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Interview With Ariel Sharon

Aired April 15, 2002 - 14:01   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Israel has said for 2 1/2 weeks' time now it's in a fight for its own survival. And the military incursions are necessary, they say, to root out what they call the infrastructure of terrorism operating right now in the West Bank. For 2 1/2 weeks the world's attention and focus has been here on the Middle East.

It's also been on the prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon. To Wolf Blitzer now, and the interview now with the prime minister of Israel. Wolf, good evening.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, Bill. Thank you very much. And we are here at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much for joining us on CNN, CNN International, all of our networks. We appreciate it very much.

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let me ask you the question the whole world has been asking you. Maybe you can give us the answer. When will the Israeli military withdraw from those areas in the West Bank that they recently reoccupied?

SHARON: Ultimately we don't have any intention to say in those cities or cities of terror. We are accomplishing our mission now and I made it very clear that once we accomplish, we will be leaving. I believe that in one of those towns it might be within two days. Another one maybe will take another week. And I believe that altogether we'll be leaving those towns, as I have said.

BLITZER: Within a week there will be complete withdrawal from those towns?

SHARON: I will say in these towns. We have problems in Bethlehem.

BLITZER: In Bethlehem.

SHARON: We are ready to withdraw from there, but we have a problem there, of the terrorists, who took shelter. And...

BLITZER: In the Church of the Nativity.

SHARON: Yes, the Church of the Nativity. And once they will be leaving -- and we already agreed with the Americans what is going to happen with them -- they will be leaving there because we have accomplished our mission there. So that's what will happen.

BLITZER: So basically what you're saying is that within a week, Israel will be out of all of those areas recently reoccupied?

SHARON: I would say -- I mention two towns, first two towns.

BLITZER: You mentioned Bethlehem.

SHARON: One is Jenin and the other one is Shechem.

BLITZER: Nablus.

SHARON: Yes. About Bethlehem, that depends on what will happen there with those terrorists. As about Ramallah, we have a problem there. The problem is that those murderers of the minister of tourism, we cannot let them out. So that's a problem there. Altogether, we are on our way out and that's what is happening. That's exactly what I have said. And I was asked in the past, I said when we have accomplished, we will be leaving.

BLITZER: Excuse me, sir. Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but I may still be confused. You say within a week you will be out of all of these areas, with exception of Bethlehem, unless there's a resolution of that issue?

SHARON: And Ramallah.

BLITZER: And Ramallah. You won't be out within a week, of Ramallah.

SHARON: Unless we'll be able -- if those terrorist will be handed over to us, we'll leave there.

BLITZER: But you will stay in Ramallah around the headquarters of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority until those individuals that you want are handed over to you.

SHARON: These individuals -- and I want to say, these individuals, one would think now that they have just some people there that we are looking for. I speak about the heads of the Popular Front, a terrorist organization that instigated, planned and killed Minister Zeevi inside Jerusalem. First of all, I think justice will be made.

Second, I don't think the public opinion here will accept it. Do not accept it. And the third point is that our own general is very strict on this thing and said that he -- they must be brought and tried in Israel.

So that's our position. And together with them for the Shubuki (ph) delegation with Iran. And the one -- and we have all the documents now -- that have been final thing, those suicide bombers.

BLITZER: So what you're saying is, unless (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and some others inside Ramallah...

SHARON: Think about the murderers of -- the murderers of Minister Zeevi.

BLITZER: Unless they're handed over, you'll surround that compound in Ramallah indefinitely.

SHARON: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: And in Bethlehem, until there's a resolution of the Church of the Nativity standoff with those 200 Palestinian gunmen.

SHARON: I don't think there are 300 there.

BLITZER: Two-hundred.

SHARON: Yes, I think maybe 200. There we have agreed what to do with them.

BLITZER: You say you've reached an agreement with the U.S. government?

SHARON: Yes.

BLITZER: What is that agreement>

SHARON: The agreement is a very simple one. They have to leave their weapons behind. They must come out. They're going to be identified. And those that -- those with no connection with terror will be released immediately.

Those that have terror relations or were connected, or participated in acts of murder and have, say, been members of terrorist organizations, they will have two possibilities. One, to be tried in Israel. And the other one, to be expelled or deported from the area to a country -- which I do know if there is a country like that, already. But they are going to be taken by British plane just to bring them to that country.

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong. What you're saying is there may be individuals inside that church who have committed acts of terrorism against Israelis, but you're going to let them go free and leave the country?

SHARON: Yes. There are two groups: those that got blood on their hands will never be able to return. Those that were members of terrorist organizations, we might consider in the future -- that will be a committee that will decide about their future. In any case, they have to leave the country.

BLITZER: But they will be allowed to leave freely? You won't go after them outside of Israel?

SHARON: No. No. When Israel -- Israel sticks to it commitments.

BLITZER: And this is an agreement you say you have with the U.S. government.

SHARON: Yes...

BLITZER: The Palestinians, as you know, have rejected this proposal.

SHARON: Maybe the Palestinians expect that within a few days now there will be a change. Maybe Israel will have to leave those places. I would like to make it fairly clear, we are ready to leave Bethlehem, but only after they will be deported, or will decide to be arrested and tried in Israel.

