The main question before us is: What kind of Palestinian Authority will we face after the implementation of the Disengagement Plan? One of the major roles of the international community, as I see it, is to strengthen the moderates and to isolate and weaken the extremists.
The Role of the International Community in the Peace Process
One of the major roles of the international community, as I see it, is to strengthen the moderates and to isolate and weaken the extremists. This means not to have any kind of contact with the extremists, even if it is just with the lower echelons. I believe that any kind of contact with tho extremists – of the Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Islamic organizations that call to destroy the State of Israel – will not contribute to our efforts to move forward. A decision now to have any kind of dialogue with those extremists would be a huge mistake. This would weaken the moderates, as they would have no reason to keep a moderate approach. They are not getting support from their own people and at the same time they are not getting support from the international community, so they, too, will become extremists.
The Palestinian Commitment to End Terrorism
The main question before us is: What kind of Palestinian Authority will we face after the implementation of the Disengagement Plan? Because right now, even though we have a better leadership with better intentions, that doesn’t say that they are prepared to implement their positive intentions and to take concrete measures, in order to try to bring peace and quiet to our region.
I think it is very important that all of us implement the commitments and the understandings that were achieved in the Sharm e-Sheikh summit only a short time ago – especially the commitment to end terrorism and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. When Abu Mazen (PA Leader Mahmoud Abbas) says that he opposes terror, I believe him.
But just to say that you oppose terror is not enough. In the last three days of terrorist attacks, he did not adopt even one decision or one measure against the Hamas or the Islamic Jihad. Those extremists have been given the right to decide when Israel, in their view, is violating the understandings and to respond automatically. So it is not only that they are not dismantling the infrastructure of those terrorist organizations, it is not only that they are not taking any move to confiscate the illegal weapons. We hear statements from Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Qidweh that they will never do it because the ‘occupier’ is still there.
I believe we are have a great opportunity that we are determined to seize. We would like to move forward. But we can’t keep waiting and asking them to take a real decision to bring peace and quiet. Unfortunately, during the last eleven years, the Israeli governments have seen that the Palestinians are not implementing their commitments while trying to implement Israeli commitments, evacuating more and more cities. And what did it bring us? More terror and more terror and more terror.
The meeting yesterday (21 June) between Prime Minister Sharon and PA leader Abbas was a very important one. However, they are still not doing, in our view, what needs to be done in order to put an end to terrorism and violence. I reiterate, we are very concerned about the statement that was made by Minister Qidweh, that they don’t really intend to dismantle the infrastructure of the terrorist organizations. It was one of their main commitments in Sharm e-Sheikh, and it shows us that, no matter what we do, they will not implement and fulfill their commitments.
The Israeli Commitments following the Sharon-Abbas Meeting
Israel has already evacuated the two cities of Jericho and Tulkarm and we are planning to evacuate others, but we will do so only if the PA will make sure that no terrorists from those cities will be able to carry out attacks against Israel. A few weeks from today we will evacuate Qalqilya and Bethlehem, if they will agreed to take measures that need be taken in order to ensure that there will be no terrorist attacks from those cities. Then we might consider allowing the return of those who were expelled from Bethlehem (following the terrorist takeover of the Church of the Nativity). But they should implement the commitments that they took upon themselves in Sharm e-Sheikh regarding the terrorist fugitives and the necessity to confiscate their illegal weapons.
As you know, we released 900 prisoners, as it was agreed. And we have now an additional committee headed by the Minister of Justice, Ms. Livni, which will try to find out if it is possible to release more prisoners in the near future.
We are trying very hard to ease the life of the Palestinians by removing roadblocks, providing more freedom of movement, giving more permits to work in Israel, enabling them to build their seaport in Gaza, by opening the checkpoints at Erez and Tarqomia for the entry of goods, and issuing more permits to work in Israel, even to stay here overnight. At the Karni crossing facility, things are working much better than they were a few weeks ago. The Palestinians will also start in a short time to plan or prepare for the building of their airport.
