HBO History Makers Series: Ehud Barak

Monday, January 24, 2005

New York, N.Y.

[Note: the transcript begins in progress.]

MORTIMER ZUCKERMAN:— [Ehud Barak] organized the Israeli military to take into account much of the transformation in military technology. He entered politics and, of course, became prime minister and leader of the Labor Party. And in his tenure as prime minister, was noted for his extraordinary efforts to bring about a final resolution of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians that culminated in the [July 2000] meeting at Camp David.

Let me just say that this conversation is for the record, but I would ask you all to turn off cell phones or any other instruments that might interfere in what I hope will be a wireless conversation.

I'm going to ask Ehud Barak, in his approach to trying to resolve the issues in the Middle East between Israel and its neighbors; he first had a [January 2000] meeting in Shepherdstown [Md.] with the foreign minister, Farouk al-Shara, of Syria, that preceded his meeting with [Yasir] Arafat at Camp David. If you had it to review again, do you think Israel should go forward first with the Palestinians or first with the Syrians, in terms of trying to break the logjam that exists?

EHUD BARAK: I think that both are necessary for us to create normalcy around our borders. It's more a matter of opportunity. I don't think that Israel has to have a special preference at this stage. If we could make now a breakthrough and reach an agreement with the Syrians, I would have done that. If there is an opportunity with Palestinians, I would have done that. But both are questionable at this point.

ZUCKERMAN: In Dennis Ross's book, "The Missing Peace," he describes the feeling that came out of Shepherdstown that there was an opportunity for more progress there than what was made, and that in fact, you were pulling back a bit, perhaps because of what you anticipated you would have to deal with in your hopes for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Is that a correct assessment of what took place?

BARAK: I'm not sure. It's—I highly appreciate Dennis Ross. Many of you know him as one of the most devoted American diplomats for the cause of the Israeli peace with its neighbors. I found, basically, Sadat—excuse me, [former Syrian President Hafez] Assad Junior [Bashar Assad was] interested in extracting from Israel a direct, irreversible political commitment to give him his basic demands in the negotiations before the negotiations have opened and as a precondition to open them. That's something that no sovereign leader can accept, because the meaning is that you will have no serious negotiation, no results. And we tried all along the way. From our stance, we knew that we cannot reach peace with a neighbor if clandestine conduct on authoritative level were taking place in advance, far from the public eye. That was the case with President [Anwar] Sadat of Egypt. There were contacts between then-Foreign Minister [Moshe] Dayan [inaudible] in Morocco long before you convinced—Barbara is here—she convinced—[ABC News correspondent] Barbara Walters—she convinced Sadat to announce that he's coming to the [Israeli] Knesset. There were clandestine contacts with the Jordanians, with [Morocco's] King [Moulay] Hassan for [inaudible] and even with the Palestinians before [the 1993] Oslo [Accords] emerged to the surface.

We felt long ago that we cannot accomplish anything if such contacts would be impossible. And unfortunately, we couldn't accomplish it. I asked Americans even to put us on a cruiser in the Mediterranean, in a big bunker in Incirlik [air base in Turkey], in—I don't know—in a silo in Nevada, and somehow no place on earth could be found where the Americans could put the Israelis and the Syrians isolated. There is no easy way to deal with such sensitive issues in front of both publics on a continuous manner. And that was one of the pressures beyond the very basic demand of President Assad for an unconditional surrender before the negotiation opened, which is inconceivable for me. I don't blame Dennis. He did his best. In fact, he repeated something that he did with [former Secretary of State Warren] Christopher several years earlier. [Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin erupted in anger then when he thought that Dennis went somewhat beyond what he allowed or permitted as a part of an effort to smooth or to lubricate a breakthrough with the Syrians. That's the nature of leadership. You have always an extra drop of responsibility beyond any devoted—however devoted the official, whether in your side or on the American side.

ZUCKERMAN: Part of the rationale for the—at least that is attributed to the relative quiet on the relations between Syria and Israel is the power of Israel's military deterrence, the sense that Syria could be quite concerned about whatever Israelis' military, Israel's military, response would be. As you go forward and you have the sort of de-massification of military strength, the weapons of mass destruction in the hands of small groups, how does Israel defend itself in this context, where that—the deterrence to that kind of threat, something which we are trying to wrestle with—how does Israel deal with that kind of a threat? And what is the effect of that on the possibility of any kind of peace negotiations?