BLITZER: And so, just to be precise. We've discussed the issue of Ramallah. You're going to stay there until you get those people you want.

SHARON: Yes.

BLITZER: We discussed that one. Jenin...

SHARON: Jenin...

BLITZER: You say within a week, your forces will be out of Jenin?

SHARON: I think it will be before.

BLITZER: It will be before a week?

SHARON: Yes.

BLITZER: You know the accusations that have been made against the Israeli military, that Israeli troops committed a massacre at that refugee camp.

SHARON: You know, you already know that this story is a lie. It's a lie. What happened there, it was a very hard battles there. I think that the Israel forces -- not like any other armed forces, being involved in a very hard battle -- were very careful not to hurt civilians. As a matter of fact, I believe that you know that already now. And when you still using this term, it's a thing...

BLITZER: I'm saying it was an accusation that was made -- an accusation that seemed to get some credibility to some people because the Israeli military prevented Red Cross, U.N., journalists, from entering that area, suggesting that perhaps Israel might have something to hide.

SHARON: We don't have anything to hide there. It's not only that we don't have anything to hide. I think that every democracy, every army would have been very, very proud at the behavior of its soldiers. It was very heavy battles. We suffered heavy casualties there. But still, were very careful not to harm civilians.

BLITZER: Do you know how many Palestinians were killed in Jenin?

SHARON: No, but I think less -- many less than has been spread in all those rumors there. BLITZER: Because we've heard everything from a few dozen to 500.

SHARON: I think there's a few dozens. But in any, case nothing to do with this figure of 500.

BLITZER: And in Nablus, you say the Israeli troops will withdraw immediately?

SHARON: No. I will say that there it might take -- I'm saying about -- not more than a week.

BLITZER: So they'll be out of Nablus within a week. The only two places that Israeli troops will remain after a week will be Ramallah and Bethlehem, assuming the standoff at the church is no resolved.

SHARON: I hope it will be resolved, because we are very much interested not to involve the church in all the other things. And we are very careful we are not entering the church. We do not enter the church. And therefore, once his agreement has been achieved, will be implemented there, we are going to evacuate Bethlehem.

BLITZER: So, all of the areas except for those two other areas, you will withdraw within a week.

SHARON: Yes, from the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), from the towns.

BLITZER: Were you at all concerned, Mr. Prime Minister, when President Bush, days ago, said -- and let me read it to you precisely what he said. And he's a strong supporter of Israel, as you well know. "I meant what I said to the prime minister of Israel. I expect there to be a withdrawal without delay."

SHARON: As a matter of fact, that is what we're doing. Said that very clearly. Once we'll accomplish, we'll be moving. I think we're involved in very heavy battles. I think there is -- it's about President Bush -- first of all, we feel a deep friendship and the relations are very friendly. And I think that we share common values and I think we share same targets.

It's acting and fighting against terror. That's what we are doing. Understand the problems. Understand the difficulties that the president is facing. Of course, the president enjoys here not only friendship, but a real admiration for his courageous decision to act against terror, and the first phase in Afghanistan. And of course, he gets all our support and backing when it comes to the next phases.

So I believe that the president has decided that one cannot get into compromise with terror. And I think that's very important we share those values. And we are ready to help, as a matter of fact, in every way.

But just imagine one thing. Today, as you know, we manage to capture Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Barghouti. Marwan Barghouti is the head of the Fatah movement and the head of the military arm, the Tanzim, that caused most of our casualties in the recent months -- were caused by them. And just imagine if we would have withdrawn, say, one day earlier. He would have been free and he would be able to continue.

So on our hand, of course we understand. And therefore, I say that Jenin, I believe it will be a matter of maybe a couple of days. It's about Shechem, it will take a few days longer. That's what we are doing. Of course, it will be not far from those towns. If it will be quiet, we'll move further. But we have to check it for several days to see the development there. In any case, we understand the difficulties.

BLITZER: Your cabinet reached the decision, we're told yesterday, that once you withdraw, it won't be a complete withdrawal. There will be these so-called buffer zones that you want to establish, at considerable expense, to try to protect your citizens?

SHARON: First, we have to protect our citizens. You know that Israel suffered very heavy casualties among civilians. And now that I had many calls calling from all around the world, asking about the candles of Mr. Arafat, he had no electricity. They were complaining he is having only two rooms, or 2 1/2 rooms. Though he got about I believe more than 20.

And so many questions were asked. I must say, nobody asked me about those two small girls that lost their parents. That went -- I speak with really small girls -- were left with no relatives, no parents. And they went to a toy shop and both killed and their mother was pregnant with twins.

Nobody asked me about this family where three members, father and two children, were murdered by the Palestinians in an act of suicide bomber. And the mother in the very bad condition.

Nobody asked me about the lady of 93 years, a survivor that survived the Holocaust in concentration camps, and was killed in the Seder on the eve of Passover, one of the most holiest days that we have. Nobody asked about that.

Everyone asked about things, other things. And that of course should bring us to -- to understand the situation -- our situation, when we see all those demonstrations in Europe. I know that in Europe there are millions of Arabs there. Millions of Arabs there.

