The following is an April 21, 2005 interview Ariel Sharon gave to The Jerusalem Post's editor-in-chief David Horovitz and the paper's chief diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon. The Post met with Prime Minister Sharon late on Monday afternoon at his official residence in Jerusalem. We were asked not to publish the interview until shortly before Pessah. He seemed at ease, alternately serious and jovial as the subject matter demanded. His main concern seemed to be to emphasize the importance he attaches to American understandings regarding long-term Israeli control of major West Bank settlement blocs - the quid pro quo for the disengagement from Gaza. He evinced no doubt whatsoever regarding the rightness of his decision to disengage, intimating that only his readiness to relinquish Gaza had given Israel the opportunity to safeguard the core of the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria. He also took pains to stress that he had not given up on Mahmoud Abbas, a Palestinian leader he depicted in very different terms from Yasser Arafat. Indeed, he said he was certain that Abbas was a man of good intentions; unfortunately, said the prime minister, Abbas was making mistakes to the detriment of Israel and the Palestinian people. Sharon also talked about Iran, and the need for a US-led international coalition to take every step necessary to ensure that Teheran was unable to attain a nuclear weapons capability. While the threat Iran posed to Israel was grave, he said, the danger extended far beyond the Jewish state. The Jerusalem Post: While you were in the US last week, you raised the concern of civil war over disengagement. Are you really fearful that such a scenario might develop? Prime Minister Sharon: I spoke of the existing atmosphere, reminiscent of the atmosphere of an approaching civil war. But, I don't think that is what will happen. I will certainly make every effort to ensure that the evacuation will be carried out in as peaceful a way as possible. Despite the pain and anguish, the settlers themselves are not a wild element in my opinion; they are an exceptional group of people, an exceptional group of farmers who have amazing accomplishments to their credit. But in the street, among the public, there is incitement, events like the attempt to go up to the Temple Mount - of course I, myself [Sharon chuckles] have on many occasions gone to the Temple Mount - the attempts to disrupt traffic, block the streets, and so on. The Post What practical measures can you take now to reduce the tension? Sharon: Until now, dialogue was impossible - until I was able to get the referendum bill defeated in the Knesset and get the budget passed. Before that, there was no possibility of talking because people were refusing to talk. Also, there was intensive activity to create the sense that the disengagement would not take place, that it will not happen. But with the referendum dropping out of the discussion and with the passing of the budget, from that moment, [the settlers] started to understand that it is going to happen. Then dialogue began. I myself have met with people and I will do whatever possible to make it easier for them in the process that lies ahead of us. The Post Settler leaders maintain that you have never satisfactorily explained to them the national benefits of disengagement. They are not persuaded of the national interest. Perhaps there's something else that can be said to convince them, to reassure them? Sharon: We have to differentiate between two issues. First, I have explained, numerous times. The second issue is: Were they convinced? I explained. They were not convinced. They have not been persuaded because they don't want to leave Gaza. The Post Can you assure them, for instance, that there will not be an increase in terror incidents after the pullout? Sharon: Look, they maintain that we have made an agreement with the Americans and not with the Arabs. I agree. I made an agreement with the Americans. And much as I desire good relations with the Arabs, and to make progress in that regard, I place more faith in an agreement with the Americans than in an agreement with the Palestinians. In terms of the war on terror, we have been dealing with Palestinian terror, previously called Arab terror, for more than 120 years. I was in the US just now and we have agreed that in order to proceed beyond the disengagement plan - in other words to progress to the road map - there must be a total end to terror, violence, incitement. The terror groups must be dismantled and their weaponry confiscated. The arms smuggling must stop. The PA's arms manufacturing industry and that of the terror organizations must stop. There must be serious reforms in the PA's security apparatus and serious efforts must begin in educating toward peace. Only after all that will we be able to progress to the road map. Until or unless these reforms are implemented, unless the Palestinians do what they have to do, it will not be possible to progress to the road map. And while we're on the subject, there will not be a single concession, not the smallest concession from the Israeli side. On this, I think we see eye to eye with the US. The Post And if there are no significant, positive changes in terms of the Palestinian effort to fight terror? What will we have to do? Are there circumstances in which we would be required to return to Gaza? Sharon: I don't see any reason that we would return to Gaza. We are leaving Gaza. I do not see any circumstances that would require us to return, but we would also not be able to proceed further [in negotiations]. If Kassam rockets were fired from Gaza on Sderot, we would not have to go back in? If there are Kassams, there would certainly be a very harsh response. The Post Ground forces back in Gaza? Sharon: I do not see a situation in which we would be required to go back in on the ground. But in terms of Israeli activity, it would be without limits. We today are not active participants in this 'cease-fire,' but I made it very clear [in my talks with Abbas] at Sharm e-Sheikh that if things are quiet on their side, there will be quiet on our side too. They promised us that there would be quiet. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Relatively speaking, there is less terror today, but this is due, for the most part, to the position of the terrorist organizations, which for their own reasons are not active. But what should influence [the Palestinians] is that if they want to advance and be part of a discussion regarding the future, this will happen only if [the PA] does what needs to be done. The Post Are you suggesting that there would be fewer restrictions on Israeli actions from the air than up to now, because Israel will have left Gaza? Sharon: The American stand is that Israel has the right to defend itself and to maintain its deterrent capability, especially in today's world where we see the efforts to cancel out those deterrent capabilities and where we see the forces in this region that are developing. [Sharon is evidently alluding both to Iran's nuclear drive and to voices raised against an Israeli nuclear capability.] And furthermore, on the issue of the large settlement blocs, we heard what the president said about this and I didn't find any change in the American position. The Post So from the Americans' point of view, Ma'aleh Adumim is Israel's forever? And likewise Gush Etzion and Ariel? Sharon: Look, I can give you Israel's position. The large blocs will be part of the State of Israel, and contiguity will be preserved between them and Israel. That is Israel's position. There is also a commitment on the Americans' part, reiterated by the president now, to aid in the development of the Galilee and the Negev. In addition, an unequivocal decision was made [by the Americans] for the first time in 55 years, an unequivocal decision that Palestinian refugees will not come back to Israel. Also of course, [the Americans have reiterated their commitment to] the maintenance of defensible borders. In my opinion, these are very big achievements. Isn't there a contradiction between American opposition to the expansion of settlements and your talk just now of contiguity? Take the area between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim for example, the E1 area. Will the Americans allow you now to build E1? The E1 building plan is an old plan, close to 10 years old. As I recall, it was begun when Labor was heading the government. It's true that the announcement of the plan recently created a storm all over the world, and in my opinion, let's say, put the president in a far from simple position. But it's a plan that still needs to be worked on for many years. I am sure we will speak about it with the Americans. One thing you have to know: Our relationship with the Americans is a very friendly one. I recall the first time Bush visited Israel, as governor, and I took him on a visit to Samaria, a helicopter tour. He was very excited when I took him to see the Jordan River. It was towards the end of the summer. The Jordan River didn't look too big. I said to him: 'The Jordan is the smallest greatest river in the world.' It wasn't any bigger than the stream that runs through the President's farm, but from a spiritual and historical point of view, he was very moved. The Post But Bush says the US is opposed to the expansion of settlements. Does that mean he's opposed to all building inside settlements, or to the expansion of settlements beyond their existing perimeters? The United States has always, let's say since 1968, opposed Jewish settlement. The United States was opposed to Jewish settlement in the Golan Heights. It opposed Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip. And it has never changed that position. Israel, during those years, saw great importance in taking hold of strategically important portions of Judea and Samaria. But even on those subjects of non-understanding, I think that the relationship - certainly the relationship that I have created - has enabled us to find ways to deal with all issues. [Keinon:] I live in Ma'aleh Adumim. The building going on there now, within the settlement, is there American approval for that? It's a lovely place. I had the privilege of starting the building in Ma'aleh Adumim. This subject has been raised many times in our discussions. We place great importance on Jewish life in areas which are important for Israel. The Americans have always answered by saying: 'We have been opposed in this matter since the Six Day War. It is problematic for the Arabs. It is problematic for the Europeans. So what do you think? That we'll get up today and announce today that we support Jewish settlement? We've been opposing it for all these years.' At the same time they have said: 'But