Interview with Israeli Author Meir Shalev: 'Even the Left Was in Favor of Striking Hamas'
An operation against Hamas was necessary -- but a war aimed at eliminating the Palestinian radical group is irresponsible, says Israeli author Meir Shalev in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE. Israel, he says, needs to find a political solution through negotiations.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Israel's war against Hamas continues to drag on. When will it end?
Shalev: If it had been up to me, it would have been over after half a day. I am certainly of the opinion that it was necessary to warn and to punish Hamas. There have simply been too many rockets fired into Israel over the years. Jerusalem should have reacted much earlier and should have had a better-defined goal. Just as in the Lebananon war in 2006, there doesn't seem to be a good plan for how to end the offensive. Now it looks like the idea is to eliminate Hamas and to destroy every last weapons depot in the Gaza Strip. The war has developed a momentum of its own. That is wrong.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How do you think the operation should be brought to an end?
Shalev: In the end a political solution has to be found, that much is clear. Israel has to speak with Hamas, Hamas has to speak with us, and then the two sides will have to agree on a realistic way forward. I certainly don't consider Hamas to be friendly people, but Israel's attitude is absurd. We behave as though it were our hobby to find new groups with whom we refuse to speak -- only to do so later. Twenty years ago, the PLO was the archenemy; today, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as its leader, the group is our best friend. In five years' time, we will also be speaking with Hamas -- but only if we have by then found ourselves a new enemy that we can refuse to talk to. Perhaps (militant Palestinian group) Islamic Jihad?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Israel has not allowed journalists from the international press into the Gaza Strip. Why not?
Shalev: Israel doesn't want the foreign media to transmit images of the war into the living rooms of the world. The only people who are currently delivering news from Gaza are local journalists, which makes it easy for Israel to claim that their reports are inaccurate. That might even be true. Journalists who are themselves directly affected by the war presumably paint a one-sided picture of the situation. That is precisely the reason why the international press must be allowed into Gaza -- so that the world learns what is really going on.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is the press lock-out a way of censoring the coverage?
Shalev: It is certainly a mistake. Those who think that they can censor the media in the era of cell phones and the Internet are gravely mistaken. Stories will always find their way out.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why has the Israeli peace movement been so quiet?
Shalev: Even the Israeli left -- which I consider myself to be a part of -- was in favor of striking a blow against Hamas. We may not like how the war is now being conducted, but at the beginning there was very broad support among Israelis for the operation. After Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, the left was deeply disappointed. We had fulfilled our part of the agreement, but the rockets kept on coming.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Medicine, food, consumer goods, raw materials: Everything that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip need has to be brought in over the border with Israel. In recent months, Israel has only allowed a bare minimum of the essentials into Gaza. That was a violation of the cease-fire agreement and, according to Hamas, the reason they decided to allow the cease-fire to lapse. Why did Israel give Hamas such an opening?
Shalev: Israel wants to rid itself of the Gaza Strip, also from an economic standpoint. On the one hand, the area is home to an enemy of Israel's. On the other, Israel has to feed that enemy. It is a situation that is not sustainable. It would be preferable were Egypt to open its border to the Gaza Strip, then Israel would no longer be responsible for it. But Egypt has no interest in opening its doors to Hamas. Cairo already has enough problems with Islamist extremists. They don't want to welcome in radical Palestinians as well.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Each new attempt to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems destined to fail. What has to change before real progress can be made?
Shalev: Radical Palestinians still say that the only solution would be for all Jews to pack their bags and return to where their grandparents came from. When there are no more Jews left in the Middle East, then the problem is solved, according to their logic. As long as they continue to think that way, there will be no peace. We are here and we are going to stay. Only after that fact is generally accepted can progress be made. Then there will hopefully be two states for two nations. That is the only sensible solution.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Elections are set to be held in Israel in February. Every decision made by Israel's political leadership during this conflict is being interpreted with that fact in mind. How large a role does the campaign play in the conduct of the war?
Shalev: The elections play a role, even if the operation was long overdue. I have the impression that Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are taking Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for a ride. "Let the boys take charge, war isn't for girls" -- that's the game they are playing in a bid to push her aside.
Interview conducted by Ulrike Putz.
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