BARAK: I think that the threat of nuclear proliferation, especially into the hands of terrorists, which is not inconceivable—for those of you who understand physics, it's not inconceivable to think of terrorist organizations buying, paying $5 million for a pound of weapon-grade materials and end up collecting it from different sources where everyone sees that he didn't give them a critical mass of this material, and try to devise a very simple nuclear device that will be put into a sea container, and probably will not yield the optimal nuclear output, but enough to level a medium-sized city. That's the real threat. It's not direct use of nuclear weapons by North Korea or Iran. And this landscape is especially worrying for Israel, of course, but we are in this struggle against nuclear proliferation for a generation now. It's already 20 years ago that Prime Minister [Menahem] Begin of Israel ordered the destruction of [Osirak,] a military nuclear reactor outside Baghdad. He was condemned at the time by everyone on earth, including the Reagan administration, only to admit years later how far-sighted a step it was. It blocked Saddam Hussein from becoming a nuclear player for 15 years or eventually 20 years. So somehow, we are in this business for a long time. For the first time, the whole world is into it. And that, I believe, enables us to expect that the world will do his part of the role.

I don't think that Israel should position itself at the cutting edge of this struggle operationally. It makes much more sense to recalibrate American expectations about the real world and to join hands, not just with the Europeans but also with Russia and China. And that would be the most effective way to create an effective diplomatic siege on Tehran and Pyongyang, in order to reach results, not just declarations, and probably kind of feeling in the background that diplomacy is not really their last resort; it better be there in the minds of [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Il and the ayatollahs in Tehran. But I don't think that to allocate the roles of who will do what when right now is the most clever step.

ZUCKERMAN: But the issue, in a sense, is the control of the terrorist groups. Now, you—Israel as a country is faced with some kind of proliferation of power centers amongst the Palestinians, some of which are people whose guns are simply not going to be able to be controlled by [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas. How does Israel cope with that? How do you get the confrontation with those groups and the disarmament of those groups, the demilitarization of those groups, which is being now put forth as the thing, particularly if they think they can get some kinds of weapons that really are very destructive and very difficult to trace, even rockets?

BARAK: I would not try to draw equivalence between small nuclear devices in the hands of terrorists with a scenario that could happen somewhere in the next decade, with whatever the Palestinians have or might have in the future, which is simple-size, low-caliber, small-caliber rockets that can kill someone if he hits him, but cannot become a major strategic threat to a country. And there is another kind of a difference to be emphasized. In our case, even the most extremist terrorist, the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, still subordinate themselves to the Palestinian National Accord, unlike [al Qaeda leader] Osama bin Laden, who does not subordinate himself to any authority on Earth. He gets all the directives from heaven and he's determined to destroy whatever happens here. And he's quite successful in [inaudible] or in igniting the imagination of millions, tens of millions in the Muslim world. If one in a hundred of them would become a terrorist, we are dealing with hundreds of thousands of terrorists. If one in a hundred of those who become terrorists would decide to become suicide bombers, we are dealing not with [inaudible], but with thousands of suicide bombers. So the world is facing much more complicated issue than Israel.

Now in regard to us, Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas, is a more serious, may I say, or—I hesitate to call him moderate. He's not moderate when I check his positions, but he's more—he shaves, he wears a tie [laughter], he doesn't wear this black-checkered kaffiyeh with a uniform and carry on a kind of [inaudible] rhetoric. He understands the world. He's more congruent with the world, with the zeitgeist, and that will make him more effective. We Israelis should give him an opportunity. We should try even to do indirectly—to take many steps that will pave the road for him. But we should be careful not to hug him too strongly or firmly, especially in public, because it will ruin it. Some of my Labor Party leaders, after the last attacks of small-size rockets on a city called Siderot in the south, went to see Abu Mazen. And I told them it's better to order the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] to hit the rocket than to go to Abu Mazen, because if we go to Abu Mazen, we somehow portray him as collaborator for Israeli cause. It's easier for him to argue that because the IDF is hitting on his own populations, he comes to help them by imposing cease-fire, not that he comes to help the peace camp in Israel or something like this.

But what I'm afraid of is the equation that is gradually created where Abu Mazen, as the elected, so to speak, leader—nothing to compare with elections here or in Israel, but, however, elected—that since the Hamas and Islamic Jihad did not participate in the election and still carry weapons, that they will try to create the new equation where Abu Mazen is supposed to extract tangible assets from the Israelis. As long as it goes between the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, it's OK; the moment Israel ceases to deliver or stops to deliver, terror will hit once again. So that situation is called protection; it's not exactly negotiation. From time to time, they will hit anyhow to remind everyone that this is the situation. So I think that we cannot settle for anything less than demanding loud and clear from Abu Mazen—hopefully supported by you and the Europeans, which are even more important, for reasons that I will come to later—to live up to the basic demands of legitimate sovereignty, which the first attribute should be the monopoly on the use of weapons. No one can be perceived as a legitimate sovereign if he has the armed gangs walking in his streets carrying out their own policies and using their weapons. It's nonsense. It makes it illegitimate and improper.

And the real issue in imposing it upon him is creating a very solid front made of not just the Americans, which are very solid already, especially under President Bush, but also the Europeans, the U.N., and the Russians. And that's a theme that repeats itself on every front. It's true about Israel and the Palestinians, it's true about North Korea and Iran, and it's true about any other major effort to make the world, the planet a normal place to live in. There is a need to keep the balance between cooperation, sharing burdens and responsibilities with others, while remaining—I tried to define the American challenge—to share burdens of responsibilities with others—in China, Russia, the EU [European Union], you name it—while remaining a world beacon for freedom and liberty. And I believe that it's possible. But it needs a clear vision about the world combined with the skill to execute, understand the way declaration or statements, even a clear and important moral and strategic statements are made should not interfere with the practical way by which world issues are won and resolved.

ZUCKERMAN: Well, you had in Bill Clinton a president who was—who had Arafat as a White House visitor I think 13 times, more than any other political leader. He was very committed to trying to bring a resolution to the Middle East. You had an Israeli prime minister, and yourself, who was the most forthcoming perhaps of any Israeli prime minister to date. What lessons do you take from that in terms of bringing about some hypothetical future negotiation that might be effective, whereby whoever is leading the Palestinians is seen to be defending Palestinian interests and not acceding to either Israeli or American interests? What do you take from what you went through at Camp David that might have some application for a future negotiation?

BARAK: First of all, the reason for failure is very simple. You can impose war on another side, but for peace you need a partner; it takes two to tango. You can't impose it on another side. And basically, Camp David was an attempt—the culmination of forces that took some seven years to create a moment of truth where we could know in advance before we give all the tangible assets whether we have a partner for the real deal that is awaiting us [inaudible]. You can give certain amount of down payment. Even—you know, in a way we opened for Arafat the door for the White House, and we were happy when he got the Nobel Peace Prize as a down payment. But ultimately, when it became clear that he cannot deliver, we should be capable of facing these realities, however unpleasant.

I think that in President Clinton we found a highly sophisticated player that somehow was a very good friend of Israel—I cannot say the best because every other American president becomes a better friend than [laughter] whoever proceeded him, but a very good friend of Israel that somehow was able to keep the respect of the Arabs until the very last moment. But I think that at Camp David, we basically shaped the parameters of any future agreement, whether it takes five or 15 years until we reach one, when there will be a Palestinian leader with the character of President Sadat of Egypt or King Hussein of Jordan. There will be peace. The Israeli silent majority is ripe for it, but they don't want to be manipulated as long as there's no partner. And there will be a peace agreement, and you will need a magnifying glass to identify the differences between the agreement that will be achieved and the—what was on the table at Camp David. Tragedy, of course, is that as a result of the Palestinians' scheme to miss opportunities, we buried thousands of people on both sides of the barricade on the way, and then who knows how many more will be buried.

ZUCKERMAN: Does that mean that the number of deaths and the terror that ensued for four years is not going to affect, in your judgment, the Israeli public and their willingness to go back to roughly the parameters of what you were talking about at Camp David?

