Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammed Stayyeh offer insights on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Crowley about the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Following the interview with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Crowley spoke with Mohammed Shtayyeh, senior adviser to President Abbas, to hear the Palestinian response
Netanyahu on ceasefires: “Israel has accepted five cease-fires since this conflict began, five. We accepted them and we implemented them, including two humanitarian cease-fires in the last 24 hours which Hamas rejected, as they rejected all the other cease-fires. And they violated them.”
“So, you say Israel resumed its offensive. No, we didn’t resume our offensive. We had a cease-fire. They violated it. And now they are violating their own cease-fire. And, obviously, we will take whatever action is necessary to protect our people, including against the terror tunnels that they are trying to dig against us.”
Shtayyeh on ceasefires: “Well, my reaction is that, since this morning, while Israel is claiming that it is abiding by a cease-fire, six Palestinians have been killed, including a Christian nurse in one of the clinics in Gaza.”
“So, by all means, we are very much entrusted to see an end to the Israeli aggression. And, as I understand, the efforts of Secretary Kerry is yielding some fruits. There will be a Palestinian delegation formed by President Mahmoud Abbas going to Cairo to negotiate the terms of cease-fire.”
“But, by all means, if the Israeli army is going to be stationed where it is and continue shelling, obviously, Israel is very much endangering. Whether it’s a humanitarian cease-fire, whether it’s a timing cease-fire, whether it is a long-lasting cease-fire, the Israeli army should not stay where it is now, because the Israeli army now is nearly occupying 50 percent of the total area of the Gaza Strip, which is no less than — which is more than 370 square kilometers, with 1.9 million Palestinians living in that very small territory.”
A full transcript of both interviews is available after the jump.
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CROWLEY: Joining me now, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mr. Prime Minister, it is good to see you this morning. And thank you for your time.
Will you accept this cease-fire, as you understand it, that Hamas now seems to support?
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Well, Hamas doesn’t even accept its own cease-fire. It’s continuing to fire at us as we speak.
Israel has accepted five cease-fires since this conflict began, five. We accepted them and we implemented them, including two humanitarian cease-fires in the last 24 hours which Hamas rejected, as they rejected all the other cease-fires. And they violated them.
So, you say Israel resumed its offensive. No, we didn’t resume our offensive. We had a cease-fire. They violated it. And now they are violating their own cease-fire. And, obviously, we will take whatever action is necessary to protect our people, including against the terror tunnels that they are trying to dig against us.
Hamas is simply continuing all its operations. And Israel will not let this terror operation decide when it’s convenient for them and not convenient for them to attack our people,when it’s convenient for them to restock and reload, and when it’s not convenient for them. We will do whatever is necessary to protect our people.
CROWLEY: So, to be certain that I understand, did someone from the U.N. or elsewhere come to you and say, Hamas has agreed to a cease-fire and here are the terms of it, or are you just hearing this and then seeing what’s happening in Gaza and know that there is no cease-fire?
NETANYAHU: Well, as I say, there were two cease-fires, humanitarian cease-fires, brokered by the U.N. in the last 24 hours which we agreed, Hamas has violated. We maintained it. We allowed trucks to go in and so on for relief, for food, for drugs, for everything else that is needed in such cases.
Hamas violated it. Now Hamas floated that it wants a cease-fire beginning at 2:00. And they have attacked us after that. So, they are violating even their own cease-fire. And under these circumstances, Israel will simply do what it must do, what any country would do to defend its people.
CROWLEY: Mr. Prime Minister, your defense minister recently talked about significantly broadening the ground operation in Gaza, asking soldiers, Israeli soldiers, to be prepared for that.
There’s a member of Parliament talking about — quote — “the next phase.” What is that next phase? What does broadening the offensive mean?
NETANYAHU: Look, I’m not going to talk about specific military operations.
But Israel is doing what any other country would do, and certainly the U.S. would do. If 80 percent of your population were under fire and you had 60 seconds or 90 seconds to get into bomb shelters, if terror tunnels were dug underneath your border in order to come in and explode your kindergartens and massacre your people and kidnap American citizens, you would take action.
If America was attacked by land, by sea, by air, you would take action. So, Israel is taking action to neutralize these — this threat. And I’m not going to get into the specifics. Obviously, we hope we can get a sustainable quiet as soon as possible.
