The attempts by Israel to organize a Village Leagues to counterbalance the influence of the P.L.O. in the administered areas, ran into trouble when the Jordanian Prime Minister announced that Jordan would impose the death penalty on any leader who does not resign from the Leagues. In the following interview, the defense minister discussed the situation in the territories and related matters which had to do with the participation of local Arabs in the autonomy talks. Text:
Q: What did you learn during your tour of Judea and Samaria last week?
A: I try to tour the area as much as possible, dealing with the subject of terrorist activities of the type that army officers and soldiers do not learn as part of their military training. A commander may be an excellent commander -and I.D.F. commanders are - who has successfully and bravely commanded units in battle, and here he comes up against entirely different problems, very complex and delicate ones. Their resolution requires stringency, know-how, much experience and unconventional methods. In this situation, no one situation is comparable to another, no one, place to another, nor one event to another. Therefore, anyone able to contribute from his experience in order to assist these activities, to advance them so that they can be carried out with maximal forcefulness and caution, must do this - and from my point of view, a tour such as this is comparable to the visit of a commander at the critical points of the front line.
Q: People claim that these methods "won't work" in Judea and Samaria.
A: It is worthwhile remembering that also during the time that terror was being eradicated in Gaza, in 1969-71, there were many who claimed that the actions I took there were destined to fail. But as a result of persevering, clear policy, strong measures against the terror organizations and their supporters - while defending the population which did not support terror and did not resort to violent means, and in the final analysis constituted the prime target for the murderous activities of the terrorists - the pessimists were proven wrong. It is interesting to point out that, like today, in those days as well loud voices were heard from those same throats and same directions - in demonstrations, in the media and among politicians. The voices came out not against the perpetrators of the acts of murder, but against the actions I took against the terrorists in the Gaza salient in those days.
Q: Is there any parallel between the situation which obtained in Gaza Strip in those years and what is going on today in Judea and Samaria?
A: There also, for many years, the opponents of terror were abandoned to the mercies of the terrorist organizations, who punished them severely. The government then displayed weakness, hesitation in the taking of measures, (and) reluctance to take on the extremists, to the point of abandoning the opponents of terror. In the end I succeeded, as G.O.C. Southern Command, in persuading the General Staff and the Government that we had to stop wooing the supporters of terror - at whose head was Rashad A-Shawwa, who, it will be recalled, gave refuge in his house to the head of the terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip. My opponents were convinced only after hundreds of people -mostly Arabs - who did not cooperate with the terrorist organizations - but neither (did they) with Israel - paid with their lives, and only after the murder of the two children of the Arroyo couple.
Q: How do you feel about the order of the Prime Minister of Jordan, Mudar Badran, of March 9 of this year, imposing the death penalty and confiscation of property on anyone who does not resign within a month from the Village Leagues.
A: If the Government of Jordan carries out this threat, it will be a government which has put itself in the category of an organization of assassins. A government which would sentence to death without trial a person who joined a voluntary organization, and whose only crime is that he dared to stand up against terrorist organizations - this is what Jordan has done. It has surrendered to the dictates of the terrorist arms of the P.L.O. which sees itself as the sole possible leadership in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District.
It must be emphasized that Jordan, in fact, does not cooperate with the terrorist organizations when it comes to terrorist actions - because it knows the price which would be exacted from it - but even so it cooperates with them on a regular basis in political activity, through the joint Jordan-P.L.O. Committee, which convenes regularly in Amman.
Q: Will Israel activity in Judea and Samaria be intensified as April 9 - the deadline of the Jordanian ultimatum -approaches?
A: Whoever was waiting to see how Israel would act during this month in particular - whether it would be deterred or not - has already received a clear answer. We will not allow any type of terrorism to exist, including political terror. Our activity does not depend on this date or another. We are talking about constant activity which requires of us patience, level-headedness and maximal determination. We must keep our eyes on the long-term aim, and not on the day to day difficulties: On the future of the coexistent life of Jews and Arabs in the Land of Israel - side by side.
Q: Do you really believe that that time will indeed come?
Q: To what extent are the recent events connected to the realization of the autonomy plan?
A: Autonomy is an Israeli idea, which was accepted by the Egyptians and the United States, which stipulates also that elections will be held at a future date.
If we see that what took place in 1976 returns to these areas, this means making it possible for terrorist organizations to continue to dictate which nominees are elected. This is inconceivable. Can you imagine the existence of a future life, side by side, of Jews and Arabs, when the candidates for maintaining contacts, the partners in dialogue with Israel are heads of terrorist organizations? In my opinion, there is no way to achieve negotiations of this sort when terror and its representatives are in control of the territories. If and when elections take place, we will make certain that this time they are elections free of intimidation and fear.
Q: Is this why the Village Leagues were established?