BARAK: I hope not. Many on the Arab side and even in this country or in Europe expect that Israel will be softer, will be ready to get less. I hope not. We should not reward terror by a single inch, metaphorically, of achievement on any arena. And so to the best of my judgment, what we have to do now is to, one, a crash program for disengagement, for building the security wall. After four years and a thousand people buried, only 40 percent of the wall is erected or established. And to complete it with 70 percent of the settlers or 80 [percent] into it, relocating the other 20 [percent] or 30 percent back into Israel proper or into the settlement blocs, and create a clear situation, a clear temporary boundaries within which we will have a clear Jewish majority for generations to come with minimal amount of Palestinians. I call it "we are here, they are there," followed Robert—


BARAK: Frost's first famous line, "good fences make good neighbors." And I think that's the way, but it could not be completed without adding three elements. We'll hit on terror, whenever it comes through or wherever it comes from. We will leave the door open for resumption of negotiations at any moment, no preconditions beyond the absence of violence, based on the same, exactly the same principles that were on the table at Camp David a day before the Palestinians turned to terror. They should not be rewarded in any way for turning to terror. On the other end, they could not be punished as a whole people collectively for the stupidity of their leaders or short-sightedness of their leaders.

ZUCKERMAN: By that do you mean—well, let me just go to two things. One is, does that suggest that any future negotiation is going to involve, in the same kind of public way that it did, an American president or an American administration being that directly involved? Or do you think there's a better chance for success, given the experience, that this be done between the Israelis and the Palestinians directly?

BARAK: No, I do not pretend to be able to predict. I don't know. For us, every way is acceptable as long as it's done out of mutual respect, and out of respect for the vital interests of the others. There is a growing tendency even here—I read [former Secretary of State] Dr. [Henry] Kissinger's article [former Secretary of State] James Baker, Warren Christopher, and then some interview with [the National Security Council's Senior Director for Near East and North African Affairs] Elliott Abrams—there is a growing tendency to think in terms of probably the two sides are [inaudible]; we can somehow impose upon them, or probably impose without telling that we are imposing it, some arrangements. I think and hope that we will be clever enough to avoid it. It's better for a nation to reach whatever point of equilibrium it has to reach, not through being fed by geese through the throat, but by making its own decisions out of its own judgment, and I believe with better results because people, including in this country, leaders in the world, will respect national leadership that is ready to take tough decisions and implement them rather than to wait for such an attempt that I believe could end up with the world being drifted beyond what's proper and good for Israel.

ZUCKERMAN: A lot of the commentary about Abu Mazen referred to what is called the Arafat legacy; just 10 years of incitement of hatred towards Israel, towards Jews, and indeed towards the West. And people have felt that, given that as sort of the culture of the Palestinian community, that it would make it very, very difficult to reach an agreement. Is that something that you share? Is that a view that you share?

BARAK: I think to an extent Arafat clearly casts a long shadow and limits somehow the room for maneuver for Abu Mazen. And every new leader in such a society like the Palestinian one, it takes some time to consolidate his own authority and power, and probably will have to stand one or more than one attempt on his legitimacy and authority. But ultimately, it's up to the Palestinians. There is a limit to what we can expect or think we can influence them.

We were surprised at least once. I remember when Sadat, President Sadat, came to power. He was described as, "Oh, now comes this weak person; he cannot make decisions; he was sympathetic with the Nazis when he was a young officer," and so on. And everyone—within a month after [former Egyptian President] Gamal Abdel Nasser faded away, everyone in Israel began to long for Nasser. And it ended out that this guy that cannot make decisions made two tough decisions: one, to go to war, and then to go to peace. And unlike Mr. Arafat, he never looked backward; he never waited until he got into agreement every fringe group on his own society. He moved, being fully aware of the risk he's taking. In a way he paid for it, you know. At least partially the reason for his assassination had to do with his—with him to go forward with Israel. So it's about political courage.

Abu Mazen looks sincere, may I say. I don't want to give him more compliments in the public for the reasons I've already mentioned. But only time will tell. We cannot predict it.