BLITZER: You know that Israel has been widely criticized. But let's get to the issue of Yasser Arafat. When the secretary of state of...

SHARON: I would like -- with your permission, Israel has been criticized. But what happened here, the victims were criticized and the murderers got support. That would say the cynicism of the world. That's what really happened.

BLITZER: Do you blame Yasser Arafat directly for the suicide bombings that occurred here in Jerusalem, or Netanya, or Haifa? Do you say that he directly ordered those suicide bombings? SHARON: In the past, one could have saw that maybe we're just blaming him or maybe something personal. Nothing personal here. At first I tried with him very hard. I declared several times a unilateral cease-fire. We reduced our activities. I sent to him our minister of foreign affairs Mr. Peres. I wrote him.

I talked to him twice on the phone. He called me and I talked to him about this subject. And nothing happened. The only thing that happened, after every cease-fire that we declared unilaterally, or accepted their (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on their holy day to reduce our activity, we have done that. The reaction was only terror, terror and more terror.

So now once we found so many documents there, there is no doubt that he was involved in this strategy. First of all, he adopted strategy of terror. Second, he formed a coalition of terror. Of all of those terrorist organizations, including some of his own organizations, like the Tanzim, the Fatah, and the president's guards -- all those were involved in terror.

But we know now that he instructed himself inside, that money should be paid to terrorists that were involved in sending suicide bombers to our towns. And besides that, he may be a friend and he's now together with him, Mr. Fachubiki (ph). He paid the accounts of the suicide bomber for the equipment.

And now we know that, for instance, that 700 shekels, that what it cost this equipment of a suicide bomber. And he got that in the account there. They paid them, and now we know all these things. Besides that, he was very active calling Israeli-Arabs.

As you know, we have one million Palestinians who are Israeli citizens, live together with us. But he was very much involved in trying to push them and to call them to participate in terror.

BLITZER: But, Mr. Prime Minister, even your foreign minister, Shimon Peres, whom I interviewed yesterday, effectively says there's no other leader of the Palestinian people. There is no alternative to Yasser Arafat. And if you're not going to sit down and negotiate with him, who will represent the Palestinians?

SHARON: First, the problem with Mr. Arafat is that you cannot reach peace with him.

BLITZER: The secretary of state of the United States is definitely trying. He said the meetings yesterday in Ramallah were useful and constructive.

SHARON: Look, I don't -- the secretary have said, the secretary met him, spent several hours with him. I met the secretary yesterday. I'm going to see him again tomorrow. But one thing I can assure you. That if somebody wants to reach peace -- and we want to reach peace, and I myself am committed to peace.

Because I saw all the horrors of wars. I saw -- I participate in all the wars of the state of Israel. And I saw all the horror of the wars. I lost my best friends. I was very badly injured twice in battles. And I felt those terrible pains and I had to take decisions of life and death.

Therefore, I believe that I understand the importance of peace, if I may say, better than many of the politicians that speak about peace but never had that experience. But for me, peace should provide security.

BLITZER: So is the secretary of state making a mistake in meeting with Yasser Arafat?

SHARON: Look, I said that before. I already said it was a mistake. I think it was mistake. I cannot interior in the American policy. I said that meeting with Arafat only create a situation that -- the possibility to reach a cease-fire -- the first thing, which you like to do, to go and say through Tenet, which we are committed to. And then it should be completely -- it should be full cessation of terror, of citizen incitement.

And then we have to go into a Mitchell report. And then I would say -- with God's help, it's not going to be easy. It's hard for us. It's hard for the Palestinians. And altogether, I would like you to know, it's hard to be a Palestinian. I know it's hard to be a Palestinian.

BLITZER: But you know that, inadvertently, you have helped make Yasser Arafat more popular today on the Arab street among Palestinians in the Arab world, than he's ever been before. There's an enormous amount of support and sympathy for him right now.

SHARON: Yes. But that did not change the basic thing, that with him, I personally think, that we'll not be able to reach any agreement. I believe there are others. I met them here, where we are sitting now.

BLITZER: Who are the other Palestinian leaders that could replace Yasser Arafat?

SHARON: You know, Mr. Blitzer, you know that though we don't like to hear it, everyone might be replaced. There's a replacement for everyone for us. And I don't want to mention names, but you know that I met with them. Not to answer, once here and once on our farm in -- in the southern part of the country.

BLITZER: But don't all those Palestinians, with whom you met, express their support for Yasser Arafat?

SHARON: Look, one must understand that in order to have others to negotiate, it should be -- it should be clear that Arafat is not, in the eyes of the Americans, the one that should lead those negotiations, or should lead this nation. As long as people are coming to see him and he's embraced and praised, that only, I would say, postpones that possibility and altogether postpones the possibility to reach peace earlier.

BLITZER: The Bush administration rejected your ideas on this particular issue about maintaining contact with Yasser Arafat.

SHARON: Are you asking if the American...

BLITZER: The American government is looking to Yasser Arafat still to try to achieve a cease-fire.

SHARON: Understand that -- I believe that the American administration, which we really appreciate and keep close contact -- I don't think they that have -- I think that they know Arafat well. But they have other problems here in the Arab world. Problems which they would like -- which makes it harder for them. Therefore I think they turn to Arafat.