I think the only path to do that is by adopting the Egyptian initiative that basically has unconditional — has no conditions, except to try to begin to address, have a cease-fire, a cessation of all hostilities, and try to address the two underlining issues here, security for Israel, which means demilitarizing Gaza, and from all these rockets and tunnels and so on, and social and economic relief for the Palestinians.
And I think the two are intertwined. I think you can’t get social and economic relief for the people of Gaza without having a sure demilitarization, because, otherwise, all the money, all the concrete, all the cement that will go in will not be used to offer relief to the people of Gaza, but to build more terror tunnels and more rockets and more missiles.
We need demilitarization. That’s critical.
CROWLEY: Do you disagree with the characterization that Israel is thinking about significantly broadening its operation in Gaza?
NETANYAHU: Candy, we will take what action is necessary to defend our people…
NETANYAHU: … both in the tactical sense and the strategic sense.
CROWLEY: So, is the military goal here for Israel to shut down all of the tunnels and stop Hamas from its constant firing of rockets into Israel, sort of destroy their infrastructure, or is it something short of that?
NETANYAHU: Well, I would say we want to stop the firing of rockets, for sure. But we also want to dismantle the terror — the tunnel — the terror tunnel networks that we have uncovered.
I don’t know if we will have 100 percent success. Our soldiers are dealing with that right now. Just imagine, these are — you know what these tunnels are? Hamas received international aid from the Qataris and from others. They have received a lot of money.
And people said to us, enable concrete and cement to go into Gaza so they can rebuild — build Gaza, build schools, build — build hospitals and so on. They took all that cement and built this vast tunnel network penetrating into Israel, so they can come out under our towns, our cities, our schools and explode our children, explode our kindergarten.
They took money that was — cement that was used — meant to build kindergartens for Palestinian children and used it to dig tunnels to explode our kindergartens.
So, obviously, this is — this is just a nonstarter. It has to stop. And I think that one of the things that we are dealing with right now is how to dismantle this tunnel network that — our forces are busily engaging in it. I don’t think we will have 100 percent success. I can’t guarantee that, but we will have major success. We already have achieved…
CROWLEY: Major inroads on that.
Mr. Prime Minister, you know there is a battle on the ground, and then there is a battle in the headlines.
My question to you is whether, given the recent demonstrations we are now seeing in the West Bank and the anti-Israeli rallies that we are seeing in some areas of the West, do you think you are — are you worried that you are making more enemies than you are killing?
NETANYAHU: Well, Hamas is betting on this, because Hamas is betting on the fact that people don’t have the context, that they can hoodwink people, basically mislead the entire world: First, I would like to blow up the West Bank. There’s no question about it.
And I think President Abbas is charged with a responsibility, formal and practical, of keeping things under control there, because Hamas would like obviously to have explosions there as well.
Secondly, vis-a-vis world opinion, the world is responding to something that is heart-wrenching, and that is any civilian casualty. We don’t want to see a single civilian casualty. We are not targeting a single civilian. But we’re faced with a very ruthless terrorist enemy that, you know, lauds bin Laden, accused the United States of killing him, is recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States, by the E.U.
And anybody with — with a right mind understands this. And they don’t care about not only targeting our civilians, but hiding behind their civilians as human shields. When we ask Palestinians to leave the places from which Hamas is firing against us, Hamas is telling them to stay.
Why are they telling them to stay? Because they want to pile up more and more dead bodies of Palestinian civilians. So when you look at the civilian toll, which is what — what people are responding to, I ask decent people everywhere to remember this. Hamas is responsible for that. Hamas is responsible and Hamas should held accountable for these civilian deaths.
CROWLEY: If — And, yes, it is a fact, and people have shown that Hamas does hide weaponry in schools, that it does urge civilians to stay, even though Israel is saying, get out of there.
But does all of that, in your mind, relieve Israel of its stated desire not to have any harm come to civilians? Is there something more you could be doing, looking at what we are seeing going on in Gaza in terms of the victims?
NETANYAHU: Candy, we are doing everything we can.
