‘You can’t fool around with terrorist groups’

By David Horovitz July 12, 2005

Ehud Olmert reflects on the lessons for Europe from Thursday’s attacks, and on the violent precedent set by David Ben-Gurion for ensuring that a nascent state has only a single force legitimized to carry arms

Empathetic to the British in the traumatic aftermath of Thursday’s central London bombings, Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is anxious not to convey any kind of ‘I told you so’ message to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government at this most sensitive of times.

But in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, he noted that the ability of the bombers to carry out the coordinated attacks indicated that Britain was insufficiently aware of the extent of the threat posed by terrorist groups, and that it would now have to urgently redefine the measures it imposes to counter the ‘day-to- day’ threat.

Olmert also noted that the acknowledged readiness of some in Europe to conduct a preliminary dialogue with Hamas underlined ‘that they don’t understand that you can’t fool around with terrorist groups.’

In the interview, the vice prime minister, when talking about the need for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to smash Hamas and other terror groups, invoked David Ben-Gurion’s actions as prime minister in dismantling ‘different military organizations’ in the nascent Jewish state.

Stressing that he was making no direct comparisons, Olmert nonetheless spoke of that traumatic Israeli experience when protesting the PA’s refusal to use violence against those who defy Abbas’s rhetorical commitment to a single legitimate force of arms.

Do you believe that, in the wake of Thursday’s attacks, Britons will better understand what has been happening here now?

It will take time for the British to understand what happened to them. I’m sure that the British will go through a soul-searching process. There will be many there who will try to differentiate what happened today from other phenomena here or in other parts of the world. And they will try to restrict it into a narrower band that doesn’t have to be understood in the broader context of terror in general, and terror in the Middle East and terror in Asia and terror in Iraq.

Eventually, they will make up their minds about how they want to address themselves – not just to the specific threats on England, but whether to relate to it as part of a larger phenomenon. And where are the limits.

One thing is for certain. They will definitely and very rapidly change their attitude to the requirements of dealing with the day-to-day threat.

Without knowing all the details, the fact that this could happen in Britain shows that there wasn’t enough awareness – of security measures, of the intelligence needed to cope with the threat of terror in Great Britain. And possibly also of [the need for] tighter cooperation amongst many other countries in dealing with the threat of terror. And I think this is true also of other countries in Europe.

Prime Minister Sharon spoke on Thursday of the need for a concerted world effort to fight terrorism. What does Israel have in mind?

I’m not talking now about Britain. But the fact that Europeans for instance could tacitly conduct some kind of preliminary talks with Hamas is evidence that they don’t understand that you can’t fool around with terrorist groups.

I think this event will sharpen the awareness of many governments that there is no benefit from dealing with these organizations. Either they are entirely outside terrorist operations or they have to be fought without compromise. This is something that Israel will stress.

But even our own civil administration is dealing with Hamas at a local level.

Look, we deal with the council of Kalkilya. We don’t deal with Hamas. What will happen one day if there will be [Palestinian parliamentary] elections and Hamas will take over, in what may appear to be a democratic process, is a good question. Perhaps this is the reason why there were not elections and the postponement of the elections was accepted by all the international community, even though we are all committed to allowing the Palestinians to have these elections.

Anyway you can stretch this question and say, ‘Hey, Hitler was elected in a democratic manner.’ Now it is universally accepted that this is not sufficient to legitimize a government, even if it was elected democratically, if its fundamental principles are contradictory to all the basic values of democracy, equality and tolerance that must characterize a democratic regime. This should also dictate the basic attitude towards the Hamas. The fact that some Hamas representatives may be elected within the umbrella of what is described as the democratic process within the Palestinian Authority is not sufficient to legitimize the Hamas.

But Hamas may profit from saying it is being denied a democratic option. They’re gaining strength – the latest polls show them at 33 percent. If things don’t change, they could become the dominant force.

The Palestinian security forces are strong enough to cope with the threat of Hamas. They have to disarm them. The demand to disarm is a preliminary demand that must be dealt with before we enter into the democratic process of elections. It must be stipulated in the most explicit manner that no armed organization can be part of the democratic process.

That is Israel’s position? Who are we to dictate terms for their elections?

This is my view of what needs to be done if one wants to establish a credible process and a strong democracy. If the democracy of the Palestinian Authority will be dependent on armed organizations then we have not progressed. We have not done anything. And we will all become captives of the terrorist organizations. The only difference is that this will really correspond to the definition of a terrorist state. If the official organizations of the state, or whatever its legal status will be, will be terrorist organizations, this will be a terrorist state.

Isn’t this what Abbas has already done by offering a not-disarmed Hamas a partnership in his government?

