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Addressing Killed Teens, Israeli Ambassador Decries 'Culture Of Terrorism'


I spoke earlier today with Ron Dermer, who is Israel's ambassador to the United States. As we've heard, the Israelis hold Hamas accountable for the deaths and they want to Palestinian President Abbas to break with Hamas. Dermer acknowledges that Abbas was helpful in the hunt for the three teenagers, but he says that's not enough.

RON DERMER: What we think has to be a clear message to President Abbas from the United States and from elsewhere - that he can't, on the one hand, condemn the kidnappings - which he did and which we appreciate - and at the same time form a government with kidnappers. He can't condemn terrorism, and also form a government with terrorists because Hamas is an unreformed terror organization that is committed to Israel's destruction.

SIEGEL: What do you say to a Palestinian who says look, I don't support Hamas, and I think killing teenage boys advances nothing and is wrong, but if the Israelis weren't on the West Bank this wouldn't have happened. And if the Israelis really want to avoid such things happening in the future they should withdraw from major settlements and let the Palestinians have a state in the West Bank.

DERMER: Yeah well, look, the history suggest that that's not the reason behind these actions. You're talking about savage actions. There have been many occupations in the history of the world. Take the worst occupation the history - was the Nazi occupation of Europe. The French resistance that fought against that occupation did not kill the wives and children of German officers. What you have among Palestinian society - and they call it an occupation of their territory. That's how they see it. We don't see it the same way in Israel. We understand that. But they are resorting to the most horrific crimes and the deliberate targeting of children, and I could say even more than that. What you have in Palestinian society is a culture of terrorism that has been created. When you glorify killers - mass murders, and you name public squares after them, you're talking about a deep problem within the society. And one other message that should be sent to President Abbas is not only dismantle your alliance that you've made with this terror organization Hamas, take a firm stand. Nothing justifies the deliberate targeting of civilians. That's what separates Israel from the terror organizations. In the case of Israel, we take legitimate actions of self-defense, and sometimes, unintentionally, Palestinian civilians are harmed, but that's a moral line.

SIEGEL: Human rights watch said today, abducting and killing civilians is always unjustifiable. It's appalling that the victims in this case included children. They clearly denounced this act. They also called upon Israel to avoid collective punishment, was its phrase. Is the demolition of the home of the family of a suspect in a terror act - is that a form of collective punishment?

DERMER: I don't think so - certainly not if it deters these actions in the future. And we have a long experience, and if our security services the come to the understanding that those types of actions in response to these attacks deter attacks in the future, I think it's very important. And, look...

SIEGEL: Do they deter attacks? I mean Israel got this tactic from the British Mandate. They've been demolishing houses for decades, and it doesn't seem to have stopped acts of violence or resistance to whomever.

DERMER: Well, look, we haven't solved our conflict with the Palestinians. But the fact that Israel has not completely ended terrorism against it doesn't mean that you should stop fighting terrorism. When we went into Operation Defensive Shield 12 years ago, we didn't stop it entirely but we reduced it dramatically by taking offensive and defensive measures by rooting out a lot of the terror infrastructure, by building a security fence to prevent people from walking unimpeded into our cities - to blowing themselves up on our buses and pizza parlors. We took action. The important thing is to always make this distinction between the deliberate targeting of civilians and those who actions of self defense sometimes unintentionally harm civilians. That is a moral line that Israel does not cross and will never cross.

SIEGEL: One last point - do these events put an end to whatever small hope remained that there might be an effective peace process between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas - the peace process that's pretty well ground to a halt, according to Secretary of State Kerry.

DERMER: That's a very good question, and the answer is I don't know. Because if these attacks lead to a turning of the page, and if the world stands united with Israel in opposing the terrorists and opposing those who oppose peace, like Hamas, then maybe this is - can be the beginning of something better - of some hopeful situation. But the Palestinians have to turn the corner against terrorism. And the best way they can do that - they're going to need to do it internally within their own societies - is by hearing a clear message from the world that these actions are unacceptable - that those who perpetrated these actions should never be glorified and that President Abbas should turn his back on terrorism and turn towards peace with Israel.

SIEGEL: Was President Abbas helpful, by the way, in this pursuit of the people who abducted the three teenagers?

DERMER: Yes, he was helpful in condemning the kidnappings, and as I said, we appreciate that. And the Palestinian security forces were working with us, and that's also important. But you have to understand, politically, President Abbas, right now, is united with Hamas which has not abandoned terrorism. And so he's sending mixed messages. We hope he will send one clear message - the right message - a message of peace and hope, both for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

SIEGEL: Ambassador Dermer, thank you very much for talking with us today.

DERMER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Ron Dermer is Israel's ambassador to the United States. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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