Following is a WorldNetDaily exclusive interview with Israel’s Finance Minister and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has emerged as one of the main opponents to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to evacuate Jewish communities from Gaza and parts of the West Bank this summer. Netanyahu explains to WND why he thinks the withdrawal plan will fail and sounds off about recent events in the region.
WND: In short, why are you opposed to Sharon’s plan to evacuate the Jewish communities of Gaza and parts of the West Bank?
BN: Well, I voted against the government with regard to the withdrawal and presumably I will vote against it when it comes up in another vote before the plan is actually carried out. I won’t change my vote. This is because the Palestinian terrorists don’t view our departure as a reasonable move but as a flight from terror and a sign that terrorism works. If you flee from terror, then terror continues to chase you. This plan simply emboldens the terrorists to continue their tactics until the completion of their ultimate goal: the destruction of Israel.
WND: Do you see Hamas creating a de facto state in Gaza after the withdrawal?
BN: Absolutely. This isn’t just my estimation, but these have been the constant warnings confirmed by the chiefs of Israel’s security. Both [outgoing Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe] Yaalon and [outgoing Shin Bet Director Avi] Dichter have said the departure from Gaza is a victory for Hamas, and as a result, they are gaining strength in Gaza. Hamas has its own army, and we see the foundations of a possible Hamas regime. Hamas, we are seeing, could topple [Palestinian Authority president] Abu Mazen.
I would love to see these warnings prove to be wrong. I would love to see thousands of Palestinians participating in peace demonstrations. But we are seeing instead thousands upon thousands of armed young thugs waiving Hamas flags and chanting slogans that after [Israel vacates] Gaza, it opens the road to Tel Aviv.
WND: Disengagement is drawing closer, but if you visit the residents and leaders of Gush Katif (the main Gaza Jewish community), they will tell you they are certain they will remain in their communities, that something will happen to stop the plan’s implementation. But now that the budget is passed and there will not be a national referendum, do you see anything that can stop it from going through?
BN: Well, I don’t see any possibilities in the political sphere. I hope, though, there will not be a violent rupture, but I cannot say for sure what will happen on the Palestinian side or on the Jewish side. This is why I favored conducting a national referendum. Taking people out of their homes results in passions on the Jewish side that can lead … I cannot say for sure.
WND: Israel has said it wants Egypt to take over security of the Gaza/Egypt border. Meanwhile, IDF officials at the border tell me Egypt has done nothing to stop the weapons-smuggling tunnels, and media monitors say Egypt continues to demonize Israel in its state-run press. What are your thoughts on Egypt assuming security control?
BN: I opposed this from the start. Egyptians won’t die for us. Furthermore, in order for them to even do it, it means Israel will have to allow an even stronger Egyptian force along the border, and this is in direct violation to our peace treaty with Egypt – which means we have to manipulate a treaty that has held up for decades. Regardless and quite apart from the problems we have with a cold peace with Egypt, such as the propaganda you describe and the failure to stop the weapons smuggling, this cold peace is better than a hot war. I am not saying there will be a war, just that with the treaty, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
WND: How then should Israel protect its borders after Gaza disengagement? The whole point of the withdrawal, presumably, is for Israel to completely leave Gaza.
BN: There is no substitute whatsoever for Israel’s control of the Philadelphi route (the Egypt-Rafah border in Gaza). That is the one guarantee the area won’t become a Hezbollah-land or a Hamas-land once we depart.
WND: Critics of the withdrawal plan have said they are worried this is just the beginning, that there will be further withdrawals from other lands after Gaza. Already Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has floated the idea of withdrawing from certain parts of eastern Jerusalem. Will there be further withdrawals under Sharon?
BN: Naturally, if I oppose this plan, which has no reciprocity on the Palestinian side, I oppose anymore withdrawals.
WND: Yes, but do you think there will be more withdrawals?
BN: It depends on what happens in Israeli politics after this withdrawal. I don’t see it working without any benefit for Israel, such as incorporating main settlement blocks within the Israeli fence, incorporating parts of the Jordan Valley. We are giving territory, so we should be getting territory! Instead, it’s a clear feeling that terrorism is working.
There is no point in making further concessions. Our policies need to be bringing down the hopes of terrorists. But the Palestinian street instead is accepting the Hamas line that terrorism is what drove Israel out of Lebanon in 2000, and it is driving Israel out of Gaza now. Next the West Bank, and on to Tel Aviv, Haifa, the rest of Palestine.
WND: What do you think is Sharon’s motivation for all this?
BN: You’ll have to ask Sharon.
WND: We witnessed the collapse of the Oslo process and ideology at Camp David, that land for promises of peace just doesn’t work with such regimes. If disengagement isn’t the answer, what should Israel’s current and ultimate policy be toward the Palestinians?
BN: I would prefer an agreement with a Palestinian leadership that has abandoned terror. But in absence of that, now there are several choices. Among them is a unilateral withdrawal, but it should be one that enforces reciprocity, one in which we get territory. We should not be giving the Palestinians any freebies.
WND: Abbas just visited the White House and is being embraced by the international community, as well as many in the U.S. and Israel, as a moderate willing to make peace with Israel. Are we witnessing the same mistake the world made in building up Arafat? Is Abbas a moderate?
BN: Abbas is different from Arafat in that he is not pushing terror. He would like to stop terror for utilitarian reasons, because terror is threatening him. But Abbas doesn’t differ from Arafat on the ultimate goal, just the tactics to get him there. He keeps talking to his people about the realization of the right of return, which means flooding Israel with millions of Palestinians.
So he does differ in certain ways. But while Abbas may not be encouraging terrorism, he doesn’t lift a finger to stop terror. And that leads into the whole paradox of cuddling Abbas, of helping Abbas out now, of releasing prisoners and other gestures toward him. All it does is delay his motivation to carry out steps to dismantle terrorism, to take apart the government of gangs that have been created.
WND: A major emerging threat in the Mideast seems to be Iran’s determination to go nuclear. What should be Israel’s posture?
BN: Well, it isn’t Israel’s problem alone. This is a threat to the U.S. and the whole world. A nuclear Iran would give a nuclear umbrella to radical Islam and the terrorists, and would encourage the implications of September 11, only worse. We cannot be sure Iran wouldn’t use these weapons. It is in the interests of the entire world, including Europe, to prevent Iran from having atomic bombs. The U.S. understands this, but from the looks of it, the Europeans either don’t understand, or they are cowering before the threat.
WND: What if it becomes absolutely clear the diplomatic track isn’t working, Iran forges ahead, and no other country is willing to do anything about it? Should Israel attack Iran if no one else is willing?
BN: It’s not useful to make public speculations on any military options except to say that the U.S. understands the danger and it is the leader of the free world, so it is charged with acting as that leader.
WND: Syria is still supporting Hezbollah, which maintains now 12,000 missiles pointed at Israel and has been backing suicide bombings and attempted bombings in Israel. Syria also allows Hamas members to live there openly. Should Syria be the next target in America’s war on terror?
BN: Syria has shown it is a backward regime that learned nothing from 9-11. It continues to play footsie with terrorists, not only those threatening Israel, but those killing Americans in Iraq. The U.S. should apply maximal pressure on this backward and dictatorial regime. Syria should have no economic base to continue its actions. It needs to be increasingly isolated in the modern world.
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