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Exclusive: Sharon's Own Words

In an exclusive interview, CBS News Anchor Dan Rather speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after the prime minster's meeting with Secretary Powell and just before the latest suicide bombing.

RATHER: Mr. Prime Minister, how did the meeting with Secretary Powell go this morning? Tell me about it.

SHARON: It was a friendly meeting. I welcomed him to Jerusalem, the capitol of the Jewish people for over 3000 years, and the united and undivided capital of the state of Israel forever. I've made it clear so many times that I'm ready to make painful concessions but I'll never make any concessions whatsoever when it comes to the security of the Israeli citizens or the security which is needed for our existence. For me peace should provide security, because if peace doesn't provide security...who needs this peace?

RATHER: The United States government, practically every government in the world outside Israel, says that to get a political settlement you must deal with Yasser Arafat...not with someone else, but with Yasser Arafat. What will it take for you to deal with Yasser Arafat?

SHARON: First I don't believe that one can reach peace with Mr. Arafat. Less than two years ago Mr. Arafat was offered everything that one could have expected by my predecessor Mr. Barak and the efforts of President Clinton.

SHARON: I don't think any prime minister before Barak would have dared to think of concessions of this kind and I don't think that anyone after Barak, including myself will be offering the same thing. But Chairman Arafat didn't accept it and he adopted a strategy of terror, and therefore I don't think that one can get into peace with Chairman Arafat.

DAN: That being the case Mr. Prime Minister, has the U.S. government told you or have they not said that they will look for an alternative to Yasser Arafat?

SHARON: With him we cannot reach any settlement, therefore I believe that it should have been an effort to find somebody else with whom it would be possible

RATHER: Who might that be Mr. Prime Minister?

SHARON: First thing, I'm not sure exactly who that will be. Secondly, I'm sure that somebody is there. Each of us though we don't like it too much, one day is going to be replaced. But one thing should be clear. Chairman Arafat is not isolated. As long as leaders from all around the world would like to meet him, embrace him, talk to him, as long as that is happening it will take longer to find somebody that will be ready to replace him.

RATHER: The Palestinians say: one, there was a massacre. Two, that the Israelis have buried hundreds of Palestinians in mass graves.

SHARON: The answer is no. There was not a massacre there (in Jenin). There was very hard fighting going on in a built up area where any other country in the world, including Americans, would not have endangered their soldiers. They would have brought bombers or fighters, and they would have avoided all those casualties. As a soldier that participated in all the wars I know that it happens that there are civilian casualties and every casualty is a tragedy. But the difference between us and the Palestinians is we are looking for terrorists. When they choose targets they are looking for civilian targets, celebration places, weddings, bar mitzvahs, people coming out from synagogues and that is the most terrible thing.

SHARON: They are choosing this kind of terror and when it comes to suicide bombers… the most terrible things are happening. I know the world is worried...I got many phone calls from heads of state complaining that Mr. Arafat is having only candles there. I have not got a call about a family -- father, daughter, son -- that were killed and the mother is in a very bad condition in hospital. Nobody said a word about it. I didn't hear anything about a funeral for two children of a family and the parents do not know because both of them are in a critical situation in the hospital. Nobody worried about it. Nobody said a word about it and it brings me back to the point that Israel is the only place in the world where the Jews have the right and the capability to defend themselves by themselves.

SHARON: This nation is strong. Much stronger than our enemies believe. After the most terrible act of Passover, I suddenly saw again the strength of these people, of the Israelis -- of the Jews. Nobody will enforce upon us any decisions or resolutions that might affect our future. Israel is a wonderful country, a courageous country and we should be left to defend ourselves in this historic place. And I look forward with great optimism.

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