ZUCKERMAN: Let me ask one more question before turning it over to the audience, and that is President Bush in his inaugural speech placed a great store on the values of democracy and freedom as a standard for the objectives of American policy. And previous to that, in June 24th, I think, 2002, he spoke about the idea of a Palestinian society that would be properly democratized, and that that would be the assurance that would provide Israel with the notion that they would have a democratic neighbor and not a terrorist state next door. How do you assess that both in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the wider Middle East?

BARAK: I think that bearing in mind the context of an inaugural address, it is highly important that the president was ready to make such statement. I happened to talk, years ago, with probably two dozen of Jewish dissidents who came out of the gulags of the Soviet Union and made [inaudible] to Israel. And I was surprised once and again to find to what extent the kind of rhetoric that came out from President Reagan at the time against Russia encouraged them emotionally and almost physically to keep fighting and standing firm, although they're in a cell, just to know that their cause is going ultimately to win, and that however isolated and threatened they are—and most of them realize they could be easily eliminated with hardly any fingerprints remained—that the leader of the only other superpower on earth is with them. So I would not underestimate it. For Americans, it sounds something kind of hyperbole, maybe. But it's very important for many all around the world.

But coming back to the real policies, for the daily life we should make—say, oh, everything is in great tones, and the order of priority cannot be congruent with the exact, explicit, immediate nature of such important statements. For example, in the area where you said, we already negotiated with neighbors which are short of Jeffersonian democracy, and they reached an agreement, peace agreements that are still stable and saved a lot of real human life, concrete human life. So, imagine for a moment that we would really make a statement rather than a tendency, a guideline, a direction. I believe, for example, that the Egyptians, at the present, will be more ready to help us in coordinating the pullout from Gaza through taking more and more commitments to themselves about avoiding smuggling of weapons into Gaza Strip, as a result of what they have heard several days ago, that they're expected to go toward more openness. But to expect that we will make it a precondition and stop moving as long as they do not totally change, it will backfire at us, in a way, so it doesn't serve our interests. And the same could be found on any other issue.

You know, there are still—the norms of human rights in the inner provinces of China are slightly different from those in Maryland, but to make it a major issue could create real problems in Maryland and in the Midwest. You know? If you raise the tensions with the Chinese, it will hurt you not just in regard to North Korea, where they [China] are the only player that can coerce them into stopping their nuclear program, but even about fighting the twin deficits. You are dependent to a certain extent on their appetite to keep buying these American Treasury bonds, notes—papers—and all. And the moment—and to think that the reserve that they have now will deter them from turning to other baskets just because the potential loss of value of their present investment is [inaudible], it's not sustainable.

I have a good friend who is the leading economist in China. And when I mention to him that somehow it seems that the dollar is dependent upon China, he laughed at me. He said, "It's the other way around. Your readiness to stop saving and keep consuming, your appetite, is helping us to keep the social order in China. Where the maximum rate of passing people from rural life into urban life are 20 million per year, it means that we need to keep it together without exploding for 40 years or 30 years. That cannot be done unless someone will be found out there in the world that is ready to keep buying. And if the price for it is that we have to buy these treasuries at [inaudible], we'll always pay." [Laughter] You can believe it. But imagine what will happen if at a certain point they will realize that they have some leverage, and they will ask the administration to reconsider some of its policies with regard to Taiwan based on the need for China to make some consideration about other issues.

I believe that on every issue on Earth, it's very important to know that America is a big [inaudible] for liberty and freedom, that you know what you—and you really mean it, but to run your day's issues according to the concrete needs of the problems to be resolved.

ZUCKERMAN: Well, the Chinese have always been famous for the long view, and I'm happy to say that HBO and Richard Plepler, who's sitting here, have been kind enough to support the longer view here. Why don't we see if we can get questions with some orientation towards a longer view from this audience of Mr. Barak, now?

QUESTIONER: Assuming you get to that wonderful state where they're over there and you're over here, and you reach some kind of agreement through negotiations, the Islamic Jihad and Hamas are always talking about this as a first step. It's been something nagging everybody forever. Do you think that there will be a psychological change within Palestine and that they will have what you call an allegiance to the requirements of sovereignty, or do you think that this will be an irredentist demand that is constantly going to be at your border, and that you're going to constantly have to be an armed state to protect against it?

