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Israel announced a seven-hour ceasefire today in parts of Gaza to facilitate humanitarian aid and to allow thousands of displaced Palestinians to return home. But Palestinians accused Israel of breaking the truce by launching a bomb attack on a refugee camp in Gaza city. The blast killed an 8-year-old girl and wounded 29 others. Yesterday, an Israeli missile struck near the entrance of a United Nations school shelter in Rafah where the military says it was targeting members of Hamas. The growing civilian death toll in the nearly-month-old conflict has stirred growing international outrage and calls for an end to the fighting. Diane and her guests discuss the latest on the crisis and why keeping a ceasefire in Gaza is so hard.
- 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.
- Hussein Ibish Senior fellow, American Task Force on Palestine
- Natan Sachs Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings Institution
- Ben Hubbard Reporter, The New York Times
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A seven-hour humanitarian window is ending in parts of Gaza. But Palestinian officials accused Israel of breaking the truce with a strike on a refugee camp in Gaza City. Joining me in the studio to discuss the latest on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, international reaction, and how this latest round of violence is different from its predecessors: Natan Sachs of The Brookings Institution, Aaron David Miller of The Wilson Center, and Hussein Ibish of the American Taskforce on Palestine.
MS. DIANE REHMI'm sure many of you will want to weigh in. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follows us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Thank you all for joining us.
MR. AARON DAVID MILLERThank you, Diane.
MR. NATAN SACHSThank you so much.
MR. HUSSEIN IBISHThank you very much.
REHMGood to have you with us. First, joining us by phone from Gaza City is Ben Hubbard of The New York Times. Ben, thanks for joining us.
MR. BEN HUBBARDThank you.
REHMTalk about what the latest is on the ground in Gaza. Is there any extension of the cease-fire?
HUBBARDWell, there was -- it's sort of a strange cease-fire. I mean, it's a limited cease-fire in terms of, you know, in that it was only declared by one side, and then it was only declared for part of the territory. Basically, Israel said that it would stop -- you know, it was basically a cease-fire for places where it was not already military engaged. And it did not include the southern city of Rafah.
HUBBARDSo in the places that we were able to move around this morning, I think the cease-fire for most people here was a chance to sort of get out and move around, leave some of the shelters where displaced people have been staying. We spent some time, you know, seeing families going back to some of the areas close to the Israeli border that were very heavily, heavily damaged in the fighting.
HUBBARDAnd so we saw a lot of people, you know, digging through rubble of their former homes looking for anything they could salvage, whether it was kitchen materials or, you know, clothing, things like that. And so this is -- and this issue of this kind of destruction is probably going to be with us for a while just because there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of discussion right now about what kind of a building regime is going to be, you know, put in place after this conflict finally finishes.
REHMDo you see any indication of the conflict beginning to wind down?
HUBBARDWell, we'll see what happens, I guess, after today. I mean, again, it was a unilateral cease-fire, and I think that that -- it seems very clear that Israel's position at the moment is to sort of act unilaterally. It seems like it's given up on the idea of, you know, negotiations, negotiating with the Palestinian parties to try to come up with a more durable cease-fire.
HUBBARDIt seems like Israel's given up on that and said, we're just going to do what we feel we need to do for our security interests. And so I think, you know, what looks like it might happen -- and I don't want to sort of get into fortune-telling here. But it looks like we may sort of head into a period with sort of less intense violence.
HUBBARDWe may not actually have a very clear conclusion to the hostilities as we've seen in the past. I mean, usually, in the last two times that we've had massive fighting in Gaza, it's sort of come to a climax. And then there was a cease-fire agreed on both sides, and then it ended. And it's unclear if we're going to reach that kind of a conclusion in this round of fighting.
REHMAs I understand it, Israel decided on this so-called humanitarian cease-fire to allow Palestinians to return home. But where is home? Is anything left?
HUBBARDWell, there's -- I mean, I think that after the -- if you look at it from the point of view of a Gazan, there is very, very -- I think your average Gazan would say that they have very little reason to believe anything that Israel tells them. You know, there's been just such heavy shelling and so many air strikes across the Gaza Strip that, you know, people don't necessarily buy it when Israel says, you know, you can go back to your homes.
HUBBARDAnd then there's also the issue, as you bring up, that many of these homes are destroyed. You know, we have -- I forget, you know, but we have, you know, more than 200,000 people who are staying in U.N. schools. We have, you know, many, many other people who are displaced and either staying with relatives. And a lot of these people just don't have homes that they can go back to right away.
