Tuesday, October 14, 2003

JERUSALEM. — Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he has no intention of dismantling the security fence he is building to protect Jewish neighborhoods from Palestinian terrorists, no matter the decision of this week’s United Nations debate on the issue. Neither, he said, will there be a Palestinian state unless five specific conditions are met.

In a nearly one-hour interview at his home in Jerusalem, Mr. Sharon appeared relaxed as he sipped tea behind a desk. Wearing a blue suit with an Israeli flag lapel pin, Mr. Sharon said that while he does not believe the peace “road map” drawn up by the United States, European Union and Russia is dead, he suggested it is a long way from success.

For him even to consider agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian state contiguous to Israel, he said, the Palestinian side must meet five conditions:

“(1) dismantle the terror organizations such as Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Hamas and make a 100 percent effort to end terrorism.

“(2) collect its weapons and hand them to a third party, preferably the United States, which will destroy them.

“(3) arrest, interrogate and punish terrorists, their supporters, their commanders (who are implicated in) murder.

“(4) take all necessary diplomatic steps and stop incitement.

“(5) and at least start to teach peace [to children].”

Asked if he saw the Palestinians making any efforts to even begin fulfilling one or more of these conditions, Mr. Sharon said, “Not by now.” Mr. Sharon indicated he is weary of “declarations, speeches and promises,” which, he said, he no longer considers “something serious” Only “performance” matters now in Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians.

Mr. Sharon regards the fence he ordered constructed as essential to the defense of some of Israel’s residential neighborhoods against terrorist bombers. “When it comes to our security,” he said, “it [will] be for Israel to decide what are the needed steps.”

To emphasize his point, he handed me a sheet of paper that listed the number of Israelis killed by terrorists in the last two years and a comparative ratio to how many would have died in Russia, the European Union and the United States.

As of Oct. 11, Israel had seen 884 of its people murdered and 5,956 injured. Israel has a population of 5 million. In Russia, the comparable murder rate would be 25,636; in the European Union, 67,184, and in the United States, 49,150. His point is that no other country would put up with such attacks on its own citizens as Israel has been repeatedly pressured to do.

Mr. Sharon refused to rule out new air strikes against Syria. He said Syria harbors “about 10” terrorist organizations. He said Hezbollah has “a huge system of rockets — about 11,000 now — in southern Lebanon, most of them provided by Iran, but quite a number of them provided by Syria.” He said he hoped the air strike he ordered against what he said was a terrorist camp in Syria would be a “one-time action, but that depends on the situation.”

What about his old nemesis, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom he has repeatedly threatened to expel from the region? Does he still plan to expel him? “I will not take that out of consideration,” Mr. Sharon replied.

He also seemed to mock the inability of Mr. Arafat to pick a prime minister who would last long enough to engage in negotiations with Israel. “The current one [Ahmed Korei] agreed to serve only 30 days.”

About the recently resigned Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Sharon said, “Arafat was undermining him from the first day. Instead of taking necessary steps against the terrorist organizations, [Abbas] decided to make a deal with them. We talked to him many times. I always warned him. I told him they are going to hurt [you], they are going to hurt us. But he still preferred to make deals with them, and that’s what happened. That’s what sent the prime minister to his end.”

Mr. Sharon praised President George W. Bush who, he said, “understands the danger of terror, and that one cannot compromise with terror and has to fight terror.” He added, “In the past, if we had had such a determined leader when the world was watching the Nazis and their preparations [for war], maybe the terrible tragedy we suffered in World War II might have been avoided.”

Is he optimistic about the future? “Yes, I’m an optimist. This is not the hardest period [in our history]. We have had much harder situations.”

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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