And the history of warfare has not yet enabled any army, any civilized army, the army of a democracy like Israel, to be able to deal with a ruthless terrorist enemy that uses civilians as a human shield without having some incidental civilian casualties.
Israel does not target a single civilian. But, if you think of what you would do, what the United States would do under similar circumstances, you would act, at the very least, in the same way. And many countries have.
I think this is — it’s important to stress…
CROWLEY: But you know the civilians are there.
NETANYAHU: … we are seeking…
CROWLEY: So, I guess my question is, if you know that civilians are there, along with, intermingled with Hamas, is there responsibility to try to figure that out with more precision than it seems to be figured out at this point?
NETANYAHU: Well, we are doing exactly that. We are doing exactly that.
But, remember, Hamas is firing at our cities, at our people, firing from these areas, from these homes, from these schools, from mosques, from hospitals. They are actually using them as weapon storage, as command posts and as firing positions, or right next to them.
And, so, what would you do? Would you say, all right, we can’t do anything because they are hiding behind civilians? That is their whole strategy. You would actually give them immunity. You would give terrorist organizations a powerful weapon if you say that democracies, a legitimate democracy cannot act against a terror organization because it is using civilians as a human shield, and therefore it should absorb attacks on its own civilians, on its own forces.
You are giving them a tremendous victory. And I think that’s wrong. I think you want to minimize, as we do in any way that we can, civilian casualties. And we don’t target civilians. But you don’t want to give the terrorists the immunity because they use civilians as a human shield. That’s a mistake.
I don’t think Americans or Europeans or Asians or anyone else would want to have this established as a principle.
NETANYAHU: That’s deadly for the peace of the world.
CROWLEY: Prime Minister…
NETANYAHU: A great victory for terrorism, that would be.
CROWLEY: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, again, I thank you for your time this morning.
NETANYAHU: Thank you, Candy. Good to talk to you.
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CROWLEY: I want to now bring in Mohammad Shtayyeh. He’s a senior adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas.
I guess my first question to you is about the cease-fire. I think you heard the Israeli prime minister say there — you know, Hamas is already violating its own cease-fire because they are still firing in Gaza. What is your reaction?
DR. MOHAMMAD SHTAYYEH, PALESTINIAN ECONOMIC COUNCIL MINISTER: Well, my reaction is that, since this morning, while Israel is claiming that it is abiding by a cease-fire, six Palestinians have been killed, including a Christian nurse in one of the clinics in Gaza.
So, by all means, we are very much entrusted to see an end to the Israeli aggression. And, as I understand, the efforts of Secretary Kerry is yielding some fruits. There will be a Palestinian delegation formed by President Mahmoud Abbas going to Cairo to negotiate the terms of cease-fire.
But, by all means, if the Israeli army is going to be stationed where it is and continue shelling, obviously, Israel is very much endangering. Whether it’s a humanitarian cease-fire, whether it’s a timing cease-fire, whether it is a long-lasting cease-fire, the Israeli army should not stay where it is now, because the Israeli army now is nearly occupying 50 percent of the total area of the Gaza Strip, which is no less than — which is more than 370 square kilometers, with 1.9 million Palestinians living in that very small territory.
CROWLEY: Mr. Shtayyeh, I just want to go back to something you said.
So, did you say President Abbas will be going to Cairo? That’s my first question, along with this Palestinian delegation. And my second is, Hamas has said, you know, it doesn’t like the new government in Cairo. What makes you think, since they turned down the first Egyptian offer at a peace — or — offer at a peace agreement, a truce, what makes you think Hamas would go for one now?
SHTAYYEH: Well, the president is forming a delegation, is not leading a delegation. And the delegation will be going to Cairo, as I said.
SHTAYYEH: In the coming few hours, we will be receiving the final answer from Hamas. They are now meeting in Qatar. And we will be receiving their final answer.
The most important thing is that, for us, is this aggression that Israel is taking, totally unjustified, because we know today that the Israeli chief of police has said that nobody has claimed responsibility of the killing of the three settlers that has caused all of this aggression on Gaza.
So, Israel has a hidden agenda to really destroy and to totally destroy the Palestinian — Palestinian reconciliation that has been signed and that has been culminated by the formation of an agreed-upon Palestinian government.