you're building. It's not that you're not building. You built 1,000 apartment units in Betar Illit, you're building hundreds of apartment units in Ma'aleh Adumim. Did we say anything to you about it? You know that we are opposed, but at the end of the day, these are the facts that are unfolding on the ground.' So, the United States has never supported [settlement], and does not support it now either, but on these subjects there will doubtless be more discussion. The Post Where does Israel's national interest require it to maintain control in the West Bank? I have relatives who lives in Ofra, for instance. What will be with settlements on the 'wrong side of the fence'? The 'wrong side of the fence?' The Post Let's say the eastern side of the fence. Do they need to worry? As you know, Judea and Samaria is divided up into zones. Zone A is under the complete control of the Palestinians. Zone B is divided - from the security standpoint, under Israeli control; administratively, under Palestinian control. Of course, due to the terror situation, matters became more complicated. Zone C is the security area. Security zones. The simplest thing would have been to route the fence, looking from the western side, to the [furthest] edge of the security zones. But if we had done this, we would have incorporated hundreds of thousands of Palestinians within the fence. From every point of view, it is not in our interest to do this. Therefore, the security fence today passes inside those security zones. In every place west of the fence, certain arrangements will apply. But there are also security areas located east of the fence. And those places are fenced in by themselves. An example: If I talk about the area located east of Ben-Gurion Airport - from Kiryat Sefer, Nili, Ofarim, Beit Arieh, Peduel, and continuing north to the Trans-Samaria Highway - these places are in their own category of being fenced in. Part of the security area there is located west of the security fence, and part [, east of the fence,] is fenced in independently. Are there areas on the far side of the fence that you would not be prepared to relinquish under any realistic scenario? And others that, if the level of security rises sufficiently, you would be prepared to relinquish? We have not even begun to approach that subject. It will be discussed in the context of final status negotiations once we are able to implement the road map, and I've already set out the conditions under which we will be able to implement the road map. The Americans are always talking about 'viable' [territory for a Palestinian state] and about 'contiguity.' But these matters, the whole subject of settlements, will be discussed only when we reach final status negotiations. The Post Still, would you recommend that someone buy an apartment today in Ofra or in Beit El? You mean, if someone were to find a really nice apartment? [Laughs.] I think that certainly where we are talking about settlement blocs, I would say it is a good spot. The Post Are Ofra and Beit El part of a bloc? Sharon: Beit El and Ofra are large settlements today with thousands of residents. Why should people believe your denial of plans for a second phase of disengagement, in the West Bank, when you also said in the past that Israel wouldn't leave Gaza? How can you convince people that you really mean what you say? First, this published assertion [of plans for a second disengagement] has done great damage. It is a complete lie. The only place to which we are able to proceed from the present situation after the disengagement, if the Palestinians do everything they are supposed to do, is to the road map. There is nothing else. And if the Palestinians don't do what they are obligated to do, there will be nothing else. Period. And what do you make of Mahmoud Abbas's situation at present? His performance, his ability to calm the street, his desire to calm the street? As far as his desire is concerned, I am sure he wants to create quiet on the ground. Is that actually happening? There is a relative reduction in terrorist activity, but even yesterday [Sunday], a young man was arrested in Nablus who was on his way to a suicide attack and today [Monday] a soldier was hurt in the Philadelphi corridor. Again, I would say that relatively speaking, the situation is quieter, but the terror activity has not been halted. And steps have not been taken, aside from deployment of forces - something which shows that they always had forces available. I always claimed that they had the forces. In the Gaza Strip, there are 30,000 armed soldiers. The forces have been deployed. But they have not stopped the [arms] smuggling - smuggling by the terror organizations and also by the Palestinian Authority itself. They have not stopped the manufacture of arms. They have not really made arrests. They have not begun to dismantle the terror organizations; quite the reverse. In my opinion, Mahmoud Abbas has made things even more difficult for himself by signing agreements with the terror organizations in the meetings held in Egypt, where he promised that he wouldn't seize their weapons and wouldn't dismantle them. The only parties who came out of those meetings at an advantage were the terror organizations. This is going to make it very difficult for him to enter into the road map phase. The Post You sound disappointed in Abbas. You're describing a very bleak picture: that he has