It is very important to understand that all of those achievements that we have with the Palestinians are subject to the implementation of the commitments from the Palestinian side. At yesterday’s meeting, we did not accept the Palestinian request to give them more and different types of weapons. We believe that they have what they need in order to crack down on the extremists. However, it was agreed and conveyed yesterday to the Palestinians, that they will be provided with everything they need to support their security forces, like radio equipment, uniforms, and vehicles.
The Palestinians asked to change the way in which their products are conveyed through those crossing facilities, the technique that known as "back-to-back". They want it "door-to-door". We are now examining their request and are looking for ways to try to help them and maybe to ease the process and by that to minimize the time that it takes.
But all this will be much easier for us to implement it if they themselves will implement their commitments. Because to make gestures towards the Palestinians without making sure that they won’t be turned against us in the future, will only fail in a very short time; and we don’t want it to fail, we want it to succeed. We want it to be a model for more progress that we can make one with each other and I am sure that if they will do so, they will find us as real partners to move together towards a full implementation, not only of the Sharm e-Sheikh understandings, but the Roadmap as well.
Coordinating the Disengagement
We are trying to coordinate the implementation of the Disengagement Plan with the Palestinians, with the Egyptians and with the Americans.
Regarding the settlers’ houses, there is an agreement in principle that Israel will demolish the houses, and the Palestinians, with the support of a third party, will evacuate all the debris. The international community is considering announcing that they will build houses for the Palestinians in those territories that will be evacuated, which will enable the Palestinians to leave their refugee camps. But more than that, maybe not less important, it will create many many new jobs for the Palestinians to build those houses.
The Egyptian Role
There is today a debate here in Israel, within our security forces, regarding the Philadelphi route (separating Egypt and Gaza), on whether we should leave this territory or not. The terrorists continue to smuggle all kinds of weapons through tunnels that they are digging from the Egyptian side of the border to the Palestinian side of the border. Exactly a year ago, when I visited in Egypt and I complained that the smuggling of weapons continues, President Mubarak told me that if we would like to help them to prevent those smugglers, we should allow them to station more border guards at the border. My reaction was positive; immediately I told him that I need to ask the Prime Minister, and, of course, after a short time I told him that we can move forward on it. We are very close to carrying this out, but since then we have had long discussions with the Egyptians on what would happen if Israel in a few years would ask that the situation be restored to what it was until today. The Egyptians would like to make it irreversible, while the Israelis would like to maintain the option of reversing the situation on an Israeli request. General Soliman visited Israel a few days ago, Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit was here and President Mubarak met with Shimon Peres a few days ago, and all of us of course discussed this issue. We may be close to achieving an understanding.
At the same time, we are facing some difficulties in the Knesset, where the legal advisor of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee says that it will need an approval of the Knesset. That is something that will make it of course much more complicated. Yesterday seven former chairmen of that committee over the last 20 years published a call to the Israeli government not to change the status along the Israeli-Egyptian border because it would undermine the stability of the peace treaty that we have between Israel and Egypt. But for the time being there is a dispute between legal advisors of the Knesset and the Foreign Ministry, and now I’m trying to find out if it can be done without going to the Knesset.
Terrorism and the Peace Process
The events of this week show us that we are facing terrorism once again. As you know, on Sunday we lost a soldier, on Monday we lost a settler. The Islamic Jihad is getting instructions from their headquarters in Damascus to carry out attacks against Israel and to abandon the understanding that they achieved with Abu Mazen a short time ago in Cairo. I believed for a very long time that there is no way to keep those extremists committed to the understanding that there was an agreement with Abu Mazen; they are trying only to gain more time in order to rebuild their infrastructure and maybe to make a decision when to blow up the whole process at the appropriate time. Only in the last 24 hours, we had 20 terrorist attacks, including missiles and rockets and mortars. This terror is carried out by the Hamas and especially recently by the Islamic Jihad which is seeking, I believe, to show that they are still relevant.