But if I can express my position about that, with him I don't think it would be any possibility to reach peace.

BLITZER: I want to move on and talk about this regional peace conference you proposed. But let me give you a chance to perhaps explain to our viewers around the world, what you meant when you said in the newspaper "Maariv," a daily newspaper here in Israel on February 1st.

You said, "In Lebanon, there was an agreement not to liquidate Yasser Arafat. In principle, I'm sorry that we didn't liquidate him," referring to 1982 during the Israeli invasion when you expelled Arafat from Beirut.

SHARON: I think that -- I don't think we have to deal with what happened in the past.

BLITZER: Are you sorry you didn't kill him then?

SHARON: Look, I don't think that we have to deal with everything in the past. I think we have to look forward, how we can reach an agreement, cease-fire, peace, which will bring us to a -- to really live in security. And with God's help, I would say to bring to the end of conflict.

I don't think that we have to deal with what happened. It's so complicated. It's so complicated now. Let's deal with the current situation and with the future.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the future. You've put forward a proposal for a peace conference, a regional peace conference, but without Arafat participating. You want Palestinians to participate, but not Arafat. The Palestinians say that's a nonstarter.

SHARON: Look, what I've said -- I propose these original talks between the leaders of the countries here. They believe in peace and would like, I would say, to move toward peace. And I thought about Israel. I thought about Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and maybe Morocco. These countries are a coalition of peace.

And we have a coalition of war that is Iran, Iraq and Syria. These are the coalition -- I say coalition versus coalition.

BLITZER: But you don't want Arafat to participate.

SHARON: Look, I think the only thing, if somebody wants to reach peace -- and I want to reach peace -- I don't think that with him you can reach peace. But I don't think that that is the point. The idea, I think it was a good idea. And I'm glad that, in many case by now, it got positive reactions by the American administration. That's the important thing.

BLITZER: Some American officials are suggesting this meeting should occur at the foreign minister's level so that you can fudge the issue of whether Arafat would attend. He could dispatch one of his top advisers, one of his top aides. Would that be acceptable to the Israeli government?

SHARON: Yes, why not? Look, we have been making every effort to reach peace. Not exactly what you have been, I would say, showing. But we made every effort to reach peace. I would say for years -- 34 years. Doesn't make a difference who will be in the meetings. It will be foreign ministers meeting. It will be the leaders meeting. And that's not a problem.

The problem is how to try and talk to Arab leaders. And I -- I was ready to go to Beirut, which (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But therefore it should be done. I think that's what's important. And it might start on this level, or another level. It doesn't make any difference.

BLITZER: You know, the Palestinians make the point that there's been a 35-year Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories. And they feel frustrated. They're angry. They don't have F-16s. They don't have Apache helicopters. They have to do something to try to liberate their land.

SHARON: Look, if you want, we'll discuss the historical side here. But it's not the case now. But, if speaking about occupation, we never occupied any Palestinian land. They never had independent, never had any government there. They never got the independence when this area was under a Jordanian occupation for 19 years.

All these areas, how they became occupied? They become occupied because in 1948, seven Arab countries invaded Israel. And as a result of this war, this part stayed under Jordanian occupation. At the beginning it was Iraqi and Jordanian. The Iraqis withdrew. And then they stayed under occupation of Jordan for 19 years. So in effect, who occupied Jerusalem?

BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister, unfortunately we don't have much time for history. But let me ask you one final question, because we're almost all out of time. The secretary of state went to Beirut today. He went to Damascus today, to try to restrain the situation along Israel's northern border.

How tense of a situation is this? Because there's a great fear that the Hezbollah mortars could result in Israeli retaliation and a broader regional war, perhaps even with Syria.

SHARON: So if just to say another sentence about what we were talking before. I believe that we may reach peace. I will make every effort to reach peace. I'm going to make painful concessions for a durable, true peace. I cannot make any concession whatsoever when it comes to the Israeli security or the security to the very existence of the state of Israel. Here, there's not going to be any (UNINTELLIGIBLE) whatsoever.

Now coming to a discussion. I think the situation is very dangerous there. I think that we show restraint. We have been showing restraint. We are under shelling daily. And we have what happened there, that Iran build there an infrastructure where they're having maybe 8,000 or more Katyusha rockets. They have other rockets there, much longer range.

They have there the Iranian guards there that are acting together with Hezbollah. All that could not have happened without the support of Syria. And that, of course, is a major threat I think in the current time. There is a danger to stability in the Middle East. It's Lebanon.

We've withdrew from southern Lebanon. The Lebanese army had to be deployed around the border. The Syrians never alarmed them. Instead, the Hezbollah sit on the border. And they create this tension.

And we make every effort not to -- not to, say, enable any dangerous developments with the nation, because we don't want it. We understand the danger to stability of the Middle East. I'm very glad that the secretary have been there today. He talked to me about it yesterday. We talked about it. I believe that he talked to them in a way that they understand now what are the dangers.

And we have, of course, to watch the development. What declarations in this part of the world are much less important than (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And I hope that this will be avoided. And I hope that they will make an effort of course not to escalate.

