Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio Tajani will fly to Israel and Jordan this morning to renew Italy’s support and bring the government’s attention to the three Italian nationals that Hamas may have taken hostage. He also asks the public “not to confuse Hamas with the Palestinians. Palestine is something else entirely. The Palestinian people are victims of Hamas.” The tone is concerned. The greatest, most imminent danger “is that of a widening of the conflict in Lebanon,” but looking further ahead, in the long term, “we must above all avoid a split between the West and the Arab world.” This division, Tajani stresses, “is exactly what Hamas wants. It wants to continue this war to cut the bridges that were being built between the moderate Arab world and Israel. We must work in the opposite direction.”
“Isolate the terrorists. We have to make it clear that there is a whole different set of Arab people, who have nothing to do with them.”
Once we isolate Hamas, Israel and Palestine will be left in the rubble. What kind of solution can be developed?
“We must get back to work on the “two peoples, two states” solution.”
That is a solution that many analysts consider no longer feasible, after the events of these days.
“It would be useless to propose it tomorrow morning, that is clear. But that must be our goal. I will continue to work in that direction.”
Why, is the centre-right calling for a halt to European funding for the Palestinians, then?
“Because you have to stop the money going to Hamas.”
It has already been blocked for years.
“But we must also stop the funds that indirectly end up in the pockets of terrorists and the associations that finance anti-Semitic initiatives. Strict checks must be put in place so that not a single euro ends up financing terrorism or helping those who question Israel’s right to exist.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposes to build an alliance against Hamas, like the one that arose to fight Isis.
“An alliance against terrorism can and must exist, but it must also involve the Arab countries. It is not an issue that can only concern the West. When we talk about Hamas, we are talking about a small minority of violent, criminal people.”
Algeria, our main gas supplier, supports them. Can this become a problem?
“I spoke with the Algerian Minister, and we continue to have good relations. We must ensure that there are no divisions between the West and the Arab world. In this sense, I count a lot on the diplomatic work that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the Arab Emirates, Türkiye, and Qatar can do.”
You have repeatedly mentioned Egypt as an important mediator, but President al-Sisi demands that it is not only Cairo that opens the door to Palestinian refugees, while Hamas rejects the offer of a humanitarian corridor to Egypt.
“Hamas’s interest is to scupper any agreement. It wants a reaction from Israel and uses Palestinian citizens as human shields. This is very serious. Rejecting the Egyptian proposal is proof that all this was to undermine any dialogue that was being built between the Arab countries and Israel. We must ensure that this design fails and that we return to work for peace.”
What is the first step towards de-escalation that you discussed with your Arab League counterparts?
“The release of the civilian hostages, starting with women, children, the elderly, the frail.”
Three Italians are also among the hostages. Is there any news?
“From what we know, they may be hostages of Hamas. We still have no news of them. We are in contact with the families, and in a few hours, I will be in Israel for that too. I am doing everything I can.”
Does Europe need to do more?
“Europe must work for peace and must make itself heard.”
Will Italy provide aid to Israel?
“Nothing has been asked of us. When they do ask, we will see. I don’t think Israel wants escalation. However, we must defend Israel’s right to exist.”
Aren’t you afraid that Israel’s reaction might become excessive and not help the dialogue with the Arab world?
“Israel has every right to defend itself. I am sure it will have a reaction proportionate to the attack it has suffered.”
Former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Emma Bonino claims that Netanyahu’s decision to cut off water, food and electricity to all of Gaza is a war crime. Was that a proportionate reaction?
“The war crime is beheading children. Those are heinous crimes. Hamas terrorists are no different from Nazis. They are cowards. A soldier would not behead a two-month-old baby. And then they keep raining rockets from Gaza. Hamas must stop firing rockets at Israel, otherwise there is bound to be a reaction.”
Is it not also from the chain of actions-reactions that the danger of a widening of the conflict arises?
“That is what we must avoid. The greatest danger comes from Lebanon, with Hezbollah, and this is what I have talked about at length with my counterparts.”
We have 1,300 soldiers in Lebanon and there are already some skirmishes in the disputed areas. Are they in danger of being involved?
“Our military are bearers of peace. Together with Italian Minister of Defence Crosetto and the military leadership, I am constantly monitoring the situation in that key location.”