What took place in Gaza has exposed the reality that was there all along: Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization that acts against the Palestinians themselves.
Voice of Israel – Reshet Bet
[Translated from Hebrew]
Q: Do you share Prime Minister Olmert’s opinion that Gaza’s fall to Hamas actually creates an opportunity for Israel to negotiate, and perhaps even reach an agreement, with Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen?
FM Livni: There are two things here: first, Gaza falling into Hamas’ hands, which certainly is disturbing; and the political aspect, that this event makes a more appropriate expression of Israel’s strategy possible. Let me explain: the establishment of the Palestinian coalition government essentially created a situation in which the moderates and the extremists sat together in one government, and a process started that I could see over time might lead to a kind of legitimization of Hamas.
What took place in Gaza now exposed the reality that was there all along. In this reality, Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization that acts against the Palestinians themselves. This lets us distinguish very clearly between Abu Mazen and Hamas, Fatah and Hamas. We can now promote a combined strategy that simultaneously fights Hamas and conducts a dialogue with Abu Mazen, who, of course, will have to prove himself in the field. According to this strategy, Israel will work with a government that enforces its authority in the areas it controls, accepts the conditions of the international community and, of course, recognizes Israel. Therefore, in this regard, what’s happening territorially actually highlights the strategy that Israel has adopted since the elections in the Palestinian Authority.
Q: In your opinion do we now need to aid and strengthen Abu Mazen by releasing the funds that were frozen and releasing the prisoners we are holding, despite one view that Abu Mazen no longer has a chance of becoming a strong leader? He has also exhibited feeble leadership, according to his own Fatah members, in the Gaza crisis.
FM Livni: Israel has made it known from the beginning, ever since the Palestinian Authority elections, that if a government would be established that would accept the Quartet’s conditions, one that is not run by Hamas and is not a Hamas government in the guise of a coalition government, then Israel would release the funds to that government. And Israel will indeed do so.
It is true that Abu Mazen has for a very long time displayed weakness. What happened in Gaza actually spurred him into action, not out of a desire to please Israel but because of the situation in the PA. A kind of opportunity exists here that we certainly do need to take advantage of. We will have to examine things over time, but we must simultaneously continue taking action.
Q: Don’t these events make him even more irrelevant? You defined him as such even before he lost Gaza to Hamas.
FM Livni: From the beginning I said that the test, also of the moderates, lies in the implementation, but we are obligated to work with the moderates and to engage in dialogue with them, in order to give hope not only to the Israeli public but also to the Palestinian public, and to say that there is an alternative to Hamas. Whoever voted for Hamas, whoever lives in Gaza and warmly accepted these terrorists, will now find themselves in a situation where their leadership and government do not receive legitimacy, money or support from the international community and have no political horizon to offer them.
Some do understand that it is actually the moderate group, despite its weakness – and it is weak – that can provide them with a political horizon, an economic horizon and a better life, and can also support the process, which is Israel’s strategy and goal – the process of promoting two states – provided, of course, that the second is not a terrorist state.
We tried to create this alternative over the past year. The Mecca Agreement went against this strategy; it went along with terror rather than fighting it. In fact, Hamas placed Abu Mazen and his people in the position of having to decide, and today this decision must be very clear-cut.
It is important that the world not compromise on this matter. The international community must continue putting pressure on Hamas rather than embracing it, and understand that what is happening in Gaza is the result of what Hamas did. Rather than trying to reach some kind of internal compromise, the result of which would be freezing the processes and legitimizing Hamas, we need to take this distinction all the way.
This distinction also has a territorial aspect today, but the principle is to differentiate between the moderates and the extremists, between those who are willing and ready to advance a peace process and those whose ideology is based on extremism and religious fanaticism and who treat their own people with the utmost brutality.
Q: And if you still support two states, meaning the establishment of a Palestinian state, isn’t there a danger that some day it will fall into Hamas’ hands just as Gaza did?
FM Livni: Obviously we need to take that possibility into account, so the entire process of establishing a Palestinian state has to be based on several basic principles that Israel must demand throughout the process. One of them, of course, is that we are talking about two national states, each state providing a solution for its own people. And the other is that the road to establishing a Palestinian state will require a war on terror.
I clearly differentiate between a dialogue that can and should be conducted already now to reach points of agreements with Abu Mazen and the moderate group, and ensuring that, before the implementation of such agreements, before the establishment of such a state, all stages defined by the Quartet, as well as the Road Map will be completed, so that the Palestinian state will not constitute a threat to Israel. These are the two conditions.
So the distinction is between dialogue and actual implementation, which we are obligated to confirm because of the danger you mentioned. Of course, we have to be realistic and see this danger because of our obligation to prevent the establishment of a terrorist state.
Q: One question about Syria. An article published in the Maariv daily this morning states that Syrian President Bashar Assad sent a message to Prime Minister Olmert expressing willingness to negotiate without any prior conditions. According to this article, the message was conveyed by Michael Williams, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy who returned from Syria. Do you know about this message and what Israel’s next move will be – maybe inviting Assad to Jerusalem?
FM Livni: I don’t want to conduct foreign policy according to newspaper headlines. But I will define the first subject up for discussion in this context.
In Israel, the word peace means something more than the direct bilateral relationship between Israel and Syria. From our point of view, peace is the total cessation of Syrian support for terrorist organizations – Hamas and Hizbullah – as well as the axis formed with Iran which is very problematic in this region. It is important to clarify what Syria means when it says peace. Does it mean a strategic move, or only a kind of limited dialogue while supporting terrorist organizations? Here it is important that we examine both what is said and what is done in this context.