The main purpose of the Israeli operation in Gaza is twofold: To take measures in order to allow the release of the Israeli kidnapped soldier, and to stop the Kassam missiles.
Opening statement by PM Olmert: The main purpose of the Israeli operation in Gaza is twofold: One, is to take measures in order to allow the release of the Israeli kidnapped soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, and the other is to stop the Kassam missiles from being shot at Israeli civilians in the south part of the country.
Since about ten months ago, Israel pulled out entirely from Gaza back into the territory which is recognized by the international community as part of the State of Israel. In other words, there are not any occupying forces in Gaza since August of last year. And since then, there wasn’t one day of rest for the people of Israel that live in the south part of our country. Almost on a daily basis, there are missiles shot at them, with one purpose in mind of those who are doing it. This is to kill innocent Israeli civilians in schools, or in their homes or in the streets as they are trying to do every day.
This is something that is entirely intolerable. Israeli people like every other people, deserve to be protected. The Palestinians deserve to be protected and the dream that we had when we pulled out from Gaza, was that we will be able to start a new phase in the relations between Israelis and Palestinians. I personally remember talking with Palestinians as well as with others about building together with Palestinians and with private entrepreneurs, from outside of the Middle East, industrial parks in the Gaza area with Israeli investments, that would have helped create new economic opportunities for the people living in Gaza. The people of Gaza deserve to have a different quality of life. They deserve to have a government which takes care of their needs, of their problems, of their opportunities, of their chances. And what we wanted was to have a quiet and peaceful border between us and the Palestinians that would allow us and them to develop the potential that we both have at this part of the world.
Unfortunately, as I said, there wasn’t one day of rest for Israelis which were attacked repeatedly by the missiles coming from Gaza aiming at the lives of innocent people. And at some point, we had to stop it. And the main purpose of this military operation is, a) as I said to help release the Israeli kidnapped soldier, which is a victim of a terrorist action, in the territory of the State of Israel by terrorists that crossed the border for the purpose of provoking a military confrontation. And the other purpose is to stop the Kassam missile shooting against Israeli people. We haven’t set a particular timetable for this operation. It will continue in places, in times, in different measures that will suit the purposes that were outlined. Thank you very much.
Q: Claudio Pagliara, the Bureau Chief, Middle East Bureau Chief of RAI Italian Television, based in Jerusalem. Prime Minister, we heard criticism in the international community about the Gaza Strip operation and European Union asked Israel to restrain and told Israel not to use disproportional force in the Gaza Strip. How do you react to this remark?
PM Olmert: First of all, allow me to take this opportunity to congratulate the Italian people for this great victory yesterday in the World Cup. Indeed, like hundreds of millions across the world, I was anxiously watching the game through television, and when I saw the Italian flags waved with great cheers in the big squares of Rome, I felt a lot of emotion for the Italian people and I congratulate you and your country…
You asked me about the comment made by the European Union with regard to the measures taken by Israel. What exactly is the criterion by which one measures the proportion of more than a thousand missiles shot at innocent civilians against the measures that were taken by the State of Israel in the last few days? Can one measure the anxiety, the fear, the shocks, the lack of security of tens of thousands of people living day-in and day-out for almost a year under the constant threat of missiles shot at them? When was the last time that the European Union condemned this shooting and suggested measures, effective measures to stop it? We were waiting and waiting and waiting and everyone knows that Israel pulled out entirely from Gaza precisely in order to try and establish a new basis of cooperation and understanding with the Palestinians, when there can be no claim for any territory by the Palestinians in the south part of the country. And the response was terror and terror and terror and terror again. So at some point Israel had no choice but to take some measures in order to stop this threat.
