Israeli Ambassador Gideon Meir tells Herman Grech that a Maltese activist shot in Gaza last week played into the hands of Hamas.
We are hearing reports that Middle East peace talks could resume within the coming fortnight. Is peace possible under the current Israeli right-wing coalition government?
Why not? The peace treaty with Jordan and Egypt were signed under a right-wing government. I was at Camp David in 1978 and remember the same voices you quote now saying that a right-wing government could never sign a peace treaty.
The current Israeli government includes parties that are opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. Isn't that significant?
Absolutely not. (Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu declared very strongly and loudly Israel's position in favour of a two-state solution. It was Ariel Sharon, one of the most right-wing leaders, who in 2004 endorsed a Palestinian state.
It's quite evident that by voting in Netanyahu, the Israelis wanted a more hardline approach to the Palestinian issue. A year after his election, can you say he has brought Israel any positive results?
We have to see why we elected a right-wing government. We're a democracy, and unfortunately we're the only democracy in that part of the world. We have elections; we have transparency. The Israelis saw they couldn't have peace with the Palestinians, who didn't want to sit down with us. Since 1993, when we signed the Oslo accord, we have made a number of painful concessions. And whenever we made concessions we got Iran on our doorstep.
Since Netanyahu took over, the world sees Israel increasingly as the oppressor. Is this merely a perception according to you?
In my view, it's much more than a perception. I don't hear the slightest criticism of the Palestinian side. In eight years, 9,200 rockets were thrown into Israel and we didn't respond. Did you hear the voice of Europe and the rest of the world at the time? Everyone woke up when Israel had no choice but to respond to the missiles.
In an interview with The Sunday Times last year you said 'we never lie and when we make mistakes we always come out and apologise.' Can you give me some examples when Israel has apologised.
I will give you one example. In 2002, we targeted a terrorist and there were many children who were killed because we didn't know they were in the same building. We always make it a point not to hit if the terrorists surround themselves with children - as they tend to do. I went on television and apologised. Whenever we make a mistake we don't hesitate to say sorry. You have to understand this is a war. They are using children as human shields.
There were several reports of Israeli errors during the incursion into Gaza last year. It was a very heavy-handed approach and there were no apologies then.
In the war in Afghanistan and Iraq civilians are being killed. Why are the media so obsessed with Israel and not the other countries? Because with other countries the media understand it's part of the war against terrorism.
Maybe the media focus on Gaza because they realise people are cooped up without any means of leaving.
They cannot go in and out of Gaza because they are being used as hostages by a terrorist organisation called Hamas. Instead of criticising Israel I suggest to the international community to get its act together and act against Hamas and Iran.
The Gaza blockade is clearly creating strife on Palestinians, many of whom don't support Hamas.
Do you know Gaza doesn't just have borders with Israel?
There's Egypt as well.
There is a mutual interest between Egypt and Israel to reduce terrorism in the Gaza strip. Terrorism is a cancer which has to be stopped. Look at the West Bank - the people there are thriving. The economy is better. Israel has reduced the number of roadblocks tremendously. A lot of money is being invested in the West Bank. The Gazans want that, but Hamas has a problem with the people's prosperity. When Arabs kill Arabs it doesn't interest the world. When Arabs kill Jews, the world is not interested, but when Israelis kill Arabs it's a different story.
Likewise, the Arab media often accuses the Western media of taking Israel's side.
The Arab media is not democratic. It's controlled by non-democratic regimes. Take Al Jazeera - it is the propaganda arm of Iran and Hamas. The media are the third party to the conflict and are biased against Israel. A lot of media use the three Ds against Israel - demonisation, delegitimisation and double standards.
But beyond the media there have been statements that Israel cannot ignore. UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon recently said the blockade of Gaza has caused "unacceptable suffering of human beings".
If the international community is so concerned about the children of Gaza it has to get its act together. It has to start acting against Hamas. You have to give us advice how to stop the shelling of our children from Gaza. The international community has to act against Iran and Hamas.
By imposing sanctions?
In my view, yes. It's a diplomatic solution. If we do it by military means you don't like it; if we don't do it by military means, you criticise us. So what do you want us to do? Be killed?
A lot of the peace process hinges on the construction of settlements in Jerusalem, something which has incensed the Palestinians. Netanyahu first denied any possibility of a construction freeze and there are now reports he has quietly frozen new Israeli construction in the disputed eastern half of the city. Has the construction stopped?
The Palestinians decided from day one that Netanyahu was the wrong leader for them. Who are they to decide? We are a democracy. I know it's very popular to talk about the settlements, but they are not the major issue of the peace process. The main issue is terrorism. When the Palestinians talk about liberation they don't want the State of Israel.
So has there been a stop to the settlements or not?
There was a loud and clear decision by the Israeli government to freeze the building of new settlement for 10 months. Unfortunately the Palestinians are wasting their time.
You keep talking about terrorism but we are hardly seeing terrorist acts taking place on a daily basis.
Since 2003 we've reduced terrorism almost to zero because of the security fence; because of the very intelligent work of our security forces. There are daily attempts to carry out suicide attacks. We learn.
Historically, Israel's biggest ally has been the US. But in the last year, concern has been expressed by Barack Obama. The US president just renewed his commitment for a 'new beginning' with the Islamic world, where he vowed to continue to strengthen social and business ties with the Muslim world. Does it concern you?
Absolutely not. Countries that have good relations with Israel and the Arab world can play a more constructive role in negotiations and act as a broker. And the Americans are honest brokers. Don't be misled by media reports. The alliance between the US and Israel is as solid as ever.
I'm not quoting media reports. I'm quoting Mr Obama saying he is concerned about the settlements, for example.
There are certain differences between him and my prime minister. It's not a secret. The relationship between the US and Israel is like husband and wife. From time to time we have arguments.
It wasn't the case with George W. Bush though.
There were differences with George Bush in 2001 and 2002. It's part of a dialogue between two allies. I have some differences with my wife from time to time; it doesn't mean we're getting divorced. We settle our differences. It's the same with our two countries.
Can Israel go to war with Iran without US backing?
We're not talking about war with Iran; we're talking about what we call 'software diplomacy'.
And if that fails?
I'm not a prophet. The Israeli policy today is that the world should unite in imposing personal and institutionalised sanctions against Iran.
Israel also ran into hot water with Britain, after a Hamas official was murdered by Israeli men purportedly using false British passports. Wasn't this tactic a lack of respect for an ally?
You know something which I don't know. I don't know they were Israelis. What brings you to that conclusion?
There is clear evidence that the men who carried it out were Israelis...
...maybe to you. To me it's not.
Last week, Maltese activist Bianca Zammit was injured by Israeli soldiers during a protest on the Gaza border. What went through your mind when you heard of the incident?
First of all it's very sad when an innocent civilian is hurt. But we have to understand that the International Solidarity Movement is a very anti-Israel movement. I remember the days when I was responsible for Israel's public diplomacy and going into the website of the ISM - there were instructions to activists how to cheat the Israeli border police and attack the Israelis; how to participate with Hamas.
They're taking part in all the violent movements of Hamas - and Hamas is very happy. Every time an activist is hurt, for Hamas it's fuel for its propaganda machinery. They are using innocent people and sending them to a combat zone. I'm sorry about what happened but she was sent by Hamas and the ISM to the border. This is a combat zone. You don't send innocent people to a combat zone. They are using them to plant bombs at the border.
But in this case Bianca Zammit was merely holding up a camera while the others were chanting songs. The footage clearly shows it was a peaceful demonstration, they weren't causing any trouble. Don't they have a right to protest?
They have a right to protest in Gaza. They have a right to help people in hospitals with food. But they don't have a right to go to the border. The border is a very dangerous place. It doesn't mean that we automatically fire. Hamas is using youngsters as a cover to put bombs at the border. You have to understand the nervousness of our people.
Granted. But Bianca Zammit said she was simply there because she believes in the Palestinian cause and they were merely pushing into a 300-metre-deep no-go zone declared by Israel on the Gaza side last January. The ban prevents many Gaza farmers from using the land. For the people out there, this seems to be a just cause. She was just protesting in favour of what rightfully belongs to Palestinians.
I don't want to talk about her right now. I want to talk about those people who are being used by ISM - they are being brainwashed by Hamas. We have to protect ourselves from Hamas. Hamas is using ISM - and ISM is willingly giving itself to Hamas.
How is a girl with a camera a threat?
You don't talk about a girl with a camera. There was a group there. First of all, Israel is checking exactly what happened...
...It's on Youtube.
Our people are being attacked from there. Don't let your people go to combat zones. You don't send your people to places like Afghanistan. You want to be a pro -Palestinian (campaigner)? Fine. Do it from Valletta or do it from Gaza city...
...Activists do this the world over.
Don't go to combat zones. Combat zones are very dangerous. Journalists are willing to take risks. I wouldn't send my children there.
But this is the role of activists - they have a right to go wherever they want if they don't cause trouble.
But they are taking a risk. It's a combat zone. I would tell my children to go demonstrate in a city, places that are safe to make your point. Again, we're a democracy. They were coming from a place which is anything but a democracy. Show me one demonstration against Hamas in Gaza. You won't find it. The activists will get shot in the head. Ask the Fatah people. I can show you many demonstrations of activists who demonstrate in Israel. The ISM could have demonstrated within the Israeli border.
Bianca Zammit is not indicating she has any link with Hamas. She said it was a peaceful demonstration.
Peaceful demonstrations are carried out in cities and towns, not combat zones. If you protest in a combat zone you want to provoke... and you're taking a risk.
After the incident, the Israeli army said in a statement that three Palestinians were shot - it seems quite evident to me that she was mistaken for a local. Are Palestinian lives less valuable?
I'm not aware of this statement but the answer to the question is absolutely not. This is a place where missiles are being fired into Israel, where innocent children are being killed. Show a little bit of sympathy. I'm a father of three children and a grandfather of two. I will vote for any government that will protect my children from vicious Palestinian attacks. And as a private citizen, not as an ambassador, I don't care what measures my government will take as long as they fall under international law. And we are sensitive to international law...
...And international law permits all sorts of protests, provided they are not violent.
But not in combat areas. I am telling every Maltese mother and father - don't let your children go to combat zones, it's dangerous.
Even if they're not provoking incident?
They are very provocative. They want to protect Palestinians to send missiles into the cities of Israel. And we have to protect our people. Hamas and their collaborators don't care about human lives. We do. Jewish blood means nothing for the Palestinians. The Israeli government is protecting us in a very sensitive way.
The Maltese government has now called for a clear explanation about the incident from Israel. Will it get it?
Whenever the investigation is completed.
The Maltese government seems to have taken quite a tough stand on the issue. It said it 'deplores and condemns in the strongest possible terms' the attack.
I expect the Maltese government to deplore also the killing of Israeli children by Palestinian Hamas organisations.
Do you think our government acted too fast in making such a statement?
I don't want to judge. I expect any Western government to be a bit more sensitive to Israeli lives.
I believe the Maltese government has in the past issued statements...
...I repeat. I expect every Western government to be more sensitive to Israelis who are being shelled and killed by Palestinian terrorist organisations.
Do you think Malta's words of condemnation were too harsh?
I expect every Western government express condemnation, in the same language, whenever missiles are being fired into Israel to kill innocent Israelis.
After this incident, will there be problems for any Maltese people entering Israel?
There were never problems in the past and there will not be.
So there's no chance of Maltese visitors being blacklisted?
You're a democratic country; we have more flights for Israelis to visit this great island. This is part of my job. This is what my foreign and tourism ministers will do when they visit Malta for the first time later this year. It's one thing to provoke in a combat zone and it's another to visit as a tourist. It has nothing to do with the relationship between Israel and Malta.
Do you feel comfortable talking to the Maltese government after this incident?
Sure, why not? And my private message to the government will be the same as my message to you.
Watch excerpts of the interview on www.timesofmalta.com.