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Israel is amassing troops and armored trucks on the border of Gaza as the escalation of fighting there enters its sixth day. Israel’s cabinet authorized placing thousands of reservists on call, heightening concerns that Israel might invade the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave and possibly spark a wider conflict in the Middle East. Egypt and Turkey are sympathetic to Hamas and are among the nations pushing for a ceasefire. President Barack Obama said the U.S. fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself. But Palestinian leaders called Israel’s actions unjustified even though Israel has been the target of hundreds of rocket attacks in the past year. Diane and her guests discuss the conflict between Israel and Gaza.
- Michael Oren Israeli ambassador to the U.S.
- Aaron David Miller Vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, and former U.S. Middle East adviser in Republican and Democratic administrations.
- Shibley Telhami Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of the forthcoming book, "The Peace Puzzle: America's Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace 1989-2011."
- David Makovsky Senior fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and co-author with Dennis Ross of "Myths, Illusions and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East."
- Nadia Bilbassy Senior U.S. correspondent for MBC TV -- Middle East Broadcast Center.
- James Kitfield Senior correspondent for National Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. More than 90 people have died in six days of fighting between the Israel and Gaza, many of them Palestinian civilians. Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu warned there could be a significant expansion of Israel's assault on Gaza if Gaza does not cease sending rockets into Israel. Joining me in the studio to talk about the crisis: Shibley Telhami of The Brookings Institution and the University of Maryland and James Kitfield of National Journal magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us from an NPR studio in Cleveland, Aaron David Miller of the Wilson Center, and we will be taking your calls, questions, comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. But, first, joining us by phone from Washington, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren. Good morning, Mr. Ambassador. Thanks for joining us.
AMB. MICHAEL ORENGood morning, Diane. It's a pleasure to be with you this morning.
REHMThank you. Mr. Ambassador, is a ceasefire under negotiation?
ORENWell, we are exploring ways to end the Hamas rocket fire on our civilian population. As of this morning, we have about 5.5 million Israelis under rocket fire. That's well more than half of our population, either in bomb shelters or within a 15-second run from the nearest bomb shelter. That's how long you have before the rocket hits between the siren goes off and the impact of the rocket, 15 seconds.
ORENWe're exploring ways that we can get Hamas to stop shooting at our civilians, but we also don't go -- want to go back to a situation where every couple of days, terrorists can decide to shoot rockets at the southern part of the country and send another million people running for bomb shelters. We don't want to go back to that status quo empty. So we hope they'll stop shooting at us, and we hope we can create a different framework in which the people of Gaza can live their lives on their side of the border and millions of Israelis can live their lives in peace.
REHMAnd with whom are you exploring a ceasefire?
ORENWell, particularly with the United States. The United States is doing an outstanding role. President Obama's entire administration, the State Department, are working with various actors in the region to explore the possibilities. And as I said before, we do hope that these efforts bear fruit. Nobody's looking for an escalation of this conflict on the Israeli side certainly. We want to, again, to resume our lives peacefully and to cease the rocket fire on Israel.
REHMWhat about Egyptian President Morsi? Is he involved?
ORENWell, the Egyptians, of course, are a very important actor in the Middle East -- on the Middle Eastern stage, and the Egyptians have played a constructive role in the past in mediating ceasefires in Gaza. And we hope they will continue to play that kind of constructive role now and in the future.
REHMWhat would have to happen actually for Israel to agree to a ceasefire?
ORENWell, first and foremost, the rockets have to stop. We've been hit by well over 1,000 rockets over the last six days. Before this operation began -- this is widely forgotten -- we were hit by 600 rockets in the course of one month which was an impossible situation. President Obama said that it was an intolerable situation for any country.
ORENAnd any country would have to take measures to defend itself in the face of such completely unprovoked aggression. So we have to change the situation. The rocket firing has to cease, and the situation in which terrorists felt that they could fire at our civilians with impunity also has to cease. That's what we're looking for, Diane.
REHMAnd Amb. Oren, Hamas is now saying Israel must end the blockade of Gaza for there to be a ceasefire.
ORENWell, there is no ground blockade. Virtually, everything gets into Gaza. There's no shortage of food. There's no shortage of medicine, even construction materials. If we have concern, they could be used also to build bunkers. That goes in across-the-border crossings as well, but it's given to U.N. and other NGOs who we regard as responsible to ensure that those materials are not used for military purposes. But basically, the entire border crossing is open.
ORENThe only area that is blockaded -- and it's not even a full blockade -- is the sea where Israel reserves the right to check ships coming in 'cause we have found ships carrying a large cargos of Iranian and Syrian arms going to various terrorist groups in Gaza. Now, that partial maritime blockade has been upheld by the United Nations.