BARAK: I hope that the first version is what's going to happen. I'm worried that the second one is more probable. We have a saying that a pessimist is an optimist with experience. So with the experience we have with our neighbors, we always envy you, for we would love to have Canada on one side and Mexico on the other, two big oceans. Unfortunately, we have this kind of [inaudible] society that we are too small to fully support, and probably no one can accelerate too much their coming into enlightenment. I don't know, it might take generations, and we have to stand there.

You know, the real reason that the terrorists hate Israel is not—or hate America is not because, you know, it supports Israel. They hate Israel, basically, because we're perceived as representing the democratic values, the Western way of life, in an island surrounded by an ocean of such [inaudible], which the terrorists seek to deepen even more, some. So I'm not very optimistic, but I believe that as a result of this realistic approach, we have to establish a Jewish state with clear borders. So we have interest in doing it. The real logic behind the Oslo process was that we cannot continue to reign over another people. It won't work. And we have—so we have to disengage ourselves and concentrate on a smaller but fully Jewish, homogeneously Jewish state. And the idea was that we cannot do it unilaterally without—a Jewish state cannot do it unilaterally without, first of all, trying bona fide to reach its own agreement. That was the story from Oslo to Camp David. And we couldn't.

So now we have two ways. We have to establish our entity, leave the door open, and be ready to negotiate. I don't know what will happen. At the best case, it will take a long time. Hopefully an agreement, glued by international kind of pressures of formalizing the structure—and that might answer your previous question—probably there is a need for certain involvement of the international community to give it the glue and to support it financially, especially on the Palestinian side, and to help the refugee problem to be solved and so on. But I'm too realistic to expect that it will really [be] ironed out within a generation. The real crime of Arafat was the way he poisoned the souls of the young generation in the Palestinian society for another 20 years.

ZUCKERMAN: This gentleman.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Jonathan Paris from Oxford [University]. Mr. Barak, my question is about the upcoming visit of Bashar Assad to Moscow and the reports that Russia is contemplating selling missiles to Syria. I have a short-term question, which is, what do you think is going to happen? And what do you think Israel's reaction will be?

But a longer-term question is—because Mort asked us to look at the long term—is that it seems to me that when Israel—when Syria was supported by [Soviet leader Leonid] Brezhnev and the Soviet Union, you had a parity, you had a deterrence, a classical deterrence, with Syria. Their big missiles were deterred by your bigger and better air force. But now, with asymmetric warfare, it seems that Israel's—[Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's government seems to be awfully concerned over these shoulder—you know, these Stinger-type missiles. It's suggesting that Israel's commercial airlines could be attacked, or it's suggesting that Hezbollah might use them. Is it a fact, then, that as Syria becomes weaker, as Arab countries around you become weaker, that threats actually become greater to Israel?

BARAK: I would make three points about this prospect of a deal. First of all, if it can be avoided or blocked, it's good, and we should do whatever we can—talking with you, probably with the Europeans and others—trying to influence them to stop it, not to do it. Even if it is completed, Israel will remain the strongest military force, probably a thousand miles around Jerusalem. So we shouldn't get panicked by it. The essence of the theory that somehow these—

ZUCKERMAN: Shoulder [inaudible]--

BARAK: --it's—yeah, a kind of shoulder missiles will be derived from these vehicle-carried missiles, and they have this improved capacity to follow sources of heat, and of course it creates a certain vulnerability.

The other element that I believe had already been blocked was ground-to-ground missiles with a CEP ["circular error probable," or measure of missile accuracy], with a highly accurate—with a CEP of no more than 20 yards. So you can direct it from probably 150 miles exactly to this half of the whole [target] or the other half of the whole [target], and that's too dangerous. It's tempting to use it when you know that you can extract a certain damage at a certain moment. I believe that that part is blocked. But I believe that the whole new issue should leave us with a lesson. We used several times our military superiority in a way that did not really serve any immediate purpose beyond showing to them or signaling to them—and sometimes there are needs, so to speak, to do something or show something. My lesson is—and I tried to exercise this when I was in power—but it's my recommendation to the present government to be more restrained when it's not about achieving something concrete that you can at least define, if not measure—think twice, if it cannot backfire at you in the longer term.

