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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak Discusses Possibility of Peace Process 'Timeout'; Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat Responds

Aired October 20, 2000 - 2:26 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Israeli television is now replaying a videotape of an interview with the prime minister, Ehud Barak. We're going to pick that off the satellite now and bring you a portion of it.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We have no alternative other than to be unified. We have to look them in the eyes, we have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder until the other side understands that they won't manage to get us to yield by violence or any other way.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (through translator): How is this going to happen, though, in practical terms? Are you intending after the Arab summit to declare a timeout period? If so, when? What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for further developments in the field?

BARAK (through translator): Immediately after the summit, particularly if, as we see now, the Sharm conclusions are not bringing about a quieting down, we will declare a timeout period in order to reevaluate the situation and reevaluate the political process. We were those who are prepared to consider far-reaching consequences to bring about peace. We're also those who can't ignore what's happened in the past few weeks. We can't say nothing has happened.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (through translator): A timeout period of how long? Weeks, months?

BARAK (through translator): As long as is necessary in order to evaluate the situation. Have to see what we need to coordinate with regard to opposition, with regard to the other side, what we expect to give in the lessons that we have learned from these painful occurrences.

And I'm saying to you that I do understand the anguish and the apprehension among the public. We see people on the left and the right who see that our neighbor, our partner for peace in the last decade is a far more problematic and complex partner. There are people who, if they think you're going to call a timeout, I'm not sure they'll carry on supporting you.

Well, you have to look there are political implications on both sides. People on the left wing feel awful because they are realizing the Palestinians aren't what we thought. People on the right feeling awful because becoming clear that if we really want to be -- live in peace and we won't live by the sword forever, then the peace will be far less than our dreams. And I say that, nevertheless, that is the truth. And this...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (through translator): Excuse me, Prime Minister. So your position, do you believe that one day another partner will come about who will agree that 80 percent of the settlers will stay in place?

BARAK (through translator): I have no doubt whatsoever that if we stay -- stand fast with regard to what is vital for the state of Israel...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (through translator): What about the others? What about us?

BARAK (through translator): We're not living in a vacuum. It's only if the other sides feel that we are united. Only then will we be able to carry out an evaluation. I'm in favor of peace of the brave. I am not prepared, and I will never be prepared, to have a peace of ostriches where you put your head in the sand and you let people just sweep us out of the way. That we can never do.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (through translator): Last question. You met yesterday with Yitzhak Shamir. What did it do to you?

BARAK (through translator): Well, this is something we set up a long time ago. If you really want to know, this situation today in Israel reminds us of the situation when Shamir was involved in the situation where the scuds were exploding. This was a very tense situation. There were people saying, attack, IDF is strong, show them. And he didn't. Among those, I was one of those who said that we had to stand fast and not just act according to our emotions. So we have to see.

And we saw, finally, how smart Shamir was, how he wasn't dragged into things. He was very smart, he was very restrained. He did what was right for Israel, and that is how we will behave as well.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (through translator): Thank you very much, Prime Minister Barak.

BARAK (through translator): Thank you and a happy Timhat Torah (ph) to everyone at home.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATERS: Israeli television replaying a portion of the interview it conducted with the prime minister, Ehud Barak, just a short while ago. You heard the essence of what the prime minister had to say in reaction to what some regard as the most ferocious day of violence in the West Bank since the current spate of violence began on September 28, and certainly since the signing of the cease-fire agreement in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt last week.

The prime minister saying we will not yield to violence, but the prime minister also added that we may have to take a timeout to reevaluate our position, vis-a-vis the peace process. When asked how long a timeout the prime minister was willing to take, he said as long as necessary. He acknowledged the unease on the left and the right and the urge of those on the left for a peace deal with the Palestinians, but also the push from the right to look the Palestinians in the eye, as he said it, and not to yield to the violence. We cannot ignore the violence.

We also have some reaction on the other side from the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erakat, who spoke with CNN just a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: This is precisely what we've been talking about what we've been warning against. It's the exit strategy from the peace process. I believe this is Sharon's condition on Barak to make the emergency or national unity government they want, or Shas conditions.

I'm afraid that once they say they're going to contemplate and they're going to assess the situation, when I say the worst did not come yet, maybe the next step we will see as part of the Israeli action, see some tanks rolling in Palestinian towns and villages. And I think it's absolutely inappropriate for Mr. Barak to insinuate a threat to the Arab leaders meeting in Cairo, warning them in advance of their decisions. I think this is absolutely unacceptable and inappropriate for the Arab leaders.

And I believe the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) timeout is something we've been expecting as part of Mr. Barak's exit strategy. As far as the truce or the deadline, whatever, he never carried out President Clinton's statement. Today we have nine deaths, 279 wounded, and I'm afraid the situation is deteriorating by the hour.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: There you have it from Saeb Erakat. He is the chief Palestinian negotiator in this Middle East process. And you heard his interpretation of the prime minister's remarks as a threat to Arab leaders who will be meeting in an Arab League summit this weekend in Cairo. The worst may be yet to come, says Erakat, as the Israelis consider a national emergency government including Ariel Sharon.

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