REHMNow, what is Israel's goal as it continues its assault on Gaza? Is it to topple Hamas?
ORENNo. I don't think our goal is not to topple Hamas. Hamas is to send a very powerful message to Hamas that the situation that obtained before the outbreak of this round of fighting we call Operation Pillar of Defense, that was not sustainable. That's intolerable where, every couple of days, terrorists fire barrages of rockets at our southern towns and villages, and people have to scramble to bomb shelters. People can't go to school.
ORENI have a daughter who is in Be'er Sheva, couldn’t attend university classes, couldn't -- was losing her hourly wage job. That was untenable. That was intolerable. That has to end. And we also have to end the situation where they're now firing 1,000 rockets at us. It's -- those goals are, I think, are very clear, and they're attainable if the proper pressures are brought to bear on Hamas.
REHMI understand that there's been a great deal of criticism of Israel for these civilian casualties in Gaza. Over the weekend, Israeli air strikes reportedly killed several women and children, hit two buildings housed by journalists. Your response, sir.
ORENWell, we regret any loss of civilian life, and that's what very much sets us apart from Hamas. Hamas is actually doing its utmost to kill a maximum amount of Israeli civilians while we, by marked contrast, are doing our utmost to prevent civilian casualties on the Palestinian side. We have a computer that puts out tens of thousands of telephone calls, sends text messages to people in areas that are liable to be targeted. We tell them to get out in time.
ORENWe leaflet their area with tens of thousands of leaflets. We're doing our best. But we're dealing with a Hamas terrorist enemy that is deeply embedded within the civilian population and does this on purpose. They want those sensationalist views, those pictures on the front covers of magazines and newspapers, and they're using their own population as human shields. So, yes, there have been civilian casualties, and we regret them.
ORENBut the overall majority of casualties on the Palestinian side have been armed terrorists and not civilians. And again, we are striving to limit that number, and we hope that the fighting will end soon. We don't want to see civilians hurt anymore than perhaps they have.
REHMIs Israel preparing for ground war?
ORENWe're preparing the option, Diane. We have to. It's not something we want, but if the rocket continues -- rocket fire continues, we will have no choice. There's just a limited amount of time that any country could sustain prolonged rocket fire over half its territory and half its population. We're going to have to take whatever legitimate and necessary means are available to us to protect our citizens.
REHMIsraeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, thank you for joining us, sir.
ORENThank you, Diane.
REHMNow, to you, James Kitfield, the ambassador said the majority of those Palestinians in Gaza being hit have been terrorists. Is that your understanding?
MR. JAMES KITFIELDWell, Reuters is reporting -- and they have reporters in Gaza -- that it's roughly 50-50. About half the casualties have been civilians, and half of them had been Hamas militants. It's very hard to get a very clean count, obviously, in that place. It's very isolated. You know, the journalists themselves -- Israel hit a building adjacent to where the journalists were working, and six journalists were wounded.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDSo there -- it's hard for journalists to get around and verify who's killed. You know, a lot of people are buried under rubble. It's a very dense city. And there's a lot of bombing -- 200 strikes, I think, just this morning. So it's very hard to get an accurate account and to know exactly who is who. I mean, the ambassador is exactly right. Hamas is embedded with a civilian population.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDIt's a survival technique of theirs, and they do -- you know, Israel claims they use human shields, and I guess you could say it. They are embedded in a residential neighborhood. It's inevitable that if they get these kinds of exchanges, civilians will be killed, and that place -- they're propaganda. But they also -- you know, it's a survival technique.
REHMShibley Telhami, who are the players most active trying to negotiate a ceasefire? What do they have at stake?
PROF. SHIBLEY TELHAMIWell, first of all, Egypt, for sure, because they have the most at stake. Why? Because there's huge expectation, not just regionally but from the Egyptian public that in this era of, you know, Arab revolution, they want the government to be responsive to the public. The public is passionately on the side of the Palestinians.
PROF. SHIBLEY TELHAMII would argue that one reason why there was a revolution in Egypt was not just, you know, frustration with Mubarak over time but the 2008 war, Gaza War where the public was passionately on the side of Hamas and Mubarak was seen to be coordinating behind the scene to weaken them. So there's tremendous pressure and expectation on Morsi, and yet Morsi doesn't even need that pressure because he and his group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is very close to Hamas. They want to support them.
PROF. SHIBLEY TELHAMIBut on the other hand, they don't want to get into confrontation with Israel. It is very tough for them. If there's an escalation, they're going to find themselves in a bind. They don't want it. They want to -- they know that the biggest winners right now in all of this are Hezbollah and Iran because they're the ones -- they are the only ones who are giving missiles to Gaza.