But what happened the day before yesterday, was something that could blow up the whole process that we are having with the Palestinians. I am referring to the young woman suicide bomber that was caught on her way to an Israeli hospital in the city of Beersheba, where she was being treated by Israeli doctors after she was burned in her home. She was recruited by the al-Aqsa Brigades, a branch of the Fatah – not the Islamic Jihad, not the Hamas, it is the Fatah itself. Just imagine what could have happened if she would have gone there, to Beersheba, to the hospital, and she would have blown herself up, with the doctors, with the nurses, with other patients. She could have killed dozens of people. Here we see not only the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, but the Fatah itself. The Chairman of the Fatah is still Abu Mazen. So what is the PA doing to stop the al-Aqsa Brigades?
I think that this terrorism is not helping us with Israeli public opinion, and it makes it much more difficult for the Israeli public opinion to support the process when they realize that nothing is being done by the Palestinian Authority, by the Palestinian leadership. Or they can’t support it when they can see that terrorism has returned.
Israel’s Intention to Prevent Terrorism from Gaza
All of us would like to believe that these territories will be controlled by the Palestinian Authority and not by the extremists of the Hamas or the Islamic Jihad. We would like Gaza to be a model for reconciliation, for understanding, for the possibility to live on with each other. And of course it will make it much easier for us to move, to implement the road map after we will finish the withdrawal from Gaza. It will be totally different thing if in a short time after we leave, they will bring their launchers very close to the border and target Israeli towns. Ashkelon could be the next target of the Hamas. We have refineries and electric power stations in Ashkelon and Ashdod. Attacks on these cities would make it almost impossible to make any move for years to come, and no Israeli prime minister would ever agree to withdrawal in the future. However, if it does work, it will encourage the Israeli government to move forward because it will have the support of its own people.
If the Palestinians will continue to fire missiles and rockets and to carry out attacks against us, we will have to turn to totally other solutions to put an end to this phenomenon. And by saying different solutions, I mean everything. If we have to go back to Gaza, we’ll do it. But we don’t want to do it.
The decision that was made is that we will maintain a ceasefire while implementing the disengagement, but we are not going to implement it under fire. If we have to enter the area for a few days, we will do it. I know that a short time after Abu Mazen was elected they were firing all kinds of missiles at Israel. We told him that if he is not going to stop it, we will be there in a few hours. I want you to know that in three hours we put an end to all the firing of missiles at Israel. So if we will have to do it, we will do it. The Prime Minister has said that it won’t stop the implementation, but it can’t be at the same time that while we are trying to evacuate the settlers, they are shooting at us and we seem to be leaveing only because they are pushing us out.
The Domestic Impact of the Disengagement
We would like the disengagement to be carried out in such a way that won’t cause any casualties to the settlers or of course to our security forces. And it will not be easy. The situation is very different from what happened 23 years ago in Sinai.
The Camp David agreement was signed on September 17, 1978, six months later, in March 1979, we signed a peace treaty with Egypt, and three years after that, in March 1982, we withdrew from Sinai and evacuated all the settlers. It was three and a half years; here we have a much shorter time. Those who oppose the disengagement now are saying: then it was for a peace treaty, now for what? The settlers had then been living only three to five years in Sinai. In Gaza they have now been living for about 36-37 years. It is a very long time. Some of them are there for third generation already. Moreover, the settlers in Sinai were more moderate, they were secular; here they are more religious, more ideological. They are not planning to leave the territory by themselves and our security people said that they will need four people to remove each settler. Now there are 8,000 of them there, and of course we will try to prevent others from coming to help them.
We are trying to do it in a way that won’t damage the sensitive relations that we have between different sectors in Israeli society. But it will be much more complicated if will be have to implement it under fire, under terrorist attack, because we will have to deal with the terrorists and of course it will reduce the support that we might have from our public opinion. So this period of time is crucial.