We are against any escalation of the situation in the Middle East. And of course the Iranians are working on -- the Iranians working now among the Palestinians' war, Israeli citizens, inside through the Islamic movement. And then of course they are keeping contact with Mr. Arafat. And they're still smuggling weapons. Now they do it via Lebanon.

The Iraqis are smuggling weapons. And though Jordan takes all of the necessary steps to stop it, but they do it. As a matter of fact, the Iraqis are paid $25,000 to every family of suicide bombers or suicide terror. And it then develops.

I think that maybe, I think altogether we discussed with our friends the Americans, altogether that might be one of the greatest dangers to the free world, that kind of suicide bombers, suicide shooters, that we can see here. But altogether, with all those problems, and we've talked only about problems, I believe that we can look forward with optimism.

I'm sorry that Israel is known for its, say, being in a fighting, in wars, and so on. And we have been facing Arab terror now for more than 120 years. But Israel, I will be, I hope, that it'll come to a day to be quiet. Israel will be able to show its tremendous achievement in every field, from high-tech to research and science. From wonderful music to most beautiful in developed agriculture.

I think we are leading now in biotechnology. We are very maybe far ahead from any other countries when it comes to seawater desalination. I think that there are tremendous advantage here.

But I mean, the world sees us as a nation holding a sword in our hand. But I must say that we are holding a sword in our hand in order to be with our other hand. We couldn't have achieved tremendous achievement. And that's the strength of Israel, being a democracy. The only democracy in this region, with very high moral values and tremendous achievements in every field.

BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister, unfortunately we are all out of time. I want to thank you once again for joining us on CNN.

SHARON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. And I know that Israel will be celebrating its 54th independence day beginning tomorrow night. Congratulations to you and to your country for that.

SHARON: Thank you so much.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Bill, back to you.

HEMMER: Wolf, thank you. I want to get Palestinian reaction right now to the previous interview we were just listening to for the past 35 minutes.

Saeb Erakat is the chief Palestinian negotiator. He joins us tonight by way of Jericho. Mr. Erakat, good evening once again to you. It seems like we talk just about every day here. I want to know from you, sir, your reaction to Ariel Sharon's words. At the beginning of that interview, he said, "we are on our way out," related to the military incursions right now. He said possibly another week. Palestinian reaction to that is what?

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Well, Bill, with all due respect, that's not what he said. He said that we will not withdraw immediately, as the world is asking him to do. He said we may pull out of built-up areas -- he is playing with words.

As matter of fact, what he declared tonight, he is declaring every Palestinian town, village and refugee camp as a big prison. And he said we will only move from built-up areas, even after a week from Jenin, and I don't know when from Nablus. But never from Ramallah or Bethlehem and other areas. I think he's playing and he's defying the president of the United States. He's defying the international community.

But, Bill, the most important thing tonight, if you give me a chance to respond to these 35 minutes he had on TV... HEMMER: Sure.

ERAKAT: And I cannot get to Jerusalem because you know I'm confined to Jericho, as all Palestinians. I believe that Sharon tonight showed that he is beyond rehabilitation. This man will never change. He denies the occupation. And he denies the massacres. And he says, "it's hard to be a Palestinian," and his solution is to kill them.

When we ask why we're facing this hardship, 35 years being subjugated to the Israeli occupation, Sharon's solution is to kill us or, in his eye, to maintain his military occupation. And we have to protect the soldiers who occupy us. Protect the settlers, who take our land away from us.

And if we resist this occupation and cry freedom, then we're terrorists. And that's very easy logic to Sharon. The third point he mentioned tonight, he wants to appoint our leader! This man, in 1998, when we were in Wye River, I remember standing next to President Clinton, President Arafat and Mr. Sharon. President Arafat offering his hand for Sharon to shake it. Shake hands. And Sharon refused it.

So it's not -- the thing was not born yesterday. We all know that Sharon stood against the peace process, against the Oslo Accords. And tonight his declaration is to maintain the Israeli occupation and to reorganize the Israeli occupation.

And it's really ironic that this man says he is committed to peace. What peace, when you build 35 settlements in one year? What peace when you confiscate Palestinian land? He denies the occupation. He denies Palestinians' cry for freedom. He never mentioned the war.

That I will pull out. He knows that the Palestinians (UNINTELLIGIBLE) map of Israel show, on 78 percent of the land, and accepted to have the state on this red dots appearing on your TV, on 22 remaining percent. That's the June 4, '67 border. And yet not one word was mentioned tonight.

He spoke about buffer zones, that he will maintain the occupation through them, which means more suffering for the Palestinians. And then speaks about survival of Israel. We have recognized Israel. We don't want any harm to come to Israel or the Israelis and Palestinians. On the contrary, we want to live in peace side by side with Israel.

But the survival of Israel does not achieve through the destruction of Palestinians. Through the destruction of Palestinian way of life...

HEMMER: Mr. Erakat, if I could.

ERAKAT: Yes.

HEMMER: I apologize for the interruption. I just want to move to different areas. You mentioned something very specific in there. Ariel Sharon said peace is not possible in his opinion, as long as Yasser Arafat is in charge of the Palestinian leadership. Are you saying that peace is not possible so long as Ariel Sharon is prime minister of Israel?