HUBBARDSo, you know, I think a lot of the families that we saw going back to visit some of the damaged areas today, they're not planning on trying to move back there soon. I think everybody realized that the, you know, limited cease-fire today was a limited time period. It ends at five o'clock, which is just about now. And nobody really knows what to expect after that.
REHMNow, there was an attack yesterday on a U.N. school facility. Now U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called that attack a moral outrage and a criminal act. What was the reaction in Israel to that statement by Ban Ki-Moon?
HUBBARDWell, I'm not in Israel. I'm quite -- Gaza's sort of a very different world, so I don't know if I can give you a very good sense of what the feeling in Israel was. But I think the strike on the school -- I mean, this was the seventh time that a U.N. school has received a direct hit. The U.N. believes that these are all -- this is the seventh time, and they've hit six facilities. There's one facility that was hit twice.
HUBBARDYou know, and this has brought up this whole issue of, you know, how much care Israeli forces are taking when they're hitting targets in Gaza, you know, just, you know, we've other, you know, other attacks that have hit schools as well that have killed multiple people. And so I think that it was -- I think some of the strong international condemnation that we heard yesterday was because this wasn't the first time that something like this has happened.
HUBBARDAnd it's brought up a lot of questions about how soldiers in the field are making these decisions when they decide to, you know, fire that artillery or fire that missile, you know. Are they really aware of what the target is and how many civilians might also be killed in that attack?
REHMBen Hubbard of The New York Times, thank you for joining us.
REHMAnd, Aaron David Miller, picking up on that exact point that Ben was making, what about the international reaction here, most especially on the Arab side?
MILLERI mean, I think this separates -- this particular crisis is different than '08 and '09 where, in fact, you had much more of a severe reaction from the international community and from the Arab states. I mean, what impresses me most of all is how feckless the international community has been in responding to this. There is not one single mediator that has the capacity or the interest, frankly, in trying to deescalate this.
MILLERThe silence from the Arab world is deafening, led by the Egyptians. I mean, I thought I -- I never thought I would see the largest and most powerful Arab state, its official positions essentially reaffirm Israel's. Now, there are reasons for that, but it's not just the Egyptians. It's the Saudis. It's the UAE, and it's important -- Natan and I were talking earlier -- to look at this as part of a broader regional picture.
MILLERThis is not just about Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. It's about the threat from Sunni jihadis. It's about Iran, and it's about an unwillingness on the part of key Arab states, the Saudis in particular, who, in March of '02, King Abdullah threatened to walk out of a meeting with George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas over the issue of Israel's policies in the West Bank during that terrible period of the second Intifada.
MILLERYou don't see any of that.
REHMAnd, Hussein Ibish, talk about why.
IBISHWell, it has to do, I think, mainly with the changing perception of the Arab states towards the Muslim Brotherhood in general and Islamists in particular. Of course, there is a concern about ISIS and more extreme groups in Iraq and Syria, and that really is an even greater crisis. But that doesn't really apply to Hamas. Hamas is seen -- and its fortunes are seen by these states as bound up with the regional fortunes of the Muslim Brotherhood.
IBISHAnd Egypt is not the only Arab government that sees the Muslim Brotherhood as a direct and immediate threat and therefore, Hamas, as the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine, is part of that. The list that Aaron gave you actually was a partial one. You can add Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority, to some extent, to that list at a minimum, probably Algeria as well and others.
IBISHSo, you know, this is really what defines that odd convergence of interests that has produced an unlikely anti-Hamas coalition that, if not approving of Israel's actions, at least has no interest in running to defend Hamas or/and actually has an interest in denying it a political and military success here.
REHMBut at the same time, Natan Sachs, you do have the secretary general of the U.N. condemning Israel for the kinds of targeting it has done. What about the international outrage of the number of Palestinians killed?
SACHSI think the mirror image of what Aaron was saying, describing, is that all of the governments have not been condemning Israel. The public opinion around the world has been extremely negative, in particular because of the symmetry and just the magnitude of the human suffering in Gaza, which is immense. And I think, from the Israeli perspective, this is a very difficult conundrum.
SACHSOn the political strategic level, they're facing Hamas. They don't know what to do with it. They feel that they have no choice. But then, of course, it's a losing proposition. They get into this war, and the magnitude of the suffering and the deaths is enormous. And they are very strongly condemned. We're seeing around Europe the rise of very ugly anti-Semitism. We're seeing accusations by people around the world with a variety of different names, genocide, and other things, which, of course, are nonsensical, but reflect the appalling pictures one sees from Gaza.
REHMHow is it nonsensical?