I think that this has been a mistake. And by the way Israel said from the outset that the Cairo agreement [between Abbas, Hamas and others] was a very dangerous step which would endanger the stability of his government rather than helping it.

Practically speaking, if Hamas changes its mind and joins Abbas’s PA, does Israel at that point have no more dealings with the Palestinian Authority?

I didn’t say that and I don’t know. The fact remains that they didn’t join. The fact remains that the elections were postponed. At the present time it’s a hypothetical question. I think that we should rather encourage Abu Mazen to carry on a political battle against Hamas. Basically, what we have been saying to him all along is stop fooling around, start fighting these terrorist organizations because you will be the victim of them before we are.

The Palestinians keep saying time and again, ‘How dare you ask that we engage in a civil war against our own people,’ that ‘this is an unrealistic demand.’ And they avoid dealing with the most important issue that will dictate the future, because of weakness. My conviction is that unless they will be engaged in a tough and uncompromising campaign to disarm these organizations there will not be a chance for a real and genuine dialogue between us. Their argument, with all due respect, is not acceptable.

I can say – and where I come from is certainly not the Labor party – that this is precisely what Ben-Gurion did in Israel. Ben-Gurion said when the State of Israel was proclaimed that there will be one army, one education system, one government. And when it was necessary he imposed this in the most aggressive and sometimes violent manner.

So I don’t need to go further in order to look for examples. Of course there are differences of one-thousand- fold but still the fact remains that Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, when Israel just emerged from the war against the British with many different military organizations that were not part of the national discipline, he dismantled them in a moment. The first thing he did was dismantle them.


In some cases violently and in a very sad and painful manner, which can’t be forgotten and in some ways can’t be even forgiven.

You’re talking about the Altalena, for instance?

I’m talking about everything that he was doing at the time.

And you’re saying that this is a requirement for Abu Mazen?

I don’t require from Abu Mazen to follow the patterns of the State of Israel. He should do it in his own way. But all these organizations are enemies not just of Israel – of course they are – they are enemies of the chance for the Palestinians to establish a credible, acceptable and respected democratic government. The world will not tolerate a government which depends on terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Hizbullah. And we will not tolerate it in the long run.

So if they will not fight these organizations, and they will continue to operate, then we will have to fight these organizations. And at the end of the day, if we fight them then we will return back to square one. The whole idea of what has happened recently, the important message that we send to the Palestinians, is that ‘Now you are given the opportunity. We are pulling out of Gaza and you are given the chance to take charge and make order and stop terror that destroys you, not just threatens us. This is your chance. You take it, you may gain a lot. You don’t take it, you will not survive.’

What’s going to happen to the settlers’ homes in Gush Katif?

I hope that there will be an agreement between us and the Palestinians about the houses. I hope they will not try to be too smart about it and just put us in a corner. It will be better if there is an agreement. If they want to make use of those houses then we will not demolish them. If they think that they need to be demolished, they have to cooperate with us. The financial part is not important. There will have to be cooperative.

Why hasn’t the government yet closed down the Gaza Strip settlements to non-residents?

It is just a tactical consideration. Soon enough, when we will believe that the time is ready and that circumstances justify it, then it will be closed.

If tens of thousands of people are marching to Gaza in a few days’ time?

I have heard of this threat and, look, I’m not afraid. I don’t think that anything will be too easy. And I don’t want anyone to expect it to be too easy to pull out from those places. It is a major, major undertaking for us and a very painful one. It can’t be easy. And no one should get the false impression that it’s very easy for Israel to pull out and it’s just pressing the button and we’ll pull out.

That sounds very cynical, because…

No, it’s not cynical. It’s the reality and I want that this reality will be understood.

But that does sound cynical. Let me explain. Some of the long-term Jewish residents of Gaza are very torn. Some are going of their own accord. Some of them almost kind of want to be pulled out. But the longer the government keeps the Strip open it is enabling other people to enter, who are not long-term residents of Gush Katif, some of whom may be ready to more bitterly oppose the pullout. Now that will make very good television. It will look very tough: Israel pulling them out. And that’s why I said it sounds cynical.

But you have to understand, yes, look, you don’t want to freeze the State of Israel now for two months and to move all the security forces already to Gaza and to stretch this battle for two months. The whole idea is that the disengagement, once it starts, will be carried out very rapidly. So we have to measure the advantages and disadvantages, in this respect, of starting it right now by blocking, by wasting the energies, by already getting into these confrontations and battle that will now stretch for two months. Or rather focus on the short period starting on the 17th [of August] and carry out [disengagement] as fast possible.

And how fast do you think that might be?

I think it will be very fast. I think it will take no more than two weeks. I think that it shouldn’t take more than two weeks.

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