I think that this is the desire of the Palestinian people as well. I have no doubt in my mind that the majority of the Palestinian people sympathize with the demand of Israel that this violence will be stopped. They are victims of it – we are victims of it. They want to stop it – we want to stop it. They don’t know want to be held captives by the terrorist organizations which have no regard for the basic needs of the Palestinian people and therefore this is something that all the countries that care for us and for the Palestinians, must join forces together in order to stop. And that’s basically what we are doing and I think that once the Kassam shooting will be stopped and the terrorist actions against innocent civilians will be halted altogether, there will be no need for any Israeli action in Gaza.
Q: Daniel Blumenthal of the Foreign Press Association. Mr. Prime Minister, the Israeli presence in Gaza, the fact that the Kassam rockets don’t stop even when the army is there, and the international pressure, will it allow you to implement with a permanent plan that was the main item in your elections campaign?
PM Olmert: The use of violence is always a threat to any peace progress. And in this respect, of course the continued shooting of Kassam missiles against the Israeli population in the south part of the country is a threat to any peaceful reality in the south part, and consequently also in the east front between us and the Palestinians. The concept of realignment is basically a concept of gradually separating the Israelis and the Palestinians in order to allow them to fulfill their dreams in a contiguous territory in the West Bank and establish their own independent Palestinian state and allow the State of Israel to practice its right for secured borders without violence and without a threat of continued terror.
If the Kassam shooting will continue, we’ll have to continue to take measures to stop it, and again this is something that I’m sure both the Palestinian population and us are very much against because we want to separate in a friendly manner and to live along side each other, both for them and for us in a peaceful way. So if the terrorist organizations will impose a violent confrontation, I’m afraid that both Israelis and Palestinians will have to bear the consequences but that can’t stop the inevitable historical process of separation between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the only solution for the Palestinians. It is the only way in which Palestinians can ultimately realize their dreams of a Palestinian state and this is the only way in which we can secure ultimately the borders that will provide the necessary protection for the Israelis. The dream that I have is the same dream that motivates President Bush, the dream of a two-state solution, two states that live alongside each other without terror and without violence.
Q: From Al Arabia news channel. Mr. Prime Minister, my question is, Khaled Mashal, from what we are hearing now, is backing a deal with Israel concerning the kidnapped soldier. So in light of the fact that the military operation is not achieving its aims; missiles are falling on the southern side of Israel as well as there is nothing new regarding the soldier, so why are you refusing very strongly to negotiate with Hamas or with anybody else, like Israel did before with Hizbullah, for example through the Germans?
PM Olmert: Khaled Mashal is a terrorist with blood on his hands. He’s not a legitimate partner for anything. He’s the head of an organization which openly, publicly and officially calls for the liquidation of the State of Israel, and therefore he is not a partner and he will not be a partner, and I will not negotiate with Hamas.
I repeat, I want it to be very clear. I don’t negotiate with Hamas, I did not negotiate with Hamas, and I will not negotiate with Hamas. I will not release prisoners to trade off the Corporal Gilad Shalit to Hamas. The idea that some people have that Hamas can be a partner is an outright threat to the only chance that we have to come to terms with moderate Palestinians that are opposed to terror. To negotiate with Hamas today, to surrender to their demands to trade off prisoners with Corporal Shalit means that you don’t need more moderate guys like Abu Mazen, who is opposed to terror, because at the end of the day, the upper hand will always be that of the terrorists and the killers and those who support violence and I think that this is bad advice, this is a bad move. I will not take it, I will not negotiate with Hamas. I will negotiate in the future with Abu Mazen if Abu Mazen will have the power to exercise his authorities as the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority in the Palestinian community.
Q: Steve Gutkin from the Associated Press. Given what’s happened in the last year since the Israeli withdrawal, the rise of Hamas, the rocket attacks, how does this affect your plans for withdrawing from the West Bank and does it make you any less committed to the idea of a “hitkonsut”, a realignment?