On the overall picture, Syria is much weaker. I believe that it should encourage us to find a way to cut a deal with them, but it's in their hands. And the real signal that they are serious about trying to have a breakthrough is if they will try to find these back channels, and not when we read about it on the newspapers, the headlines; it means that they have some political or public relation need probably to influence the Americans that they are more [inaudible]. We will know that they are serious only when they will initiate a back-channel contact. They are very weak by now.

ZUCKERMAN: Barbara [Walters]?

QUESTIONER: Thank you. You may very well be back in power again after the next elections. If that is the case, will you make the same offer, the same agreement that you were willing to do when you were in power, including the situation in Jerusalem? And what about the right of [Palestinians to] return [to lands they fled in Israel's 1948 war of independence]? Is that still the major deterrent, or is that just an excuse for not making an agreement? The major question is, will you make the same agreement if you become prime minister?

BARAK: Just to cover Barbara's question: In Israel we don't have the 22nd Amendment, so you can run once and again whenever you want as long as the public is ready to vote. I believe that we should be ready—and it includes myself, if and when I come back to power, to negotiate basically the same agreement. It was fair, just, honest—just the beginning probably. It will begin with Camp David and will end up with the Clinton parameters. But it's practically on the—we are already in the endgame the moment there is a partner. But that's a great "if," because as of now, there is no partner.

Now I think that in regard to Jerusalem, let me tell you honestly: I was asked by Israeli right-wingers, "What happened? Did you divide Jerusalem?" I told them, "Not exactly. I made Jerusalem larger, stronger, and more Jewish than ever in Jewish history by annexing to it Maale Adumim, Givat Zeev, Gush Etzion—three cities that we built deliberately around Jerusalem." And I was ready to—just to look, open-eyed, the realities that there are heavily populated Arab neighborhoods that—many of them had never been part of Jerusalem. We, the Jews, we used to pray for 2,000 years, "Next year in Jerusalem." But we never prayed, "Next year in Abu Dis, in Shuafat, or in ar-Ram." [Laughter] I will remember such prayers. And it's time to tell the truth. You know, I used to joke with the great [inaudible] how do you call it?


BARAK: --faithful to the land of Israel. In Likud, when they used to attack me [inaudible], give you the key of my car and ask you to take me to the suburb of Wadi Kadum, which is in Jerusalem. You are faithful to Jerusalem; you don't know even where to drive, where to take me. You don't know where is it. You've never been there. None of your faithful were ever visiting this neighborhood. And you fight for it. You know, it's something metaphoric, and I'm a great [inaudible] of Jerusalem on my own. So I think that we did the right thing. I talked to the mayor of Jerusalem, and I told him—and you know Jerusalem became the poorest city in the country. The capital is the poorest city. And I asked him, "What would you see the social welfare system in Jerusalem if I could give you an extra 10 billion shekels over a decade?" [Inaudible]

So it would change it dramatically, but where do you take the money from? I told him, "That's exactly the sum of money that we pay as social security for the Palestinian citizens of Jerusalem that we allow them to live in Jerusalem, in our capital, vote for a parliament of the Palestinian entity, and even educate their youngsters to hate Israel according to their own syllabus." That's an absolute, and we have to find a way to correct it. I think that we have to keep hold of the [inaudible], with the old city, which still include 35,000 Palestinians, but not a quarter of a million inside our capital.

And if you go to the right of return, it's still a major obstacle because, as I told Clinton at Camp David and President Arafat, I told him it's not just myself; no Israeli prime minister will ever agree to a single Palestinian refugee coming based on the political right of return. Of course we are open to humanitarian considerations. All governments in Israel, including Likud-only governments, [inaudible] thousands of Palestinians based on humanitarian considerations; family reunification—I don't know—even what they call the salmon syndrome; you know, someone wants where he is very old to come closer to the place where he was born. Everything like this is OK, but not a single one under the political right of return. I believe that it will be a stable position of us, and it does not exclude the possibility of an agreement.

ZUCKERMAN: The lady over there.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Thank you. You said earlier that you wanted to comment on European involvement in—since the peace process. Can you do that?

BARAK: On the Europeans'--

ZUCKERMAN: --involvement in the peace process.