A: We do not interfere with the initiatives of the Arab residents in their welfare. They requested weapons for their protection. Their organization began entirely at their own initiative, and I ordered that this initiative be given a positive response. In their repeated appeals, the (Village) Leagues members claimed that they had a right to protect their lives. They claimed that they did not want to appear as if they were protected by Israel's Border police.
Q: Still, they are accused of being collaborators.
A: Quislings? Collaborators? Collaborators with whom? With the legitimate government of Israel, with whom they are willing to conduct a dialogue? The most serious (thing) happens when Jews are ready to lend a hand to those who stick a knife in their backs and relate to Arabs who oppose terror as "collaborators" or "quislings".
We have never asked them to work against their brothers. We did not demand that they cooperate in intelligence operations. We have no need for that.
Q: Will they be willing to enter negotiations with Israel on autonomy?
A: Has anyone of the heads of the Village Leagues ever said once that he sides with the continuation of Israeli rule as it is? Not one of them. We also did not look for anyone like this. In my opinion, these men are characterized by two qualities: First - They are willing to stand up in the open and in the area against the terrorist organizations and their representatives, and secondly, they are men who understand the need to find a way through negotiations to co-existence with the State of Israel, and it is interesting that those same Jews who labeled them collaborators did not find it correct - in all their hypocrisy - to say even one word against the death penalty decreed on them by the Jordanian government.
Q: Do the deposed mayors in fact support terrorism?
A: I am convinced of it, beyond any shadow of a doubt. They have never, of course, admitted actual membership in a terrorist organization, but they admit that they carry out PLO orders. And there is no doubt that they were used as a channel for conveying the orders of the terrorist organizations, financial policies and everything connected with their serious activities. I have never heard them dissent, even to a minimal extent, from the acts of cruel murder, whose victims were Arabs who believed that the terrorist PLO did not represent them.
Q: To what use have these monies been put?
A: Hundreds of millions of dollars were distributed as incentive to supporters of terrorist organizations, to the terrorists themselves, and also as assistance to families whose relatives were in prison. Whereas those who did not support the terrorist organizations were punished by sanctions - they did not receive any assistance.
Q: Could you elaborate?
A: Within the two years of '79280 alone, 185 million dollars were allocated by the terrorist organizations for the purpose of causing the peace process and the Camp David Agreement to fail. The sums designated for this afterwards were on a much wider scale. The mechanism of the financial apportionment is one of political extortion. All allocations were given in payments, when before each additional payment the recipient is required to prove his actions in the terrorist ranks of the PLO. We are not prepared for the terrorist leaders from Beirut to dictate to us who will govern in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip or in any other place?
Q: If this is so, why should Israel attempt to dictate to the Palestinian residents who their leaders will be?
A: There is no other way. The purpose of the operation - the climax of which we are currently experiencing in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip - is by no means to impose any acceptance of "our candidates". Any claim that we are attempting to dictate the candidates is false. Everything we are doing today is intended to root out the leadership of the terrorist organizations from Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
Q: Is the government operating in the terroritories on a "hit and finish" tactic - or does it have a detailed plan.
A: Under the Labor Governments, no goals were assigned for these territories, and no political aims were set. In contrast to then, there exists in these areas today a political plan which has been fixed by the Likud Government and which was agreed upon with Egypt and the U.S. during the peace negotiations. The plans speak, for example, of the possibility of holding at a later date elections to the self-governing authority. We must not repeat previous mistakes - mistakes which made possible elections, as took place in 1976, which elevated supporters of the terror organizations and their representatives in Samaria, Judea and the Gaza Strip to power. We will not repeat mistakes which were made in that year inasmuch as no steps were taken to inhibit the strengthening of the terrorist organizations.
Q: The head of the Labor Party, Shimon Peres, claimed in a public speech, that your entry into the handling of the Arabs in Judea and Samaria was what brought about the unrest and agitation.
A: What was the head of the opposition shocked about? Mayors have been replaced in the past. And has not the mayor of Gaza been relieved of his duties? And the mayor of Ramallah, and others? Perhaps he believes the public has a short memory. But the facts cannot be altered: Since 1976 six periods of Arab terrorism have characterized Judea, Samaria and Gaza - and perhaps the worst of them was during Shimon Peres' tenure as Minister of Defense in the Labor Goverment. Between November 1975 and March 1976 a wave of disturbances plagued the main cities in Judea and Samaria, reaching a climax in March 1976. In this period, and particularly in January 1976, pupils in schools went wild, causing the closing of shops, burning tires in the streets, distributing leaflets, and clashing with the security forces. In January and February, the riots increased and reached a climax in March 1976, during the course of which month there were manifestations of rebellion every day, including clashes with the security forces. The I.D.F. was then forced to enter schools in order to put down the disturbances, and pupils were injured.
Q: How did the government grapple with these serious riots at the time?