PM Olmert: I can’t tell you that growing violence and the rise of Hamas has made life easier, but for any of us in the Middle East. I think it’s a bad time and it’s a bad message, and this is something that primarily the Palestinians will have to deal with. Do they prefer, they will have to answer these questions, do they prefer to be ruled by a government of terror, by a government which is absolutely dominated by terrorist group that is boycotted by the entire world or do they want to be governed by a civilized government that is prepared to make compromises on the basis of reasonable agreements that can lead towards peace between us and them. This is the choice of the Palestinian people.
Now, I made my plans clear to the Israeli constituents before the elections, after the rise of Hamas, so I was aware of course of the Hamas government and their victory in the Palestinian elections, but I still think that the desire of Israelis to achieve two goals, to achieve secured borders for the people of Israel and to separate from the Palestinians on the one hand and at the same time to allow the Palestinians to have a contiguous territory where they can fulfill their dream of having a Palestinian State, that this is still the most important, the most powerful, the most challenging idea that will dominate the near future of the Middle East. And therefore I haven’t changed my basic commitment to the realignment plan.
I know that this will be difficult and it is difficult, but I am prepared to oppose those who are threatening the peaceful future of the Middle East, and I am absolutely determined to carry on in order to ultimately separate from the Palestinians and to establish secure borders that will be recognized by the international community and at the same that will allow the Palestinians to have a contiguous territory where they can have their own independent Palestinian state.
Q: Gregorous Monel, Comersant from Moscow, Russia. Mr. Prime Minister, several minutes ago you said that one of the purposes of the operation in the Gaza Strip is to free Corporal Gilad Shalit. How is the operation in the north part of Gaza Strip connected to fate of Israel soldier and how exactly can it help to make him free?
PM Olmert: I said that there are two purposes. One is to help release the Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit and the other is to help stop the shooting of Kassam missiles. And I don’t think that I have to sit here as a military analyst to explain to you precisely how each moves in which section of territory and the use of particular weapons is helpful to achieve one of these two goals. But what we have been doing in the last few weeks, was to try and a) stop the Kassam rockets, Kassam missiles from being shot at Israeli individuals and at the same time to help release the Israeli corporal at the lowest possible intervention with the lives of the Palestinian people.
I am entirely aware of the difficulties that are created to the Palestinian people and there is nothing that I want less than to disturb them. We have no policy of punishing the Palestinian population. I think an overwhelming majority of the Palestinians deep down identify with the same desire that the Israelis have which is to live without a threat of violence which they are faced with on a daily basis. And they deserve to live without violence. They deserve to live without this threat, they deserve to live without hearing the shooting and the noise of tanks and planes over their heads, just as the Israelis deserve to have it. But at the end of the day, it’s in the hands of the Palestinian terrorist organizations who against the better interest of their own people are using these missiles in order to try and threaten the Israeli people.
Q: Gideon Lichfield from The Economist. You’ve already said that the operation in Gaza doesn’t have a particular time limit. Israeli actions up till now don’t seem to have deterred the people who fire Kassam rockets and as any journalist who goes to Gaza can attest, Israeli actions usually increase popular support for the people who fire the rockets and there are potentially as many makers and firers of rockets in Gaza as there are people in Gaza, so what is your exit strategy?
PM Olmert: I’m not certain sir, that I share with you the judgment about the outcome of this operation at this point in life. As I said, it will take time. I will remind you that more than a year ago, it was the Hamas that ultimately expressed its desire to have a hudna and to stop terror and terrorist actions against Israelis. It was not Israel and I think they had a good reason to want to do it after losing some of the leaders at that time. So I think the measures that we take which are very careful and very restrained and are attempting to minimize the difficulties to the Palestinian population, which is not to be blamed for the violence of these terrorist organizations. These are effective measures and it may take some more time, but I’m hopeful that at the end of the day, the dominant forces within the Palestinian community will impose the end and the cessation of these violence actions by Palestinians which will then allow Israel to restore the situation to what it was before the beginning of this operation.
