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By Arieh O'Sullivan
Israel's former military chief said that Israel should talk with the outlawed Hamas movement in order to make a peace deal.
"Peace agreements are signed between hostile sides," Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Dan Haloutz told The Media Line. "We have to remember that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the old days was not much different than the Hamas now days regarding terror activities."
He also expressed confidence the Egyptian military would be able to instill order in the Sinai Peninsula which Palestinian terrorists have used as staging grounds for attacks on Israel. But he warned that the Israeli defense establishment must beef up its capabilities to defend itself for any possible changes in the future.
Eight Israelis were killed in an attack staged from the Egyptian border, prompting a diplomatic crisis with Cairo over the death of Egyptian security personnel in the incident and several days of fighting with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Israel is concerned that the once quiet border with Egypt is heating up as the transitional government that succeeded Husni Mubarak struggles to maintain law and order in the Sinai.
"I believe that we should give the Egyptians the space to show their abilities to control Sinai Peninsula. They have their abilities. I have no doubt and they will manage once they will be determined to do it. The level of determination is getting higher and higher and from my point of view, I think the Egyptians will take of care it," he said.
"We have looked at Egypt as a major, powerful country in the Middle East and we should look at the peace agreement as a strategic asset," Haloutz added. "And we have to take the necessary steps to ensure that if and when the other side is not fulfilling the mission in the most proper way we will have the answers to take care of our people."
Haloutz, who joined the opposition Kadima Party just eight months ago, was answering queries from The Media Line at a briefing with foreign reporters in Jerusalem. He was also hawkish when it comes to dealing with Iran's quest for nuclear weapons.
"Iran's nuclear project is not an Israeli problem," Haloutz said. "The Iranian nuclear capability is risking the entire Gulf countries, Middle East countries, some of the European countries and globally because once you have nuclear capability you don't have to carry it only by missiles."
"So any necessary step should be taken in order to prevent them from reaching the point of having military nuclear capability," said Haloutz, who was the first former commander of the air force to rise to the position of chief of the general staff.
Haloutz, who was forced to resign a few months after the 2006 Second Lebanon War, criticized the current government under Binyamin Netanyahu for not taking more courageous steps to advance peace initiatives with the Palestinians.
"In the background of Israeli society, terrorism is part of the arguments which are restricting and preventing some courageous steps that should be taken in order to go forward with the two-state solution," Haloutz said.
The Palestinians are split between the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
"From my point of view and the Palestinian point of view we are speaking about two separate authorities," he said. "If the Palestinians are going to declare that they have two separate entities then we have to negotiate with two separate entities. …We are not electing the ones to represent the Palestinians."
"From the Palestinians point of view to negotiate with two Palestinian authorities would be a huge mistake," he added.
Haloutz's comments came hours after Israel admitted it had arrested the top Hamas leader in the West Bank. Security forces nabbed Sheikh Hassan Yousef when he tried to pass an army check point south of Nablus, the West Bank's largest city. Yousef is a founder of Hamas and was released from Israeli prison last month as a good will gesture after serving five years for terrorist activities.
Israel and Hamas have had negotiations through third parties such as Egypt and Germany to broker cease fire deals or prisoner swaps. Hamas has refused to hold direct talks with Israel because it would never recognize "the enemy" and Israel has rejected direct relations because it sees Hamas as a terrorist organization.
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