Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz indirectly reminded US President Barack Obama on Monday that the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip need not wait until a final Israeli-Palestinian agreement, but is something that was already incorporated into the Oslo agreements in the 1990s.
The core of the problem in Gaza, he said at a Jerusalem press conference, is that there are “so many rocket and missiles in Gaza.
“If we want to change it, not just end the current round of violence, but to bring real relief for both Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza, Gaza should be demilitarized,” he said.
Let me remind you, he said of the Israeli-Palestinian interim agreement signed at the White House in September 1995, “there was a clear commitment that Gaza would remain demilitarized, forever, unconditionally, come what may.”
On Sunday, in Obama’s conversation with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Obama indicated that he did not believe that the demilitarization of Gaza was something in the immediate offing, but rather “part of any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Obama’s conversation came following sharp criticism in Israel of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to forge a cease-fire over the weekend.
Steinitz – when asked about US’s diplomatic efforts – ratcheted down the criticism and said “the US is our best friend and ally, and this includes the people, the Congress and the Administration.”
Steinitz said that Israel and the US have close dialogue on everything – from Iran to Gaza – and that “we have one shared goal: we want to eliminate terrorism and bring peace and security to Israel and to all its neighbors, including the Palestinians.”
Steinitz explained why Israel was so opposed to Qatar having a central role in forging a ceasefire.
Kerry had met with the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey in Paris on Saturday, something that angered both Israel and the Palestinian Authority because they were not invited to attend that meeting – and Qatar is viewed as one of Hamas’ key enablers.
Qatar, Steinitz said, was one of the two countries supporting Hamas.
Iran gives them the weapons, he said, and Qatar gives them the money.
“Nobody can accept Qatar as a part of the solution, Qatar is supporting terrorism against the State of Israel,” he said.
“Countries have to behave themselves, not to support terrorism actively if they want to be part of the civilized world and legitimate partners of the international community.
Maybe tomorrow someone would suggest that Iran would be part of the [Gaza] solution,” he said sarcastically.
According to Steinitz, Israel has already discovered about 30 tunnels, and about half of them have been destroyed. He said more tunnels may likely still be discovered.
Steinitz said that no country would allow tunnels burrowed into its territory to attack its citizens.