Israeli soldiers chant slogans after a briefing before entering Gaza on a combat mission Sunday.
Tzipi Livni: No, but Israel has successfully weakened Hamas and dealt it a heavy blow. The operation was never about destroying Hamas -- rather our aim was to restore our deterrence capability. We took their leaders by surprise with our operation. They will think twice before they dare to fire the next rocket at Israel.
Livni: The Lebanon war involved two states facing each other, and at the end there was an agreement. But for me, there can be no settlement with terror -- I only know the war against terror. The most important thing is to strike a blow against Hamas. In addition, we have to get the problem of weapons smuggling across the Egyptian border under control.
SPIEGEL: Are you in favor of a formal cease-fire with Hamas?
Livni: We are not thinking about pulling back. This is not a war which can be ended with a peace treaty. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and is not prepared to stop the terror and violence. Our war against Hamas is far from over, even if the current military operation comes to an end at some point.
SPIEGEL: Then why did Defense Minister Ehud Barak send a negotiator to Cairo to discuss a cease-fire? Are such talks useless?
Livni: I for one do not negotiate with Hamas and believe it is a mistake to do so.
SPIEGEL: But Egypt is Israel's most important ally in the Middle East.
Livni: Naturally the Egyptians are concerned about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. They want peace, which I can understand -- the weapons smuggling also affects them. But I was and am against giving legitimacy to Hamas. We do not negotiate with people who announce in advance that they do not recognize Israel. And we also ask the international community not to do so.
SPIEGEL: How long can Israel resist the international pressure?
Livni: On the one hand, there is international sympathy for the fact that Israel is fighting against terror -- as are many other countries too. On the other hand, the images from the front are not useful for Israel. Therefore, we must find a balance between the war against terror and the humanitarian situation. Israel is doing that. We have opened up a humanitarian corridor. We try to help where we can.
SPIEGEL: Isn't that a cynical thing to say, given the images of dead women and children coming out of Gaza?
Livni: No. I am receiving regular reports about the situation in the Gaza Strip. I just met with representatives of all the relief organizations. It turned out that the problems lie less with how to get supplies across the border into Gaza, but rather with how to get them to Gaza City. We have to find a solution for that, and we are trying hard to do so.
SPIEGEL: Was the decision to bombard the United Nations-run school in the Jabaliya refugee camp not a serious mistake? About 40 people were killed in the attack.
Livni: One needs to understand that the UNRWA schools have been repeatedly used by terrorists as a hideout. In this specific case, they deployed right next to the school and fired shots from there. Our shells landed there, outside the school, but unfortunately a wall collapsed as a result.
SPIEGEL: Eyewitnesses dispute this version of events. The unscrupulous abuse of civilians as "human shields" does not relieve Israel from the responsibility to carefully consider the consequences of a bombardment.
Livni: Naturally I regret every civilian casualty, but what happened in the UN school was not a mistake. We hit the location from where we were being fired upon. We wanted to hit the terrorists, not civilians.
SPIEGEL: The war has weakened your negotiating partner, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Livni: Yes, but only temporarily. We will continue the peace process with Abbas and continue the war with Hamas. The weaker Hamas is, the stronger Abbas is -- and vice versa.
SPIEGEL: Do you hope that Fatah will regain control in the Gaza Strip after the war?
Livni: If I were to say that, Abbas would get even less support from the Palestinians. An endorsement from Israel would not help him. That would be like a deadly embrace.
Interview conducted by Christoph Schult.
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