We need you to make the distinction between Hamas and between Israel. There is one designated terrorist organization which controls the Gaza Strip, and there is a state, Israel, a member of the United Nations.

 FM Livni briefing in Sderot-Opening remarks


FM Livni briefs foreign diplomats in Sderot (Photo: Reuters)

Briefing to the Diplomatic Corps by Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni
Sderot, December 28, 2008

Opening remarks

The mayor of Sderot has expressed to you his thoughts from the bottom of his heart about the situation here. He expressed the way of life that the people of Sderot have been facing during the last years.

I would like to add only a few things, because this is not the first time that we are meeting in Sderot. I think that some of you were here when Sderot was targeted by missiles from the Gaza Strip and I know that the days when Israel is under attack are the days we got some sympathy from the international community.

But speaking for the government, I would like to be in a position in which I can give an answer to our citizens and not only to share their suffering with the international community. This is our responsibility as a government and this is what we are doing now, according to the military operation that has started.

A few words, not only in terms of history but to share with you how we see the situation and where we are going.

There is no need – although maybe there is – to remind everybody that Israel left the Gaza Strip a few years ago. We dismantled all of the settlements in the Gaza Strip and we took our forces out, in order to create a vision of peace. The idea was that the Gaza Strip could have been the beginning of the creation of a Palestinian state, which would have included the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as well.

This never happened because Hamas took control and now the Gaza Strip is controlled by Hamas.

Another fact is that Hamas is a terrorist organization which expresses an extreme Islamic ideology. They are not willing to accept the requirements of the international community – to accept the right of Israel to exist, to renounce violence and terrorism and to accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. This is the nature of Hamas; this is the nature of the enemy that we all face. And this is not only the problem of the State of Israel – this is the problem of the Palestinians, this is the problem of the entire region and the problem of those who share with us the same values and the aspiration to live in peace in this region.

Israel decided to act in accordance with a dual strategy. We decided to initiate the Annapolis process according to a strategy that was agreed with the international community and with the pragmatic part of the Palestinian Authority. The idea was to work with the moderates, to work with the pragmatic leadership of the Palestinian Authority in order to reach a peace treaty.

The only way to achieve peace in this region is not only to work with the moderates but also to confront terrorism, to confront those who are working against any kind of peace process and put obstacles in the way of peace. This is the obstacle in the way of the Palestinians, on the way to creating a state of their own. Because the situation in Gaza is unbearable. This is a threat to the State of Israel and undermines the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority. They undermine any kind of attempt to reach a peace in this region.

This is something that we all share. The requirements of the Quartet, which are now a part of United Nations Security Council resolution 1850, state very clearly that in order to gain legitimacy in this region, any Palestinian or any Palestinian leadership must accept the requirements of the international community – to accept  the right of Israel to exist and to renounce violence and  terrorism.

So Hamas is not legitimate and Hamas control of the Gaza Strip is not legitimate. And those who suffer from this are the Israelis and those who want to live in peace in this region.

This is a zero sum game and you need to understand it. This is a zero sum game not between Israel and Hamas, this is a zero sum game between the extremists and the moderates, between Hamas and Fatah, between Abu Mazen and Haniyeh.

Everybody knows this in this region but, unfortunately, things that we all understand in this region are not the words that you are going to hear publicly – because of the pictures that the radical elements spread, because of the pictures that some parts of Arab society see on television and maybe the international community as well. But the role of the leadership is to speak up and to say yes, maybe these are the pictures. But Hamas is to blame. This is their own responsibility and these are the ones who control the Gaza Strip and these are the ones who place their own civilians in the risk of a military operation. These are the words that we expect the international community to say. I would like to hear it in English, in French, in Arabic. Not only in Hebrew.

I know that most of the international leaders know this. But sometimes it is not easy to stand up, sometimes It is difficult to speak up when these kinds of radical elements are abusing television, and abusing the situation in order to continue to spread hatred.

Where are we going with this?

As I said before, Israel did not leave the Gaza Strip in order to come back. We have no intention of controlling the lives of the Palestinians. That is not a part of our values and it is not our aspiration. But sometimes a state or a government reaches the point at which there is no other alternative.

And we tried everything.