SACHSWell, the word genocide has a very particular meaning. Something can be very bad while still being very, very short of genocide. Genocide is a conscious attempt to wipe out a people, and that is extremely far in every single way from what we're seeing. What we're seeing is still very bad, and the images from Gaza in particular should affect everyone. I think Israelis as well should be more tuned to the magnitude of suffering.
REHMAnd a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk further, take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the current situation in Gaza where a seven-hour humanitarian cease-fire apparently has just ended. But we shall see whether Israel decides to extend that. It was not an agreed-to cease-fire on both sides. Aaron David Miller, here's a question that comes up a great deal -- this from Rob -- "Why is it never mentioned that Hamas is reportedly storing weapons in the schools that have been bombed? Should there be a condemnation of Hamas for this practice? Is a school still a school if it's being used as an arms depot?"
MILLERYou know, I'm not familiar with the laws and rules of war. And I think it has been mentioned, I mean, I think not just by the Israelis but by the U.S. government and even the U.N. that Hamas is collocating its repository of high-trajectory weapons, some of its launching sites and even its fighters in proximate distance to densely populated urban areas.
REHMBut people and weapons within the same U.N. facility?
MILLERWell, I've seen reports that weapons have been discovered in schools that are no longer being used as schools. That is to say schools which are either out of session, have been abandoned, and that Hamas has been using U.N. facilities, which is -- abandoned or not, which is a serious enough charge with respect to the United Nations. It finds itself in a very difficult tricky position operating in Gaza.
IBISHIt is a violation of the laws of war, without question, to use civilian areas like abandoned schools as arms depots for ordinance. And there's no doubt Hamas has done that. And the U.N. and UNRWA have been very vehement in their condemnations. On the other hand, at the same time, the U.N. has said -- and particularly in regard to the last school attack from yesterday -- that they warned Israel 33 times about the coordinates of that school and that it was an innocent facility and that nobody was using it as a weapons depot or as a firing range -- or firing -- launching pad.
IBISHAnd that's one of the reasons. It's not just that this is the seventh attack on the sixth U.N. target. It's also that the U.N. has a very solid case, that they did their best to help the Israelis avoid this, and the Israelis didn't avoid it. And that's why it's not just the U.N. It's also the State Department, which called it horrifying and alarming, and U.N. Amb. Power, who also used the word horrifying in a statement yesterday.
SACHSI think this is a very interesting case. As the listener points out, there's a very strong asymmetry not just in the power but also in our expectations of it. Hamas completely flaunts the laws of war. And we generally don't have discussion about what they are doing, whether or not it's lawful, because they don't really declare that they're otherwise. There are terrorist organizations that have been involved in terrorism many times. Terrorist is not just a name that the Israelis give to it. The U.S., the E.U., everyone consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
SACHSThat, of course, does not relieve Israel of the duty that it itself has towards civilians in Gaza and elsewhere, but it does mean that the way the context of this war becomes extremely difficult from the Israeli perspective as well because they're not fighting another state. They're not fighting another organization that appears to have a peaceful alternative, a possibility of doing peace. It's an organization that seems determined to continue to fight no matter how many casualties its own population suffers.
REHMAaron, who is controlling Hamas at this time?
MILLERI mean, I think that's a critical question. And the aborted cease-fire -- 72-hour cease-fire over the weekend demonstrates with a certain frightening clarity that the military wing is essentially in charge. And I think that reality is one of the more frustrating, difficult things for any punitive mediated solution to this conflict because the military wing may well believe that it is winning, number one.
MILLERAnd I don't think they want to govern Gaza anymore. I think, over the last five or six years, they've realized that this is a losing proposition. They're never going to open Gaza to the extent that they would deliver...
REHMSo what is their goal?
MILLERI mean, this raises the fascinating question as to whether or not they have just literally decided to go for broke. They don't want to jeopardize their control of Gaza, but in the end they're taunting the Israelis. They are basically saying, if you think you can extirpate us as an organization, close all of our tunnels, destroy all of our high-trajectory weapons, fine, come and get us. And this is -- it seems to me that the one -- well, there are many wildcards. This is one of them because I don't see how you deal with this sort of reality.
MILLERI was told that there are 3,000 elite fighters. They have perhaps 15,000. And it's the first Palestinian army, and they basically, since '07, controlling Gaza have created literally the first Palestinian army. Those 3,000 were told to go say good-bye to their families because this literally could be an endgame, an end of days struggle. Now, whether that's true or not, their determination and resiliency to continue to struggle reflects the fact that the military wing is running the show.
