Israeli President Shimon Peres gave an exclusive interview to The Israel Project's Arabic language outlet Israel Uncensored earlier today, Monday. Over the course of the interview President Peres discussed the Hamas escalation in southern Israel, evaluated the overall regional situation, and sent a message to the people of Gaza. That transcript is below.
Peres: “Egypt could help bring an end to the fighting.”
Jerusalem, November 19, 2012
Mr. President, do you think that Israel’s response to the firing of missiles by Hamas, roughly 1,000 attacks in Gaza thus far, is proportional? At such a time, when the tension between the two sides is at its peak, it is important to clarify that Israel does not want war. The Arabs and the Muslims are not our enemies and we reiterate that we want to renew negotiations with the Palestinians on the basis of the “two-state solution.” Nevertheless, it is important to make clear, particularly to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and to the entire Arab world: Hamas and other organizations in Gaza are firing missiles on Israeli towns on a daily basis. Hamas is the one that initiated this latest escalation. There is no county in the world that would be prepared to absorb missiles raining down for such a long time on its cities and towns, on kindergartens and schools. It is an intolerable situation and the Israeli leadership had to make a decision in order to bring this to an end.
There are those who say that the timing of this action is related to elections in Israel. The Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak triumvirate wishes to be re-elected and all means are justified, including an action in Gaza. Do you agree with this claim? I do not believe that the reasons underlying this operation are political or related to the elections. No politician in Israel would endanger our children for votes. We undertook this operation because we had no other choice, in order to protect our citizens, just as any other nation being attacked by missiles would have done. You must remember that it was not Israel that initiated the timing of the present escalation. Hamas, continuously and ignoring repeated warnings, escalated the firing of missiles on Israel, allowed various organizations to shoot at Israel from the Gaza Strip, just like in the Wild West, and even carried out an attack against Israeli soldiers. In certain respects Hamas left the Israeli government no other choice but to act in order stop the firing against its citizens.
Another new aspect of the present campaign is Hamas’s ability to fire toward Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. Did this surprise you? We were not surprised by Hamas’s capabilities. The assessment was that this would be one of the organization’s responses. I am pleased that despite the huge effort they invested in that, and despite various false claims on their part – they did not succeed in harming Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem or causing damage. We have the best technology in the world and we are using it for our defensive needs. The “Iron Dome” system, which up to now has been able to intercept a significant number of missiles being fired by Hamas, offers a kind of “protective umbrella” for Israel’s citizens, Arabs and Jews alike. In Tel Aviv and Jaffa, in Beersheva and Rahat.
How do you view Egypt's role in the present crisis? Egypt is a highly important country. The peace treaty between Israel and Egypt is not only a strategic asset for both countries, it is also an important foundation for stability in the region. Recent events are a very good example of this – Egypt could be a factor that stabilizes the situation and finds solutions that save human lives and contribute to peace and calm. We welcome Egypt’s involvement in trying to bring an end to the current crisis. I think that Egypt also understands that aside from statements in support of Hamas, Egypt cannot allow the organization to drag it into instability in Sinai and the country.
At the present time there is, in fact, dialogue taking place between Israel and Hamas, mediated by Egypt and the USA. Do you see any possibility of direct contacts between the two sides? Is it perhaps time for Israel to begin seeing Hamas as a partner? Regarding a ceasefire, Hamas must stop the firing immediately as a precondition for any ceasefire. It is important to understand – Israel’s firing on Hamas targets in Gaza is the effect, not the cause. We are firing at missile launchers, weapons cashes and so on because they are firing on citizens in Sderot, Beersheva and Tel Aviv, not the other way around. It is important not to believe the Hamas propaganda, which is attempting to give the impression among residents in the region that Israel is the aggressor. We have no interest whatsoever in operating in Gaza. Israel withdrew from Gaza completely in 2005. If Hamas would stop the firing by their military wing, and would stop allowing other organizations to run rampant, they would see quiet on the part of Israel. With regard to political negotiations – Hamas continues to call for Israel’s destruction and acts against it with violence. Therefore, Hamas cannot be seen as a partner. But you need to remember, and I remind the Israeli public of this as well, even in these trying and tense days: Not everyone on the Palestinian side is Hamas. There is another camp interested in dialogue with Israel, that doesn’t agree with the way Hamas is exploiting civilians as human shields for terrorist activity, that believes that we can live side by side in peace. We must talk with that side and find ways to reinforce them.
Do you have a message for the people living in Gaza? My message is this – we do not wish you harm. Hamas and the terrorist organizations are the ones who are bringing disaster upon you and they are the ones dragging the sides into confrontation. For more than 12 years, residents in the south, families and children, have been suffering from Hamas rockets. We are making every effort not to harm Palestinian civilians who are not connected with terrorist organizations despite the fact that the entire world already knows that Hamas hides behind civilians and conceals its weapons in homes and even in mosques. I hope that peace is achieved quickly, and I have not abandoned the hope that one day the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians will be different.