We pulled our forces out of the Gaza Strip, we dismantled the settlements, we showed restraint. Just to remind you, the calm that was achieved through the initiative of the Egyptians six months ago worked for a few weeks, and then Hamas deliberately violated this truce by targeting Israel on a daily basis, by smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip, by continuing to keep Gilad Shalit in captivity and refusing to accelerate the negotiations to release him, by not coming to Cairo in order to do so – because they had this feeling that the Israelis are going to do nothing, and that the Arab world is going to do nothing and, at the end of the day the international community will put pressure on Israel. I hope that they are mistaken.

This is something that we need to prove to them during these days.  And Israel has paid the price for its restraint.

Six months passed and now we have longer range missiles that threaten other parts of Israel that were not under threat before. And when we needed to choose whether to launch a military operation six months ago, or to have a truce, we decided on the truce in order to give some hope of peace and quiet in this region.

But now I need to give explanations to them, and not only to the people of Sderot. A few months ago it was only the people of Sderot and some parts of this region.

We have here a member of parliament, Shai Hermesh, who is living in a kibbutz very close to the Gaza Strip, and he unfortunately has had to almost live in a shelter for weeks now. This is unbearable – a situation in which a member of the Israeli parliament needs to live in a shelter and other citizens as well. And I need to give an answer to all of these citizens.

We have tried everything – if there was any need to prove to the international community that Israel is looking for peace and quiet, we have shown it. It was proven.

And now our expectation from the international community is to support something that I knows is not easy to support. Military actions are not easy to support. You have your own public opinion, you have the pictures, and this is something that you have to give an answer to, I know that. But this is the only way that we can change the realities on the ground and that is the goal of this operation. We need to change the realities on the ground and we need to change the equation that Hamas thinks is the right equation for this region.

And in order to do so, we need to use some power. The mayor said before, that maybe Israel is stronger and it looks like the Palestinians are weaker. In a way we feel in Israel, that this is the reverse story of David and Goliath. Because the appearance is that Israel is stronger – and thank God that Israel is stronger. But we are not using our power and our forces as we could – unlike Hamas, which uses everything in order to target civilians. During this operation, we are making every effort to prevent civilian casualties.

There is a rocket now heading towards Kissufim.

So, we have the military power but we cannot use it because of our own values and not because the international community has asked us not to use it.

But the there is a point in time at which we needed to do what we are doing now. Enough is enough and we are going to use all of our forces. We are trying to avoid civilian casualties, that is true. The targets are only Hamas targets. We are talking about their headquarters; the places in which they are situated.

You can see on television that most of those who died during the attack were wearing Hamas uniforms, either black or other uniforms of Hamas, and before this military operation, we called on the civilians to leave those places that they know are Hamas headquarters or places where Hamas people live or have gathered, in order to attack Israel. We know that they abuse the civilian population centers. I think that the last time we had this gathering we showed you a film in which they used a school yard from which to target Israel. And maybe Israel is the only state in which warnings are given in advance to the civilian population to leave a place that we know we need to target a few minutes later, a few hours later or a few days later.

So, in order to change reality, the military operation is one thing. But in order to make a quick change in reality, we need you. We need the international community. We need you to put pressure on Hamas. We need you to make the distinction between Hamas and between Israel. And, excuse me, I cannot accept statements like "We call on both sides to halt the violence or to stop their military actions." There are no "both sides" in this. There is one designated terrorist organization which controls the Gaza Strip, which spreads its agenda of hatred, and which cannot accept our right to live in peace in this region; and there is a state, Israel, a member of the United Nations.

You cannot make this comparison between Israel and a terrorist organization. And the only way in which maybe we can shorten the time of the military operation is by making it clear that Israel has the right to defend itself, that Israel can take all the necessary steps to change reality, that the international community supports Israel as it continues to work against Hamas, and is not going to legitimize Hamas.

I know that you are talking and your foreign ministers are talking with other leaders in the region. And I hope that you hear from other leaders in this region – those who understand the nature of the Middle East – about the nature of the extremists in the region. I hope that they are telling you the truth. They do not want Hamas to succeed. They have their own radical elements back home. They do not want Hamas to have any kind of victory, because a Hamas victory threatens them back at home.

Maybe they cannot say this publicly, I can imagine that. But this is the reality that I want your states to understand. We are not only working against Hamas, but we are representing the need and the desire and the hope of every pragmatic leader and all of the moderates in this region to change the reality; and to send a message that the Middle East is not a neighborhood which the bully of the neighborhood can control, a neighborhood in which violence can work or succeed.

And just a part of this effort is the military operation. The other is your attitude and the way you act against terrorism and your attitude towards this operation in the next few days and weeks.