HUBBARDAll right. I have an idea about this. I agree completely that the military wing is not taking orders from the political leadership, either the internal leadership or the external (word?) bureau led by Khaled Mashal and Mossad (unintelligible). But I think -- and I speculated in my column yesterday for the national newspaper in the UAE -- that what Hamas is trying to do is get a strong foothold in the West Bank politically, regain a real presence there in a long-term, sustained, and they think ultimately successful bid to take control of the Palestinian national movement, if necessary sacrificing Gaza.
HUBBARDBecause Gaza is a liability, as Aaron pointed out. It's nonviable. It's not governable. And it's not -- Israel has contained it. So the whole strategy of national liberation through armed struggle that Hamas is pursuing and their policy of trying to compete with the PLO and the PA for leadership of the Palestinian national movement can't be successfully operated out of Gaza. It's got to morph into where the action is, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin and ultimately the big kahuna, Jerusalem. It has to get to Jerusalem. And I think this is a long-term policy of theirs, and the war reflects that.
REHMNathan, this would suggest that Israel's military operation is going to be endless.
SACHSIt may. And one of the very difficult things about this conflict is that we don't see any very clear goals on either side. As we just heard, it's very hard to understand the Hamas strategy, at least on the political level. They may have long-term hopes of coming to the West Bank. But on the ground it's not clear what they want. Israel, going into this conflict, didn't want it.
SACHSYou can like Netanyahu, not like Netanyahu, but Netanyahu much preferred to contain the unrest that already existed in the West Bank and avoid this conflict in Gaza. And that's why the numerous cease-fire attempts broken by the Egyptians in the beginning were accepted by Israel, of course broken by Hamas.
SACHSAnd so Israel found itself being pulled into a conflict it didn't want and that it may not come out of any better of course. It may suggest since Israel's not willing to go all the way and bring down Hamas, which would change fundamentally the reality in Gaza, it's unwilling because of the huge cost that that would take for the civilian population but also for the Israeli troops. And of course the day after would be -- may perhaps chaos. Since Israel's not willing to do that, we're left with a situation of perhaps the turns and this endless cycle. This is really round three of one war since 2008.
REHMAnd you've -- and all of you have said there is really a coalition whether overt or covert between or among some of the Arab states and Israel in its -- in their condemnation of what Hamas is doing. Do you see them stepping up to try to quash what Hamas is doing?
MILLERIt's hard to -- that may be a bridge too far. I mean, the Israelis in an odd way serve as the agency of key Arab states who want to defeat Iran and the Jihadists in this localized conflict. I think there are two possibilities here. Should the Israelis -- and I don't think they will -- want massive incursion into Gaza, I think the Arab states and the Arab publics might have no choice but to react. That's number one.
MILLERAnd as Hussein and I were discussing, if the West Bank somehow explodes, that's the other wildcard here. And then I think that would force even a state like Egypt, which has to be more responsive to political opinion since the up rig of the Arab Spring to basically ratchet up their criticism. But if neither of those things happen, I suspect that the Arab states will keep this deep freeze toward Hamas on for quite some time.
SACHSI think this is a key point. What we've seen is of course terrible. It could become much worse if we see a widespread outbreak of violence in the West Bank as well and then as an Israeli response to it. And just today this morning, we saw two attacks -- small attacks in Jerusalem, two very separate attacks. And this comes on the heels of widespread unrest, of course very traumatic events even before the Gaza conflict erupted. So we're seeing a very dangerous situation. If this comes into the West Bank and we see something like a third intifada, it would be far, far worse than what we're seeing now.
IBISHSo that's where there's a potential coalition of overt actions that are not coordinated but that are moving in the same direction between Israel and various Arab states, which is shore up the PA in Ramallah, politically, financially, and in every other respect. Because the endgame here, both in terms of containing the potential for an outbreak of violence in the West Bank, which certainly would be a path for Hamas to go forward in the West Bank without question, if there were a violent eruption, another intifada or something like that, it would, you know, be very easy for Hamas to take advantage of that.
IBISHSo there are things that Israel can do and things that the Arab states can do to strengthen the PA, give it more credibility, more clout, more money, more ability to govern...
IBISHWell, first of all, by giving it money, secondly by -- and Israel certainly could enhance the credibility of the PA by allowing more access and mobility, by engaging in more serious conversations with them, in giving them more of a role in Area C. I mean, there are all kinds of deliverables on the ground that could be done.
REHMBut if Abbas himself has been discredited, how do you strengthen the PA?
