Fighting Words, Hard Choices: Terror Is a Constant. but Claims of Corruption and Dirty Politics Have Made the Two Main Candidates in Israel's Upcoming Elections Even More Feisty
Weymouth, Lally, Newsweek
Byline: Lally Weymouth
Suddenly, not only peace or war with the Palestinians is at stake in the upcoming Israeli elections. Allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his two sons have become a key issue. But Sharon's fall in the polls has halted in recent days, and he's climbed back some. That is partly because Amram Mitzna, the dovish former general who leads the opposition Labor Party, has failed to convince voters that he can make them any safer than they are now. NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth talked with both candidates last week in Israel. Excerpts:
WEYMOUTH: What do you say to those who claim that your son borrowed large sums of money illegally, and that campaign contributions sent to you from the U.S. may have been against the law?
SHARON: That is purely a political issue--an attempt to change the government using lies. If somebody wants to conduct an inquiry, I'm ready to give every answer. But I am busy conducting a war against terror, preparing this country for a war with Iraq, and talking about plans for the day after [the downfall of Saddam's regime]. I don't have time for these things.
If the United States attacks Iraq, how likely is it that Saddam Hussein will attack Israel?
The United States will take all necessary steps to prevent an attack on Israel. Everyone understands that if Israel is attacked, Israel will react.
Have the Americans done everything they can?
President Bush emphasized that if Israel is attacked before the American attack starts, Israel can do everything it needs to defend itself. But once the Americans are in action, everyone understands the sensitivity of the situation.
The majority of Israelis favor building a wall to separate Israel from the territories.
These electronic fences are another means to help fight terror, but not more than that.
So will you build a wall?
We will build it, but don't expect it to answer the problem.
Is there any hope to get a deal with the Palestinians?
We could have gotten into dealing with the Palestinians if we had had somebody to talk to.
What do you think of the peace plan of the so-called quartet: the U.S., the U.N., the EU and Russia?
Oh, the quartet is nothing! Don't take it seriously! There is [another] plan that will work.
What is the outline of this plan?
First, [Yasir] Arafat should be removed from an influential position. Secondly, a prime minister should be appointed. Third, reforms should be undertaken, mostly in the security organizations. Then there are problems on the financial side. I think our estimate of Arafat's property is about $2 billion. Once the reforms have been completed, there should be free and democratic elections.
What will Israel do?
I am ready, if they have taken steps against terror, to recognize a fully demilitarized Palestinian state without final borders--having only police equipped with light weapons. Israel will control the external borders and will have the right to fly over the territory. Now we come to phase three: if there's no terror whatsoever, then we will have to decide about the final borders.
Can you describe your relationship with President Bush?
The basis for the relationship is credibility. "Yes" is yes and "no" is no.
You said Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction in Syria.
I said that we have information that chemical and biological weapons were sent to Syria by Iraq. We don't know if those weapons stayed in Syria or were sent elsewhere.
People say there's a cloud hanging over Likud.
Now you take me back to this nonsense. I will not hesitate to take the hardest steps against anyone accused of using illegal means to get elected. You started talking about my son. My son Gilad, 36 years old, the father of three, was never interrogated by the police. …