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Kirsty Cockburn
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EFRAIM HALEVY INTERVIEW - Wednesday, 12 July, 2006

GEORGE NEGUS: Mr Halevy, thanks very much for your time. We have just seen a report here from one of our correspondents where a Palestinian spokesman says that what is going on in Gaza at the moment at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces will do nothing other than to force people who weren't already there into the arms of Hamas. Doesn't this make the situation worse from not just their point of view, but yours as well, Israel?

EFRAIM HALEVY, HEBREW UNIVERSITY: I don't believe this is true. As you well know, there were elections in the territories a few months ago, especially in Gaza where the Hamas has always been very strong. The Hamas was voted in with a vast majority in the Gaza Strip. And I don't think that the present activity of the IDF is going to influence this aspect of the situation one way or the other.

GEORGE NEGUS: We spoke also to a farmer who said that he has never supported Hamas, he has never done anything militant himself, he would now encourage his son to become a suicide bomber, in fact, if he could, he would become one himself.

EFRAIM HALEVY: Well, I cannot assess what an individual in Gaza is going to say. I'm not sure he is representative of all the Gazans. All I can say is that there has been a very, very strong following of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and I don't think it makes all that much difference whether the IDF moved in or not. As you know, the IDF moved in because of a situation that arose as a result of a Hamas attack, which resulted in a soldier being kidnapped, abducted. And I think we should see things in their proper light and in proper proportion.

GEORGE NEGUS: On that score, people are now beginning to question whether or not this really has anything to do with rescuing Corporal Shalit, and in fact, it's part of a plan, a master plan that has been in Israeli military minds for quite some time, long before this.

EFRAIM HALEVY: I don't think this is true. I think that if we had a master plan some time in our drawers, it didn't need such an incident to bring it out. And that, therefore, Israel has taken action in order to do two things - A, to secure the release of Corporate Shalit, and B, to stop the daily attacks of Hamas forces, which have been raining rockets on Israeli cities in the perimeter.

GEORGE NEGUS: Mr Halevy, how many Israelis have been killed by these Palestinian rocket attacks?

EFRAIM HALEVY: I don't think one should ask how many Israelis have been killed. The question is how many Israelis could have been killed. And the best way to resolve the problem is, the best way to resolve the problem, sir, is that those who began attacking Israel would desist from doing so as of now.

GEORGE NEGUS: There is, at the moment, one Israeli captive of the Palestinians. How many Palestinians are being held in Israeli prisons as a result of their activities? As we understand it, something like 8,000 - 800 without any sort of charge being laid against them. Which is why magazines as reputable as 'The Economist' are saying that the Israeli action is an overreaction, that the way you are behaving in this situation is disproportionate to the situation.

EFRAIM HALEVY: I don't accept this argumentation at all. And I think is very cynical to put it that way. One has to recognise that the current situation is a result of the fact that the Palestinians have decided, of their own volition, to continue attacking Israel daily along its borders, along the international borders of Israel. And that is the issue at the moment. The moment the Palestinians stop attacking Israel and behave as a responsible government inside the Palestinian territories, these current problems could be resolved.

GEORGE NEGUS: You say it is cynical suggestion, but there are many commentators in the world at the moment, with an interest in peace in the Middle East, who are suggesting that this is all about wiping out Hamas as a government - for instance, the arrest of so many members of the Hamas Government is an indication of Israel's attitude. Why shouldn't we, without being cynical, believe that there is more to this than Corporal Shalit's rescue?

EFRAIM HALEVY: Because Israel did not take such action until Corporal Shalit was kidnapped, because the Hamas Government was in power and Israel said that it would deal with the Hamas Government if it met three conditions. The three conditions being that they should recognise Israel, that they should respect all the agreements which were previously made by previous Palestinian administrations, and that they should prevent any acts of violence from their territory into Israel. This is the way every responsible government throughout the world has to behave. This is the way the Hamas Government has to behave. They didn't behave that way. And instead of that, they condoned terror, they encouraged terror. Once they did this, they were no longer a government in the normal sense of the term, but they were part of a terrorist effort to destabilise Israel, and this, of course, we could not allow to happen.

GEORGE NEGUS: Mr Halevy, do you accept the fact - again of reliable and responsible commentators - that what has been going on in Gaza in recent days, including the bombing of the power plant and collective punishment of the Palestinian people, amounts under Geneva Conventions to a war crime?

EFRAIM HALEVY: I think this is a spurious suggestion. It is not a war crime. Israel is in a state of war. The war was initiated by the other side. It could stop immediately, even at this moment. If we speak about war crimes, Corporal Shalit is being held under conditions which have no relation at all to the Geneva Convention.

According to the Geneva Convention, the Red Cross should be allowed access to prisoners of war. Prisoners of war have certain rights and their whereabouts should be made known. If you wish to resort to international law and rules of law, then the rules of law concerning war apply to both sides.

GEORGE NEGUS: Would it upset you if the end result of all of this, no matter how long it takes, is that Hamas is wiped out as a government of the occupied territories?

EFRAIM HALEVY: I not would be upset or not upset. I don't think this is an issue of what my personal feelings are on this at all. I think that this is not the purpose of this operation, as I said. And what would encourage me would be if the Palestinians would come to their senses and would begin to behave as responsible partner in negotiation.

GEORGE NEGUS: And you don't accept any suggestion from other sources that the Israeli action has been an overreaction, and the behaviour of the Israeli Defense Forces is disproportionate to the crime, as it were?

EFRAIM HALEVY: No, I don't accept this at all. And I regret the way you have been putting these questions to me because I would have liked you to be a little more, also, even-handed in the way you have addressed your questions to me. But I'm not complaining, I'm simply saying that in a situation such as this, I think we have to see the way things are and to accept them as they are on the ground.

GEORGE NEGUS: I understand what you are saying, sir, but I guess I could also say that somebody with your background is hardly coming at this situation with an open mind. You are partial.

EFRAIM HALEVY: I am not coming to this situation with an open mind. I'm coming to this situation with an effort in which I have been engaged for many, many years to bring about a reduction of violence between Israel and its neighbours. I have been involved in activities which have brought about peace agreements between Israel and some of its neighbours, and I'm very proud of this association of mine. And I would have liked, also, that this would have happened now. And I would have liked, also, that when interviews of this type are conducted that they would be conducted also by interviewers who also have a semblance of an open mind. It would have been better for both of us to conduct the interview in such circumstances.

GEORGE NEGUS: Well, you don't know me, sir, and I can guarantee you my mind is open on this matter.

EFRAIM HALEVY: Well, maybe we could make common ground if we met some day.

GEORGE NEGUS: What a good idea. What a good idea. Thank you very much for your time. And next time I'm in Israel I will look forward to meeting you and talking to you face-to-face.