good intentions but has made mistakes and hasn't done what he needs to do. Sharon: Listen, why should I be disappointed? I never thought Abu Mazen was a member of the Zionist movement. He's done some things, and believes he doesn't have the capability yet to do more. I think that giving political status to the terrorist organizations, essentially sharing power with them, was a very serious mistake - from his point of view and also as regards the entire process. I see dangers. I would not be surprised if Europe started to say, 'Perhaps we don't have to consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization because, after all, it participates in elections.' The Post And how do you answer that? Sharon: I maintain that Hamas is a terrorist organization. If we were to take it out of that category, it could become an influential force but would not cease to be the representative of extreme Islamic movements. They [presumably the Europeans] would start a flow of money to Hamas. From our point of view, Hamas is a dangerous terrorist organization and Islamic Jihad is a dangerous terrorist organization. What would be the repercussions for Israel if Hamas strengthened substantially in the summer's elections for the Palestinian National Council? We don't intend to get involved. I don't know what they're going to decide to do in terms of holding the elections on time. They have a problem. But we also have a problem as a consequence. The Post Could Israel continue to negotiate with the PA if most members of the PA parliament were from Hamas? Sharon: We haven't reached that situation. The Post Two years ago, when he was prime minister for a short period, you tried to establish a partnership with Abbas. And you forgave him, I would say, some pretty horrible comments about Israel in the course of his election campaign to head the PA. Now I sense that you don't think much good is going to come out of the Abbas era for Israel. Sharon: No, I still continue to look at the situation with a degree of optimism. Two years ago, when Abu Mazen was prime minister, Arafat was alive and there was no possibility of moving Arafat away from the strategy of murder. Now Arafat is gone. I know what Abbas wants: He would like to reach an agreement. In order to reach an agreement, certain things have to be done. The Post Presumably he believes his opponents will kill him if he is too aggressive. Sharon: I would not want him to be killed, but whoever thinks that we can countenance the murder of our people is also making a mistake. Look, I've said many times that to reach a peace agreement I am prepared to make difficult concessions. Why do I say difficult concessions. Because we are speaking of the cradle of the Jewish nation. But I am not prepared to make any concession, I emphasize any concession at all, where security is concerned. And I am not prepared today, nor will I be prepared in the future, to allow anyone else to determine what are the security needs of the State of Israel. I very much appreciate the friendship of the United States, the commitments to us which the president reiterated during my visit - commitments to ensure the security of Israel. But when we are speaking of the security of the citizens of the state of Israel, I am unwilling to make a single concession. The Post Did Bush pressure you to give Abbas concessions that would strengthen him? Sharon: No, absolutely not. Let me look. [Sharon scans his printed notes.] No, I don't see anything. No [reads out loud], the President reiterated Israel's right to self-defense, its right to safe, defensible borders, Israel's right to maintain a deterrent capability against any possible threat. [Sharon looks up.] That's of prime importance. [Resumes reading.] The obligation of the Palestinian Authority to dismantle the terror groups as a pre-condition for a political process, where according to both the US and us the road map is the only political plan via which political progress can be made. Any final status agreement requires that the major settlement blocs will remain under Israeli control, and the problem of the refugees will not be resolved by their return to the boundaries of Israel. [Puts notes aside.] The Post Do the Americans agree that we are not at the road map stage yet? Sharon: Absolutely. The Americans also see that we are in the pre-road map era and that to reach the road map stage the Palestinians will have to do what they have to do. The Post Do you understand the anger of people who voted for you and who now say that you are not doing what they anticipated you would as prime minister? Sharon: I think that the settlers are going through really a very difficult crisis. For me this was a very hard decision, perhaps the hardest decision I have ever had to make. So, it's completely clear to me that from the settlers' point of view, it pains them even more. In every generation here, there was a group that led. In the last generation, it was the settlers who led. They led in settlement, they led to a great extent in security and today they feel rejected. That's very grave and very dangerous. The fact is that Israel's problems are not over. We have to look to the day after. Anyone who thinks that there'll be this or that agreement and that, after that, Israel can rest on its laurels - that won't be the situation. The Jews will always have to stand firm. So these political things you hear [criticizing