IBISHWell, by giving him political victories and deliverables for the people, which can be material, or they can be in terms of rights that people have or the role -- expanding the scope of the role of the Palestinian authority so that the Palestinian authority can make the case that their strategy of negotiation, security cooperation, and nonviolence produces benefits, albeit slowly, whereas the Hamas strategy of armed struggle brings death and destruction and no political gains or strategic gains.
REHMHow are the people in Gaza feeling right now about Hamas?
IBISHYou know, I don't think anybody really knows that. I think that's a very, very big question. In 2008, 2009, there was a surge of kind of circling the wagons and a kind of fellow feeling and all pulling together. But when the dust settled, there was a lot of anger. But the anger dissipated pretty quickly into a kind of despair. And I don't think anybody knows at this point how -- I mean, as long as bullets are flying, people are likely to circle the wagons.
IBISHBut once the dust settles and people emerge from their hiding places, as they are now in the north of Gaza, and looking at the destruction, they're going to ask Hamas, why did you keep fighting when there were cease-fires available? And Hamas had better have a damn good answer.
REHMHussein Ibish, senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, he's a Lebanese American born in Beirut. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have many callers. Let's go first to Brownsville, Penn. James, you're on the air.
JAMESThank you, Diane, and congratulations on your award that President Obama gave you. I saw you on TV.
REHMThank you so much.
JAMESMy question for the panel. OK. Before all this stuff, let's rewind. Three university students were kidnapped. They were later found murdered. Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, kept saying, Hamas did it, Hamas did it. I haven't seen one shred of evidence unless the Godfrey's United Arab Emirates paper -- has people been arrested? Are they in custody? What happened there? Is this true? Or was it just some kind of fraction Palestinian crazies that did this?
REHMDo we know, Natan?
SACHSWe certainly don't know for sure, but it looks very clear that the Israelis know who did it. They do not know that these people necessarily had orders from the political, even perhaps the high military wing of the Hamas. So they know that these people are affiliated with Hamas. They don't necessarily know that the orders came from above. I would venture to say though, I think in matters less than we think, the Israelis have a very strong standing policy of opposing Hamas militarily and otherwise. And this was not news.
IBISHThe abduction -- they were not university students. They were teenagers actually, two of them. Their abduction, of course, was very traumatic on the Israeli side and has led to what became a very traumatic few weeks on the Palestinian side and the Israeli side. Later on we saw a horrific attack on a Jerusalem teenager, Palestinian Jerusalem teenager, truly horrific death. And we saw in Israel a sense of being besieged again that children are now being targeted with these three kidnapped soldiers.
REHMBut you also saw a claim that one of the Israel soldiers had been kidnapped, when in fact he had died in battle.
SACHSWell, it's not clear that the kidnapping did not -- there wasn't an attempt. There have been previous cases where Hamas and Hezbollah and Lebanon have tried to capture Israeli soldiers, sometimes taken bodies. What we know is that one brave officer tried to come in afterwards and came back -- it's gruesome -- but with evidence of the death of the soldier.
SACHSBut there may still well have been an attempt to abduct or take this soldier. Again, we don't know exactly who did it. We don't know where the commands came from. What Aaron alluded to earlier -- said earlier is crucial. It's not clear that we have one command in Hamas and Gaza. And this makes dealing with Gaza and bringing about a cease-fire extremely hard.
REHMWhat about any division within Israeli parliament itself?
SACHSIsrael has a very raucous political system. And you hear accusations right and left, not just in the parliament but even in the cabinet. But there is a misperception about Israel. Israelis are loud, and they argue. But there is a very clear unity of orders. The orders for the military come from the political echelon, and the political echelon is very clear.
SACHSIt's the prime minister. It's the minister of defense. It's the small cabinet. It's a statutory body called the defense and security cabinet which has, by law, authority to command the military. In Israel, the commander-in-chief is not the prime minister. It is the cabinet as a whole. And although Israelis are loud, although they argue, there is no doubt in Israel who gives the orders and what the orders are for the military.
MILLERNow, I mean, it's a compelling analysis. What -- I'm listening to this conversation. We're three-quarters of the way through it, and it's stunning to me that the word, the United States, has not appeared which...
REHMWe'll get to it.
MILLER...which is an extraordinary snapshot, a window...
IBISHI did mention it once.
MILLERYou did -- within which to view how this conflict is playing out and what the American role is in the conflict.