Q : John Vause from CNN. Sir, two questions, firstly, would you agree that with Israeli forces back in the north and the south of Gaza for whatever reason, that most Israelis or many Israelis at the very least would now view the Disengagement of last summer as a failure, a failure to stop the attacks, not one moment of peace since the Israeli forces pulled out in your own words. Secondly, the air strikes and the other military offensive in Gaza, many believe this is an attempt by the Israeli Government to topple the democratically elected Hamas government within the Palestinian territories. How do you respond to those accusations?
PM Olmert: First of all, I entirely disagree with your judgment about the outcome of Disengagement. Can you imagine how more deadly the shooting of Kassam missiles could be had there been these seventeen Israeli townships and settlements in the distance of two hundred or five hundred meters from Palestinian centers in Gaza? How many more casualties we would have had then if on top of the nine to ten thousand Israelis that would have remained in the middle of Gaza, we would have had ten or fifteen thousand Israeli soldiers permanently in Gaza in order to protect these civilians. So the fact that we don’t have these settlements has provided Israel with a lot more flexibility in dealing with terror compared to the situation that was before the Disengagement.
By the way, according to the statistics that we have, there was shooting before Disengagement, a lot more against Israeli settlements in comparison to what they are shooting now, which is quite a lot. But they did even a lot more then, so terror we had before, and terror we have now. If you asked the average person in Israel when there is a better chance for security when we have thousands of people in the heart of Gaza tied up to the Palestinians and exposed to them or we have all this territory empty and therefore we have more flexibility for the military forces of Israel to defend the Israelis in the south part of the country, I think the situation today proves to be a lot more convenient.
That does not mean that we can tolerate or want to tolerate the continued terror that is aimed at Israeli citizens from Gaza and we will do everything in our power to stop it. But by way of comparison, I think that the situation today is much better, not as a result of any goodwill which is lacking from the Palestinian side, but as a result of the bold and courageous policy that was carried out by Former Prime Minister Sharon and the Israeli Government.
Now, about Hamas, this could be much a more fair and serious challenge had there not been more than three hundred missiles shot at Israelis from Gaza in the last month. I mean, when you ask about this operation, the Palestinian government is a terrorist government. This is the first time in modern history that there is a whole government which is a terrorist government. This is not a government which is influenced by terror, this is not a government which sympathizes terror, this government is terror. And many of the prominent leaders of this government are deeply involved in terror and that’s why they were arrested. They were arrested because there was evidence against the Palestinians, the Hamas ministers and members of Parliament in being directly involved in terrorist actions. So, we have no particular desire to topple the Hamas government as a policy. We have a particular desire to stop terrorists from inflicting terror on the Israeli people and whoever is involved in terror will have to pay for it and that’s exactly why we have arrested some of those members of Parliament and ministers who use the umbrella of democracy in order to abuse the basic goodwill that people have for democracy for the sake of terror.
Q: Hitoshi Hito from Kyoto News, Japanese News Agency. Let me ask you first regarding your realignment plan. Are you going to keep IDF Forces in the settlements you plan to evacuate in the near future, and secondly, on occasion of Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to Israel, let me ask you about, Japan has concern about military buildup in North Korea, so do you intend to point out any kind of connection between nuclear issue in Iran and that in North Korea?
PM Olmert: As for the settlements in the West Bank, the policy that I have outlined, is a) to remove the unauthorized outposts according to the commitment made by the Israeli Government in the past. This is the first priority and it will be carried out in the near future. I can’t tell you at this point precisely the dates, but this is a commitment that we made and we will accomplish this and we will fulfill our promises to the international community and remove the unauthorized outposts in the West Bank.
Now, as for the visit of Prime Minister Koizumi, I am very excited about it. I think this will be the first time that there will be an official visit of a Japanese Prime Minister in the State of Israel. I know Mr. Koizumi, I met with him in his official residence about a year and a half ago and it was a delightful meeting and a delightful visit and a great country, very interesting and very promising. And I think there is a lot that we can talk about. In principle you know that Israel is very concerned from the possible possession of nuclear weapons in the hands, particularly in the hands of non-democratic reckless governments, such as North Korea or Iran and I’m sure that these issues will be amongst the other issues that will be discussed in the context of a visit of Prime Minister Koizumi and the State of Israel.
