Bush's peace plan: three years later

Posted: Jun 27, 2002 12:00 AM
JUNE 2005, JERUSALEM -- I'm writing to you from Jerusalem, where I recently interviewed Israeli Prime Minister Effie Eitam. Eitam entered the Israeli government as minister-without-portfolio in the government of Ariel Sharon in 2002 and as a member of the National Religious Party. After the Palestinian intifada intensified during the fall of 2002, Sharon called new elections. Likud won a plurality and formed a coalition with the other right-wing parties in Knesset. Sharon made Eitam minister of defense. In the winter of 2003, the largest terrorist attack in Israeli history took place in Haifa, with nearly 100 Israelis, mostly women and children, being massacred at a wedding. Eitam called for drastic measures, and when Sharon hesitated, the government collapsed. Likud saw Eitam's popularity and put him up for prime minister. Likud won 70 percent of the vote. I sat with Eitam in the prime minister's office in Israel's capital city, Jerusalem. Shapiro: Mr. Prime Minister, it is an honor to speak with you. Eitam: Thank you so much for this opportunity. Shapiro: I'd like to ask you about a speech President Bush gave three years ago this month. Eitam: Which speech? Oh, you mean the president's Health and Fitness Initiative? I loved that speech. Shapiro: No, I mean his Middle East Peace Initiative. Eitam: Which one? Shapiro: He spoke about a provisional Palestinian state. Eitam: You mean Jordan? Shapiro: No, I mean Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The president said, "It is untenable for Palestinians to live in squalor and occupation. ... My vision is two states, living side by side, in peace and security." He called for democratic reforms for the Palestine Authority and told Israel to end "the Israeli occupation that began in 1967." Eitam: Oh yes! I remember now. That speech went completely by the wayside. I mean, it was optimistic of the president to expect any changes in the PA, and I believe the president mischaracterized Judea and Samaria as "occupied territory." But in the end, the speech had no impact. Yasser Arafat continued to condone homicide bombings. After the Haifa massacre, the Israeli public had had enough. We had tried everything. We had built a wall, and the Palestinians fired rockets over it. We went into Palestinian-controlled territories and tried to clean out the terrorists, but more sprang up in their stead. We had no choice. Enough Jews had been murdered. So we captured Arafat and exiled him to France. We expelled the "Palestinian" Arabs from Judea, Samaria and Gaza and annexed the land. We were extremely humane -- we went in, as always, on foot to avoid any civilian casualties and told the Arabs that they could go north, south or east. Those who fought were arrested and exiled to Cyprus or killed in battle. The Egyptian "Palestinians" went to Egypt, the Jordanian "Palestinians" went to Jordan, and the Syrian "Palestinians" went to Syria. President Bush was not thrilled with the measures we took, but after the March 26, 2004, attacks in the United States, he understood that Israel could never negotiate with murderers who sought the destruction of the state of Israel. He is down deep a strong man -- he understands that we must protect our citizens. Shapiro: How has this affected Israeli life? Eitam: Look around you! People can walk the streets without fear for the first time in Israeli history. We are producing for export. We are off American aid. We have had a massive influx of Jewish immigration. We were able to cut the military budget and use the money for new technologies. We cut taxes drastically; our budget was halved. This country is blooming from Eilat to Rosh HaNikra and from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. Shapiro: What about the threat from the Arab countries on your borders? Eitam: They are constantly threatening us, rattling their sabers, the usual. But they understand that we are a lion on the prowl, no longer a sheep waiting for the slaughter. Shapiro: I'm sorry to cut the interview short, Mr. Prime Minister, but I have to go find and interview Shimon Peres. Do you happen to know where he is? Eitam: You might have trouble finding him. After we exiled Arafat, Peres became unstable. Now, he runs around the Negev eating berries and trying to negotiate with a volleyball, which he has taken to calling "Chairman." It's actually rather sad. But anyway, thank you for interviewing me -- I look forward to reading your article. Shapiro: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister