorist organizations that can break the agreement every day. The agreement is between the Palestinian Authority and the terrorist organizations - - not with us. . . .
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Why do you need a fence in the east when the United States has removed Iraq as a threat?
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Terrorists we once managed to block at the northern entrances now use this to penetrate.
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Did you see Saddam as a danger to Israel?
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Iraq was a danger. This murderous regime killed tens of thousands of their own citizens in the most brutal way. The greater danger is the fact they used and, according to our understanding, had weapons of mass destruction and the know-how for nuclear weapons production.
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So you agree with President Bush that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction though none have been found?
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We believe that the war served as a warning to all those murderous regimes that support terrorist organizations.
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You believe there were weapons of mass destruction there?
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They used them in the past -- there are no secrets here. As for nuclear weapons, we know that they had the nuclear know-how.
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What about the settlements and the outposts? Israel is suppose to freeze settlements during the first phase of the road map and remove outposts.
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We are removing unauthorized outposts. We have removed 22 and I know another 12 will be removed in the near future.
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U.S. officials say that every time you dismantle some, others go up. Is that true?
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Later we dismantle them. Israel is a state of law and the unauthorized [outposts] will be removed. It is not easy. Sometimes, we need one thousand soldiers.
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You spoke of Israel ending "the occupation"? Why? Did that indicate some change in your thinking?
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No, there are no changes and that is not what I really meant to say. I said that I don´t believe that ruling the Palestinian people is the right thing for us to do. The result of the peace process should be full security. When it comes to security, Israel will not be able make any compromises.
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We have to remember that I am speaking as a Jew. For me, to be a Jew is the most important thing. The Jews have a tiny country with many talents. This is the only place in the world where the Jews have the right and the capability to defend themselves by themselves. That is my historic responsibility to the Jewish people -- to keep it, to preserve it. That is what I am going to do.
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Israel as a result of the war and the bloodshed doesn´t manage to show its tremendous achievements in every field. We have held the sword in one hand all these years. But I believe the day will come when there will be peace and security. That´s what we need. Then Israel will be known for its achievements, its industry, its music and farming, which may be one of the most advanced that exists. Then people will be able to look at Israel as a country that contributes to its own people and to the world. That´s what I hope I will be able to accomplish.
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What is needed to bring about peace?
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First, it needs Arab recognition that it is the birthright of the Jewish people to have a Jewish state in the homeland of the Jewish people. That we have not achieved yet. That might be regarded as the end of the conflict. . . . [And] it needs strong and serious [Israeli] leadership that can make painful compromises on areas which are the cradle of the Jewish people. That´s what I will try to do. (© 2003 The Washington Post Company 08/03/03)
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