Qi: Matt Matski of Finland. On entering southern Gaza, Israel air force was bombing a power station which was the power station in Gaza which in turn risked to create problems with the water supply, sanitation, health, their health risks and so on. Was this action okayed beforehand by on the political level and if so, what purpose did it serve in attaining those goals that you were talking about and what consequences do you think that this will have in making Gaza more dependent on Israel in the future for their electricity supply and so on?
PM Olmert: I want to remind you that Gaza is entirely dependent on Israel for the supply of water and electricity and that we continue to supply Gaza water and electricity. I am not aware that any of the very friendly nations to the Palestinians offered the Palestinians to supply them with this basic commodities which are essential for the quality of life of the people in Gaza or in the West Bank. Israel is the only country which is doing it, at a very fair cost. And the reason we are doing it is because we care for the population and we don’t want to punish the population in either Gaza or the West Bank.
The measures that were taken in this military operation were taken for the sole purpose, or purposes which I have outlined to you before. One is to make the possible release of Corporal Shalit a reality and the other is to try and stop the Kassam missile shooting at Israeli civilians. The measures including the damage to the power stations was part of an effort to have a more effective control on the crossings and on the movements because we were afraid that the Israeli corporal will be smuggled out of Gaza and that once he will not be in this controlled area, he might be lost entirely. And some of the measures that were taken, were taken for that purpose. All was approved by the political leadership. Not only this operation, every operation is approved by the political leadership. We are not military experts. Of course we get the advice from the military on what do they need to do in order to achieve the goals that the government set for them, but it is always, it needs, it requires the approval of the political leadership without which the army doesn’t act.
Q: Simon Wilson from BBC News. Mr. Prime Minister, two points, just to pick up from my colleague and if you’ll permit me to put it in a slightly different fashion, but perhaps a bit more directly. The bombing of the power station and other measures such as the use of sonic booms to disrupt the lives of Palestinians in Gaza have led to charges that Israel is or may be guilty of war crimes in this operation. I’d like to ask you how you respond to that and secondly, I would like to ask you a personal question which is how are you coping with this crisis without your mentor, Ariel Sharon?
PM Olmert: As for the first question, tell me do you think your country would have supplied electricity for a state which is shooting at Great Britain one thousand missiles? In return for the generosity of shooting at you a thousand missiles, you would have supplied them with electricity and if you cut the supply about one third – it’s not that there is no supply of electricity by Israel. There is still most of the, all of the electricity of Gaza is supplied by Israel and 70% of the population still have supply of electricity. All is provided by Israel, in spite of the shooting.
There was in the past sometimes a flexible definition of war crimes, particularly by some biased unprincipled and unfair people, so I’m not responsible for the definition of these actions outside of their context, but every person with a reasonable moral principle would have first to answer the question what do you say to people that are continuously threatened by the shooting of missiles, what do they have to do in order to defend their own lives and the lives of their children?
How do I cope with this without the presence of Sharon? Well, naturally, I am the Prime Minister and Sharon is not here now to give me advice, but I remember the way in which Sharon conducted himself through the last intifada and how determined he was to stop the terrorists and how aggressive he sometimes decided to be in order to defend the Israeli people and I remember these principles, and I act according to the needs, the threats and the right of the Israeli people to enjoy these basic rights of defense in their homes and I do what can be done and needs to be done under the present circumstances and I’m sure that had Sharon been with us, he would have been one hundred percent behind me.
Q: Ulrich Sahm from the German Press. What I do not understand, because I’m also not a military analyst, why do you destroy an entire power plant and not only the electricity line to the crossings as you said, if all the purpose is to stop Gilad Shalit from being transferred over the crossings. I mean, punishing a third of the population is quite a hardship I would say.