BARAK: I think that one of the reasons that the roadmap failed, is that Arafat and now other Palestinians, they can easily see the difference between the American interpretation of the roadmap and the European one. And whenever they see these crack, Arafat was very skillful, and Abu Mazen will quickly learn, to put his feet into it and kill it. Americans use the road map as a pretext to impose upon the Palestinian Authority accountability, to be accountable for what they are doing. The Europeans are using the same pretext to save or rescue the Palestinian Authority from any kind of accountability. And when the interpretation is so different, it can't work. Instead, this same syndrome happens on other issues as well. The reason that you cannot be effective in regard to the sanctions against Iran is the fact that the Iranians feel the difference between the American position and the German and French position, and they immediately step into it. And the same will apply to any other issue. So that's why I think that there is a need of probably—without telling it too forcefully in public, there is a need for a paradigm shift in the American foreign policy that will recognize the need.

We are really living in a growingly interlinked and interdependent world, and there is a need to—generally to find a way to convince and bring forces together, and that includes even places like China and Russia. We can say whatever we want about [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, but to him the Chechen issue is real. If he will allow them go separate, here's another probably two dozens of candidates to do the same, from Balkaria, Cherkessia, to Ingushetia, they—I don't even recall all the names, and for him it's terror. And you cannot take his full weight to put on the Iranian issue if you keep isolating him so kind of actively or proactively on other issues like what he believes is terror.

So the way that the American policy treated, for example, [Ukrainian President Viktor] Yushchenko—I happen to know the man for several—a very courageous individual—and do it in such a timely, well-calibrated manner, well-coordinated with the Europeans, was a huge success. But to think of proactively acting against Putin, it's a major mistake. He is acting out of the natural instincts of a Russian dictator. I happen to know him very well from the time he was prime minister under [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin. He's a highly sophisticated person, not less sophisticated than anyone in this room, and he knows exactly what he's doing and why. And he feels that he doesn't have any other way because Russia, unlike this continent, was always—went by decree from Moscow. The name of the guy was Ivan or Peter or Lenin or Stalin—there was always someone there issuing decrees.

And to ask him to jump immediately into the North American standard, something that he will never do it, it won't work. And to deal with him as if it were even the old Soviet Union is a major mistake because he's totally different. And in the proper time you will see, when he's confident enough in his control, you will find him cooperating. And you will need him. No way to solve the problems of oil supply without being able to drill effectively in Siberia with modern techniques, have the pipeline from Angarsk to China and Japan, and building the terminal in [inaudible]. This needs cooperation for 10 years with the whole world. And the other only place is Saudi Arabia, which also it was mentioned as a kind of partially isolated—or candidate for partial isolation. And that's not the case; you cannot run the world this way without real cooperation.

ZUCKERMAN: A question over there.

QUESTIONER: I'm sure you know that last week Vice President [Richard] Cheney gave a radio interview in which he talked about the fact that it was possible that Israel would wind up acting first against Iran. I'm certainly not going to ask you if you agree with that, but I'd like to ask you to give us an impression as to what we ought to be watching; what are the signs that you think we ought to be watching for in the developments regarding the Iranian program that would lead to that sort of eventuality?

BARAK: I think that I indirectly answered this question beforehand in my remarks, and I'm not sure whether it would be good to detail anymore. I mentioned that I don't think that Israel should shape itself as the edge—

ZUCKERMAN: Point of the spear.

BARAK: --yeah, as the point of the spear in this battle. It's a major issue for the whole world. In fact, I told Putin that I think that if he just will make the circles around the borders of Iran to see where it reaches into Russia, he will end up realizing within a short time it will become a major threat for them and for us. And basically, I think that Israel should focus on its own interests. I'm wanting back into politics and plan to take over Labor Party and then to lead the country toward the end of 2006, only basically in order to shape an Israel that will be able to open its eyes to realities, cast judgments, however complicated, but pass clear judgment on issues, and muster the strength to take decisions and the courage to execute them in order to protect its democratic values, Jewish Israel, rather than the one who stands at the cutting edge of any operation to make the world better. That's something slightly beyond our own kind of recipe.

ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think, unfortunately, we're slightly beyond our time limit. But I want to thank you, on behalf of the Council, for your really stimulating conversation. Thank you very much. [Applause]






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