Israel will not allow the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip if Hamas continues to use construction materials to build terror attack tunnels, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon during a meeting in New York on Monday.
Yaalon left Israel two days after Secretary of State John Kerry drew the ire of Israeli offcials by seeming to link the rise of ISIS to the lack of progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (see Week In Review, page 40). The State Department quickly clarified Kerry’s remarks and Yaalon’s talks in the U.S. centered on Gaza and the Iranian nuclear situation.
During their meeting, Yaalon and Ban discussed the outcome of the recent Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s campaign in Gaza whose goal was to eliminate the threat of terror tunnels and stop the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. The two also discussed the continuing presence of UN peacekeepers in volatile areas along Israel’s northern border.
“We want the residents of Gaza to live in dignity and prosperity, rebuild their homes and return to normal life,” Yaalon said. “But we are very worried. Just yesterday Hamas representatives said they intend to reconstruct the infiltration tunnels, instead of rebuilding the homes of Gaza’s residents.”
Yaalon said that while it’s “in our interest for the residents of Gaza to improve their economic situation and their lives, it must be clear that the funds and equipment are not used for terrorism. We are herefore closely monitoring all of the developments.”
Referring to claims that Israel deliberately hurt civilians and caused damage to property in Gaza, Yaalon told the UN chief, “When you have to fight for 51 days to protect your citizens, and when Hamas uses civilians as human shields by concealing weapons in populated areas, the result is the severe blow we dealt [to Gaza]. We did not enjoy harming Gaza but we had to protect our citizens.”
Yaalon said the Palestinian Authority was hesitant to assume responsibility over Gaza, despite its repeated assertions that the West Bank and Gaza are one entity, and that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas habitually opts to advance unilateral steps to delegitimize Israel and appeal to international institutions against Israel rather than engaging in direct talks to resolve the conflict.
Yaalon noted that the IDF is holding an independent inquiry into some incidents that occurred during the fighting in Gaza, but noted, “We have a very bad experience with the Palestinians, which includes a lot of false evidence, and we cannot rely on what is said by them. There were cases where we were accused of attacking civilian areas, and it was ultimately discovered that it was Hamas or Islamic Jihad who fired [at these areas].”
The defense minister told Ban he “longs” for peace with the Palestinians, “particularly in light of my experiences of war. But we have an experience of two decades in which we failed. The talks with the Palestinians should go bottom-up. We should promote cooperation with them on matters related to economy, security, law and order and other areas, since we want the residents of the Palestinian Authority to have comfortable lives.”
Yaalon also met with U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power on Monday and voiced his appreciation for Israel’s close relationship with the U.S.
“We very much appreciate your work and the work of the United States on behalf of the state of Israel in the UN in the face of numerous attempts to hurt us,” he told her.
“The United States is Israel’s strategic partner and greatest ally, and we within the Defense Ministry enjoy this very much. The relationship with the U.S. is a founding block in Israel’s national security, a true treasure for us, and we cannot allow anything to darken this relationship.”
Israel Hayom, JNS, INN