PROF. SHIBLEY TELHAMIAnd that's popular in the Arab world because the Arab public wants the Gazans to have a capacity to retaliate. They want them to have a capacity to be able to hurt Israel. And who's giving them those missiles? It's Iran. It's not the Arab states.
REHMShibley Telhami, he is at the University of Maryland, also senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. When we come back, we'll talk with Aaron David Miller at the Woodrow Wilson Center as well as David Makovsky from his hotel in Jerusalem.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about Israel and Gaza. Israel is currently amassing troops and armored trucks on the border of Gaza. Joining us now by phone from Jerusalem is David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Peace. He is at a hotel in Jerusalem. Good morning to you, David.
MR. DAVID MAKOVSKYGood morning to you, Diane.
REHMI know you arrived in Jerusalem just yesterday. You apparently seem more hopeful now that a ceasefire can be achieved. Tell us why.
MAKOVSKYLook, I think both sides want a ceasefire. The issue is the terms, of course. I think the Israeli public has been around the block a few times and understand that the ground assaults are not easy because there tends to be mishaps and diminishing returns. But the -- and Hamas understands that they're outmatched militarily as well. So in a certain way -- and also the Egyptians, who, you know, are coming to the United States shortly. So all three sides in theory say they want the ceasefire, that that's their preference.
MAKOVSKYThe question is devil is in the details. The Israeli approach is to say, let's just stop firing now, and then we'll start talking because we don't want to talk while our public is in a bomb shelter and while we have troops amassed on the border because you can't hold these people there, you know, forever. And negotiations sometimes, you know, can become a little protracted. And, you know, you have these indirect talks going on now with Israeli delegation in Cairo.
MAKOVSKYAnd, you know, the Egyptians are the mediators, and I think Washington's very happy about that that Egypt is trying to broker this. But, you know, the question is -- I was just at the prime minister's office before coming on the show and they said, look, the next 24 to 48 hours are critical. They were up like till six in the morning dealing with this issue. And -- but they're ready to go in on the ground if the negotiations fall.
REHMAll right. I want to bring Aaron David Miller into this. How optimistic are you, Aaron?
MR. AARON DAVID MILLERYou know, since there's no in-state between Israel and Hamas, that is to say there are no solutions, and I think both sides understand that they have fundamentally different objectives. It seems to me, with or without a ground incursion, you're talking about some sort of interim arrangement analogous to '08 and '09, which will essentially create a stand down on the part of both sides.
MR. AARON DAVID MILLERThis time, however, since the Egyptians are involved, I suspect there'll be additional terms, perhaps opening up the Rafah Crossing, which is now closed, which would enable the Palestinians and the Egyptians to actually trade and ship goods directly. So I think Hamas is going to want some benefit from this. I mean, after all, the Israelis have already achieved quite a bit. They -- they've eliminated Ahmed Jabari, who was the central point person in coordinating the importation of this high-trajectory fire.
MR. AARON DAVID MILLERThey've clearly eliminated vast quantities of the enhanced Grads and the Fajr-5 missiles. The question, it seems to me -- and the Israelis, I think, are in this respect, right now in a much more advantageous position -- what will Hamas want in order to stand down? And that, I think right now, is unknowable. I found -- one last point, Diane. I find it very interesting that the ambassador -- you had asked him about Egypt.
MR. AARON DAVID MILLERHe did volunteer that Israel is now involved in Cairo with Israelis in direct negotiations with the Egyptians and clearly indirect negotiations with Hamas. They clearly want to separate out the ceasefire from any of the benefits that might accrue to Hamas if, in fact, both sides stand down.
REHMAnd to you, Shibley, what about those benefits that could accrue to Hamas?
TELHAMIWell, I mean, look, I think if you look at it historically, if -- when -- if the weak isn't thoroughly defeated, he wins. If the strong isn't thoroughly victorious, he loses. That is the, you know, of course, the casualties are going to be disproportionate. Israel's doctrine is disproportionate. The reason for it being is that the Israeli's notion of deterrence is that they have to punish the multifold. It's not eye for an eye. So, yes, the, you know, Palestinians pay a heavier price.
TELHAMIThey lost 1,400 casualties in the 2008 war. It didn't change the picture. And I think Hamas, in Arab eyes, looks like a winner right now. And they do have -- contrary to what Aaron said, I'm not sure that this attack has actually given Israel an edge in the negotiations for a very important reason that the Arab Awakening has transformed the leverage.
TELHAMIThat is, Egypt in the past, when the U.S. asked Mubarak to weigh in on Hamas, he -- it was easier for him to pressure Hamas than to pressure Israel. Right now, the Egyptian government, it's easier for them to pressure Israel and the U.S., by the way, than to pressure Hamas. And that's a very important part of the equation.
REHMAll right. David Makovsky, how likely is Hamas to achieve an opening in the Rafah Crossing?
MAKOVSKYWell, here, you know, Aaron motioned that that's clearly something they're going to want. But, frankly, this is not unnecessarily -- or is an Israel issue. This is an Egypt-Gaza-Hamas issue because Egypt has kept Rafah closed because they did want a free flow of Gazans in Egypt. They didn't want their -- you know, also, there's differences in trade. And they have not wanted that. So for a variety of reasons, Egypt is the one that has been key on Rafah.
MAKOVSKYAnd clearly, you know, there is a fear on the Egyptian side if they open up Rafah, they won't be kind of sucked in to the Gaza vortex and that -- and certain people on the Israeli right would like this, that Egypt will take more and more responsibility for what goes on in Gaza now that you have two different Muslim Brotherhood governments that, you know, they might be able to blend more. And I don't know if I see Egypt wanting to do that.
MAKOVSKYClearly, part of this mix will also be, Diane, that the Israelis are going to want to have some sort of enforcement mechanism to stop the smuggling of weapons as, you know, Aaron correctly mentioned the Fajr-5, the enhanced Grads. You know, they've all gotten through in a tunnel system there from the Northern Sinai of Egypt into Gaza. And, you know, the Israelis will say, well, what has been done here? What has been achieved? It's just maintenance.
MAKOVSKYIf, you know, you blow up these Fajr-5s and Grads and yet they're smuggled right back in. So that's clearly going to be something Israel will want, but it's one of the reasons why Israel understands this is a protracted thing and is not going to be solved in 24 to 48 hours. So that's part of the mix.
REHMJames Kitfield, CNN is reporting that fighting on the Israel-Gaza border is intensifying despite troops -- truce talks going on now in Egypt.
KITFIELDWell, that's the danger of these things. Once bullets start flying across borders and rockets and missiles and bombs, you lose control of the situation. Any, you know, say, one of these rockets hits a major population center or gets through and kills a lot of Israelis, I could almost assure you then you would see a ground invasion.
KITFIELDOn the other hand, you know, Israel's likely to, at some point, if this keeps up, you know, hit a building that kills a whole lot of civilians. And it will be condemned widely. So, you know, it's why these things are so dangerous. You light a spark in the Middle East, and frequently you get a bonfire.
REHMJames, tell me about this dome of protection from rockets fired into Israel.
KITFIELDIron Dome is a anti-rocket missile system that we have helped Israel develop. We spent a huge amount of money on it in the last few years. Basically, we've had for a long time a defense against, you know, long-range missiles. It's very hard for these rockets because they're short-range. They don't -- they're not in flight for very long.
KITFIELDThey've had remarkable success if you can believe the initial reports, 80, 90 percent. We'll see later on, when we do some after-action reviews, whether that has held up. But clearly, they've intercepted some of the rockets that were aimed at Tel Aviv, and that was -- that's hugely important.
REHMAnd, Aaron David Miller, tell me what Hamas' goal is in continuing to fire these rockets into Israel.
MILLERI mean, look, you've got a fundamental problem in the Palestinian national movement, which essentially resembles a kind of Noah's Ark. There are two of everything: two polities, two presidents, two Constitutions, two sets of security services. Hamas is making a bid, and I think it's a serious bid, for legitimacy within the Palestinian national movement. It knows that Mahmoud Abbas is perceived to be feckless. He has not ended Israel's occupation.
MILLERHe's not fundamentally improved the economic condition of Palestinians. Right now the Palestinian Authority faces a fiscal crisis. Hamas, in a way, can give to the Israelis what Abbas can't. When you negotiate a ceasefire, you negotiate with Hamas. When you want your prisoners back, you negotiate with Hamas. And look who put the Palestinian issue back on center stage. It wasn't Abbas' diplomacy and what you're going to see at the U.N. next week, a quest for observer state status.
MILLERIt was Hamas rockets, not Abbas diplomacy. So Hamas, it seems to me, understands that resistance, the armed struggle, as bankrupt as a strategy as it may be in terms of producing a state, is a legitimacy enhancer for an organization that is interested in consolidating its control in Gaza.
REHMDavid Makovsky, talk about the jihadi elements operating with greater impunity in that entire region.
MAKOVSKYWell, clearly, the jihadi element is one of the new features that wasn't there in 2008, 2009. And, you know, they have been sometimes mocking Hamas, taunting them, you know, where is the resistance, the muqawama? You know, you're now establishment. You're in charge of Gaza. And sometimes Hamas has arrested some of them, but then they let them go. So, in Israel's eyes -- it seems to me sometimes it looks like good cop, bad cop.