PM Olmert: The outcome is not convenient, that I agree and we don’t pretend. I didn’t say that the purpose of destroying a certain part of the power station to be more accurate which controls the supply of about 30% of electricity, was not only to control the electricity in the crossings, but to control the electricity in key areas where we believe there is a genuine chance of having the Israeli corporal and therefore allowing Israel to take actions that will enable us to find where he is and to be able to release him.
Q: Mitch Potter from the Toronto Star Newspaper. I’ d like to ask you about what some Israeli political analysts have been saying in the past few days and that is that if there is an intent to even or … the effect of some of these policies in Gaza might dislodge in some way the Hamas government, some Israeli political analysts are warning that that actually could have a terrible effect even for Israel as well as the Palestinians. The outcome they say might be that Gaza devolves into a kind of semi-chaos where you actually have no governments at all. You have local towns with local power brokers and no address on the other side for Israel to deal with in any way. Can you speak to that please?
PM Olmert: I believe that you know in the Toronto Star that there are more than just a few Israeli analysts with whom I disagree. They’re not just a few, there are more than that. But I also think that you know just as well, that there are quite a more Israeli analysts that entirely agree with the judgment that we made about the measures that we need to take in order to defend Israeli people.
We are a democracy, unlike the Hamas or some of the Arab countries, there is a genuine and open and a very dynamic political debate within the State of Israel, and some of the analysts that are opposed to me exercise their right to be wrong on a continuous basis. And that’s fair enough. I have a different observation, I have a different judgment. I think that I don’t know of one democratic government in the world, one, one – those who support us, and those who preach to us – that would have sat and done nothing when a thousand missiles are shot at innocent civilians in the heart of the country. I can imagine that some of those countries that preach to us would have done a lot more in a more brutal and vicious and cruel way against civilian populations than what we did, the minimum that we are doing in order to defend our people. Within Israel there are some who disagree with the government. I think that they are wrong, but I will definitely defend their right to continue to exercise their right to express their opinions in all the different channels as they do.
Mitch Potter: No concern that after Hamas something worse could come? Is that not part of the advice you’re being given?
PM Olmert: You know, in theory there are many dangers. I want to remind you that more than a year and a half ago, I think as a result of the very tough and unyielding position of the government under Ariel Sharon, and some measures that were taken against Hamas, some of which were criticized at the time, the Hamas requested a Hudna and a ceasefire. And the reason they did it was because they understood that this equation is not necessarily in their favor. So, there are many opportunities and many possible developments and no one of us can be in total control of all the different options.
What I’m trying to do in a very careful manner, with a very genuine regard for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian population that lives alongside the State of Israel, is to offer security for my people, and mind you, I am criticized in Israel mostly, not for attacking the Palestinians, but for not doing enough to protect the Israeli people, for not attacking more the Palestinians, for not taking more severe measures in order to protect the Israeli people. That’s the main thrust to the opposition against me in the State of Israel. Not by some political analysts that think that we have to come and pay tribute and respects to Khaled Mashal. Most of those who attack me, attack me because they don’t think that I take enough measures in order to stop it, even harsher and more aggressive measures against the Palestinians and against the terrorist organizations. And again, the emphasis of my policy is to do what needs to be done for the sake of security and not anything more, because of our sensitivity to the life conditions of many Palestinians who are victims just as we are victims of these terrorist, aggressive and extremist, fundamentalist organizations.
Q: Leah Zinder for IBA News. Mr. Prime Minister, if you are not ready to make a deal and the violence escalates and if I understood correctly, the realignment plan will be put on hold, are you considering enlarging your government, perhaps forming a national unity government or a national emergency government?
PM Olmert: I honestly and genuinely am not making political calculations at a time when I’m fighting the terrorists. I am sure that without the need for enlarging the government, all those who share with me the basic concern for the security of the State of Israel and share with me the basic commitment to fight terror will support the actions that the government takes against the terrorist organizations, whether they are part of the government or not.