the settlement enterprise]: that it was all a waste, that it was all for nothing, that Israel's economic situation is a consequence of what was and that the fatalities we've sustained were a consequence of the settlement enterprise - I see this as very dangerous. Now, when I speak to [the settlers], I say, 'I don't think that these things were in vain. People say that you didn't achieve anything? I say you achieved a great deal.' I say to them, 'We had a dream and the dream was not realized in full. But there have been very great achievements.' The Post You used to speak about a million Americans coming here. If there were millions more Jews here, if more Jews had come, would your strategy have been different? Sharon: Look, over the years, things happened here. I don't know if you have changed. I haven't changed. But lots of things changed here, and it may be that if the number of Jews was greater - and it needs to be greater - it's possible that I would say that the solution would be a different solution. But we have to look at the facts as they are. And so when I speak to the settlers, and I do speak to them, I tell them, 'Look, there are parts of the settlement dream that we realized and parts that we did not.' In the days of Yigal Allon, [the first settlers] were sitting in the Park Hotel [in Hebron]. Then they founded Kiryat Arba. If not for them, would we today be able to pray in the Cave of the Machpelah? Would we be in Beit Hadassa, Tel Rumeida. Would we be able to stand in the Karaite cemetery that is 1000 years old, to stand in the Sephardi cemetery where you touch stones that are 700 years old and where the victims of [the] 1929 [massacre of Hebron Jews] are buried, and at the grave of the Rabbanit Menuha Ruhel, in the Chabad cemetery, who led the Jewish community for 40 years in Hebron? Would we be there? No. The Post Are you saying that 'the dream has been realized in Hebron,' that you would never relinquish Hebron? Sharon: Jews will always live in Hebron. Which people in the world have a monument like the Cave of the Machpela? Not one. Avraham and Sara, Yitzhak and Rivka, Ya'acov and Lea are buried there. I can go on. Without the settlement enterprise, would we be living today in Gush Etzion? Would Rachel's tomb be within the boundaries of our fence? Would we be living in Ma'aleh Adumim and its environs? The Post: Are you not worried that, for many of the settlers, their belief in their state is failing as a result of your disengagement plan? Sharon: I speak to the leaders of Yesha [Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip] and I tell them, 'you have an immense responsibility. If you come along all the time and say 'This is all disaster and everything is being torn away and it has all been in vain,' then you are cancelling yourselves out.' As I say, there was a dream. Not the whole dream has been realized. But there were very great achievements. The neighborhoods around Jerusalem... The Post Parents in Gush Katif, how are they supposed to explain this process to their kids? Sharon: Let's say this process is the consequence of an agreement that has given Israel very many achievements, some of which I have detailed. I don't see, looking at the long-term picture, any possibility of a community of a few thousand Jews, for all its achievements and its special heroism, remaining in Gaza. But I am doing everything I can to save as much as I can [in the West Bank]. It's not easy. But there are lots of achievements. And I look forward and I say that there are places of tremendous importance and those places have to be retained. I am making efforts to save as much as I can. The Post So you're saying that were it not for the readiness to disengage from Gaza, the entire settlement enterprise would have been endangered? Sharon: Without that readiness, we would be facing very heavy pressure. Israel has no pressures today. Maybe not from the US, but from Europe. I'm speaking practically. Dozens of heads of state just came for the opening of the additional museum at Yad Vashem. But it wasn't only Yad Vashem that brought them here - rather, the fact that Israel's standing has strengthened. I have to look at all the components. And so I think that it was the right move. I don't have Begin's rhetorical abilities. If Begin was here, he wouldn't speak of the Katif strip. He would immediately call it the Land of the Philistines [laughs]. But I don't have that talent. I know how to get things done. The Post To change the subject, President Putin is coming here next week. Is there a crisis over Russian military sales to Syria? Sharon: Yes, he's coming. I invited him. All the outstanding issues will be raised. There are some very grave phenomena, beginning with anti-Semitism. We've seen that big group [of Russian legislators] who have signed that document [to outlaw Jewish organizations]. From that issue, all the way to arms sales to other countries. What bothers us is that arms not reach terror groups. We have a relationship. He speaks Russian with me. I think I understand things. There are things that people in the West don't understand that well. Everybody knows that there are 147 million inhabitants of Russia. It's not a country. It's a continent. It has enormous natural resources, and a profound culture. But I don't think they adequately appreciate the importance of national honor in Russia, and the desire to restore the status