REHMAnd of course we will indeed get to the American role in this conflict as we continue our conversation. We'll take a short break here. And when we come back, more of your calls, your email. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back. You've already heard speculation on the endgame for Hamas. Here's an email from Osa, who says, "I'm trying to understand Israel's endgame. First they were responding to Hamas rocket fire, then focusing on the tunnels. Now they want to wipe out Hamas completely. Why are their objectives so fluid and amorphous, especially when their efforts are resulting in so much death? And how do they really expect to wipe out Hamas? If anything, their efforts will make Hamas stronger." Natan.
SACHSIsrael's goal right now is not to wipe out Hamas. Israel really faces this territory that's governed by a quasi-military, quasi-political organization. It's a bit like Hezbollah. And faced with that, it had three opportunities. One is simply to accept this reality. And, I mean, well, that was impossible because of what Hamas does and tries to attack Israel. The second is to go all-out and try to wipe out Hamas as the listener suggests. That's not what they've decided to do. And it's definitely not their military aim right now because of the horrendous costs it would cause both the Gazans and to Israelis, but also because of the day after. Who would rule Gaza then?
SACHSThe third option, which is a very grim one, is some kind of continuation of the status quo. I think here though there is one silver lining. And this adds to what Hussein said very well earlier, which is the silver lining in this horrendous few weeks is that the way out might include bringing PA forces under Abbas to the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, in other words, a way of finally bringing Fattah forces -- not just politicians, but forces -- back into the Gaza Strip. That would be a force that the Egyptians could trust, that the Israelis could relatively trust. It would allow much more commerce also between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
REHMBut part of what broke up the talks a few months ago was the joining of Hamas and...
IBISHThat's right. And so what's really interesting here is that if that were acceptable to Israel, even though Israel would not be a party to it, what -- fascinating, over the weekend, a joint Palestinian delegation led by Fattah, but including Hamas and Islamic jihad members, went to meet with the Egyptian government in Cairo. Israel didn't participate. And really there was no need to for the Israelis to be there. Because right now the triangular negotiation about the future of Gaza is between Ramallah, Gaza City, and Cairo. These are the main interlocutors about what happens in Rafah.
IBISHAnd the Israeli-spokesman comment was, the future of Rafah is a matter between the PA and Egypt. So this idea that Natan was referencing is very much alive. Now, here's the thing. It can only be done under the auspices of the unity agreement. So now, Israel, if it was to go along with it, would have to take a different attitude towards that unity government that is approved of by Hamas, but it doesn't have any Hamas ministers in it. And that would certainly be an interesting shift. But it cuts both ways. On the one hand, you would have a Fattah PA presence in Gaza again, which could strengthen their hand in Gaza.
IBISHBut you'd have this unity government thing. And from the beginning, I think Hamas saw that as a long-term path back into the West Bank. And don't discount that as a secondary consequence. So this is all rather amorphous and dangerous. But I have to say I agree with your questioner. I don't understand Israel's strategic goals here. And I don't think they can achieve anything meaningful in all of this. It's a complete dead end for them I think.
SACHSAnd the evidence is Israelis really don't want to get into this at all. They'd prefer to contain the Gaza Strip or to contain Hamas in particular. They were hoping, and they still hope, that the Palestinians themselves will overthrow Hamas. But of course, realistically, given the small territory, given the power of Hamas there, it's not going to happen without intervention.
REHMYou just mentioned the small territory, these Palestinians in Gaza contained. Without access to any of the basic living necessities, how do you continue that, Aaron?
MILLERWell, the reality is you don't. I mean, you're talking about 363 square kilometers, an area -- probably the most densely-populated area on Earth, roughly twice the size of the District of Columbia -- an international basket-case for years in which -- now, a humanitarian catastrophe. The real question is, can we do better? And I see this -- there's one of three options here, in terms of the endgame here. One is quiet for quiet, that basically you can't do anything. Hamas and the Israelis understand that the key here is to just walk away, and we'll wait for the next round.
MILLERI think there is simply too much invested to imagine that as an outcome. At the other extreme is what I call the transformant approach. Hamas demilitarizes. You get serious demilitarization, fundamental change in the status of Hamas, and, in response, the Israelis literally allow Gaza to breathe economically. And over time Gaza emerges as the mini-Singapore on the Mediterranean. Those are the two extremes in terms of the outcomes of this. My two colleagues suggest a middle ground.
MILLERAnd I suspect in the world in which we all live, that middle ground is the one that we're going to have to shoot for because it is the most -- it is the most realistic. It involves using the PA, using the Egyptians. It involves opening up Gaza, allowing a fair amount of economic space, the movement of people and goods and some demilitarization, not in terms of taking Hamas' weapons away -- the Israelis would have to do that by themselves -- but demilitarization in the sense that the Egyptians would make it much more difficult for Hamas to resupply its repository of high-trajectory weapons.