MAKOVSKYBut Aaron's right that they clearly want a long-term ceasefire here, not something that's every other day, and it's got to be comprehensive. That doesn't just mean Israel, Hamas, but it means Israel, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and a lot of these jihadi groups, and that will test whether Hamas is really in charge. I would say that, by the way, it isn't unprecedented that Egypt is brokering this. I could think of three other cases.
MAKOVSKYYou had once an effort, what they call a hudna, like a ceasefire, and then another time they call it tahdiya. And then they had the Gilad Shalit prisoner release of 1,000 for one. Each time it was Egypt brokering between Hamas and Israel, sometimes in different rooms at the intelligence agency offices or in hotel rooms. And so this has happened before, but I think the element of the jihadi has made Israel even more focused that this has to be something that is a long-term ceasefire and is not going to just break down, you know, the next week.
REHMShibley, do you see that happening?
TELHAMIYou know, I think you can buy time. They've done it after 2008. They both were reasonably observing their short-term interests, obviously, that keep them from firing at each other. But there's a more profound problem. It's even more profound than just Gaza and Hamas and Fatah competing. It is how could you expect? I mean, if a people are under occupation for 45 years, that sort of, OK, just don't bother us anymore. Some explosion is going to happen.
TELHAMIIf it doesn't happen in Gaza, it's going to happen on the West Bank. I mean, it is just not a natural -- a -- you know, this is something that we sort of forget. I mean, Palestinians were under occupation from '67 to '87. They were actually relatively quiet, and the intifada emerged in '87, 20 years into it. So, I mean, we can have these cycles, and you can say, let's buy more time and let's see. But you know there's going to be another round, and, you know, there's going to be another round. You don't know what's going to happen unless there's a solution to this problem.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Aaron David Miller.
MILLERYou know, Shibley makes a -- I would have made the point somewhat differently, but the point is valid. If you want to move beyond this bloody dead-end trail, all right, then you're going to have to broaden this at some point. And you're going to at least have to do four things. You're going to have to shut down the tunnels and get the Egyptians to take responsibility for blocking the importation of high-trajectory weapons.
MILLERYou're going to have to open up Gaza economically so 1.5 million Palestinians can breathe and so that there are economic horizons that give them a stake. You're going to have to find a way to unite -- and I know this is a stretch -- a Palestinian national movement that is fundamentally dysfunctional. You must have one gun, one authority and one negotiating position.
MILLERAnd finally, you're going to have to test the proposition that the head of that Palestinian national movement and the current head of the government of Israel can find a way into a negotiation on the big issues. These are bridges right now that may be too far, but unless you start to cross them -- Shibley's right -- we're going to be back here sooner, rather than later, with more blood.
REHMDavid Makovsky, do you want to comment?
MAKOVSKYYeah, I agree. Look, fundamentally, if Israel agrees to this, what they're really philosophically agreeing to -- if it's going to really be a comprehensive ceasefire with these different components, and they could, you know, argue over the components -- it philosophically means that Israel has come and made its peace with the idea that Hamas, a stronger Hamas in Gaza, is something that it can -- you know, is willing to live with maybe 'cause it can impose on these other jihadi groups.
MAKOVSKYBut, you know, of course I agree with Aaron and Shibley that these are obviously not solutions. You know, you need a peace agreement, but for that you need three to tango, at least, which is, you know, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which right now doesn't recognize Israel, the size of a telephone booth on a Tel Aviv beach. So, you know, there has to be a change in Hamas' thinking, too, if the broader picture that we all want is really going to happen, because if that doesn't change, it doesn't matter what we say.
REHMAnd, James Kitfield, what about the role of the U.S. in 2012 and '13?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, the -- I'm in violent agreement with everyone on this program right now. We are in a situation that's given us a glimpse of a very troubling future of a post-Arab Spring Middle East that should give Israel great pause. You have more room politically, diplomatically and tactically for these Islamic groups to maneuver. That's putting pressure on actors like Hamas to radicalize, become more militant.
KITFIELDAnd at the same time, you've got moderates like Prime Minister Abbas of the Palestinian Authority totally marginalized by a status quo that has been allowed to go on far too long, and if we -- and it was amazing to me. You saw the leader of a terrorist organization in the eyes of the U.S. and Israel meeting with the heads of state of Turkey, of Egypt, the most important allies in the region, and getting diplomatic credibility and legitimacy.
KITFIELDAnd so Israel is thinking, tactically, it can hammer Hamas. It can kill these rocket caches and deplete their ability to do this, you know, for the short term. But in the long term, it has sort of acquiesced to a status quo where it is losing legitimacy, where the Palestinian national movement is becoming more and more militant and where moderates, who we should be empowering, are becoming increasingly marginalized. That is not a very good future for Israel.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal, Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center, Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland, David Makovsky of the Project on Middle East Peace at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. When we come back, Nadia Bilbassy talks about what's happening in Gaza.
REHMAnd joining us now for just a few moments from Virginia, Nadia Bilbassy. She is senior correspondent for the Middle East Broadcast Center. Nadia, I know you grew up in Gaza. You have family there. What are you hearing? What's happening?
MS. NADIA BILBASSYCorrect, Diane. The situation is dire and very scary. As you know, Gaza is the most densely populated area in the world. There is nowhere to hide for hundreds of thousands of civilians. There is no siren. There is no shelter. Our office, actually, MBC office was hit the day before yesterday. Luckily, our correspondent and her crew were OK. I spoke with my uncle just a few minutes ago, and he lives in a high-rising building.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYAnd basically he cannot even reach a hospital because hospitals are overwhelmed. He's on dialysis. And if an Israeli plane hit their building, then they're dead. If they don't, they'll survive another day. Situation is really pretty bad, and this -- also remember that also Hamas is the government. It's not just a military organization, so...
REHMAnd, Nadia, what do the people of Gaza want Hamas to do?
BILBASSYWell, they wanted -- I think everybody wants this war to end. The -- but the -- they are used to these incursions every two years. So they wanted a permanent solution, and what I heard now -- my sources are telling me that actually there is some kind of a framework for a ceasefire taking place now in Cairo.
BILBASSYBut Hamas has put three conditions, and number one is the cessation of all fighting as we speak. Second, Israel has to promise to stop assassination of Hamas political and military leaders and, third, a lift of blockade on Gaza. Without these three, I think we might see some fighting happening as the days progress.
REHMNadia Bilbassy, she is senior correspondent for the Middle East Broadcast Center. Thank you for joining us, Nadia. James Kitfield, what do you think about those kinds of conditions?
KITFIELDWell, I doubt very serious that they going to get all three of them. I mean, certainly, a ceasefire on both sides would be part of any ceasefire agreement. So I think there should be some negotiating room there. I don't think Israel is going to carte blanche, give up its tactic of target assassinations. They're very happy they got Jabari who is, you know, behind the Shalit kidnapping who they thought was a very militant person. You know, he was a very militant person.
KITFIELDAnd in terms of lifting the blockade, I mean, there may be some wiggle room. I think it was -- David talked about opening the Rafah crossing to Egypt. There may be some wiggle room there, but essentially, the maritime blockade is going to, you know, you can't, while you're raining rockets down in Israel, expect them to say, we're going to open up to all traffic. It's just not going to happen.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Ann Arbor, Mich. Good morning, Vie. You're on the air.
VIEMy question is: Will the totality of the problems between Israel and Palestine be a part of the peace negotiations and finally bring those talks to a head?
REHMAaron David Miller.
MILLERRight now, you've got a crisis which in the broader sense -- because there's also a crisis within the Palestinian National Movement is related but no. For now, I think the issue is stability. Try to build something. And if you can get an interim accord that becomes permanent with respect to a ceasefire and certain assurances by each side, then maybe you can begin to create the kind of environment that would lead to a serious discussion of these issues.
MILLERBut unless you have an empowered Palestinian president who can negotiate and an Israeli prime minister interested in a conflict and an agreement on Jerusalem border security and refugees, seems to me it's going to be extremely difficult in this environment, particularly in view of what everyone has said, to create a sustainable negotiation. It's worth a try, but it needs to be done very carefully.
REHMAll right, to Boca Raton, Fla. Good morning, Stewart.
STEWARTGood morning. OK, I volunteered in Israel for eight months after the Yom Kippur. But at this present time, I'm pro-Palestinian. And there, I have three points. I think Palestinian needs their own state immediate so they can change their focus to county building rather than attacking Israel. Israel has shown it can defend the pre-1960 country very well. The old city needs to be international.
STEWARTIf you go to the King David Museum in Jerusalem, you'll see that Jerusalem has changed hands many times over the last 2,000 years, and we should stop that. And I think that Israel is lying to the people of the world by saying that it really wants peace with the Palestinians when they stop attacking by what they're doing in the West Bank in terms of population and building. They want to permanentize (sic) the West Bank as part of Israel.
REHMDavid Makovsky, do you want to comment?
MAKOVSKYWell, there is no doubt if they would actually go seek to the fact that we're next to West Bank like the caller says, you know, and then this is, you know, we're dealing about something totally different. For someone who's worked a lot on the maps of the West Bank, people -- there's -- they're not evenly distributed. Eighty percent of them are within 5 percent of the land adjacent to the old border.
