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Shimon Peres is the foreign minister of Israel. En route from New York to Valencia, Spain, he spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on April 22.

The United States has called Jenin ''a human tragedy.'' The United Nations has called what happened there ''morally repugnant.'' Archbishop Desmond Tutu has compared Israel's ''collective punishment'' policies there to the practices of apartheid. Why was such brutality against a whole town necessary?

SHIMON PERES: Because Jenin was the main center of the suicide bombers. Five of them from that town killed 126 innocent people, including people praying at a Seder dinner.

The refugee camps were immune from any search and any attempt to stop terror. Harboring terror is as close a crime as you can get to committing terror.

According to our count, we lost 23 soldiers in Jenin. The Palestinians lost 47 armed people and three civilians. All these rumors of massacres and vast destruction supersede these basic facts, the real story. Why don't those who condemn our action in Jenin remind the Palestinians that we were willing to give them independence, a state and land? Their provocation of war was unnecessary and unjustified.

GARDELS: How can you be so certain that only 50 Palestinians were killed when, by the accounts of visitors, the stench of death rises from beneath the rubble?

PERES: There are different people with different impressions. Let the fact-finding of the U.N. commission speak for itself.

GARDELS: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has said that the destruction of West Bank towns with military equipment provided by the United States violated U.S. laws that require they only be used for self-defense. He says U.S. aid to Israel should thus be cut back. How do you respond?

PERES: I have the highest respect for Jimmy Carter, but I wish he would suggest how to bring an end to terror and suicide bombers instead. He overlooks the fact that Israel reacted to terror in self-defense. We did not initiate this unprovoked. It was 100 percent self-defense. We didn't do it out of choice but out of lack of choice.

GARDELS: How can Yasser Arafat crack down on terrorists in any cease-fire if his police structure has been destroyed by the Israeli incursion?

PERES: He could have done it beforehand, and he didn't. Now, in any case, the most important thing he can do is create an atmosphere against terror. He can, for example, give a speech calling definitively for an end to terror as the means to a state. He can order the 30,000 policemen under his command to stop terror and reduce incitement. All this he can do even today. And he doesn't.

GARDELS: Haven't many of those police troops under his command either been arrested or decommissioned by Israel and sent back to their villages?

PERES: No. Only those who participated in terror have been arrested. In Gaza they are still intact. On the West Bank, such as Hebron, there are many places where his police are still intact and things remains just as before.

GARDELS: When Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah meets President Bush in Texas (ed.: at the end of this week), the idea of a regional peace conference will be on the table. Amre Moussa, head of the Arab League and Egypt's former foreign minister, says that, if Arafat is barred from this, as Sharon wants, the whole idea is a non-starter. Can you have peace talks without Arafat?

PERES: Amre Moussa should say what is a ''starter.'' We gave back to Egyptians all their land, their water, their oil without them waging a terror war against us. Similarly, we offered the Palestinians an independent state, land and a position in Jerusalem without terror. So a good place for the Arab League to start is by taking a clear stand against terror.

As for Arafat, he has been chosen by the Palestinians as their elected leader, so let him take part.

GARDELS: Some of your old Oslo peace allies in the Labor Party (such as Yossi Beilin) have said that Sharon has used you, and thus the Labor Party, to delegitimate the Oslo process, Arafat and the Palestinian Authority in order to destroy prospects for a Palestinian state. What is your view?

PERES: The problem in Israel is that the left does not understand we can't have peace without a majority, and the right doesn't understand that we can't win peace through force of arms. I am in the government for a very clear reason: I am trying to create a majority for peace and bring the Palestinians into negotiations.

GARDELS: And this incursion has helped, not hurt, the prospects for peace? You have no regrets about this military campaign?

My regret is that we had to do it. My regret is that the terrorists made us to it. But we have defend our lives, too.

GARDELS: With the strong electoral showing of Jean-Marie Le Pen in France and the recent attacks on synagogues, do you worry about the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe?

PERES: Yes. And we expect the European governments to figure out how to damp it down, to strengthen tolerance and stem hatred in their own societies. Anti-Semitism today is a non-Jewish malady -- anti-Semites, after all, are not Jewish and the Jews have a state of their own.

(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services
For immediate release (Distributed 4/22/02)