MILLERYou'd have to create some regime in order to monitor the tunnels to make sure that they are closed. And it would involve Hamas' willingness to participate in a unity government.
IBISHThat's right. Can I give your listeners a little background on Gaza? What exactly is this place? You've talked about the size. The population there is 1.8 million people. Almost all of them are refugees from southern Israel. Now this is, you know, created in, like -- the refugee population there created in 1948. Now this is extraordinary because almost all of the other population centers of Palestinian refugees, even in the West Bank, are quite far from the Israeli border.
IBISHBut this huge group of very angry, disgruntled people, who've been exiled from their homes for over 60 years and feel very much -- they can kind of look over the land and see where they used to live -- is very close to the Israeli border. And this is the reason why Gaza was the birthplace of the Fedayeen. It was the birthplace of the PLO. It was the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. It is the birthplace of Hamas.
IBISHThe First Intifada began in Gaza. The Second Intifada began in the West Bank, but the iconic moment, the shooting of Muhammad al-Durrah -- which was in the very early stages of the Second Intifada and really blew it up -- happened in Gaza. This centrality of Gaza to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be underestimated and neither can its strategic location between Egypt and Southwest Asia.
SACHSAdding to this is the way the Israelis view it, which is indeed as a basket-case, as a security nightmare, as a situation that is both ungovernable for the Israelis, as it was before, but also seemingly ungovernable when Israel leaves. So for the Israelis, very central to the story, is Israel leaving, disengaging from Gaza, taking out all troops but also all settlements out of Gaza completely.
SACHSAnd for the Israelis, what happened in Gaza, what followed, is a Hamas rule, one that, instead of trying to build this Singapore or maybe reaching something less of Singapore but something good nonetheless -- instead built these enormous tunnels, bought all this weaponry from abroad and waged war on Israel.
IBISHYeah, unilateralism doesn't work. It didn't work in Lebanon, didn't work in Gaza. Unilateralism is a disaster.
SACHSAnd it may well be that the unilateral approach to this disengagement was a mistake or was flawed. But nonetheless, from the Israeli perspective, even if the means were not palatable to the Palestinians, they gained a territory from which they decided to do one thing instead of the other. So from the Israeli perspective, the centrality of Gaza also means that when Israelis now look at the Palestinian problem -- or from their perspective, the Palestinian problem -- they often divide between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. And to a certain degree, this conflict is an attempt by Hamas and by others to restate the unity between Gaza and the West Bank.
REHMAll right. To Richard in Tampa, Fla. You're on the air. Richard, are you there?
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
RICHARDCan you hear me?
RICHARD(unintelligible) Thank you so much for this. I really liked what your last guest had to say 'cause it leads right into a statement and (unintelligible)...
REHMI'm sorry. I think you're breaking up on us. Let's go instead to Bob in Fort Lauderdale. Hi. You're on the air.
BOBGood morning. Congratulations again.
BOBJust wanted to say, the reason why there continues to be a resistance -- I've seen all the news reports. They continue to resist in Palestine because of some of the policies and practices by Israel. And no one talks about that. If there was no policies and practices by Israel in terms of settlements -- defend the settlements, in terms of the '67 borders, then, you know, then there would be a two-state solution. Could you all expound on that? Thank you.
REHMAll right. Natan.
SACHSWell, in fact in Gaza, this, for the Israelis, is a simple case. In Gaza, there are no longer any settlements whatsoever. They were taken out in 2005. The '67 borders are adhered to in Gaza. Israel pulled out to the '67 borders. Resistance, we could call anything resistance. But the decision to engage in three wars with Israel in these years instead of trying to do something else, perhaps just resisting something in the West Bank, but it is mostly a nightmare for Gazans. So there is much to be corrected in Israeli policy, but the idea that the only option is war is simply (word?).
REHMAnd the BBC is reporting the truce has ended, that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a statement vowing to continue operations in Gaza until calm is restored.
MILLERYeah, I mean, I think this tracks with his statement over the weekend. The Israeli government has to fundamentally reframe their policy. We need to understand this. For the moment, they have unhooked themselves from the Qataris, the Turks, Hamas and the Americans -- even though the prime minister had very nice things to say about the president in his public statement -- that the Israelis have determined that, for their own independence of action and flexibility, they are not going to be anchored to six or seven other parties. And they will operate -- I suspect that they may in fact try to deescalate -- that they will move or regroup their forces.