of an immense empire with all its influence. I have a better sense of that. The Post Is Israel reconciled to an Iran with a nuclear capability? Sharon: Iran is a great danger and is, no doubt, making very great efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. It may be that, because of the issue of supervision, it's moving forward more slowly, but not for a moment has it given up on this effort. This is very dangerous for us and for the Middle East. Given Iran's current efforts to obtain cruise missiles with a 3,500 km. range, it's also a danger to Europe and a danger to the United States. It's not for Israel to carry this burden. There have been people saying, 'Israel will do this, Israel will attack.' Well, first of all, Israel doesn't need to lead this effort and it doesn't need to take sole responsibility for this. This is a subject that needs to be handled by an international coalition, which only the US can lead and which must take every step to prevent Iran attaining nuclear weapons. Iran is a vast country and they can hide anything they want there. Israel doesn't need to give anyone in the world the sense that, okay, this is an Israeli problem, that Israel will find a solution. This is not an Israeli problem. It is a great danger, but not an Israeli problem. It's a problem for the free world and therefore, in my opinion, preparations must be made to bring Iran to the Security Council, to apply political and economic pressure. The Post I assume this subject was high on the agenda of your talks in the US? Are they preparing to do as you suggest? Sharon: The subject was certainly discussed. We also have cooperation, exchange of information, and with European states too. What worries me is that I've begun to hear voices saying, 'In the end Iran will be a nuclear power, will join that club.' And that, in my opinion, is dreadful. A country where the moderates talk about destroying Israel, destroying the Jewish people. And they sit in the United Nations, participate in all matters, and nobody says a word. And of course we see their involvement, along with that of the Syrians, in Lebanon. If Abu Mazen is in danger, he's certainly not in danger from Israel. Israel wants him to succeed. We have an interest in his success. But if there's a danger today, it's from Syria, from Iran, from the Hizbullah. Those are the dangers. And by the way, I haven't despaired of Abu Mazen. I think he has to do more than he's doing, but one thing I know, at least, is that he wants to act. Iran, too, of course, is an active player in mobilizing Israeli Arabs via the Islamic movement, including in acts of terrorism - albeit only a very small minority. Most of the Arab population wants to be part of Israeli society, but there is a small minority. The problem is it is a growing minority that is involved in terror. If I could tell the Jews what I would most like to achieve, it is that another million Jews would come here. And I haven't given up on that. So the 50,000 who we hear are planning to demonstrate against the disengagement plan after the annual Salute to Israel parade in New York, they should come and live in Israel and make their influence felt from within? Listen, Israel's future depends on [aliya] - from an economic point of view, security, cultural, all aspects. And it's not only vital to Israel, but what happens to Israel also impacts on Jews abroad. Whoever thinks that were Israel weakened, God forbid, that Jews would be able to live in the diaspora the way they live today? Well, they won't. So the responsibility here is also theirs. First, they should visit here, to tighten the ties. That is why we have 'birthright' and other programs that bring Jews here, and that also enhance young leadership. Overall, I look optimistically at what is happening. I always have this childhood memory, working with my father in the fields. He was an agronomist, an agricultural researcher and a farmer - an excellent farmer. It was horribly hot. I was dead thirsty. There were these little bugs - even if your face was covered they'd fly into your eyes, your nose, your ears. And my father could see that I was tired, and he paused, and we both leaned on our hoes. Then he waved his hand and said, 'Look how much we've already done.' And we went back to work reinvigorated. So, look, everybody's worried. I too am sometimes worried. But whenever I'm worried, I think of that story. And I tell myself, 'Look how much we've already done.' Amazing achievements, despite having had to hold a sword in one hand all these years. So I think we can sum up on an optimistic note and I'm sure that we will prevail. Our task is, of course, to look after our own interests. And we must always remember that the Jews have a very small country, a country with very many talents, a brave nation, and that this is the only place in the world where the Jews have the right and the ability to defend themselves, by themselves. Now as a Jew, and I am first and foremost a Jew, the most important thing to me, really, is to insist on the Jews' right and duty to defend themselves by themselves. And that's what drives me, and I will not budge in this regard, ever. I'm looking to the future. I want to see what will transpire, what needs to be done for Israel to be stronger, from every point of view - nationally, morally. And I look ahead with optimism. Oh, and don't sell that apartment in Ma'aleh Adumim.