MAKOVSKYNow, if they don't have talks, then clearly the viability of a two-state solution is going to be prodding the question even if you have what we call offsetting land swaps, transfers, exchange of land, 5 percent this way, 5 percent that way. And I, you know, we'll see what type of a new Israeli government comes in January. The Israeli government says Abbas, you know, refuses to sit with them now for two years plus.
MAKOVSKYAbbas -- as well, I would, you know, if you stop, you know, every apartment in Jerusalem. And that's something Israel has not accepted. So, you know, we're going to see what the new government after the January elections. But I would agree that the urgency of a two-state solution, even if we can't solve all the problems in here, I think Aaron Miller and I are clearly sifting similarly. But at least the, you know, the need to focus on borders and security, I think, is important. Certainly after these new elections in January, people need to see...
MAKOVSKY...that moderation pays. And that's true on both sides. So I...
REHMDavid, tell us what it's like in Jerusalem today. Have you seen any Hamas rockets in the sky? Have you heard any air raid sirens?
MAKOVSKYIn Jerusalem? No.
MAKOVSKYThere's been in other cities…
REHMAnd what about the mood of the people in Jerusalem now?
MAKOVSKYRight now, it's very good. Now -- and you're looking at, you know, I look at all these different polling datas. You can have something like a 90, 9-0, percent approval rating for this so long as it's an aerial thing going after Jabari and Fajr-5 rockets. I could tell you, once it goes to a ground, this is going to become very contentious. The numbers are nowhere near that level when it goes to the ground.
MAKOVSKYPeople here, it's a mandatory draft. Everyone's got a cousin who's in the army and is going to be called up. So, you know, and it's going to, you know, it's going to get, you know, there'd be much more fatalities on both side. So the popularity will drop.
REHMSo for that reason -- yes. So for that reason, I would think everybody is looking for a way to solve this, Shibley.
TELHAMIThere's no question. I mean, I think they -- look, there's a rally around the flag everywhere. There is one in Israel so everybody, you know, when they're and -- there are soldiers are fighting, they put off all the debates. But even in the middle of this crisis, you have centrist's columnists who are criticizing government saying this is short-sighted even in the middle of it, and it'll get lot worse if there is an escalation.
TELHAMIBut I want to go back, if you don't mind, briefly, to the point about this need for Palestinian state. I think that there is no ceasefire that is going to hold no matter who's behind it and what happens. Issues should not going to hold unless you have a political horizon. Let me just give you one example. You know, there were some Palestinian -- reportedly some Palestinian conditions were just stated, of course, the Israeli conditions. One of the conditions is the cut-off of the missiles into Gaza. And to imagine that Hamas or anybody else is going to stop doing it without a political horizon is illusionary.
TELHAMIIt's just not -- it's not going to happen. And so -- and the Israeli is going to feel they're going to have to do it one more time again and one more time again. And so we're trapped in this dance. So whoever thinks that if we don't start a political horizon on -- toward dealing with the whole issue is going to solve it, I think, you know, without that, there's just no chance.
REHMAaron, you're shaking your head.
MILLERWell, no. I mean, Shibley is right about the political horizon. But, I mean, there's an asymmetry here. You have a Palestinian authority and a man who heads it of moderate centrist tendencies who is not pursuing the arms struggle, who is under Israeli occupation but who is not pursuing the arms struggle. There is no importation of enhanced grads and Fajr-5 missiles by Palestinian security services on the West Bank. And Shibley knows Hamas represents a different trend.
MILLERIt's the religious manifestation of Palestinian nationalism. It's an organization. Perhaps it will moderate maybe. Who knows? But the reality is it is pursuing a strategy of resistance and arms struggle quite woefully, quite purposely, and Abbas is not. So I don't think, Shibley, that that distinction, frankly, is -- applies across the board. And I think Abbas -- well, he may not object it because he'd like to be seen as a struggler. And I think he and Salam Fayyad accept it.
TELHAMIThey accept it, but let's see what happens in the environment of this escalation on the West Bank. And they face their own trouble with their publics at the moment.
KITFIELDYou know, it's amazing. The moderate in this mix, Mr. Abbas, is going to go to the U.N. in the next few weeks trying to get non-state, you know, acceptance by the U.N. for added legitimacy because he sees no path through negotiations with the Israeli government. We are four years after Cast Lead 2008 of, you know, battle in Gaza. We are after the -- we're a couple years after the flotilla disaster with Turkey. The writing is on the wall.
KITFIELDI don't understand how Israel can sit with a status quo where moderates are being marginalized like Mr. Abbas. They're doing very little to help him yet, you know, the -- as the resistance gets more and more militant, they respond to the Hamases of the world who are getting increased legitimacy. I can't understand how strategically that's in Israel's favor.
