Cal Thomas, the most widely syndicated conservative voice in America, spent an hour with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Oct. 12, and in this compelling interview, Sharon outlines the five conditions that must be met before the peace process can proceed. Also, Sharon comments on the security wall, which he will continue to build in the face of U.N. disapproval, the probability for more attacks in Syria and the value of preemptive strikes.
QUESTION: Given the recent acts of terrorism, do you consider the "road map" dead?
ANSWER: No. If there will be a serious Palestinian prime minister who makes a 100 percent effort to end terrorism, then we can have peace. Each side has to take steps. If terror continues, there will not be an independent Palestinian state. Israel will not accept it, if terror continues.
Q: Even you have said if we can just get the terrorist incidents down to a certain number, that would qualify for moving ahead. What level are we talking about?
A: I have said that in order to move forward, there should be quiet. If the Palestinians will make 100 percent of effort, but a crazy Palestinian person comes out shooting or something like that, we will take it into consideration. So the next question is, what do I mean by 100 percent effort?
First, the terrorists will be arrested, interrogated, punished.
Second, Palestinian terrorist organizations will be dismantled - the Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Popular Front, Democratic Front and all those security organizations that are involved in terror.
Third, their weapons will be collected and handed to a third party, that can be only the United States, and destroyed.
Fourth, the Palestinians need to take serious preventive steps (to stop terror).
Fifth, there should be effort to start educating on peace.
If they would take these steps seriously, and there would be an act of terror, we will take it in consideration, but if they will not take these steps, every act of terror will be an act of terror.
Q: They have had several opportunities to do these things in the past, various agreements, covenants, pledges, promises. Have you any evidence that the Palestinians have fulfilled any of those?
A: Not so far.
Q: In what would you place your faith that they would do in the future what they have not done in the past?
A: Only performance. Promises are not going to be considered as something serious. And even written agreements are not a real step.
Q: Your critics, of course, say that they would like to see performance on Israel's side, a cessation of what they call the settlements. Do you have any intention of acceding to those wishes?
A: Yes. We do not build new Jewish communities in Samaria, Judea and Gaza. The United States has never accepted our building of communities or of the fence. Yet, I've managed to develop relations between Israel and the United States even though President Bush never supported settlements.
I know that the United States doesn't like them; and the United States knows our position on these issues. The basis for our relations, of course, beside the strategic common interest, is that we look at terror in the same way, that we never compromise with terror, and understand that terror now is the greatest danger that exists in the free world.
Q: You mentioned the fence. What about the demands from the United Nations and elsewhere to take down the fence?
A: For years I've been saying that when it comes to genuine, durable peace, I'm willing to make painful compromises. But I always say that when it comes to the security of Israeli citizens and the state of Israel, Israel will not make any compromises. It is for Israel to decide what are the security steps needed. And I don't think that we can change our position about it. One must remember that the Jews have one, tiny country, the only place they have the right and capability to defend themselves by themselves. And it is our duty and my responsibility to see that we will never compromise about that.
Q: You view this fence as essential to the security of Israel and therefore, by the definition you just gave me of Israeli security, demands to remove it are a waste of time.
A: I will not be removing it, and we are going to continue to build it because it's a very important means for increasing our security.
Q: About the attack on the position in Syria. You have said you would not consider this a limited, one-time strike if you felt that there were other terrorist positions threatening Israel. Might there be other Israeli air strikes?
A: I would be glad if it would be one act, but it depends on the involvement of Syria in terror. We and the United States have demanded from Syria the dismantling and deporting of the headquarters of terrorist organizations in Damascus, such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front and others - about 10 of them.
Syria is hosting the most dangerous terrorist organizations. Therefore, I would like the strike to be a one-time action, but that depends on the situation.
Q: You have said on several occasions that you will expel Arfafat, but he is still there. Is that still an option for you?
A: I will not take it out of consideration. The option is there, hanging over his head.
Q: You mentioned about the Palestinian prime minister - the last one is out, the current one is in for 30 days. Given the doctrines, beliefs, objectives and goals that we have heard from the Palestinian leadership, does it matter who is in this position? Will he have any authority to do anything apart from Arafat?
A: To take the case of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), he fell for two reasons: One, Arafat was undermining him from the first day, and the second thing, instead of taking the necessary steps against the terrorist organizations, he decided to make a deal with them. We talked to him many times. I always warned him, I told him that they are going to hurt him, they are not going to hurt us, but he still preferred to make deals with them, and that's what happened.
Q: You are famous for, among other things, having given President Bush a helicopter tour, which greatly influenced him, when he saw how tiny Israel is. Do you have a sense that you reached him on a certain level, a personal level of understanding about what is at stake here? How deep is his understanding of the region?
A: I think that he understands. Above all, he understands the danger of terror - local, regional and international. I think he understands very well that one cannot compromise with terror, and that if we would like to secure our lives and to defend our values, we have to fight terror. He has shown leadership and determination.
Q: You have been through so much, so many wars, so many threats that your enemies are going to wipe out Israel. Is there any cause for optimism?
A: I'm an optimist. First, you have to know that this is not the hardest period that we have had; we have had much harder situations.
Second, we've been involved with terror, for more than 120 years, Arab terror. And we've had many wars - the war of independence, '56, '67, '72, '82 and 2000. So we have had very hard days. But at the same time we've managed tremendous achievements here, though we were holding the sword in our hand. We brought millions of Jews here, from 102 countries, speaking 82 languages, and none of them spoke Hebrew. We managed to revive the Hebrew language, the language of the Bible. We managed to develop sophisticated industry, including high technology. And we managed to build serious centers of research and science, beautiful music, the most advanced agricultural system. Therefore, I think that we can look forward with optimism.
Q: You have just observed Yom Kippur, a period of reflection for the Jewish people, a period of self-examination. When you look inside yourself, and when you look at your highs and your lows, and all you've done for this country and for the Jewish people, how would you hope that they remember you?
A: I don't think I have accomplished what I still have to accomplish. There is one thing that I would like to do, and that's to bring security and peace to the Jewish people.