ERAKAT: I don't choose the leaders of Israel. I respect the democrat choice of Israelis. The Israelis have elected Sharon. He is the prime minister of Israel. And it's not up to me to decide who runs Israel. I will not downgrade myself to the level of saying that I will appoint leaders for Israel.

So it's up to the Israelis to choose. But I think they know by now who they brought in to rule them and to have them at this critical situation. The point I want to...

HEMMER: Let's get back to the withdrawal, then. I want to get back to the withdrawal. Specifically he did indicate that within a week there would be substantial pull-outs. He said they would move back away from the towns. He said they would wait and see, gauge the quiet, then possibly pull back even further.

But he said with the exception of Bethlehem and Ramallah, there would be no movement there. Specifically, Ramallah. He said he wanted -- his words, now -- the wanted killers of the tourism minister back in mid-October are right now taking refuge inside Yasser Arafat's compound. Is the Palestinian leadership willing to turn these men over?

ERAKAT: Well, Bill, I think we have agreements that guide our relations and govern our relations with Israel. And I would advise Mr. Sharon to look at article 27F and act 4, the legal annex of 1995 interim agreement. We have our core systems. We have our jails. We have our legal jurisdiction over our country.

He has no right to ask us to transfer Palestinians. But the fact he's coming in with guns, demanding that we hand him over prisoners in our jail -- and all those he mentioned are prisoners in our jail. And we said we'll bring them to court -- just shows you that this man is not about to respect any agreement signed. And the only agreement he has and the only logic he has is the logic of the arrogance of power.

I think, you know, don't be fooled, Bill, here. I don't want anyone to be fooled, you know. When he says I will pull out from built up areas, it means that he's turning our towns, villages, refugee camps, into big prisons. Bill, I said so many times, we are normal people. We have people who need kidney dialysis, who needs cancer treatment, who needs diabetes. We could not get a place to hospitals, to ambulances.

And he talks about the behavior of his soldiers. When they stop people from being taken to hospital by Red Cross ambulances or other ambulances. When he stop medicine and food supply. Well, if this is the behavior he's proud of, I'm really scared. Because I want my Israeli neighbors to stick to their values, to stick to their code of ethics. And what the army did in the Palestinian areas is really going to be a scar on their face for many, many years to come.

All I want to say is that... HEMMER: I want to move to a different area. Allow me to move to a different area right now. As you well know, over the past few days there's been a lot of steam gathering right now about the potential for an international conference.

Earlier today it was suggested that it might be taking place at the ministerial level, perhaps the foreign ministers of a number of moderate Arab countries in the region. Also it included the United States, Israel and the Palestinians. Would you be willing to attend a conference such as that, if it meant further talking about how to end the current crisis, and working towards some sort of political solution and a peace agreement that would follow?

ERAKAT: First of all, Bill, there are two things at the table now. One is what Sharon suggested. Sharon wants a regional conference. He wants to choose who will attend the conference and who will not attend the conference. He wants to appoint who will come from the Palestinian side, as he mentioned, which is absolutely, you know, something that we cannot accept. It's unacceptable.

Now, there are ideas being touted by Secretary Powell. What the ideas that are being floated, Secretary Powell is saying there will be no peace without security, and no security without peace. So, he is trying to engineer now a formula of an interconnected approach of security, political and economic issues. A sense of issues that would lead to ending the Israeli occupation as President Bush himself declared, ending the Israeli occupation and establishing the type of Palestine in accordance with the limitation of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

Now, once we continue our deliberation with Secretary Powell on this idea, I don't think we will mind to attend an international conference, once we know the substance of this conference, once we agree on the terms of reference for this conference. Once we know that it's not going to be the idea of just more talking about talking. Because Sharon knows very well that in 1991, we went with the Prime Minister Shamir, who was the boss in 1991, to Madrid. We agreed on terms of...

HEMMER: Sir, you're not dismissing the possibility of getting together then, is that right?

ERAKAT: No, no. We never dismissed the idea of an international conference with clear cut terms of reference, with a clear-cut substance, and with a clear-cut road map, as to where to go in terms of the guarantees, the assurances and the timelines and elements of Security Council resolution.

But I think Sharon's idea of a conference, he wants to really waste our time. We all know. And he said tonight, there is no occupation. He denies the occupation. He does not mention once the word "I will withdraw from occupied territories." "I will stop settlement as per Mitchell," when he says we accept Mitchell. Mitchell calls for a full cessation of settlement activities. He did not mention it. We all know by heart that Sharon is out there to waste time. Sharon wants to maintain the occupation, wants to deepen the occupation. And I can tell you, Bill, this will not bring security for us or the Israelis. There will never be a military solution.

This conflict -- and I hope that Sharon one day in his life, before he goes, will understand that Palestinians and Israelis cannot place in accordance in a zero-sum game. Either two winners or two losers. Two winners...

HEMMER: I want to go to a couple of different areas. Specifically, I want to -- understood, sir. But, Mr. Erakat, I want to talk about Jenin in a moment. In a second we're going to go back and listen to part of the interview with Wolf Blitzer and Ariel Sharon, what he had to say about Jenin.