MAKOVSKYWell, in the big picture, of course, this is right. I mean, there's a total asymmetry between the West Bank and Gaza here in terms of, one, one of your two-state solution, and we're not recognizing Israel anyway. And, therefore, to me, it just increases the urgency of the need for talk. And this needs to happen sooner rather than later. Also, I think there will be a radicalization whether who is to blame for the fact that the talks are not taking place, though I think I would have some differences with Mr. Kitfield in the way he just put it forward.
KITFIELDWell, the differences would be -- and we've talked many times on this, David -- but the difference would be Mr. Netanyahu is willing to suspend settlements for a 10-month period. But when he did that, he announced increased building in Arab East Jerusalem. That's something that's very hard for -- 'cause it's basically foregoing one of the most critical -- I think the most critical and difficult of the negotiations to reach is what do you do about Jerusalem?
KITFIELDAnd if the Palestinians are going to see, you know, increased settlement in East Jerusalem for a short period, they're going to -- that's not going to be something that he's been able to rally his folks for.
MAKOVSKYWell, I think we disagree on that because I think -- as President Obama and the administration, I don't think there was increased building in Jerusalem. And we lost nine of 10 months while the right-wing Israeli government agreed to a settlement freeze. And you're talking to someone who's very sympathetic to the Palestinian authority, but I think it's unfair to put all the blame on one side. We need to get both of these peoples together and walk them in a room essentially and then, you know, until they reach an agreement.
MAKOVSKYThey won't solve everything. They won't solve Jerusalem. They won't solve refugees. These are the two issues that -- the narrative issues that cut to the self-definition of this conflict. But borders and security, a state-to-state relationship is something, in my view, that should be reached, and we should not allow this 2013 to go by without having that massive effort made and led by the United States.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Aaron David Miller, with everything else that President Obama has on his plate, do you believe that the U.S. will become deeply involved in this kind of negotiation?
MILLERYou know, governing is about choosing. It's about setting priorities even if you're a relatively popular and a two-term president that is confident and feeling re-energized and somewhat vindicated. The reality is that given the shape of the region today -- and the other issue, Diane, which we've talked about only indirectly, the one great looming issue that is hanging over everyone's head like some sort of, you know, sword of Damocles from antiquity, the Iranian nuclear program.
MILLERThis question is the next crisis once we finished with Gaza, assuming there's no crisis with Hezbollah to be joined. I would believe and I've been annoyingly negatively on all of these matters as my -- as all -- the three of our -- my fellow panelists know. But I would think that this president has an interest and a commitment to pursuing this issue. And by the time he's done, he's going to get around to it in a significant way.
REHMDo you believe that, Shibley?
TELHAMIWell, yeah, you know, I think the priority -- this is not a priority issue obviously for the president right now. And look at it, he's actually in, you know, Southeast Asia and...
REHMBut that's for now.
TELHAMIFor now. But, no...
REHMThat's for now.
TELHAMI...but, I mean, he's facing -- look, he's facing the -- a fiscal problem with Congress. He needs them. They're all crucial. But one indications when you have like a broken record which says Israel has a right to defend itself coming from every single agency of the U.S. government, it means they're not paying attention to this issue because it's the easiest way to just write it off basically.
REHMJames, do you agree with that?
KITFIELDNo. I kind of agree with Aaron. It may not come this year. It may be after Iran explodes, but sometime in his next term. The strategic logic of it doesn't allow yourself to disengage from trying to find a solution. We've seen this over 30 years with Republican and Democratic administrations. George W. Bush tried to step away from this.
KITFIELDAnd by the end of his term, second term, was dramatically making a last ditch effort for the Annapolis process to reach a solution. We have seen this over and over. The strategic cost of letting this thing fester is so great that it -- the logic draws you into trying to do this.
REHMIs the evidence clear that Hamas is getting its weapons from Iran?
KITFIELDAbsolutely ironclad clear.
REHMSo that goes back to Aaron's point.
REHMAnd Hezbollah. But that goes back to Aaron's point that you cannot let this go on and on.
KITFIELDAnd there's another related crisis in Syria...
REHMSyria, of course.
KITFIELD...which is on the -- I think it may even get to a crisis point before we get to Iran. So, I mean, people need to start thinking strategically about what we're going to do about this spreading mess, and, you know, a two-state solution remains a key pillar of any sort of positive outlet you can imagine for this region.
REHMAnd that's got to be the last word. James Kitfield of National Journal, Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institution, co-author of the forthcoming book "The Peace Puzzle," Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center and David Makovsky, senior fellow, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Thank you all so much. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Jill Colgan. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones.
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