Q: Marcos Luzaca from Brazilian Television, Global TV. You said you are ready to have a kind of deal, negotiation with Abu Mazen, as he is powerful to do that. The Palestinian Authority claims that they can’t get order and discipline over the militants because they don’t have condition to do it, they don’t have a chance to show their capability, and they say their claims are disregarded, including their need to keep the police and so on. One example to illustrate was the attack in Jericho’s prison six months ago in which many people claim it wasn’t necessary to do. What do you think about this feeling?
PM Olmert: I’m sorry, I’m not sure that I heard every word of yours and I want to be accurate. I prefer to talk today about Gaza. I don’t think that we took any violent measures in Jericho altogether.
Marcos Luzaca: I’m sorry, it was just an example, but the question is about Gaza, about the negotiation with Palestinian Authority.
PM Olmert: Look, the international community set forth three principles that are the preconditions for political negotiations, and these three principles were approved by the entire international community. They are:
a) full and comprehensive implementation of all the agreements that were signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the past,
b) the right, formal recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and
c) is the complete disarming of all the terrorist organizations and a total cessation of terror. These are the three principles which were outlined and approved as a precondition by all the international community. President Putin, President Chirac, Prime Minister Blair, President Bush, the EU – everyone agrees to these basic principles as a precondition.
And my answer is therefore very simple: whoever agrees to these basic principles will be a partner for negotiations with Israel. Abu Mazen seems to me to be more likely as one who will agree to these and will want to implement it. The Hamas says openly and publicly that they are opposed to all of these three principles. They are against Israel’s right to exist. I remind you of Mahmoud Azahar saying that he dreams of the day that he will have a map of the Middle East hanging on the wall of his office without Israel on the map. This is the dream of Hamas, this is what Hamas wants to achieve and this is in outright opposition to all the basic principles of the international community. They are not prepared to accept any of the previous agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and they don’t want to stop terror, they want to continue with terror. So therefore the only possible candidate for negotiations is someone who says he is ready to accept the principles of the Quartet and the international community. Now what remains to be seen is whether he will be able to accomplish it, to actually carry out these principles – not just to make a statement – but to actually exercise his authority to the degree that he will be able to implement these principles, and I am ready to negotiate with him.
Q: Michael Matza from the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. I just want to ask you if you would amplify a little bit on your strategic thinking with this campaign in Gaza right now. You explained the two goals and I think we understand, certainly how the military operation is trying to shut down Kassam launching, but I want to ask you with regard to the part about Gilad Shalit: in light of recently published poles that show that a large majority of the Palestinian people support the abduction of this soldier and don’t think he should be given up unless he is traded for prisoners, and those of us who go to Gaza hear from them that they have experienced hard times before, they have experienced what they call siege before and they feel that they can weather this too. How do you feel that the current military campaign is getting you any closer to the release of Corp. Shalit?
PM Olmert: I am aware of the fact that there are certain opinion poles asking these questions of whether you would release or whether you prefer the release of prisoners in exchange for Corp. Shalit. I was not elected in order to satisfy opinion poles and I have to conduct the national affairs of the State of Israel on the basis of my judgment and the government’s judgment of what is essential for the future security of the people of Israel. And I think that trading prisoners with a terrorist, bloody organization as Hamas is, is a major mistake that will cause a lot of damage to the future of the State of Israel. Now, the fact that there are polls that show that the majority amongst the Palestinians support the kidnapping of any Israeli corporal is, of course, a very bad sign that there are not enough Palestinians who are committed, as we are, to achieve these goals that will do good to both us and them. And I hope that just as I’m not prepared to act only on the basis of opinion polls that can change from today to tomorrow, but rather to act upon the basic principles of human decency which guide my government, so I hope that the majority in the Palestinian leadership, primarily Abu Mazen, will continue to hold their position that the Israeli corporal has to be freed and released without any conditions, as Abu Mazen said time and again over the last few weeks.