But first, Marwan Barghouti, a very close aide to Yasser Arafat, was arrested inside a home in Ramallah early on Monday. He is largely credited, from a number of different circles, as being a chief coordinator of their current uprising, or intifada -- 18 months old right now. How much of a blow is the arrest of Marwan Barghouti to the intifada, sir?

ERAKAT: Well, Bill, I don't know if you know that Marwan Barghouti is an elected member of the Palestinian legislative council.

HEMMER: That I do know. I'm quite aware.

ERAKAT: Congress, parliament. Marwan Barghouti has immunities, in accordance with agreements signed. Marwan Barghouti was one of the first Palestinians to begin dialogue with the Israelis. Marwan Barghouti is a man who, like every single Palestinian, we seek our freedom. We seek our independence. We cry our freedom.

Now, I believe that, by arresting Marwan Barghouti tonight, Sharon is really undermining our efforts with the Americans in order to de-escalate the situation. To contain the violence. And he's undermining our efforts to revive hope in the minds of Palestinians, that this is doable.

And I'm sure the list of accusations to any Palestinian Israeli is out there, from terror to providing killings, to innocent people being massacred. He has it all. And we are all guilty until proven innocent. That's the logic of Sharon.

So I really demand tonight, and I urge the Americans and the international community in helping us get Marwan Barghouti released immediately. They have no reason whatsoever to arrest Marwan Barghouti. It's not a secret that Marwan Barghouti is a man who cries for our freedom. We all do that.

Tomorrow it could be any Palestinian...

(CROSSTALK)

HEMMER: ... he was the man who was responsible for a number of terrorist activities carried out against Israelis. Is that not true? Is that what you're saying?

ERAKAT: My, God, they said they arrested him now. And -- just about an hour ago. And now they already have the charge sheet and they have the verdict and they have the judge, the jury and passing the sentence immediately. It is expected that people would ask Marwan Barghouti to have a lawyer to argue his case.

And that's what I'm telling you. Every Palestinian has a sheet of accusations ready, and a sentence that's ready to be passed. And this cannot be accepted.

Anyway, Bill, all I want to say is that we are exerting every possible effort for Secretary Powell in order to ensure the success. Today I had a meeting with my American colleagues. And in terms of preparing the grounds for the road map that's required for the interconnection between the political issues, the economic issues, the security issues. I believe we came a long way.

I hope that we can really reconstruct a road map that will take us in the direction of having a light at the end of the tunnel. And I hope we can do that very soon. But as of tonight, hear Sharon tonight, Bill, I would say that God help the Palestinians and the Israelis.

HEMMER: OK. Listen, let's talk about Jenin. And this is a subject that simply has not gone away. I know you and I have had long discussions about this over the past week's time. And there are wide disagreements between what the Palestinians say took place there, and what the Israelis are saying. I'm going to show you a short sound bite from the interview with Wolf Blitzer. Here is Ariel's Sharon's take on what has happened in that refugee camp in Jenin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHARON: You already know that this story is a lie. It's a lie. What happened there, it was a very hard battle there. I think that the Israeli forces, not like any other armed forces, being involved in a very hard battle, were very careful not to hurt civilians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a short time ago. Mr. Erakat, I have not personally been to Jenin. I've been following the reports on both sides. I'm curious to know, have you been there? And what do you know about the facts that took place in that battle of the refugee camp?

ERAKAT: I have not been there, Bill. This morning at 6:00 I was called by the mayor of Jenin. He told me that he and the Red Cross people are about to enter the refugee camp of Jenin. An hour later they called me back. They told me they were allowed to enter one street. They found 20 bodies on that given street. And other areas were forbidden for them to go.

And they asked for equipment, for experts to diffuse certain mines and unexploded shells from the Israelis. And then I think they left the camp. Look, Bill, I told you yesterday. If the number of Palestinians who were killed in that refugee camp is as small as they say, I'm willing to come to your TV and say we made a mistake.

But when Sharon tonight says it's not dozens, but it's not 500. What is it? Four-hundred? Three-hundred? What is it? And the point about the civilians, where are the civilians in this refugee camp? Is there a refugee camp left?

You know, I have a list of 1,600 Palestinians now from this refugee camp who called me. People are missing their mothers, their fathers, their daughters, their husbands, their wives. Their little children. Families that were fragmented. Families that haven't seen anything other than the atrocities and war crimes in this refugee camp.

And I stand that there were crimes committed in this refugee camp. This was a flagrant violation of international law. And I stand by the term "massacres" were committed in the refugee camp. And I know for sure that witnesses told me that they dug graveyards and have buried a lot of people...

HEMMER: Mr. Erakat, I'm almost out of town. But certainly the facts will reveal themselves. Eight agencies now getting in. We do know journalists are getting in. Much greater access right now in Jenin. And before I let you go, just about 15 seconds left. Will Colin Powell go to Ramallah tomorrow and sit down with Yasser Arafat again? Do you know if indeed that will happen?

ERAKAT: This is being talked about now. There's a good possibility but nothing's confirmed as of yet, Bill.