A: It awarded aggression. It compromised with terror and its representatives. The tendency of the Labor Government in 1976 was "to prove to the Western world that elections were being held without our interference" and so "to keep our hands clean". There were no defined political goals. No one thought then that the problem was not how to portray the elections to the world - because it was not the western world which had to continue to live with the Arab population, but we who would have to continue to live with them. Whoever handled the subject of elections preferred the short-term view and guarding his personal image over the creation of conditions for a political solution one day. No political solution is realistic when terrorist organizations are in control in the territories - not even the solution of the "Jordanian option" and "territorial compromise" of the Alignment - which have become obsolete, fortunately.
Q: What was that policy?
A: In 1976, under the shadow of the umbrella of Palestinian terror in Judea and Samaria, its representatives were elected to central, key positions, and in this way they and their activity received a kind of legal validity. The rise of representatives of terrorist organizations on the scene was a direct result of a failed policy prior to and during the 1976 elections - a policy which is the responsibility of then then defense minister and his assistants, who showed a total dullness to the point of telling everyone on the eve of the elections: "If PLO supporters are elected - let them be elected." Now we are busy rooting out the control of the terrorist leadership from the Arab street, in order to make possible at a later date free elections. Democratic elections have not been held in Judea and Samaria.
Q: The Labor Government claimed that the 1976 elections were "free".
A: The main declared purpose of the elections which were held in Judea,, Samaria and Gaza in 1976, as it was formulated then, was - and I quote - holding "clean'' elections - with no Israeli interference. Whereas the purpose should have been -holding free elections, without actions of violent pressure by terrorist organizations. And there was never as difficult a period in Judea and Samaria as in the months February-March 1976, just prior to the elections which took place in April of that year. Violence reigned as never before.
Q: And those were not, in your opinion, democratic elections?
A: Free elections does not mean that a person can choose from a list of defined candidates who have been previously decided upon by terrorist organizations. And this was the situation in 1976, when the Labor Government designated as its main goal a policy of non-intervention. Democratic elections means that any person can elect and be elected, that he is free from pressure and threats. Shortsightedness characterized the Labor Government, including the frequent pilgrimages of Israeli personages to people who were known as belonging to terrorist organizations, and as supported by them.
Q: Do there exist in these areas similar threats of terror in 1982?
A: Certainly. In addition to the flow of money, the terrorist arm of the PLO operates, as a declared strategy, groups to eliminate dissenters and for the purpose of harming them, their property and their families. The physical terror is accompanied by ideological terror - through the Arab newspapers, some of which are indubitable bastions of the P.L.O.; in addition to incitement against the government they have also indicated the targets for the terrorist cells - by violent writing against anyone who deviates from their line. The East Jerusalem American Consulate is active in nurturing these extremist elements.
Q: The use of I.D.F. forces in Judea and Samaria is sometimes perceived as an anti-democratic measure, as unfair pressure...
A: Anyone claiming that we interfere with democracy is wrong. The threats of the Jordanian government are an expression of democracy? That government has joined the policy of the terrorist organizations. The principle in democracy is that even if I disagree with your opinion, I am ready to be killed for your right to express it. The principle of terrorism: They are willing to kill so that no other opinion is heard. In order to break this terrorist principle, we went out and acted. The Government of Israel will isolate the murderers, in order that everyone's opinion may be heard. And there are many in these areas who claim that the terrorist organizations are not the sole representatives of the Arabs of the Land of Israel and therefore they are pursued up to their necks.
Q: There is an impression that the American Administration, which is a party to the Camp David agreement, is against the Government's action in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, seeing, as it does, the PLO as a partner to the autonomy talks.
A: Here, in the last two days, the messages from Washington have assumed a different tone. In any case, there does exist an essential difference between the U.S. - which signed the Camp David Agreement, knowing full well that Israel would not agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza - and between its activities in the area. And despite (the fact that) the U.S. has not officially changed its declared stand - in practice, the picture is different.
Q: How is this expressed?
A: The East Jerusalem American Consulate is very active, to this day, in cultivating extremist elements. Different American organizations, supposedly voluntary, continue to aid the most extremist groups in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. In my opinion, in a non-convert manner, and without formality deviating from the Camp David Accords, the American government wants to create in these areas a kind of situation which will constitute basically a future corridor leading to a Palestinian state.
Q: All this without an Israeli reaction?
A: We have declared to the Administration, on more occasions than can be counted, that this is something that Israel cannot and will not be able to accept in any way. It is difficult to understand the shortsightedness of the American government, which knows full well that the terrorist organizations are a tool in the hands of the USSR for preparing the ground for planting additional Soviet stakes in the Mideast, including Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. These organizations, they are the real danger to the continuation of the peace process well. And most important: We have taken in my opinion, the best steps against the creation of a second Palestinian state - we have established settlements in Judea and Samaria, which constitute the most suitable response.