Q: Janice Mackey-Friar from CTV, Canadian Television. With a number of operations in Gaza in the past couple of years, Zaitun, Jebaliah, Beit Lahia, Beit Hanun – all of them have been done under the auspices of trying to stop the Qassam fire. There have also been thousands of artillery shells that have been lobbed into Gaza since the beginning of this year. What makes you think that this campaign is going to be any more successful in stopping the Kassams when there has been little history of it, and at what point will you say: yes, that’s enough, and this is a success?
PM Olmert: what do you mean at what point I will say: yes, that’s enough, that’s enough for me defending myself, now you guys can carry on and shoot more and more of your missiles trying to cause more and more damage to Israelis? I mean, what else could Israel do other than to pull out entirely from Gaza and stay in a territory which all the international community recognizes to be the official part of the State of Israel, to expect the Palestinians to stop terror and shooting from Gaza. I don’t want to say at what time I will stop. I will stop when I feel that I can provide security for the people of Israel. I will not stop until then. I will continue to take every possible legitimate measures of self-defense that will help provide better security for the people of Israel.
The timing will be determined by the aggressors. The timing will be defined by those who initiate terrorist actions against the State of Israel, and so it’s entirely up to them. If they will stop it, we will stop it. Unless they will stop it, we will continue to take measures in order to defend the Israeli people in the south part of the country or in any other part of the country. By the way, thinking about the former question about the opinion poles, I just wanted to remind you that the same opinion poles that support the kidnapping of the Israeli corporal also support the suicidal attacks against innocent Israelis. So what do you want to learn from these opinion poles?
Q: Fiama Nirenstein, La Stampa, Italy. Mr. Ahmadinejad of Iran says that this situation creates an inflaming new feeling in the Middle East that will destroy once and forever Israel and whatsoever the things he used to say, but out of that on the 12th of July there is a deadline for Iran to say if they accept or not accept the deal that is taking place around it. So how do you evaluate this threat? Do you think that there is really something connected to the present reality, or is it just for the future for the building of the atomic bomb and then you are on the same old track with Iran, or there is something new about it?
PM Olmert: First of all, I would like to remind you that this gentleman Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, recently said, I think in the last couple of days, that the Islam will be relieved and happy only when the Zionist entity will be completely destroyed and disappear. This is the main thrust of the ideology that motivates Ahmadinejad.
You’re talking about one of the most extreme anti-Semites of all times and the only formal leader of a recognized and big nation with a great history – Iran – that holds such an important position and is, from top to bottom, the worst anti-Semite that you could think of.
Now, this in itself is very bad, but when this is the leader of a nation who at the same time wants to have a possession of nuclear powers that can be effectively used against others, and when, at the same time, this nation tries to build ballistic missiles with a range that can reach every point in Europe and in the Middle East – the combination of these three: the anti-Semitism of the worst possible kind with provocative rhetoric that is spelled out on a daily basis by this President and the desire to possess nuclear weapons and the efforts made to build delivery systems such as ballistic missiles with warheads that can carry the atomic bombs to every point in Europe and in the Middle East – this combination is very, very threatening.
On the basis of the history of my people I am not prepared at any time to acquiesce with it or to tolerate it. I have not the slightest degree of tolerance to the possible threat coming from this combination which is represented by Ahmadinejad. Now I hope that the international community, led by the United States and the EU-three and Russia and China, will take effective measures that will stop these threats from being realized. I think the options are none, the effects are quite clear, the main testing point is the demand of Iran to allow them the enrichment process of uranium. This must be denied by the international community and I believe that the countries led by the United States and the others have the power to deny Iran from continuing the enrichment process. And I am certain that knowing some of the leaders, primarily President Bush and his determination and total commitment to stop these threats from going on – I am certain that the necessary measures will be taken. Thank you.