HEMMER: OK. Thank you, Mr. Erakat. Saeb Erakat, chief Palestinian negotiator, by way of telephone in Jericho. And there you have it, to our viewers, both sides right now on what continues to be a dualing and deadly conflict here in the Middle East.

Certainly, Secretary of State Colin Powell keeping very close tabs on all of this. So too they are at the White House. Our senior White House correspondent John King now, from the front lawn back in D.C. with an update on what we are picking up now. John, good afternoon.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon to you, Bill. Administration officials here obviously keeping close track of the developments, including that just concluded interview with Wolf Blitzer and the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

From the White House view, some things to view in the context of the current situation. And we should stress that as somewhat hopeful. The prime minister saying that most of the Israeli troops will be out of the territories within a week. He made some key exceptions, of course. Ramallah and Bethlehem being the two big exceptions Prime Minister made.

And the prime minister also saying that even though he has proposed a select group of regional leaders, including himself, meet for a conference, that he had no objections to the compromise now being talked about by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

That would be a meeting at the foreign minister level that could involve a Palestinian delegation. So, from the White House, that viewed as some progress that the Israeli government opened to a new diplomatic mission, if you will. That it involve some sort of a regional conference.

However, what they draw here as the bottom line at the White House, forget about what was said about the specifics, about Jenin or about a conference or about the current situation on the ground, and look back at the tone of voice, when the prime minister was talking about the Palestinians, in your conversation just now between Mr. Erakat, about the prime minister and the Israeli government.

U.S. officials say the details, in some ways, are meaningless at the moment because of the obvious anger and distrust. That is the greatest frustration, the greatest obstacle right now, to making any progress on the ground. And as every day continues in this intifada, every day continues in Secretary Powell's mission, U.S. officials say the temperature, if you will, appears to still be headed up, not down. You can't make progress in that situation -- Bill.

HEMMER: John, thank you. John King of the White House.

HEMMER: My last question to Saeb Erakat Was whether or not Colin Powell will go back to Ramallah and sit down with Yasser Arafat. Back in Jerusalem now. Andrea Koppel now with word and news on this. Andrea, good evening to you.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Bill. That's right. Late word from a senior administration official who tells CNN that in fact Secretary Powell will be going to Ramallah tomorrow to meet for the second time with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In addition, a senior State Department official tells CNN that Secretary Powell is expected to meet for the third time with the Israeli prime minister. But the news that we've really been sort of wondering whether or not it would happen, is whether or not the meeting with Yasser Arafat would go forward. And that has been confirmed.

I was just going to actually pick up on what John King was saying. I think this is a case of either the glass being half full or half empty. It depends how you look at it. I would say, just from having spoken to Secretary Powell's aides and other Israeli and Palestinian officials, the very fact that you have Ariel Sharon saying that it will be impossible, in his eyes, to reach a peace deal with Yasser Arafat is going to be viewed as an almost insurmountable hurdle by the United States and certainly those here in Jerusalem.

After all, Secretary Powell is -- and the Bush administration does view Chairman Arafat to be the elected and legitimate leader of the Palestinian people. And if you have the other side, the Israeli side, saying that it can't do business with him, that is going to make life almost impossible for those who are trying to bring about a cease-fire and a resolution to this. Secondly, the idea that Ariel Sharon just raised there, that they would be withdrawing from most West Bank cities and towns within the next week, however remaining in Ramallah and in Bethlehem, among others, is in addition going to raise concern, not only among Palestinians but also within the Arab world, Bill, which has basically said to Secretary Powell, for the last more than a week, that until Israel completely withdraws -- and they are very specific about that word -- completely withdraws from the West Bank, they're not going to use the clout and credibility that they have with Chairman Arafat to pressure him to make the moves that the Israelis want.

So this is going to make things extremely difficult, an already difficult mission for Secretary Powell. One note of promise I can also confirm for you. State Department officials say that what Ariel Sharon just laid out there when he talked about the potential plan for resolving the standoff at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. A senior State Department official tells CNN that that in fact is his understanding as to how this would work.

It has as yet to be resolved, of course. But it does appear, Bill, that there is a plan in place right now, and they just need to sort of finesse the details. Presumably that will be one among many things that Secretary Powell will want to discuss when he returns to Ramallah to meet with Chairman Arafat -- Bill.

HEMMER: Indeed. Andrea, thank you. Andrea Koppel, late word tonight again here in Jerusalem, about further diplomacy and meetings that will indeed take place tomorrow in the region, in Ramallah specifically, at the compound of Yasser Arafat.

To our viewers around the world, we thank you for watching us the past two hours here. Ariel Sharon, the prime minister indicating that some sort of military pullback will happen within the week. However with two exceptions. He said that Bethlehem and Ramallah, no change there given the current standoff in both locations.

For the Palestinians' perspective right now, they say get out. And if you want to forge some sort of meaningful cease-fire, they will not have that until the military is withdrawn from the West Bank. This will not end tonight. Certainly we'll track it again tomorrow. And again, the meeting in Ramallah, Colin Powell and Yasser Arafat will sit down for the second time now here in the region.

I'm Bill Hemmer once again from Jerusalem. We'll see you again very soon from here in the Middle East, and the search for peace.

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