No Israeli government will consider any concessions or a peace settlement unless the Gaza Strip is demilitarized, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Wednesday.
Speaking at a media conference at the Jerusalem Press Club, Steinitz said it was bad enough that the weapons buildup in Gaza was a gross violation of the Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed some 20 years ago, but that if half of the Palestinian territories were full of rockets and tunnels, it would make it very hard to continue with any diplomatic progress in the future.
Steinitz said that those hoping for a twostate solution should insist on the demilitarization of Gaza, because if the Strip’s militarization was irreversible, no one would consider withdrawing from the West Bank and creating a similar situation there.
Although he was unable to provide details of how Israel envisioned carrying out such demilitarization – Hamas officials have said that it will never happen – he spoke generally about pressure on Hamas from the US, EU, PA and Arab League to make it so.
He said that if he had been asked a year ago whether Syria would voluntarily give up most of its chemical weapon stockpiles, he would not have believed it.
“Maybe it is possible to do the same thing in Gaza,” he said. “I believe it will be complicated, but not impossible.”
The demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, he continued, would allow Israel to ease up on restrictions there, including “allowing more people from Gaza to work in Israel.”
He said there were 100,000 Palestinians from the West Bank working inside Israel, and that Ramallah was thriving economically because the IDF had been able to effectively “demilitarize” the West Bank during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.
He praised both the US and the EU for supporting the idea of a demilitarized Gaza, saying only such a move would prevent further rounds of violence and provide relief for both Israelis and Palestinians.