So, Israel wanted to keep Gaza totally separate from the rest of the Palestinian territory, because all this aggression is totally unjustified. And I was very shocked that the prime minister was speaking about avoiding civilians and so on. Eighty percent of those who have been killed in Gaza are civilians, women, children, old men; 1,080 Palestinians have been killed in the last 18 days. Eighty percent of them are innocent people.
CROWLEY: Mr. Shtayyeh — right.
SHTAYYEH: And they are claiming that they are sending messages to them. And these people have no place to go. Even a U.N. school was bombarded by the Israeli army.
CROWLEY: Mr. Shtayyeh, what is the Hamas responsibility here? And I ask you that because it does — it has sent a couple of thousand rockets into Israel since this whole thing started. It does it rather routinely over time.
Have the Palestinians, has the Palestinian Authority urged Hamas to stop the shelling? Has the Palestinian Authority said to Hamas, stop putting your weapons in schools, stop telling people to stay when Israelis told them to go? Is there a Hamas responsibility for this that the Palestinian Authority is doing anything about or urging them to do something about?
SHTAYYEH: Not only that. Not only that.
President Abbas has actually come to terms with Hamas that they are accepting a two-state solution. They are ready for quiet, this long-term quietness. All what brings — all what brings quietness to Israel is to really achieve this. We have formed a Palestinian- agreed-upon government with the blessing of Hamas.
And the Palestinian Authority here was taking over Gaza. So, we were designing a very well-orchestrated Palestinian — Palestinian reconciliation on the terms — on our terms, not on the Hamas terms. Israel — the whole world welcomed the agreed-upon Palestinian government. The only country that rejected it, that has worked against it, that has fought to destroy it is Israel.
And this is the most important point in the Israeli hidden agenda.
CROWLEY: But has Hamas recognized…
SHTAYYEH: Now, the Israeli claim that Hamas has launched 2,000 rockets from Gaza into Israel, I would like to ask the Israelis, how many civilian Israelis have been killed? One single person. And the other person was an Asian worker.
Thirty — 30 of those who were killed are Israeli soldiers. They were killed in Gaza.
SHTAYYEH: So, let’s not exaggerate the issue of the Israeli fear, and they have 60 minutes to go into hiding and so on.
CROWLEY: So, just quickly, sir, are you telling me that Hamas — that the Palestinian Authority has said to Hamas, stop the shelling, stop putting your weaponry in schools, and has it recognized Israel’s right to exist?
SHTAYYEH: By all means.
We wanted the situation to be very quiet. We wanted peace and we wanted to come to terms with the Israelis. Unfortunately, I should be frank here and tell you that the Israelis, who have totally pushed the peace talks to failure on the 29th of April, the Israelis, who shifted the whole battle from the West Bank into Gaza, Israel wanted to get out of the political corner that it was put into by the international community, by the diplomatic offense that we have been tailoring at the international political arena.
Israel wanted to drag us into a security square in order for itself to liberate herself from a political square. So, this is what is happening now. The Israelis wanted to sabotage the Palestinian — Palestinian reconciliation. The whole Gaza Strip has been under total siege for seven years. People have not been able to move out of Gaza.
SHTAYYEH: Palestinians in Gaza don’t know what Jerusalem looks like. Palestinians in Gaza don’t know what the rest of the world looks like. So, they have been under tight siege.
If you put any human being in a siege, he will react. So, what is the — the way out for all of this misery is that Israel should its — end its siege on the Palestinians, whether in the West Bank or Gaza or Jerusalem, and allow the peace talks to continue.
Israel has to accommodate the Palestinian demands and aspirations for ending occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. That is the only answer. The Israeli aggression on Gaza does not bring peace to Israel. We know that. Israel might enjoy another one year or two years of cease-fire. That is not what we want. We want end of occupation.
CROWLEY: You want a larger peace. Right.
SHTAYYEH: We want the Palestinian refugees — 62 percent of those who are living in the Gaza Strip are refugees. We want to end this misery of the Palestinian people in order for us really to live with dignity as human beings in an independent state side by side with the Israeli state.
CROWLEY: Mohammad Shtayyeh, let’s certainly hope that you can get to Cairo and that, at least for awhile, a cease-fire can be put in place and then on to a larger peace. Thank you so much. We appreciate your time today.