MILLERRight now they're still in Gaza, on hills, but within the territory of Gaza. They'll continue their airstrikes, if fired upon. And they'll wait to see. This policy ultimately cannot work because, in essence, if the Israelis are going to basically fulfill their three main goals -- deter, degrade Hamas' high-trajectory weapons, and deal with the tunnels -- they are going to have to, in some respect, accept some sort of framework yet to be negotiated.
REHMNow, to what extent has Secretary of State John Kerry and/or President Obama had an impact on what Israel is doing?
SACHSWell, a lot of what goes on between the countries is quiet -- it's much more quiet than you think. They speak all the time. The secretary of state and the prime minister have a very close relationship, contrary to some people's views. And the prime minister and the president have a close relationship as well, close in the sense that they speak all the time, not necessarily that they agree on everything, of course, yes. So the Americans certainly have had an effect on Israel in various different points in time.
SACHSBut from the Israeli perspective, the repeated attempts at cease-fire that were broken in their view by the other side sort of validated their points. And there were some people quoting Netanyahu saying, don't doubt me on this. I am not interested in this war, but it was thrust upon me in a sense.
REHMNatan Sachs, he's at the Brookings Institution. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to San Antonio, Texas. Ordway, (sp?) you're on the air.
ORDWAYOh, yes. Good morning, Diane.
ORDWAYI have a question. With what's going on over there, is it a possibility that the world leaders who trade with Israel might have a secret boycott of their exports?
IBISHWell, I don't think so, but I think it's interesting and instructive that the European Union is -- and European Union member states, individually, are increasingly declining to trade with Israeli settlements and making a very strong distinction about -- between Israel itself, which they recognize and do business with, and the settlement project, which they consider illegal and illegitimate. And indeed it is. And so they don't want their citizens to invest in companies that operate there, and they don't want to purchase goods produced by that.
REHMAnd you're having this show up in college campuses around the country.
MILLERYeah, I mean, look, the issue of U.S. support for Israel is a critically important question, and there's clearly a generational divide, particularly among liberal Democrats. There's no question about that. But the reality is -- I mean, why do we support Israel? I mean, why are -- why do we have Israel's back. Why had the president, even though he appears to be incredibly annoyed and frustrated -- although I suspect his motives are quite different than John Kerry's. I think the president just wants the pictures to go away. He's a very risk-averse president. He's really not interested in getting into a fight with the Israelis right now.
MILLERKerry has additional motives. He wants to act. And with less than a thousand days left in his tenure as secretary of state, he still wants to do big things. But why do we support Israel? I mean, why is it that support for Israel, according to the latest Pew Polls, remains virtually unchanged while Europe, the Arab world and much of the international community essentially condemns and criticizes Israeli actions? The reality is that the vast majority of the public -- you look at the Gallup Polls and the Pew Polls -- continues to support Israel at incredibly high levels.
REHMIn this country.
MILLERYeah, in large part because they believe that there's a certain amount of value affinity that links the two countries together.
REHMBut is the...
MILLEROne last point. If you combine that with the behavior of Israel's Arab-state neighbors and groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, who become very effective talking points to support the pro-Israeli case -- plus, the reality is -- and let's be clear, Diane, I've worked for half a dozen secretaries of state -- we are not an honest broker in these matters. We have a very close relationship with Israel. We don't have a relationship in the Arab world nearly as close. We can be effective -- we can be an effective broker at certain times. But we're really not honest. Israel is our key ally, and it's remained that despite the imperfections and sometimes the egregious nature of some of its policies.
REHMQuick word, Natan.
SACHSI just want -- two quick points. The first is a boycott on Israel because of the events is a clear statement that we see one party at fault in this war. And it's very easy to focus on the actions of one party, a democracy, our ally. But that is not the only party to this war. The second point, which Hussein raised, is a very important one. There's a distinction between a lot of the demonstrations you see which call for a boycott on Israel period and something else that is much more nuanced, which talks about specific Israeli policies.
SACHSThat is not the same thing.
IBISHYes, that. Exactly. Israel's policies -- the way -- not only the fact that it governs somebody else's land in the occupied territories, including Gaza, which remains occupied legally and, in fact, as long as the occupation continues, is going to be a source of conflict and a problem for the United States and an intolerable conundrum for Israel.
REHMHussein Ibish, Aaron David Miller, Natan Sachs, thank you all.
MILLERDiane, thank you.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight, Allison Brody and Alexandra Botti. The engineer is Toby Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts and podcasts. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington D.C. This is NPR.
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